Vicarious vacations: the Backstory

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Tourists from around the world capture their own secular — and digital — relics in a crowded gallery featuring da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” in 2015 at the Louvre in Paris. (Jean Sherrard)
Backstory: Savoring the sweet peach of memory
By Jean Sherrard

The urge to journey to faraway places is not new.

Geoffrey Chaucer, the 14th century English poet, wrote of the budding anticipation when “April, with its showers sweet” marks the end of winter. That’s when “folk long to go on pilgrimages.”

The garrulous travelers in his “Canterbury Tales” represented religious pilgrims traversing Europe, seeking blessings, relics and miracles, and even hoping to secure a seat in heaven to come.

For today’s tourists, heaven can wait. We’ve replaced sacred icons with more secular stuff, flocking to visit art, architecture and historical sites.

From the beauties of Banff to Ayers Rock in Australia, whether standing in line to see the Mona Lisa or climb aboard a Sky Ride, exploring the streets of Copenhagen or ferrying to the Statue of Liberty, one mystery of travel is that joy of discovery is often accompanied by boosted self-awareness.

And somehow, bouncing off all that ageless beauty can prompt the hitting of a reset button. Call it a contact high — one I first became keenly aware of decades ago on my honeymoon. On a sweltering July evening in Athens, my wife and I bought peaches the size of melons and shared them atop the Acropolis. Ephemeral meets forever.

The past year and a half have been different, of course. Travel and tourism feel a bit like forbidden fruit, tantalizing but snatched away at the last minute. We long to go on pilgrimages, to revisit cathedrals, vineyards and fun fairs, to reflect and restore ourselves. Once again, however, these vital refreshments must be postponed.

Last July 4 in our “Now & Then” column, Clay Eals and I suggested a remedial entertainment, asking readers to submit their favorite vacation photos from years past, which we would gamely attempt to repeat.

The response was immediate and heartwarming. Join us on 12 vicarious vacations, each offering up another bite of the sweet peach of memory.

Jean Sherrard and his new bride, Karen, toured the Acropolis in Athens in 1981, just after getting married. (Courtesy Jean Sherrard)

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Now & Then here and now

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