Planes, trains, and vacation love

A trip brings out a husband's ardor for his wife as he gushes compliments in her direction.

Fernando Llano/AP/File
A couple embraces next to a waterfall at the Plaza Colon in Madrid.

"I really love you!" I blurt out apropos of nothing.

My wife, Janet, sitting across the aisle on the plane to Denver, looks up from her reading and gives me her usual gracious English smile.

The stewardess pushing the drink cart gives us her usual automatic smile.

Janet goes back to her book. She is used to my airplane outbursts of adoration. She tells me she never tires of hearing them. And I believe her.

We are going to the Telluride Film Festival. The journey involves rapid plane changes, checked (therefore assumed to be misdirected) luggage, and a long midnight car ride. But I don't mind. I'm unconcerned with the possibility of luggage diverted to Telemark, Norway, because, as usual, I'm head over heels, gaga with "vacation love." Over the long 16-film weekend, my devotion will be declared at traditional times. Shouting out "Wow, do I ever love you!" while gazing up at a glorious Rockies sunset. But also blurted out at atypical moments, like when each of us is holding a sauerkraut-dripping bratwurst sandwich while waiting in line at 10 p.m. for a Spanish animated film.

I don't need a wink or smile or plunging décolletage to set off these intense feelings. These bursts of love occur without any logical reason during every holiday. It's happened in a Rome museum contemplating the hindquarters of Marcus Aurelius's steed and while trying to locate a 16-letter Welsh town in a driving rainstorm.

I have noticed that food, especially, seems to jump-start my emotions. Over the 10 years of our relationship I have declared my love while slurping sesame noodles in a Queens restaurant and diving into a fish pie for smoked mackerel in a London oyster house. I have expressed my devotion and adoration over breakfast in St. Louis as Janet, nodding in thanks, downs two cheeseburgers perched on a bed of fried potatoes covered in chili, chopped onions, and shredded cheese. (English boarding school graduates have no concept of unfinished plates of even semiedible food.)

Once a plane takes off or we hit an Interstate, my feelings for my wife speed up. Now, it is not as if I express my love only when we're away from home. But once that suitcase is packed everything intensifies. My excitement mounts with each mile we travel, which is why I am undoubtedly the only passenger in coach looking forward to the 12-hour flight from San Francisco to Paris.

This feeling of vacation love is not a Cohen family tradition. In my childhood we didn't travel much beyond Chicago's borders, and when we did venture out romance was not packed in the trunk. On car trips, like the one we took to Los Angeles, my father was too busy trying to stay on narrow mountain roads to tell my mother, who was probably making me a salami sandwich, that he loved her. (Looking back, my usual request for more pickles and mustard probably didn't make him feel exactly romantic. It certainly didn't encourage him to take more car trips.)

Perhaps my sense of vacation love just needed time, years, to develop. It wasn't until my second marriage that I began packing romantic feelings along with my socks. But then, how can you not pour out your love standing in a shockingly empty, spectacularly beautiful San Marco Square in Venice on Christmas Eve? And is it possible not to be hysterically in love with a woman who says "of course" to your offhand suggestion to fly to London for four days to see Robert Lindsay star in John Osborne's "The Entertainer"? I think not.

My friend Robert, a former travel writer, insists people vacation for two reasons. One is to see something new like Antarctica or Machu Picchu. The second is to revisit places they love like Provence, or, for us, London at holiday time.

But maybe there is a third reason and that is to share the excitement of wherever you are with the one you adore.

In the past 10 years I have experienced it many times. Nowhere was that moment more emotion-filled than when I walked up out of the Paris metro and saw Notre Dame in front of my instantly tearing eyes. It was, of course, so much better with Janet on the step next to me.

It wasn't just the cathedral or the city I fell in love with but the person I was sharing it with. And, as always, I had to let her, and anyone within earshot, know how very much I cared for this woman.

For whatever reason – and I am not sure I need to find a reason – I just can't help it.

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