Innocents Aloft: And Other Souvenirs Of Days France

The Drink



-From So Red the Nose

Speaking of overly strong concoctions, here Henry Justin Smith manages to break Frank Buck’s previous record with a whopping eight-shot cocktail. Such is my dedication to my craft that I did indeed manage to drink an entire Innocents Aloft in one sitting. I do not recommend you follow my example. Although delicious, this one was made to share.

Somehow I missed Aloft when I was burning through all the applejack recipes, but it did introduce me to two new ingredients. The first was raspberry syrup, which I whipped up myself to great success using this recipe. It’s a nice cocktail addition both color- and flavor-wise, and so sweet you barely need to add any extra sugar to the drink itself. I used a scant tablespoon but probably could have gotten away with less.

The second new find was apricot cordial. I only found one company that produces it, but if I had six weeks to spare, I would have homemade that as well, as it looks both simple to create and delicious.

This is one of the more complicated cocktails I’ve made for this blog, but having a million different ingredients does give it a distinct advantage: whatever your favorite flavor, it’s in there. You have your sweet, your sour, your fruity, your…gin. Just like a parfait, or a casserole made by combining all the leftovers in your fridge, this is the cocktail that pleases everybody.

The Book

We were innocent enough to imagine that the whole trip would be like this:  A succession of placid motor rides, restful evenings and poetry.

–From Innocents Aloft

il_570xN.708714450_4otyYou might know someone who had to read The Innocents Aloft in high school. Or, at least, you would believe me if I told you did because the title is so generic yet, well, lofty, that it sounds like something you’ve definitely heard of before. I myself was expecting some kind of heavy religious parable or depressing historical fiction.

But no, Innocents Aloft is actually a now-forgotten travel book, published in 1927 by pseudo-famous and pseudo-remembered Chicago newspaperman Henry Justin Smith regarding his 1919 visit to France. Innocents Aloft is also the most straightforward travel writing we’ve seen so far. It has no grand artistic vision, no hilarious adventures, no bullfighting. It can basically be summed up with, “Hey everybody! Let’s all sit down and watch my vacation slides!”

816yw9x678L._SY355_For you see kids, in Innocents Aloft, Smith presents us with a typical example of what modern literary scholars would call #FirstWorldProblems. The main conflicts of the book include hotels with rough sheets, bad coffee, and a horrifying lack of bed curtains. Even worse than such travesties is Smith’s increasing distress as he realizes that the Alps are, like, really, really tall. Ok, as a fellow acrophobe and travelphile, I can definitely sympathize with the misery of riding up the edges of perilous cliffs, in places too far from home to support any illusions of someone identifying your fallen and mangled body, but I didn’t really need to read 50 pages about someone else’s misplaced terror.

To be fair, Smith does have a small sense of — well, humor’s not the right word; for that it would have to be funny — of wry self-awareness regarding his little narrative.

The book is divided into two parts. In “Innocents Aloft,” Smith and his wife join his tacky-souvenir-hungry friend Gus/”the judge” along with his wife and camera-happy teenage children on a pre-packaged, tightly scheduled “motoring” tour through the French alps.

Paris_Montmartre_in_1925The two families part ways in Paris, leading into the second half of the book, “Souvenirs,” a collection of episodic articles — many recycled from Smith’s own Chicago Daily News. Part two also makes an abrupt change in tone. Instead of generic descriptions of pretty places, this forgotten journalist instead spends his word count name-dropping all the forgotten French novelists he palled around and sipped wine with. He even apparently witnessed the signing of some important Austrian treaty marking the end of World War I.

The book finishes off with the couple’s ship ride back to the States, which, as a modern reader, I honestly found to be the most interesting part (how much of that interest was related to increasing tipsiness, I cannot say.) as a peek into the past. For example, It never occured to me that it took nine days to go to Europe back then. Nine days! That’s enough time for a whole other vacation! And all spent on a vessel that sounded only slightly more roomy than a modern commercial airplane.

Forgotten Classic or Better Left in the Past?

Col d'Allos - Le Col et le Chalet - Voitures - Autocar PLM - Route des Alpes et du Littoral - NiceAs a person who loves both writing and travel, I just don’t get travel writing. Maybe real travel has spoiled me for the vicarious stuff. Even so, I can still tell Innocents Aloft is not an excellent example of the genre. The descriptions were competent but not particularly inspiring or beautiful, and Smith’s analysis of the French people ranges from pedestrian to offensively simplistic. And it’s not easy to condescend to the French, so I at least have to give him kudos for that.

Really though, the lack of depth was the most disappointing part of this book. This trip was taken less than a year after Europe was devastated by World War I, yet Smith’s analysis of the changes wrought was shockingly superficial. It was clear he didn’t want to experience a view of France any more intimate than the one from his hotel balcony. Which was his prerogative and all, but it’s nothing to write home about. The fact that he did anyway doesn’t mean you should actually read it.

Used copies of Innocents Aloft: And Other Souvenirs Of Days In France are available on Amazon. 

Next Time: Caw! Caw! Coo! Coo! Pip! Pip! Ect! Ect!


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