The late British world traveler, memoirist, screenwriter and novelist Graham Greene is my default author when I'm on a long-haul airplane or long-distance train. Greene was one of the best at blending literary quality and accessibility and his books are set in far-flung, often colorful locales.
In the midst of a smooth, six-hour flight on Virgin America (www.virginamerica.com) from New York to California yesterday, I opened Greene's 1982 novel "Monsignor Quixote.'' A ruminative, often-funny entertainment, the book tracks a road trip around Spain by a communist mayor and a priest - who, in a nice fictional touch, is a direct descendant of Cervantes' Don Quixote. This modern Quixote isn't on horseback. Instead, the priest drives a broken-down old car he names Rocinante.
"Father Quixote was glad to have a room to himself, minute though it was,'' Greene writes in one road-wise passage. "It seemed to him that his journey had already extended across the whole breadth of Spain, though he knew he was not much more than 200 kilometers from La Mancha. The slowness of Rocinante made a nonsense of distance. Well, the farthest his ancestor had gone from La Mancha on all his journeys had been the city of Barcelona, and yet anyone who had read the true history would have thought that Don Quixote had covered the whole immense area of Spain. There is a virtue in slowness which we have lost. Rocinante was of more value for a true traveler than a jet plane. Jet planes were for businessmen.''