You can count on July and August in our slice of the Greek Peloponnese to be sizzlers. But this year, the heat has had an intensity that takes one's breath away.
|Heading to Pantazi beach to beat the heat|
Our wet, chilly spring hung on so long that we wondered if we would have a summer. But by mid-July there was no doubt about it: summer had arrived. Two weeks ago, temperatures hit 109F/42.7C at our house, and just an hour's drive to our east, soared to 115F, slightly over 46C.
|Kalamata beach fun and sun - a tourist favorite|
Plants in our gardens have withered - blooms and leaves are brown. Hillsides and olive groves are virtual tinderboxes. Tourists are flocking to the beaches to cool off while residents, like us, are hunkered inside behind shuttered windows (to block sun rays) with our fans and air conditioners getting their seasonal workout.
The heat has occasionally shut down popular tourist attractions like the Acropolis in Athens during the day. Jobs requiring hard physical labor throughout the country were suspended several times during the mid-day as heat reached record highs. Wildfires are still being fought out on several Greek islands and near Athens.
|The water bucket is an ominous sign of summer here|
The sound of helicopters this time of year means firefighting is underway. We search the surrounding sky for smoke when we hear the beat of the copter's blades. Luckily, fires have been a distance from us and have been contained quickly.
With no energy or desire to leave our home's cool interior, we have turned to novel getaways for our summer fun; the kind of get-away best undertaken from an easy chair or couch.
Our Novel Escapes
Our favorite souvenir is a book purchased at some wonderful bookstore we've happened upon in our travels. The book, besides providing a great armchair escape once we are home, brings back the memories of shopping for it as well. Sometimes the search for a bookstore is almost as memorable. Surprisingly, one of our favorite 'reads' of the summer came from failing to find a bookstore:
|Celebrity Edge has a pool but no library.|
We'd taken a week-long Celebrity cruise from Rome to Barcelona in late May. Planning to find a bookstore at one or more of our ports of call, or turning to the ship's library if we couldn't find a store, neither of us took any reading material. A mistake, to be sure!
We couldn't find a bookstore in Ajaccio, Corsica, nor in Portofino, Italy or Cannes, France. And our Celebrity Edge ship, built in 2018, was constructed without a library (one of the few negatives about the ship, to my way of thinking).
|Our cabin's indoor deck was a perfect spot for reading.|
I finally managed to find a handful of books (in a cupboard behind the reception desk) that had been left behind by former cruisers.
Among them was a beat-up book, The House at the Edge of Night, by Katherine Banner. Published in 2017 by Random House, it was that year named one of the Best Books of the Year by NPR, the Los Angeles Public Library and Kirkus Reviews. Set on a fictitious Italian island, the novel spans four generations, and features a main character who collects stories of island life. The author was inspired by three real-life chroniclers of Sicilian and Italian folk stories: Giuseppe Pitre, Laura Gonzenbach, and Italo Calvino.
|A perfect summer read|
My favorite novel getaway so far this year came from a chance purchase at Eslite Bookstore in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - a sprawling place that encompasses most of the second floor of a downtown shopping mall. It required at least three trips to visit all its sections. We seek local authors whose work has been translated to English and hit a goldmine when we discovered. . .
|Display at Eslite Bookstore Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia|
. . .The Gift of Rain, the debut novel of Malaysian writer, Tan Twan Eng. The book set in Penang, Malaysia, opens in 1939 and spans a time before, during and after the Japanese invasion of that country as part of World War II. The book is so rich in historical, religious and cultural layers, that I plan to read it more than once to absorb all that it has to offer. The author is a gifted wordsmith whose first line had me captured:
|Debut novel long listed for the Booker Award|
'I was born with the gift of rain, an ancient soothsayer in an even more ancient temple told me.'
|Ho Chi Minh City Opera House|
I wanted to read more books set in the countries we'd visited on that February trip, specifically Cambodia and Viet Nam. While taken with the beauty we found in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) I wanted to be reminded of the country's recent history as well. I had been too young during the war to grasp the magnitude of its horrors.
I got a taste of them though in, The World Played Chess by Seattle author Robert Dugoni.
|A coming of age novel|
His book is a coming-of-age tale that centers around three young men: one an 18-year-old fighting in the Viet Nam war. It is a captivating read, with story passages that can make you laugh and cry. Spoiler alert: His research on Viet Nam combat was thorough, there are some tough passages in this one.
|Boboli Gardens and Pitti Palace - Florence|
I am the first to admit that I find textbook-style history to be too dry to comprehend. But when I happen upon a well-written historical novel - or in this case, a saga of novels - that keep me entertained while teaching me something, I am unable to put them down.
Italian writer Matteo Strukul, has caught both of us up in his three-book trilogy about the Medici's: Medici Ascendancy is set in 1429, Medici Supremacy in 1469 and Medici Legacy, 1536.
|Florence from the Boboli Gardens|
The Medici's were a rich and powerful family that ruled Florence and later Tuscany from 1434 until 1737, with the exception of a couple of periods of time. It is difficult to visit Florence and not be impressed with the impact of the Medici's on Italy. These books are an entertaining- if somewhat imaginative - look into the history and legacy of that powerful family
I love getaways, that involve figuring out who committed the crime in some favorite destination. While on the topic of Italy, Florence in particular, we must give a shout-out to our favorite crime writers in that city, Michele Giutarri. He certainly has done plenty of first-hand research and probably has more story ideas than he'll live long enough to write.
|A who-dunnit set in Florence|
And then came Pinocchio
|You are never too old to read Pinocchio!|