Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Vicarious Tour of the Mediterranean

Next week my sister and I leave for our cruise around the Mediterranean.  It starts and ends in Rome and we're also stopping in Croatia, Sicily, Athens, and several of the Greek islands.

Normally when I'm going on a major vacation I stock up on guidebooks and phrasebooks months before I leave, and do my best to plot out what I'm going to see and learn at least a few words of the language if I don't already speak it.  This time, though, Sue and I made our cruise reservations only about six weeks in advance, and those six weeks and the preceding month were crammed with activity and anxiety over my cat, my job(s), and our parents.  We finally agreed to take one of the cruise line's shore excursions at practically every stop, which greatly reduced the need to plan what to see or to add to my small Italian and Greek vocabulary.  Instead, in my scraps of spare time, I've been re-reading my favorite books set in Italy and Greece.  Some of them are so old that the country in which they took place has probably altered all out of recognition, but the fact remains that these are the stories which originally made me want to visit Rome and Athens and the Greek islands.

  • The Greek novels of Mary Stewart.  These are the books which convinced a teenager from South Dakota (which had NO Greek restaurants at the time) that some day she had to try roast lamb, Greek salad, feta cheese, retsina, and ouzo.  (Love the food and the retsina; can take or leave the ouzo.)  Tightly plotted, great characters, atmosphere that breathes from every page.  My Brother Michael (Delphi); The Moonspinners (Crete, and much better than the movie with Hailey Mills), and This Rough Magic (Corfu).
  • Two books by Barbara Mertz: The Sea King's Daughter (as Barbara Michaels, set on the Greek island of Thera) and The Street of Five Moons (as Elizabeth Peters, set in Rome and the nearby countryside).  Barbara Mertz is an archaeologist, and many of her books reflect that.  The heroine of The Sea King's Daughter manages to explain a lot about underwater archaeology and the history of the Minoan civilization while being chased around the island by a local cult, and the plot of The Street of Five Moons centers around the forgery of historical art objects and takes us through a number of museums, historic homes, and quaint Roman shopping venues along the way.  Nobody else can make a dangerous situation seem quite as funny as "Elizabeth Peters" does.
  • A Cluster of Separate Sparks by Joan Aiken.  Set on the Greek island of Dendros, this is a parody of the traditional romantic suspense novel.  The heroine is hired as a teacher by a Greek millionaire, and at that point the book diverges wildly from its supposed genre - not least in its extremely unusual leading man.
  • We're not going to Venice, but I had to re-read Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell anyway.  In the classic epistolary tradition of Camilla, this story is told almost entirely in the form of letters from Julia Larwood, a London barrister on an Art Lover's Holiday in Italy.  Venice, art, love, murder, and quite possibly the most hapless and absent-minded heroine ever conceived - one of my very favorite books.
  • Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayle.  No, we're not going to Tuscany, either, but the descriptions of the food, the landscape, and the Italian people still make these better reading than any dry guidebook to Italy.  Again, Under the Tuscan Sun is much better than the movie of the same name.
I will be buying a block of Internet minutes from the cruise company in order to stay in touch with my clients, my sister's office, and the cousin who will be looking out for our parents while we're gone, but I may be too busy to blog.  In any case, I should have enough photos and stories from this trip to keep you amused for weeks after our return.

“I want to see the Parthenon by moonlight." ~Daphne du Maurier, Echoes from the Macabre: Selected Stories

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Preview of Coming Disasters

No, faithful readers, I have not dropped off the edge of the earth, but it's been a very busy month.  My mother's memory problems have escalated to the point where Dad finally admitted she can't be left alone if anything happens to him.  They've put down a deposit on an apartment in a facility with assisted living and memory care options and are scheduled to move there at the end of September.  My sister and I are touring the facility today so we can help them decide what to keep and what to eliminate, and then we're going to their house to start the sorting and weeding.  My mother in particular is overwhelmed by the logistics of moving, but we keep telling her that we'll do all the work and she can just sit back and direct traffic.

And, indeed, I have been doing some of the work already - notifying family members, hooking Dad up with a realtor, reassuring Mom, discussing with Dad which of his possessions (like his van, his golf clubs, and many of his tools) are welcome to live in the empty half of my garage.  Before this situation blew up, my sister and I had paid for a cruise - not the one in November we had originally looked at, but one for the last week of this month and the first week of next month - so I'm having dinner this week with one of my cousins and his wife to give them a copy of my parents' keys so they can be the go-to folks if anything goes wrong while Sue and I are gone.  I also have a date with my lawyer this week to take my parents off my living will, medical power of attorney, etc., and replace them with the same cousin.

Fortunately the contract job I've been working in downtown Phoenix will be over on September 14 and my next online class doesn't start until October, so I'll have a couple of weeks to help my parents pretty much full time with the final flurry of moving.  My cousin's wife went through a similar process a few years ago and I think I'm going to adopt her "day of the move" strategy: she sent her parents off for a nice lunch while she supervised the movers, unpacked all their stuff and put most of it away, and got rid of all the packing materials so they could just walk in and feel at home.  As someone who moved a year ago myself, I understand how depressing a huge heap of boxes in the middle of the living room can be.

Well, time to go pick up my sister and visit "The Home."

Getting old really isn't for sissies.

“Keeping up the appearance of having all your marbles is hard work, but important.”
~ Sara Gruen,
Water for Elephants