When a shy American teenager travels with her mother to the mountain village of Vassara, Greece, after the unexpected death of a family member, she is overcome with grief. As she watches children chase balls across the town square and old widows ride atop donkeys to harvest fields of almond and olive trees, the young girl realizes she has stumbled upon a gateway to a new life.
What starts out as a holiday abroad quickly turns into the discovery of a magical place, where love and friendship endure through time and where traditions of an ancient world survive modern change to bring about an inexplicable miracle. Summer after summer, she cannot resist returning to her mother's homeland and the enchanting village that enraptures both her heart and soul. Nothing-not even a raging mountain wildfire-can keep her away from the people and place she loves. As she matures from a girl to a woman, she falls in love for the first time and faces a difficult choice between the familiarity of home and the enticement of an uncertain future.
SEASONS OF SUN is a coming-of-age tale that opens the heart to discovering life and love in unexpected places.
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
Seasons of SunA Novel
By Paula Renee Burzawa
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Paula Renee Burzawa
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEndings Before Beginnings
Their faces are mine. So is the smell of wood-burning ovens cooking afternoon feasts. The secluded road to Koulouri is mine, along with the view from its edge. The day of the Transfiguration, the courtyard of Brikakis' café, even the abandoned school belongs to me. Forgotten classrooms remain frozen in history behind locked doors. Walking the narrow, cobblestone roads, I see a shepherd, his wrinkled, leather grin aged by the sun. Radiant children sing with laughter, chasing a ball across the town square. Old widows wearing black kerchiefs ride sidesaddle atop sluggish donkeys to harvest fields of almond and olive trees. These are the faces of my villagers, and they belong to me.
They are mine as I have come to cherish them, summer after summer, growing from child to adult in the isolated mountain village of Vassara, located in Greece's Peloponnese. Originally called "Baccharas," Vassara was named in ancient times after the god of wine, since the best wine in the region came from these hills. Through time, Baccharas became Vassaras, and it is simply called Vassara today. Stories have long been told about this village, its traditions and uniqueness in the Greek countryside of Parnonas. Family history and folklore are passed down from generation to generation.
I first visited Vassara in the spring of 1984 after my mother's sister passed away from cancer. What grew from her death was life itself. My aunt was in her forties-too young to die. I took her death particularly hard, crumbling from heartbreak. Grieving for her sister, my mother decided to travel to Greece for the summer. Somehow, the trip would heal our pain. I was about to start high school, and like any preteen, I was utterly insecure. Sad, confused, and intimidated by the world, a vacation abroad seemed the perfect prescription.
Like any transatlantic flight, ours was long and boring, with small portions of bad food. Unfortunately, the ride to Mom's ancestral home outside Sparta wasn't much different. During the 1980s, the highway which connects Athens directly to the main cities in Southern Greece was still in the planning stages. We endured rugged, poorly maintained country roads, adding another six hours to our journey, winding up and down mountainous terrain in a cab lacking air-conditioning. By itself, the ride might have been tolerable if we hadn't just finished a nine-hour flight to Holland, a three-hour layover, and another four-hour trip to Athens. To make matters worse, this was long before the days of the CD Walkman or iPod. Tuning out this strange, new world was not an option.
I sat in the back of Spiro's cab, gazing out the window at a place I didn't recognize, speechless in my uncertainty. With a small, portable boom box on my lap, I played all of my American cassette tapes on the long ride, one after the other, trying to make out the lyrics over our cab driver's voice. His volume increased dramatically as he overemphasized political opinions to my unassuming mother in the front seat.
Mom spent most of the cab ride evading Spiro's questions regarding Greece's relationship with the United States while he took us around every mountain-edged curve at daring speeds. Gripping the backseat's center partition with intensity, I tried at one point to understand their Greek conversation, but to no avail. Despite my lessons at Greek school, Spiro spoke too fast for my elementary skills. Their discussion was above both my head and interest. At only fourteen, I had little desire or knowledge to debate my own country's politics, let alone the world at large. My friends and I back home talked about Madonna, not Milosevic. Boring banter between Spiro and my mother continued endlessly. Poor Mom seemed trapped in his questioning. She politely attempted to neutralize his hatred for the United States, Reagan, and the entire American way of life, but her efforts went unrewarded. The only thing he seemed to like was American tourist dollars.
Every now and then, Spiro, who actually lived next door to our house in Greece, looked back in the rearview mirror, flashing his decaying, yellowed teeth to ask if I was okay. I think "okay" was his only English word. Spiro had a wife of his own, and they had four kids, all under the age of six. Their farm, consisting of goats, chickens, and orange trees, was adjacent to our property in a town called Magoula, on the outskirts of Sparta in Southern Greece. We didn't see Spiro much during our visits, except for rides to and from the airport in Athens.
Spiro's wife, Stathoula, however, visited us early each day, eager to learn about our life in Chicago. She sat for hours chattering with Mom over a coffee cup in the morning sun. Stathoula's daily arrival into our courtyard was as timely as the rooster's crow at daybreak. She was friendly and spoke English well. She didn't hate Americans, which was helpful. Stathoula was also pretty, with long, dark hair and big, dark eyes. Her curiosity caught me off guard. Staring at every detail from our makeup to our shoes, Stathoula asked an endless list of probing questions. Her constant inquiries made me feel like an alien.
Our house in Magoula served as headquarters for our trips to Greece, allowing us to unpack our bags and have a central location for the season in my mother's childhood home. During the winter, the house was closed, but it was cared for by another nearby friend who lived on the other side of Spiro. Each May, my grandparents moved in for a six-month stay until they returned to Chicago the following October. Since they arrived in Magoula first, the house was filled with food, and the bedrooms were prepared for our stay. Equipped with a washing machine, two televisions, and a telephone, we had the basic amenities. Mom and I were comfortable in Magoula, and we were grateful that we had a place to leave our things. The Magoula house was like a second home, complete with mail from the Greek postman. Before I left Chicago, I handed out stacks of self-addressed envelopes to my friends with the hopes of staying in touch with girlfriends back home. Each afternoon, I eagerly awaited the mail for envelopes with my name written in familiar handwriting. Getting a letter from the States was gold.
Sparta's small suburb of Magoula is made up of homes set on properties abundant with lemon and orange groves. Some of the homes were gorgeously renovated and looked like estates. Others were left as farms from the 1940s, when Greeks fled to America during and after World War II in large numbers. The two-story, white house at the end of the street stood vacant for many years after my mother left in 1951 as a child, but reconstruction work began on the place in the 1960s, and the house gradually became updated. My grandmother, or Yiayia as we say in Greek, made improvements each year on her visits to Greece. One year, she had the roof redone. Another year, she put in new windows. Whatever money Yiayia saved from her waitress job in Chicago, she put into her Greek home. The Magoula house was supposed to be the place where Yiayia would live for the rest of her life, but as fate played out, this never came to pass. After my biological grandfather was killed in World War II, Yiayia was left alone to care for her three small children. Unable to survive in a country torn apart by war, she closed up the house and went to live with relatives in America.
Standing outside the front gate in Magoula, I tried to imagine what went through Yiayia's mind when she returned home to Greece for the first time in the late 1960s. How did she feel seeing her home for the first time in almost two decades? Her courage to refurbish the place after all those years into a vacation home we came to love was remarkable. Later remarried to a friend from Magoula, Yiayia and her second husband were able to keep the house going, to our benefit. Even though he was not my biological grandfather, I still called him Pappou (grandfather). After seeing the house they resurrected together, I felt a sense of curiosity regarding the past and those who helped build our family home.
The Magoula house stood at the end of a dirt path, running parallel to a larger main road that connects downtown Sparta to the town of Mistras, making for constant traffic. One of the house's most noticeable details was the large, green entrance gate. Standing roughly eight feet high and twelve feet wide, the gate's large stature created an impressive entryway. Beautiful, bright orange climbing flowers cascaded across the archway atop the gate, but at the same time, they encouraged an infestation of bumblebees. Hundreds of them buzzed over the gate at all times. This made a peaceful entrance into or exit from our home impossible. Fearful of getting stung, I quickly came up with a "duck and run" method.
Past the main bee gate was a large courtyard of white marble flooring my uncle laid when the house was restored. Walking through the courtyard was like a florist's dream, as Yiayia filled the adjacent gardens on both sides with roses. She loved flowers. Soft fragrance filled the lower level. On the first floor of the house was the living room and kitchen. I spent little time in the living room area since my grandparents slept there on two pull-out beds. The room smelled like my grandparents' apartment back on Armitage Avenue in Chicago, and to be honest, the entire room grossed me out. Pappou's pajamas were always lying around, along with ashtrays filled with old cigarette butts.
Next to the living room was our kitchen, large and accommodating. We had a new refrigerator and a huge sink, making food easy to prepare. The floor was tiled black-and-white checked, and above the sink was a huge window that looked out unto the property. Past the kitchen stood a small tool room with a door that led out to the abandoned chicken coop. I liked to go back there every now and then and look at the decaying building, still untouched from the time my mother's father, Anastasios, was alive. I imagined him inside the tiny, white-stoned structure, collecting chicken eggs from the chickens and bringing his yield to Yiayia. For some reason, I felt his presence there more than anywhere else in our Magoula home. The chicken coop was the only edifice left alone since his death. Standing near the tattered, old shack was the closest I could feel to a man I never knew, in a place he left long ago.
The property beyond the chicken coop area was full of tall, dried grass, and it was not safe to walk around in it. Thorns, snakes, spiders, and who knows what else lurked in the tall, dry grass. I didn't dare explore. A chainlink fence sectioned off the orchards with our adjacent neighbor, and the rest of the property was thick with green citrus trees. Since we traveled to Greece in the summer, I never saw our fruit ready for picking. The oranges and lemons were still small, green, and hard. Like me, they had yet to ripen.
Connecting the main floor to the upstairs level of the house was a large, outdoor, marble staircase. The stairs were both wide and tall, with hard, sharp edges. I cautiously held on to the metal railings every time I ascended or descended. Atop the staircase was our home's greatest asset-the terrace. This was the most beautiful terrace I had ever seen. Our view overlooking the mountains was breathtaking. Most of all, our terrace gave a marvelous, perfect view of Mount Taygetos, the grandest mountain in Peloponnese's valley. Mount Taygetos is not only tall but quite wide, with a dimple in the middle. The mountain always reminded me of a giant letter M. From Mount Taygetos, locals gather the sweetest mountain tea, selling it at local markets and street corners. Taygetos, the timeless warrior, stands tall in pronounced glory, reaching the top of the Mediterranean sky, demanding attention. I loved to sit endlessly staring at the mountain to soak in its glory, imagining ancient Spartans using Taygetos as a protector from invading forces.
A huge, wrought iron railing bordered the terrace and reached the same heights as the treetops, offering a panoramic vision of green. What looked like an endless carpeting of emerald orange trees rolled foward into the distance. From the terrace, Magoula's orchards stretched out to a blue haze of mountains and created a horizon, making the view nothing less than majestic.
We kept two white, wooden chairs and a small, round table on the balcony to soak in the tranquility at sunset. Late at night, the terrace provided a different sense of wonder, a true astronomer's dream. The black sky, illuminated with thousands of stars, set off a mesmerizing glow. On nights of a full moon, the cosmic beauty was impossible to ignore. I would sit atop our Magoula balcony, entranced by the wonders of nature. Staring up at the sky on quiet evenings of solitude, I thought about who I was and what my future might bring. I confessed many personal dreams to the glistening stars and received a hundred answers back from the night sky.
The days in Magoula, however, passed with much less excitement. Within a week of arriving from Chicago, and without having gone anywhere else in the country except Yiayia's house in Magoula, I was soon bored out of my mind. Even though the scenery was amazing, after a while, I grew restless.
I can still recall the day that all changed. I was the last one in the house to wake up. Having stayed awake late into the night to look at stars, I was kept up for the rest of the night by a pack of wild dogs that ran through the streets, making sleep nearly impossible. As soon as the dogs settled down, roosters began to crow at daybreak. Still in bed well after 11:00 am, the summer heat blared. Warm air filled my bedroom. Sweat covered my body.
Unlike other mornings, when a foreign-sounding horn or my mother's voice woke me, this particular morning began with a shuffling of slippers clapping atop each marble step of the terrace outside my bedroom window. The giant metal door opened and then slammed shut, making a cruelly loud bang. I jumped from the crack. This door was the loudest in the universe, I decided. In walked Yiayia, calling out, "Kimate akoma" (Is she still sleeping)?
There was no use trying to fall back asleep. I was awake. Yiayia entered my bedroom carrying a tray with Greek coffee. She always carried a tray of something, always with a colorful apron tied around her waist. After placing the tray on the orange tablecloth-covered round table standing in the center of my room, she asked me, as she did every morning, what I wanted for breakfast. I replied, "Tipota" (Nothing), much to her dismay. Already a regular coffee drinker at fourteen, I cared little about nourishment besides my short cup of hot, semisweet Greek coffee. This would snap me out of a sleepy state.
Yiayia returned downstairs, clanging the big metal door again, off to clean or hang our clothes on the lines of string stretched across the terrace. This was so embarrassing. In Chicago, we had a dryer like everyone else, and no one knew the colors of our underwear or pajamas. Here, everything was on display for the entire town to see. Whenever one of the neighbors stopped by to visit Yiayia, they had to bend down or get hit in the head with pink and white flowered panties hanging from the line. To my mother and grandmother, there was no shame. Everything embarrassed me. I embarrassed me. My braces embarrassed me. My stupid hairstyle embarrassed me. I knew I was awkward and hated feeling this way. European girls I saw in Sparta looked confident, so easygoing, with free-flowing hair and little makeup. Feeling self-assured seemed easy for them.
By the time I awoke, my mother was already out of the house. Why didn't she wake me? Didn't she know going into downtown Sparta was the only highlight of my otherwise boring day? While I waited for Mom to return, I hit play to the cassette tape sitting in the travel boom box that sat on the nightstand. Playing one of the mixed cassettes I'd taped off of the radio in Chicago, I sang along to top-forty pop songs. Both the mailman and Stathoula asked if they could keep my American song tapes when I returned home. That first summer, however, I left them all with Stavros, hoping he would better understand me by listening to my music.
While Bananarama's "Cruel Summer" jammed through the upstairs level of our house, I drank the first sips of coffee, still half asleep. My bare feet shuffled across the wood-planked floors, and I sang along to the prophetic tune. Blasting American music always made me feel better. My collection of mixed tapes was one of the few connections to home and all that was normal. A few letters from my friends in Chicago sat on the chair next to my bed. I'd read and reread them at night when homesickness was in full swing. Summer was nowhere near over. In fact, it had just begun. I already felt like we had been in Greece forever.
Excerpted from Seasons of Sun by Paula Renee Burzawa Copyright © 2010 by Paula Renee Burzawa. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1 - Endings Before Beginning....................1
Chapter 2 - Out of the Hills of Parnonas....................10
Chapter 3 - Koulouri's Magic....................19
Chapter 4 - First Night, First Love....................30
Chapter 5 - Off to Church....................40
Chapter 6 - Festival Day....................51
Chapter 7 - Good Winter....................63
Chapter 8 - Finding a Friend....................68
Chapter 9 - On Fire....................79
Chapter 10 - "I Think He Means Business"....................94
Chapter 11 - The Chicago Girls....................111
Chapter 12 - A Day with Ari....................124
Chapter 13 - Potoula's Warning....................135
Chapter 14 - Lights Out....................144
Chapter 15 - My Utopia....................157
Chapter 16 - Vassara Is Burning....................164
Chapter 17 - The Miracle....................175
Chapter 18 - Under a Broken Streetlight....................184
Chapter 19 - "See that Barrel?"....................191
Chapter 20 - A Stop in Tripoli....................199
Chapter 21 - A Final Farewell....................205
Chapter 22 - Never Did I Imagine....................213
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A great read...a wonderful coming of age tale. Appropriate for all ages. An engaging story...I couldn't put it down.