David Bouchier

Claude Paris / AP

Much of Europe has been enjoying an August heatwave, although not everyone would agree with the word “enjoying.” It was even quite warm in England for a day or two and a few people had to be hospitalized, I suspect not so much from the heat as from sheer surprise. Daytime temperatures in southern France have been hovering around a hundred, which is above average but not unprecedented. It’s a dry heat, coming straight up from Africa with all the subtlety of an open pizza oven.

Matt Dunham / AP

Whatever happened to picture postcards? Once upon a time, as friends and family members traveled around the world, we would receive a steady stream of cards from places they had visited, or had pretended to visit. The cards were annoying for those of us who were stuck at home, but they were reassuring too. If our loved ones in faraway places took the trouble to buy, write, and mail a postcard, it showed that they loved us too, or at least remembered our address.

Courtesy of Madeline Michelini

On this date in 1423, the English won a great victory over the French in the Hundred Years’ War. I bet you didn’t know that, and I bet you don’t care either. Every day is an anniversary of something or someone, and most of them are infinitely forgettable, and forgotten. We hang on to dates like the Fourth of July because they have holidays attached, but the rest get lost in the smog of history. This is a pity because, when we dip into the vast ocean of unremembered anniversaries, we never know what we may find.

Wikimedia Commons

One of the most striking things about traveling in Europe is the constant presence of relics from older civilizations. They give us a time perspective, a reminder that we are just one civilization among many and that, in the vast timetable of history, we have been around for about five minutes, and will probably be gone in another five minutes.

Jane Austen died almost exactly two hundred years ago, on July 18, 1817. The anniversary bringing a small flood of new literary biographies. She wrote about a world that was, psychologically and socially a million miles away from present-day Britain or America, in the kind of English that nobody speaks or writes any more. The massive popularity of Jane Austen's work in the twenty-first century is therefore something of a mystery. Movies and TV specials have something to do with it, of course.