The stories of my life on a little island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea ... and my occasional adventures beyond these shores.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Down the garden path and into mystery

On the hill leading from Floriana to Pieta, there is a garden. The entry-way is so unobtrusive that you will almost miss it; and people seem to do so because, most days, it is empty. Even on a public holiday we were the only people there except for two other couples.

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It has a name, of course, but I like to call it The Secret Garden. My secret garden. Secret, because it’s almost always deserted and secret because my inquisitive nose has smelt out a mystery (or rather my writer’s soul has created one just for the fun of it; because it would be inconceivable for me to live without a little mystery in my life).

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It’s a leafy sort of garden with huge trees providing a cool oasis on the warmest of days. But sadly, it lacks flowers, except for the wild ones which grow out of the most unusual cracks and crannies. For some unfathomable reason, no one thought of planting flowers here; of coaxing rainbows out of the earth. But I have. Because in my most secret heart, I have made it mine and I would fill it with a riot of blooms and colours.

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For I would plant hydrangeas and arum lilies in the shaded spots and roses where the sun shines for a few hours and then hides its face. And geraniums of course, in the full light of the sun, because that’s how they like it and no Maltese garden is complete without them. Sunflowers, to follow the course of the shifting light. Rosemary, lavender and thyme for their glorious scent. Succulents at the edge of borders. Pittosporum to form fragrant hedges and bougainvillea, that hardy, quintessential creeper, that requires so little care and rewards us with buckets of blossoms. There would be water-lilies in the renovated pond and a frog or two or three but the carved lions would remain as they are now: pock-marked with age and weather-worn.

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I can see it so clearly. My wild, secret garden. With it’s five different levels and its carving on the walls and its stunning views and its crowning glory – a watch-tower from which to survey, well, everything. 

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There is so much whimsy here, from the military crests carved into the bastion walls, to remnants of statues and a miniature sculpture of the  Castle of Gibraltar (of all things).

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This all-but-forgotten garden below a line of fortifications known as the Bastion of Provence, has it all; and then some. But it could have so much more. If it were mine.

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With a sigh I wrest myself out of my newest reverie and slowly walk down the garden path, out the doorway and into the world. For any wanderer’s soul, like mine, visiting this garden always feels like falling through the looking glass. There is something strangely ephemeral about it. A curious feeling that time ceases to be. That nothing is but what is not. So we will bid it goodbye for now lest I continue to wander in the land of dreams.

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And what of the mystery, I can almost hear you ask? Well, I think that for now we will leave it be, because mysteries tend to lose some of their lustre with the telling and some secrets have to remain just so. Secrets. Whispered by the breeze in the indifferent ears of time.

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Location: Sa Maison Garden, Sa Maison Street, Floriana (May 2015)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Happiness is …

Reading

This was one of the few resolutions I made for 2015 and one which I am happily keeping. Last year I read all of 4 books (despicable, I know). I’ve recently finished my seventh book since January and I plan to keep at it. My favourite so far is ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon followed closely by ‘Me Before You’ by Jojo Moyes.

Ruska by Apocalyptica

I have never seen cellos played like these guys play them and this haunting melody is absolutely beautiful. Ruska is Finnish for the colours of autumn and yes, I know we’re in a completely different season, but then I’ve always said that I’m a bundle of contradictions. I can’t seem to embed the video but you can go here to hear Ruska.

Shooting photos in manual mode

I find it challenging, and I make lots of mistakes, but there’s a certain freedom in allowing yourself to take full control of of all the little knobs and buttons. There’s a lot to learn and I am just taking baby steps forward, but once I was brave enough to get off of Auto mode I started to find Manual Mode rather addictive.

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Naturally, it’s good to have some help along the way. I found the following two books very  useful:

There are also some wonderful online resources such as Digital Photography School and Discover Digital Photography.

Eating figolli

These traditional Easter treats that my mum lovingly makes every year (with some help from a Mischievous Someone) are a dieter’s nightmare. They consist of a layer of sweet almond paste sandwiched between two layers of sweet pastry that has been cut into shapes such as fish, lambs, rabbits, hearts, butterflies … and covered in a  layer of chocolate or sugar frosting and decorated with icing sugar. They are sinful but truly worth Every. Single. Calorie.

The flowers of the garigue

Although mistakenly thought of as barren stretches of land, the garigue supports a wide variety of shrubs and aromatic herbs. To appreciate the wild beauty of the garigue you have to get down on your knees (literally) and look very closely at the pockets of fertile soil in between the coral-like protuberances of coralline limestone.

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You can read more about Malta’s garigue here.

Washi tape

One of my secret indulgences. Thankfully it can be purchased quite cheaply from EBay or Etsy and the cute designs make my journal look pretty. The best thing about it is that it’s acid-free which makes it perfectly safe to use on photographs or craft projects.

Strawberries

What’s not to love about strawberries? Just looking at them makes me smile – their colour, their shape (they remind me of pixie’s hats), their texture, their sweetness.

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Everything about them is perfect: they are packed with essential nutrients and are low in calories (only 33 per 100g) – which comes in handy when you’re indulging in figolli. Of course, you can disregard all the benefits and use them in a decadent dessert. Like this Strawberry Shortcake Cake I made recently. 

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Poppies

These wild-flowers do not grow in the garigue but by the wayside or in fields, among the wheat, and as soon as they start to life their somnolent faces towards the sun, it’s a sure sign that spring has reached its zenith and all the beauty around us will swiftly fade away. But right now they are blooming, and they are beautiful.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The stories in my head

Sometimes I like to lie on my back and lazily gaze at the wisps of clouds suspended like cobwebs in the vastness of the sky. And they come to me from nowhere, snippets of stories that always remain untold.

Stories of heroes longing to unsheathe their swords to rescue a maiden locked in the  turret of a blood-red castle.

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Tales of sacred places where feet no longer tread but whose stones stood tall in the virgin birth of a primeval dawn.

Adventures of love-sick soldiers in solitary towers watching and waiting for the next pirate raid.

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Legends of abandoned houses where footsteps are heard in the stillness of the night and laughter echoes in empty halls.

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They all whisper their secrets to me, like so many memories of some distant past that my subconscious barely remembers. Or they are just remnants of tales heard and remembered. Just snippets of legends waiting to be told; whispers of shadows waiting to be given life or destined forever to remain stories in my head.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Between the heart and a happy place

On a bright but breezy morning in mid-March we headed to the harbour town of Isla to admire what is probably one of the best views on the island from the vantage point provided by a solitary guard-post. It had been years since we had last visited this spot – and I know that’s hard to believe on an island which is 20 miles long by 15 miles wide (and that’s probably stretching it by a few miles) – but it’s the truth.

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We went there for the view but an impromptu history seemed in order because, a long time ago, fierce battles were fought on the now-placid water of this natural harbour. In the summer of 1565 a vastly outnumbered groups of Knights led by intrepid Frenchman Jean de Valette, defended this island for themselves, for the Maltese and, it is said, for Christendom, against the might of the Ottoman empire under the command of the infamous corsair Dragut.

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Under the sweltering heat of a Mediterranean sun one side attacked, and the other side defended, with a fervour that resulted in the loss of hundreds of lives, including that of Dragut. In the end, the Knights prevailed and the Turks sailed away with a greatly diminished fleet. The Great Siege of Malta was over. And that’s the end of the history lesson. You can read more here if you are so inclined.

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There was not  much here when the siege was fought and won. But over the years, thanks to the vision of ruling Knights, it grew into the harbour that we see today. Grand Harbour we call it. And it is grand with its fortified walls and forts and sweeping vistas of the sea and sky. It’s a familiar view but it gets me every time. It gets me somewhere between my heart and a happy place.

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I think those Knights of old and their military engineers were trying to make a statement when they envisioned this harbour. A statement of majesty and military might. It is what they stood for, after all. It was their way of assuring their sovereignty over this island. Their way of assuring that the massive bastion walls rising almost vertically out of the sea would strike fear into the heart of any potential foe. And in the precise architecture of this military extravaganza, they gave us a gift that keeps on giving. A gift which always gets me – somewhere between my heart and a happy place.

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Location: Gardjola Gardens, Isla (March 2015)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A collector of moments

Yes, that would be me. I am not a minimalist, by any means, but anything that I have around me is there for a reason. It could be a souvenir from a place I have visited or something that once belonged to a person that I cherish. They may seem like silly things, kitschy even,  but they speak to me in that language that only the heart understands. Which is why I have such a hard time letting go. In my little nook I am surrounded by memories, fleeting moments, long snatched away by time, that bring an unexpected smile to my face.

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Mine is a motley collection, without rhyme or reason; the only thing that the different pieces have in common is their vibrant colours and their unexpected diversity. They sit patiently on my shelf, waiting to be picked up again; waiting to take me back to a special place or a special time. Take the clown for example, all he has to do is perform one of his silly summersaults and I will be back beneath the brooding Gothic spires of the church of Our Lady of Tyn in the heart of Prague.

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The peachy-coloured cat was from a little art boutique in Vienna. My (now empty) tin of Maxim’s chocolates came all the way from Paris and now holds little knick-knacks. The little red phone box takes me back to the crowded streets of London.

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From the American south-west (Moab, Utah to be more precise) a little clay flute that produces some eerily beautiful sounds when you blow into it.

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And interspersed amongst them, photos. Photos of a boy who’s growing up too fast; of a much younger me; of summer vacations and unforgettable road-trips. More memories. More moments. And I collect them all.

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Monday, March 9, 2015

My ten books

A while back, some time last September to be precise, people were being tagged on Facebook and asked, without thinking about it for too long, to list the ten books which they absolutely loved or which had a profound effect on them. At the time, I had written down my ten hoping to share my list here and then forgot all about it. I was going through my little scribble/doodle pad when I came across the list. I thought it would be fun to share it with you and it would be even more fun if you would list some of your favourites in the comments. I am sure you will provide me with a lot of titles that will become my future favourites.

So here are my ten books (in no particular order):

1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Even if you’ve never read this triology, I am sure that it will need no introduction. I personally think that Tolkien was a genius. I was first introduced to the books when I was 17 years old (oh happy days). When I was told that they were a ‘fairy-tale for adults’ I was highly skeptical. But I had barely finished the first chapter before I was hooked. I admit that this genre is not for everyone but for those of us who can never seem to grow up, well, all I can say is that these books are perfect.

2. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

  This is another take on the story of King Arthur as told by the women in his life: his mother, Igraine; his wife, Gwenhwyfar; and his half-sister and high priestess of Avalon, Morgaine. Yes, I confess I have a weak spot for myths, legends and fairy-tales and the story of Arthur has always piqued my curiosity, as I have mentioned several  times. This is just my favourite version of this popular and well-known legend.

 

3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I have already written about this book here. So I will not say  much about it, except that it is very well written and moved me to tears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Summer of my German Soldier by Bette Greene

I think I was about twelve when I read this book. This is another novel about the war; about a Jewish girl, Patty Bergen, from Arkansas who befriended and hid a German prisoner of war. At twelve, it gave me a lot to think about and, sometimes I feel like some of the questions I had back then are still unanswered.

 

 

5. Chocolat by Joanne Harris

If you’ve been reading this blog long enough you certainly won’t be surprised that this book is on my list, because chocolate is my favourite thing to eat. But apart from that, there is something endearing about the way Joanne Harris writes and this novel, and its two sequels: The Lollipop Shoes and Peaches for Monsieur le Cure`, are the types of stories that draw you in and make you not want to put them down.

 

 

6. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I would say that this book is a must-read for every woman in the West. May we never take our freedom for granted. Although this is a work of fiction, it is an eye-opener into the way some women are still being treated in the 21st century.

 

 

 

 

 

7. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier is another author whose style of writing I absolutely love. I have read the majority of her books. This one is my favourite. It has become something of a personal ritual for me to read this book almost every summer and it never seems to get old.

 

 

 

 

8. Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee

This is a memoir of a long-lost time; of an England before telephones and electricity; of an innocence that the world will never have again. It is a picture of life between two world wars. I would glady recommend this book to anyone because there really is nothing not to like about it.

 

 

 

 

9. The Diary of  Anne Frank by Anne Frank

Another book which needs no introduction. I first read Anne’s diary when I was 11 – just a few years younger than Anne when she was writing it. At  the time I was having fun with my friends, riding my bike and discovering life. Anne was locked in an attic with her family, hardly daring to move during the day. Even just reading about it made me feel claustrophobic but I learnt a number of invaluable lessons that I know I will never forget,

 

10. The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

When I first picked up this book I thought I was about to read the biography of a saint. Instead, this delightful book is a whimsical, dreamy memoir of a Swedish doctor who built a villa on the isle of Capri. But it is much more than that. It introduces the reader to a host of vibrant, colourful characters, a plethora of lovable pets and a glimpse of a life lived somewhere on the edge of fantasy and reality. Sounds familiar? Yes, this is definitely not a book for realists or for those who only make use of their five senses.

 

It felt next to impossible to reduce the list of hundreds of books I have read to just ten, But I am happy with the ones on my list. Of course, if you asked me to list ten books in a year’s time, I might give you a different ten – although a few of them are perennial favourites. Now are any of you in the mood to share yours?

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