Identity

A cautionary reflection from 2016 that seems worth remembering today…

Sicily and Malta.9

 

Blue Grotto - Qrendi 9:30 AM Sunday
A spectacular view of the wave-fashioned coast near the Blue Grotto at Qrendi, Malta

On Sunday, March 21, we took a small minibus on a guided visit to the south of the island of Malta. What looked like a long lineup and the diminuitive boats didn’t inspire enthusiasm, and we’ve seen other grottos, so we passed on this short trip. We shopped for souvenir tea towels, etc and my camera had brunch.

While I was waiting in a surprisingly nice gift shop the owner pointed up over my head to the official Flag of Malta . She said something I remember sort of like:

“You know we have this other flag. It was given to us by the British, having bombed the crap out of us during WW II!”

For more on the history of Malta that explains the above quote and the Arabic influence see the first post on Malta: Sicily and Malta.7

We then motored east to the lovely seaside port of Marsaxlokk, very busy and fascinating on a Sunday. We enjoyed the colour of the buildings and shopped at the large, pleasant market that stretched for quite a distance along the shore selling everything under the formidable Maltese sun.

At the Church of Our Lady of Pompeii a homily was being preached about Archbishop Oscar Romero of Salvador, canonized a week earlier. Being out of touch but remembering this martyred hero very well, my first thought was “Is Liberation Theology alive and well here in Malta?” Research done at home later dismissed that hopeful idea.

It seems to have required an Argentinian, Pope Francis, to finally beatify in 2015 and recently canonize Saint Oscar Romero, murdered by a right-wing death squad on March 24, 1980 while celebrating mass. Bombs outside the Cathedral in San Salvador also killed between 27 and 40 others and wounded over 200. (See above link.)

But back to our story… We sauntered back to a corner where our minibus would pick us up before noon, still enjoying the place and chatting at the corner with our fellow Sicily/Malta traveller, Shay.

Then our little group returned, past many dwellings not far from the airport that have been built to house refugees, safely to our hotel. For the last time, we took the #14 bus to Valletta, where we ate in an interesting restaurant. Our table was beside a Bullfighting poster from 1996.

We were transferred to the airport once again, one of the things that Insight Vacations includes in the price of its tours. Our route home was Valletta > Catania > Frankfurt > Toronto.

Taxiing before takeoff from Catania, Sicily’s Mungibeddu (Beautiful Mountain), and its godlike namesake nymph, Aetna, gave us a special farewell blessing:

Finally We See Etna!
We got our only decent view of the top of Mount Etna

Our time in Sicily and Malta was full of history, art, fun – and a little luck.

Sicily and Malta.8

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Approaching Rabat from Valletta, Mdina comes first into view.

We were picked up at the Radisson Blu Hotel at 9:30 AM. Marlene drove us to Rabat. With us also were the ‘patriarch,” Frank, and Francesca, Marlene’s daughter. Our friend, Canadian Friar Ed, had introduced us to Frank on the phone before we left Canada. They showed us great kindness and had a treasure chest of knowledge to share.

The first place we visited was St. Paul’s Collegiate Church in Rabat known as the “Knight’s Church.” The Knights Hospitaller settled in Malta in 1530 after being driven from Rhodes by Süleyman the Magnificent in 1522. The Knights’ symbol is an 8-pointed cross, the symbolism of which, some say, is that the points represent the eight European langues of the Hospitallers: Auvergne, Provence, France, Aragon, Castille&Portugal, Italy, Germany, and the British Isles. Looks a bit like a stretch to me, but it makes it pretty clear that Arabic was not one of their original tongues…

Valletta, the “new” Maltese capital, was named after Jean Parisot de la Vallette, who fought bravely in Rhodes against the Ottomans and, as Grand Master, successfully defended Malta against them during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. De la Valette laid the first stone of Valletta in 1566, but did not live to see it finished.

Some photos from St. Paul’s in Rabat:

Then we exited the main Knights’ Church and visited St. Paul’s Grotto in an adjacent underground area where St. Paul stayed while successfully converting Publius, the Romans’ chief person on Malta, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Catacombs are a major part of this neighbourhood. There is also a large section that houses a museum to the Knights of Malta. Our hosts took us there. It contains portraits, statues and furniture related to the Knights.

We were treated to a delicious lunch by our gracious hosts, after which they showed us Mdina.

Our wonderful hosts returned us faithfully to our Pembroke Radisson Blu shortly before 5 PM, and then we “#14ed” into Valletta for supper and a little shopping, returning home after an early tropical sunset.

On Sunday we planned to visit the Blue Grotto and Marsaxlokk on a tour bus that Anne set up for us on Friday. That will be my last post on our Sicily and Malta 2018 tour.

Sicily and Malta.7

Malta, Day One: October 19, 2018

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We took off from Catania for Malta very early on Friday, October 19, 2018.

Sicily was fabulous (see posts 1 to 6) and we were looking forward to Malta because we had Maltese people there who would show us Rabat and Mdina. Our long-time friend and pastor, a Franciscan friar whom I had worked very closely with liturgically and musically at a local Brampton Ontario parish beginning in 1976, has Maltese roots. Relatives of his would pick us up at our hotel on Saturday morning, October 20 and show us their town of Rabat, where the Grotto of St. Paul is located and next to Mdina, the main ancient Arabic city on Malta.

And a cousin of mine, Mary, and her friend, Cathy, were by coincidence in Malta. They were going to arrive a few hours after us and were staying closeby in Valletta at the Grand Harbour Hotel. Our hotel, the Radisson Blu in Pembroke, less than 3 km from Valletta as the gull flies, was nevertheless 30 to 40 minutes by public bus northwest of Valletta – since it stopped often and followed the squiggly, attractive coast.

Malta has an excellent public transit system around the island and, as the next photos will show, public transit is well patronized. We used the #14 bus more than once every day.

We were part of a Group of Seven who added Malta to Insight  Vacations’ Sicily tour. We each did our own things in Malta. Our loose “Group” was picked up at the airport by someone named Anne who explained what Insight, our tour company, had available for us in the way of optional activities and processed us in a nice big area at the Radisson Blu after our airport bus dropped us off. She showed us where to take the #14 bus. Pembroke was near the start of the #14’s route into Valletta, so getting a seat was never a problem.

Valletta Visits

We visited the amazing, opulent, St. John’s Co-Cathedral first. It boasts two Caravaggios and a ceiling that took the magnificent Italian, Mattia Preti, six years to complete. Caravaggio, by then a fugitive, was befriended by the Knights of St. John who were/are wealthy and powerful. I hunt down Caravaggio paintings wherever I go. I’m fascinated by his crazy life and his chiaroscuro style. He was one of the first artists who painted people who looked like you and me. “Caravaggio,” whose actual name was Michelangelo Merisi, signed only one of his many paintings, The Beheading of John the Baptist, ca. 1608. His other work in St. John’s is St. Jerome Writing.

Malta, tiny yet complex, has been the recipient of much interference for hundreds of years. Its history of sacrifice and resilience is the stuff of legend. Here are a few highlights:

In the 8th C. many Phoenicians arrived in Malta, displaced perhaps by rivalries in the Eastern Mediterranean following the birth of Islam. Those folks founded the beautiful city of Mdina. the Maltese language is closely related to Arabic. English is the other official language of Malta.

The Knights Hospitaller settled in Malta in 1530, where they met a people who spoke a form of Arabic. The Knights had been driven from their “home” on the island of Rhodes eight years earlier by the Ottoman Turks led by Süleyman the Magnificent.

In 1560 the Ottomans returned and destroyed the Spanish and allied Christian ships off Tunisia. Malta was ripe for the taking but the Turks didn’t come back to take over the Mediterranean until 1565.  During the interim a much larger Spanish fleet had been prepared. The Ottomans captured St. Elmo, at the tip of Valletta, but did not take the island.

During WW II Malta was bombed by Hitler and Britain, being a key strategic port for allied navies to use in order to control the Mediterranean. Axis-controlled Sicily, a vital target for our allies, was nearby. Like the Sicilians, the Maltese ducked into the nearest catacombs and tunnels when the serious shit came down.

This and so many more events and experiences are described in an audio-visual presentation called The Malta Experience.

After viewing the amazing show there, we met Mary and Cathy at their hotel. The nearby Helen’s Kitchen, where we had enjoyed a delicious lunch, was closed for supper, but we found an acceptable place to eat and had a great time.

Friday’s last photo is of the Triton Fountain, recently restored. It is beautiful at night.

Fridays For Future – Toronto

 

For humans to have a future on Earth we must urgently make some complicated  choices to stop our fouling of the delicate biosphere, which we carelessly “nest” in and share with other living things from the tiniest to the huge.

Speakers we listened to yesterday were mostly young people. They came from across Canada and the Lakota were with us from the U.S.A. Many speakers were indigenous. A lot of chi miigwetches (“big thank yous” in Ojibwa) were heard.

Some speakers at Friday’s “Strike” were a little naïve in statements that listed a whole bunch of things that apparently can and must all be done. Many hard trade offs will have to be made. There will be winners and losers. But we adults had given up trying to stop abusing the planet and have been asleep for decades while the rug was gradually pulled out from under the democratic system. It has happened on our distracted, gadget-smothered watch. We’ve spent way too much time managing our complicated, mostly electronic, “toys.”

While we’ve fiddled like a famous Roman Emperor, our planet has caught fire.

And household recycling, for instance, has become a farcical, shallow, population-fooling exercise. Our cities are afraid to admit how much has been spent on those opaque plastic bins and huge, blind, job-cutting trucks that carry so many “recyclables” that are, by design or circumstance, non-recyclable eventually to dumps. Instead of dealing with the problem, we have used fossil fuels to transport our garbage across oceans to poor countries destitute and/or corrupt enough to accept it.

Single-use plastics, happily not used by those at the Climate Strike for drinks, must be eliminated, not taxed. Our tap water is drinkable, yet Nestlés is raping underground and pristine lake water in both wealthy and poor, thirsty settlements worldwide to put environmentally under-priced water, plain or profitably flavoured and coloured by that corporation, into single-use bottles! Council of Canadians is trying very hard to fight this here. This is a great, doable start.

Anyone who has been in a hospital has seen the mountains of efficient, but polluting, throw-away plastic packages that keep throw-away, plastic-plus-metal medical syringes and other tools sterile. Eliminating these will not help to make or keep free health care for all easy to maintain. Finding our way through complex environmental and economic issues will not be as easy as expressing our goals in attractive slogans. But somehow we must change fast.

One thing Greta Thunberg is right about is that we need awareness, political protest and real sacrifice for these hoped-for changes to become reality. The handful of families that control the world by dominating our Cabinets, Prime Ministers and Presidents can no longer be resisted simply by voting. Humans are becoming glamorous turkeys – just one more exploitable farmyard resource.

So we quickly need to learn to use our backbones and our legs.

St. Canice’s Cathedral – Kilkenny, Ireland

13th C. St. Canice’s Cathedral: My camera’s view from its leaning tower.

In July we visited Ireland, South and North, for a couple of weeks. I was determined to see this cathedral because of a line in an iconic song called Carrighfergus, performed here most beautifully by Cedric Smith and Loreena McKennitt. The line in context:

In Kilkenny it is reported:             they’ve marble stones there, as black as ink

With gold and silver I would transport her, but I’ll sing no more now… ’til I get a drink

Our tour director placed her trust in me, as I had to get to the place and back (a medieval mile distant) in 80 minutes so as not to delay the bus’s departure after our lunch in  Kilkenny. Erica wisely suggested that I take a taxi there to allow my camera and me time to climb the tower and photograph the interior. The walk down the town’s medieval mile got me back with 10 minutes to spare.

I’ve since learned that there are only three old towers like this in Ireland that can still be climbed. St. Candice’ tower really does lean,  according to a recorded spooky voice regularly reassuring me that it would probably hold climbers up for a good while yet…

 

 

 

 

Rain-assisted Birding Bonanza

 

 

This spring we have had some lousy weather, not much fun for us until the spring migration of birds through “Our Woods.”

The bad weather (wind and rain and cold) has turned into a blessing, since the warblers, kinglets and other migrating species that fly north through our back yard and the park with a stream behind us have been forced to sleep over a few days more than usual. A frequent walk north by the two small lakes is great, but we can see them from our dining room bay and master bedroom windows because they like to visit our back yard.

This year we have been paying extra attention and had several first sightings, including the northern goshawk, canvasback duck and pied-billed grebe (see previous post.)

Anita saw a black-throated green warbler last week – a first for this year.

May 10 was a birding bonanza! A spectacular first-ever sighting of a male Scarlet Tanager, and in OUR back yard! Our Spotter saw at the bay window the Tanager, a catbird, Nashville warblers, a female yellow warbler, a palm warbler, a black throated blue warbler, female, then male rose-breasted grosbeaks, white throated and white crowned sparrows, a song sparrow, and a brown thrasher.

On May 13, with the aid of my Spotter’s keen eye and my SONY 200 mm zoom lens we were able to clearly identify a Philadelphia vireo, vireo species being very difficult to distinguish from each other. See last photo above.

The grosbeaks stayed from the 10th to the 14th, departing this morning before 7 A.M. on a rare fair weather day. The white-throated sparrows stayed over a week and the white-crowned since Friday. They haven’t left yet!

Today an American Redstart was finally seen after being heard for a few days.

We are still hoping for an indigo bunting, having seen one in 1996 on the back lawn and in 2011 at the sunflower seed feeder.

The hummingbird feeder went up today. My target was May 3…

My SONY alpha A-6000 mirrorless SLR has come in handy for getting enough detail on birds that don’t wait around for me to take notes. I’ve used it mainly set up for quick action: continuous shooting medium or high (important for quick-moving subjects like warblers and swallows feeding over water). I was able to confirm the rough-winged swallow from its shape and colour with the very blurry photo above. I have been playing with DMF auto focus with manual assist to fine tune or rapidly and crudely adjust focus. Perfection is impossible in some situations.