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.
Folks returning to the dock from their short, Blue Grotto trip
Another group setting out for the Blue Grotto in one of those wee boats.
Our minibus took us SW to the Blue Grotto, E to Marsaxlokk and then back past the airport to Valletta.
Flag of Malta. The George Cross in the top hoist corner was awarded to Malta by George VI in 1942 “for their courage during the war.”
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.
Painted doors in the lovely little town of Marsaxlokk
Locals and visitors at Marsaxlokk’s Sunday market.
Getting close enough to pay for a delicious tangerine 🙂
Mass was being celebrated at the Church of Our Lady of Pompei in Marsaxlokk.
The homily praised Saint Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, canonized a week earlier on Oct. 14.
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.)
Now to stroll back and wait for our tour’s minibus.
Anita and Shay (sitting) wait for our minibus to collect us.
Sunday 5 PM activity at this charming little play area near our hotel.
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.
While “14-ing” back into Valletta for a last visit and meal I snapped this woman relaxing by the road.
Stairway, yep, nice, wide stairway.
A charming view before we headed down into town.
Sunday afternoon near the fountain, this young woman was, shhh, milking the cow.
This leant a certain style to the place. Fortunately, all we saw were stacked cows where we were.
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:
Our time in Sicily and Malta was full of history, art, fun – and a little luck.
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:
Statue of St. Paul
Frank, Anita, Marlene and I (taken by Francesca)
John baptizes Jesus
Mary, her mother, Ann and Jesus
Pope John Paul II plaque honouring his visit to the Grotto of St. Paul
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.
Sign for the Grotto and Catacombs
Frank, Francesca, Marlene and Anita begin our descent
A shrine and statue in St. Pauls Grotto
One of many catacomb alcoves
Lovely rendition of Mother and Son
Inlaid ivory in dark ebony wood. Frank was accomplished at this before he went to university.
Portraits of some of the Knights
We were treated to a delicious lunch by our gracious hosts, after which they showed us Mdina.
Bridge to Mdina
Gardens outside Mdina’s walls
Carriage entering Mdina
Francesca, Frank, Anita and Marlene
Lovely narrow street
View from Mdina wall
Arabic a clear influence on street names and towns all over Malta
Children near a cannon
Tea garden area
Horse and wagon
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.
An iconic British shop
A pipe, anyone?
Good ol’ #14
Twilight October 20
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 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.
Valetta Bus #14, Sat., Oct. 19
Pembroke to Valetta
Valetta Bus #14, Mon., Oct. 21
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.
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.
Mattia Preti ceiling
Mattia Preti’s St. George
The Beheading of John the Baptist
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.
We finally spot the Malta Experience
The theatre was filled by a cruse ship group. Lucky we were first in line!
The Ticket. Buy one; this is a must see.
Bob, Anita, Cousin Mary and Cathy
Triton Fountain on our way to the bus terminus.
Friday’s last photo is of the Triton Fountain, recently restored. It is beautiful at night.
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.
Lovely stained glass in this place.
St. Canice’s and it’s leaning tower
St. Ciaran’s chair
The font is made from black Kilkenny marble
St. Canice’s Cathedral: View from its leaning tower.
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…
On Wednesday, October 17 our tour left Palermo and headed for Taormina via the really cool town of Cefalu. Cefalu was superb fun to walk in and very picturesque.
We would have our last two sleeps in Sicily in Naxos, on the coast facing the Italian mainland below another hill town, Taormina, famous for its sunrises.
If you’re desperate for one of those famous sunrises that helped so many, including D.H. Lawrence, fall in love with this town, stay not at sea level where Insight put us, but rather in a high place. And do NOT be a slave to a timetable like we were.
We had one crack at a Taormina sunrise: Thursday morning. And it was overcast.
On Friday, way before the sun came up, seven of our tour group who had opted to add three nights in Malta to our holiday had left Naxos in a van headed for Catania airport to catch an early morning flight to Valletta, Malta’s lovely capital city.
Wednesday in Cefalu
October 17, Stage 1
We snuck up on Cefalu as quietly as a large bus full of tourists can…
Produce vendor truck with detachable cart.
An operatic voice helps. I’m confident this fellow can sing as well as Elvis at least…
It’s bigger than it looks in this photo…
In a place as sharp as Sicily, these two statues looked surprisingly tired…
I’m sure there’s nothing precisely like this anywhere in Sicily.
One more Pantocrator. I kinda prefer the one in Monreale.
An old fashioned safety trick.
Nice. Love those colours. Reminds me of Alfama, Portugal, but this town has potential.
Is That A Cannoli Stand??
I’m no longer into fishing, but like being in a solitary boat. This place is all right in October…
David F., with the backwards cap, is the keenest photographer I’ve yet met on a tour. A good guy. As a photo bug, I know why the peak is at the back!
Yeah… mundane boats, but a pretty bay.
Good time of year if you don’t like crowds.
So! The Lisbon district of Alfama has nothing on this town!
We were told that these rocks are covered with sun worshippers in the summer :-Q
Is Josie giving me that Corno sign??!!
Wednesday Afternoon in TAORMINA
It took longer than expected to get to Taormina and our visit was rushed. Pity, because Wednesday was our one chance to see it. Tomorrow, Thursday, would be a full day visiting Mount Etna – our last full day in Sicily. After visiting the Teatro Antico in Taormina and taking our group photo in front of the chiesa there was no time left to properly visit the town.
The group photo was amateurishly hurried, the photographer taking 3 quickies and didn’t see a pigeon that photobombed his “best” shot, which he printed for us. See if you can spot it… We stayed outside Taormina at sea level at the Hilton Giardini Naxos. Nice, but not up high.
Cefalu to Taormina
Not exactly l’Arche du Triomphe
Begun in the third C. BC, probably over a Greek foundation.
This chap was very proud of Taormina
Almost a religious experience… He loved this theatre dearly.
Ahh, the beautiful perspective of differential focus
Bricks prove that this temple was built in Roman times
One of my favourite photos of this temple
While the bricks prove it’s Roman, the shape of the temple points to it being built over a Greek original.
Taken by David F. for us.
Lovely altar in Baroque style.
We have to go back down?
Beggars can’t be choosers. Isn’t that the Ionian Sea below…?
In front of Santa Caterina Church, photo-bombed by a pigeon! Good Grief!
The Greek theatre, Ear of Dionysius and the Apollo Temple area are shown here. The tour also explored the Piazza Duomo, with which we were very familiar. Our local expert was excellent in describing these sights.
Perhaps the largest Greek theatre on the planet is here in mainland Siracusa. One can see that controversial, too high peak of the Santuario della Madonna even on this hill!
At the top back overlooking the theatre are several caves
Christened by Caravaggio, this spectacular ear-shaped cave has wonderful acoustics!
70′ High and 200′ Deep
Water divides Ortygia (Ancient Siracusa) from mainland Siracusa
One has to use one’s imagination here…
Then we had a lunch break and left for Ragusa, about 2 hours away including a rest stop.
Ragusa-Ibla – The Old Town
Our local expert for Ragusa was again excellent in describing these sights. We visited the Old Town on Friday afternoon and slept in Ragusa.
Ragusa Ibla (Old Town) on our approach at 3:30 PM. It was terribly damaged in the earthquake of 1693 but its citizens opted to remain and rebuild. Many of the wealthy started a “new” town on another hill.
These gardens in Ragusa-Ibla are magnificent but the trees are threatened
This palm has been killed and many others here and elsewhere are dead or threatened by Red Palm Weevils
Sundial to the right of this Ibla Church determined when farm workers would start and stop for rest.
A nail in the middle of the top line creates a time telling shadow but one needs sun for this
The sisters who weren’t at the wedding in San Giorgio Cathedral were praying inside…
Several of our group are also in this photo. I was on the Duomo stairs within for the bride and groom…
Why three nights in Siracusa? That island city’s key treasures and its historical importance in the ancient, storied, Greek world (larger than Athens and Corinth in its time).
We (well, mostly I…) like to arrive and have one or two days on our own before joining a guided tour. Siracusa was a perfect choice. We landed at Catania Airport on October 9 and needed to return there to begin the tour. Siracusa was only a one hour bus ride direct from Catania Airport.
These are the attractions in central Ortigia that we visited
We traveled from Hop 3 to Hop 12 to get to the Museum. It goes N off the island into mainland Siracusa
Wednesday, October 10
We walked a short distance to the Piazza Duomo, first visiting Santa Lucía alla Badia Church that has a huge painting of the Burial of Saint Lucy by Caravaggio, a painter whose wonderful chiaroscuro work I search for wherever I am.
At 10:30 AM walking past the Archimedes Museum to the Piazza Duomo
Santa Lucía alla Badia Church has Caravaggio’s “The Burial of Saint Lucy”
Photos are not permitted in the church. This is from Wikipedia
I did sneak this one of Caravaggio’s life
After visiting St. Lucy’s Church we visited the Duomo itself, a cathedral built on the site of an ancient Greek temple, supported by the temples original columns and full of beautiful art .
There are many treasures in this place
The Duomo was built on original Doric columns from a ruined Greek temple
Santa Lucía with her eyes in a jar
Looking down the nave are two Doric columns
We aborted our walk through the Ipogeo, an ancient tunnel that leads to the Fonte Aretusa, because of the smell of urine, we cleansed with gelati at Gelati Bianca in P. Duomo and finished leftover pizza from our late supper on Tuesday. Then we walked north along Via Roma and just off the island to see how we would get to the Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum on Thursday. The two regular city bus lines weren’t working but we learned we could catch the Hop On Hop Off Bus at Hop 3 (Piazza Archimede), very near our BnB then get off at Hop 12 and the Museo tomorrow.
This early 20th C. statue by Giulio Moschetti represents the nymph Arethusa having been transformed into the goddess Diana, to whom she appealed when pursued by a horny river god.
We walked through this market on our walk near mainland Siracusa
Tourists cross from Ortigia to Siracusa’s mainland
We ate at a very busy Osteria Mariano, where we enjoyed the atmosphere and the food was good. I enjoy cannelloni so I tucked into one for dessert.
Thursday, October 11
Our stop for the Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum
Its sheer contrast with everything else in Siracusa renders this place scornful for many despite its “miraculous” tearful Madonna
This one was signed on the dolphin under Arethusa’s neck. The coin and jewelry items are plentiful and splendid.
A second century BC Venus at the Museo
La Fonte d’Aretusa – a fresh water spring that the Oracle of Delphi spoke of. It enabled the island of Ortigia to withstand sieges.
We walked from our B and B here for lunch on Thu
We enjoyed ourselves here on Wed night so returned (a tad early) on Thu
Friday, October 12
On Friday morning we explored Siracusa’s Forte Vigilena and the Papyrus Museum.
Friday morning we walked east to Forte Vigilena and I went to the edge, where the view was nice. But then almost all views are exceedingly nice in Ortigia.
At the Papyrus Museum I learned that it grows in the fresh waters near the mouth of the Ciane River – the ONLY place outside Africa where it grows in the wild.
At the mouth of the Fiume Ciane is the Papyrus Reserve.
Then we got on the Interbus, which goes to the airport, but getting off near the Catania train station, close to our hotel, instead. We were in good time to meet our tour director and a few of our fellow tourists before supper. I explored the centre of Catania very thoroughly – looking for a lens cover I’d lost. No decent photo shops to be found. Guess the Samsungs and iPhones have taken over…
We knew beforehand that Saturday we would return to Siracusa with our tour and this time visit its amazing Greek Theatre, the massive Ear of Dionsyius Cave and the bits left of the Temple of Apollo before continuing to the picturesque hilled town of Ragusa. All this the subjects of Sicily and Malta.3 – coming soon.
I have noticed over the years a shrinking of the best classics in English and French on Brampton’s library shelves. This has concerned me because I have slowly come to appreciate some of the truly great books and authors in the history of literature.
The most inspiring source of my literary “dabbling” in the past two decades has been Eleanor Wachtel’s amazing literary interviews on CBC Radio in her Sunday afternoon program, Writers and Company. She is, I think, the best literary interviewer on the Planet.
What took me by surprise in May was the shrinking of of the library’s adult French section. This is because I was looking for Madame Bovary in French, as a result of Wachtel’s interview with Karl Ove Knausgaard, the brilliant Norwegian, who described Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary as his “favourite book of all time.”
I wanted to borrow the original French version. (I thought I would respect the years Flaubert put in to meticulously completing, in 1857, his first and most famous novel that changed literature forever.)
The librarian could not find the adult French section. I located it by accident in June.
She did check on the computer and said Madame Bovary was not in any of the library branches of this city of over half a million people.
I, an anglophone of French/English/Irish descent raised in Montreal, with no “axe” to grind, am saddened to see this, and to find that nowhere in any Brampton’s eight libraries did a version of this first modern novel ever written exist in French.
So I requested it in French and waited until May 23 when it was delivered from the library in Acton, Ontario, population 9500, now amalgamated into the Town of Halton Hills.
French is not my first language and I spent the first three weeks getting through Thierry Laget’s brilliant preface, while listing listing the many words I had to look up. Then I noticed that, having been borrowed from another district, it was not renewable. I brought the book back on its due date and was again helped wonderfully by the person who served me. She renewed it on her own initiative for a week.
The Brampton Library has agreed to add more true classics like this to their shelves.
You can purchase the book and support Toronto’s Librairie Mosaïque here.
This unique, deep, and shining masterpiece should be widely available across Canada and the world.
I now own the Thierry Laget paperback edition and will treasure it always.
Poor, black US citizens are among the world’s many suffering canaries in the coal mine of unfettered-Capitalism, that unsustainable pursuit, having finally disempowered all of us except for the “point0-0-whatever%” that threatens to take the 99.99whatever% down the road to starvation, widespread war and extinction.
Chris Hedges interviews a rare sort of leader, Kali Akuno, a co-founder and co-director of Cooperation Jackson, a recent movement of poor, black citizens in Mississippi’s capital, Jackson.
Amy Goodman’s interview on Democracy Now with Akuno on the topic: Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination, in December last year, is excellent as well, especially for its inclusion of an appraisal of ultra-right Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and President Donald Trump. Akuno here points out a new white supremacy initiative building in America.
Under attack by a new city gentrification initiative that will eventually drive them off the land on which they currently eke out their humble, desperate existence, Cooperation Jackson is a movement started by Chokwe Lumumba, Mayor of Jackson until his death on Feb. 25, 2014. Akuno was his Director of Special Projects and External Funding.
This movement is a fascinating phenomenon that uses many of the potentially planet-saving Décroissance concepts being tried in different places I described in my October 2014 post, La Movement Décroissance. The French word Décroissance, uniquely combines the concept of degrowth with that of stopping believing in the way the current money-based system works. In Cerbère in Southern France and the Barcelona area, small communities have been established that:
Eat locally – and mostly plants
Disobey strategically some of the System’s “precepts”
Borrow, barter and time-trade, reducing dependence on money
We visited Iceland for 10 days in July. Above are a few photos I selected to send to my granddaughter who is 3 going on 7 and intensely involved in our holiday. Did you see a volcano? A geyser? A waterfall? A glacier? Are there trolls there?
She asked her preschool teacher to show her where Iceland was on the globe. Think her mother put her up to that… My first encounter with a map happened at the front of a class of kids I didn’t know – 3rd grade in a new school… But that is to digress…
Politics is pretty depressing these days. Envy that infectious child-like innocence.