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.

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.

Sicily and Malta.1 – Intro

 

 

We returned from a holiday in Sicily and Malta on October 22.

It had started on October 8, dreadfully stress-loaded, with  a 2.5 hour Toronto delay on the tarmac in Air Canada 890, followed by an Air Canada “welcomer” in Rome October 9 who commanded us to “Run!” to our replacement flight – an impossible and dangerous marathon pre-destined to fail epically. We “ran” for 25 minutes…

Though we were both almost 74, no motorized transportation was offered. In fact, when requested, it was denied. We missed that replacement flight and, at one point, my wife and I were so breathless that I was worried that one of us would have a serious medical incident at FCO.

We went to about 4 disinterested, misinformed Alitalia desks/gates until we finally found a veteran Alitalia  supervisor who knew exactly how to solve our problem in about 10 minutes. He and his super efficient staff got us and our bags on Flight 1741 to Catania that left at 3 PM, 2.5  hours after our original Alitalia flight 1711 had been scheduled to depart.

Our destination was Siracusa, that ancient, sacred place that was once more important than Corinth or Athens. We easily found the Interbus kiosk at Catania Airport  that sold tickets to Siracusa for €5.70 pp and arrived at Maison Ortigia in the dark. Emanuele was waiting for us and for a few other patrons of his B&B who had also been delayed in their travels.

The beauty of what we experienced in these two ancient, war-torn lands more than made up for the stress we went through on October 8th and 9th in getting there.

Catania to Siracusa
Route from Catania to the island, Ortigia (ancient Siracusa) is a 63 km bus trip.

 

Vienna and Melk – May 16

Detail of Courtyard
Detail of Courtyard

May 16: goodbye Insight Vacations Highlights of Eastern Europe Bus Tour. Now for four self-planned nights in Vienna and a change to more  affordable digs. The concierge at the Hilton on Am Stadtpark was very helpful. He suggested leaving our bags with Hilton and leaving asap for Melk. I phoned the amazing Tina at K&T Boardinghouse, where we had booked 4 nights months before, to let them know we would be arriving much later than 9 AM because we were seizing the nice day and going to Melk. Tina suggested 6 PM and promised there would be someone there to welcome us. Going to Melk first made it possible to buy a money-saving 3-consecutive-day transit pass for our last 3 days in Vienna. We grabbed the U3 line right across the street. It took us 3 stops to Westbahnhof Station where we bought our tickets for Melk Abbey for €51 pp. These combi-tickets included the train from Westbahnhof Station to Melk, admission to the Abbey, a Danube boat from Melk to Krems and a train on a different line from Krems back to Vienna.

Vienna ►Melk  Melk ► Krems ► Vienna
Vienna ►Melk
Melk ► Krems ► Vienna

Read on for some photo souvenirs from our trip, followed by a description of our new digs and our Schnitzel dining fun evening in Vienna: Continue reading “Vienna and Melk – May 16”

Vienna – A First Taste

Klimt's The Kiss welcomes us to Vienna
Klimt’s The Kiss welcomes us to Vienna

On May 3 we landed smoothly in Vienna at about 08:40, more or less on time, after an overnight flight with three names operated by Austrian Airlines direct from Toronto. If one must wait for one’s bags and be bombarded by marketing, let it please be four illuminated panels of The Kiss. Always. I’m very OK with that. We had selected Insight Vacations’ Highlights of Eastern Europe bus tour because it began and ended in Vienna and included Budapest and Warsaw, where we had friends-well-met on our 2013 Camino Santiago. This enabled us (well, me) to add a precious four more days of self-guided sight-seeing in amazing, once-imperial-still-magnificent, Vienna before flying home on May 20. The itinerary also included two nights in Budapest, Kraków, Warsaw, Berlin and Prague plus one night in Cesky Krumlov. As bus tours go, Insight delivers one of the best. They use excellent tour directors, more legroom on the bus and centrally located, classy hotels. We weren’t disappointed. Out of seven tour directors on as many tours with Insight since 1995, we had six who were stellar and only one selfish, mercurial, intimidating, paranoid, should-have-retired-long-ago jerk. That was on a 2011 tour of Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Say no more. We had a welcome dinner planned for that evening with our tour director, Kari Anne. Her poster asked us to meet for roll call at about 17:30. Our room was ready at 10:40 when our transfer arrived at the Hilton Hotel near the Stadtpark, on the western edge of the famous Ringstrasse, a 12-minute walk to St. Stephens Cathedral, Stephansdom.

They still like real, paper, vintage books in Vienna
They still like real, paper, vintage books in Vienna

Continue reading “Vienna – A First Taste”

“Passionate Caring” or My Favorite Photographer

Autumn's Graces (copyright 2006) with permission
Autumn’s Graces (copyright 2006) with permission

My eldest (of three) daughter introduced me to Freeman Patterson’s work back in the 1990’s. She gave me his early book, Photographing The World Around You, A Visual Design Workshop, published in 1994. It is full of my pink highlighting because of the wonderful, simple way this great ~170 page book describes how to compose a photo. He is, for me, the consummate artist and teacher. I use ideas gleaned from this book and another, entitled Photography And The Art Of Seeing, in my humble work. I have nowhere near a true devotion to this art (photography being only one of my interests) but respect those, like Patterson, who do possess such commitment and insight.

Since a majority of the people whom I’ve met in the wordpress community have an interest in photography, I thought I would bring him to your attention.

Patterson, from Shampers Bluff, New Brunswick, not only loves his art; he does good with it and because of it. He has won nineteen major awards over his illustrious career including, in 1985, the Order of Canada (C.M.).

He is a generous philanthropist with a sensitive caring about, and a deep commitment to, Mother Earth. He is responsible for preserving from development  a beautiful part of Africa that he loves to photograph: Namaqualand. From his website’s Art Statement I’ve taken the following:

…no amount of technical knowledge and competence is, of itself, sufficient to make a craftperson into an artist. That requires caring — passionate caring about ultimate things. For me there is a close connection between art and religion in the sense that both are concerned about questions of meaning — if not about the meaning of existence generally, then certainly about the meaning of one’s individual life and how a person relates to his or her total community/environment.

His work is absolutely beautiful and unique. He works only in film. He is 75 this year. He gives amazing workshops. Check him out.

Córdova, Spain

Beautiful arches

Our Spain holiday in 2011 focused on Madrid and Andalusía, the area of Southern Spain in which Islam existed for over 700 years. Córdova was the capital of Islamic Spain. Its Islamic scholars were receptive to new ideas, and Catholics and Jews, the People of the Book, were able to reach high levels of influence in the various seats of power. This was truly a golden age, until fundamentalist soldiers from North Africa were brought in by warring city states to assist with battles between them. The fundamentalists stayed and, in the 11th century, gained enough power to cause problems for the enlightened liberals.

It was due to the enthusiasm of the Arabs for Greek philosophy that the writings of Aristotle and Plato spread to France and the rest of Europe. In 961 Córdova, full of translators, was the most enlightened city in Western Europe. Its library possessed 400 000 volumes. Córdova was the home of four great thinkers of different religions:
  1. Seneca the Younger, the Roman Stoic (d. 65 C.E.), teacher of Nero,
  2. Hosius (d. 359 C.E.), a bishop who advised Constantine
  3. Averroés, (d. 1198 C.E.), an Islamic scholar who considered Greek philospohy to be compatible with Islam
  4. Maimonides (d. 1204 C.E.), a Jewish codifier of Talmudic law

I found statues of Seneca, Avveroès and Maimonides but Hosius’ is in Alexandria.

A huge and beautiful mosque still stands there today. It is called the Mezquita, the Great Mosque.  Córdova was reconquered by the Catholics in 1236. A cathedral was built inside it by Charles V in the 16th C. Many Catholic dignitaries and royalty chose to be buried in the Mezquita. It is now a truly unique World Heritage site.

Another World Heritage site only a short bus ride from Córdova is Madinat al-Zahara, the royal city built outside Córdova by Abd ar-Rahman III in the 10th C. to increase his prestige against rival caliphates. It was a place of great beauty. Art was fully appreciated;  even art that contained representations of the animal form, anathema to the stricter sects of Islam. It was sacked ca. 1010 by North African soldiers during a civil war. The site is being busily excavated and rebuilt, largely through funding from the Aga Khan. A large, modern museum has been built to house treasures from the excavations and there is a wonderful computer-generated film that describes what courtly life was like there in the 10th C..