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.

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Lili Marlen 1915-2015

Photo Credit - Corey Padgett
Photo Credit – Corley Padgett

This video, Lili Marlen 1915-2015,  is my new, and lyrically different, English version of the hugely iconic song, originally recorded in German by Lale Andersen in 1939. Her recording was much loved by soldiers from both sides in World War II and became the sign-off song for Radio Belgrade in German-occupied Yugoslavia.

The song was originally a 1915 poem written by Hans Leip, a teacher who was conscripted into the German Imperial Army. It was set to music in 1938 by Norbert Schultze. It was so loved by soldiers from both sides that Andersen recorded it in English in 1942.  Soldiers relate deeply to this wistful, iconic song.

The version I offer here tries to be faithful to the original German lyric, though I have modified it slightly for poetic and other reasons. It is quite different from Vera Lynn’s English version and, I think, has a better resonance with what Hans Leip originally wrote 100 years ago. This version also tries to completely express a broader set of the subtle complexities associated with precarious, long-distance, wartime relationships.

I didn’t start out to write yet another version of this piece, already done by stars like Vera Lynn and Marlene Dietrich. It just happened. Here’s how…

I sing songs in different languages and just wanted to know the meaning of the German words. A patient in a local hospital sang it for me in German while I accompanied her on the guitar… M’s performance moved me very much and I wanted somehow to honour what she had felt. I had trouble finding a literal translation, and entering it whole left Google Translate, and me, thoroughly confused. After a long time “parsing” each individual word the stuff started to make sense and making it rhyme accidentally became part of the process. Listening to the German performance by Marlene Dietrich was very helpful, as I had not yet found Lale Anderson. Happy with the result, I recorded it and asked Corley Padgett (Flicker: hornedfrog4life) if she would let me use her superb, copyrighted photo as background for the lyrics. Corley immediately agreed to help, and the rest, as they say, is history.

And, speaking of history, 2015 is the 100th Anniversary of the writing of the poem.