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

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A chat with La Contessa

Blogging is a strange thing. It starts as a solitary pursuit but, over time, connections are made and friendships develop. It is the 21st century’s version of pen-pals. So it was a pleasant surprise when Elizabeth, aka La Contessa, contacted me while I was on vacation in the US.

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Anybody who reads Elizabeth’s blog, The Vintage Contessa, knows that she is exuberant and larger than life. But she is also one of the sweetest people in the blogosphere and always leaves the nicest comments. She also has the most soft-spoken, sing-song voice that I’ve ever heard. Those that know me well will tell you that I am quite shy, but speaking to Elizabeth about the adorable Banksy (her son’s miniature pig), soon  put me at ease. So thank you Contessa, for taking the time to have a chat with me. I am sure that one day we will make it to California, especially since visiting all fifty US states is on my bucket list, and I’ve only made it to eight.

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Now those of you that live in the area would do well to visit Blue Door Antiques as our favourite Contessa has set up shop there and she has a plethora of lovely, vintage items for sale. I fell in love with some white wicker chairs but, alas, it would be too expensive to ship them half way across the world.

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Speaking of US states, Missouri is the one I get to visit most, since my husband is from the northern part of that state, from a sleepy little town in the middle of vast cornfields at the edge of the seemingly endless Mississippi – the river that goes on forever. It is quiet, peaceful and relaxing here – the perfect getaway.

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This is Mark Twain country, just 45 minutes away from Hannibal, the author’s boyhood home. I find it fascinating to wake up in the morning and find humming birds hovering at the bird-feeder. And, although many people consider them to be pests, I love the cheekiness of the wild rabbits hopping around peoples’ yards and getting up to mischief.

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There’s not much to do around here – which is just as well – because there are times when I feel an overwhelming need to shut down and forget everything. Forget that in this overwhelmingly huge country there are cities teeming with millions of people. Forget that thing called work. Forget, forget and fall into a pleasant reverie, until the distant rumble of the freight train carrying coal to some destination unknown gently nudges me out of my dream-like state to the calming serenity of  rural America.

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P.S THE BLUE DOOR ANTIQUE SHOP is located at 321 N.L Street,

Livermore, California 94551.

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Location: Canton, Missouri, USA

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Memories of a summer trip

Well, here I am again after a rather long absence. In the past few weeks, we flew across the Atlantic and spent a lovely vacation in the land of quaint barns, wide open spaces and colossal cities – better known as the USA.

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I used to think that there was not much difference between Western Europe and the States, yet with each passing visit I realise more acutely just how big those differences are. But it’s all good because variety is the spice of life. So no complaints from me – except that the grocery stores are too cold.

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Vacations pass way to quickly and we always come back with that niggling feeling that we didn’t quite do and see all that we had planned. And my husband will probably blame me for that. But I am not a typical tourist. I don’t mind if I don’t see everything as long as I have time to linger in a place. I am always a dreamer but that characteristic seems to surface even more when I am on holiday and enjoying myself. There is no sense in rushing around. ‘Savour the moment’ is my motto. Yet at the same time, it doesn’t make sense to travel thousands of  miles and see nothing at all. And then there’s the Mischief Maker who, at nine, has his own ideas of the places he would like to visit. So I suppose we try to reach a balance without driving each other insane.

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So what did we do while we were there? We visited Washington DC, saw the monuments and tried to fit in as many museums as we could. We fell in love with a Space Shuttle. We rode a pedicab. We drove to the Ozark mountains and some of us fished (not me) while the rest of us lazed about (that would be me). We made friends with a dog called Shadow. We tried some Moonshine. We ate fresh blueberries for breakfast at a farm that was miles away from anything and anyone. We enjoyed special moments with family and old friends. We shopped (and shopped some more). We chased dragonflies. We had fun. We spent time together. We made memories. Because that’s what vacations are supposed to be about.

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More on our trip next time. Hope you’re all having a wonderful summer.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Golden

I blinked and it seemed as if June was three quarters gone. Summer has made its grand entrance on the wings of a north-west wind.It is here, but not quite. The sun is bright, but it is still kind. The heat is gentle; the nights thrillingly cool. The daylight hours have reached their zenith and from here, it is a slow demise to darker days.

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But for now, it is June, the most playful of the summer months. June is when the thought of summer still seems agreeable. When winter-white toes are dipped in turquoise waters and quickly withdrawn with shrill squeals of ‘It’s freezing’ and ‘The water’s still cold’. It is the month when the wheat has been harvested and the baled hay left out in the fields, like giant building blocks of some fantasy castle, until it is loaded on to trucks and stowed away for when the rain comes again.

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This is the month when the light takes on certain nuances; when it turns anything it touches to gold. There is an almost syrupy quality to the light. I wonder whether it’s sticky to the touch; talk myself out of bottling it up in a jam-jar and spreading it on my waffles instead of honey.

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I hate to admit that there is magic in the light of the solstice. That I want to stretch out under the sky and let its amber fingers tenderly touch my skin; its warm breath delicately kiss my eyelids. This fey light makes me feel as lazy as the big ginger cat that likes to sit on our garden wall. It seems to be purring ‘June is golden. June is golden,’ over and over. The light must have gone to my head. Or I’ve been bewitched by  Midas’ touch.

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Location: Valletta, June 2013

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Chaos in your soul

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Sometimes I fear that that’s all there is in my soul, a whole lot of chaos. Chaos born of a thousand tangled thoughts; a hundred shattered dreams. But these words bring hope that we will all find our path and fill the darkness with the bright light of eternal hope.

For all you dreamers out there, and I know there are many, let go of your doubts and shine. Shine like dancing stars.

Life is busy at the moment so I’ll keep it short for today. Enjoy your weekend.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Just because we could

Some days, wisps of memories force themselves out from some forgotten recess of my mind and play themselves out, like an old-time movie, before my eyes. They are happy memories; memories of childhood summers. And they are vivid. So vivid that I can feel the languid air of the fan as it gently caresses my warm skin. So seemingly recent, that my eyes are blinded by the silver light of mid-morning bouncing off of my white bedroom walls.

Outside my open window the cicadas sing shrilly to their hearts’ content; drunk on the heady heat of an unyielding sun. I can almost smell summer – that strange scent of dust and dry vegetation. I am staring at the ceiling, noting the strange patterns that the paint and the light seem to be conspiring to create on it.



It’s time to get up. But do I really want to? The hours stretch out endlessly. It seems like sunset is an eternity away. There are so many minutes to fill up. I gaze back up at the ceiling, thinking I can see the outline of a sheep in the furthest corner of the room. Perhaps it’s not just the cicadas who are drunk on the heat and the light. I can hear nothing else but their crazy, tuneless song but I force my ears to drown out their dizzying sound.

Now I am able to hear the clock tick-tocking away in our hall. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. How many more tick-tocks till nightfall? Maybe  I would stay in bed and count them, while conjuring up imaginary patterns on the ceiling.


Somewhere outside the cool, blue expanse that is the sea beckons and friends are impatiently waiting, anticipating a game of hopscotch or hide and seek. I could get up. I should get up, throw on a dress and start my day. Or I could lie on my entangled sheets and continue to count each tick. And each tock.

Just as quickly as it came, the memory fades. Ah, childhood, when time seemed endless and we wasted it by the bucket-load. Just because we thought it would last forever. Just because we could.

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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