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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Remembering the Great War

In the town where I live, there is an old naval hospital. It was built by the British in the early years of the last century. Today, part of it is a boys’ school but the part at the rear is abandoned, run-down, eerily silent.

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I often go for walks in the grounds. The silent, vacant windows stare blindly at me. I wonder whether they’re still there, the ghosts of the soldiers of the Great War.

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Because they brought them here, you see, the shell-shocked and weary, the wounded and weak. From the trenches of the Dardanelles and Salonika; they brought them here to heal. They brought them here to die. And those that succumbed to their wounds were laid to rest on this rocky island, far, far away from home.

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One hundred years ago the world was in turmoil. The face of Europe  defaced by trenches that zig-zagged across it like open wounds; wounds that, despite the armistice four long years later, would not heal. Wounds that would spawn another, nastier, deadlier war. It was the end of the age of innocence. Life would never be the same again.

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It has been a poignant year. A year of commemorating the start of the Great War and the beginning of the end of the second World War. To those that fought, whether they lived or died, we owe much more than my simple tribute can ever express. We are forever indebted to their bravery and their sacrifice.

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During the Frist World War, Malta earned the title of Nurse of the Mediterranean when thousands of soldiers from the Gallipoli campaign were brought here to convalesce.

For the sake of historical accuracy, I would like to clarify that the hospital I mentioned in my opening paragraph was only partially completed during the First World War and it is debatable whether wounded soldiers were taken there during this conflict. However, the website of the Royal Army Medical Corps does mention that soldiers suffering from infectious diseases were treated there.

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Location: Sir David Bruce Royal Naval Hospital, Mtarfa, November 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Like Confetti In My Head

The remnants of hurricane Gonzalo hit our shores with fierce winds and not much else – no rain, no thunderstorms – just a few solitary clouds that sailed swiftly across the sky like huge sailing ships.

Cocooned in the stillness of our home. I absent-mindedly stare at the blinking cursor and empty screen. Silence envelopes me. The words are there but they are jumbled up, like confetti in my head; my notebooks full of unfinished sentences. I have a strange feeling of deja-vu`; of having gone through such a phase before – this semblance of outer calm and inner turmoil.

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I know the cure is to immerse myself in a good book or two, but it’s been three weeks since I finished Love in the Time of Cholera and I haven’t started anything new. I have an exam coming up in December and the little free time I have is now taken up with pharmaceutical textbooks and legislation. It’s been almost 20 years since I last sat for an exam. I suddenly seem to have landed in a slightly alien world.

And speaking of aliens, I came across this little guy in our back-yard a few weeks ago.

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As I focused on him and the camera made its little high-pitched noises, he lifted his head and looked at me. Maybe my camera spoke his language. He was a tiny thing, but he made me smile. It’s the little things, it’s always the little things, that brighten up my  day. But even though I’m not the type who wishes time away, (I’m getting too old for that) I am honestly counting the days to mid-December, when all this jitteriness will be behind me.

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So now you know why I’m blogging less and only commenting sporadically on your posts. Wishing you all a world of cute little aliens – unless they make you run a mile - and I hope there are no exams on your horizons.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Shifting Tides

The seasons are shifting. The days are getting shorter. Sometimes, when I wake up, the rosy fingers of dawn are just starting to caress the morning sky. The air is cool and sweet. It smells of dew and reminds me of mysterious things. I linger by a window sometimes, enjoying the silent serenity. Then the neighbour’s dog barks. The spell is broken.

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In those few moments that I spend with the dawn, gazing at the valley and fields, the retreating darkness fools me into thinking that nothing much has changed over the years, that the view outside my window is the same now as it was fifty years ago, five hundred years ago. But as I turn to face the day, reality comes flooding back. We live in a horrible world. Ebola, ISIS, tension in Ukraine, famine, murder, child abuse … my mind reels from the sickening brutality of it all. I want to return to my window. To that moment of peace, before the harsh light of day thrusts the unpalatable truth into the spotlight.

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The tides are shifting and we are being carried along with them. The outcome may be bleak. Or we might rise above the chaos and witness humanity’s finest hour. That is what I want to believe. Maybe it’s what we all need to believe.

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It’s a scary world out there and I try not to dwell on it too much. After all, our collective destiny is very rarely in our hands. When people woke up, on that fateful June day one hundred years ago, they were blissfully unaware that a murder in Sarajevo would plunge the world into war not once, but twice. In the grand scheme of things, we are but pawns in history’s game of chess.

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Yes, the tides are shifting, but tomorrow the sun will still rise in the east and set in the west. The dew will lie heavy on the  leaves and will luminesce like pearls, before the warmth of the sun will make it rise like a wraith to the blue skies above. The last cricket will sing and the waves will hug the shore as they have done for thousands of years. Life will go on.

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Tide-out, St Ives, Cornwall ~ July 2012

Friday, September 26, 2014

Fabulous Fridays: Notting Hill

I know that I said I wouldn’t write about London for a while. But when I recently found myself watching the movie all over again to remember the vibe of the place, I knew that I just had to bow to the muse. Incidentally, was it Notting Hill that made the movie famous or was it the other way around?

I happened to just love this London neighbourhood. It is quirky, with a plethora of vintage clothing stores and little boutiques.

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You’ll find art everywhere – not just in galleries.

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The houses are painted in the most fascinating and vibrant shades.

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It had such a friendly, relaxed atmosphere that it’s hard to believe we were not too far from central London. Notting Hill truly felt like an area of London that I wouldn’t mind living in. Of course, that assumption may be based on the number of bookstores that we came across.

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Yes, it definitely felt curiously homely, which is not usually an adjective that I associate with London.

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So there you have it – Notting Hill in a nutshell.

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And of course, I could not resist sharing this:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

That Elusive Something

My son’s friend turned eight yesterday. So a bonfire was the order of the day (or rather, night). We cooked sausages on sticks and toasted marshmallows to make Smores, their melted gooiness sticking to our fingers and faces, as the velvety darkness caressed our skin and the crickets sang their humble serenade. It was the last hurrah, the final nod to summer before saying farewell. School starts next week; and it will all begin all over again.

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I made many plans before summer started but the days relentlessly  marched on, turning into weeks and then months, as I floundered around trying to find some respite from the heat and not accomplishing mush else. It is the story of every summer. Or at least, it is my story - of hours wasted, lounging behind shuttered windows, desperately seeking that elusive something – the something that the French call the je ne sais quoi.

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Because summer, you see, is about making memories. It is about looking back, many years later, and forgetting the heat and the humidity and the pesky bugs and remembering only those moments that stand out in time because of their simplicity and the heart-warming feelings that they evoke.

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Time always flies beyond our reach and I always seem to be standing on a figurative threshold, trying to catch it in a gossamer web of words and images. For soon, all that we are now will be but a shadow and all that is will become but a moment of laughter on a lilting summer breeze.

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Monday, September 8, 2014

London Moments

I’ve been trying for days to define London, struggling to find just one word to describe it. Then, it dawned on me that I can’t. So I won’t. But I will share the moments that made me think ‘this is London’. It might not be your London or the guidebooks’ London. But this is my London. And these are my moments:

~ Most moving moment: Attending Sunday service at Westminster Abbey. We didn’t plan it, we just wanted to visit and forgot that it might not be open on a Sunday. But we were invited to attend the service and I am overjoyed that we did. The singing was sublime and the towering Gothic architecture made it even more so. We were not allowed to take any photos, but perhaps it was just as well, because I paid more attention to what was around me and I left the place in awe.

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~ Laziest moment: sitting in the shade of a sprawling tree in Kensington Gardens and contemplating the fountains in the Italian Garden.

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~ Best shop-window display: Selfridges of Oxford Street. Each window display was part of their Meet the Makers campaign which gave shoppers a chance to meet the  people behind some of the items for sale in their food court.

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~Favourite historical building: I would have to confess that it’s the Tower of London. This brooding fortress on the edge of the Thames has a dark and bloody history which has fascinated me for years. I am still trying to decide whether that is a good or a bad thing.

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~ Favourite historical artifact: London museums are replete with important historical finds but, for me, the absolute star was the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum. The discovery of this stone was instrumental in helping scholars decipher hieroglyphics. I remember discussing its importance many years ago during history lessons at school. Incidentally, I did not realise that the Rosetta Stone was this big.

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~ Best fast-food:  it definitely had to be the sandwiches at Pret-a-Manger. There’s a wide variety to choose from and they are a healthier choice than burger and fries.

~ Most beautiful building:  in a city that is almost over-crowded with architectural gems, it’s really hard to pinpoint just one. The Royal Albert Hall, St Paul’s Cathedral and the iconic Tower Bridge all come to mind, but as we walked along Westminster Bridge and the sun started to set, it cast a golden hue on Westminster Palace (better known as the Houses of Parliament) and Big Ben and my heart just  missed a beat. I knew that this image of London would stay with me for months to come.

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~ Most interesting restoration: the Covent Garden covered market. It made me think what, with some imagination, our own covered market in Valletta could be turned into. The Covent Garden market used to be a vegetable and flower market. When it was moved elsewhere because of traffic congestion, the market was restored and re-opened as a shopping centre with small boutiques, specialty stores, restaurants, cafes and a craft market.

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~ Favourite neighbourhood:  Notting Hill. This pretty district with its colourful houses and vintage stores feels very different from the rest of London. What once used to be a very run-down neighbourhood is now one of the most desirable residential areas of the city. The popular Portobello street market takes place in Notting Hill every weekend. Pity we missed it.

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~ Most not-sure-whether-to-scream-or-laugh moment: as we walked along a lonely garden path in Kensington Gardens, a huge rat ran out right in front of us. I doubt I would have felt so relaxed under the tree if I had known these creatures were lurking in the bushes.

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Since I don’t want to bore your collective socks off, this will be my last post about London – at least for a while. Now that summer is winding down and I get back into some sort of routine, I hope to write more regularly and be able to comment a bit more. Hope you’re all enjoying the last days of the season.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Time Out in Trafalgar Square

As I wrote in my last post, London was hectic, and I am thankful for that because we got to see a lot. But there comes a time in every vacation when you just need to stop, step back and look, take a real good look, at what is around you; touch base with yourself, if you will, and with the city you are in. It was a Monday afternoon and after watching the Changing of the Guard and walking along The Mall to Trafalgar Square, my husband proposed a visit to the National Gallery. London 600

Although we would normally have joined him, the Mischief Maker and I had other ideas. While my art-loving husband hurried through the vast spaces of the National Gallery and admired paintings created by some of the greatest masters, the Mischief Maker and I hoisted ourselves up on the pedestal of Nelson’s column and ate our freshly-prepared sandwiches from Pret-a-Manger: egg salad and water-cress for him and smoked salmon and cream cheese for me. London 601

It was time for us to relax and watch the micro-world of Trafalgar Square go by. And what better place to do it than perched on the pedestal of one of England’s greatest heroes? Some 50 metres above us, the admiral continued to survey the pulsating rhythm of London and we too were able to ‘kick off our shoes’ and take it all in. London 602

There’s a little bit of everything here: kings, generals and admirals, frozen in time; unexpected works of art; amazing architecture; fountains; and people of all ages, colours and nationalities. London 603

Around the square, taxis and buses, cars and bicycles, whizzed by incessantly. Trafalgar Square is at the heart of this city. It is a place where Londoners gather to celebrate and to protest. They come here in droves to ring in the New Year and whenever an English team wins an important sporting event. And they come here to vociferously make their concerns heard.London 604

But, up there on the plinth, we had our moment of peace and a perfect spot for people watching. I could have spent more time on my perch, enjoying the sound of the water splashing into the fountain basins, the constantly changing scene and the babble of different languages. London_Phone 106

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I was in my own reverie, dreaming of London, or my version of London, but suddenly, the strains of Hallelujah brought me back to earth. I landed into reality with a very gentle bump and threw some coins into the busker’s guitar case. I was thankful that he had unknowingly turned my moment of peace into one of those moments that will forever remain etched in my memory.

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Trafalgar Square – make of it what you will but I made it into my moment of peace and reflection. I’ve always had a hard time deciding which spot in London is my favourite but I think that, on this visit, I can safely say that this was mine.

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Trafalgar Square, Westminster, London WC2N 5DN, United Kingdom

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

London Love

I was eight the first time I visited London. It was my first experience of a big city and, I admit, I was scared. The Underground, the endless screeching of police and ambulance sirens, the punk rockers with their crazy hairstyles (it was the late 70s, after all), the hectic pace, the crowds – it was a bit too much. London 184

But there is something about  London that I have loved for as far back as I can remember and that is its history and its memorable, albeit sometimes roguish, characters. The story of London is the story of England. From its Roman  beginnings to the present day, this city  has withstood plague, fire, civil war and the Blitz and each time it has come back more defiant than ever. London 355

There is much to discover in London – so much that it leaves me breathless – because a week is not enough to explore all the places that I want to see, but a week is all I have. So there I am, with all the other tourists, “seeing the sights” and despising myself just a little bit, because I know there is more to London than that. London 361

But, at the same time, I am drawn to the sights, I have to see them all again, because the last time I was there was in 1997 and that was too long ago. So I revisited them, pointing them out eagerly to my Mischief Maker, hoping to plant in him a seed of love for this great city. But in spite of the lack of time, I was lucky enough to have enough of it to discover new places, new things.

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So between spending time at the British  Museum and Trafalgar Square; the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace, we discovered Covent Garden and Notting Hill. We saw London from the Thames, we saw it from The Eye and we saw it from the top of double-decker buses. London 534

Despite the fact that I am not much of a city girl, this is one metropolis that never ceases to pique my curiosity. I have spent the last few weeks since returning home  trying desperately to understand its vibe. Because it has one,as all cities do, but it is not easy to define. London is traditional but occasionally outrageous; regal but ever so insouciant; irreverent, unabashed, diverse…London 390

Even its architecture is so varied that I am at a loss as to how to describe it best. Victorian with occasional medieval gems? Modern but interspersed with neo-classical beauties? It is constantly changing yet some things have remained the same. London 636

You can read about London in a hundred guide-books yet it is still able to shroud itself in mystery. Perhaps that is what makes it so attractive. Perhaps that is why it keeps luring me back.London 399

You may read about London’s history here or here.London 477

And if you’re in London and are at a loss what to do, here are some suggestions from the Telegraph: 100 of the best things to do in London.

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Until next time, ma belle …

Locations from top to bottom: the White Tower (Tower of London); Big Ben; Westminster Abbey; supporting columns of the old Blackfriar’s Bridge; the Houses of Parliament (Westminster Palace); the London Eye; Covent Garden market; the Shard and the Millennium Bridge; the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral; the London Aquarium; the Royal Albert Hall.

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