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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

There’s something about Italy

Yes, there’s something about Italy and I don’t quite know what it is -whether it is the rolling Tuscan hills or its crumbling fortresses; the grandiose domes of its churches or the refreshing tinkle of its many fountains. What is certain is that there’s an inherent charm that seems to stem from its diversity. So perhaps it no wonder that its cities, landscapes and even obscure villages whose names are left out of all the guidebooks seem to have come to an unspoken agreement: to seduce the unwary traveller into leaving a piece of his heart and a part of his soul somewhere along its boot-shaped length. Italy has captured the imagination of countless poets, artists, writers and adventurers. But, you might ask, what is it about it that  you seek?

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And my answer would be ‘I don’t know’. I don’t know what draws me to this land. For I do not claim to be a poet, and an artist I most definitely am not. So would adventurer be a more fitting description? Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. I’m just an {older} girl with a camera and a pen; a wanderer’s soul and a passion for eavesdropping on whispers of the past.

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Yes, I am spellbound by Pisa and Siena and Venice (and Rome and Florence and … you get the picture) but I am equally mesmerised by those secret villages where no tourists venture and which even time seems to have forgotten. It’s been too long since my last visit and, everyday, I hear the siren call of this beautiful land a little bit stronger,   knowing full well that before too long I will have to break my shackles and answer it, so that I will, once again, be able to walk on ancient cobbled streets, beneath gravity-defying medieval towers, hoping to discover its secrets and trying to find that part of me which I had left behind on my previous visit. Or maybe it was the one before that. Or maybe it was a hundred years ago or even a thousand. Because time is relative here and Italy never feels like a stranger but more like an old friend with whom I can pick up a surreptitious conversation at exactly the same point we had left it the last time we met.

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I am a dreamer and, like all dreamers, I live somewhere on the border between fantasy and reality. In Italy, the fantastic is never too far beneath the surface and I seem to tune it to it intuitively. Maybe that is the lure which, time and again, draws me there. Or maybe it’s something more mundane: like the food, the wine and that typically Italian outlook on life epitomised by the now immortal phrase: la dolce vita.

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Oh Italy, even after all that soul-searching I am not any closer to pin-pointing where your magic lies. Which is probably why I keep on falling in love with you.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Circle in the sand

A desert wind blew in and left a trail of fine, orange dust in its wake.  They say that the desert is full of sand. But this is nothing like the grainy substance on our beaches. It’s as fine as the finest talcum powder. Only the colour is all wrong.Sandstorm (1)

When the scirocco blows it here in the belly of strange-coloured clouds, there’s nothing much we can do except wait for the storm to pass and then grab a broom, sweep it into a pile and throw it away. But this time, just as I was about to get rid of it, I plunged my fingers into the little powdery mound. And for a moment it seemed as if the Earth had stopped spinning, as the realisation hit me: that I’ve never been to the Sahara but I’d just touched it with my fingertips. This same sand that was now in an innocuous pile before me had been buffeted by the breath of a thousand different winds and scorched by the heat of an unforgiving sun, only to end up on this alien shore. In a pile. At my feet.Sandstorm (2)

I traced a circle through this fertile dust in which nothing grows and wondered how many weary travellers’ bodies it had embraced; how many camels had left their footprints across its lonely miles  and what exotic creatures called it home? I raised dusty fingers to my face and felt a tingle running down my  spine, followed by a strange sensation that miles and miles away a strange figure in an indigo-blue veil was watching me through narrowed eyes. Maybe my world had collided with his.Sandstorm (3)

Our farmers say that this desert dust fortifies our soil and nourishes the fledgling plants. I gathered the dust and scattered it gently on the surface of my garden soil. Perhaps it would help my flowers grow. Miles and miles away it seemed as if that solitary figure nodded in agreement and silently rode away into the endless expanse of the desert.Sandstorm (4)

You may read more about this strange desert wind in one of my first posts here.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Behind Closed Doors

As you know, it’s January, the month named after the Roman god Janus. And Janus, of course, is the god of transitions and beginnings; of gates and doorways.

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I’m a  January girl – born one exact month after the winter solstice. Maybe that might explain why I look to the future with my feet always rooted firmly in the past. It might also explain why I’ve always had an eternal fascination with doors. That’s the story I’m going with but, of course, you could say that I’m just curious and nosy.

Whatever the truth is, I find it hard to resist their allure. Some of them seem to have such grandiose aspirations.Valletta (11)

Others display the patina of the passing years with extreme nonchalance.

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Doors are portals to worlds and stories which are not  ours; to lives we cannot share. There is a mystery behind each door; a story waiting to be told. Valletta (14)

I like to imagine what lies behind them. What secrets they protect. Valletta (16)

With my imagination in over-drive I dream up fantastic tales and improbable histories.Valletta 144

What better way to pass a rainy, January evening? Until next time …

Location: Valletta, April 2014

Monday, January 12, 2015

2014: A Year of Small Discoveries

Looking forward. Looking back. Like a pendulum, my thoughts swing between what was and what might be. New hopes and dreams come with the birth of each year. But where we came from, our journey over the past 12 months is important too. We may walk near, or wander far from home, but each tiny step is a chapter in the story called Life.

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I will always remember 2014 as the year that started in sunshine and ended with  swirls of tiny snowflakes that died an instant death as soon as the landed on anything. It could have been an omen. Or it was just a personal lesson that the impossible can happen. Despite what we may think, we are not in complete control. Which is perhaps why 2014 has been my year of small discoveries. A year during which I have taken the big picture and broken it down into teeny, tiny pixels. And then I re-arranged them all to tell a story. My story.

A story of finding magic  where none really exists. A story that I saw with my eyes but felt with my soul.

Like the colours of the winter sea.

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Or the beauty of a spring sunset that set the sky on fire.

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Like the splendour and decay that is Valletta

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Or the crazy beauty of wild spring flowers.

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Like London – my beloved, quirky, impossibly beautiful London.

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Or swimming in secluded, almost inaccessible bays.

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Like the Baroque grandeur of the Grand Master’s Palace.

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Or the lure of wild places, crumbling chapels and unexpected colours on gateways that lead … Where?

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Well, that is a story for another day; another year. Last year’s discoveries will hopefully lead to this year’s adventures. Come walk with me. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Back to being me

What a year it’s been. Most  days it has felt like a roller coaster ride on the edge of a precipice. Work can do that to you sometimes – make you feel overwhelmed and out of your depth. And with this island being so small, there’s a dearth of places that you can run away to. But it wasn’t running away that I needed to do. It was more like finding myself again. All the stress and craziness had changed a part of me that I couldn’t quite define. But I could feel it and so could those around me. I felt like there were little mice {on speed} on a wheel in my head and they kept it turning and turning until I seemed to be constantly running to a destination I could not reach. I had no patience for anything – not even for the things I loved. Stormy days (1)

But finally the mice are still (or maybe they’ve died) and, over the holidays and nine blissful days away from work, I am back to being me. I am able to blog. Thanks to my own personal Santa and his mischievous little helper elf, I have a small pile of books to read. And, perhaps most importantly, I am back to wandering with my faithful camera and the added challenge to shoot on manual. It will take practice. But I think I will get there. It has been something I’ve been wanting to learn for a long time. Stormy days (6)

As you’ve probably already heard me say, I do not make new year’s resolutions. But I think that this year I will make just one. I work in an industry where, even if you’ve been doing your job perfectly, you  may still wake up one morning and be given your marching orders. So when the working day is over and I walk out of the office door, I plan to leave it all behind. It will still be there in the morning anyway. And if it’s not, it’s not worth worrying over. Stormy days (8)

You all know that I rarely write about personal life, preferring to focus on the ethereal and the imaginary. Well, I think it’s time to break the rules a bit. Stormy days (11)

I look forward to joining you all on whatever adventures 2015 decides to take you. Through your friendship and your wonderful words and images I can visit Provence, Vietnam, Spain, Versailles, Brussels and so  many other places without even leaving my seat and I am all the richer for it. Stormy days (14)

I would like to wish you all a wonderful 2015. May you all achieve whatever your hearts are secretly yearning for.Stormy days (15)

Locations: Mtarfa, Dingli Cliffs and Ghar Lapsi ~ December 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Wishing you wonder and joy

I am a procrastinator. But usually there is a method to the mayhem. My brain seems to be programmed to know exactly when I need to buckle up and stop walking the thin line between just-on-time and overdue. It’s a game I play with myself. I suppose that getting things done in the nick of time gives me some type of crazy adrenaline rush.

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This year I did not even have the choice to procrastinate and do things at my own pace. I was forced to leave everything until the last minute. The past couple of days have been a blur of shopping, cleaning, wrapping and baking. Until yesterday our office/playroom looked like this.

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Not pretty, I know, but it looks much better today. All I can say is I am so thankful for online shopping because if I had to trudge through the stores with the rest of humanity, most people would still be without a gift. With the obligatory shopping taken care of and after a marathon of wrapping, it was time for some baking with the Mischief Maker. I think it was while my hands were sticky with cookie dough and I was busy dunking cookies alternately in powdered cinnamon and icing sugar that the realization hit me that this simple act of making chocolate crinkle cookies with my favourite chatter-box was making my heart burst with joy.

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In the hectic pace of last-minute chores I found comfort in the knowledge that I finally had time to indulge in family-time and in making memories. And as I lined the rather imperfectly shaped cookies on the baking sheet, I smiled broadly in the knowledge that I had stumbled onto a serendipitous moment that no amount of chaos outside it will ever erase.

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On a day when all the ‘To Do’ lists did not seem to be getting any shorter, I can truly say that none of that matters; that we take too much upon ourselves and try to achieve perfection in a very imperfect world; that we worry ourselves silly because our tree is crooked and, horror of horrors, we completely forgot to vacuum the carpets.

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But none of that matters. It never should have mattered anyway and I’ve made a promise to myself that it never will again. Christmas is about joy. It is about wonder. And it is what I wish for all of you. Wonder and Joy. The rest is just tinsel on the crooked Christmas tree.

For those of you who asked what I was studying, well, it’s rather complicated but you can find a very brief summary here.

Wishing you and your loved ones a very happy and blessed Christmas!

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Whatever the outcome, it’s finally over.

Hello everyone. After 4 very crazy months of working, training, studying and just generally trying to keep my head above water (with much help from my family), I can finally say that my test is behind me and I can go back to doing what I love to do. Picking up my books again after 20 years was hard but giving up my personal free time, when I already seem to have so little of it, was a great deal harder. But that’s all behind me now and if this whole experience has taught me one thing it’s that, despite my scientific streak, I always was and always will be a lover of words; the more I studied indisputable scientific facts, the more I missed the dreamy world of the written word.

So, to make up for that, I have a number of books on my Christmas wish-list this year. We’ll see if ‘Santa’ will oblige. I hope so, because I’ve been very, very good. Apart from Amazon, there are two other sites I love to purchase books from: World of Books (which is a website that sells used books) and Play (where you can buy new or used books and shipping is free to any destination in Europe). I know that we are just a week away from Christmas but if you are planning on buying a book for a loved one or a friend and need some recommendations, head on over to Jeanne’s Brown Paper Book Club. I am sure you will find something that you like.

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I’ll keep it short for today as I am sure you are all busy preparing for the most wonderful day of them all. But don’t get too preoccupied with things, unleash your inner child and enjoy the magic of this beautiful season.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Soon

Soon it will be all over and I will be back. Just counting down the days now. Staying away from here has been hard – harder than I could have thought possible. I’ve made a vow to  myself that if I ever pick up books to study again, it will be for my own pleasure; a subject I thoroughly enjoy.

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Just wanted to let you know that I haven’t dropped off of the face of the planet. At least, not yet. Hope you are all enjoying the most wonderful of all seasons.

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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