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

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.

Isla (20)-001

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.

Isla (40)

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.

Isla (6)

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.

Isla (14)

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.

Isla (26)

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.

Mementos (4)

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.

Mementos (3)

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.

Mementos (7)

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.

Mementos (4)

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.

Mementos (5)

Monday, March 9, 2015

My ten books

A while back, some time last September to be precise, people were being tagged on Facebook and asked, without thinking about it for too long, to list the ten books which they absolutely loved or which had a profound effect on them. At the time, I had written down my ten hoping to share my list here and then forgot all about it. I was going through my little scribble/doodle pad when I came across the list. I thought it would be fun to share it with you and it would be even more fun if you would list some of your favourites in the comments. I am sure you will provide me with a lot of titles that will become my future favourites.

So here are my ten books (in no particular order):

1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Even if you’ve never read this triology, I am sure that it will need no introduction. I personally think that Tolkien was a genius. I was first introduced to the books when I was 17 years old (oh happy days). When I was told that they were a ‘fairy-tale for adults’ I was highly skeptical. But I had barely finished the first chapter before I was hooked. I admit that this genre is not for everyone but for those of us who can never seem to grow up, well, all I can say is that these books are perfect.

2. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

  This is another take on the story of King Arthur as told by the women in his life: his mother, Igraine; his wife, Gwenhwyfar; and his half-sister and high priestess of Avalon, Morgaine. Yes, I confess I have a weak spot for myths, legends and fairy-tales and the story of Arthur has always piqued my curiosity, as I have mentioned several  times. This is just my favourite version of this popular and well-known legend.

 

3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I have already written about this book here. So I will not say  much about it, except that it is very well written and moved me to tears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Summer of my German Soldier by Bette Greene

I think I was about twelve when I read this book. This is another novel about the war; about a Jewish girl, Patty Bergen, from Arkansas who befriended and hid a German prisoner of war. At twelve, it gave me a lot to think about and, sometimes I feel like some of the questions I had back then are still unanswered.

 

 

5. Chocolat by Joanne Harris

If you’ve been reading this blog long enough you certainly won’t be surprised that this book is on my list, because chocolate is my favourite thing to eat. But apart from that, there is something endearing about the way Joanne Harris writes and this novel, and its two sequels: The Lollipop Shoes and Peaches for Monsieur le Cure`, are the types of stories that draw you in and make you not want to put them down.

 

 

6. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I would say that this book is a must-read for every woman in the West. May we never take our freedom for granted. Although this is a work of fiction, it is an eye-opener into the way some women are still being treated in the 21st century.

 

 

 

 

 

7. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier is another author whose style of writing I absolutely love. I have read the majority of her books. This one is my favourite. It has become something of a personal ritual for me to read this book almost every summer and it never seems to get old.

 

 

 

 

8. Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee

This is a memoir of a long-lost time; of an England before telephones and electricity; of an innocence that the world will never have again. It is a picture of life between two world wars. I would glady recommend this book to anyone because there really is nothing not to like about it.

 

 

 

 

9. The Diary of  Anne Frank by Anne Frank

Another book which needs no introduction. I first read Anne’s diary when I was 11 – just a few years younger than Anne when she was writing it. At  the time I was having fun with my friends, riding my bike and discovering life. Anne was locked in an attic with her family, hardly daring to move during the day. Even just reading about it made me feel claustrophobic but I learnt a number of invaluable lessons that I know I will never forget,

 

10. The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

When I first picked up this book I thought I was about to read the biography of a saint. Instead, this delightful book is a whimsical, dreamy memoir of a Swedish doctor who built a villa on the isle of Capri. But it is much more than that. It introduces the reader to a host of vibrant, colourful characters, a plethora of lovable pets and a glimpse of a life lived somewhere on the edge of fantasy and reality. Sounds familiar? Yes, this is definitely not a book for realists or for those who only make use of their five senses.

 

It felt next to impossible to reduce the list of hundreds of books I have read to just ten, But I am happy with the ones on my list. Of course, if you asked me to list ten books in a year’s time, I might give you a different ten – although a few of them are perennial favourites. Now are any of you in the mood to share yours?

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