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

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The summer country

It was in 'The Mists of Avalon' that I first heard this part of England being referred to as 'the summer country'. But , this region that we now call Somerset, has been inhabited since ancient times due to its milder climate and fertile farmland. It was to this rural county in the south-west of England that we recently travelled and, as always, came back with bucket-loads of memories.

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We stayed in a bungalow (with a lovely garden and a games room) on the outskirts of a tiny place called Churchinford and woke up to the songs of birds I cannot even name. As always, we choose solitude over cities whenever we can and this was no exception. From Churchinford we ventured further afield, to the  neighbouring counties of Dorset and Devon, whizzing through country lanes so narrow that we held our breaths and crossed our fingers that we wouldn't encounter a car, or worse, a tractor, coming from the opposite direction. It did happen once or twice but by some miracle (and deft driving by my  husband) we managed to squeeze past each other unscathed. We drove through some of the most beautiful countryside that I have ever seen: gently rolling hills, sleepy villages and the seemingly hap-hazard beauty of English country gardens. I'd left a piece of my heart in England many, many years ago and, on each trip, I feel whole again. For a while. Except that when it's time to pack up and leave, I find that a bigger piece seem to get left behind. This visit was no exception.

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But I don't want to bore your socks off (if you're even wearing them in the summer heat) with talk about my fragmented heart. Instead I'll tell you a little bit about the places that we visited. As I said in the  introduction, we were staying in the tiny village of Churchinford. This is a rather remote place so, if you ever decide to stay there, you would definitely need your own transport to be able to get around and make the most of your stay. Like almost anywhere that you go to in England, Somerset and the rest of the south-west is rich in history and there is a lot to see. Here are the places that we managed to visit in one (very crammed) week.

In Somerset

This town, and the ruins of its abbey, has long been on my bucket list as it is purported to be the final resting place of my beloved King Arthur and of his queen, Guinevere. Close to the town is Glastonbury Tor. Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit this famous conical hill that arises out of the Somerset Levels. Which gives me the perfect excuse to go back to this mystical place one day.

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This town is famous for its Gothic cathedral, picturesque streets and colourful shops.

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The history of Bath goes back thousands of years, mainly because of the hot spring that runs underneath the city and which was considered to be sacred by the ancient Britons. Bath is famous for its well-preserved Roman Baths, its Gothic abbey and its regal Georgian architecture. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.

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Dunster is a colourful, medieval village complete with a castle on top of a hill. It sits at the edge of Exmoor National Park and it truly feels like it is a place straight out of a fairy-tale.

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If you're dragging a ten year old boy with a keen interest in anything military around with you, then this museum is worth a visit. It has an extensive collection of military and civilian aircraft as well as models of Royal Navy ships and aircraft carriers. I sat in the car and read a book for 3 hours but my son loved it.

In Dorset

This coastal town is best know for the fossils found on the beaches and embedded in the cliffs. It forms part of England's Jurassic Coast and is also a World Heritage Site. Its harbour wall, known as The Cobb, featured in the movie 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons.

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Dorchester is a quaint market town dating back to prehistoric times on the banks of the River Frome. We were lucky to visit on market day, which is Wednesday, so we got a true feel of life in a market town. Dorchester was the home of author Thomas Hardy and it is the backdrop for his novel 'The Mayor of Casterbridge'.

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The collection in this museum traces the history of the tank and, with almost 300 vehicles on exhibit, it is the largest collection of tanks in the world. Needless to say, this museum is strictly for the boys.

Those were just a few snippets of information to (hopefully) arouse the curiosity of those who haven't visited England's 'summer country'. More will follow in the coming weeks - so stay tuned. In the meantime I will try to pick up what remains of my heart and  try to go about daily life as best I can without stopping to think every  few minutes about the beautiful flowers that grow like weeds in this 'green and pleasant land'.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Querencia

Before I got married I lived in the same place, for thirty years, in a town on a hill; a town with ancient roots. It is called Rabat, from the medieval Arabic name for 'suburb' or ‘a fortified place’, but people have lived there since pre-historic times.
It has a variegated history – but you can find that information on any website or even on my other blog (that I have sorely neglected this year). But there’s more to life than history. There are the personal stories; the everyday tears and laughter that no one will ever record or write about. And scattered around this town are little pieces of me: pieces of my history; my story.
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Although we lived in the suburbs, I know the old town well. I could walk blind-fold through its winding streets and ancient alleys. But I don't, I walk with my senses all a-buzz, hunting out forgotten doorways; mysterious windows. And here and there, the echoes of yesterday’s laughter reverberate in the silence of my head. I gather them to me, these moments suspended in time, and wear them, like a soft shawl, hugged tightly to my body, to warm my heart on days when life seems bleak: memories of childhood games in shaded alleyways; shadows and whispers of those who have gone but whom we still love; snippets of conversations from balmy summer nights of long ago; teenage giggles in secluded corners – they are there, like a bridge between what was, what is and what will be.
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Home, home, home my heart seems to sing as the echo of my footsteps ricochets off of tall buildings in narrow streets. I can still feel their presence, those people who were old when I was just a child. They seem to be here still, benign reminders of the passage of time. There are some whose names I remember - names which sound so strangely archaic now – but others are just faces etched on the canvas on my mind. Maybe that’s what makes a place feel like home, when the ghosts are familiar and the air is thick with memories of half-forgotten yesterdays.
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They say that home is where the heart is. But home is more than that. It is a place where the soul lingers long after the body is no more. And, sometimes I wonder, whether after I’m gone, I’ll come back, to join the kindly spirits who wander the streets of that town on the hill.
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Querencia: a  place from which one’s strength is drawn, where one feels at home; the place where you are your most authentic self.
Location: Rabat, May 2016

Monday, June 6, 2016

I've picked sea-shells where heroes walked

The drive from Paris to Normandy was supposed to take three hours at the most. But Madame GPS, as my son nicknamed her, decided to take us on the scenic route. So after close to six hours of driving, we finally pulled into the driveway of Le Vaumicel. It was getting late, and grey clouds were gathering overhead, but nothing could keep us way from the D-Day  beaches. It was what we had come here for. Ten minutes later, we were getting out of the car and walking on Omaha beach. The three of us went our separate ways. I took a few paces and then stopped, as a chilling realisation hit me like a stray bullet: behind me, German bunkers were built into the rock;  in front of me, miles and miles of sand and open sea. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

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On that fateful, stormy morning, that is retreating further and further into the realms of memory, thousands of men waded ashore, into the line of fire, staring death fully in the face. I couldn't, for the life of me, imagine the courage it must have taken, the willingness to sacrifice self for the greater good of humanity. I felt awed, humbled, completely at a loss for words, awash with emotions that I could not even name.

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The tide was out and, as I walked slowly on the wet sand, I noticed the sea-shells. I bent down and gently started to gather them. They were fragile, little things - chipped, broken, incomplete. None were completely intact. The storms, the tides and the ever-restless sea had taken their toll. And as I held them between numb fingers and turned them over, those little shells reminded me of those men whose maimed and twisted bodies had lain, like the sea-shells, on the beaches of Normandy over seventy years ago.

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I walked back towards the shore with tears in my eyes and noticed, for the first time, the roses that had been left on the sand, the little wooden crosses to commemorate loved ones, fallen comrades, men who were gone too soon.

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I came back with much more than memories from Omaha beach and someday, when perhaps the world will choose to forget the ultimate sacrifice that was made there and on the other beaches of northern France, I will tell my grandchildren that I'd picked sea-shells where heroes had walked; where heroes had died.

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Location:  Omaha Beach (Vierville-sur-Mer & St Laurent-sur-Mer), Normandy, France

March 2016

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The other Valletta

It was a Sunday morning at the end of April - the sun shone and a cool wind blew - and I had the morning all to myself in our  miniscule capital city that is packed to the brim with a variety of photogenic subjects.

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Valletta has always been a bit of an enigma to me. In my forays into its streets, I usually stick to the shops and to the upper part of the city with the extravagant, Baroque facades that have been renovated, restored and polished in anticipation of Valletta's tenure as the European Capital of Culture in 2018.

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But on that breezy April morning, I left the shops, museums and grand houses behind and took my camera for a walk to another part of Valletta - the one where rust, patina and flaking paint are still the order of the day; the area that is not on the guide books but which is a photographer's paradise, albeit, in this case, a very amateur one. So there I was, pointing my lens as the oddest things (and making plenty of mistakes in the process) with just a couple of stray cats for company and an occasional like-minded individual with a passion for capturing the unusual, the unique and the remnants of countless yesterdays.

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There is a languid, expectant air here - as if this part of Valletta us wondering when its turn to be primped and pampered will come. Selfishly, I wish that it will be many years from now, so that I can continue to capture the fleeting essence of a time that, here, still seems to be within reach. There is history here, for sure, but there are also stories. The everyday stories of the people who live here; have lived here for the past 450 years or so.

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I dream a lot on walks like these , of what was and what could be. I listen to the whispers of ghosts and wonder what secrets lie behind padlocked doors and crumbling stonework. But I don't just dream. I wonder too. About what it must feel like to live in the heart of our capital city; to be woken up by the sound of church bells (Valletta boasts 25 churches in an area that is less than 1 square kilometre) and to peer onto the streets from behind lace curtains and shuttered windows. IMGP0200

 

That's all I could do on that Sunday morning: dream and wander; discover and wonder; wave a magic wand and turn the clock back just enough to peel away the layers to see … what? I am not even sure. I think that Valletta chooses who to reveal herself to and I have a feeling that she is holding back, pushing my boundaries, daring me to take that final step to get to know her better. Until then, I will continue to unveil her bit by tiny bit.

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Location: Valletta, April 2016

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Fabulous Fridays: Dolce & Gabbana

Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, the Italian designer duo, have been delighting our senses with their sophisticated creations since 1985. Colourful, fun and feminine, it seems that their collections are not tailor-made for just the size zeros amongst us but they also keep curvier women in mind. The designers, especially Sicilan-born Domenico Dolce, derive a great deal of inspiration from the island of Sicily  - which is the reason why colour plays such an import role in their creations because, as all those who have visited Sicily know, the island is an explosion of colour. Sicily was also their inspiration for the iconic 'Sicilian Dress' which was described by author Hal Rubenstein as
" … the essence of Dolce & Gabbana, the brand's sartorial touchstone. The dress takes its cue from a slip—but it's a slip that's adorned Anna Magnani, and it's a silhouette that has graced Anita Ekberg, Sophia Loren, [and so forth]. The straps fit tight to the body just as bra straps would; the neckline runs straight across but gets waylaid at least twice, once on each side to caress each breast and in the middle to meet an uplifting tuck that's giving a gentle push up. The slip doesn't just slide down, but comes in at the waist to hold the figure firmly but not too tightly and then widens to emphasise the hips, only to fall with a slight taper at the knees to guarantee that the hips will sway when the wearer walks."
What Rubenstein is describing seems to be the very essence of femininity and Dolce & Gabbana seem to have mastered this to perfection in their creations.
Of course, I'll never have enough spare thousands to purchase a Dolce & Gabbana outfit. But hey, a girl can dream can't she? So let's dream on and pretend we're on a shopping spree. These are some Dolce & Gabbana creations that I would definitely purchase:
Dolce & Gabbana winter 2016:
Because I have a thing going on for blue and white right now.

♔Dolce & Gabbana.2015♔:
Because red  is one of my happy colours.

white- Dolce & Gabbana:
Because white is timeless and elegant and looks good with a tan.

♔Dolce & Gabbana.2015♔:
Because black is black. Need I say more?

♔Dolce & Gabbana.2015♔:
Because the colour combination is so very me (I do not like the flat shoes though).

Discover the new Dolce & Gabbana Women's Carretto Daisy Collection for Summer 2016 and get inspired.:
Because sometimes you need that extra little something before you can face
another boring day at the office.
This was fun to do. I think that from time to time I will feature more of my favourite designers.
So, do you have any favourite designers and why do you like them? I would love to know.
All images via Dolce & Gabbana

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