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

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

November days

I want to start off by thanking all those of you who left a comment on my last post. I didn’t reply to each of you individually but just left a general comment to express my gratitude. A month has passed since Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and, to date, we have no answers. Not even one single suspect, if any exists, has been questioned by the police. The silence is deafening. Frighteningly so. And yet, life goes on for the living and November has all but flown by. Lots of people here love to hate this month because it brings with it shorter days and cooler weather and also because, in the not too distant past, it was dedicated to the dead.

Autumn colours

I look at November as a month of transition: from autumn to winter and, personally, I enjoy its anticipatory feel. Some Christmas lights have already gone up in places, even in our neighbourhood, and I am looking forward to decorating the house, baking cookies and other naughty treats, lighting candles and making home-made mulled wine, while dreaming about Vienna. Because Vienna is absolutely magical and breath-taking at this time of year and it smells of roasting chestnuts and gluhwein and spice and all things nice.

Autumn colours

But back to the present and back to reality. Because before Christmas there is Thanksgiving and, even though it it not a holiday in Malta, in this house it is celebrated. So I’ll be making some lists, doing some shopping and remembering all the people and things that I am so thankful for. It’s not easy, sometimes when so much of the world seems shrouded in darkness. to sit back and reflect on all that is good and beautiful and wholesome, But we have to do it. For the sake of our sanity and for our children, we have to let go of all that’s ugly and rotten and, instead, give thanks for our multitude of blessings and look with hope towards the future..

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Happy Thanksgiving

These photos were taken a long time ago (in 2003) when we lived in the US and I experienced my only Thanksgiving in America.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Dear Daphne

It’s already been two weeks since the cowards blew you up in your car and a part of me still does not want to accept the fact that you are gone forever. You’ve left a void that no one can fill because nobody has your inimitable style or your courage, We all thought you were invincible – one lone woman reporting and writing on an almost daily basis about all that is rotten in our society and our country, about the rampant corruption and the criminality that has infiltrated our institutions. The very institutions that should be there to protect us, but which are now turning not one, but two blind eyes at all that is taking place just beneath the thin veneer of respectability that still remains. You were one lone voice in the wilderness and we let you soldier on by yourself because it’s always convenient to have someone else fight our battles. Or maybe it’s because we never fully understood the implications of all that you revealed.

Whatever it was, we are all guilty of your death. Because of our collective complacency, our infamous Mediterranean apathy and laid-back attitude, our lack of discipline, our culture of silence and omerta’, our xenophobia, our unwillingness to educate ourselves about the Constitution of our country, our acceptance of so much that is unacceptable within our government, our judiciary and our police force, as long as it didn’t affect us directly. But now it seems as if your horrendous assassination has woken some of us out of our stupor. Journalists seem to be finding their voice again and, the Sunday after you were so brutally murdered, thousands marched in protest for justice to be done on your behalf. Your assassination has been reported in some of the world’s most influential newspapers and websites like The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Politico, BBC News and many, many others. Journalists have held vigils in your memory here in Malta, in London, Rome and Brussels, and the European Parliament has named its press room after you. While your killers sought to silence you, the world is making sure that you, and all you stood for, will never be forgotten. In  their annihilation of your physical body they have given credence to all that you have been revealing, especially during the past two years. We all know that whoever did this did not do it because you mocked their fashion sense or because you called them out for parking on a double yellow line, but because of far more serious accusations. Like the cowards they are they thought that they could make everything you wrote die with you but I think they ignited more than the bomb that killed you, something they had not bargained for and could not foresee.. They’ve ignited little sparks of courage and indignation in many people that, if fanned properly, will blaze into a fire that will ensure that we will see the changes that many of us know are necessary for this country to regain a semblance of normality. At face value, it does appear to be normal, but you knew better and paid for it with your life.

Were you a saint? No, definitely not. You were human, like the rest of us and, like us I am sure you made mistakes. Figuratively speaking, you stepped on a lot of toes and managed to offend many, because the truth hurts, and too many people could not stand seeing their heroes knocked off the pedestals they themselves had placed them on. So they started calling you vindictive, a witch even. They would not mention you by name, called you ‘the hate blogger’, vilified and harassed you, calling your articles fake news, and had internet trolls hound you on a daily basis. They fanned the flames of hate so well that somebody thought nothing of placing a bomb  under your car and detonating it just a few metres down the road from your home. The message is clear: they want to scare and intimidate us into silence. It’s hard to believe this has happened in Europe, in 2017, in a supposedly democratic and sovereign member state of the European Union. And, of course, the powers-that-be in this country are continuing their campaign of discrediting and dehumanising you even in death, not openly, of course, but for those of us that can cut through the rhetoric, the message is very clear: you had it coming, is what they’re saying, because you had the impudence to uncover their sordid secrets; because their concept of free-speech does not extend to those that hold them to account. They are treating us worse than Marie Antoinette ever treated the French peasants yet, unfortunately, there are many amongst us who are content to eat cake, crumbs even, while the heads of the innocent roll in the dust of Maltese soil and any thought of revolution is blown away by sultry Mediterranean winds.

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Daphne caruana galizia.jpgThis post is written in memory of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a journalist and Malta’s most influential blogger. She was a columnist for The Malta  Independent and editor of Taste & Flair Magazine.. It was not uncommon for her blog Running Commentary to receive 400 000 hits in one day. Daphne was assassinated on Monday, October 16 2017. She was 53 years old.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Snapshots of Florida

What struck me most about Florida was the heat – the humid, all-encompassing humid heat that embraces you as soon as you step outside and drives you half insane. As a friend of ours remarked, it’s almost as if there is no ozone in the atmosphere. But aside from the heat, I was surprised at how lush and varied the vegetation is. In my mind, intense heat goes hand in hand with months of drought and a dry landscape. But then, I didn’t know about the rain.

We stayed in Florida for almost four full days and did the things that tourists do.  We spent our first afternoon in Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney), an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. My son and husband had a grand old time at the Harley Davidson merchandise store – especially since they got to pose with all the bikes on display, while I spent a wonderful hour at Anthropologie; and we all agreed that The Ganachery was a chocoholics heaven. We were seriously thinking of going for a ride in the Characters in Flight tethered helium balloon that soars to 400 feet but, due to a thunderstorm warning, all rides were cancelled, and, sure enough, it wasn’t long before the rain started to pour. We soon learnt that torrential downpours are part and parcel of daily life in Florida. No wonder the place is so green.

Our first full day was spent at Disney’s Hollywood Studios where we mostly passed the time chasing characters from the Star Wars movies to the extent of waiting in line for 45 minutes to take a photo with Chewbacca (I learnt that he’s the tall, hairy guy). But thankfully, we queued indoors where it was nice and cool. The most memorable and terrifying ride was the Tower of Terror and the one I enjoyed most (because it was a staid ride in an open vehicle) was The Great Movie Ride which has since closed down. I opted out of the Rock ’n Roller Coaster and was pleasantly entertained by two street performers in their 1920s costumes who soon had the crowd gathered round them in fits of giggles. Although we would have loved to stay for the fireworks show, we had friends to visit and left soon after seeing the Storm Troopers perform their final march for the day.

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The next day we drove to Kennedy Space Center which is about an hour away from Orlando. Space enthusiasts have plenty to see and learn here and even though rockets and spacecraft are not quite my thing, I was still thrilled to learn more about the Moon landings and Saturn V, the gargantuan rocket (111m long) that propelled Mankind to Earth’s closest neighbour. The space shuttle Atlantis is another jaw-dropping exhibit at Kennedy Space Center. I was especially moved by the memorial to the crews of the Challenger (lost in 1986) and the Columbia (lost in 2003) tragedies. A guided tour bus took us ‘Behind the Gates’ to the launch pads at Cape Canaveral. We got to see the cavernous building that houses the spacecraft and learnt how special, gigantic vehicles called crawlers transport the rockets to the launch pads. We stayed till closing time and were disappointed that we did not have time to see and experience everything, especially the Shuttle Launch Experience. which simulates the shuttles’ eight-and-a-half minute ascent into orbit. We arrived in Orlando just in time for a tornado warning that came complete with thunder, lightning and a downpour that lasted close to an hour.

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On our last day we drove back to Cape Canaveral to visit friends and swim in the Atlantic – it was the first time that I swam in an ocean and not in a sea. The water was surprisingly warm but the swell was a force to be reckoned with. The beach we were on stretched for miles, the sand  had an unusual mud-like quality to it and there was a wonderful breeze. I was loathe to leave but black clouds loomed on the horizon and before too long we were driving in an infernal storm that satisfied my longing for rain for a while.

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Our trip to Florida was vastly different to the things we see and places that we usually visit when we travel. It was more about fun, friends and, well, thunderstorms. I am glad I got to experience it and cross another State off my bucket list: 11 down, 39 to go.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Hannibal: Attractions in America’s home-town

This was not my first visit to Hannibal. Since it is only about 45 minutes away from where my in-laws live, this was probably my fifth visit – I’m starting to lose count.

Hannibal, MO

Hannibal was founded in 1815 and, strangely enough, was named after the famous Carthaginian leader who fought the Romans during the second Punic War (218-201 BC). He was the one who marched elephants across the Alps in a desperate attempt to conquer Rome.. He failed; but I am sure he would be happy to know that he has not been forgotten and has lent his name to a little town on the banks of the Mississippi – a far cry from Rome, but such is the irony of history. The place where Hannibal is located was long occupied by various indigenous Native American tribes. In the mid-1800s it became an important trading post due to its proximity to the river. Nowadays, it is mainly remembered for being the boyhood home of writer Mark Twain, who used Hannibal and its surroundings as inspiration for two of his most famous novels: Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn..

Hannibal, MO

Things to do in Hannibal

  • Take a stroll in the downtown area

The most picturesque part of  Hannibal is undoubtedly N Main Street which is lined with colourful store-fronts – some of them dating back to the 1900s although, back in the day, the colours would probably have been more muted. The businesses are quite varied in nature and include art galleries; stores selling vintage and antique items, jewellery, chocolate, souvenirs and quirky collectibles; boutiques and restaurants.

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My personal favourites are:

- The Native American Trading Company which specialises in Native American arts, crafts and jewellery.

- The Alliance Art  Gallery that features the work of member and guest artists. My husband was lucky enough to be the featured guest artist in December 2011, when he exhibited a number of paintings inspired by the Mediterranean. Member artists include, amongst others, Missouri native Kimberly Shinn, Hannibalian photographer Connie Stephens, potter Ron Cook and fibre artist Bella Erakko.

- Java Jive Coffee Shop and Deli that is located in the most colourful building on the street. It is impossible to miss the eye-catching combination of  the yellow and turquoise facade, with touches of fuchsia. We always stop at the Java Jive whenever we are in town. We love the friendly, relaxed and cozy atmosphere of this coffee shop and I have to commend the staff for their excellent customer service as they replaced my Italian soda free of charge after I spilt it all over my toes. The Java Jive also doubles as a gift shop. Apart from souvenir t-shirts and coffee  mugs, a selection of pottery by Steve Ayers and paintings by Brenda Beck-Fisher are for sale.

Java Jive, Hannibal MOJul-18 (14)

  • Get to know Mark Twain at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum

The boyhood home is one of nine properties that make up the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum complex. The two-storey boyhood home is surrounded by the now legendary white-washed fence of Tom Sawyer.

Mark Twain Boyhood Home, Hannibal, MO

The museum has a collection of many first editions by Mark Twain, family photographs and numerous personal items. The museum also houses the second largest collection of Norman Rockwell paintings that were commissioned as illustrations for a special edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer  and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Also on display are 54 original pen and drink drawings by Dan Beard who was selected by Mark Twain to illustrate A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. From time to time the museum also hosts touring exhibits.

Mark Twain  Museum, Hannibal, MO

Currently, actor Jim Waddell, as Mark Twain,, is recounting the the childhood experiences that led to the  creation of Tom Sawyer. Performances take place every Thursday in August and September at 4pm in the Mark Twain Museum Gallery auditorium. A frequently updated list of activities may be found here.

  • Ride the trolley

Trolley rides are always fun no matter where they are and the trolley ride in Hannibal is no exception. The narrated tour covers 14 miles, with stops at Sawyer’s Creek, Rockville Mansion, Mark Twain Cave and downtown Hannibal. The trolley ride is always one of my favourite things to do while visiting Hannibal especially since each of the tour guides, who are generally the trolley drivers, narrate the history of the town and its attractions in his or her own inimitable style – so it never gets boring.

Hannibal, MO

  • Visit Rockcliffe Mansion

Rockcliffe Mansion is a Victorian edifice in the Georgian Revival style. It is situated high on a limestone bluff overlooking downtown Hannibal and the Mississippi. Visitors may tour the building and the gardens are open to the public. Alternatively, anyone wishing to experience a glimpse life in a Victorian mansion may book accommodation in this boutique hotel for a few nights.

Rockcliffe Mansion, Hannibal, MO

  • Admire the view from Lover’s Leap

A perfunctory search on the Web will reveal that Hannibal is not the only town on a river that boasts of a place called Lover’s Leap. The Hannibal legend was started by a certain Arthur O. Garrison who claimed to have  obtained the details from ancient inscriptions. Not much else is known about Garrison. According to his story, a brave warrior loved by a maiden named Altala, was killed during a battle on the river. When Altala, who was watching the battle from the top of a high cliff, saw him fall, she leaped over the edge and into the river. You may find the full story here

Lover's Leap, Hannibal, MO

Similar stores abound in places where there is a cliff overlooking a river (there are 8 in Missouri alone) and the veracity of these tales has never been established. Most people will shrug their shoulders and move on but I prefer to believe there is some truth in this legend – it’s the only way to explain it’s popularity and longevity.

  • Tour Mark Twain cave

The cave is located about 1 mile south of Hannibal and it rather unique in that it consists of a number of winding passages that spread over 6.5 miles. Originally named McDowell’s cave, it plays an important role in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as ‘McDougal’s Cave’. Mark Twain cave was discovered in 1819 by a local hunter named Jack Simms. Guided tours of the cave take around 55 minutes. It is open year round.

Mark Twain Cave, MO

  • Other places of interest

- Molly Brown (the ‘unsinkable Molly Brown’ of Titanic fame) Birthplace and Museum

- Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse

- Tom and Huck Statue

Hannibal, MO

By American standards, downtown Hannibal is a very small place but, if you are ever in the area, you will definitely find plenty of interesting things to do and I would recommend a visit, even if it is a short one. Summers are hot and clammy in this area of Missouri so a visit during spring or autumn will definitely be more pleasant and I think that, like me, you will enjoy the pleasant, friendly atmosphere of this town.

Hannibal, MO

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Update

It's been over ten days since we returned from the US. A part of me feels like we've returned from the moon - adjusting to the smallness of Malta is always hard, no matter how many times I go away. But life has to go on and I am more or less back to my normal routine. The word 'normal' however, does not seem to include blogging and other social media. I always struggle with that in summer and this year is no exception. Anyway, back to our trip …

For probably the first time since we've been crossing the pond, we arrived in St  Louis at the decent hour of 5pm, which meant that it was midnight back home and we had been awake since the ungodly hour of 4am or something like that (by now I'd lost track, but who cares when you're on holiday?). Also for the first time ever, our whole trip went without a hitch and even the Homeland Security guys didn't seem too threatening this time round. This meant that we arrived in St Louis with smiles on our faces and an enormous appetite which we immediately sated at IHOP - an American breakfast in the late evening sounded like a perfectly good idea. We spent the next 4 days in Canton, my husband's hometown in northern Missouri. It's a place of cornfields, farms and the sluggish Mississippi and is perfect for a few days of perfect relaxation.

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From Canton it was back to St Louis on the 4th of July to fly to Florida.  We spent 4 days in Orlando (more about that some other time) and managed to fit quite a bit into our schedule including meeting up with some friends. From Florida we flew back to St Louis for 5 days and then spent the final week in Canton. Some firsts on this trip were an evening at a county fair, a jet-ski ride on the Mississippi, a tour of an old brewery that is being restored, a terrifying theme park ride, an up-close-and-personal look at the Saturn V rocket that propelled mankind to the moon, a swim in the Atlantic and a family photo shoot in a meadow complete with an old barn and some very lovely horses. Most importantly of all we reunited with family and friends (and I made some new ones).

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Today I downloaded my photos and spent some time re-living the memories. Unfortunately, the heat must have addled by brain because I only took about half the amount of photos that I usually do. I will make sure to share some of our 'adventures' in the coming weeks. I hope you are all having a wonderful summer and that it's not infernally hot in your part of the world. I am already looking forward to cooler days and to wearing boots and beanies.

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