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

Monday, 31 December 2012

New Year’s Eve Reminiscing

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A year ago, we were driving back to my in-laws’ when we decided to stop in the little town of La Grange, Missouri. There, on the banks of the legendary Mississippi, we said good-bye to 2011. The sun was setting and the river water was still. It was a curiously mild evening and the only sound we could hear was the gravel crunching under our feet.
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From that day to this, I’ve discovered a bit more of the world and a lot more about myself. It is, perhaps, a well-known fact that the older we grow, the more comfortable we are in our own skins. This year I decided that I would sugar-coat my words less, and perhaps I’ve stepped on a few toes here and there when doing so, but I have felt better for being true to myself. No more needless anxiety about unvoiced opinions.
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On a less personal level, we were able to do something which we really love to do, which is travelling. As I said, we started the year in Missouri. In May we went to Sicily for a brief visit to our northern neighbour. I was struck by the similarities between the two islands but then, I should not have been so surprised. We shared a common history for hundreds of years after all. Seeing Sicily through the eyes of an adult was also an eye-opening experience.
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Another trip, in July, took us to the land of castles, cliffs and coves – Cornwall was a wonderful experience that I will not forget any time soon. I have a strange habit of falling in love with places and leaving a little fragment of my heart behind. Thankfully, there always seems to be a piece of my heart left to leave in one place or another.
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This year we will be bidding farewell to 2012 here at home, on the shores of the Mediterranean. The weather is mild, the water is calm and, across the harbour, the golden silhouettes of Fort St Elmo and Senglea Point are reflected in the sea below. If is a moment of reflection about the year that is fleeing away and the new one that is on the threshold. In the east, 2013 has been welcomed with fireworks and jubilant cheering. Over here, a few hours of reflection about the past and the future remain. As the dying year ebbs away, I wish you all  a wonderful 2013 filled with love, peace, joy and, above all, health.
Location: The Mississippi River, La Grange (MO);
Senglea Point & Fort St Angelo from the Valletta Waterfront

Monday, 24 December 2012

So This Is Christmas

The world has turned full circle again, the shortest day has come and gone and it is officially winter. In the midst of all the chaos, the parties and the ever-increasing amounts of food, we prepare our hearts for the most wonderful celebration of the year.
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Last year we were in Missouri hoping for a white Christmas which we didn’t get. This year we are home and keeping our fingers crossed that it won’t be too warm and humid. Today the sky is gloomy and the clouds are hanging low. We will see what tomorrow will bring.
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I am on vacation for the next 10 days, with at  least one thousand plans in my head. Too much to do, too little time.
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But tomorrow is Christmas. Time to slow down, time to hug loved ones close. Time to sit back and contemplate the reason for the season.
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I wish you all a very joyful and peaceful Christmas with your nearest and dearest.
Location: Christmas lights in Republic Street & Merchants’ Street and the Fountains in St George’s Square, Valletta

Monday, 17 December 2012

All I Want For Christmas

Reality, sometimes, just slaps you in the face and stops you rudely in your tracks. It happened to me, this past weekend, as I am sure it happened to all of you.
A few weeks ago I made a new online friend who you can visit at Always Josefa. In one of her recent posts Josefa challenged me to reveal what I would ask for if I got to sit on Santa’s knee. Well, I am a bit too old to believe in Santa but I was planning on playing along and letting you know what this girl craves. But then came the tragedy in Newton CT and a part of me just shut down. You see, I was angry; more than angry, I was outraged. And shocked; and deeply, immeasurably sad. At the futility of it all. At the tragic loss of so many innocent lives. What type of person do you have to be to look at the faces of such young children and cold-bloodedly pull the trigger? This weekend I lost all sense of comprehension and, outside my house, it was a dark and bitter world.
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My heart broke for those parents as I thought of gifts that would remain unopened under the Christmas tree; of stuffed animals that would no longer be cuddled; of smiles cut short by a murderous monster.  Because that is what he was and I will not mince my words. Why, why? I angrily asked. But, of course, no answer was forthcoming.USA 070
What do I wish for this Christmas? It is probably what we all wish for. To change the events of last Friday and bring back all those little angels. But, of course, that is impossible and definitely not a miracle that can be pulled off by a fat man in a red velvet suit. And that’s when I thought of El Maestro, as Suze loves to call him – the great conductor up in the sky. This was one wish that he alone has the power to grant. USA 074-1
It is a simple wish, for the children of the world. May they all have food and water and clothes. May they all have a warm bed at night and loving hands to tuck them in. May they never see a gun or learn what a bomb is. And may they always know love, kindness and compassion. Is it too much to ask? Children deserve no less. Let us all be brave enough to look at the world through their eyes, even if it is for just one day. Learn to love unconditionally, as they do and be quick to forgive and forget as only they know how.
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I’ve heard it said that butterflies are the souls of children. For all those little souls that were lost, may butterflies gently guide them to the land of no goodbyes.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

A Tale Of Christmases Past

Christmas is my favourite time for making memories. Like a child, I await Christmas with the expectation that something magical will happen during this season. And it is with a child’s same sense of excitement that I open up the boxes in which we store our Christmas decorations. I know that many people decorate their tree around a theme or around a certain colour scheme: red and gold; silver and blue; pick and purple … But our tree is a little bit different. Perhaps you can call it a celebration in diversity. All our ornaments are hand-picked. They are there for a reason. Either because they are totally wacky and unexpected, or because they evoke precious memories of events, people or places.
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Mementoes from our travels bring with them memories of the sluggish canal waters on a hot summer’s day; of gently falling snow-flakes at the Schonnbrun Christmas market; of the wild-life and sweeping vistas at Rocky Mountain National Park.
There are fragments of our life: our first Christmas together, a token from our wedding and that most precious Christmas, in 2006, which was our son’s first.
A sweet  memento of a much-loved cat (who had heaps of cattitude) whose cheeky face is still greatly misssed.
There’s a little bit of each of us on the tree. My husband’s native city, his beloved baseball team and his passion for electric guitars. There’s a mouse for the Mischief Maker (in honour of his favourite soft toy) and a cute little baby dinosaur – because which little boy doesn’t like dinosaurs? And, of course, there are little pieces of me – angels and teddy-bears and hand-made gifts from friends.
And perhaps the most poignant memory of all, the oldest ornament on the tree, a little pink angel that used to hang on my mother’s tree and on my Nanna’s tree before that. If only it could talk, what wonderful stories it would tell.
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Ten memories, a hundred memories, strung around the tree, like a garland of pearls. Little ornaments with heart-warming tales to share. So I’ll pull up an arm-chair, sip some mulled wine and wait for their whispered secrets to fill the pine-scented air.
That’s when it’s time to let the magic of Christmases past wash over me and work within me. Treasured moments that will remain with me forever.
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May you all make wonderful memories this Christmas season.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Queen of Procrastination

Yes, that would be me. I’ve been sitting here for over an hour trying to write something coherent. But I am feeling really distracted tonight. I had four different things that I wanted to write about. I just couldn’t decide which topic to choose and I ended up wasting my time and procrastinating. But what’s new?
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So I am keeping this really short today  … just letting you know that I am working on something. Kind of Smile
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Summer flowers, June 2012

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A Thing Of Beauty …

Some days the most random of things can set my thoughts churning; the most mundane of tasks opens up vistas that I had only previously imagined. I have been home these past two days, nursing a throbbing migraine. I could not do much except think; and, now that I am feeling better, to put those thoughts out there.
Valletta on a Sunday (75)
It is the end of November and still warm enough for hibiscus plants to bloom. As I sat and edited one particular photo of a dark pink hibiscus flower, I was struck by so  many emotions. Each different edit brought out the different layers of a flower, the subtleties in colour, the tiny flecks of pollen, the veins.
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I was captivated; as enchanted as a child. Here before me was a wonder of creation. I sometimes get tired of scientists explaining things away and trying to find a reason for everything.
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Technology is great but faced with the sheer grandiosity of creation it just pales into (dare I say it?) insignificance. Nothing that the human mind can ever envisage will ever surpass the simple beauty of the little things around us that we so take for granted.
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On contemplating a Grecian urn, John Keats had written that “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.” The beauty of a flower is transient, it quickly fades away, but just by taking these few minutes to stop and think about it, has left me with an unmistakable  joy and peace that were previously lacking.
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Hibiscus Flower at the Inner Courtyard, Grand Master’s Palace, Valletta, November 2012
Edited in Picasa (except for the first photo)

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Wednesday Wanderings: The Barbican, The Hoe and Downtown Plymouth

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There’s more to Plymouth than the Pilgrim Steps. The city has a long history which you can read about here. Its most glorious moment was probably the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 by Sir Francis Drake. The entrance to the city’s harbour is guarded by a  fortified citadel on The Hoe (or high ground).
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Cornwall 538Also on The Hoe is Smeaton’s Tower – a lighthouse that was dismantled and later rebuilt in its current location. It is open to the public and is worth a visit – if only for the unique experience of being inside a lighthouse. Another attraction on The Hoe is the Plymouth Eye, a 60 metre Ferris Wheel that offers a different perspective of the city.
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Lunch at Dutton’s, overlooking Plymouth Sound, is highly recommended; followed by a walk through Plymouth’s historical Barbican area.
We had a wonderful tour guide with us. My dad lived in Plymouth for about seven years and he walked us through the cobbled, winding streets of this old corner of the city. Interspersed among the many art galleries, vintage boutiques and novelty gift shops, are major attractions like the Elizabethan House and the Plymouth Gin Distillery.
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Before we left, the gutted remains of St John’s Cathedral served as a poignant reminder of the thousands that were killed during the last world war.
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Location: The Hoe & The Barbican, Plymouth, Devon, UK
July 2012

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Endless Summer

I forget, sometimes, how close to the desert we really are. And not just any desert, but the scorching, infinite sands of the Sahara. So when summer lingers on and on, like it has been doing this year, it should not really come as a surprise to me. But, inevitably, it does; (because the expanse of sea between here and the African continent makes me forget where we’re really located).
Image via Sharkmans World
You see, I am a boots and sweater kind of girl and this year, I have had to leave my beloved boots and fluffy sweaters in the closet. I suppose that, as has happened in the past, prayers will soon be offered in churches for the heavens to pour some rain on us. In the meantime, I am looking on the sunny (literally) side of this and enjoying some leisurely strolls.
Valletta on a Sunday (16)
This past weekend Valletta beckoned. I wandered into some areas that I had never been in before. Yes, in a city that is about 1.5 miles long by maybe half a mile wide, I still have much to explore. I will concede one thing though – the light of the sun is special at this time of year. There is a golden glow about it that brings out the honey colour in all the old buildings. And whereas once I used to shy away from anything that was rusty or crumbling, I have now learnt that these things too have a story to tell.
Valletta on a Sunday (5)
In Valletta, there is no escaping the patina of age (except for our new parliament building - but that a story from some other time). It is just there and begs to be noticed and loved for what it is. In Valletta you sometimes come across the totally unexpected in the most unlikely places. And that is what every city needs – a dose of quirky around a forgotten corner – like these figures created from recycled materials. I cam across these unusual, colourful and fun exhibits in Strait Street (Valletta’s former Red Light District) and they really brightened up this decaying sector of the city.
Valletta on a Sunday (27)
But even in such charming surroundings, bellies still start to rumble. We ate at a restaurant with the unlikely name of Badass  Café. I would say that  they make the best burgers in Malta. They even got my American husband’s seal of approval. So if they are up to US standards, they are definitely delicious; and let me not start about the fries. We all gave them a big thumbs up. Enough about food though …
Valletta on a Sunday (56)
We have recently been trying to teach the Mischief  Maker a little bit about the long history of these islands. I was in panic mode at first. Where to start when the story goes back at least 6000 years? So we decided not to start anywhere in particular (how typical of me) and just teach him about the place we happen to be in. And what better place to start than Valletta? So we strolled across St George’s Square to the Grand Master’s Palace. A short explanation about this building and off he went, our Mischief Maker, – flitting about like a pesky mosquito.
Valletta on a Sunday (17)
Valletta on a Sunday (18)
This building may have been built and embellished by the Grand Masters of the Order of St John but subsequent rulers left their own mark. And that is what I like best about history, that it is made up of many layers, one on top of the other, and you can only get to the heart of the story by peeling back each layer and discovering what lies beneath.
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Location: Valletta, November 2012

Friday, 9 November 2012

False Start Fridays: A House By The Sea

There is a house by the sea – an empty house; a derelict hose. Its windows are shuttered and its front door is barred. The tall iron gate is rusted and chained. Ivy and bougainvillea have hidden most of the walls. The gardens are a tangle of vines and brambles; the flowerbeds overgrown with weeds; the fountain silent and dry.
But it was not always so. Once upon a time, children ran down the stairs and frolicked in the gardens; an old lady dozed in her armchair and remembered her youth and a young girl lay awake on her bed and dreamt of her future. Nobody in the near-by village could remember who had lived there or why the house had been vacant for so long; but the very old people spoke of one long, hot summer, many years ago, when some tragedy had struck the family that lived there and the father had locked up the house and forbade any of the family to ever return there. Some say there had been a death in the family. Others say that a severe blow had been dealt to the family pride – but no one can say for sure. The true events have become mysterious through the passage of time. But if the derelict house could speak, it would have an interesting tale to tell …
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Nina ran down the wide staircase and hurtled into the waiting carriage where her grandmother was waiting. The older woman smiled indulgently.
“Good morning Grandmama,” said Nina.
“Good morning child. Sit by me and read me some poetry.”
Obediently, Nina picked up the worn book and started to recite Byron in a listless voice. Her grandmother watched her through half-closed eyelids, the familiar words falling between them like the soft petals of almond blossoms. The annual journey to the family’s summer house was always a cause for excitement. But this year, she felt that her granddaughter’s restless more than excited. Nina reminded her so much of herself at that age; which was, perhaps, not altogether a good thing. Marianna Barbaro Pizzani closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on Byron, while reminiscing about a long lost summer.
“Is something troubling you Nina?” she suddenly asked her granddaughter.
“No,” Nina replied as she closed the book and started to finger the ringlets of her long black hair. There was a certain nervousness about her motions that did not go unnoticed but Marianna decided that it would be wise not to pry too deeper.
“It is so hot this year. June has barely started and we are already in the throes of a heat wave. The sea breezes will feel most welcome,” she said.
“Truly Nana,” Nina replied. “I can’t wait to get there …and I can’t wait for Roberto to come back from Rome.” A hint of a smile touched the girl’s lips.
Marianna knew how close Nina was to her twin brother. She had noticed subtle changes in the girl ever since he had left the island to go and study in Rome.
“I heard that this year he is bringing a young friend of his with him.”
“Yes,” Nina agreed.
“Your father told me he comes from a very good Roman family,” Marianna continued determined to probe a little bit deeper.
Nina sighed. “Yes, but is that all that matters?” she asked angrily. “I will have none of it. Help me Nana, please.”
A strained silence seemed to fall between them, broken only by the clip-clop sound of the horses hooves. Then, defiantly, Nina continued, “I will not marry if it’s not for love. No matter what anyone in the family may say. And if you force me, you’ll be sorry.”
With that, Nina turned her back and stuck her head out of the carriage window. The breeze was barely cool and beads of perspiration formed on her upper lick. The countryside was already parched and the few wild flowers that still survived in pockets of shade were fast giving up their struggle. Nina looked at them and a pang of uncertainty clutched at her heart. Would she give up, in the end, like the weeds? It was one thing to talk so openly to her grandmother. But her father would be a totally different story. She pictured his stern face, his well-groomed moustache and his serious eyes - and her heart sank. She turned away from the window and in a low, almost plaintive voice, asked her grandmother, “You will help me Nana, won’t you? You won’t let them make me do something that will break my heart. Please say you won’t.”
Marianna clutched the heavy silver crucifix that hung around her neck, as if willing it to help her say the right words. But what words could she utter? Whatever she chose to say at this moment would only tighten the noose around her neck. Her past had never lain as heavily on her as it did right now. She knew Nina looked to her for direction – her father was too aloof and her mother was too busy with the four younger children and a household to run. Marianna had always been Nina’s rock. But now, when her protégé needed her most, it seemed likely that she would let her down.
Help me, Lord, she prayed silently, help me help this child.
But as the carriage rolled on to its destination, she had a sinking feeling that this year, more than any other year, her past would come to haunt her even more than it did every summer. With an effort, she smiled at Nina and said, in as steady a voice as she could, “Let’s cross each river when we come to it shall we? Let’s just enjoy our time together as we always have.”
Nina seemed content with that. She took her grandmother’s hand in hers and turned her face to the approaching vista of the sea.
Initially, my plan was to turn this first draft into a short novel but I stopped at the end of the first chapter because I was not sure exactly which route to take and because I felt that the story was not that interesting. So, notwithstanding the fact that this is very much an abandoned work in progress, I decided to accept Sue’s challenge and post an unfinished piece of writing in False Start Fridays. It’s not easy to do so, but sometimes you just have to stick your neck out a bit and hope for the best.


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