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

Sunday, 30 September 2012

My First School

Medieval Mdina (1)
It was October of 1975 when I first set foot inside this imposing building. I had no idea, at the time, of its history. All I knew was that, for better or for worse, this was my school. As a four year old child (now you all know how old I am), it was easy to be awed by the relative magnificence of what was, after all, a Baroque palace. Imagine being shown into a classroom, with murals on the ceiling and with windows that were so high up that the teacher had to climb up three small steps to open or close them.
After all this time, the details of my first school days are, to say the least, rather fuzzy in my mind. But certain things, certain moments are still etched in my memory. Our teacher’s name was Miss Agnes. I remember she had long, dark straight hair – with a fringe. The classroom walls were painted a dark shade of ivory and colourful, cardboard charts with the letters of the English alphabet (or the ABC, as we liked to call it) were tacked to the walls like bunting at a spring fair. The little tables were hexagonal and in pretty pastel colours: yellow, pink, mint green. I distinctly remember that we had toys to play with – we were in pre-grade after all – but the ones that I can still see clearly to this day, were a plastic set of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. They were the ones that everyone wanted to play with. And quarreled over. Looking back, it’s strange, the little details that I do remember - like the huge white bow that Gina used to wear in her hair; Priscilla and Sylvann, my best friends through all of junior school and much of senior school; Sister Debattista, the nun whose duty (punishment?) was to sit on guard outside the bathrooms; the cavernous feel of the classrooms, with their lofty, painted ceilings; the singing lessons with Sister Darmanin on an old, rickety piano; the time I heard a man whistling in the street and got gently told off for whistling myself – because it was not lady-like to do so (such were the rules of a convent school in the ‘70s).
Medieval Mdina (4)
I remember singing The Little Drummer Boy on these same steps one Christmas season (perhaps that’s why it is still one of my favourite carols to date)and going out to play in St Paul’s square during lunch break (our school building had plenty of history but no yard or garden where we could play).
Mdina 104
And I remember, as I think I mentioned in some other post, standing beneath the imposing edifice that is the cathedral and looking up at the clouds scudding overhead. From our point of view, it was the cathedral spires that were moving, toppling, spiralling down on our giddy heads.
Dwejra, Nadur &  Mdina (55)
I remember the old woman who lived on the corner of the square and who always kept a kettle in full view on the sill of a tiny window. Rumour had it that she was a witch. It seems that when I stop and think about it, the memories start flooding back …
Medieval Mdina (3)
In 1978 the school was moved to more modern premises and for many years the building lay empty. It now houses part of the National Archives and a permanent photographic exhibition of Maltese personalities. Last April, during a festival held in Mdina, I visited this gorgeous building with my son and told him all about my old school. Structurally, nothing has changed. But whereas back when I was at school the place was alive with a hundred childish voices, today the silence is deafening, broken only by the crackle of paper as researches patiently sift through the deeds and court proceeding  of the long-dead. I wonder if they can hear them, the giggling ghosts of our childhood. I wonder if they can see us, waiting for the future with innocence and curiosity.
Medieval Mdina 107-001
The Banca Giuratale
Location, Mdina, April & May 2012
I apologise for this  rather long post – perhaps that is why I hesitate to write about myself because I don’t know when to stop. (Readers of my other blog will have already seen these photos.)

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked  
   And figs grew upon thorn,  
Some moment when the moon was blood  
   Then surely I was born.
Donkeys (1)
With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,  
The devil’s walking parody  
   On all four-footed things.
Donkeys (2)
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,  
   I keep my secret still.
Donkeys (3)
Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:  
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet.
G.K. Chesterton 1874 - 1936
Donkeys (4)
I have loved this poem ever since I first read it in Palgrave’s Golden Treasury some time in my early teens. Donkeys may not be the most beautiful creatures alive (though I think they have a fuzzy cuteness which few other animals possess) but they are humble and hard-working. Perhaps you are thinking that this is a strange subject for a blog post. But in a society that exalts the stallions of this world, it is easy to forget the weak and the down-trodden, the minorities without a voice; the emarginated; the ‘tattered outlaw(s) of the earth’. In my own round-about way, I wanted to acknowledge them; to reach out to them. To tell them that, in the end, they too will have their moment of glory.
Location: Rabat, April 2012

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The In-Between

It’s not quite summer and not yet autumn. The days are warm and the nights are cool. I sense a shift in the seasons, a subtle change in the air. Morning mists lie heavy in the valleys like misplaced spirits that flee at the first rays of the sun. It is a time of transition; a time of mystery. Gone is the blinding light of long summer days. In its place is the golden light of autumn that suffuses everything with majesty and secrecy. Because autumn is always a mystery, unraveling slowly.
Summer flowers (1)
And this passage of time, these in-between days, give us the time to embrace the wonderful change that is about to take place. Already the leaves of the vines have lost their vibrant green colour and are slowly turning orange and brown, the fresh green grass has sprung up in the shade of the centuries-old Aleppo pines and the pomegranates are starting to ripen.
Summer flowers (2)
It is time to fold and store the garden furniture, to shut the windows against crispy night breezes and to prepare for the death of the year. Because there can be no beginnings without endings; no meetings without partings. Such is the circle of life.
Summer flowers (3)
Summer is gone and I bid it adieu. Goodbye swimsuits; hello rain boots. I am standing, with bated breath, at the threshold of the golden season; mesmerized by its light and seduced by its charms.
Sunflowers in our Garden
Summer 2012

Monday, 10 September 2012

The Pilgrim Steps

Cornwall 514
In 1620 a ship called the Mayflower sailed from England to the New World. On board the ship was a group of Puritans who would later be known as the Pilgrim Fathers. The Mayflower left the British port of Plymouth on September 6, 1620 and arrived in America on November 11, 1620 in what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Cornwall 517-001
In 1620 that group of men, women and children went down these steps to face the unknown. I cannot imagine what they must have felt; whether they realized that they would be making history and that, 400 years later the name of every single person on board The Mayflower (including a baby born at sea and appropriately named Oceanus) would be immortalized on a plaque in downtown Plymouth.
Cornwall 522
I do not think that I was as moved as my American husband by this simple monument that commemorates the birth of America as we know it, but I was still in awe that I was able to retrace the footsteps of history.
Cornwall 516
I stood at the top of that short flight of steps and I wondered – if it were me standing there 400 years ago, would I have had the courage and conviction to board that rickety ship and face untold dangers and violent storms to gain my freedom? Or would I have turned back and walked to persecution and obscurity? Deep in my heart I was glad that  I am lucky enough not have to make that choice. The irony that this has come about due to the very people who sailed from here at so much personal sacrifice, was not lost on me.
Cornwall 512Cornwall 513Cornwall 515
The Mayflower Monument
Location:  The Barbican, Plymouth, UK (July 2012)

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

After The Rain

I wanted this to be a summer of memories. Instead it was more like the summer of incessant heat. We’ve been told that there were 7 heat-waves in all but, in truth, I could not fathom where one ended and the next started. Summer sped by in a blur of melting asphalt and parched, brown fields.
Last Sunday dawned with the hint of a promise. I could not  put it into words, even if I tried, maybe it was just a vestigial, primeval instinct, but I knew there would be a change before the day was out. It was hot, and the humidity was so thick that it felt like a physical wall, but the strangest thing was that, on this island of a thousand breezes, there was an unnatural, unearthly stillness. It was mesmerizing. Not a bird stirred. Not a leaf moved. The only sound was the shrill cry of the cicadas, that seemed to be beseeching the heavens for I know not what.
After the Rain 005
By mid-afternoon a shadow dimmed the light of the sun. Somewhere there had to be clouds – only we could not see them yet. Slowly, they drifted in. Big, swollen, grey clouds filled with quenching water. I prayed the storm would not pass us by.
By early evening it was completely dark and a gale rose out of nowhere. It carried with it the dust and debris of a hundred arid days. And after the dust came the rain. Plump drops of silvery rain, that made the dry ground sizzle and sing, as lightning bolts tore the sky asunder and thunder crashed and roared. It came down for an hour and, when all was still and silent again, I flung open the windows and I breathed, really breathed, for the first time in months. I could smell the aftermath of the storm, that earthy, fresh mustiness that only comes with the first rainfall. In the black void where the sea meets the sky, nature’s fireworks lit up the sky. A cool breeze caressed my face and my played with my hair. I smiled as the song of a lone cricket broke the hush. We had come full circle. Elusive autumn is on its way.
After the Rain 001After the Rain 003After the Rain 011
After the storm
Location: Mtarfa, September 2012


Related Posts with Thumbnails