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).
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).
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.
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 …
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.
The Banca Giuratale
Location, Mdina, April & May 2012I 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.)