A Little Bit of Me

Jottings and Writing, miscellanous misgivings

Kights Templar

It’s a weird feeling. Flying out of Catalina to Malta. As I mix with Italians and Sicilians and Maltese I feel like a native going overseas. It is a very early morning flight and I have arisen at 0500 for a quick walk down to the airport bus, which at yhis time of the morning negotiates deathly quiet streets. I am stopped at border security over a weapon of mass destruction i.e a corkscrew with much mia dispaice from the official and he seems to mean it.

Sicily from the air looks beautiful as the sun comes up and the west coast and interior look to be under intense cultivation. We fly through soft cloud, double rainbows and excited Italians taking pictures as if this wasn’t a country only 80 km away. I am suddenly aware that all announcements are in three languages. The first I take to be German though its not as guttural and hard. The second is Italian, and the third English. Oh yeah! Official language of Malta, English and Maltese. (More later).
From the air Malta looks small but I am surprised by the number of super container ships and suchlike lying at anchor, waiting to enter the rather large port.
Our host Mario is awaiting at the airport to take us to our apartment in his battered Peugeot, which typical of an electrical engineer (now retired), computer technician, academic, has electrical wiring running amok and switches dangling from doors , instrument panel gutted. He seems hesitant, wary perhaps, slightly distracted. Last weeks guests have left but the apartment hasn’t been cleaned and he seems at a nit of a loss as to what to do with us. We get a tour of Valetta and then up the hill to the apartment in the middle of Birju . (Trig Il Taramuntana As we wind up impossibly steep streets and increasingly narrow streets we meet cars and trucks coming the other way which necessitates much backing, wing mirror scraping, wheel skidding and I suddenly realise that Mario is speaking in that first airline voice but this a peculiar lilt. Its Malteze, an ancient language partly arabic, partly dialectic Sicilian partly Italian, partly English. I will try and write more about it later but all the streets are in the language and everyone is talk8 g it.
The apartment, like the Peugeot, is a work in progress but tidy, clean and quirky. Its in the suburb of Birgu and all the houses are in a soft cream stone, (they have white and yellow limestone which are the traditional building materials ) and after the black larval rock of Catania is quite a juxtaposition. Mario has to fix up bedding etc so we debunk to the central piazza Misrah ir- Republica and my god, freshly squeezed orange juice and horror of horrors a proper sausage roll. While I am sliding around the table chasing flaky pastry I enquire about the local Maltese wines which I have heard about but never tasted. I have developed a taste for Sicilian reds which I had never sampled before but they are readily available in the south of Italy and they are seriously good. Eyes watering price aside the glass I have at our local Café duBrazilia is beautiful. Warm, tasting of oranges and lemons and very easy on the palate (thought I would never live to here myself talking about wine like that). We discover that this place is where the knights templar resided and it has a history which I will try to find more about. Time for sustenance. Now I know nothing pf Maltese cuisine aside from rabbit, and pork.(pork cooked long and slow on a bed of potato and fennel with white wine) They are famous for seafood but I am not a big fan. We head for one of the five cafes in the piazza and settle on D-something which has a sumptuous interior but also a steep alleyway with outside tables that probably features in numerous tourist magazines judging by the number of photos taken as we dine. The waiter is a funny guy who is like that fox in the George Clooney film and he has a knack for taking your order then reappearing three times to make sure he has it right, Alison goes for the full Swordfish steak fillet and I opt for rabbit. They do either stew or fried and after three attempts Reynaud manages to bring me a plate of traditional Maltese fried rabbit, WITH CHIPS. God !
Who knows why someone would wreck a beau5uful dish of rabbit cooked in red wine, onions and balsamic with troppo garlic with, CHIPS. Its supposed to be served with bread to soak up the pea and reduction gravy or even with a mash. But CHIPS. Alison informs me it’s a thriw back to the English and it seems as though most dishes come with chips. I even had a ham and cheese sandwich for breakfast the next day with potato chips. Still the rabbit was AWESOME. This one had probably curry powder added but it could have been turmeric and cumin. I am later told by Mario that one of the restaurants on the square actually serves cat as a substitute for rabbit but I am pretty sure I identified all the bones as bunny.

I wake up feeling totally relaxed. Maybe it’s the good nights sleep, maybe it’s the clean white of everything, maybe its just being on a hilltop village removed from modem life, maybe it’s the life restoring properties of cat, WHEN the morning is rudely interrupted by first a motorbike then a car then a human being passing by my head about a metre away, then a furious argument in Maltese, then a horse and cart. The streets are seriously narrow and I could almost reach out the front door and shake hands with my neighbor across the alley.
Awake and out and at them. Today is ‘getting to know your environment so its two or three ferry rides a 4 hour bus trek around Malta so that we know what we want to see in 5he next three days. For me, after the day its, 1/ a small fishing village with a daily market -heaps of cool stalls and cafes (WITH CHIPS), 2/ the falconry centre with daily flights of birds, and all things falcon like (H IS FOR HAWK – HELEN MACDONALD) which I have been fascinated about after reading this excellent book and 3/ a harbour cruise to get a better look at Malta from the sea (still has a dry dock, still has shipbuilding , still has decent fishing fleet, still has a naval prescience). I am much impressed by the accomplishments of this small island with its distinctive language, distinctive culture despite CHIPS WITH EVERYTHING.


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