This week began with chaos on the buses. Arriva began its new system, but was effectively sabotaged by a large number of drivers (58 I think) of the old buses who just did not turn up for work, without telling the firm. So, the routes had to be covered with the drivers they had, which resulted in a much less frequent service than published. The troubles did not end there. The state of the art computer signage to tell passengers which route a bus was servicing did not materialise and passengers at bus stops were forced to ask each bus that stopped where it was going to, all of which added to the delay and frustration of all. Another problem was that the bendy buses got stuck on some of the routes and one even had to do a three point turn, then reverse out of a congested shopping area. In all a total of 81 drivers did not turn up over the week, but Arriva imported as many British drivers and reverted to the “paper number in the windscreen” method of identification and the whole thing has smoothed out, except that the role of the bendy buses are being re-evaluated.
One aspect of the new bus system is that some of the roads have had new tarmac laid down. We were greatly amused to see the rural road around Dingli Cliffs with fresh tarmac only on the left side, as the bus only goes one way round there! Such pragmatism!
Things are settling down now, but the drivers who did not turn up for the week’s rotas have been sacked and the British drivers will stay until the Maltese recruitment and training is at full strength
This week is also noteworthy because we had our first swim in the sea – at Golden Bay, beside our favourite watering hole, the Radisson hotel – where else? Hitherto we had swum in the pool, but decided to do the Maltese thing and swim in the sea. Several hundred other people had the same idea. golden Bay is a beautiful sandy beach, and is the biggest in Malta, but by British standards is the size of a small Cornish cove. Somehow everyone has enough room to relax or play in the sun, partially because of the good nature of the people there.
The lifeguard situation was interesting. The beach sports an elevated, platform-style lifeguard station, with the traditional high chairs for the guards to watch from. There is also a commercial franchise hiring kayaks, dinghies, banana boat rides , pedaloes etc. It appears that the lifeguard cannot rescue anyone associated with the franchise, they have to do it themselves. We watched a pedalo, clearly in trouble and being pushed towards the rocky shore of the adjacent bay, with one of those on board waving a shirt, frantically trying to get the attention of someone to help. The lifeguards did not spot them for quite some time and then had to run to the franchise staff, who took some time to get their rib into the water and go to the rescue. The problem seemed to be that they could not turn the pedalo against the tide/current, so it was not really a life-threatening event and all was well in the end.
Bureaucracy is still rearing its head and we registered for our bus cards on Tuesday. To register to stay in Malta more than 3 months you need a temporary health document. So on Wednesday, off to the office in Valletta which we had been told opened in the mornings on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9am. We were very cheesed off to find that we were still standing there at 9.30 and no sign of life in the offices. A very nice Maltese lady (travel agent) stopped and asked if she could help us. We explained our situation and she started to laugh, telling us “but today is Thursday!”
It was very funny, but just a tad embarrassing. Since we have been here we do not look at our calendar nearly as often as we used to and life is so relaxing, we totally lost a day. We will not contemplate the other option – that we suffered from a simultaneous senior moment! We rectified the situation the following day with another trip into Valletta which was much more fruitful.
Saturday saw the highlight of our week. This was an open-air concert in The Granaries which is a public square in front of St. Publius Church in Floriana often used for large events such as concerts, festivals and other large gatherings. Originally built by Grand Master Marino de Redin during 1657 – 1660 as an underground storage facility for grain, the square is characterised by a large number of stone flat stone caps for the underground grain silos. The silos were built under ground to protect the grain during wars and sieges.
The main artist and organiser was the Maltese tenor, Joseph Calleja who is one of the worlds foremost operatic tenors. He had his debut at the Met in New York as Rodolpho in La Boheme, and has gone from strength to strength since. He has been hailed as the new Pavarotti, not least because he, like the great man is committed to running a concert in his native city. I prefer the warmth of his voice to that of Jose Cura and Roberto Alagna. He totally immersed himself in the character of the arias he sang, which were not the usual popular suspects, but less often performed arias from Tosca, Le Cid, and Cavalleria Rusticana, among others, including Rossini’s tongue twister La Danza.
There were two other artists on the bill that night. The first of these was Hayley Westenra, performing more popular pieces, many with a haunting quality that was reflected in the darkening sky with the moon rising and the stars coming out over the dramatic square with its old buildings and church, redolent with the history of equally dramatic times.
The third of the trio was Lucio Dalla, a diminutive man with an astonishingly large personality who jazzed his way – in Italian – through an entertaining selection of numbers including a protest song. The climax of his performance was a duet with Joseph Calleja of his (Dalla’s) own composition “Caruso”, a song dedicated to the famous Italian tenor, which is an established world wide hit. It brought the house down.
A series of duets between the singers followed and the final encore was Nessun Dorma with Dalla giving a creditable performance as a second tenor.
Apart from the great music and the wonderful venue, there was another unexpected aspect of this concert. The wife of a previous presiden had died a few days earlier. She had been a reforming figure in her own right with a strong sense of duty, and when Calleja dedicated one of his arias to her, the whole audience erupted into applause, many rising to stand in tribute. The applause went on for a very long time. It was yet another manifestation of the national solidarity and integrity of the Maltese people. Despite often bitter rivalry between the two main political parties all those hundreds present at the concert, irrespective of political affiliation, stood to honour “a good woman”. She was Maltese. That was enough.