This week begins on Monday, with a trip to Mosta market. Mosta is our neighbouring town and the main church boasts the third largest unsupported dome in the world, being larger than St Paul’s by 22ft, and only surpassed by the Aya Sophia in Istanbul, and St Peter’s in Rome! During the second world war, a bomb burst through the gilded ceiling of the dome while hundreds of people were sheltering within and failed to go off – an event now known as the miracle of Mosta. You can see a replica of the shell casing there. Good true story!
Anyway we took the scenic route lasting over an hour – the journey should only take ten minutes – because we had got onto the wrong bus, which only went to Mosta after a substantial tour of the island. It was a lovely day so we didn’t really mind. Once in Mosta it became clear that one of the most prevalent commodities in the market was the humble brassiere. There were millions of the things – none of them tasteful – and their serried ranks were tended inevitably by men! Not a John Lewis fitting service! Clothes were also much in evidence, with a few bakery, veggie and household stalls scattered in between. Good shoes.
Went to see the little Chapel of Our Lady of Good Hope that Lawrence had discovered at the end of his first walk, and the little grotto there. It is a typical Maltese shrine with figurines, candles and flowers.
Then onto the right bus back to Rabat. We had an amazingly good value sandwich lunch at a new contemporary restaurant in an old pedestrian area there which had just opened and which we will certainly inflict on any visitors. It was accompanied by hot, hand cut, just cooked potato crisps. A smoked salmon and a toasted ham and cheese sarnie with delectable salad and home made crisps for under €5 is superb value. We are going there for dinner on Saturday night!
Back home to watch the footie and do some harp practice.
Out early – 8am – to catch my little greengrocer barrow-boy, while L went for a run. Wonderful fresh produce, straight from the farm. Broccoli heads as big as footballs! Rest of the day spent catching up with admin things and rearranging the kitchen. Had a nasty surprise when the central halogen light in the kitchen exploded with a huge bang and showered us with glass shards. Fortunately the bulb was not a big one, but it did give us a start! Handyman in to fix it I think.
Checked out the pool, but still a bit too cold to swim in. Saw a large locust/grasshopper insect, and lots of pipits. Made a change from the sparrows.
Getting good at the local Times crossword, even managing the cryptic one now. Newcastle/Man U a disappointment.
Off to Valletta for a social do with the local Masonic lodge and one of the British residents’ social clubs in Malta. Aperitifs in the bar, a talk in the lodge room about particular aspects of Freemasonry and then a hearty lunch, with fabulous herby mushroom soup (tarragon). Convivial company and found out a lot of stuff which will help us bed into Malta better e.g. easiest way to get an ID card which everyone has to have here. This was held in a very old building , the first floor of which would have been the official rooms of one of the Knights of St John. The dining room had the original iron chandeliers. I kept looking for Errol Flynn to no avail. Pity!
Back then via the bookshop where I indulged myself and bought a reference book on the prehistory of Malta. It is part of a series covering the whole time span up to the medieval period, so 3 more to go. Then I will have to find all the second world war stuff. That will keep me busy for a while.
Also Copa del Rey final between Real Madrid and Barcelona tonight. Can’t wait. It is a late game. Hope I can stay awake.
Game won by Real last night. First trophy in years and they go and drop it off the top of the celebration bus, which promptly ran over it! Very embarrassing, but I dare say no-one will forget that victory even if they forget the details of the match.
Quiet day. Stocking up on food over the Easter break. It is a bit more difficult without a car, as everything has to be carried. My fold up Sainsburys bags are great for that. Fortunately the local shops are all close by. While in the shop I got information about the village Easter procession where the local religious dignitaries and various relics/statues/icons are carried through the town tomorrow night – Good Friday – so we will go and hopefully get some photos.
Our Apple TV arrived so Lawrence spent the morning configuring that so now we can play our music collection, and watch videos etc through it and get everything else available on iTunes. It is not a TV, but a little magic black box which wirelessly connects the TV screen to the computer. Fabulous. I now have no excuse for not doing the exercises on the video I brought with me.
Had a good music practice, but otherwise nothing to report. Even the weather is unremarkable today with a chilly wind, low visibility and much lower temperatures than in the UK just now.
Good Friday and another dull day (weather-wise). Easter confectionery here includes wonderful heart-shaped festival cakes with colourful icing and gold wrapping – very stodgy. The Maltese seem to commemorate everything with food of some sort or another. Combined with the low cost of wine, I think we are going to have to be very disciplined if we are not to expand more than our horizons!
Six o’clock and off to a church square where the procession was due to pass. There was a steady flow of people joining us from side streets as we went, so we were reassured we were going to the right place. When we got there, many folk had already put chairs out to bag a place along the procession route, and the crowd gradually got bigger and bigger until there were many hundreds watching from every available vantage point. Some lucky souls had a great view from their balconies – accompanied by tea or something stronger perhaps.
The parade began with a procession of the local scout and guide groups who were slow marching to a sombre drumbeat and a plaintive tune on a xylophone. This was followed by a series of representations of Biblical scenes with very realistic costumes and artefacts. The scenes included depictions of Christ’s time from Gethsemane to the crucifixion and interment. Huge statuary tableaux, were carried on large, beautifully carved mahogany pallets, threaded by poles which were supported on the shoulders by typically eight men in white robes, with four additional supporters, in black suits, who assisted when the procession was stationary – which it seemed to be for more than 50% of the time. The platforms looked really heavy but it is a matter of great pride to be a bearer. Some positions on the poles have been in the same family for generations.
There were about 10 of these major tableaux and the other members of the parade were dressed as Romans, tribesmen, and other relevant protagonists. The costumes are very realistic and those of the Roman soldiers in particular can cost upwards of 1000 Euros. There was a great photo in the local paper of an elaborately dressed Roman centurion on his mobile phone – another village of course! The local brass band also made an appearance, but it too was playing sombre – although very melodic – music.
It brought home to us how much Catholicism and religious practice is a part of this island’s culture. While everyone was festive in mood, the numbers (100s) participating in the parade itself, the detailed work that went into the costumes and tableaux, and the numbers watching all attested to how important these events are to the Maltese.
By the time the parade finished, it was 9.30 and we were very cold. The weather here has not been as good as we expected and it seems UK is having a wonderful time in the sun! So my slow-cooker soup (left on) made with delicious smoked hock – the meat here really is very good – was a very welcome supper.
Still windy but getting sunnier. No smog here though. Learning some new tunes with Lawrence. The marble floors carry the sound fabulously, but our neighbours assure us that they cannot hear anything, so I have to hope they are telling the truth!
Off to our local restaurant for dinner to see if it is as good for dinner as lunch. Lawrence had a very good fillet steak stuffed with rabbit liver pate, and I had langoustines in a light curry sauce. His was really good as were my prawns, but mine was a bit spoiled by a bed of very overcooked, slightly spongy vegetables. The starter and pudding were great. Negotiating the shells of the prawns in the curry sauce was messy. White trousers not a good idea, but fortunately no mishaps. House wine cheap and good. I’d give it 8/10, but next time I will skip the veggies and opt for a salad. Nice walk home to our books.
To be continued next week. Hopefully we will have our car then and have more to report.