Having said goodbye to Martin and Carolyn on Monday, Tuesday began extremely early. If you want any bureaucratic business done, here unless you are first in line, it can practically take all day as we had learned with the car registration debacle. So, 6am start, dress smartly, and off to the government offices to get our Malta ID cards. Despite being there at the time it was due to open (7.30am), we were third in line.
Lawrence had printed off our application forms and we had filled them in prior to our interview with an extremely dour policewoman, who signed them to say she had clapped eyes on us and sent us to the photographer, who was if anything even more taciturn. Then we moved rooms again to be interviewed and to finalise the proceedings. Guess what – not even a glimmer of a smile! I suspect they have been told not to engage the punters. Lawrence had a clear run, but they wanted to see all my documents, including my very tatty (aged!) birth certificate and our marriage certificate. Clearly the women are the ones to watch!
After all that, we did not receive our ID cards, but were told to wait for a letter confirming our acceptance, then bring it back to the same office, together with our passports! Interestingly, we were asked whether we wanted to vote for the British or Maltese MEPs.
That evening we went to an EPOKA (meaning a “period of time”) folk festival on the eve of L-Mnarja, a medieval midsummer holiday celebrating the harvest and agriculture in general. In modern times it is an opportunity for everyone to promenade along the Valletta waterfront either in costume or not, admiring the stalls showing off all the artistic and rural activities of the island.
A company of late 18th century soldiers had set up camp complete with swords, pig on a spit over a crackling fire, some camp followers and rifles that they loaded with real paper gunpowder cartridges they made in front of our eyes. Local farmers had brought gaily coloured wagons of their produce and livestock. The star of the show was a turkey with a blue face which spent the whole evening in amorous display, fanning out its enormous tail feathers trying to entice one particular hen. Such stamina!
There was a weaver making rugs in the traditional way and many stalls with wines, liqueurs, cakes and other edibles for sale. Some had come over from Gozo. My favourite was the nougat stall. There was the usual nutty nougat, but the traditional soft maltese nougat far exceeds this. Every imaginable flavour, not only in bars but formed into intricate cakes, hearts, flowers, or a combination of both, all wrapped in bright metallic wrappers. These are traditionally associated with major events such as Easter, Christmas, birthdays and First Communion days.
At 9 o’clock, I was in harpy heaven. A group of musicians dressed in period costume included the harpist I tried to get to teach me, but she was unable to do so as she was an anaesthetist just finishing her final exams prior to going abroad in about three months. Pity. The costumes were all gold and red apart from hers. She was dressed in a powder blue period gown with a white lace veil, and resembled one of the madonnas in the many churches here. Sitting behind her harp, which to my surprise was a lever harp like mine – though larger – she really was a picture. We do play on the angelic image, don’t we?
The music was a mixture of 17th century classical and Maltese folk songs and it was great to see someone who is a premier harpist in Malta doing what I do with my little folk band and using it as an accompaniment and rhythm instrument, albeit to a much higher standard. All Maltese we have met are incredibly proud of their heritage and not elitist about their music.
One of the funnier items was an instrument like a flowerpot with a flexible rod sticking out of it, which the player stroked forcibly to produce a noise like Rolf Harris’s flexiboard! Strange!!
After the concert I was able to speak to Anne-Marie the harpist, and went home through the lovely streets, extremely happy and determined to practice harder.