Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More Republic Day Parade

Republic Day Celebrations in Valletta

This past Sunday we got up early - well earlyish and set off to Valletta to the market. I thought I already knew where they held the market, so we got off the bus and went through the entrance gates to the city, heading for Republic Street which is where I 'knew' the market was. The first thing that became evident was the Pulizia presence. We hardly ever see police anywhere, but there were lots of police and then as we came up to St. George's Square there were crowds everywhere, a stage had been set up in the square and we asked what was about to happen. A parade. Great - we love pomp and circumstance, and the next couple of hours was filled with pomp. Having grown as a soldier's daughter I was well used to the parade that followed - and there is video attached. The Maltese Army, whose dress uniform is exactly the same as my father's, were out in force. They were lead by their marching band who were excellent, and then mounted soldiers on beautiful horses, followed by the foot soldiers, followed by a lovely old Rolls Royce Bentley carrying the President and his wife, who really looked the part wearing a lovely Ascot style hat. By the time we got to the Square it was pretty difficult to get a good look at the proceedings, but we could certainly hear the Company Sargeant Major directing his men to 'show off'their skills to the President and the people. The band played, the soldiers marched and the people, including us thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle. I must say that I wasn't at all prepared for the sound when they removed their bayonets and fired a round of blanks into the air. The report reverberated all around the square, bouncing off the buildings; it made me almost jump out of my skin. And then of course everyone laughs nervously, and then they did it again, just a deafening, but not quite so shocking as we knew it was coming. It doesn't come through the mike on the camera quite as loud as it was, but you get the idea. We never did get to the market, it wasn't where I 'knew' it was. We walked back to the marina and joined in with a dock party which was very nice. A picture is attached of the group of liveaboards. Unfortunately Tony had gone to get more beer during the photo take, so he's not in it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Church in Cospicua

Fireworks at the Cospicua Procession

Feast Day in Cospicua

Sunday 6th December we had a very long day. We started out in Valetta in the morning and then went over to Cospicua. We were expecting to meet up with cousin Annie and her family and then go over to Maria's house (my other cousin)to surprise her. I knew that their other siblings (my cousins) would all be there, but didn't realise that it would be the Feast day of Cospicua. This day celebrates the day that the Virgin Mary conceived Jesus Christ. It is one of the biggest festas in Malta - more so because Cospicua was 90% destroyed during WWII and their statue of the Virgin Mary, which you will see in the attached videa had to be removed from their parish church for its safe keeping. It was removed to a village called Birkirkara a few miles away which was not such a target for the bombing.(Cospicua was a major target because it was home to the naval dockyards.) The statue survived and the people really do love this statue. About 10 men carried the statue on their shoulders out of the church and down into the town square to be displayed to all of the parishoners. She stayed out in the square for a few hours amongst the hundreds of people while they feasted and sang and generally had a good time. She basically oversaw the proceedings. Tony and I watched as the statue was taken from the church and then we went to Maria's. Maria is the eldest daughter of 9 children. This family I knew very well while growing up. Whenever we were in Malta we spent time with them as we were all similar ages and enjoyed doing the same things - swimming, diving off rocks and having simple fun. We spent the evening with them all, reminiscing and finding out what we'd all been doing for the past 40 odd years, then we went back out into the crowds to enjoy the celebrations. It was alot like being at the most awesome rock concert or sporting event, and it was a religious event where the people have a really good time. The statue was carried back up the road from the town square - uphill to the church steps and then they carried her up the steps to the encouraging applause of the people. When they brought her into the church - which was packed - the applause was deafening. They brought her alongside her regular resting place, and then quite unbelievably lifted her up straight armed so that everyone could see her better. The crowd went crazy when they put this super human effort into lifting her after carrying her so far. When she was lifted into place it was the end of the proceedings and we returned to Maria's house, had a little more to eat and drink and then we all went to our respective homes. It was such a pleasure to meet them all and for Tony to see another part of my family.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Valletta Christmas lights

Manoel theater

A night with the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra - and Phil and Wendy

Tony wants me to write something sophisticated, so here goes, we heard overtures from Rossini and Verdi, the overtures of Rossini are gems in their own right, bearing an economy of 'ideation' yet an extraordinary flair for melodic invention ------------ pleeeeeease ------------that sounds like such a bloody croc. Back to what I thought of our night at the theatre. It was a lovely evening, starting with being picked up in a car - not having to walk meant that we - no - I could wear decent clothes and sort of shoes, well I still have to climb over the pulpit at the front of the bowsprit and manoevre around to compensate for the 30kn winds which are moving Moondancer around considerably, so I can't actually wear a dress, but at least something other than hiking boots and jeans. So that's how it started, and then we got to the Theatre and met with our Danish and Dutch friends in the courtyard lobby - (just remember that this theatre dates back to 1732, which makes me feel a bit like an excitable American on holiday in London, but not wanting to appear gauch, we take all of this amazing stuff in stride. I think our friends were equally in awe of this beautiful theatre. From the car to the theatre we walked down Republic Street which has recently been lit for Christmas with hundreds of angels suspended from the buildings - Oh God, I'm starting to act like a bloody American again, taking pictures galore while everyone else is just being so cool. Then the theatre and the performance was everything we hoped it would be, it was a lovely evening. We were mostly respectful of our surroundings, obeyed the rules about not taking pictures during the performance though we really wanted to, and only took the piss a little bit every time the resident conductor, Michael Laus left his podium to wipe the sweat from his brow - we of course said that he was going off to take a tipple. And when the First Violinist/Leader, (a woman) and Michael were presented with bouquets at the end of the performance, we all said, Hey how come she gets a bouquet? and I said its because she's Michael's mistress and Tony said it was because she is a slut. So after we brought the whole thing down to our level we all left happily to eat at a lovely little restaurant close to the boat which was packed with Maltese all enjoying simple good food.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Dead Fish Diver

Here's a job that most of us would dearly love to have, if we had ever heard of it. We have recently met a gentleman called Morgan, and ex-pat from Sweden. He's probably about 40 and came here 10 years ago.
His first job in Malta was as a diver. In many bays around Malta are Tuna storage containers. The Tuna fishermen bring their catch into these storage nets and they are collected and fed and left there to grow until they are big enough to ship off to Japan who seem to be the world's biggest buyers of very large Tuna. Up to 200 kilos, twice as big as Morgan. So sometimes the Tuna die and if left in these containers will contaminate the live fish, which means that somebody has to take out the dead fish.
That was Morgan's job. Unblievable, he would swim around in very close quarters packed in with hundreds of Tuna. Sometimes he would get cut by their sharp fins. That's not what he does now. He's become a shipwright and he and an Irishman called Ken seem to get some pretty big jobs here.

Time to start experiencing Malta

Now that we have moved into our new ‘home’, which incidentally is across the dock from George, the Royal Malta Yacht Club’s commodore who never knows who we are, we now have time to look around. The weather is much cooler now which is more conducive to doing just that. Malta is an extremely hot place in the summer months and its difficult to get motivated to do anything except lie down in the boat with a couple of fans blowing full force onto you, afraid to move because as soon as you do the sweat starts flowing.

We’ve been welcomed into a community of Europeans who have made Malta their homes in the winter, coming back to their spots in the marina and then take off traveling around the Med in the summer. They have lots to tell us about Greece, Turkey, Croatia and Italy. Sicily of course is only about 50 miles from here, so we look forward to taking some trips there during the winter months. Though the winds can get really nasty there is also mild weather and some people still cruise the med then. But they prefer to make Malta their home base, and I’m sure some of them plan to retire to the land one day, when they no longer want to live aboard. The British have been retiring to Malta for many years. When I am talking with these people about Malta I feel envious that they know Malta much better than I do. We will do our best to remedy that while here.

Tonight we are going to the Manoel Theatre to watch the Royal Malta Philharmonic Orchestra. This theatre dates back to the 1732, was built by Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena ‘for the honest recreation of the people’. It was restored in 1969 and is believed to be the second oldest theatre in use in Europe. We went on a short tour of the theatre when we first arrived here. It really is gorgeous, not very big, 3 tiers of boxes (we’ve booked a box for 4 people at 80 Euros). Every box has an original painting on the front wall of the box. The artist who was commissioned to paint these was from Italy, so every country scene that he has painted are places that he remembered in Italy. That strikes me a funny. I suppose he was homesick and it must have taken a few years to finish all of that work.

Two days ago we went to Marsaxlokk which is a really lovely fishing village. It houses hundreds of beautiful colourful fishing boats in the main harbour, and then just around the corner is the free port – maybe I should say the FREE PORT, because its huge. Now we know where all of those ships were going that we saw on the way here. There is actually a constant, never ending line of ships coming into this port. Around the port is a fuel storage installation. As I write this I realize that is why Malta was so protected by the British and so sort after by the Germans during WWII, it’s the refueling station halfway across the Med. So some of those ships are bringing fuel and some a re refueling. From my brother Peter’s villa in High Ridge which overlooks the southern part of Malta we could see an infinitessimal string of lights heading out to sea – these ships, and when we were flying back into Malta at night I could see this same string of lights from the plane. Marsaxlokk is famous for its Sunday fish market – which we haven’t been to yet, but will. They have a daily market also which is purely touristic stuff, much of it made in Taiwan or somewhere other than Malta. We did actually succumb to buying a tile with the famous good luck EYE painted on it. Most of the fishing boats have these eyes painted on either side of the bow. This makes perfect sense to me that the boats should be able to see where they are going. This eye now looks back at me from above the galley sink - got to have a nautical souvenir of Malta.
We also found a fabulous old fort which only opens to the public on Saturdays, wo we couldn't go inside and actually know nothing about it, except that is looks like it dates back to the Grand Masters, like Fort Manoel and was re-used during WWII, the new heavy gun slits replacing the ancient ones give that away.

Yesterday was a lovely ‘hot’ day with cloudless sky, the type of day to do a load of laundry and hang it up to dry. As we are at the end of our dock we have become part of the scenery that the harbour tour boats remark on as they go by. There are lots of them. So now the Canadian boat has been added to their patter – ‘As you will see from the Canadian flag on this boat, Msida Marina is international, attracting boats from all over the world, and here you will see one of those poor sailors hanging out their washing because they can’t afford to pay the launderette prices’. The last bit wasn’t true, but the first bit was.

Today it is pouring rain and will be for a couple of days. The weather reporting here is very accurate, when they say it will rain it rains a lot, and if they say it won’t rain it doesn’t. We like that – no weather surprises.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Yea! we have a spot on N dock

We were very lucky to catch the dock guy Chris in the morning on monday. We let him know that we are on the wall still looking for space. We mentioned that we had met a fellow who has just had his boat lifted out for four months. The guy's spot is on the very end of N dock. Chris said, sounds good , go ahead and take it. So we were very happy. The only problem was the wind has picked up and blowing us right on to the wall with not too much room for manuvering. We'll just wait till it dies down. Nancy wakes me up at 3am and say's "look it's so calm right now. Lets go" So we fired up and slid down to our new location. It's nice to have power and water again. The view is not to bad either.