WELCOME

This blog is dedicated to Malta - my island home. My aim is not to bore you with history but to share my thoughts and a few facts together with a photo or two. For a more in -depth background of the island please go here. The purpose of this blog is not to point out the short-comings of the island. There are plenty that do that already. My wish is to show you the beauty of an island at the cross roads of the Mediterranean, a melting pot of history; a place where fact and fiction are sometimes fused to create unique myths and legends; a country that has been conquered so many times that our culture is a mish mesh of the lands that surround us and of lands far away. I confess that my greatest desire is to make you fall in love with this tiny enchanting island.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Les Gavroches

Museum of Fine Arts (44)

Les Gavroches - three Parisian urchins, immortalised forever by Antonio Sciortino, are the subject of this sculpture in bronze. Antonio Sciortino is one of Malta’s foremost sculptors. He was born in the village of Zebbug in 1879 and studied at the Istituto Reale di Belle Arti in Rome. He died in Rome  in 1947. His work is said to be influenced by Auguste Rodin and by the artistic movements of Realism and Futurism.

Les Gavroches was completed in 1904 and was placed in the Upper Barracca Gardens. In 2000 the sculpture was removed to be cleaned and restored. It now resides in the Museum of Fine Arts.

Museum of Fine Arts (45)-001

Of all the statues and sculptures in Malta this is probably my favourite. There is a sense of movement and vitality in the faces of the three gavroches that is quite engaging. It almost feels as if, like Pinocchio, they will turn into flesh and blood little boys right before our eyes. And perhaps that is why this sculpture enjoys such universal appeal – because Sciortino has captured to perfection the impish look that so often comes into little boys’ eyes.

Les Gavroches

Museum of Fine Arts, South Street, Valletta

Opening Hours

Monday to Sunday: 9.00-17.00
Last admission: 16.30
Closed: 24, 25 & 31 December, 1 January, Good Friday

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wayside Chapels: Santa Maria at Tal-Virtu’

This chapel forms part of my earliest memories. It is located at the edge of a promontory on which the town of Rabat is situated, on a lonely stretch of road with stunning views . When I was a little child, my Nanna would take me for a walk, almost every day, to the boundary wall of the chapel and back. We would walk, hand in hand, and she would feed me a banana, piece by little piece – I was not much of an eater back then.

Jason Rides his Bike 009

On the way, we would stop at a little farm. A big billy-goat with an impressively long beard lived there and I never missed the chance to stop and say hello.  The chapel itself is a mysterious place with a history that goes back to Punic times.

Jason Rides his Bike 015

Beneath the chapel are a number of tombs that date back to Punic and late Roman times, together with paleo-christian (early Christian) catacombs. Also underneath the current church is a crypt which used to be the ante-chamber to the catacombs. The crypt was  used as a troglodytic (cave) place of worship in medieval times.  The first church on this site was built in 1438 but the existing domed structure was built between 1717 and 1723 after the original church suffered extensive damage during the earthquake of 1693. (The earthquake of 1693 is rather famous in Malta. It was caused by a violent eruption of Mt Etna – just 70 miles away – and caused extensive damage to a number of buildings).

Jason Rides his Bike 033

In 1923, another earthquake caused several fissures to appear in the domed roof and the church was closed to the public. With the passing of the years, the church fell into dis-repair and was abandoned for many years. It was finally restored in 2009 but, due to the fact that it is now situated on private land, it is not open to the public except for private functions.

Jason Rides his Bike 023

Perhaps not too surprisingly, the church is reputed to be haunted*. At least three people (two farmers and a British soldier), on different occasions, claim to have entered the church and saw a priest saying Mass in the empty building. To their horror, they realised that the  priest had no flesh on his skeletal hands. Some also claim to have seen the ghost of a young woman, accompanied by her guardian angel, walking towards the church. Local legend has is that  this young woman was the sister of the famous Maltese architects Lorenzo and Melchiorre Gafa. During her life, she loved to come to pray in this lonely chapel …

(*All of these sightings happened prior to the chapel’s restoration.)

Jason Rides his Bike 033_edit

I have been in the vicinity of this chapel many, many times and I have seen nothing unusual (unless you count the billy-goat’s beard). As kids, we were warned not to get too close to the building because it was in a heavily dilapidated state and it was thought that the roof was in imminent danger of collapse. However, one day, in our early teens, we disobeyed and went and looked in through the broken, decayed door. I cannot vouch for the others that were with me, but I was overcome by a very spooky and sinister feeling – and I had not yet heard about the ghost stories at that point in my life.

Jason Rides his Bike 027

Location: Santa Maria Chapel (Tal-Virtu), Virtu Road, Rabat

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Maltese Recipes: Tuna & Spinach Pie

I thought it would be fun to occasionally share  a local recipe. Whether this one is one hundred per cent local, or whether it is an adaptation of a recipe from nearby Sicily, I cannot tell you. What I can tell you is that the recipe below is my own version of the traditional one. It has become a family favourite and is even easy enough for this lazy cook.

Ingredients

  • Short-crust pastry (enough to cover the top and bottom of a 9-inch pie-pan)
  • 2 large cans  tuna(app. 160g each) , drained
  • 500g - 700g spinach (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 100g olives
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried mint
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Method

  1. Boil the spinach in boiling water until cooked. Drain water carefully. (I use a potato  masher to squeeze out as much water as possible).
  2. Fry the diced onion in olive oil.
  3. Add the herbs, olives, tuna, spinach and capers and cook for a few minutes.
  4. Add the tomato paste and mix well.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Cover the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan with pastry.
  7. Pour in the tuna and spinach mixture.
  8. Cover the top of the pie with another layer of pastry and scatter the sesame seeds.
  9. Prick the top layer of pastry with a fork.
  10. Bake in an oven at 200C for 30  minutes.

I am sorry that I have no pie pictures to share but we were in too much of a hurry to eat it.

It’s been raining and the weather has cooled down a bit (perfect weather for pies, in my opinion). Octobers have a tendency to be rather warm here but, in spite of everything, change is coming. What remains to be seen is whether the change will be slow or fast.  I find that I am spending a lot of time thinking and reminiscing and some of that is going to spill over  into my posts, both here and on Stories and Scribbles. You will also be noticing a few subtle changes, in content and in layout, on this blog as had promised a few weeks ago.

Rabat and the Catacombs (36)

Speaking of rain … I have nearly always shared photos taken on sunny days. However, today I would like you to take a short walk with me through the rainy streets of my home-town. These narrow, winding streets and alleys form part of the old town core.

Rabat and the Catacombs (37)

Hundreds of years ago (before 800AD) this area fell within the walls of Mdina. It is highly likely that  beneath the streets we walk on today are the remains of houses from that far-off time. The current buildings, although not as ancient, still date back to the late 1400s. This is especially true of the ground-floor level. Typically, upper levels were added at a later period.

Rabat and the Catacombs (38)

Not all of these houses are in their original condition. But, thankfully, many have been preserved allowing us a glimpse into the way people lived so many years ago.

Rabat and the Catacombs (42)

Location: Rabat

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