July 29th, 2008, 1 Comment »
One of the things I miss about living in a tiny Mediterranean country is the charmingly weird local news stories. Julie still reads a couple of Gozo blogs, and this one recently mentioned a transit strike with a peculiar origin:
Move to break hearse cartel sparks transport strike in Malta
A move by the Maltese government to unlock a death grip on hearses by just 11 undertakers met with an indefinite, nationwide transport strike on Monday. Buses, minibuses and taxis blocked major arteries across the Mediterranean island state, notably around the capital Valletta and the tourist area of Sliema, to protest against the decision to offer more licenses to hearse operators.
Hilarious. I don’t usually include the headline, but that one was too good not to.
That’s what can happen in a country of only 400,000 people–the right 11 people can wield a lot of clout. There’s a marketing lesson about influencers in there somewhere.
As it turns out, the Maltese government is just trying to comply with European Union rules to end monopolies in public transport.
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December 29th, 2007, 1 Comment »
As I’ve mentioned, during our nine-month stay in Gharb, we ate at Rangers at least once a week. Named after the local football club (not quite as accomplished as their Scottish namesake), it’s a little bar/restaurant run just off the main square.
Tony handles the bar and takes orders out front, and his wife Carmen cooks the meals in the back. I tried most of the menu, but I eventually narrowed my preference down to Carmen’s excellent funghi pizza. All the pizzas are excellent–thin crusts, the ideal ratio of toppings to sauce to cheese, and just the right size to fill you up (those stacked North American pizzas look ridiculous by comparison).
We can’t recommend Rangers enough. It’s run by great people, and is an ideal spot for casual dining when you don’t feel like cooking at home (or at your holiday home, as the case may be). They also have a kick-ass rooftop patio, with a great view of Ta Pinu. It’s lovely to sit up there, have a drink and watch the bats dip and dive as the sun goes down.
This is the first in a short series of blog posts in praise of some businesses we used and enjoyed on Gozo. These don’t currently have much of an online presence, so I wanted give them some online, uh, props.
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December 28th, 2007, 1 Comment »
Another Fowleresque list. We’re leaving Gozo on Monday, and Malta for Morocco on Wednesday. I’ve got a few more posts about Malta in the hopper (meaning my head), but here’s one on things I’ll miss. It’s not comprehensive, but really more gestural:
- The awesome retro Coke bottles. The kind they drank from at the drive-in in American Graffiti. I actually just made it to the island on time for this one.
- The locals’ ambivalence toward their pets. Shortly after we arrived, I was talking to a neighbour about one of her cats:
ME: How many do you have?
HER: I’m not sure. Three or four.
ME: What’s this one’s name?
HER: I don’t know. Cat?
- The subsequent names we manufactured for the local cats: Dine ‘n’ Dash, Kitten (lovely, but afflicted with shocking flatulence and halitosis), Bread-Eating Cat (it would sneak into our house at night to raid our bread stash), Cairo (it looked particularly Egyptian), Bell Cat (it wore a bell) and Fat Albert.
- The bath tub temperature of the ocean in late summer.
- The fantastic (at least to me–I’m a noobie) snorkeling in that water.
- The fruit. I’ll never look at, well, nearly every fruit back in Canada, the same way.
- The temperature outside. On the day of Christmas Eve, I went for a walk in a long-sleeve t-shirt.
- Dwejra Bay, with its extraordinary settings and killer swimming holes.
- How everybody knows everybody.
- The resulting extraordinary trust. I had an item to ship back to Canada, and the courier came by to pick it up this morning. I opened the door, he said “are you Darren?” I said “yep, here it is”. He picked it up and left. No invoice, no waivers, no receipt, no nothing. And yet I have faith that it’ll make it back to the homeland.
- The peculiar array of cars. Due to some import taxes based on engine size, there are many, many tiny cars from all over the planet. I got a lift in a Skoda today, for example.
- The remarkable and intense Catholicism, which has been quite educational. More on this in an upcoming post.
- How everything is so close. You can walk across the whole island in under three hours.
- How Gozo busted some of my stereotypes about Mediterraneans. They drive very sedately, they’re not particularly fiery and they’re very prompt.
- The church bells, and their unusual patterns.
- Starting work at 13:00. Though maybe that habit will stick.
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December 15th, 2007, 4 Comments »
Walking back from town yesterday, I found our village square to be abuzz with activity. There were no less than eight police officers consulting in front of our church. The only other time I’d seen that kind of police presence was when the President dropped by for a visit.
As I turned into our little lane, I noticed a blood trail. It must have been 100 meters in length–happily it veered right where our alley forks, and not down to where we live. You could see where the victim staggered at one point and leaned against the wall for a bit. I took a photo:
Julie got the gossip from the local shop, and I confirmed today in the paper that there’d been a shooting in Gharb. Apparently there a woman got pushed, and an argument ensued. Somebody went to get a gun, and kerblammo. Nobody died.
Inner city violence in a village of 900. Cool!
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December 5th, 2007, 2 Comments »
From our farmhouse, we can hear the bells of three different churches. The closest church, in our village of Gharb, needs to get some work done on their bells–they sound decidedly flat and clanky.
At first they kept me up at night, but I’ve developed a real affection for them. There’s a little symbolic power to something that the whole community hears.
Early on, we noticed that the ringing of the bells didn’t follow the usual nine-bells-for-nine-o’clock model that I was familiar with. It was actually an interesting puzzle, though I don’t think I ever thought particularly seriously about the odd combination of bells.
Eventually I asked someone, and they explained how the bells work. There are two sets of tones. The first set applies to the minutes, and the second set to the hours. The bells toll at fifteen minute intervals, with the minutes bell tolling one to four times, and the hours bell tolling one to six times. Here are a few examples:
1:15 – bing, bong
15:45 – bing, bing, bing, bong, bong, bong
18:00 – bing, bing, bing, bing, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong (the maximum possible notes)
Because the bells work on a six-hour rotation, it’s up to you to determine if it’s 3:45, 9:45, 15:45 or 21:45.
Do other parts of the world use this system? Malta is the only place I’ve heard it.
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December 4th, 2007, 5 Comments »
Our bedroom is on the top floor of our limestone farmhouse. There’s kind of an outdoor landing outside our bedroom door, which you cross to descend stairs into the rest of the house. We’ve occasionally seen cats on this landing, as they cross rooftops and balconies and lick their tongues into the corners of the evening.
Last week, on three separate occasions, we’ve found, well, piles of crap in various corners of this landing. Large piles of crap for a cat. If the location wasn’t accessible only to cats, you’d think a dog was responsible (some of the cats around here are big, muscular beasts). And, without getting too graphic, these cats were not getting enough fibre in their diets.
What to do? The cats come and do their business in the middle of the night. There was no way to fence off the landing, or access to it from the roof. There was only one solution.
I made like Farley Mowat, and marked my territory. We figured a little human urine might turn off the fickle felines.
And we were right. It’s been four nights now, and there’s no cat poo in sight. Darren 1, Feral Cats 0.
5 Comments »
November 30th, 2007, 2 Comments »
A couple of weeks ago, Julie went on a two-hour tour of the Gozo’s many religious niches–Catholic statues embedded in the facades of buildings. I was up for a one-hour tour, but that didn’t materialize, and I just couldn’t stomach two hours of historical niche study in a minivan full of British septuagenarians. Julie could, bless her, and took a number of lovely photos (she was also unknowingly photographed for the local paper). Here’s one:
That’s an inscription under this niche. A Maltese speaker can help with the translation, but I gather it says, in part, “say Hail Marys under this niche, and spare yourself a hundred days in purgatory”. I believe you can also roll again, unless you land on Park Place.
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November 17th, 2007, 7 Comments »
The other night we were headed over to a friend’s house for dinner. Julie had made a tasty peach and apple crumble for dessert. She went to the local shop to buy some ice cream to go along with the crumble. She didn’t see any in the freezer, so she asked the proprietor:
“There’s no more ice cream. The ice cream is finished.”
Puzzled. Julie walked down, passed the church, to the other shop. Same question, same reply.
Whiskey tango foxtrot?
As it turns out, they don’t sell ice cream in our village between November and May. And I thought these Maltese were a civilized people.
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