FAREWELL GOZO

It is that time again, the time to say goodbye and to move on. West Cork is calling, my grandchildren cannot wait to see me again, and the garden is definitely in need of lots of tender care. I’m also dying to meet up with my family, friends and to reconnect with the art and social scene in Skibbereen. I’m restless and cannot concentrate on writing my blog, I’ve had little time for it also because for the past week I have been sorting and packing our stuff together, 20kg each. Winter clothing is heavy and large, books are heavy too. As I’m minimizing everything I own, I do not want to take extra stuff home, and even if I wanted to – there is no space in the suitcase. It is the weight that matters most in our case, and I bought one of the digital gadgets to weigh a suitcase but I cannot use it, simply because I cannot lift the case to hang it on to the scales! Hopefully we are going to be all right. Everything is sorted, organized and packed. Four days left, time for relaxing and for a last chance to soak up sunshine, because we are going to the land of rain and gray skies. Goodbyes have been said at my lace-class, book-club, library and friends here. Our last few walks have been beautiful.  I know that I shall miss all this glorious sunshine, and I am grateful that we had the opportunity to spend some months here enjoying this lovely island.

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MEMORIES IN PICTURES

Yesterday my sister left Gozo to return home to Lier in Belgium. We enjoyed two weeks of chat and sightseeing, though I must admit a lot of our time was spent enjoying coffee and cake in a variety of places around the island. Nevertheless we did manage to fit in walks and visits to various sights, but mainly we soaked up the spring feeling, the massive amount of wild flowers and the charm of Victoria’s historical narrow streets. As there is only one year between us we grew up quite close and shared a bedroom most of our childhood years, at night my sister would tell me stories which at the time fascinated me, they were of adventures we would find ourselves in. She still always brings me books, and much of our chats would evolve around book discussions, the love of reading we both share. We also both spent our working lives with books and people, she as an editor working for a magazine catering for libraries, and I as a branch librarian in a small town in Ireland.  Both have been very rewarding and enjoyable jobs.
20180304_143113-EFFECTS.jpgAmazing to see the banana trees on Gozo, Josefine could not believe her eyes.

Two sisters, Josefine and myself among the Mimosa flowers which are now opening.

St.Georges square where we spent time drinking coffee and listening to the bell ringing.

Tower of St.Josephs in Qala, and an example of a roundel found on a house in Ghajnsielem.

The fig tree already showing fruit and opening its leaves, poppies are flowering now too making the meadows very colourful, and a hoverfly on a lovely sunny day.

This Gozitan lady working her lace in the doorway of her house, a lovely sight.

More wildlife, this on a narrow pathway at Mgarr.

The narrow alleyways in Ir-Rabat never fail to charm anyone.  Josefine too loved them and we spent quite some time walking them, every time you do you discover more things of interests.

It’s quiet now around here, Ian and I going about our various tasks and peacefully enjoying the life.  The excitement of Josefine’s visit is over, a space is now empty, but memories will stay and lots of thoughts remain of our various chats and discussions.  A rewarding time it was, that is for sure.

THE BELLS OF SAN BORG

Friday morning, and what a glorious morning it was, certainly warmer than it had been for the last few weeks, even here in mild wintering Gozo it seemed that people had more of a smile on their faces, I think the warmth of the sun brings out this relaxed happiness in everyone. Tourists in their t-shirts had boarded the bus at the ferry terminal, and when I got on there was standing room only, but nobody would mind that as it only takes about five minutes to reach Victoria and that is where I also was heading. I needed to go to the head post office but otherwise I did not have much business to attend to, so it was that at 11:55 I found myself heading to St.Georges Square, there to have coffee and listen to the bell ringing of the Basilica which takes place at exactly 12 noon. It was, as always a treat much enjoyed (I’m Flemish – land of the carillon concerts and church bell ringing.) And because I had time on my hands I thought I would take another look inside the basilica, the only other times I visited there a service was in progress and I could not look around, but this time the church was almost empty. Unfortunately I did not have my camera with me, only my mobile phone.  So many treasures; The paintings, the architecture, the lovely murals on the ceiling, the marble used on the altars and in covering every surface, the gold and the bronze used in the decorations, the alabaster used in portraying the stations of the cross. I became quite intrigued and interested so when I came home I started to do some research. I soon learnt that the basilica has been built on the site of a Roman temple, and there is evidence from 1270 of a Byzantine church dedicated to St. George being on the site. The foundation stone of the present building was laid in 1672 and the church was finished in 1678. Although St.Georges was built on the site of a Roman temple, much archaeological evidence of the early Christianity in Gozo was found beneath and in the area surrounding the Basilica. There is a lot more to say about the history of this beautiful Baroque church, but it is not my intention to go into too much depth right here. The wealth of information on the internet is sufficient for anyone wanting more information. As I was soaking up the beauty and the peace of the place I was also thinking of a question I’ve had since I first heard the bells of the Basilica; are they manually rung or is there by any chance a bell ringer? And it so happened that I noticed that the door to the sacristy was open and I walked in to meet a young man to whom I put my question. The man happened to be Jonathon Sultana, the very bell ringer of the Basilica! He was very nice and soon put an answer to my question, that yes the bells are rung manually and by himself between four in the morning and eight at night. It simply made my day to know that the bells were being used manually and that it was not a recording.  The sounds of the bells of St.Georges are beautiful, one of the bells has a very deep sound, and that one is my favourite. I’m thinking of calling in there again very soon, more over because I missed some of the lovely items, like the floors of the Byzantine chapel which are paved with precious porphyry slabs, and the stations of the cross which are made from white alabaster.   I’d also would like a closer look at the Baroque organ, and listen to it even.  And have a closer look at the two paintings by Italian baroque painter Mattia Preti.

Part of the bronze main door to the Basilica, made entirely of bronze, manufactured in Verona on a design by John Grima.  And a welcoming angel in the most beautiful white marble. (or is it even white alabaster?)

Copies of some the beautiful paintings found in the Basilica displayed at San Ġorġ tal-Ħaġar museum next to the basilica.  The semi-dome on the right is found above the organ gallery (see also below) and painted by Giambattista Conti (1575), it depicts the veneration of St.George in heavenly music.  The semi-dome painting on the left is also by Giambattista Conti.

Organ Gallery of the Basilica with the 1781 Santucci organ

Painting above some of the side altars:  The rising of Lazarus (1677) by Giuseppe D’arena, and The Holy family by Giuseppe Cali.

Several different colours of marble used in the making of the altars.

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Jonathon Sultana, the bell ringer of St.George Basilica, dedicated to his work.  Something else not to be missed are the colourful stained glass windows in the dome, they were designed by Giovanni Battista Conti, who also produced the beautiful paintings in the dome.

2018-02-07 15.32.14Winged head of a cherub that formed part of one of the altars in the Basilica.  Sculpted by Giuseppe D’Avola after 1678.  Now displayed in the museum next door to the church.

The longer I stay on the island of Gozo, the more art and history I discover, I feel that I have not even scratched the surface!  How very exciting!

SPRING IN THE AIR

“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”
Pablo Neruda
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“I love the smell of rain and growing things.”
― Serina Hernandez
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“And the birds sang their songs of love. And the flowers serenaded with their sublime fragrances. And the whole world fell in love in spring!”
― Avijeet Das

“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”
A.A. Milne

“The world is exploding in emerald, sage, and lusty chartreuse – neon green with so much yellow in it. It is an explosive green that, if one could watch it moment by moment throughout the day, would grow in every dimension.”
Amy Seidl

2018-02-04 15.06.12“Spring is not a season; it is a mysterious illusionist who sets off fireworks in the depths of our soul!”
Mehmet Murat ildan

“Spring drew on…and a greenness grew over those brown beds, which, freshening daily, suggested the thought that Hope traversed them at night, and left each morning brighter traces of her steps.”
Charlotte Brontë

AN OLD MALTESE RECIPE BOOK

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Today I found a very old recipe book in the library in Ghajnsielem. It dates back to 1958 and it was compiled by Carmen Carbonaro, it is called ‘Maltese Dishes’ and seeing that I cannot find copyright information I am going to use some of the information to share it here. It is a wonderful little book! Apart of the interesting recipes it has also got illustrated advertisings from the time period it was written in, fabulous bit of information for foodies and those interested in traditional facts of twentieth century Malta or Gozo.
Even before I got home and had a good look at it, the little book was the topic of conversation big time. I stopped at the organic vegetable shop in the village across from an ancient church with the nice baroque façade and on the pleasant Piazza Indipendenza. Doris, the young woman that owns the shop (Pomona) started to check the recipes, she told me that in the time of her grandmother people did not use butter in Gozo, only lard and this, she said was reflected in the recipes. In walked Charlie, one of her nice and regular customers and he added more information to the conversation, we had got on to vegetables, artichokes as a matter of fact, which is a vegetable that I have never cooked myself and was rather interested in and luck would have it that they are in season at the moment, so I bought some. I intend to try out the recipe on page 27 of the little book, there it gives the recipe for ‘Stuffed Boiled Artichokes’ or ‘Qaqocc mimli’ in Maltese. Among the ingredients I will need are Olives, Parsley, more Olives, Breadcrumbs, Anchovies and Chives. And of course globe Artichokes.

WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAT…… I have to ‘beat’ the artichokes it says!?! Beat them, but well that does not actually surprise me as Doris was telling me that in the ‘olden days’ they also used to ‘beat’ the calamari to tenderise them before cooking! What I am rather surprised of though is that at the end of the recipe it says to serve the artichokes when cool, with mayonnaise, and in those days that would have been home-made mayonnaise, the way we used to make it in Belgium last century. I guess that here it would be prepared using olive oil rather than corn oil like we did.
I cannot wait to try out this Artichoke recipe and, after making more marmalade from home grown bitter oranges today, I feel like a real Gozitan woman, getting into the spirit of this lovely island and enjoying it to the full.
Charlie, Doris and myself then got on to more about wild foods and how we can use the flowers of the artichoke to eat as well as the globe. The globe I presume is the flower bud. I glean so much local information from those two very pleasant people, I just love to shop there.

Other interesting recipes in the little book that I think might be worth trying out are:
• Chestnut soup (Imbuljuta)
• Ministra (a Maltese very delicious soup)
• Vegetable hot-pot (Kawiata)
• Timpana, a most popular dish on the Maltese menu it says.
• Rabbit stew and spaghetti (I have tried this out in a restaurant – very nice)
• Tunny fish stew
• Lampuki pie (a popular fish during August and September.
• Imqaret (date slices)
• Xkunvat – a special Maltese sweet.
• Marmurat, a sweet made with almonds
There are many more interesting looking recipes in the little book. At the end of it there is a menu for the week page, I had a look. Monday it says: Spaghetti, Meat Balls using the meat left over from Sunday dish, cheese and fruit. For Tuesday it says: Meat Soup. Meat from Soup (Buljut) with lemon juice and salad, Custard, Fruit. I won’t give the whole week but interestingly I read that on both Wednesday and Friday fish is recommended, I guess that in those days the church still had two fasting from meat days in the week. All the other days have meat on the menu.
Interesting too is that there are 24 different advertisements in the little booklet, the advertisements themselves are of interest if looking up dietary information of the time.
The little book was published by Empire Press in Malta. It sure is something to treasure. I’m going to have some culinary experiments with it in the next two weeks. I do look forward to learning and to tasty dishes.

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CHAI, MASALA DOSA AND DHAL

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Looking back on my days in South India I must say that I enjoyed the food very much there.  All the dhal dishes, the variety of vegetable dishes, the spices and fragrant herbal dishes were all very much to my taste, and rice as a accompaniment was delicious.  While sorting through photos the other day I found some of my visit to Vijayawada and the surrounding area in Andhra Pradesh, and I picked out some of the ones that portrayed foods, street food sellers, and chai shops.

Man selling his vegetables using his bike as vehicle, both practical and colourful.  The carts on wheels are also very practical and you see them a lot in all the towns and villages.  The young boy was minding a cool water stall, big smile on his face as he was obviously enjoying this job.

Along the road on the way to Vijayawada we came across a rice harvest, the people harvesting were working in the hot sun, laying the stalks of rice on the road, we were told that the trucks and busses driving over this would dislodge the rice grains and make the job easier for them to gather the rice.

A lovely lady preparing vegetables, and a storage place where the cabbages and green chillies seem to be a popular food item.

Another popular street selling item would be the bananas, I ate some lovely little bananas in South India, they tasted so creamy, a bit like banana ice-cream, delicious. The hot food stall in the dark, this was around Christmas 2009, the smell was very nice and wrapped itself around us while we browsed the other stalls in the area.  It was the first time I saw the Christmas stars on sale, beautiful crafted from light cardboard, I bought some and took them home to give to my grand children.
IMG_5485I’m always fascinated with the vegetable types that I am not familiar with, here are quite a few on display, the okra, and the bitter gourd (though I have tried to grow these in Ireland), not even sure what the purple vegetable is.  I would want to try them all out.  And when I find spices or herbs between them I go altogether enthusiastic.  Loving it all.

Another street food seller, love the amount of green beans, they make any meal worth eating. So colourful too.

Here I cannot remember what this man was selling, I thought some sort of nuts perhaps.  And on the right it was the children that caught my attention more, they were very curious about me for some reason.

About the chai houses I have fond memories too, you would be walking or driving along the road and there you would regularly come across a chai seller, lovely to sit in the shade and drink a delicious glass of chai, and chat with the local people who would be just as curious about you as you about them.  A relaxed way of living, having all the time in the world, the way it should be.  Materialism has not reached these parts it seems.  I still think that rural areas are healthier and nicer to live in wherever you go in the world.  In India you are never far away from other people even in rural areas, it is not a lonely sort of place.  It’s colourful and friendly.  I was fortunate to travel both in Tamil Nadu, in Andhra Pradesh and in Kerala, in each place I made very good friends.  In Kerala my good friend Mary even gave me demonstrations in preparing traditional Kerala dishes, she and her husband also took me into the mountain areas where they showed me a variety of trees that produce spices, very interesting, but I will write about that another time.  My friends, I do hope you enjoyed my little photo journey through this delightful part of the world.

SERRA DA ESTRELA IN CENTRAL PORTUGAL

Some years ago Ian and I spent a few weeks in Central Portugal.  In memory of all the forest fires which destroyed so much trees plants and animals (and most of all human life) that was lost there over last summer, I have decided to enter a few thoughts, photos, and words from my journal of those days.  It will show the fresh beauty of the place, and like many I hope that the land will recover in all its glory.

We were staying in a small village called Orca in the centre of Portugal, close to the town of Penamacor and Castello Branco.  It was very hot already during our stay even though it was only towards the end of April.  One day we decided to travel to Covhila which lies on the foot of the Serra da Estrella Natural Park and mountain range.  Here is a little of what I noted down at the time.

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Journal entry of April the 28th ~ INTERESTING ROCKS AND MAGNIFICENT VIEWS
We made a day trip to the Serra da Estela mountain range, the highest mountains in Portugal, while we were staying in a lovely little hotel in the historical centre of Covilha. It was possibly one of the most amazing days we spent in Portugal. The beauty of the landscape, plants and rock formations, topped up with actually being able to hold snow in my hand, while we had been baking in temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius in the valley below, was lovely. There were interesting stones and flowers to discover. We drove down into the Glacial Valley where the village of Manteigas was to be found, the views leading up to discovering this village were wonderful.  It is a trip I would advice anyone to take when visiting central Portugal.

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LOOKING DOWN TO THE GLACIAL VALLEY

This was not only a fantastic view, it was also very interesting of geological interest.   This U-shaped valley was gouged out by a glacier during the last Ice Age. Manteigas is a very lush and quite large village surrounded by mountains, it lies bathed in the sun and water streams down to it from all sides. This assures a good supply to make everything grow well and look very green and fresh. We had a lovely traditional Portuguese soup there with Spinach in it, after a generous helping of fresh Olives and bread. We finished off the meal with a nice desert made of layers of coffee ice-cream and pastry, delicious!

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Granite rock formations

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You are climbing up to nearly 2000 meters high, a very good road, the views magnificent!

AMAZING SCENTS AND A WELCOME COOL BREEZE

The scents all over central Portugal are just so sweet and lovely, so much so, that you breathe with pleasure. The heat does help with this, but even high up on the Serra da Estrela I experienced these lovely scents. I wish that I could bottle it and bring it home, but meanwhile I did breathe with pleasure.

MAGNIFICENT VIEWS

SNOW AT A HEIGHT OF 1750M

Well I have enjoyed this little journey into my past.  I’ve got lots more that I will share.  At the moment I am going through many photos of the past few travels, on some of my memo sticks.  I’m taking at least a year off Facebook and it is amazing how much time more time I have to spend on other things.  Wading through thousands of photos is no mean task, but it is enjoyable.  I hope that you have enjoyed my journey into the past too.

ABUNDANT FLORA IN JANUARY

Just while walking along one road, the coast road of my walk on the first of this year, I found so many wild plants in flower that I would like to share a gallery of them. Meanwhile I am doing some research on them individually and have already come across some interesting facts. It is a great pleasure to become more intimately connected with the Mediterranean flora and to learn more about them. While I was young I studied botany with a teach yourself book, but right during my life-time wild plants, flowers and herbs, and their medicinal and other properties have been of great interest to me, and it gives me great pleasure to learn more about this all the time. By observation as much as by reading, researching and learning about them. The beauty of these wild flowers and the joy of finding them along a walk cannot be underestimated in everyday life, I feel very grateful to have the opportunity.