COLOURFUL PERIPHERY OF VICTORIA

A walk to the outskirts of this historical town treats me to wonderful views of the surrounding villages and countryside, places like Sannat, Xewkija and Xaghra can be seen easily, and in between the villages there is a wealth of greenery and meadows full of yellow flowers. It was a cold day, a slight breeze made me put on my hat, but for walking it was excellent weather. I had been to the library, where the librarians were freezing, obviously because their job demands deskwork, it is a fairly small library here but the librarians are very helpful and friendly. The book stock, although some of it is old enough, is very interesting to me for my chosen subject while we are here. So after that visit I decided to head off on the nearest street and see where it would bring me. Interestingly it turned out to be a different area from most of what I have seen of Victoria because up to now I have just hung out in the oldest part of town, here it is very residential. The whole town of Victoria is very residential, a pleasant town to live in I can say from experience, very friendly, always something happening and buzzing with people, yet quiet and peaceful, you feel safe here. It is historic, and beautiful in its limestone buildings.  Here a few photos of today’s walk.
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Looking towards Xewkija, I could easily have walked there if I wanted to, so close to here.

 

2017-01-17-13-21-12                             A beautiful little flower on a patch along the road.

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A VILLAGE WHICH LIES STILL AND TRANQUIL.

Zebbug is a village in an elevated area on the North coast of Gozo. It was a Wednesday morning when I visited, everything was quiet, I saw no one when I got off the bus and I was the only person riding on the bus too. So tranquil was this place, everything was shut, that is except the church for which I headed, crossing over a large empty square I reached the steps leading up to an impressive Baroque façade of the village church, I was on a mission, to go and see the beautiful interior which is made up mainly of locally quarried brown Onyx stone, and the book where I read about it did not let me down, I was very impressed and delighted to be able to see this, and to touch this semi-precious stone. I found myself looking at the altar, the confession chair, the pillars, holy water container, a statue, the chairs for the priests, everything made out of Onyx stone, it looked amazing. Yet again I am finding that the ‘stones’ or rocks found on Gozo are very pleasing to the eye!

So I walked on along one of the streets and took in all that was to see, soon I got glimpses of the sea and the beautiful green agricultural landscape along the coast, I found it interesting to see lots of fields like patchwork, the land was being worked by some farmers I noticed. I read that Zebbug derives its name from the Maltese word referring to the Olive tree. The village is also known for its lace making, its weaving and its woollen blankets, but I did not see any of this when I went, no shops were open. The village was quiet, there was a vegetable van driving around, I bought a very tasty orange from him, a few people were gathered around this van buying stuff. There was also a gas delivery truck driving around blowing the horn at intervals as is done here in Gozo. It was when I saw a bread van that I decided to check out if it carried ‘Ghazziela’ I had read about it and had to see one, it’s a biscuit in the shape of the ‘M’ for mother Mary, tradition is to hang it behind the door of your house in order to protect the place from storms and lightning. These biscuits are blessed after they are baked. Of course the bread van lady did not have them, they are not for eating! However, a kind lady standing beside me and hearing me ask for the Ghazziela offered to have a look for some in her house, she did come out with two of them and gave them to me, we had a chat after that and she and her sister really made the visit to Zebbug a very memorial one, so kind and helpful people are, I am experiencing this all the time, it warms the heart. The kindness of these two ladies will not be in vain, it has touched me and showed me once again that people have such good hearts, humankind is not a failure, if we let our hearts speak then kindness has no bounds, it made me happy to mull over these thoughts on my way home.

I took many photos, some of which I will share here, but there is still much more beauty to find in this tranquil  village, I’m so glad that I went there.

The two Ghazziela gifts I received from the kind ladies, and on the right this is the inside of a Prickly Pear cactus leaf, people use this material in making jewellery.

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A street leading towards the blue water, and butternut squash drying in the sun.

These four photos are of the village church and its Onyx interior.

I saw grapes hanging over the wall in a village street, and little country lanes lead out from the village to the pastoral land below in the valley.

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This village has its fair share of arches which I love so much, I hope that they can always be preserved.

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Greenery looks so nice against the limestone walls.

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This cat did not have to say much for herself, she was just soaking up the few rays of sunshine on this winter day.  You are never short of cats on Gozo, and they are beautifully coloured animals.

DELIGHTFUL CLIFFS

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Xlendi, is a village on the South-West coast of Gozo, it is surrounded by steep cliffs to one side, they look very impressive from every angle.  One can climb them via stairs that lead one to the Caroline cave, this walk gives lovely views over the bay, the clear water, sometimes blue, sometimes green.  It is of great interest to people that are interested in the rocks and flora that grows in the crevices.  Beautiful!  So one day we walked, or rather climbed this delightful hike and I like to share some of what we found.

20161221_134732The limestone rocks along the walk. 20161221_135022The rocks are amazing, full of fossils, beautifully light in colour.

And finally one goes down to the Caroline Cave where the water laps against the weathered rocks.

Some of the flora along the walk, amazing how the plants grow out of the crevices of the rocks, and look so healthy and fresh!

Back down at the sea front. Xlendi is actually a fishing village, though a lot of it’s income these days comes from tourism too.  We always love going to Xlendi, it was the first place we stayed in last spring, we get there by bus in about five minutes from here and because there are more and other beautiful cliff walks to be found there we never get bored, always we come across something new, a plant, an insect, always something interesting to see.  I also love the trees in the square, there are some old Tamarisk trees, which look like old men riddled with arthritis, but they are beautiful too.

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I guess I will never, no matter how small the island of Gozo is, find at a loss of what to go and explore, so much to see and do, in fact a great place to live.

 

TWO EGGS AND A LEMON

Today started just like any other day, with the sun shining into the bedroom window showing us that it was going to be another blue sky, and sunny day. Though the temperature has gone right down in the Maltese islands, there is always the sun to warm you up. Something else has been very warming today, it has warmed my soul rather than my body. The story goes as follows:

After my morning walk and as I approached the entrance to our flat, our neighbour woman came walking across the street with a tin in her hands, in it she had some eggs laid by her own hens whom she keeps behind a wall in our street. We got talking and we must have stood there in the sun for half an hour. Then, with a smile she handed me over two of her precious free-range eggs, here she said for you and your husband, one each. I thanked her and was touched by her kind gesture.

Later on today I again nipped out to go to the shop, and this time from across the street, out of the house where Rita lives (another friendly neighbour who has connected with us)came Tessie. Now I’ve never in my life met someone as generous in her approach to a stranger as Tessie, she chatted and told me all about her life, and brought me into her home, as she lives only around the corner, to show me the huge nativity scene that her son had made. We immediately hit it off with each other and talked ten to the dozen about life here on the island, how very interesting! When I left it was with an invitation to come and visit, and then she ran out into her garden and handed me a home grown, beautifully scented lemon.

It is not about the lemon or about the eggs, but it is about the friendship that these local women are generously offering us. It is exactly what I wanted here, to meet the people of this land, and to hear all their stories, stories about their lives on Gozo.

For me this is a perfect ending to 2016! and a great beginning to 2017 – the year in which I would like to give the gift of my time and attention to new friends, and to friends from the past.

A hearth warming way to end the year!

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My feeling about seeing the world is that it’s going to change you necessarily, just the very fact of being out there and meeting people from different cultures and different ways of life. Ewan McGregor

END OF THE YEAR

On these last days of 2016, it is good for me to have a look at how my container garden experiment went, what the results are, the successes and also the failures. For a start I have found that my vegetables did not grow as quickly as I had expected. Some I grew from seeds and they are still not that large, one of them is the Lemon Balm, I was hoping to use its leaves for tea but dare not touch them yet as the plant would be gone very fast. Patience is the order of the day! The Mediterranean Basil grew quite well but is still to small to actually cut. I did buy some young plants though, the minute we arrived early in October, and they grew enormous, the tomatoes are much higher than myself, the lettuce are almost bolting and we are eating from them regularly. If I ever grow tomatoes again in containers I will not make the mistake to grow the type I bought, no I will grow a small variety, these large tomatoes may never get big enough and ripen at the rate they are growing. I only just bought them some bananas and made a mixture with coffee grinds and banana skin to give them some potassium and other nutrients. I also have one pepper plant that is doing very well, the peppers are small yet but growing. The sage and the rosemary are doing very well too outside on the balcony.

My thoughts about the whole project are that it is a learning curve, and I made some mistakes, I also did not really know what to expect climate wise, and the soil I bought did not seem to be of such good quality – all things that one would have to look out for. I used all sort of containers, though for the more robust plants I bought proper planters.

The whole project did not cost me much at all and it was very worthwhile. There is of course, still the problem of finalising the whole project before we eventually leave the flat. I will have to get rid of all the soil, of any left over plants, the tomato plants for example, some thought will have to go into that. Luckily there is a lady who does a pop-up charity shop at weekends and who sells plants, I will bring my herbs to her, also all the little succulents which I have picked up from the streets, rooted and are now thriving.

As the year ends I am happy that I did try to grow some food here, even when we are living in a first floor flat. It has taught me that it is not as simple as all that, it takes planning and dedication, and informing oneself about the climate where one is staying.

When all is said and done, the greenery around me in the conservatory, where I usually sit to do my lace, has given me much pleasure, it is just so nice to have some living plants around you all the time.

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A GOZITAN MID WINTER

Under a bright sun on this midwinter day we took a walk among the limestone rocks and wild plants in Xlendi, a seaside fishing village on Gozo.
It feels so good to be among these beautiful honey coloured rocks, and to see the fresh young green after the days of rain we have experienced.
How beautiful this earth really is and how everything regenerates even when the drought of last year threatened to destroy so many trees and plants. It is a joy to behold all this freshness.
My partner said earlier “today is the shortest day, from now on the days are lengthening again”. Yes ‘light’ is coming, that is what we celebrate on Christmas day after all isn’t it, the ‘light’ coming into the darkness.
There is hope yet for mankind and for the earth, I will never give up hope. Every new little plant that comes up out of the earth even through the rock gives me that hope. People are much more beautiful than we think they are. Love to all my friends at this Christmas time.

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BOBBIN LACE MAKING ON GOZO

Last spring while we were visiting Gozo I discovered that there is a tradition of bobbin lace on the Maltese islands that is similar to our Flemish bobbin lace, and it was then that I made the decision that if we would find a flat and come here for the winter, I would join a lace making class. Some forty years ago I acquired a lace pillow and bobbins from a friend, I even learnt a little on how to use the bobbins, but alas life got in the way and I never really took it up as a hobby, still I did keep the pillow and the bobbins to this day, the pillow is back in Ireland, the bobbins I brought with me.

Here the people use an oblong type of pillow mostly, while ours is round. When we arrived here beginning of October I set out to find a class as planned, but soon realised that I was too late and all classes had been filled. While I was disappointed I just got on with my other interests and while walking, some weeks later, through the narrow streets of Rabat (the old part of Victoria)  I happen to see a woman sitting in her doorway and doing her lace, so I got chatting with her, she was called Victorina and she offered to talk to her teacher and ask if I could join her class, without further ado I spoke with her teacher, was accepted, bought my supplies and joined the class as a total beginner. I immediately found it a very peaceful activity and enjoyed it. Soon, after a few weeks the pattern became a little more difficult and concentration is needed very much. Last week I even had difficulty getting to grips with the complicated arrangement of stitches and design, but after undoing my work twice I got it – that is what is necessary in lace making, you got to ‘get’ it and then it is a piece of cake. Tying the weavers knot caused me some problems too, but after lots of practice, now I also got to grips with it. All in all it is good exercise for the brain as well as the hands and I love it.  I am enjoying very much the interaction with Gozitan women, though a lot of Malti is spoken, of which I love the sound, they are very encouraging and talk to me in English, I feel included among them.

Here is an 82 year old Gozitan woman who sits doing her lace, selling some of her work to tourists, her work is exquisite.

A little bit about the history of lace making in the Maltese islands.

During the sixteenth century, bobbin lace was brought to the Maltese islands it is believed to have been by the Knights of St.John, who had become familiar with it either in Flanders or Italy where beautiful bobbin lace was already being produced.  The Knights had learnt to use lace in the embellishment of their garments.  Bobbin lace became an import from Northern Europe, but soon the women of Malta and Gozo started to weave their own lace, a century later their lace had become the envy of the Italians and the Belgians.  On and off through the centuries lace making had its ups and downs, various people encouraged the making of it along the way.  Apparently around 1864 the Gozitan lace took a different turn from the Maltese lace, I read that it was based on a model of Genoese lace and that two Gozitan sisters copied the style and made it their own, so the Gozitan lace was probably based on lace from Genoa but the sisters then developed their own patterns and the lace produced as a result became Gozitan lace as we see it today.  According to one source Gozitan lace has more swirls in its design than the Genoese lace.

Lace making became more important as a means of helping to make a living during the 1860ies when many Gozitans suffered from poverty.  Lace was made at this time mainly in the home and by the family, mother and daughters would work together.  The lace produced then became used to barter for food.  Eventually lace making industries were set up by a parish priest,  Dun Guzepp Diacono.  These were set up in Xaghra and Victoria, which lie close together though they are different towns.  In these industrial houses classes in lace making were taught and more patterns were developed as time went by.  Lace in today’s economy of Gozo is mainly produced for the thriving tourist industry.  The lace is very beautiful and is mostly still produced by hand.  There is a lot more to say about Gozitan lace and its history and its modern economic value and use, I only wanted to give a little  information on it here. What most of the people here say when talking about the future of lace making, is that they are worried that it is a dying art as not many young people are taking it up.  At the same time it is being taught in the university as a two year course.  I do think it has a future, it is too beautiful an art to be lost and the Gozitans are actually very proud of their lace making.

Some examples of lace, and lace making here on Gozo.  To me what lace reminds me of is the intricate embellishments in the architecture of their cathedrals, it also reminds me of the beautiful honey coloured limestone when it has been eroded and is full of holes, a very lacy effect.

The Gozitans themselves also love lace and when I walk through any of the towns I constantly see lace being used to hang in front of doors presumably to keep flies out.  These curtain are nowadays often machine made though, like in the photos I put together in a collage.

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Some preparations and off to my first class where I was taught the cloth stitch in three different ways.  The linnen tread that we are using is Irish, believe it or not, it has been imported from Ireland.  It is a very strong and lovely tread to work with.

Some pictures of my first works, it is very easy to make a mistake by forgetting a stitch and only discovering a bit later and having to undo many stitches, and while that is pleasant enough work to do too, it does mess up the tread and makes it fluffy, so I try and concentrate real good.

My latest works, the patterns are getting just a little more complicated but also more interesting, what is interesting is how some basic stitches can be used to make an intricate pattern, and I am only in the very beginning right now.  Thursday is my next class and then we are packing up for Christmas.  I am already looking forward to starting up again in the new year.  I hope that before we return to Ireland I will be able to work away on my own and follow a pattern with ease.  There are, of course, some very good YouTube videos and websites to learn more about bobbin lace.

To help me in some of my research on the history I read this interesting work:  “Bobbin lace. it’s economic and social role on Gozo”  by Adrienne Foster and I also read a WordPress article at https://vassallohistory.wordpress.com/maltese-crafts/comment-page-1/#comment-14763, and I spoke with a variety of Gozitan lace makers and sellers over the months that I have been living here.

Last but not least I would like to show an example of Irish Carrickmacross lace which my sister Maria, who died of cancer when she was just 50, used to make, it is a very intricate lace embroidered on fine netting, I guess not easy to do.  Below are examples of what Maria made.  This is a totally different type of lace in comparison to Gozitan lace of course.

 

 

 

ROCK FORMATIONS OF GOZO

The Maltese islands, what a hold you have come to have over me! It all started at the airport last spring when we arrived on a sweltering hot night and I could sense a scent that I was not used to, at the time I did not take too much notice but later I remembered it and I got to know what it was that I could smell. It was the scent of limestone! I know this sounds a little unbelievable or impossible, but I swear by it myself. It was the start of my love affair with these islands, and it’s not only the scent – because of course that was only the first impression, later other scents took over, a variety of flowers for example.

In the light of day though, it was not the scent either that made me love this place so much, it is the limestone, the honey coloured limestone which surrounds me here, I breathe it, I see it with my eyes constantly because the houses and other buildings are all built in it, and it is so very pleasing to the eye. In fact I think it feeds one’s soul, no I am sure of it.

So after spending a month on Malta and a month on Ghawdex (Gozo) we went back to Ireland for the summer, and on the first of October we were back, we rented a flat from a very nice man, this in the heart of Ir -Rabat (Victoria). I am totally relaxed here, I probably absorb the calcium from the limestone and this is exactly what I need. (I was born and raised in the Kempen and Antwerp, a sandstone area, sandstone has its origins in quartz rock, it contains silicon. But what this has to do with the limestone here actually is nothing, it is just that I seem to be sensitive to what soil or rocks I am living on and this limestone suits me so very much, I feel happy and relaxed here. It is also the beauty of this rock type all around me, wherever I look I see the stone, and in the evening sun the stone turns to pure gold.  I cannot get enough of it.

So I am trying to educate myself a little in the geology of the Maltese islands, I took out some books from the library and did out a table of the different layers of rock that are to be found here.

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The lower Globigerina limestone is the stone that is mainly used as a building material, they call it Franka on Gozo.  This stone is made up of a fine grain and is easily workable.  It is a most beautiful stone to look at and it makes the houses, churches and buildings on Gozo very attractive. It is an easy medium to carve and this is done with great skill here.

Because this stone is soft it erodes easily too over the years.  Very often fossils can be seen plainly, mainly planktonic fossils.

I am not well up in geology, therefore I cannot talk freely as I would like to do about the rock formations, but I am learning.

More examples of limestone, and carvings.  Below are examples of the limestone found at the cliffs at Xlendi, magnificent to look at.

Then  (below) there is an example of the blue clay rock formation, it overlies the Globigerina Limestone formation and erodes easily.

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The two books that I used for information, I took them out from the library and was glad to have found them.

Alas this is my incomplete discussion on the rock formations of Gozo.  There is so much more to say about these rocks.

GGANTIJA TEMPLES

It has been quite a few days since I wrote in my blog, so now I am back and with pleasure. My sister was with us and we had so much to see and talk about that nothing came from writing. It was, of course, a very valuable time.

Gozo is still a place where, now after nearly two months I’m totally happy, relaxed, and feeling joy in everyday walking around the beautiful limestone houses, churches, other buildings and landscapes. The flowers, plants and insects are very attractive to me and to learn about them is a delight. The people are friendly and very nice. I have now attended two of my pillow lace making classes and have become friendly with the women there, delightful, and I just totally adore making the lace – well that is to say – learning the first stitches. It is a very relaxing activity and the work is beautiful to look at.

With December coming up there is a lot of activity planned by the local people to celebrate Christmas, religion is still very much part of it, which is only normal in my view and it is refreshing not to be in a total commercial way of celebrating Christmas. It is warm, feels like it is around 20C and sometimes over 20C. We have had thunder storms and one week of much needed rain, you could see the fields becoming greener as the days went by. Now I see farmers tending to their vegetable plots.

I cannot help taking photos, some of which I hope to use in starting to draw in pencil, and I like to share them too. This place is a photographer’s paradise if you are interested in architecture – which I am too. But also if you just like to document the local flora and fauna. I know that in the coming month I will have the opportunity to photograph people at their festivals and that too will be interesting.

And so I will share our last day together. My sister and I delighted as we visited the ancient temples in Xaghra and walked for two hours around that really charming town. We had a lovely lunch in the square as well. And we descended 10 meters down into the earth to look at caves, it was a strange feeling being in the bowels of the earth, very strange and my first time being in such a low cave, our heads nearly touching the ceilings.

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Man selling little jars of Carob syrup or honey on the way to the  temples.

Views of the Ggantija temples which date back to between 3600 and 3200 B.C.  The outer shell of the temples has been well preserved because it has been made from Coralline limestone which is hardwearing, while the inner structures like doors or altars had been made in the softer Globigerina limestone.

Lunch at a nice little eating place near the church and in the square was delicious.  We walked for hours along the narrow roads of this town, we saw beautiful lacy curtains on the double doors which is traditional here.  I love the arches, the different features in the architecture of the houses, and the use of a little colour is striking as seen in the blue paint on the gold stone.  Often people may be sitting on a bench or chairs and enjoying the peace of the place here in Gozo.  My sister Josefine posing near a beautiful historical door.

Inside the caves.  Though fascinating it is not totally my cup of tea, I was too aware of being so deep underground.

We came across this man making his lace.  My teacher later told me that he is the only ‘man’ in Gozo that makes lace.  His work was so very neat!

And this are the leaves, bark, fruit, and flower of the Carob tree (Ceratonia silique), and evergreen tree the pods of which are used here to make a syrup used for cough and sore throats.  Originally also used as animal fodder, the tree belongs to the pea family.

I hope to be back now to writing as I have so much to share of this amazing place.  All my senses are at top performance to take it all in and reflecting on it is what my blog at the moment is all about.  I hope my friends and followers will enjoy some of it too.