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!

20161230_170826

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.

2016-12-02-15-48-03

dscf9171

2016-12-06-14-43-08     dscf9172

2016-12-06-14-41-49

 

 

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.

20161221_134528

20161221_133908

20161221_134554

20161221_134456

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.

blog-about-lace-in-gozo

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.

geological-chart

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.

dscf5258

 

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.