1. IMDINA BASTIONS
What are the Mdina Bastions? They are a series of fortifications around the city of Mdina, protecting it from any potential invaders. There are three types of these fortifications: the Punic-Roman walls, the Medieval walls and the Hospitallier walls. The first of the aforementioned walls were built in prehistory, and by the time the Bronze Age came about, it was already being used as a place of refuge and defense. The “original” Mdina was three times the size of regular Mdina nowadays, but very little of the Punic-Roman era remains today. The Medieval, on the other hand, was created to reduce the massive space so as to make it more easily defensible. Unlike the Punic-Romans, there are some remains of the Medieval era, for instance, the two gun loops between the gate and the Torro de Standardo. Finally, the most recent of the Mdina walls, the Hospitallier era was around in the times when the Order of Saint John took over Malta. At this point, Mdina had lost its status as capital city, that spot being taken by Birgu unofficially. When Malta became an independent country, it formed part of the defensive system along with the Victoria Lines. This excerpt that follows takes place underneath the Mdina Bastions, in the garden which was recently restored a few years ago. The name of the book literally translates to English as “Underneath the Mdina Bastions”.
It was a beautiful evening in spring. The two girls stepped out of the large house they lived in, right opposite the garden. Without agreeing on a destination, they headed towards Howard Gardens in Rabat. They lived close by, after all, on Museum Street. And, to be fair, in half an hour you are not going to get very far anyway. It was a place they both cherished. They did not mind going there every evening. They would stop by the edge of the garden wall and peer down at the ditch, where a sizeable gang of strapping young men would meet for a game of football every day, there beneath the bastions of Mdina. They were loud and boisterous, eager to let out all the pent-up energy accumulated during school hours. In the garden, right behind the girls, there was a kiosk where you could get a drink or a pastizz, a cream pastry or some other sweet treat. Sylvia and Monica were not interested in these snacks, however. Food was of no concern to them. Their attention was solely focused on what went on in the ditch. The Beatles song “Hey Jude” thundered from the kiosk.
Hey, Jude, don’t make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better. Remember to let her into your heart, then you can start to make it better … nah, nah, nah …
The girls kept time with their heels and even sang along under their breath.
Excerpt taken from Taħt is-swar tal-Imdina (“Beneath the bastions of Mdina”) by Lina Brockdorff.
2. ST PAUL’S CHURCH
The Basilica of St Paul in Rabat is considered to be one of the parish churches in Rabat. The church is built on part of the site of the Roman city Melite, which included all of Mdina and a large part of present-day Rabat. The present church was built to replace a church which was completed in 1578. The new church was built with funds provided by the noble woman Guzmana Navarra on plans prepared by Francesco Buonamici. The church building commenced in 1653 was completed by Lorenzo Gafà in 1683. Annexed with the church of St Paul is a smaller church dedicated to St Publius which was rebuilt in 1692 and again in 1726 by Salvu Borg. The church was elevated to a Minor Basilica in 2020. The sight of this illustrious Church would make anyone gasp in awe, even if you did not know its history. But with the knowledge of the history, it makes it even more awe inspiring. We chose this place because of the fact that Sister Antida Vella was from Rabat!
Before making our way to the hospital where Sister Antida works, we had the opportunity to walk around the streets of Haifa and climb Mount Carmel in order to visit the church of Stella Maris and the large garden of bahá’í close by. From time to time, we stopped for a glass of mint tea or a small snack, until it was time to go to the hospital, Sister Antida’s workplace.
“I am from Rabat,” she tells us. “Before joining the order, I used to work for Vexillina, the printers and stationers.” She went to school in Hamrun, with the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Egypt. That’s where she started feeling drawn to the idea of becoming a nun. She left Malta at 18 to enter the novitiate in Italy. Upon completing that, in 1978, she travelled to Brazil, where she spent ten years. She learned the language and took a nursing course for three years, thereafter specialising in Rome. In 1988 she was sent to the Holy Land.
Today Sister Antida is the Head Nurse in the operating theatre. The hospital welcomes everyone; where patients are concerned, politics takes a backburner. “The patient first and foremost,” she tells us. She talks a little about the conflict. 2006 was the worst year for them, when bombs came crushing down from Lebanon, right across the border. “We were not brought up during the war and, unlike our parents, knew nothing about it.” But life goes on, and although they would be startled by the wailing of sirens, they still felt protected by the sturdy building they worked in, with its double walls. Sister Antida is happy here. This is her home, her hospital, there is always something to do. In the evening she’s exhausted, for she works from seven to seven and sometimes even longer, as long as is required. She assists during operations and sometimes even stays by the patients’ side after surgery. “You have to be brave”. She is used to it now. She had always wanted to be a nurse. She does not rest much, Sister Antida. “It’s just the way I am,” she says. “I cannot rest while there’s work to be done.” No surgery is scheduled on Saturdays and Sundays. On those days she helps out at the sanctuary of the Mount of Beatitudes, in the souvenir shop. That way, she meets the pilgrims and gets a break from hospital routine.
Sister Antida does not travel much; she is too busy with work. But when the Ambassador calls a meeting of Maltese residents somewhere close by, such as at the Mount of Beatitudes, she enjoys the day out and a chat with fellow countrypeople. For the most part, however, her place is in the hospital with the patients. She still has some photos of herself when she was younger, with her family, but on occasion she gets rid of them. How long can you hold onto such things for? She does not bring much back with her from Malta either. She visits her siblings and nephews and stays with her sister in the old family home not far from the church of Saint Paul. “I was the one who chose the life of a missionary and this means that my family is close to me in prayer rather than physically.” Which is also why she tends to let go of objects that bind her to her family, in order to focus solely on her mission. In spite of this, Sister Antida speaks fondly and gladly of Rabat.
“I loved the mission in Brazil. And I love this one. I’ve always worked in hospitals. That is where I started out, and I stayed on.” Yet she still feels a bond with Malta, or rather with Rabat. “I’m from Rabat too,” says Gilbert. “Let me tell you who my folks are,” he goes on. “And let me tell you where our house is,” the Sister replies ...
At that point they plunged into a conversation which Nathalie and I could not follow, with nicknames and families we had never heard of, streets we did not know, places that were dear to them but that were only a speck on a city map for us ... But this was Sister Antida’s moment, a time for her and her memories, memories of her childhood in Rabat, where she was born and raised, where she worked and where her sister still lives, in the old family home ... I am from Rabat, born and bred ...
I am from Rabat and Rabat still dwells within me.
An excerpt from L-Art tal-Kliem (“The Land of Words”)written by Clare Azzopardi (a project in collaboration with Nathalie Grima and Gilbert Calleja).
Publisher: Merlin Publishers.
3. HERITAGE MALTA
The place you are situated in at present are the St Paul’s Catacombs. These are a symbol of early Christianity in Malta, as they depict where St Paul had allegedly come to Malta to spread the word of God. They are suspected to have been once connected to the St Paul’s Grotto, also found in Rabat. These were used as cemetries in Roman times (approximately the 7th Century and maybe even 8th Century AD). Although much smaller when compared to the catacombs of Rome and other large Roman centres, the catacombs of St Paul are a good example of the Maltese underground architecture which reveals Malta’s true history to the point where these can be considered proof of our religious roots. Another return to our religious roots is the following poem by Marlene Saliba, which emphasizes the importance of time and memories in relation to our spiritual selves. Marlene Saliba’s poems relate to our archeological heritage and us beings in relation to the cosmos.
higher and higher
on the wings of a wise bird;
leaping beyong the ozone belt
into what seems like endless space
in the reptitive quest
for love, for freedom;
seeking a dimension
that for some unknown reason
we seem to have lost touch with
on this sphere.
Our four eyes leave behind them
patterns of war, brutality,
emotions of care, tenderness
and the loyal rhythms, spaces, hues
of our planet home.
Our four eyes
witness new colours, different meanings,
another consciousness that instills in us
the pure bliss of being.
higher and higher
on the wings of a wise bird;
a dear friend who seems equally intuitive
in skies unmapped and untrapped
as we enter beautiful perfect zones
which cannot be captured on faint
and distorted echoes of words.
Finally, coming back, touch down,
with the aspiration of bringing back here with us
a magic speck of eternity.
Yet with the landing we appear to have changed too.
And while our eyes will try till death
to tell another tale of great harmony and joy,
the currents of life here engulf us
with all the strength of weakness,
with fear, pain, wars, unconnectedness.
Perhaps many such holy pilgrimages
by crowds and crowds of us
will help us remember
the sacred rainbow bridge
between us and the firmament,
will reinforce and assist us
to find our bearings, dignity,
The poem “A Pilgrimage” from Time-Faring by Marlene Saliba.
Publisher: Formatek Ltd.
4. CHURCH OF ST DOMINIC
First formed in Toulouse, France in 1216, the Dominician Order is still an influential force on Christianity to this day. O.P., standing for Ordinis Praedicatorum, meaning of the Order of Preachers, is normally carried after the names of friars and priests in this order.The Dominicans arrived in Malta from Sicily in 1450, presumably on the initiative of Fr Pietro Zurchi, a Maltese friar from Mdina attached to the vast Dominican priory in Sicily, Malta finally joining the ever growing list of countries currently signing their membership over to this order. One of the most famous people living in Malta who was also part of the Dominician order, was Mikiel Fsadni, O.P.; in this case forming part of the sector in Rabat. He was also an author, mostly of non-fiction works. In this extract, he recounts the experience of how he and a fellow researcher, Prof. Godfrey Wettinger, had found the Cantilena, a crucial part of Maltese history, as it was a poem written in Medieval Maltese.
Despite the paucity of references to the Maltese language, the few we had did prove that Maltese was spoken and that efforts had also been made to write it, at least when it came to place names. Just as we had started giving up on finding more evidence, on 22 September 1966 we were astonished and baffled by the unexpected finding of a very old poem written by Pietru Caxaru. We jumped for joy and cried out “This is a discovery we would have never ever hoped for.” This was our reward, Wettinger’s and mine, for all our efforts. I went back to Saint Paul’s Bay, where I was on vacation, and told my friends “We discovered something big, very big.” They wanted to know what it was; they would have to wait for a reply, because it took us a while to publish our first study of it, which featured in the book “Peter Caxaro’s Cantilena – a Poem in Medieval Maltese”.
The moment we found it, we tried transcribing it; to no avail. It is true that at first glance the Song appears to be written in intelligible letters – after all, it was written down by Notary Brandanu de Caxario in his finest calligraphy; and yet we were at pains to decipher certain letters and words. As a result, after a second futile attempt at transcribing it, we decided to photograph it; we could then work quietly and take our time. None of us was a photographer; on the other hand, we did not feel we could leave such a task to any outsider. I decided to take it upon me. I borrowed a good camera from Father Ġużepp Gauci, O.P., requested the necessary permit from the Chief Notary to Government, and three weeks later I set out on my first photographic mission! That day, my heart beat faster than usual; I was a little edgy. I tied the camera to a table close to a ventilation grille, I placed the register on the floor, reduced the aperture, focused well. The rest was the work of the automatic camera; in a few minutes the job was done. Just as I was about to start taking photos of the poem, Wettinger asked the clerks – as agreed beforehand – to bring another notarial register. They brought it and I took some shots of other sheets. In that way we dissimulated as well as we could the sheet we were truly interested in, the one that contained the poem. Wettinger took care of developing the film and making copies at a photographer’s studio. Luckily, all the negatives were in focus and sharp. We could put our minds at rest; we did not need to go back to the first register of Notary Brandano de Caxario, which is home to the famed poem […]
We still had to overcome many obstacles before we could hope to unravel the mystery of the Cantilena. We had to resort to new methods for this. These were found by my friend Wettinger, who is not one for giving up. Among other things, he had the idea of analysing the Maltese orthography that Notary Brandanu de Caxario had used when writing place names in his acts. This was no easy feat. We had to leaf through more than sixty registers – sheet by sheet – of the said notary and extract hundreds of names of places written in Maltese; in this way we got an idea of the notary’s orthography, which matches that of the Cantilena. Moreover, the Cantilena is written in very old Maltese; some of the words it contains hail from the Arabic spoken in the Western part of North Africa, primarily in Tunisia. Wettinger could make sense of them because he speaks Arabic. He therefore looked up the meaning of words that feature in the Cantilena but that do not belong to the Maltese language, in various dictionaries of Arabic and there he found their literal meaning. This is how we could decipher the meaning of the poem in a way that was much praised by scholars. Among others, Professor J. Aquilina in his foreword stated:
“This is indeed a very scholarly detailed analysis of the oldest poem in what one might describe as Medieval Maltese.”
An excerpt from Esperjenzi ta’ Kittieb (“Experiences of a Writer”) by Father Mikiel Fsadni.
Witness my predicament, my friends (neighbours), as I shall relate it to you:
[What] never has there been, neither in the past, nor in your lifetime,
A [similar] heart, ungoverned, without lord or king (sultan),
That threw me down a well, with broken stairs
Where, yearning to drown, I descend the steps of my downfall,
I climb back up and down again, always faced with high seas.
It (she) fell, my building, its foundations collapsed;
It was not the builders’ fault, but the rock gave way,
Where I had hoped to find rock, I found loose clay
It (she) fell, my edifice, (that) which I had been building for so long.
And so, my edifice subsided, and I shall have to build it up again,
You change it to the site that suits her/it
Who changes his place, changes his fate!
for each (piece of land) has its own shape (features);
there is white land and there is black land, and red
But above all, (what) you want from it is a fruit.
5. IL-KNISJA TA’ SAN BASTJAN/TRIQ IL-KULLEĠĠ
Mikiel Spiteri, more familiarly known as Kilin, was a Maltese author. He was born in 1917, in the village of Rabat. First writing at the age of 33, one of his most popular works is Fuq l-Għajn ta’ San Bastjan, first published in 1973. The following excerpt describes the time when he had his first Holy Communion.
Now I have also done my First Holy Communion. Aunty Jane sewed a fine straw-coloured suit for me, with shorts. She pinned a white strip to my left sleeve. As soon as she was done dressing me, it was time to head to Saint Paul’s. My father did not attend the ceremony because he was on guard duty, and my mother could not leave the children alone. She brushed my hair thoroughly, dusted me down one last time, straightened my bow tie and said:
“Go. And make sure you don’t get dirty.”
I walked carefully until I got to the water pump, but as soon as I turned on College Street I broke into a run, jumping from one doorstep to the next like a little lamb. And indeed, I felt as light as a lamb in my new, fresh suit. My heart was brimming with joy. For this was a truly joyful day. Not the kind of boisterous happiness replete with laughter and gleeful shouting – like when I got a box of colours or when the headmistress praised me and gave me a prize for being first in class, or even when our school won the Empire Day Cup. It was a quiet joy that cannot be explained. A bliss that comes from within perhaps. I cannot describe it; it was an overwhelming joy. The neighbours threw a big party for their daughter, like a baptism party, with guests and food and drink and a gramophone. My mother did not have that kind of money, so she baked a cake and covered it with chocolate, and I shared it with my siblings.
Excerpt from Fuq l-Għajn ta’ San Bastjan (“Life in the environs of the Saint Sebastian water pump”) by Kilin.
Publisher: Klabb Kotba Maltin.
6. MISRAĦ FOROK
A death sentence was commonplace in Malta, especially in the times when the English ruled over the land. One of the emerging places where executions by the method of the gallows took place was in fact the place where you are standing on right now, Misrak Forok. In English, this translates to a square where people were condemned to death by the gallows. For those who do not know, the gallows are a method of hanging by rope. One poem that mentions this piazza is “Seven days of snow”by Glen Calleja.
Seven days of snow
We are the main execution ground
Where an abundance of cones lies around
Seven days a week
Under constant snow
As white as ever
Except for an invisible difference
That is the difference that we are
That can only be used for life
“Seven days of snow” by Glen Calleja.
7. VILLA MANDUCA
Villa Manduca, located in Triq Nikola Saura, is an illustrious villa with lots of unknown history behind it. This gives creative liberty to all sorts of creators, such as writers. In fact, in this case, one such author created a mystery story surrounded around this villa, that being John A. Bonello with the first of his mystery series aimed for children: Irvin Vella: Il-Każ Manduca.
I walked behind her along a wide, dark lobby decorated with two wooden stands of aspidistras. The ceiling of the lobby was vaulted and painted with a scene which – history dunce though I am – I believe represented the victory of the Maltese over the Turks in the Great Siege. In the middle of this scene gleamed the Manduca coat of arms: two animals, possibly lions, holding the king’s crown and, above the crown, a dagger with a snake coiled around the blade, just like the one on the Rexoguard bottle. To the left and to the right of the lobby, behind white silk curtains, there were two doors leading to two sitting rooms. I could not see what these rooms were like for they were too dark. We walked further in. The house was huge. I could feel a damp chill lift off the floor and seep into my shoes. High above, a skylight lit up the shaft where a broad staircase spiralled towards the first floor, while another flight of steps descended underground, swallowed by darkness. There was a sweet, fragrant smell about the house, like some kind of incense. We walked between two columns next to the staircase. These held a low arch, which granted access to the dining room.
Excerpt taken from Irvin Vella: Il-Każ Manduca (“Irvin Vella: The Manduca Case”) by John A. Bonello.
Publisher: Merlin Publishers.
8. THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES
Concetta Brincat (née Sciberras), was an author born in Birkirkara in 1870 and who died in Sliema in 1940. At the time, women’s rights were not established, so it is quite a challenging task to summarise the history of a woman when women’s voices were never heard. As the expression goes, be seen but not heard. Most of her childhood and adolescence was spent in Algeria with her family, of which traces cannot be found. However it was common for Maltese families at the time to move to North Africa and seek their fortunes elsewhere of which they could not find in Malta. Luckily, information pertaining to Concetta Brincat was found in the archives in Rabat.The National Archives were only moved to Rabat and two other locations during the 1980s, in which the final facility was unveiled in 1994. This area holds most of Malta’s records and is the Head Office. The following is an excerpt from Concetta Brincat’s first novel.
The day the wicked Duke of Lausanne went out hunting and lashed at the young man with his whip, we saw him and his brother Victor gallop away on their swift horses, without even bothering to see whether the man was dead or alive. When Baroness Clotilde saw the young man fall into the ditch, she gave a loud scream and sprung down from her horse. Her husband, Baron Henri de Lamarre, and Baron de Valereux were also fast to dismount, tie their horses to a tree and clamber down the ditch – which thankfully was not very deep on that side. After checking whether they could descend, they saw a path of sorts wind its way around the rocks, about twenty steps ahead. They quickly climbed down to come in aid of the young man, who lay sprawled on the rocks in a pool of blood, having hit his head against the hard limestone. Without paying attention to the pony that lay beneath the cart, the two noblemen lifted the young man. On account of his deathlike pallor, they deduced that they were holding a corpse. But when the Baron opened his jacket, he found that the man’s heart was still beating. Very carefully, they carried him to the wider part of the street under the shade of a tall eucalyptus tree. White as a sheet, the Baroness moved closer and inquired, eyes brimming with tears:
- Is the poor man still alive?
- Yes, Clotilde, replied her husband. Now you get back onto your horse and join the hunting party. You are too faint-hearted for the sight of blood.
- No, I shall not move from here before I see how you are planning to help the victim! Where can we get some water to wash the blood off his face?
- I don’t know, my dear. I can’t imagine where we could get any water around here. All I can see are cliffs.
At that moment, they heard footsteps in the vicinity. It turned out to be a peasant, who stopped in disbelief when he saw these three people standing around what appeared to be a dead man. He thought he had come upon the scene of a crime. The street was narrow, and he would have liked to be on his way but could not muster the courage to do so. The Baroness therefore stood up and addressed him:
You’re a godsend, my dear man. We’ve stumbled upon this dying man. Please go and fetch us some water. We will reward you handsomely.
The man, who had not noticed the Baroness until then, had been seething with hatred for the two men in their fine clothes, these noblemen whom he took for the murderers of the young man. Yet when he heard that angelic voice and beheld the Baroness’s beautiful face so struck with pity, he said to her:
My lady, I shall be back with water in no time. There, behind that large rock, flows a clear stream.
And he scampered off. Three minutes later he was back with the tin can he used as a cup while at work, full of fresh water.
- Thank you, said Clotilde, dipping her lace handkerchief in the can and wiping the injured man’s face.
- Pardon me, Your Excellency, but where did the man fall from? asked the farmer, in awe of the kindness of these noble people.
- He fell into the ditch, answered de Valereux. We would be very grateful if you could go down the path and see what has happened to the pony and cart. Fear not, we will pay good money for your service.
Without a word, the man jumped into the ditch and – being strong as an ox – retrieved the cart that was still on top of the struggling pony. It had fallen on a grassy patch and was not hurt apart from a few scratches. The cart’s shaft was broken but the peasant knew what he had to do. He led the pony back up the path and tied him to a tree, then went back to the cart. When he reached the noblemen, he found that the injured man’s head had been bandaged with the Baroness’s pink silk mantle. The man was only about thirty years old and had a very pleasant face, with a dark moustache and bewitching jet-black eyes. In a shaky voice, he was thanking the barons for their kindness.
- Where shall we take him, Henri? inquired Baron de Valereux.
- I don’t know, Eduard. I don’t know these parts very well. Your castle is too far. This young man cannot exert himself.
- But I seem to recall, said de Valereux, that in the Alfort woods there’s the house of the steward of the Count of Lausanne himself.
- Oh yes, Your Excellency. I know where that is, chimed in the peasant. Shall we take him there on the cart?
- That would be perfect, my good man, replied de Valereux. Can you fix the cart please? And you, Henri, take your wife to the Castle of Lausanne and speak to Hortensia, she will be delighted to welcome us. I will go with this man to leave our injured companion in his good care.
- We can go together, Edi, said Henri de Lamarre. The poor man might feel unwell on the way there, and you’ll need help.
- Very well. Will Clotilde go before us?
- Why would I, Edi? Let us all go together.
- Good. Then you go with the cart, and I shall ride ahead to let the steward know about our arrival and have him prepare a bed for the man.
As he said this, he untied the horse and rode away. After listening to the Baron’s story, without asking who had committed the crime, the steward got a bed ready in the lobby. The peasant, who had repaired the cart, helped Baron de Lamarre lower the wounded man onto the folding seat in the cart, while the Baroness gently slipped a cushion of sorts under his head. The young man was unconscious. The noblemen attached the cart to their horses. The peasant got into the cart and they were on their way.
How cruel the Count of Lausanne is with these poor people, Baroness Clotilde murmured to her husband.
Excerpt taken from Il-Familja de Valereux (“Family de Valereux”) by Concetta Brincat.
Thanks to Prof. Adrian Grima and Carmen Baxter.
9. ST. MARK’S CONVENT
Karmenu Vassallo was born in Siġġiewi on 18th March of 1913. He studied Italian and Latin Literature, Philosophy and Theology in the convent of St. Mark in Rabat, where you are currently situated for the last stop. He then held three jobs throughout his lifetime: that of a journalist, a teacher and a soldier. But most importantly, he was a Maltese poet in his spare time, and he published various poetry books throughout his life. While the connection between this poet and the Literary Walk you are currently on is the fact that he studied in Rabat, his heart always belonged to Siġġiewi. One of these poetry books (which is in fact his most popular) is that of Nirien.
The village where I was born
It could have been larger – more beautiful,
my village – but just as it is I truly love it:
A new world – a new haven
such is the glow my love endows it with!
I was and still am – I was and will always be
deeply attached to the village where I was born
for nothing greater – more beautiful
will I ever find now or when I am mourned.
You taught me mercy – to love my brothers;
On the righteous path – you taught me how to walk tall;
You taught me how to live by my Christian duty;
You taught me to be worthy – of the teachings of Saint Paul.
It could have been larger – more beautiful,
my village – but just as it is I truly love it:
A new world – a new haven
such is the glow my love endows it with!
“The village where I was born” by Karmenu Vassallo.
Rabat. A city that pulses with light, yet is calm and peaceful. It has the best of both worlds, in other words. Located in the Northern region of Malta, the town is named after Rabat, the capital of Morocco.Rabat is home to the famous Catacombs of St. Paul and of St. Agatha, as well as Domus Romana and L’Isle Adam Bandclub. The following is an excerpt from Loranne Vella’s work, Magna Mater, located in Rabat.
It was snowing again. Three weeks had passed since the first snow descended on Malta. It is beautiful when observed from behind a windowpane, quietly but steadily coating pavements, cars, the flat-roofed houses that were not built to welcome it. It is pleasant to watch snow fall indeed. The first time perhaps. The second and third times you are still in awe. Then you get used to it. And after that, as all those who have experienced it know, after that come the goosebumps.
Elizabeth was not one of those who got jumpy and started crossing themselves. Naturally. She was only fifteen years old; why would she be spooked by snow? She watched it from the shop’s window. She waited. It was charming but she did not feel like walking back home in the snow. She was not wearing good boots. Nobody had thought of donning snow gear that morning for sure. Not on such a bright sunny morning. A rather warm day. Come evening, the temperature had dropped by nearly twenty degrees in one go. The forecast had mentioned falling temperatures but not snow. But then again nobody knew what to expect any longer. Or rather, anything could be expected; you could wake up to a balmy morning and get into bed on a frosty night. After all, they had been foretelling the end of the world for a while now, sheets of ice engulfing everything.
Elizabeth was smiling. She could hear the shopkeeper whine and curse the blasted crazy weather. Poor fellow. He did not know what he was missing. Wouldn’t it have been better to contemplate the falling snow, rather than curse it while adding up bills and counting money? She turned her gaze to the righthand side of the counter, behind which stood the shopkeeper, and her lips stretched. How ironic, she thought: some cards received for Christmas – which had only just passed – still adorned the wall, displaying immaculately white brumal landscapes.
She turned to look out of the window and changed her mind. She paid the shopkeeper, tossed her purchases in the rucksack and headed out. The cold nearly knocked her out breathless. She rushed home as fast as her legs could take her. It’s only ten minutes, she thought as she set upon taking shorter breaths and tried warming her frozen, bare hands. Darkness had suddenly enveloped everything; not a soul was to be seen in the streets. The only sound she could make out was the snow crunching beneath her footsteps. And her fast breathing. She was enjoying the cloud of vapour that popped up in front of her face every time she exhaled. This is the real deal, she thought.
The house was warm. Her mother had clearly come back and turned the central heating and dehumidifier on. As a result of the austerity European governments had imposed in the last few years in order to save energy, they were only allowed one hour of heating per day, but their apartment was small, and it warmed and dried up fast, keeping things nice and toasty until the next day.
“I’m home,” cried Elizabeth, without going to her mother. She darted to her room and switched on the tablet, flinging her rucksack on the bed. The tablet had started making strange noises lately while it warmed up. She needed to take it for repair. One of these days she would find a moment to go to Gartz, who among other things was an electronics wizard. She trusted him. He was always busy but had never refused to help her.
The screen crackled and lit up.
Her mother gave a few raps on the door, to let Elizabeth know that she was getting dinner ready. Elizabeth ignored her and settled down in front of the tablet. Food could wait.
She went on the homepage of her profile, or rather, of a profile she had created. Here she was not Elizabeth; she went by the name of Fay Wray. It was her mother who had given her the idea. Elizabeth had immediately liked the soft lilt of the name. The original Fay Wray had been an actress in the 1930s. She was born in 1907 and died at almost 97 years of age. Her mother had told her that she was best known for her role in King Kong in 1933, as Elizabeth had explained in her German homework.
However, while inspired by the real Fay Wray, Elizabeth’s avatar on the Magna was quite different. She was born on 12 May 2001, which would make her eighteen. This Fay Wray listened to the Rats and the Klarkillers and read books by Bradbury, Seams, Griffin, Pamuk and others.
An excerpt from Magna Mater by Loranne Vella.
Publisher: Merlin Publishers.
11. PAWLU XUEREB’S MEMORIAL
Forming a natural border between Rabat and Mdina, it is no wonder that one of the biggest gardens of Malta, Howard Gardens, is revered to this day. With a picturesque view consisting of trees and the iconic Mdina bastions, it is not a surprise for any natives living in Malta to notice that it is a tourist trap for all foreigners, and for good reason. One of the most uncommon sights of this place however (which probably most natives have not even noticed), is the memorial of former Maltese President Pawlu Xuereb. What does this have to do with the beginning of the adventure that is this literary walk? Well, Pawlu Xuereb was not just the President of Malta for a brief period of time, however also an author. In fact, the following is one of his works.
It is true that Grezzju the wholesaler occasionally put some vegetables aside to take home, but nobody at the market would have ever dreamed of saying that Grezzju had stolen any produce. None of the neighbours would have noticed that Grezzju got up for work with the chickens, or that in the summer he sometimes got back home from work around midnight – with only those two afternoon hours of rest in a day of hard labour. Nobody ever uttered these words because that was Grezzju’s job, and he was lucky to have it, for he got the odd free vegetable out of it whereas others did not. Nobody would mention any of this because after all everyone else got home at five, in summer even as early as two o’clock in the afternoon, certainly not at midnight. The neighbours forgot about Grezzju’s long working hours, but they remembered the vegetables he brought home. Truth be said, Grezzju got lucky again when his father-in-law put in a good word with some Captain of the Navy and landed him a job in the Cold Stores. This did not go down well with the neighbours; they would not stop prattling about how lucky Grezzju was. Rusanna would do the sign of the horns and murmur under her breath to ward off the evil eye.
“What else can I do, Grezz,” Rusanna would say. “It’s either me doing the sign of the horns every now and again or we succumb to the evil eye. I fear it, you know.”
“But Rusanna, do you really think the sign of the horns can ward off curses?”
“I don’t just do that. I say what I have to say.”
“And what is that?” asked Grezzju, jokingly. He knew perfectly well what she murmured.
Rusanna would get upset: “You know what I say. What everyone says.”
“Don’t you think sprinkling some holy water would work better?”
“You know I do that too. I even burn an olive leaf, for Glory.”
“Seriously? What Glory? … I haven’t seen you do that in a while.”
“Yes, that’s true. But who does such things these days? Do you ever see anyone perform these rituals? I know I don’t. Not even the sister of the Canon, Father John, not even she sprinkles holy water and burns olive leaves these days.”
“That’s true,” agreed Grezzju. “But you could recite a Holy Mary.”
“I might do so,” replied Rusanna. “But I’ll stick to the horns because they’re a safe bet when it comes to countering the evil eye.”
Grezzju, as always, smiled and went on to feed the rabbits.
“He’s even lucky with the rabbits,” some people said.
This was not true. Once Grezzju’s rabbits went down with the flu. Nearly all of them died. And yet, even though people saw Rusanna put a rabbit in the garbage pail day after day, and even though people heard her lament: “Poor Grezzju, what rotten luck. He lost nearly all his rabbits,” nobody retorted “Yes indeed, poor man. He seems to have run out of luck.”
No, nobody said that. Quite the contrary. Soon after, when Grezzju’s son was accepted at the Teachers’ College, they hissed:
“Grezzju’s son Mario managed to get a foot in. God knows how that happened. How smart can he possibly be? Someone must have pulled strings for him. Grezzju has connections, he’s always been lucky that way.”
A few months later, a fellow student of Mario’s, who also qualified as a teacher two years later, took a shine to Gejtana, Grezzju’s daughter, who went by the name of Gaity.
“There he goes again! His daughter managed to snare a teacher. It’s all about luck! All he touches turns to gold, crafty old Grezzju ...”
“Luck is all you need in life! Did you hear the latest?” said the woman with the hooked nose. “They’ll soon be wed. Looks like they don’t want to risk the groom’s getting cold feet. I wonder what he can possibly like about her. The man must be blind!”
“How would I know? God knows what they’re up to. All this haste sounds dodgy to me.”
Despite the neighbours’ tattle, Gaity married the man who loved her and whom she loved and soon after they had a child. Everyone congratulated them:
“Oh, she’s the cutest thing!”
Except for those whose words turned sour:
“Cute is not the word. Take a closer look and you’ll see that her nose is as crooked as her mother’s, and her ears as huge as her father’s.”
Mario, now an uncle, had also got married and was preparing to become a father. He did even better than his sister Gaity in this domain and went straight for a boy and a girl, twins. Grezzju and Rusanna, grandparents for the second time, were over the moon. If people could fly, they would have soared! And yet some nosey person wrote a letter to the proud grandfather:
“Are those twins really Mario’s? They look nothing like him.”
Grezzju tore the letter up immediately. Later that day, however, while he and Rusanna were watching television, she said to him:
“I wasn’t going to tell you this, but then I thought about it and decided a wife should share such thoughts with her husband. If I don’t open my heart with you, then with whom?”
Grezzju was taken aback. He looked at his wife, intuiting that he would need to have patience with her.
“You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? The twins don’t look anything like us, do they? They seem to have taken entirely after her.”
Grezzju sighed with relief.
Excerpt taken from Meta x-xorti misset! (“Touched by luck”) by Pawlu Xuereb.
Thany you for walking through Rabat with us ! It was a pleasure to take you the narrow and wider streets to explore Rabat in a literary way. We hope you enjoyed these texts and encourage you to buy the books and read as much as you can. We hope to see you soon.
Raħal il-Letteratura is a pilot initiative by HELA Foundation (Hub for Excellence in the Literary Arts), which aims to celebrate literature and promote it in various ways in Rabat. This initiative is spread out over three years, and has just been awarded the President’s Prize for Creativity by the Office of the President and Arts Council Malta.
This initiative is primarily a creative and cultural act but also touches upon economic and historical aspects, hence this literary walk. Raħal il-Letteratura will be possible thanks to Studio Solipsis, Inizjamed, Malta Libraries, Merlin Publishers, the National Literacy Agency, Heritage Malta, the Malta National Archives and the Rabat Local Council.
Writer: Francesca Monseigneur.
Editor and mentor: Leanne Ellul.
Translator of literary texts to English: Irene Mangion.
Designer: Rebecca Zammit.
Thanks to: all the publishers and writers, Prof. Adrian Grima, Carmen Baxter, all the publishers, Malta Libraries, Clare Azzopardi, Glen Calleja, Jean Paul Borg, and Redent Abdilla.
Arts Council Malta
Creative Industries Platform
Project co-ordinator: Clare Azzopardi
With the help of: Kirsty Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Albert Gatt
Proofreader: Dwayne Ellul