Maltese Men and how to Improve them

As I can almost feel most readers fuming while reading the title of this article, first of all let me say that I love Maltese men. Ok, I am in love with ONE Maltese man in particular, however when looking at the masculine half of the population as a whole, one must really admit that while there are many men who contribute actively to all aspects of society with a number of variegated talents and achievements, there are also those who seem to be deficient when it comes to simple things such as cleanliness and physical health.

No one expects all men to be studs, and while one cannot but appreciate the random Maltese beefcake hanging at the gym, or the red-blooded stallion lounging at the beach, one also cannot help but look fondly at the robust ‘normal’ Maltese male.

Different people have diverse body-types of course, and I thank all the gods for variety, else life would be infinitely boring. However SOME things apply to everyone. Young, old, slim, hefty, energetic, lazy, optimist, pessimist – whichever of these you are it is important to value and make the best of yourself, instead of abandoning both mind and body and retreating from the world to the point of becoming an affliction to those around you.

There he sits in front of the local pastizzerija, with his cuddly beer-belly and a hairy torso barely confined by his semi-transparent abanderado vest, trying vainly to muffle a number of barely-stifled belches. Sometimes, a couple of long thick yellowish toe-nails hang out from his too-small flip-flops, while wisps of hair waive out of his carefully styled comb-over, as he tries to smooth-over the wind-disarrayed pages of the local newspaper. Stupefied (too much Cisk), he glares belligerently at a honking lorry across the street, while staking a claim for his friend’s subaru by placing one of the pub’s plastic chairs in an emptied parking space nearby (even though said friend probably won’t be arriving within the next couple of hours).

Much as we love our local Onslows (and I repeat, yes, I know that many Maltese men do not fit into this category… but we really have to admit that many do), most of them could really do with a few tips.

  • Cleanliness is not an option – no matter how good-looking, sexy, or rich you are, your Gucci sunglasses and double-breasted suit won’t do much to hide the obnoxious smells coming from your aromatic armpits. Especially if we can spot any wettish patches of sweat as well. So please, for the love of God, DO shower at least once (or twice, or three times) a day. Deodorants are your friends too.
  • All the perfumes in the world – while using a perfume or deodorant is good, going overboard and spraying a different scent every other hour never did any miracles in terms of attraction. And our nostrils don’t appreciate it either. Especially in confined spaces such as elevators, cars and buses. So, everything in moderation.
  • Trim and clean your nails – regularly
  • This also goes for random body hair. Including hair coming out of orifices such as ears and nostrils. And no, not just in summer please.
Image Source: Shutterstock
  • ‘Casual’ clothes – it is one thing to go to the supermarket wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, or a pair of shorts and a thin shirt, and quite another to saunter to the cashier in just your skin-tight swimming trunks and a smile. Some clothes are worn at the beach, others are worn in the comfort of one’s own home, wearing them in other settings is, in most cases, highly inappropriate.
  • Jewellery – As in the case of perfume, too much jewellery tends to convey a sense of ‘hamallu’ thuggishness which, I’m sure, is not what most men have in mind when they put on their thick chain-necklace, large cross pendant, four rattling stainless steel bracelets and glammish heavy rings (at least three on each hand). But seriously… no. Just… no.
Geoffrey Hughes as Onslow from ‘Keeping Up Appearances’

I could go on and on (for example about drinking ad nauseum in kazini (band clubs) at 2pm, endless glasses of darkish tea left on the pavement in front of said kazini, raucous echoing laughter at some poor foreigner’s expense at the local festa, the half-smirk, half-hopeful look which accompanies every ‘aw lilly‘, bad driving and parking etiquette, etc)… but honestly, do I need to? I bet you can picture what I’m writing about as clear as day yourself…

We live (supposedly) in a civilized society, where we must at least agree to conform to a number of guidelines regarding appropriate behavior, in order for us to co-exist with the minimum of hassles possible. Freedom is beautiful, needful and individually enriching (though personally I can’t understand what’s so ‘enriching’ about overly-long toe-nails) however some things are best left to the imagination.

P.S And if you think targeting just males is unfair, don’t worry, another blogpost tackling the female half of the population will be forthcoming in the near future!

Advertisements

Maltese Seasonal Spring Food!

Finally, spring is here! Looking at the calendar, the start of spring is widely acknowledged to be on the 20th/21st of March, that is, that time when light and darkness, the length of the day and night, are of equal measure. After that day, we start to realize that sunset is taking place earlier, and sunrise starts to be further off as well. During this time, the weather slowly starts to get warmer, the grass looks a little bit greener, and a large number of fruits and vegetables come in season.

Unfortunately, it is also a time when allergies seem to get stronger. Our bodies contain toxins, regardless of how healthy we are. This is why spring is also the time to flush out these toxins and one natural way to do this is by eating a lot of those greens which are in season, in order to cleanse our digestive system.

Broad beans, also known as fava beans, butter beans, or ‘ful’ in Maltese, contain an amazing amount of nutrients. In addition to a lot of fibre, they also contain Vitamin K, zinc, copper, iron, magnesium and the energy-providing Vitamin B. Ful also contain folate, which participates in building cells and metabolising amino acids. It is essential for growth (therefore needful for children and young people, not to mention pregnant women), cell regeneration, and the production of healthy red blood cells. Added either as a side-dish or mixed into an entrée, they definitely add a boost, not only to your energy levels, but also to your taste. 

Broad beans are the main ingredient in a popular Maltese spring dish – this is Pea and Broad bean soup, that is, ‘soppa tal-ful’ in Maltese, which is generally prepared with oats, vegetable stock, onions, peas, broad beans, milk, mint, parsley, and other herbs.

Artichokes (qaqoċċ in Maltese) are another spring vegetable. These are very beneficial as they can help in lowering blood sugar and blood pressure levels, and prevent inflammation. In particular, artichokes are enemies to ‘bad’ cholesterol and heart diseases, in that they not only reduce lipoproteins (which carry cholesterol in the blood stream), but also increase bile production in the liver, which in turn gets rid of cholesterol in the body. Artichokes also bolster the immune system, as well as being a rich source of fibre, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, calcium, potassium, zinc, magnesium, and other beneficial minerals. Since they have the highest antioxidant levels out of all vegetables, they are also a primary means of defence against the effects of free radicals that can lead to a number of dangerous conditions, such as the creation of cancerous masses.

Filled artichokes, or ‘qaqoċċ mimli’ in Maltese, is a tasty Maltese recipe popular in spring, which consists of filling the leafy artichokes with a mix of tasty ingredients. The ones most commonly used include Maltese crumbled loaf, anchovies, tuna, garlic, capers, olives, and parsley.

For those who are not much into vegetables, strawberries might prove a tastier alternative. In addition to antioxidants, strawberries are rich in Vitamin C, folate, potassium, manganese, dietary fibre, and a number of other important nutrients. This heart-shaped fruit is also good for the skin, since its acidic nature causes it to remove excess sebum, that is, excess oil on the skin. Strawberry juice is also very effective in lightening skin blemishes and acne scars, and it can also be used in face masks to nourish and revitalize the skin. There are only 49 calories in one cup of strawberries, making strawberries a tasty and healthy way to lose weight, The health benefits of the strawberry also include improved eye care, proper brain function, relief from high blood pressure, arthritis, gout, and various cardiovascular diseases.

Generally, I prefer to eat fresh strawberries with milk or cream, however there are also those who eat them dipped in wine, not to mention children, who seem to prefer the old-fashioned strawberry and almond tart. In the end, of course, it is only a matter of personal taste. Strawberries, for me, carry the taste of spring. Chilled and with no extra ingredients or embellishments, they are the perfect snack.

Where are the best areas for expats to live in Malta?

I am always glad to hear other people’s opinions about something which is close to me, or part of my everyday life. When we see and experience something every day for years, it becomes common place. For us, that is. It is always kind of refreshing to realize that what is normal for you, may be strange, new and/or seem different to other people.

When it comes to Malta, the island in the Mediterranean where I was born and bred, this is especially true. I have never lived anywhere else, the traditions, mentality, heritage, and geography of this tiny island are in my blood, and it always tickles me to no end when I see people from other countries or backgrounds land on these shores, look around them in wonder (or depreciation, depends who you ask), and start clicking madly on their cameras, or writing about it on their blogs. I am always curious to see and ponder these reactions, and maybe this is why some time ago I opted to become a member of a number of Facebook groups consisting mostly of expats living here, or people who are thinking about relocating to Malta.

The candid ideas, thoughts, issues and questions of someone who has never lived here before, or who has lived here for some time while having a different natal country, are very interesting and at times, quite educational. One also realizes that most queries, concerns and problems are shared and natural to ask before relocating to another country.

One of the most common issues tackled on these forums regards the best and/or worse areas to live in.

Although the Maltese archipelago is relatively a small one, it still offers a huge number of choices when it comes to residential opportunities. First and foremost, when choosing a place to live on the island, one must consider one’s wants and needs. If, for example, one wants to live near his or her place of work, that is quite understandable, and here the size of our island comes into play, since as Malta is not so large, almost everywhere can be said to be located within a stone’s throw of every other location. Traffic, of course, must always be taken into account, especially if one works in a central location such as Sliema or Valletta.

Working requirements aside, one must also consider whether s/he considers being close to the beach a priority, or whether s/he would prefer to be located in the city center. For people who wish to be near the sea, I would personally recommend finding a home either in the South, that is within such towns as Marsascala or Marsaxlokk, or else in the far North, that is in such towns as Mellieha, Qawra, or Bugibba. While accommodation can be cheaper in the South, one must also keep in mind that living in for example Mellieha has its advantages if one is interested in frequent trips to Malta’s sister island, Gozo, since this town is closer to the ferry than, say, Marsaxlokk. Again, the atmosphere of the North and South is quite different, in that the North offers opportunities to enjoy not only a multitude of beaches, but also a number of unspoilt countryside walks, however on the downside, since tourists tend to gravitate towards places such as Bugibba or Qawra, which offer a number of cheap hotels and services, relocating to the South would bring one closer to the original Maltese traditional way of life.

Those who prefer life in the city, such as students, business men or plain city gals and guys, tend to look for accommodation in places such as Sliema, Saint Julians or Valletta. Take it from me, this is a no-no. First of all, because flats and homes in general in these two cities are quite expensive, despite being mostly on the small-ish size, and secondly because, due to the onset of so many tourists and expats, daily amenities and convenience stores tend to be much more expensive than those one finds in other parts of the island. My suggestion would be to find more reasonably priced accommodation in towns such as Msida, Mosta, or Naxxar, which though not at the exact hub of Maltese high-life, are definitely more affordable. They are also quite close to the center.

One must also not forget the many ex-pats who relocate to our islands in order to enjoy a quite retirement. The tiny island of Gozo is perfect for those searching for peace and quiet. Its unspoilt panoramas, clear sandy beaches, and picturesque countryside offer a view into an older and more traditional way of life. Unfortunately however, Gozo is not such an attractive place for those looking for work, entertainment or new opportunities, as even the locals themselves struggle to find these, and often have to commute to Malta for work on a daily basis.

Should one wish to combine the bustle and hustle of a lively city, togather with historical heritage and Maltese tradition, I would suggest going to live in the Harbour area, most particularly in one of the ‘three cities’, that is, Bormla (Cospicua), Birgu (Vittoriosa) or Isla (Senglea). Apart from offering unparalleled seaviews, the Harbour area is also the showcase for some magnificent architecture. It is also a center of industry, and is quite close to the capital city of Valletta. 

Note: Part of this article, written by yours truly, was also published on the Expat online magazine LivingInMalta. The direct link can be found here.

Black Water – Music EP Review

Giving voice to what most of us think and feel, singer and artist Chellcy Reitsma, at 42, is surely wiser than most. Born in California and now living in Malta, Chellcy’s easy smile and vibrant persona belie a passionate spirit which needs to be heard.

This need for communication is perfectly expressed through her strong deep voice, which, backed by the haunting sound of the harmonica keening a sad lullaby, forms the backbone of her latest EP Black Water, released by Railway Studios last October.

Chellcy Reitsma. Photo: Federico Peltretti

Chellcy Reitsma. Photo: Federico Peltretti

Containing four tracks, including the song which lends the EP its name, as well as an original poem the artist wrote herself, this EP is one of an escalating set of steps in the singer’s career, which began when she was very young.

Ascribing her love to music and dance to her family’s influence, Chellcy first stared out as a visual artist and a dancer, and only later evolved as a singer, releasing Blue her first single, in 2016. A mixture of jazz and blues, Blue, gave way to her second single The Three of Us released by Beehive Studios a year later.

Chellcy is currently producing and managing artistic, cultural and educational events and projects. Black Water was released as a single last June and, as the singer herself describes, its main themes of personal empowerment, strength and determination pervade throughout all the tracks which make up the EP itself.

Can you describe your past career as an artist? 

In the past I devoted my entire life to visual ars and dancing. When it comes to visual arts, I took large mural commissions both in California and in Chicago, sold my paintings and drawings to collectors and held large exhibitions at fine galleries in northern and central California and Chicago.

I am still active in my artistic career, even more so now that I had to retire from dancing due to health reasons. I started focusing on dancing as a career in 2004 in Chicago and opened a dance company called Fringe Benefits directly after graduating.

This focused on contemporary dance fused with Egyptian dance styles, folkloric styles, Spanish and flamenco fusions of all three genres, and Samba. I toured around Europe and North America teaching dance and choreography, and performing dances both solo and with bands at dance conferences, festivals, cultural events, and educational events.

I opened a second branch of my dance company in Malta in 2008. In 2012, I closed my company in Chicago when I relocated full-time to Malta as it became too cumbersome to manage both, and in 2016, my assistant took over the dance company in Malta since I had to retire from dancing due to physical injuries.

Why did you relocate to Malta? 

I first started coming here intermittently as of December 2005 as a dance instructor and performer. Then I decided to move here because I fell in love with Malta, and started the long migration process in 2009. In 2011 I met the man who is now my husband, who is Maltese, and whom I married in 2013. 

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on a music project with composer Tom Borg from the band Hunting Cain, as well as developing a large visual art exhibition with Finnish artist Merja Brinon, which will be showing at Spazu Kreattiv in 2019 in Malta and in 2020 in Spain and Finland.

I will be travelling to Finland later in the year to work with Brinon in developing our artistic collaborations, concepts, and location scouting.

The track Black Water seems to paint the image of someone looking at the past. Is there a hidden message?

The EP and the song itself were inspired by my move from Chicago to Malta – letting go of the past and moving on from relationships that ended. There is a lot of sadness in these songs, but also hope and resolution. The whole EP is about moving forward, taking control of your life and overcoming your fears.

Note: This interview was done by me and officially published on The Sunday Times of Malta on the 6th of January 2019

Wake up and smell the Coffee!!

Man is a strange mammal. He thrives on competition, glorifies in destruction, and flourishes through selective memory. Because yes – we love lying to ourselves don’t we? Or let us rather say that the individual has an intrinsic predominant love for himself, which leads him to remember (consciously or subconsciously) whatever suits him most.

Simply put – we love to love ourselves, which is why in most cases we end up remembering experiences and events which happened to us in a way which shows us in the best possible light… to ourselves that is. We are never wrong, or if we are, we were justified. We never make mistakes, but if we do, they are understandable in that particular situation/s, and anyone who doesn’t understand is at fault himself. Etc. Etc.

The same goes when it comes to the way we perceive the world around us. Because obviously, man does’nt lie to himself about his own person ONLY. We see our own image by reflecting on who we want to be, or who we think we are, not on whom we seem to be, whom others think we are, or who our behavior makes us out to be.

Similarly, we view the world (and other people) either the way we want to see it/them (for one reason or another), or the way we are AFRAID to see it/them. For example, a man may think his wife loves him because she had said ‘I do’ five years before, not wanting to admit how their relationship has changed, that she now prefers to spend her time with other people rather than with him, that there have been changes in their intimacy, etc. The sole fact that she rarely smiles at him any more, a simply factor which other members of the family may have noticed, could escape him completely. Not because he is blind or stupid, but because he simply REFUSES to see it.

Another example could be the way we perceive political parties. Or football teams for that matter. ‘Our own’ political party (or team) can do no wrong. If they make a mistake… well, everyone is human right? On the other hand, the opposite political party (or team, group, whatever) is evil through and through. They use up tax money paid by honest hard working people to line their own pockets, to the exclusion of anything else. This can be seen by the fact that there is traffic, the roads are bad, there is rubbish in the streets, etc. That is all. Obviously, the man who only sees what he wants to see, or what he fears to see, fails to see the whole picture. He fails to see the evolution in the educational system, the improvement of the health sector, the cleaning of historical sites, the development of new laws and regulations which give new rights to minorities, etc. He only sees what is wrong, because that is what he expects to see. That is how the human mind works.

One of my favorite 90s movies is Kevin Bacon’s ‘He Said, She said’, which portrays this mental self-conditioning perfectly. If you haven’t watched the movie, believe me, you should.

Basically the premise of the film shows us the relationship between two people from both their different perspectives. The first half of the film reveals to us how the two met and started dating, from the guy’s point of view. The second half of the film shows us the exact same story-line BUT this time from the woman’s perspective. You’d think the second half would be boring, since we see exactly what we had already seen before. Wrong. There are details of the love-story which are the same but the backstory, most of the events, etc, are almost totally different. How is this possible?

It is, because people never tell themselves the whole truth. They never even SEE the whole truth. Maybe they are afraid too. When one of two friends fights and comes to you for guidance, what do you do? In Malta in this case the adage tells you to: ‘isma l-qanpiena l-ohra‘, which roughly translates to ‘listen to the other bell’, meaning that you need to ask the other person his own side of the story.

This is because most of the time, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

What brought this on, you might ask? Nothing in particular. It’s just that sometimes, the sheer lengths people go to, to deny a particular fact or an obvious conclusion, is simply astounding.

… andddd I just realized that I’ve written a ton… hehe and I’m still sipping my first cup of coffee. This is what happens when you wake up early with your head churning with too many thoughts. Off to start my day now. Hopefully with a lighter mind.

Ta

The Scent of Desperation

It’s funny how people tend to change their tune, depending on what they think will portray them in the best possible light. In the Maltese language, there is the very expressive word ‘pinnur’. On the surface, this word translates as ‘wind-vane’, however what it actually represents when one takes it into specific contexts, is this kind of behavior – when an individual first says one thing, but then when circumstances change, acts as though his past behavior never happened, and takes the exact opposite stance.

wind-vane

Without delving into the obvious example of politics, let me take another one.

I’ve never actually understood why many people think that being single is something shameful, as though the single person has something lacking just because s/he has not found a partner s/he likes yet. Unfortunately however, this mentality has pervaded our society so much, that people with low self-esteem tend to believe it hook, line and sinker, which is why many tend to fall into depression after long periods of singleness.

single-vs-taken

These low self-esteem singletons generally try to cope with this socially induced stigma by using a number of self-convincing ideas, for example maintaining that ‘being single is much better than being in a relationship’, or (in the case of women) saying that ‘men lie anyways, so why bother’, or (in the case of men) saying that ‘most women just want your money’. There are many who take the stance of ‘why would I want to live my life having to coordinate everything with another person and find a middle ground when, being single, I can do whatever the heck I want?’ Thing is some people are HONESTLY happy being single, others however, say such things as some sort of sop to try to convince themselves of their happiness in view of their enroaching desperation. If you are not happy, why not just say so and try to find a way to improve your life, yourself, or your attitude? Why hide it as though it was something to be ashamed of?

So, how does one tell the difference between people who are honestly happy being single and those who are just trying to lie to themselves? Here is where the ‘pinnur’ ideology comes into play. Just take a look at what happens to the ‘desperados’ when they actually DO manage to find a partner. Suddenly, there are photos of them strangling their partner in a ‘you wont escape’ hold all over social media. We are told again and again of how happy they are now that they have found ‘true love’. We are barraged by memes of how beautiful it is to be in a relationship. 

657747792007778bc542bf75437d7509--know-the-truth-keep-trying

Gone are the OTHER memes saying ‘single is best’. Gone is the argument that it is better not to have to compromise, or that being single means you don’t get dragged by your boyfriend and his friends to watch footy games even though you hate it (someone told this to me once, then she got a boyfriend and started suddenly ‘loving’ football). Suddenly the proud ‘I’ becomes a gushingly repeated ‘we’, as the individual tries to find every possible excuse to show the world that he or she now has a PARTNER and is no longer the loser s/he was before.

ISc

Of course, probably no one thought they were a loser because they were single, except, obviously, themselves.

So, this is the definition of ‘pinnur’. Of course, there are different levels of desperation, usually depending on the individual’s age (older people, especially women, start getting depressed when they realize they are approaching non-child-bearing age and are still far from getting married), income (especially if people need another person’s wage to purchase/rent a home and leave the nest), etc. Many people, at least many of those I’ve encountered, also seem to have a ‘life-plan’ which includes getting married by the age of 30 and having at least 2 children by the age of 35. So, obviously arriving at the age of 28 without having a stable relationship starts ringing emergency bells, since one would then have to grab the first person remotely viable and rush him or her into marriage before the ‘deadline’, in order to complete said plan.

bdjd9g

Having known so many people with this mind-set, from work colleagues, to family members, acquaintances and even neighbors, I wonder. Are the ‘life-plan’ and ‘pinnur’ kind of behavior more prevalent in the Mediterranean or Maltese mind-set, or are they just prevalent in those individuals with low self-esteem and a mulish way of following society’s norms, irrelevantly of their country? Either way, it’s sad that society ends up influencing weaker willed people in this manner. Then again, it’s nothing new is it?

The Poison Garden at Alnwick Gardens

Have you ever fantasised about poisoning someone? Be honest. Well, if you have, you will, perhaps, feel a little less ashamed in knowing that you are not the only one. Testament to this is the notorious ‘Poison Garden’ sprawling, beautiful and deadly, right in the middle of the gardens at Alnwick Castle in northeast England.

I must admit that when I first visited Alnwick Castle, my main motivation for going was the fact that it was one of the main castles used to portray Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter movies. Fandom apart, I love exploring castles whenever I’m abroad and while reading about the various historical attractions one can find in Northumberland, of which there are many, Alnwick caught my attention for many reasons.

Originally built during the 11th century, Alnwick Castle is the second largest inhabited castle in England being the seat of the Duke of Northumberland, who with his family, actively occupies part of the castle to this day.

While trying not to buy too many souvenirs at the gift shop, right after we had purchased our tickets, I was amazed as I looked through the free visitor’s map and pamphlet they had given us, realising how much we had to explore.

Although the castle itself was enormous (all the different parts were labelled in a diagram), the gardens seemed almost to dwarf it, featuring several differently themed sections formally landscaped around a central water cascade. The pamphlet promised a bamboo maze, a large wooden tree house, a number of water fountains and features, a cherry-tree orchard complete with tree-swings, a deer park and many other attractions which I couldn’t wait to see, however what really piqued my interest as soon as I read the sinister-sounding title on the tiny map, was ‘The Poison Garden’.

After asking about it at the gift shop, I was told that this garden was always kept under lock and key, due to the dangerous plants and flowers growing inside and that one could only enter with an official guide at various prescribed times.

Fortunately, the next guided tour was scheduled to start within 15 minutes, so off we went to find the entrance. The cloudy sky and intermittent rain seemed to be the perfect foil for such a grisly tour and as we waited in front of the iron-wrought gate with a number of other visitors huddling underneath rain-jackets and umbrellas, I couldn’t help but wonder at the giant lock and painted skulls warning us off.

Finally, a lady with a jolly smile greeted us, cautioning us against touching anything within  the garden once we were inside. This, she said, was because every tree, plant, leaf and flower inside was highly poisonous, not only through ingestion but even through touch. The gate was opened and we filed in slowly, only to have it clang shut behind us and padlocked once more. Every tree, plant, leaf and flower inside the garden is highly poisonous.

Every tree, plant, leaf and flower inside the garden is highly poisonous.

The first thing we saw as we shivered in the rain and waited for the guide to start explaining the different plants to us, was a large black coffin. Smiling, our guide told us that even though it was not Halloween, that coffin was always there as a warning and to further set the stage for a number of macabre stories relating to the venom-filled bulbs, roots and plants found inside.

The use of poison dates back as far as spiritual and mythical beliefs have been recorded. Our ancestors knew much about the power of plants. They knew not only which parts of the plants were poisonous, but also what quantities to use to kill, cure, drug, or relieve pain.

The multicoloured trees, shrubs and flowers within the Poison Garden glittered sensuously with rain-drops as we made our way around them while hearing stories about their various uses and the gruesome incidents and murders caused by the plants, which had been historically documented.

The pretty blue flowers of Monkshood, also known as Wolf’s Bane, had been used to poison enemy water supplies during times of war in ancient Europe and Asia, which caused numbness of the throat, intense vomiting, diarrhoea, muscular weakness, spasms, paralysis of the respiratory system, and convulsions which could be fatal.

Yet another innocuous-looking shrub was revealed by our guide to be ‘wormwood’, which is one of the ingredients used to make Absinthe. Sporting tiny yellow flowers, wormwood is both a hallucinogenic and an emetic, it is in fact banned in most countries.

Although the ancients knew how to use herbs and plants to heal, it was very easy to misconstrue their dosage or use, thus resulting in a number of ailments and deaths.

Belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade, is well-known today to be made of foliage and berries which are highly toxic, however Venetian ladies used the juice from this plant as a cosmetic. It was, in fact, distilled as eye drops with the aim of enlarging and darkening the pupils, making the eyes look larger and more mysterious, hence the name ‘bella donna’ which means ‘beautiful woman’ in Italian.

The guide told us that the poison in this pant is so effusive, that just three of its tiny sweet-tasting shining black berries are enough to kill an infant.

Our guide also explained that many of the poisonous plants found within the garden at Alnwick grow avidly in the wild and can be erroneously ingested by a pet or child left unsupervised.  Even the common daffodil, that is the narcissus, can be poisonous, since the bulbs contain toxic alkaloids.

As we walked even deeper into the garden, I noticed that one small section in particular was dramatically cordoned off with chains. Seeing me looking at it in undisguised curiosity, the guide smiled and showed us the small sign at its edge. This in fact, was the ‘illegal drug’ section.

 The Poison Garden at Alnwick was often a site for teachers and parents to bring students and children, in order to educate and caution them on drug abuse and the misuse of illegal substances.

She assiduously pointed out that all the illegal plants found in this part of the garden, such as marijuana (cannabis) which is a hallucinogen and cocaine, which causes nose ulcers, convulsions and depression, among other effects, were grown with express permission from the government under a Home Office licence.

Other commonly-found poisonous plants we saw and discussed during our visit included bluebells and snowdrops, whose bulbs are very poisonous when ingested and which can cause nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting.

There was also common Juniper, whose berries can be fatal in small amounts; prickly lettuce, which is a sedative and can be addictive; oleander, which is highly toxic and may cause skin irritation if touched, and death if eaten; the opium poppy, which is a source of morphine, laudanum and heroin; and the tobacco plant, whose nicotine effects are well known.

In other words, if you find yourself walking along a wild garden or forest, be very careful what you smell, touch, or put in your mouth, because even though something may seem pretty and innocuous, appearances can be deceiving!

The exterior of Alnwick Castle.

By the way, this article was originally published by the Maltese newspaper The Sunday Times, however due to a bug embedded in the webpage concerned, I am told that I am unable to share it in any browser for now, which is why I am resorting to my blog.

The url itself, strangely enough, is still working, so if you want to take a look at the original, go here

Update: the bug has been cleared and any shares have been restored… ugh what a mess! Not gonna delete this entry from my blog now anyways. So there!

Dr Klown – Healing with a Smile

In 1998, the Hollywood movie ‘Patch Addams, starring Robin Williams as a doctor who uses humor to help patients through the power of positivity, was introduced to our screens. Although the movie itself received negative criticism, the idea of cheering up patients in hospitals and making them feel better emotionally, as well as physically, took hold. Patch Addams’ red clown nose, which he used as a prop to make children in hospital wards laugh and forget their pains and suffering for a moment, became iconic in that it brought to mind the feelings and thoughts expressed in the movie, that is that patients should be treated and cared for as human beings, and not just as a statistical number.

MV5BNzM4Y2FlNzYtZmY5Yy00NzU4LTk1ODItY2NjYWYzYzUyZGM3L2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_

This red clown nose is also the signature of Dr Klown – a Maltese Non-Government Organisation active at Mater Dei Hospital, which provides entertainment and stress-relief to hospitalized children through fun and laughter.

Dr Klown was set up in 2011 by Jean Paul Fabri and Jean Pierre Busuttil. The team is made up of a number of well-trained volunteers, who visit patients in their wards and give them individual attention, focusing on the adage that ‘laughter is the best medicine’. Dressed in a colorful lab-coat, sometimes sporting a wig, and with the ever-present big red nose, the ‘doctors’ finest adornment is in reality a caring and mischievous smile. Hospitals are generally negative, sad places, where one unfortunately spends most of the time thinking about the issues and problems which led him or her there in the first place. The aim of this NGO is that of bringing in play the power of positivity, encouraging laughter, warmth, and at the very least, a momentary break from one’s worries.

dr-klown-malta

The volunteers who choose to become part of the team need not have any medical knowledge or background, however they undergo rigorous psychological and artistic training, attending a course in theatre and improvisation. Calling themselves ‘clown doctors’, the members of this NGO profess that for them it is the person who matters, not the illness.

In September 2017, to celebrate its 6th year in Malta, Dr KIown organised a fun-filled ‘’Dr Klown Day” at the Sliema-St Julians promenade, with the aim of increasing public awareness about the organisation. The event was supported by: H.E. the President of Malta, the Commissioner for Children, the Director General for Education and Employment, and delegates for Catholic Education, amongst others.

Patch-Adams-Conference-participants-710x375

As an NGO, Dr Klown is dependent on sponsors and donations to fund both the training of its volunteers, as well as sundry expenses such as the buying of necessary props, transport, hosting of activities, etc. Some people choose to donate to Dr Klown as part of their marriage celebrations, opting to share their happiness by purchasing Dr Klown donation cards and presenting them to the wedding guests, instead of the traditional wedding souvenir. A small gesture, but one which makes a difference to the thousands of children who each year, are visited in hospital by Dr Klown. 2018 is also the 4th consecutive year that participants of the Miss World Malta competition are officially raising funds through red noses for this NGO as part of their “Beauty with a Purpose” challenge.

maxresdefault

The moments Dr Klown members get to share with hospitalised children and their families are special and unique. Be it the self-stylized Dr Buttons, Dr Big, Dr Funny, Dr Happy, or any one of the many volunteers, you can be sure that wherever there is a red nose, a funny smile and an endearingly positive attitude, there will also be laughter, good cheer, and a willingness to get better.

For more information about Dr Klown activities, or if you are interested in donating, or becoming a volunteer, kindly visit – http://drklown.org/

klown_balloon-800x321

This article was written by me and originally published on LivingInMalta.com

The Reader

Her parents had no money to waste on books. Electricity and water bills arrived every couple of months, food had to be bought, not to mention stuff to clean the house and clothes with. Raising a child wasn’t cheap. 

When she turned twelve, she discovered ‘pocket money’. All the other children at school seemed to have it and had had it for years. They laughed at her for not knowing what it was. So did her cousins. 

Grabbing courage with two shaking hands, the child timidly went to her mother, and asked about it. After weeks of consultations – days and days of walking on tiptoe, of ‘being good or you can forget any pocket-money’, it was decided. Father gave mother money every week to buy food. She in turn would give the child two Maltese lira a week out of the food money. If she was good. And did as she was told. And did not ‘answer back’.

That money was her life-line. All it took was three weeks. Maybe four. And with her carefully saved hoard she could finally buy a book. One book. 

8fcea3a7e1ef2be78b8746e6a0b39ae7--good-books-my-books

The lady at the shop saw her every week. Maybe twice or three times each week even. Peering assiduously at the shelves. Hair tucked back. Pinching shoes forgotten as glistening eyes devoured each and every corner. Reading the book titles over and over again. Touching the pages, looking at the spines and covers. And of course, the blurps at the back. She must have known the sequencing of all the books on all the shelves by heart. And by the fourth week, when the price of the chosen book had been reached, the money would be handed over, as would the much awaited paper-wrapped treasure.

octopus-1235006_960_720

In her room, she would unwrap it slowly, marveling at its heavenly smell. That particular scent of new paper and stationery. First, she’d introduce it to the other books, then the soft toys, one by one, each one by name. And finally, with a flourish, she’d present it to the room in general, imagining ovations and applause as the new addition to the small family was placed in its particularly chosen spot.

Then she would wait.

She waited for her father to go out. For her mother to be engrossed in one of her soaps on the T.V or in some long-winded conversation on the telephone. Then, and only then, would she crack the book’s spine.

And be lost.

a-book-magic-reading-world-building-writing

 

Love vs Selfishness

It has been said that the way you treat and take care of an animal is a direct indication of the way you treat and communicate with human beings. Unfortunately, there are many people who mistreat and have no idea about how to behave towards animals, let alone the human beings around them!

33ea8e2f8d588c7833d37119b7de3a50--animal-lover-quotes-dog-quotes-love

Here are some tips to consider BEFORE you bring a pet you are supposedly aiming to be responsible for, into your home:

  1. Adopt DON’T buy!

If you really love animals and want one to love unconditionally, his pedigree/how much he’s ‘worth’/where he comes from, shouldn’t matter. Don’t bring a pet into your home if all you want is fodder for social media ‘likes’, or to appear ‘cool’, or different. Better to adopt a dog or a cat who has no one to love him and care for him, rather than buy one from a breeder who, most probably, will be taken care of anyways. 

like-me-300x247

In this regard, there are many options to look at in Malta, and many cute animals in need of help, love and attention. To name but a few organisations and NGOs who take care of such strays, there’s the AAA (Association for Abandoned Animals), Noah’s Arc, The Island Sanctuary, the MSPCA and many more, since unfortunately, there are many such abandoned animals in Malta.

2. Make sure you have the FUNDS to take care of your pet properly

BEFORE deciding to take another household member, it is imperative for you to take stock of your financial situation. Seems like common sense doesn’t it? And yet some people take in one dog, then another, then a third, and then a fourth, before they realize that ‘oh look, the dent in our budget is too big and we cannot afford this – let’s let some of the dogs go’. Don’t be selfish. Be an adult. Think about how you will finance your family before you increase it (and this goes for people who decide to have kids too actually).

3. Make sure you have the TIME to take care of your pet properly

If you are adopting a dog, cat or another pet to love and care for, money is surely not the most important thing you need to have.

abandoned_cat_2_by_zly_kt-d6psdn1

Some time ago, a friend asked me why me and my partner do not have any animals in our home since we love them a lot. My reply was that since we are out of the house for 8 – 10 hours almost every day, not to mention the fact that we love to travel and do so randomly 5 – 8 times a year, it would be very selfish of us to adopt a pet, only to pour it into someone else’s lap whenever we decided to go abroad. Not to mention the fact that he would end up spending more than three-quarters of his life alone! And all this for what? So that we could cuddle him a couple of hours every day? So that we could have someone waiting for us at home when we got back?

Some people actually do use pets in this manner. It may be because they are lonely, or because they are sad, because they live alone, or because they feel like they have no friends. They sign up for the responsibility of pets, when in the long run all they want is something to fill in the emptiness of their lives, even though this would mean that the dog or cat got to live most of his life alone in an empty house. THIS is selfishness.

shutterstock_193928447

And then what happens when they find a partner and are no longer alone? What happens when their family remembers them, they find new friends, or they get a new hobby? Does their love for their pet continue unchanged, or do they just realize that he is no longer needed and try to find a way to chuck him out of their life as if he were a broken toy? That is NOT what love is. And definitely NOT the behavior of responsible adults. How can you abandon someone whom you’ve chosen to love and care for? Unless of course, he was always just a prop you were using for other purposes in the first place. And that is how ‘stray’ dogs and cats are made… 😦 

4. Make sure you have the LOCATION and SPACE to take care of a pet

Can you believe it, some people bring animals into their home as ‘companions’ only to realize that they don’t want them after all… because they ‘ruin the furniture’?! Seriously? First of all, how come you didn’t think of this before? And secondly, if your furniture is more important than a living breathing creature who loves you and wants to be with you, well then, you are not worthy of having one! Again… SELFISHNESS

And what about those who abandon their pets when they decide to relocate to a new and more expensive house? Again, ‘because we don’t want our new furniture to be ruined’? Wow, that’s love for you! Ugh!

If one decides to be responsible for a pet, that should be for life. You can’t chuck a cat/dog out of your house simply because you realize his presence has become ‘inconvenient’. Would you do that if you had a child and suddenly realized that playing mummy or daddy was not what you thought it would be? 

53e562583a3fd.image

So, yes, I feel very strongly about this subject, because I genuinely love animals and always have. Ever since I was little, no animal of mine has ever lived in a cage, and I hate leashes with a passion. Currently, I realize that it wouldn’t be fair to bring an animal to live with me and my partner because our lifestyle simply means that we cannot give any pet the necessary time and attention he would deserve, so instead of selfishly getting one anyways, we just don’t.

Some people would say that at least if you adopt a dog, he’d be living cozily in your home instead of with a multitude of other strays at a sanctuary – but then again, better for said dog to be adopted from the sanctuary by a loving family who can actually spend quality time with him and take him out rather than him spending his days alone in an empty house.

After all, this is what love is all about. Thinking of the other, instead of only about yourself. Which is why, coming back to the argument I mentioned at the beginning of the article, I truly believe that the way you treat your pets, shows the way you also treat people. If all you think about is yourself, then there is no actual relationship to speak of, be it a dog or a human being. Pets, unfortunately, don’t have the mental faculties or physical capacity to open the front door and walk out of your life if they are fed up with your selfish behavior. Humans do. 

8pGwQk9