The History of the Maltese Carnival

Carnival in Malta has a long history. The word itself originates from the Italian phrase ‘carne vale’, which means ‘meat is allowed’, since Carnival itself is usually celebrated before the start of Lent, during which meat consumption was not permitted by the Catholic church.photo-by-photocity-3-copy-1100x616

Although the origins of Carnival themselves have pagan roots, tracing back to the follies of the Roman Saturnalia and beyond, we first find actual traces of it in the Maltese islands as of the 1400s, as records were found at the general hospital which indicate that patients were given special meals for this festivity. Food and drink in fact are an important aspect of Carnival, as is the wearing of masks and costumes, signifying the suspension of the normal order of things where social class was all-defining. During Carnival, everyone could make merry. It was a time for jokes, laughter and pranks.

Carnival festivities increased during the time of the Order of Saint John, and the traditional ‘parata’, the sword-dance marking the victory of the Maltese and the Knights against the Turks during the siege of 1565, was introduced. The ‘kukkanja’ was also introduced at this time, this was a sort of game whereby all sorts of food and sweets were tied to a tree-trunk, and the general public was allowed to run and climb the trunk to pick items of food as presents.

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Carnival started to decline during the 19th century when the British governed the islands, as it was not part of British culture, however it still managed to survive. ‘Veljuni’ or masked balls were held in major theaters around Valletta, and even the British governor used to take part in the revelry. When Malta was granted the Constitution in 1921, Carnival evolved even further. Since 1926, outdoor Carnival festivities started being organised in Valletta by special committee. Carnival started to include a défilé of floats, carts and cabs featuring imaginary colorful figures, manned by young people in costume who would blow whistles, throw colored confetti, sound horns and jeer at the crowd while wearing beautifully crafted costumes. Shops or organisations sponsored these floats and they used the event also as an advertisement for their products. In fact, carnival boosts business since street hawkers, vendors and shopkeepers, not to mention bakers, start to plan for it well in advance.

Up to 1974, a part of Valletta’s main square was fenced to create an enclosure which offered space for dancing. Later, the enclosure was relocated to Freedom Square, however when this was closed for the building of Parliament, the enclosure was taken back to Saint George Square.

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Many people could be seen masquerading through the streets as of pre-war days. Some dressed up as ghosts, demons, clowns and fairies, while others simply wore masks. The Maltese Carnival always contained an element of political satire. Grotesquely costume masquers, not to mention floats or ‘karrijiet’ which derided and caricatured particular events and prominent figures, were and are plentiful during this time.

This article was published on LivingInMalta.com – a complete version of it can be found here.

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Mini-break in Sicily – Day 4 – Mount Etna!

My short mini-break ended with a bang – in more ways than one.

First of all, we had planned this day to be the climax of the trip. We had booked a Jeep ride up Mount Etna, and were very fortunate in that, even though generally such a tour caters for 6-8 people, since it was December there wasn’t a high demand at this time of year, and the private tour was just that – private, meaning that we were to be the only two people with the guide!

That was very fortunate considering the fact that in the middle of the night, I had woken up suffering from sciatica. My back was really killing me and I had seriously thought about not going up Mount Etna at all. My condition was so chronic that my whole left side, starting from my lower back down to my left leg, was totally frozen and very painful. I could hardly walk. Which is why being alone with the guide helped a lot, as he could keep a slower pace, while also helping my boyfriend aid me walk.

As you’ve probably realized, even though I was feeling awful, I still went up the mountain! I couldn’t miss such an opportunity which might never come again!

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After we met our guide and explained my situation, we started driving up the mountain while we joked, talked, and learned about it’s history and volcanic formation. There have been various eruptions and lava flows, which created a multitude of craters, caves and rock formations over the years all around Mount Etna. In fact, on the way we stopped to admire just such a crater. The red soil, which once had been lava, was truly beautiful. The colors deepened and changed depending on how many years had gone by since the eruption. I did not know this, but the guide told us that even though during the first few years, the earth where lava flowed was arid, afterwards it actually became more fertile than normal and it led to the cultivation of certain plants and trees, which were very special. If, for example, one was to plant fruit trees, these would produce fruits much redder in color than usual, and with a particularly strong flavor and taste. There was quite a market for this kind of produce.

Afterwards, we continued our journey up Mount Etna. I could actually see the fuming craters even from far off, and I was so excited as they kept getting closer and closer! The weather was quite warm and the sun was shining, it was all so amazing and I was really glad I hadn’t cancelled the trip, even though my pain did not abate during it.

At last, we arrived at the visitor’s center which is almost at the top of the Mountain. We stopped and walked around, that is, I tried to walk while leaning on my boyfriend. The panoramic views were more than worth the pain!! I found out that our guide was also quite a spiritual person, in that he believed in the pull of the earth and that certain points of the land are special, which I do too. Mother Earth is truly a force to be reckoned with.

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We also went down into a cave which had been naturally formed and excavated with the passage of the lava-flow. There are many like it around the volcano.

Lastly, the guide took us for a short walk on the other side of the mountain, through a dense and beautiful forest that had sprung up in the wake of the oldest eruption. We had to climb up some rough terrain, which was not easy for me without the use of my left leg, however I had the help of two strong burly men (my bf and the guide), so I managed wonderfully. Again, the panoramic views of the other side of the mountain, and the small villages and towns of Sicily which one could admire in the distance, were more than worth it.

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In the evening, we went to eat at, I admit, one of the tastier and most delicious places I’ve been to in my life. This was an agritourism – a farm where they served very fresh, traditional and typical food of the region, all of it produced and cultivated by the family who took care of the restaurant themselves!

I am just so in love with Sicilian food! In my opinion it is the best cuisine in the world! And the portions… phew!!!

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P.S My sciatica did not get any better by the way. When we got back home, I had to take a week off sick from work and stay in bed for days before I could walk without wincing.

Mini-Break in Sicily – Day 3

Our third day in Sicily was mostly spent in and around Syracuse, which is a must-see if one visits this part of the island. Not because of any major city-attractions, or night clubs, or even markets, though I am sure there are many of these – however I wanted to visit Syracuse in order to experience its great cultural and historical wealth.

Our first destination was the Archaeological Park of the Neapolis. This area is filled with a number of monuments belonging to different historical time-periods, like the amazing Greek theater, built originally in the 5th century BC. 

To the east of the theater there is the so-called ‘Latomia del Paradiso’ – (The Paradise Quarry) which used to really be a quarry, however today is an evergreen park filled with lush Mediterranean vegetation and beautiful natural rock formations. The most famous of these is surely the Ear of Dionysus; an impressive cave so called due to its shape as well as the great acoustics. 

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Next up in the park was the Roman theater, which though over-grown with vegetation, is still something to see. After exploring the park, we went to the eerie and gothic Catacombs of San Giovanni, and after that the historical center of Ortygia, as well as the Duomo of Syracuse.

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Now I must be honest here – after I started writing this blog post, it somehow transformed into a full-fledged article, which I decided to polish and send to one of my editors for publication into a local Maltese newspaper. This is why I will not be putting on the rest of the article itself here, nor any more details about the places I visited. Once the article is published, I will add the link to the newspaper’s website itself 😀

Mini-Break in Sicily – Day 2

This is my second blog post recounting my short mini-break in Sicily at the beginning of last December – the post relating to the first part of the journey can be found here.

The second day of our stay was VERY warm. I had honestly thought it would be quite chilly, which is why I had only taken 4 jerseys and a very thick jacket with me. We only had a hand luggage each since this was going to be a short stay, so I had to make do with what I had, even though walking for hours in the stifling sun with those thick clothes was a trial. The clear blue skies above and the amazing views which surrounded me more than made up for the sacrifice though!

First of all, we visited the breathtaking hilltop town of Taormina. Found on the East Coast of Sicily, we only had to drive for around an hour and a half from our accommodation in Noto to get there. Thing is, since Taormina is situated on a very high hilltop, parking there is almost impossible, as there is hardly any space at all for the residents, much less for tourists. The narrow medieval cobbled streets, the twisting alleys and sharp corners, leave no room for cars. And if you ask me, this is also part of pretty Taormina’s charm. This meant that we had to leave the car in a large underground parking-lot at the foot of the hill. However since the parking fee also included the use of a free shuttle bus up the hill, this was actually a Godsend (believe me you do NOT want to try to walk up there on foot!).

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For those who may wish to visit in future, the car-park we used is the Parcheggio Lumbi. More info can be found here – http://www.traveltaormina.com/it/arrivare-e-muoversi/parcheggi-taormina.html

Taormina is a very beautiful little town, rich in historical gems and beautiful gardens. In ancient times it was even protected with a triple fortification system. Traces of these walls can be seen even today. Just a few hundred miles from the town’s northern gate, one can find the historical ruins of an Arabian Necropolis. Unfortunately, this is not as grand as it sounds, since all that remains are a few arches and stones in the middle of some residential buildings. While walking around romantic Taormina, we also visited Palazzo Corvaja, which today is an art gallery.

The highlight of Taormina is undoubtedly the ancient Greek Theater, which is built on the highest part of the hill. It is the second largest such theater in Sicily (after the theater in Syracuse, which we visited too on another day… more later) and perhaps the most breathtaking thing about it are the magnificent views one can see all around from the top of the ruins. Needless to be said, my camera worked VERY hard here!

After wallowing in the beauty of ancient Greek architecture, we made our way to the Villa Comunale, or public gardens. These were graced with statues in the memory of the fallen during the war, a pond with pretty red goldfish, long cobbled walks among the lush vegetation and flowers, as well as some amazing characteristic pagoda-style towers with arabesque designs, made of bricks and edged with lava stones.

Again, one could not only see Taormina beach and the Mediterranean sea from the gardens, but also the mountains and the whole of Taormina spread like a magnificent flower. Just look at these pics!

We simply had to stop here, sit down and bask in the beauty of it all. Not to mention eating our sandwiches, as we were famished after all that walking!

Our last stop for the day was the medieval historic village of Castelmola, situated just on the hill above and behind Taormina itself. Castelmola was a real find, even though unfortunately, all the coffee shops and restaurants were closed by the time we arrived. ‘Unfortunately’, because I had heard that strangely enough, many of these coffee shops sport collections of statues having big phalluses… hmm lol

Castelmola is mostly famous for its magnificent views though, mostly those which can be admired from the top of its ruined medieval fort, which today is a restaurant and entertainment center. We could not admire the panorama 360 degrees, due to the mist coming down from the mountains, however the creepy atmosphere created by the spooky weather was in itself a wonder to behold.

Living in Fear – Terrorism and Death

Political and economic turmoil have led to a number of issues with possible reverberations throughout the globe. Apart from this, during the past few years, the percentage of terrorist attacks and unrest in the streets all over Europe has also increased dramatically. Some people have elected to chuck their passport at the bottom of a drawer and resign themselves to never travel outside of their own country again. Others read the news assiduously in order to try and find some pattern or conspiracy theory whereby certain countries are deemed 100% safe from such attacks, during certain months or periods of the year.

I personally refuse to be intimidated.

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Yes, one must obviously take precautions, both in the streets and abroad. In fact, one must be careful not to squander away one’s life, or the life belonging to others, no matter what the context. Every child knows that, and it’s plain survival instinct. That doesn’t mean that we have to stop living. It certainly doesn’t mean that we have to construct a self-imposed cage for us to cower in, beset with fears of all types, instead of being free to live our lives as we choose.

Accidents can take place anywhere and at any time – in the home, while at school, at work, or on a bus. So can episodes of violence we have no control over, or even natural disasters. We could get sick, fall down the stairs, be the victim of an earthquake. Such is the frailty of human life, which, as we all know, is finite. Our days, in a word, are numbered, which is why it’s so important to enjoy and make the most of each and every one of them.

We could, keep ourselves hostage.

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Would it really be worth it? It’s one thing to be cautious, and quite another to let the fear of the unknown transform us into shivering pieces of fluff.

Of course there are bad people in this world, just as there is violence, and you can come across these issues everywhere. The point is not to transform terror into the focal point of your life. Don’t let anyone dictate how you should live, think or feel. Be independent, be self-assured, be happy and friendly with those you meet, travel the globe and enjoy yourself.

This is an abridged version of an article I wrote, which was published on the magazine EVE.COM.MT. For the full article, please go to http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/12/31/why-we-shouldnt-live-in-fear/ 

PERSONAL – December Ups and Downs

This has been one roller-coaster of a month. Plenty of highs and lows. So, in a nutshell:

During the first week of December, me and my boyfriend went to Sicily for a short 4-day break. You can read the first part of how that went here, but I’ve still got to continue writing about the rest of the trip. You might ask yourself – why is she taking this long to write about a mere 4-day long trip? The point is, I love travelling – I am simply enchanted by the plethora of emotions, new thoughts and ways of perceiving the world which open up whenever I set foot in a country different from my own, with ‘exotic’ mentalities, colors, history and trends, SO I actually don’t find it that easy to describe it all when I come back, because there is just SO MUCH TO SAY! In fact, if you look through my past posts, you’ll realize that I’ve never actually sat down and documented each and every one of the places I’ve traveled to – simply because there are so many of them. However I told myself I’d make an attempt with this 4-day Sicily trip just to see how it would go. Anyhow, there you have it, still to be continued. And don’t worry, it WILL be, all in its own good time.

Got sidetracked there. Sorry.

On our last day in Sicily, I woke up suffering from some serious back-pain. Sciatica to be precise. The pain extended down to my left leg and I could hardly walk. Needless to be said, the last day was the climax of our trip, as we had planned on going for a jeep-trip up Mount Etna… you think I flunked that? AS IF! I still went. Hopping and wincing and dragging my sorry carcass up the whole mountain. And boy, was I glad I did!

More of that in future posts relating to the actual holiday.

We came back on the 12th. Tuesday 13th was a local Public Holiday so I didn’t have to go to work, and spent the whole day in bed resting and hoping my back would get better. It didn’t. On Wednesday, I went to the doctors’ who gave me pills, painkillers, and the advice to get MORE rest. So, that was the second week of December – which I spent in bed sleeping off my pills.

Luckily for me, the pain retreated, and I was okeyish for the weekend. This was important since my birthday was on Saturday 17th, and I knew that my boyfriend had planned the whole weekend with events for me. That is what we do – I plan stuff for his birthday and he plans stuff for mine. We spent some days meeting friends and family, and I really enjoyed that. Kudos luv! Not to mention that one of the pressies I received is a nice voucher from Ryanair to be redeemed by November 2017! Yay!

On Monday I felt a bit better and so went back to work, taking a large cake with me for my colleagues in celebration of my birthday. The cake was in fact so large, that we are still eating from it (we are a small department). And today is the 27th! During the third week of December we also had our ‘official’ Xmas party at work. The food, I admit, wasn’t anything spectacular, HOWEVER I did make up for it with alcohol consumption… enough said. Unfortunately this also meant that I was too tipsy and suffering from a hangover to actually do my Yule ritual. Ah well, I’m sure the Gods didn’t mind all that much since I celebrated with libation anyways.

On the 24th I cooked and slaved the whole day to prepare an enormous family dinner. Family members came late, and I was quite angry about that, but it was ok in the end and the food was a huge success. We still have our fridge packed with delicious left-overs. On the 25th we ate an enormous Indian buffet, after which Aunt Flo came to visit, and actually floored me. I had to stay home and rest to cope with that, so I missed another family gathering in the evening.

I’m so so tired of eating… AND YES my weight has gone up again! Frankly after noticing the first 3 kilos, I stayed away altogether from the bathroom scales… they scare me.

January will come soon enough, and then it will be time to face the music all right!

 

Mini-Break in Sicily – Day 1

We were quite lucky this December as Thursday 8th and Tuesday 13th, which are Maltese national holidays, made it possible for us to take a 6-day break from work without taking too many days off. Since people don’t work during National Holidays we just needed to take Friday 9th and Monday 12th as Vacation Leave off from work and off we went for a 4-night mini break to the nearby island of Sicily!

Thanks to Ryanair the flight was only 30euro each – yes with the return flight included! And we only needed hand luggage for those few days so we didn’t even need to pay for extra luggage.

I just love Sicily. Had already visited twice, once during the first year with my boyfriend (it was our first holiday together) and the second time was just last June! Thing is flights there are so cheap and there is so much to see and experience that I never tire of going there to relax and explore!

We usually take the flight to the Airport in Trapani and stay in the Western side of Sicily. This time we took a flight to the Airport of Catania on the Eastern part of the island instead so we visited an entirely different region.

The flight from Malta only took 35 minutes – yes we are THAT close! We arrived in the afternoon and there was enough time to visit the Christmas market in Catania itself before heading to the self catering apartment we had rented in the historical city of Noto, which is approximately an hour away by car from Catania.

I admit, the Christmas open market was smaller than I thought it would be, yet its charm was that everything was handmade and so very cute and original! Loved those stalls!

After a quick trip to a local supermarket for milk, cereal and other needful things, off we went to discover our new apartment which we had only seen in photos. Needless to be said we were charmed – wouldn’t you be? Look at my pics!

That night we decided on a quite eve in. We wanted to enjoy some time alone plus the excitement had tired us out. We cooked some burgers and chips and cuddled while planning what to do on day Number 2… not to mention enjoying that big TV!

More about Day 2 in a future post!

A Writer’s Satisfaction

I must admit, researching and writing interviews is not my favorite form of writing. Of course, I do love the opportunity to meet new people and discover different modes of expression, not to mention taking part in the artistic local scene, since most of the interviews I conduct usually center around either artists or cultural events. However, some part of me still feels that this is not the sort of writing I’m meant to focus on.

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Still, it brings me great pleasure to see how my interviews are so very well-received.

My two latest interviews were totally different in nature. Both resulted in quite different, yet very pleasant results. The first such article, published on The Sunday Times of Malta, which is a leading weekly local newspaper, centered around a Japanese Cultural event in Malta and included an interview with the Secretary General of the Japanese Association. As a result of it being published, the Ambassador of Japan to Malta contacted me personally, asking for a soft copy of the article, in order for it to be shared and distributed among various Japanese cultural associations, as its fervor would further promote the communication between our two countries. I was really flattered about this! Imagine Japanese organisations, Ministries, and many other people in Japan will be reading my article! 

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The other interview which was published a couple of days ago concerns a local painter and was published on EVE magazine. The artist in question is not very well known, yet he was so pleased with the interview that he left the following comment on EVE’s website, which I really appreciate:

‘I’d like to thank Melisande Aquilina, for this fantastic article about my love towards art. She has done a really excellent job. I feel tremendously grateful towards her talent as a writer. Melisande is giving a great contribution towards persons like me, whose work is hardly known. This is a great day for me, thanks to you Melisande.’

Thank YOU!

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The article in question can be found here – http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/12/04/benny-brimmer-painting-in-light-and-shadow/

The interview which was published on The Sunday Times is unfortunately not available online as a whole.

Things like these are what really make my day!

 

Travelling Bucket List – Natural Wonders around the World!

Being both a list-maniac and a globe-trotter means that I have a never-ending bucket list of places I want to visit and countries I want to travel to.

Technically it’s not a list, because it’s on an Excel sheet, so I guess you’d call it a spreadsheet. Anyways, this plethora of monuments, ruins, heritage sites, palaces and religious places has one particular special section entitled Natural Wonders. And as the name itself specifies, it concerns those spectacular vistas, amongst which are forests, waterfalls, mountains, caves, and deserts which were created solely by Mother Nature, and which, for the most part, remain untouched by man.

This part of the list is extensive, and I’m sure many more target locations will be added to it in future. Dreams, like stars, are infinite. Here are some of the places I wish to visit, and journeys I hope to make someday. Of course, dreams never take practical issues, like money or time, into account, so I don’t actually know when, or if ever, it’ll be possible for me to go there. Still, one can always hope!

The Aurora Borealis – This is not, strictly speaking, a place, and yet there are many places where one can admire it. The Northern Lights have been something I’ve wanted to experience ever since I was a little girl. My mind knows that, scientifically, it’s a phenomenon which takes place when there are “collisions between electrically charged particles released from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen.” And yet, the thought of a naturally-produced light show sounds truly magical. Sometimes referred to as Polar Light, this sky display can be admired in different places such as Alaska, USA,  Northern Canada, Northern Russia, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

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The rest of this article was published on EVE.COM.MT and can be read here – http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/11/17/natural-wonders-around-the-world/ 

Maltese Door Knockers

One cannot visit Malta without noticing the typical Maltese architecture prevalent in most cities and villages around the islands. When it comes to the embellishment of their traditional houses and monuments, the Maltese are one of the most colourful and creative country in Europe, decorating their facades with picturesque balconies, sculptured windows and shutters, and whimsical door-knockers.

History tells us that in pre-medieval and early medieval times, people did not knock on doors, but in fact used to scratch at them in order to announce their presence. Today, this may sound very strange and unpractical, yet one must remember that few if any Maltese used to actually lock their doors at the time, and that bashing at one’s facade was considered quite rude.

With the passage of time, the practice of scratching at doors was replaced with knocking, and this is how the “ħabbata” or door knocker, entered the picture. These door-knockers, which were available in numerous motifs, shapes and sizes, were to be found on every town house and dwelling, and helped the residents to either open or close their doors more easily. Door knockers could be made of ceramic, metal, or even brass, and each door usually had two of them – one on each side, or wing, of the main door, which was thus given a more stately and elegant look.

At the time, these door knockers were very important in that they served as a symbol of the status of the family who lived within the walls of the particular house. Knockers consisting merely of a plain ring denoted a simple family, whereas more elaborate rich knockers were a sign of affluence and power. The door knockers also reflected the personality and even the work or history of the family, in that they could portray the family crest or an allusion to it.

There are different types of door knockers in Malta.The traditional type consists of a ball or boss with holes at the side, from which a heavy semi-circular ring hangs. Usually in the middle of this ring, there is a small ball which hits against a round boss fixed to the door at a lower level. These types of knockers, which were often coloured black, could be found on all types of urban or rural buildings, even farmhouses. With time, more elaborate door knockers started to be crafted or imported. Sometimes the knocker ball was transformed into the head of a slave, an animal, a gargoyle, or a family crest. These would have holes in their faces or main part, from which a semi-circular ring hung. The sea-faring nature of the island was reflected in many of the most recurrent motifs like dolphins, seahorses, and sirens.

The upper classes and the members of the aristocracy had large baroque brass door knockers fixed to their main doors, in order to impress any visitor who might come to call. Door knockers also advertised the level of cleanliness of the house, as their shine would show the visitor that the family could employ maids who took care to polish and wax such decorations regularly.

As time passed, mechanical doorbells and intercoms started to take the place of door knockers, in that these were actually cheaper and produced a louder sound. Nonetheless, many people not only maintain the traditional knockers, but also continue to commission new designs, in a bid to conserve and highlight the unique identity of Malta, and preserve its heritage.

Just take a relaxed stroll down the idyllic cobbled streets of Valletta, Mdina or Cittadella, not to mention other typical villages like Qormi or Birkirkara, and you will certainly have the opportunity to admire many of these authentic works of art.

This article of mine was published on http://livinginmalta.com/miscellaneuos/maltese-door-knocker/