Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Il-Maqluba: Malta's Sinkhole

On the outskirts of the village of Qrendi, beneath a chapel dedicated to St  Matthew, is a circular depression in the ground. It is known as ‘Il-Maqluba’ which roughly translates to ‘the overturned'. This natural depression is said to have been formed in 1343 after a particularly severe winter, possibly accompanied by an earthquake. Il-Maqluba was formed by the collapse of the underlying limestone strata. In geological terms, this is known as a doline or sinkhole. The sinkhole itself is 15 metres deep and has a perimeter of 300 metres. It supports a variety of trees such as bay laurel, sandarac gum, carob and hawthorne and other endemic vegetation The sinkhole collects water from the surrounding fields and country-side which accounts for the lush vegetation growing inside it even during the height of summer. That is the scientific explanation for the sinkhole and a possible theory about how it was formed.

Sincerely Loree: Il-Maqluba, Malta

Sincerely Loree: Il-Maqluba, Malta

Sincerely Loree: Il-Maqluba, Malta

But there is, of course, is a more colourful story, the legend recounted by word of mouth from one generation to the next. It is said that a small village of evil people lived right over the area where the depression is today. A pious lady who lived where the chapel of St Matthew is now situated repeatedly warned her neighbours to change their evil ways – to no avail. As a result, God decreed that the ground beneath the village would collapse, sparing no one except the good woman. Angels were then sent to dispose of the hamlet by dumping it at sea. According to this legend this is how the small island of Filfla, a few miles off the south-west coast of Malta, originated. I suppose that this one of those instances when the legend is so much more interesting than the truth.

Sincerely Loree: Il-Maqluba, Malta

Sincerely Loree: Il-Maqluba, Malta

Sincerely Loree: Il-Maqluba, Malta

Monday, 13 September 2021

Book Talk: Ordinary Grace

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kruger - a book review

My rating: 3.5

Frank Drum, the son of a Methodist preacher, is 13 years old  in the summer of 1961.  The Drum family lives in New Bremen (MN), as small town lost in a sea of cornfields on the banks of the  Minnesota River. It's the type of small town where the locals all know each other and any strangers, and those that don't 'fit in', are viewed with suspicion. It's not a very exciting place for a teenager to live in because nothing much happens - until that fateful summer of 1961, when death visits frequently and takes many forms. It is a summer during which Frank Drum is forced to grow up.
Sincerely Loree: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kruger

The small town setting in rural MN would have been completely alien to me had I not met and married a country boy. My husband grew up amid cornfields, except in his case it was a farming town in northern MO instead of MN and the river close to his hometown is the mighty Mississippi. Over the years we have spent many vacations in this rustic corner of MO, so I've learnt quite a little but about small-town life: the streams and tributaries running off the Mississippi; the muddy banks overgrown with weeds and reeds; the lush greenery; the heat and humidity; the giant mosquitoes; the boredom that a teenager might feel; the longing to get away and the overwhelming urge to meddle in the affairs of grown-ups.

In some ways, reading Ordinary Grace made me feel like I was looking into small snippets of my husband's boyhood, such is the novel's excellent sense of place. Overall I enjoyed this book that got me really immersed in small-town life and which reminded me of the movie Stand By Me. The characters in this book were well written and the developments of Frank's younger brother, Jake, from a stuttering child to the boy who was able to deliver the 'ordinary grace' that bears the title of this book, is beautifully done. Likewise, the tensions between the grown-ups, their regrets, secrets and hidden traumas, provide a solid back-bone that anchor this narrative and provide the (older) reader with characters with which they can identify. Enough was left unsaid to give depth to the narrative and allow for a little bit of mystery. After all, which adult is ever an open book? I'm sure we all have hidden secrets and memories that we keep to ourselves and leaving some times left unsaid made the characters more credible. 

So why didn't I give this book a higher rating? Mainly due to the following reasons:
  • There were many instances when very long sentences were not broken up by any type of punctuation and this made them difficult to be read and understood. Tighter editing would have easily resolved this and it's a pity that it wasn't.
  • Likewise, there were many sentences with a repetitive 'and', for example 'trustworthy and loyal and thrifty and brave and clean and reverent'. These were probably instances of poetic licence but they jarred with me (because I'm finicky like that).
  • The final red herring that was probably meant to confuse the reader for a few more pages actually gave the game away and it would have been better if it was left out.
Ordinary Grace  is a character-driven novel that is very evocative of time and place. It is a beautifully written, wholesome book about the events of a tumultuous summer that stays with you long after you put it down. Perhaps I just need to be a bit kinder when I'm awarding stars.

Trigger warnings: attempted suicide, death (in many forms)

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

A Sense Of An Ending

There's a sense of finality to September. A hint, even on this sun-scorched island, that summer is coming to an end.  The swifts are back and we've had our first storm. Clouds sail gracefully across the sky like enormous cotton balls and, although the sun's rays feel as warm as a lover's kiss, its power is waning and, with that, comes a sense of relief. The beaches are mostly deserted, lifeguard stands  are empty now and there is, already, a feeling of neglect as seaweed gathers on the waterline and the beach vendors move to more profitable locales. It is too early to think of woollen hats and cold fingers. But the promise is there.

Sincerely Loree

I have been absent from here for a while, making the most of the lazy, hazy days of August but I know it's time to lift my metaphorical socks up (it's still too warm to wear real ones) and look to the next few months. There is much that I want to share in these gentle autumn months: a few book reviews, a bit more about Malta - the unspoilt pretty Malta that I continue to seek - and the little things that make life special and worthwhile. A trip to  Tuscany might take place. The season for apple and cinnamon-scented candles is on the horizon and the thought of cosy evenings and fluffy fleece blankets makes me almost giddy with pleasure. In autumn there is renewal; a season of misty mornings and crispy evenings  that delights my soul. Because, unlike many, I am a creature of rain and storms and the north-west wind, that tosses the sea into a frenzy and howls and shrieks outside my bedroom window, is my best friend. The golden melancholy of autumn and the wildness of winter delight me in ways that make me want to speak in poetry if I could.  It is hard to find the right words in summer, when the air is heavy with so much more than heat and which has perfectly summed up by my dear friend Heather in her poem As Summer Slipped By

Sincerely Loree

As I write this, the sun is golden outside my window. Occasionally it hides behind a cloud, plunging the room into greyness. I miss my boy, away camping with his Boy Scout troop, knowing, deep down, that this is just a foretaste of things to come. Of when he'll fly away, like the swifts, to make his own life. And what then? 'What then?' indeed. Perhaps it's time to think of  things I would like to do and how I would like to grow. Of new challenges to pursue. Perhaps it's time to think of slightly altering my path. There's a whole world out there and I've only experienced a portion of it. A sliver. But there is so much  more. So much muchness ripe for the picking.

Sometimes I can barely sleep, thinking of ways I can transform myself: from the clothes I wear to the books I read and the words I write. I feel the need to almost turn myself inside out. To reach into that secret place, where no one else is allowed, and think. About summer and that sense of an ending. About autumn and the possibility of new beginnings.

Sincerely Loree

Monday, 9 August 2021

Life Lately: Heatwaves

 It is August and summer is rolling by. The heat is so intense that even the geckos and lizards hide in cool, shady nooks throughout the day, only venturing out after sunset. The cicadas, on the other hand, screech incessantly in what appears to be a drunken stupor, probably brought on by sunstroke as nothing else adequately explains the sheer joy they seem to feel as the temperature rise to record-breaking heights.

Sincerely Loree

In our family, summers are a quiet time and last summer and this one have been even more so. In our boredom we have 'adopted' one of the geckos in our yard and named it Beau Regard. It reminds me of the name of some medieval castle or a Southern gentleman from the antebellum days. Beau Regard happily squats on the insect screen of our living room door every evening and diligently feeds on any mosquito that lands there. He is my favourite form of pest-control and will soon become very fat from his daily banquets on tiger mosquitoes. Summer seems to make me silly and you can read about last summer's bout of silliness here.

Rose-coloured glasses

They say we should never dwell too long on the past because nostalgia wears rose-coloured glasses. My memories of childhood summers are always rosy: long days at the beach and evenings spent playing hopscotch or riding our bikes blend seamlessly with each other, creating a notion of golden days and happy times. Perhaps that is why the collection of memories that I had written about in The Summers Of My Childhood remains one of my favourites pieces t hat I have ever written.

Sincerely Loree

Local hero

Neil Agius is a long-distance Maltese swimmer and former Olympian. He recently completed a 125km swim from the island of Linosa to Malta which landed him in the record books. Neil's aim is to raise awareness about the harm that plastic pollution is doing to the sea and to marine life. He has created the NGO Wave of Change which urges beachgoers to pick up any plastic trash from beaches or from the sea and dispose of it properly. Participants have been asked to tag their photos with #wave of change and #doublethe wave and to share them on social media. While this is a local initiative, plastic pollution in our seas and oceans is a world-wide problem. So anyone living close to the water can participate and it would be fun to see how far these two hashtags will travel.

On my radar

I have been following Patty B on Instagram for a few months now and am completely in love with her evening bags. They are so pretty that I cannot decide which one I like best. Patrizia Mattoni is the designer behind Patty B. She has been designing bags since 2014 out of her workshop in Rome.
Website: Patty B.
Instagram: pattybricks

I was wasting some time on the Internet, as one does when one has some time to waste or does not want to do what they actually should be doing, when I came across this article about a doll restorer. Rebecca di Biagio painstakingly restores dolls in her workshop in Milan and donates them to loving owners. Her 'Adopt A Doll' campaign started last year during the worst of the lockdown and is still going strong. Di Biagio's aim is to stop these dolls ending up in a landfill and to reduce the consumerist culture which tells us that what we have is never enough. I think that this is a very worthy initiative and hope that other people will take the time to restore pre-loved objects, thus preventing them from ending up in the trash.

I know that many of you enjoy book suggestions and Jeanne, from Collage of Life, has come up with a list of books about women who are 'sassy, strong and brave'. If you think that you'd be interested in reading about such women, you can find the link here.

Sincerely Loree

And I think I'll leave it at that for today. If you're having too much rain, please blow it over here as we desperately need some to cool things down a bit.

P.S. I added these photos in the hope that the sight of the cool, blue water will remind me that there is a perfect remedy for heatwaves just a few miles away. 
I also wanted to point out that the cloudiness in some areas of the water is due to a geologoical layer of blue clay that is very prevalent  in the area where the photos were taken.

Monday, 26 July 2021

Books I read in 2021: Part 2

I haven't been in a blogging mood lately. It seems I've lost my mojo. I will, obviously, blame the heat. But it also has to do with the seasonal laziness that comes with summer - even though I managed to keep to a schedule last year it's another story this time round.  Anyway, here's an overview of the books that I read between April and June 2021. Hopefully my inspiration will return in the coming weeks.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

A plane crashes on its way from New York to Los Angeles with 192 passengers on board. Edward Adler, 12 years old, is the only survivor. This book is his coming of age story.

Sincerely Loree: Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

To be honest, I don't know why I decided I wanted to read this book as I found it quite depressing and although we are offered glimpses into the lives of several passengers on board the plane, I kept myself emotionally detached from them because I knew from the start how things would end end. I also found the technical details about why the plane crashed unnecessary and leaving them out would not have detracted from the story.

My rating: 3.0 ⭐

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

You may read my full review of The Enchanted April here
My rating: 4.0⭐

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Two murders, four memorable septuagenarians, a few far-fetched situations, several shifty characters with a questionable past and links to the criminal underworld, and a very patient and understanding detective chief inspector made for an easy-going murder mystery that I totally enjoyed reading.
Sincerely Loree: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
This book is funny in places and poignant in others but it's definitely never boring. I thought that The Thursday Murder Club was a very entertaining read.
My rating: 3.9 ⭐

Guernica by Dave Boling

This debut novel tells the story of two families before and during the Spanish Civil War.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It introduced me to the horrific bombing of the Basque city of Guernica in April 1937 by the Germans and the Italians that, I am embarrassed to admit, I had never heard about. Guernica is a work of historical fiction that I thought was very well written. One of its strongpoints is the cast of colourful characters, some of which, like Justo Ansotegui and his beautiful and charismatic daughter, Miren, are hard to forget. The ending reads a bit like a fairy-tale but it didn't mar my enjoyment of this story in any way.
My rating: 4.0⭐

Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

I am sure that the story of Captain Antonio Corelli and the beautiful Pelagia, that was turned into a highly popular movie in 2001, needs no introduction. In a nutshell it is a story about a young woman who falls in  love with one of the Italian soldiers who is posted to the island of Cephallonia during WW2 as part of the occupying forces.
Sincerely Loree: Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
Having seen the movie I thought that reading the book might be a bit superfluous. How wrong I was. The book is so much better than the film. There is so much emotion packed in its pages that I was completely blown away. To be honest, I wasn't sure where it was going in the beginning as there were a number of characters that were introduced that did not seem to fit in to the story. But it is these diverse characters which give the story its humour and tragedy. It's beautiful. Read it.
My rating: 4.5⭐

Lord Robert by Jean Plaidy

This work of historical fiction aims to recount the love that existed between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

Although I've read several books by Jean Plaidy over the years and always enjoyed them a great deal, Lord Robert is not one of those books. The whole story seemed like a frivolous exercise in self-indulgence. Both Elizabeth and Robert Dudley come across as conceited and annoying. Poor Amy Robsart (Robert's wife) is made to look like a simpering fool and even some of the queen's most respected courtiers, like Cecil and Walsingham, seem to be part of the story to pander to the queen's wishes, flirt with her and assure her of their love and loyalty. I have always had the impression that, historically, Elizabeth Tudor was a strong and capable ruler. She is not portrayed in this way in this book - except on very rare occasions - and I found this to be very disappointing.
My rating: 1.8⭐

The Bull From The Sea by Mary Renault

In The Bull From The Sea, Mary Renault skilfully recounts the story of Theseus from his victorious return to Athens after slaying the Minotaur until his death on the island of Skyros.
Sincerely Loree: The Bull From The Sea by Mary Renault
In this retelling of the ancient myth, Renault left enough things unsaid to hint at deeper-rooted mysteries that make these stories so intriguing to read. I would say that this book is only for serious Greek mythology geeks. Unfortunately, I only found  out after I bought it  from a book sale that it is the second of two books. So now I am on the hunt for The King Must Die, which is the first in this short series.
My rating: 3.9⭐

The Girl From Berlin by Ronald H. Balson

In 1930s Berlin, Ada Baumgarten is an accomplished violinist in the Berlin Junior Orchestra. But Ada is Jewish and Nazism is rearing it's ugly head. She flees to Italy with her mother to continue playing her beloved violin but fate eventually overtakes her.

This is the fifth book by Balson that I've read. Like all his books there is an element of mystery that kept me reading but I felt the narrative was somewhat marred by some impossible situations and the many lucky and improbable escapes that Ada had. I felt that some of the characters were not well developed and Ada's stubbornness and insistence on not letting down the orchestra she formed part of when faced with mortal danger became a bit repetitive and mildly annoying at the end.
My rating: 2.9⭐

The Fall by Bethany Griffin

This is a novel based on Edgar Allan Poe's classic short story The Fall Of The House Of Usher. In The Fall the highly unreliable narrator is Madeline Usher - the one who, in Poe's story is buried alive and, in a fit of rage, attacks her brother and brings the house of Usher down on their heads.
Sincerely Loree: The Fall by Bethany Griffin
I had read an abridged version of Poe's story when I was around 10 years old and I was terrified half to death. In The Fall I expected the Gothic undertones and horrific sequence of events in the original story to be amplified and, yes, I expected to be terrified. Instead, Bethany Griffin gives us such a watered-down version of the original tale of horror that it wouldn't even scare a ten-year old. Bottom line: don't bother.
My rating: 2.0⭐

The Tigress of Forli: The Life of Caterina Sforza by Elizabeth Lev

This biography of Caterina Sforza, the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Sforza Duke of Milan, is skilfully crafted to almost read like a novel. In it, Lev brings to life one of the Italian Renaissance's most formidable women. Although she served as a pawn to increase her father's wealth and territories, Caterina Riario Sforza was a force to be reckoned with. Courageous and politically astute she navigated the shifting allegiances that characterised early 16th century Italy admirably. In her lifetime, Caterina mingled with popes and princes. She greatly admired Lorenzo de Medici (the Magnificent), was captured and raped by Cesare Borgia, led armies into battle and gave birth to eight children. She even had time to verbally spar with Machiavelli. This book has awakened an interest in Renaissance Italy in me and I will try to read more about this tumultuous period in the future.
My rating: 4.0⭐

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

When Alice Love wakes up in hospital after a fall at the gym she realises that she has forgotten the last 10 years of her life. Slowly, she starts putting the pieces together again and realises just how much she has changed during the last decade of her life.
Sincerely Loree: What Alice  Forgot by Liane Moriarty
What Alice Forgot is not a book about summer, but it is definitely a book that can easily be read at the beach or by a pool. It's an easy read and doesn't require too much concentration. It certainly didn't elicit too many deep thoughts even though I felt that the author wanted us to reflect on the things we sometimes choose to forget. This is the third book by Liane Moriarty that I've read over the years and I wouldn't say it's her best.
My rating: 2.9⭐

Strangely enough, or perhaps not, it seems that I've read the same amount of books  these past three months (11)  as I did between January and March. I'm now running out of shelf space and am trying to come up with ideas how to make this magically increase. My problem is that I hate giving books away even if I didn't enjoy reading them so much. Does anybody else have this strange dilemma or is it  just me?

I hope you enjoyed these reviews and that they'll inspire you to read something. And if you have a good book to share, let me know in the comments. I'm always looking for new ones to read.

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

The Malta At War Museum

Sincerely Loree: Malta  At War Museum, Birgu

Last week I had a few days off and my son and I paid a visit to the Malta At War Museum. The Malta At War Museum is located in Birgu's Couvre Porte (countergaurd), which forms part of the line of defence on the landward side of town and was built in 1722. The impressive 18th century fortifications were designed by military engineer Charles de Mondion and are worth exploring for their own merit (but preferably on a day when it doesn't feel like you're walking around in a furnace).

The Malta At War museum is dedicated to what I think of as the war on the home front. It is pretty compact and isn't very big on exhibits and artefacts. But there is a wealth of information about life in Malta during WW2 and the daily trials and tribulations of a population that was under constant bombardment from June 1940 until November 1942 and intermittently until the surrender of Italy on September 8th 1943. Coincidentally, Malta had emerged victorious against the armies of Emperor Sulieman on the very same day in 1565. Henceforth, this day became known as Victory Day and is still celebrated as a national holiday.

Many people wonder why such a small island with a total area that is less than 100 square miles was the target of a combined effort by the Regia Aeronautica and the Luftwaffe to bomb or starve it into submission. The answer lies in Malta's strategic position in the centre of the Mediterranean and its proximity to North Africa. From Malta the British air and sea forces could disrupt Axis supplies to North Africa. In fact, the brilliant German general, Erwin Rommel, had warned Hitler that without Malta the Axis powers would lose control of North Africa. It is for this reason that between 16 000 to 17 000 tonnes of bombs were liberally dropped on the island, its inhabitants and its defenders.

But apart from the facts about the battles, the casualties and the military strategies, what I found equally interesting was the information about the daily life of the Maltese: the rations allotted to each person, the diseases they battled, their fear at the sound of an air raid siren and their frantic rush to get to an air raid shelter on time.

During the worse of the bombardments, between 1940 and 1942, the Maltese passed a lot of their time underground in air raid shelters hewn out of the limestone. At the Malta At War Museum there is a large communal air raid shelter situated several metres underground. Although it felt eerie to be walking in the deserted passageways and through the tiny 'rooms' (each one could not be bigger than 6'x6'x6') where people huddled for shelter, I have to say that this was the highlight of my visit to the museum as I had never been inside an air-raid shelter before. I can only imagine how claustrophobic it must have felt for hundreds of people to be sheltered underground, sometimes for hours on end. 

These underground shelters existed in all the major towns of Malta and there was usually an air-raid warden dedicated to each one. Most people used the communal passageways to shelter in but those that cold afford it dug their own little rooms for more privacy - although doors were not allowed so people installed slatted wooden gates instead. In the one we visited at Birgu the air-raid warden and the parish priest had their own little area and there was even a special area that was designated as the 'birthing room'. I couldn't imagine what it must have felt like for women to give birth under such circumstances and I immediately thought of my two grandmothers who both had two babies each during this time (although, thankfully, they were able to give birth at home). 

For anybody interested in WW2 both the Malta At War Museum and the National War Museum in Valletta are definitely worth a visit.  

I had written about the National War Museum on my old blog here

Please check each museum's website for the current opening hours.

About Loree
I am Lorna, or Loree (as my best friends call me) and I am the author of Sincerely, Loree. You may get to know me better here:

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