Mdina: childhood memories of the Silent City

It's funny, the things I remember during quiet moments: the lilt of a voice, a scent, the slant of the light on the streets of an ancient city - it's all it takes for the memories to come flooding back. Even though many years have passed, they are indelible; a part of who I am, like my hair and my hands.
Growing up, Mdina was as much a part of my life as my neighbouring hometown, which is just a stone's throw away. I went to school in Mdina. I took piano lessons in Mdina. I was constantly in and out of there. Inevitably, some of its residents became familiar faces. Some of them I knew by name.
Mdina, Malta ∣ Sincerely Loree ∣ Lifestyle Blog

One of them was Benedetta. There were three things that were constant about Benedetta: the dark- coloured clothes she always wore, similar to a nun's habit and just as plain; the scarf that always covered her head and which, rain or shine, she tied under her chin; and the old pram (from the 40s or 50s - very similar to the one the Duchess of Cambridge has used for her children) that accompanied her on her daily errands. Benedetta, you see, did the shopping for the nuns of St Peter's Monastery and the pram was her shopping basket. The nuns were not ordinary nuns. They were Benedictine cloistered nuns and cloistered nuns never left the walls of their monastery - a huge building that takes up a whole block  on Mdina's main thoroughfare, Villegaignon Street - unless it was an emergency of some sort. Oh Benedetta, such a simple, sweet and kindly soul. She's in a much better place now running errands for the angels.
Mdina, Malta ∣ Sincerely Loree ∣ Lifestyle Blog
Then there was the Baroness. I never knew her name. She was just 'The Baroness', even to her great-niece who was at school with me. The Baroness was old and very bent and lent stiffly over her walking frame as, without fail, she made her way to 8 o'clock Mass at the cathedral. She was always impeccably dressed and, more often than not, completed her ensemble with a pill-box hat, complete with veil, on her silver hair. 
Mdina, Malta ∣ Sincerely Loree ∣ Lifestyle Blog
I am not sure whether it was just me or whether all children are super-observant but it feels as if anyone whose personality or physical appearance was larger than life was sure to be under special scrutiny. So it will come as no surprise to my readers that my old school friends and I nicknamed the portly street-sweeper Bluto, after the villain in Popeye. He had a biker moustache (similar to Hulk Hogan's), a very fat belly and wore a thick gold chain around his neck. He always seemed to be cross and we kept out of his way as he swept the ground with his bristly broom in one hand while pushing his noisy metal cart with the other. I think he had the honour of being the last street sweeper in Mdina. Like baronesses and cloistered nuns, they are a dying breed.
Mdina, Malta ∣ Sincerely Loree ∣ Lifestyle Blog
Back in the days before the advent of supermarkets, each town and village had at least one grocery store and Mdina was no exception. I don't remember the name of the store  - if it even had one - but I do remember the name of the lady who owned it. Doris not only provided groceries for the residents' needs but made sure she stocked some pencils, pens and copybooks just in case we ran out or had forgotten them at home. Of course, we would walk out with a pen plus a doughnut or a packet of sweets or a lollipop. That was all part of the fun. We had no qualms about eating 'naughty' things right after breakfast back then. But time moves on and Doris's little shop now sells jewellery, and groceries and copybooks are very hard to come by in Mdina these days.
Mdina, Malta ∣ Sincerely Loree ∣ Lifestyle Blog
The old marquis, who had huge, protruding nose and who went for his daily outing in a karrozzin wearing a fedora on his bald head, is now long gone and the windows of the huge house in which he resided and through which we would sometimes catch a glimpse of ancient portraits, are now always shuttered, carefully guarding its treasures and secrets from all prying forms of social media. 
Mdina, Malta ∣ Sincerely Loree ∣ Lifestyle Blog
They, whoever 'they' are, say that change is constant and, over the years, it has touched Mdina too. Our primary school now houses the national archives and our secondary school has been wonderfully restored and is a restaurant and exhibition centre. A once run-down palazzo has become a beautiful boutique hotel and the ground-floor rooms of several houses have been turned into souvenir shops and cafeterias. During the day Mdina is over-run by tourists and the place that was once known as the Silent City is now filled with a hubbub of voices from all over the globe. Mdina is still a pretty place, my favourite place, but I like to wait for the crowds to leave before I venture inside its walls. And the best time to avoid them is when darkness falls. Some people are spooked by the idea of walking Mdina's streets after sunset. But not me.  I know that any ghosts I meet will be friendly, familiar faces: a feeble baroness, a slumbering marquis, and Benedetta, pushing her pram through the winding streets of a city as old as time itself.
Mdina, Malta ∣ Sincerely Loree ∣ Lifestyle Blog

Should you be interested in learning more about Mdina, I had started a series of posts on my old blog about its history. 
I had written them in the first person, with Mdina telling its story. Unfortunately, I never continued them. Maybe it's time to pick up where I left off.

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Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Beautiful post! Mdina sounds like a magical place through your words.

Pipistrello said...

Oh, a wonderfully evocative post, Loree! The B&W photos are a perfect complement to your memories. Are there still schools in the old quarter? At least the convent has held out against Progress for now, I guess? Places can change so quickly so it's wonderful that you have these memories - in such historically rich places, the reminiscences of the elderly must be intriguing!

I've not been to Malta and indeed have only one Maltese friend here in Australia, where I guess there aren't too many, but it's been on The List for ages as a place to visit...I shall go off to read your links now.

La Contessa said...


Debbie Nolan said...

Loree - the black and white photos speak volumes as well as your words...what a wonderfully written and nostalgic post. I clearly can see in my mind's eye those persons who touched your life by your so well composed descriptions. Thanks for sharing such wonderful memories. Hugs!

Cobalt Violet said...

Your describtions were beautifully evocative along with your photos! It looks like a place I would love and I can see why it lives deeply inside you! Wonderful post Loree. :)

Cobalt Violet said...

excuse the typo!

Gattina said...

Childhood memories are always interesting ! I don't remember people that much except my teacher in primary school who was an old dragon with outstanding teeth she couldn't close her mouth and spit little yellow spots when she talked, Yikes ! Love you photos of the narrow streets reminds me Italy !

SteffR said...

What an immersive, lovely post, and the pictures compliment it so beautifully. What a magical place to grow up it must have been, something about the quiet alleys and shadows, I can just picture children loving that!

Candy said...

Loree, this is a lovely post!

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