Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Life Lately: Déjà vu

I cannot remember the last time that I did a 'Life lately' post. Each day merges into the other and there's not much to share. Here in Malta we are exactly in the same place we were one year ago, with all but the most essential businesses and services closed. I am not complaining - just stating facts. Easter is in a few days and, once again, it will be a muted celebration, although, unlike last year, up to two families at a time can gather together. It seems like the more things change the more they remain the same. A part of my mind still can't quite accept the fact that we're in 2021. It's like a whole year has been erased, probably because most of  us made no new memories or experiences in 2020. But I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sincerely Loree: Blata tal-Melh, l/o Bahrija, Malta

Highlights

The highlights of the past three months  have been, as you may imagine, quite mundane. I turned fifty in January but we haven't even gone out to celebrate yet. I laugh when I remember how I thought I'd celebrate my fiftieth: with a trip to Venice and a stay at one of the nicer hotels. Incidentally, it was Venice's 1600th birthday on March 25th but even the Queen of the Adriatic had to celebrate this significant milestone in a very subdued manner. 
Sincerely Loree: Blata tal-Melh, l/o Bahrija, Malta

My husband and I have been out on a number of 'photo walks' during these past three months to help me practise my photography skills. I've since found out that my camera has some innate technical limitations that will not allow me to use the exact settings that I would like. So I am trying to work my way around that. Anyway, my photography course has been a good excuse to get us out of the house. We've visited Isla, the cart ruts at Clapham Junction, Selmun and the dilapidated Fort Campbell, Fort Bingemma, Blata tal-Melh - an area of wild and rugged beauty that we hope to revisit soon - and the lower environs of Valletta (more about that in a future post). 
Sincerely Loree: Blata tal-Melh, l/o Bahrija, Malta

In February I managed to visit to The Splendid to see the Darkness At Noon exhibition. But just as I had lined up a few other exhibitions to go to, and hopefully share with you all, everything was shut down again.
Location: Blata tal-Melh

Gardening

Now that the weather is warming up it's a good time to take a look at our garden. Actually, it's more of a large tiled yard with a strip of soil along two of its boundary walls. The tiled area doubles up as a patio where we sometimes eat our meals in summer. We use plants in pots to supplement and extend the greenery. Last Sunday I spent almost 3 hours out in the fresh air, removing weeds and planting seeds. Since spring came so early this year, our freesias and irises have already bloomed. 
Sincerely Loree: Flowers in our garden

Hopefully, it will be the roses next. Then the hibiscus and hydrangeas. As you can see, we've got a lot of plants that are not exactly drought-resistant and that is why I am trying to read articles on Mediterranean gardens. We do have plants that thrive in warm weather, like lavender, rosemary and a few other herbs. But, apart from succulents, I would like to find more plants that do well in our hot climate. 
Sincerely Loree: Flowers in our garden

My search is still on and I plan to visit a garden centre in the coming days (they're open because pet food is, of course, essential for pets) to try and find some hardy varieties that are easy to take care of. I hope that, as usual, I won't be drawn to colourful flowering plants that are more accustomed to cooler, northerly climes.
Sincerely Loree: Flowers in our garden

Reading

As you may imagine, I am still doing a lot of reading and have just finished my 11th book. I will share a list of the books I've read soon. Unfortunately, I haven't yet read a book that merits 5 stars but I've read a couple of 4s. Two of my favourites were Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, which I was going to review but, since it was first published in 1989 and has been made into a movie, I figured you're all familiar with it by now, and The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller, which will only be interesting to anyone who is a Greek mythology geek (I have to confess, I'm one of those people). Another good read, for anyone that enjoys thrillers, is The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins.
Sincerely Loree: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins


Easy recipes

I just love an easy recipe, don't you? Especially if it's something that cooks in the oven and which you can forget about while you get on with other things. These 2 recipes are not only easy but very tasty and are great for those cooler nights (yes, I know summer is round the corner but you can save them for when autumn comes along).
These Simple Beef Pasties by Fluster Buster are made from ground beef and vegetables cooked in pastry. I just add 1-2 teaspoons of  dried thyme for extra flavour and have found that the perfect amount of salt is 3/4 teaspoon.
Another simple recipe is this one for Chicken and Corn Savoury Rolls by Bake Play Smile. In this case, I add 1-2 teaspoons of dried rosemary and 1 teaspoon of salt for more flavour, especially since chicken can be rather bland.
Since it's lemon season here, I've been on the hunt for some easy lemon desserts and I've already made this Lightened Up Lemon Yogurt Cake twice. Incidentally, this is supposed to be a lighter version of Ina Garten's Lemon Yogurt Cake, although I don't see a big difference between the two recipes, if you ask me.

Easter Dessert

I've come across three recipes that would make a wonderful Easter dessert and I am still trying to decide between a French Almond Cake with Lavender Lemon Glaze by The Daring Gourmet, a Strawberry Lemonade Cake by Two Cups Flour or a Fluffy White Mini Egg Cake by The Farmer's Daughter. I've got a few more days to decide but will probably go with the first one as I love including lavender in desserts.
Sincerely Loree: Flowers in our garden

It will be another quiet Easter for us but I suppose it's all the better as we can focus on our blessings. Starting tomorrow I have six days off and I'm looking forward to having some extra time to do the things I enjoy and spend some time stockpiling photos before it gets too hot to venture out of doors during the day - I exaggerate a bit but all those that have been reading my blog for a while know that summer is my least favourite season. In the meantime, I'll make the most of spring. I wish all those that celebrate a blessed and peaceful Easter.

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

A Walk Around Isla

On a bright but breezy Saturday at the end of January, my husband and I drove to Isla to take some photos of this town that we rarely visit. Isla (also known as Senglea) is a maritime town that is Malta's smallest locality and the second most densely populated area on the island. It is located on a long and narrow strip of land that juts out into Grand Harbour and points, like an accusing finger, at Valletta. Entrance to Isla is through Senglea Gate. The town  has around 4 streets along its length that are criss-crossed by a number of smaller roads. Located at the tip of Isla is a small garden that has magnificent views of Grand Harbour, Valletta and neighbouring Birgu. Isla came under heavy bombardment during the Second World War due to its proximity to the docks. On 16th January 1941, a blitz by the Luftwaffe on HMS Illustrious left around twenty people dead and devastated many of the town's buildings. As a result, Isla is made up of pre-war era buildings, some of then dating back to the late 1500s, and a large proportion, including the parish church, that were rebuilt after the war.

So, after that short introduction, let's take a walk around Isla.

The Basilica of Our Lady of the Nativity, that was re-inaugurated in 1957, is just a few paces away from Senglea Gate.

Sincerely Loree: Basilica of Our Lady of the Nativity, Isla

To the right of the small square, side streets overlook the Vittoriosa Yacht Marina and Birgu.

Sincerely Loree: view of Birgu from Isla

The Church of St Philip, dating to 1690, is located at the end of the main thoroughfare, Victory Street.

Sincerely Loree: Church of St  Philip, Isla

A road to the right of this small church leads to the Gardjola Gardens.

Sincerely Loree: street in Isla

The main attraction of Gardjola Gardens is the breath-taking view of the natural harbour that made Malta such a sought-after location from antiquity.

Sincerely Loree: Gardjola Gardens, Isla

Sincerely Loree: Fort St Angelo from Gardjola Gardens, Isla

Sincerely Loree: Valletta from Gardjola Gardens, Isla

Sincerely Loree: Valletta from Gardjola Gardens, Isla

To the left of the garden exti is a short light of steps leading to two small tunnels . This is probably the most iconic area in all of Isla. 

Sincerely Loree: Fort St Angelo from Isla

I mean, who wouldn't want to wake up to this view?

Sincerely Loree: Grand Harbour from Isla
It was pretty amazing on this sunlit day in January but can you imagine how much more spectacular it would look when a storm blows in and  lightning zigzags across the sky? I could sit and stare at it for hours - which is probably what the people living in these houses do (if they're anything like me).

Sincerely Loree: street in Isla

I hope you enjoyed this little tour but, before ending, I wanted to share Isla's most quirky and colourful street. 

Sincerely Loree: street in Isla

Sincerely Loree: street in Isla
It looks like mermaids might live here. What do you think?

Sincerely Loree: street in Isla


Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Darkness at The Splendid

Darkness At  Noon was the name of a collective exhibition held at The Splendid in Valletta between February 6th and 24th. I was able to attend on the very last day. Crossing the threshold of The Splendid had been on my bucket list for years and, last Wednesday, I was finally able to do so.

Sincerely Loree: The Splendid, Valletta

The Splendid

My first encounter with The Splendid came around ten years ago when I was roaming around Valletta with my camera. I came across the word 'Splendid' etched in red paint on the doorstep of a dilapidated house on Strait Street. I was immediately curious and tried to hunt down as much information about this building as I could. The Splendid does not have very salubrious origins. In its heyday as an important harbour town for the Royal Navy, Valletta had a sizzling  and often-sleazy nightlife. The Splendid was just one of many brothels that lined The Gut, as Strait Street was affectionately known. But the murder of a prostitute by her client in the 1960s has ensured that The Splendid's notoriety is a cut above the rest.
Sincerely Loree: The Splendid, Valletta

So what, you may ask, were my first impressions when I finally crossed over those bold red letters on the doorstep and found myself inside? It's difficult to explain without letting the history of the place affect me. But I couldn't shake away the feeling that the air felt heavy, as if it was suffused with too many memories and too much pain. The arched hallway that I was standing in was bare, except for an upright  piano to my left. Hanging from the ceiling was one solitary lightbulb encased in pink glass that cast a rosy hue on its faded surroundings. In contrast, the colours of the patterned Maltese tiles were bold, garish even and they kept drawing my eyes towards them and away from the walls with their layers upon layers of peeling paint. Opposite the door, at the other end of the hallway, a short flight of steps led to a small landing. To the left of this, the main staircase went up to the first floor where the exhibition was being held.
Sincerely Loree: The Splendid, Valletta

Darkness At Noon Collective Exhibition

The title of this exhibition immediately suggests that something is strange, uncanny, and that the normal course of nature has been altered. Darkness At Noon showcased the works of three artists: painter Gabriel Buttigieg, ceramist Paul Scerri and photographer Charles Balzan. It was curated by Joe-Phillipe Abela and Gabriel Zammit. In an interview with Ramona Depares both curators expressed the wish that the viewer is challenged by the exhibits. They also acknowledged that for their vision to be effective a certain degree of unease on the part of those attending was to be expected. I did not listen to the interview or read up about the exhibition before visiting but I will share my impressions as best I can (even though I find it hard to express the feelings that any type of art gives me in words).

Buttigieg's paintings were bold, colourful and instantly eye-catching. His depictions of creatures from myths and literature that were interspersed with the human form reminded me of the surreal dreams we sometimes have and of the fairy-tales and legends we all grew up with - those stories that disturb us a  little but, because they are part of our culture or folklore, which we suppress into our subconscious until they erupt in fantastic dreams or nightmares.
Sincerely Loree: The Splendid, Valletta

Scerri's ceramics were more muted in colour. Each figure appeared to be fragmented, as if each androgynous image was made up of multiple parts.  There was a vulnerability about these ceramic figures that I found quite touching. Each one seemed to highlight the fragility of the human spirit in a different way.
Sincerely Loree: The Splendid, Valletta

I found Balzan's photos to be the most thought-provoking part of the exhibit. Each photo was raw and intimate, forcing the models to lay bare aspects of their humanity that are usually hidden under the veneer and layers that are necessary to survive in modern society and exposing their most primeval side. 
Sincerely Loree: The Splendid, Valletta


The Splendid As A Performance Art Theatre

After its turbulent history, it seems that The Splendid has found a new lease of life as a centre for  creative industries managed by FTZ (a non-profit organisation based at the University of Malta). As I walked through the few rooms in which the exhibition was taking place, it was clear to me that, apart from a good clean-up, the building has been left intact. The paint on the walls, the doors, windows and shutters are still the same ones that were there when the place was closed down in the late 1960s.  The rawness and bareness of The Splendid is not contrived and it forces the visitor to focus on the artist. In this space nothing else matters.
Sincerely Loree: The Splendid, Valletta
 
Or does it? Visiting The Splendid felt like an experience in itself. I came away feeling moved and rather subdued. I was not sure whether the uncanny feeling I had was due to the exhibits I had just viewed or because I couldn't forget the building's violent past. It is easy to conjure up ghosts here and perhaps I was guilty of doing just that.
Sincerely Loree: Strait Street, Valletta

For upcoming events at The Splendid, visit their  Facebook page here.
You can read more about the exhibition in this article by Lara Zammit for The Times of Malta.

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