May 23, 2018
Watching musicians play a rendition of a Johnny Cash song for the Americans at our farewell dinner at Razzett I-Antik in the medieval village of Qormi in Malta was a reflection on the deep and intertwined history of Malta. I imagined Cash would enjoy hearing their rendition. A 400-year old farmhouse, once a milling factory to grind grain to flour for daily bread, served us traditional Maltese food in a folklore dinner style. The two musicians on guitar and mandolin played traditional Maltese music while folk dancers presented dance commemorating the history. Dr. Larry Kage from our group was tapped to join the folk dance and represented us quite eloquently.
Truly the Malta and the Maltese were down-to-earth, family-oriented, and intelligent people. I was intrigued by a display of art that captured our attention almost upon arrival and several times after as we walked through the capital city of Valletta. In Triton Square and Castle Square, a display of statutes known as Hekk Jgħid il-Malti had been on display at various locations just a few weeks when we arrived. It reminded me a great deal of the fiberglass painted horse figurines that were so prominent around the USA in the early
2000s, which originated in Louisville; each horse represented a theme or artistic interpretation. My favorite was ‘a horse of a different color,’ but like the Maltese statutes that depicted vintage proverbs from their language, the horses were similar in conveying subtle messages. Later the trend caught on and other animal statutes were used in a similar manner in the USA. In the Malta display however, artists, Joel Saliba and Margaret Pace worked with the Valletta Foundation and to reflect the European Year of Cultural Heritage, to present thirteen temporary artistic interpretations of Maltese proverbs that particularly illuminated the complexity and beauty of the Maltese language. The simple and symbolic proverbs were multi-generational so there was an inherent appreciation of history as well. The Americans enjoyed snapping photos of the new-age statutes that were in great contrast to the classic antiquities of Valletta that surrounded them.
For an American it was easy to spot some of the universal proverbs like ‘a bird in hand is worth two in the bush,’ although the Malta variation was ‘a bird in the hand is worth a hundred in the sky. There was another of a pig swallowing a snake and yet another of three cows standing on top of each other. Many were unique to Malta because the Americans didn’t come up with the message.
Apparently Malta has experienced some vandalism in regard to the temporary statute, but nonetheless, our American group enjoyed the temporary statues and immediately recognized the power of the parable in teaching and witnesses the lightness of the Maltese people who were warm, passionate, intelligent and quite possessed with humor and easy laughter.
We captured the essence of the sea on the final day as well. Our tour along the 15 kilometer shore line showed off the sparkling Mediterranean sea. With forty different towns with local councils, each town morphs into the next. The 360 days of sunshine and 1000 different species of flowers enhanced the beautiful paradise that is unfortunately being taken over quickly by tourism.
Poignant on the shore were the huge silos of American grain. Perhaps this mention of US grain stirred my memory of my childhood home and caused me to reflect on a family memory. Several times throughout our stay at Malta, I remembered that our cousin, Bud Sparks, a U.S. Navy veteran, whose ship limped into the island during World War II, had walked in these spaces. His daughter, Darlene reminded me via Facebook, that her father had said, Malta was the most beautiful place on earth. Several monuments and plaques reflected upon the war. (In September of 1943, Buds ship, the U.S. S. Savannah, was the first American warship to fire on Germans at Salerno, and was charged with assisting the troops that had been fighting at Salerno and were overwhelmed. The ship suffered hits on September 11, with a bomb going through the turrets and large hole blown out of the bottom of the ship. Although badly damaged, the crews sealed off the affected area, and they continued fighting. They had lost 197 men. The ship reached Malta where it was patched up, not leaving until December. No wonder after such a horrendous experience that Bud had found Malta to be a haven.
In the midst of beauty, there are other feelings and reflections and here, they were somewhat polar opposites. The island itself had suffered enormously during World War II, yet persevered. Several times during the trip, we had heard of the proud baroque attitude of the people which obviously still permeated.
So hoping tourism does not squash the essence of this little haven!