03 April 2012

Things Maltese People Like

The (new) bus system. Last July was the end of an era in Malta. A British company named Arriva took over and transformed and regulated the bus system in Malta (which we've been using to get just about everywhere). Before the teal bus takeover, Maltese buses were a tourist attraction in and off themselves. They were yellow and white with red piping and consisted of some bus models that were no longer in use anywhere else on Earth. Buses were shipped over to the islands throughout the decades and never left. Privately owned, they were detailed, repaired and altered however the driver saw fit. We were disappointed that the vintage carriers were no longer in place, but the locals are nothing but pleased. For the first time ever, there is an actual bus schedule, cemented routes, efficient vehicles. The island of Gozo has service 7 days a week. Tourists may buy nostalgic postcards and magnets and long for the old days, but Maltese people sure do like the new bus system.
Limestone. In the article about bird hunting that Merlin referenced, Jonathan Franzen calls Malta's archipelago "densely populated chunks of limestone." He's not too far off. Above is a quarry we spotted on a walk down to the Dwejra coast. The soft, yellowish rock was, for a very long time, the only building material available on the island. And you can see by any picture with a chalky khaki colored backdrop, it's still used all the time. Usually, when you walk through a European neighborhood that was completely rebuilt after WWII, you see a hastily erected lego land of concrete. Here, since limestone was employed, the new buildings blended in with the old ones. Even some of the ugliest modern apartment blocks have a timelessness about them, because they're made from the same rock as all the rest.
Light bulb trimming. These are more than just your average big bulb Christmas lights. They are full on light bulb size and they light the trimming of churches across the country. I'm sure they create very pretty silhouettes in the dark, but during they day, they add an idiosyncratic tackiness to some pretty beautiful buildings. Something about them reminds of me Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet.
Naming their houses. Some memorable ones include Our Dream Home, Australian Paradise, God Bless USA and Love Nest. Most include the owner's name and, very often, a combination of names. For example, if a husband and wife are named Silvio and Marian, the house may be named Silmar. When all else fails, people tend to default to 'Madonnanina.'
Rattan door blinds. They are hung up over a majority of the doorways in Malta. I honestly cannot figure out why. I mean, there's already a door - why the second layer of covering? Maybe it's actually to protect the door from dust or damage? I did notice that during the midday break, many blinds were unrolled. So, possibly, it's the reverse of a welcome mat. When the blind is down, don't bother knocking.
Local products. Only 20% of Malta's food is domestically sourced. However, there's a huge appreciation for the products that are local. This specialty food shop on Gozo sold a plethora of products and the little stack in the foreground made up our purchase. Maltese capers, sea salt and lemon preserve. Menus specified if something was local, produce vans parked near bus stops and in town squares and you'd see people with grocery bags from the nearest supermarket stop to fill their fruit and vegetable needs with the little guys.
Butcher shops named after the butcher. This is a rare example of a name being grammatically correct. Teddy the Butcher. Usually, it went something like George's Butcher or Nick Butcher. It's like someone walked into these establishments that had been around forever and sold them a sign. Then came the task of figuring out what to put on the sign. I kept waiting for one to be open so that I could go in and ask if Teddy or George or Nick were there, but the timing never worked out.
This Land Rover. At first, we were sure we were seeing the same truck over and over. But when the colors began to differ, we realized that there are just an extraordinary number of old Land Rover Defender pick-ups on these islands. I'd never seen a pick-up Defender before and, at this point, I've seen about a dozen. I guess that's what you get from a former British colony.
Red phone booths. Speaking of Britishisms. A red phone booth, in which you can insert a prepaid card to make calls, punctuates the end of many Maltese blocks. When one happens to be placed next to a chalkboard reading "Steak and Kidney Pies," you really feel ye olde influence.

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