Cannon Fodder


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September 1st 2017
Published: September 2nd 2017
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This morning we have arranged to meet Louis to visit the Three Cities, which is the collective name for the fortified cities of Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua on the opposite side of the Grand Harbour from Valletta. We catch the bus to Valletta and then walk to the top of a giant lift in the Upper Barrakka Gardens.

As we walk there Issy tries to teach me a series of unpronouncable noises which she tells me are Maltese for "good morning, how are you". She gets me to repeat them over and over again, and tells me that I must use them to greet Louis when we see him. I hope that she's not trying to trick me, and that the words don't actually mean something else. I remember a movie where this happened, and the words actually meant "I have three testicles". We see Louis and I say the words. He looks a bit perplexed. He says that I just said "goodbye, how are you". I think that Issy's Maltese might be a bit rusty.

We take the lift down to the waterfront and then walk through to the dock where the ferry leaves for the Three Cities.
Reenactment of the departure in 1964Reenactment of the departure in 1964Reenactment of the departure in 1964

The boat they came to Australia in is shown in the next picture
Louis says that he clearly remembers coming to this exact spot on the dock to farewell Issy and her family when they left Malta to come to Australia in 1964. He says that everyone was crying. Issy tells Louis that he is making her cry now. I feel like crying too as I think again how how hard this would have been for everyone concerned.

I am still struggling to reconcile Maltese pronunciation and spelling. Issy has pointed out small boats to me here a few times now, and she says that they are called something that sounds like "dysa". I see a sign on the dock saying that you can hire something called a "dghajsa", and Issy tells me that this is one of these small boats. I wonder in what universe "dghajsa" is pronounced "dysa", and why Maltese uses seven letters to make a word when four would have done a perfectly good job. I don't think that Maltese is a very efficient language.

We catch the ferry and get off at the Three Cities. Louis says that we must rush up the hill to visit the Senglea Basilica, as it is about to close for siesta. It is only 11 o'clock which seems to be a bit early to be having a siesta, and I begin to wonder whether people who work at churches have their siestas at different times to everyone else. I suppose that priests work on Sundays when a lot of other people don't, so maybe it works the same way with siestas. The Basilica was built in the late sixteenth century to commemorate the Great Siege, but was destroyed during an air raid in 1941 and then rebuilt in 1956. It is very impressive and looks a lot older than it really is. It is well after 11 o'clock when we go to leave, and we find a big padlock on the front door. There doesn't seem to be anyone else here now and we are locked in. I wonder how long church siestas go on for. Not too long I hope; we leave for Switzerland in a couple of days. Eventually someone appears from the back of the church, and they guide us down a long passageway, through a bathroom, and out a side entrance.

We walk back down the hill and cross a bridge to Fort St Angelo in Birgu. The fort is very large, and is strategically located to guard the entrance to the Grand Harbour. It seems likely that a fort was first constructed on this site in the thirteenth century. When the Knights of the Order of St John arrived in Malta in 1530 they substantially rebuilt and strengthened the fort, and it became the seat of the Grand Master. The Knights then coordinated their defence of Malta from here during the Great Siege in 1565. We spend a long time walking around the fort, and watch a number of audio-visual presentations on the fort and the history of Malta. The views from the fort over the harbour and its surrounds are spectacular. It seems that the fort was used as a prison for many years, and the Italian painter Caravaggio was imprisoned here after he got into a punch-up with one of the Knights. I'm not sure that getting into a punch-up with a Knight would have been a great move. He eventually escaped from the fort, and then from Malta. The fort was used as a military installation by the army and then the navy during the years of British rule, and it suffered 69 direct bombing hits during World War 2 air raids.

It is nearly noon, and Louis warns us that every day at noon they fire a cannon from Upper Barrakka. I noticed when we were at Upper Barrakka earlier that all the cannons there seemed to be aimed in the general direction Fort St Angelo. I wonder why he is warning us that they are about to fire the cannon, so I ask him what they fire the cannon at. He assures me that it only fires blanks. I suspect he is probably right, but I'm sure that mistakes can happen. I think that now might be a good time to leave.

We walk up into Birgu village to get some lunch, and then catch the ferry and the bus back to Sliema.

We have arranged to have dinner in Marsaxlokk with another of Issy's cousins, Louis, his wife Mary, and their daughter Melanie. We had planned to catch the bus there, but we are running late so we catch a taxi. The taxi driver warns us that traffic is very heavy due to the World Cup qualifying soccer match here tonight between Malta and England. We had noticed quite a few people wearing England soccer shirts here over the past few days. We've heard a few things about English soccer supporters over the years, and none of them are good. I think it would be nice if the underdog Malta won, but I think that the English fans would probably riot if that happened, and I don't think that this would be good. I hope that we will be safe in our apartment.

We have a very pleasant dinner on the waterfront. We caught up with Louis, Mary and Melanie when we were here two years ago and it is very good to see them again.

We catch a taxi back to the apartment. I Google the soccer result. England won, so I remove the barricades from the apartment door.


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