Thursday, April 24, 2014

Siege Bell/World War II Memorial, Valletta, Malta

Along the walls overlooking Valletta's harbor is an unassuming bell tower with a single bell inside. The bell was unveiled in 1992 by Queen Elizabeth II and the President of Malta as a tribute to the 8000 Maltese and British who died during the 1940-1942 Siege of Malta.

When the Axis powers opened up a new front in North Africa, the strategically important islands of Malta (which are between Sicily and North Africa but were at the time British possessions) became the target of a massive bombing campaign (3000 raids in two years). The Royal Air Force and the British Navy defended the island and held out until the Allied Forces landed in Morocco and Algeria in November 1942. The Axis powers redirected their focus to Northern Africa and Malta was soon able to join the Allied offensive.

Siege Bell, Valletta

Memorial plaques

The bell has a warning sign that it is rung at noon every day and people had best beware of the loud noise. We visited long after noon so we were okay.

The bell

Not the warning plaque

The siege bell overlooks the harbor in two directions, giving a view of one of the forts as well as the inner harbor.

Looking out into the Grand Harbor and the Mediterranean beyond

The end of the memorial area

By the inner harbor another statue has been erected in honor of those lost. The plaque says, "At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them" in English and Malti.


Side view of the statue

The statue's plaque

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Review: Bone Vol. 1: Out from Boneville by Jeff Smith

Bone Volume 1: Out from Boneville by Jeff Smith

Three cousins (Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone) are cast out of Boneville because yet another get-rich-quick scheme by Phoney has failed. They wander through a mountainous desert until they find a map. A swarm of locust prevents them from following the map. Instead they are separated. Fone Bone finds the map and follows it to a lush valley on the other side of the desert where he becomes trapped by the winter weather. He hopes to find the other bones and go back home, but he's pursued by rat creatures (who aren't very smart), defended by a red dragon (who is quite mysterious), and searching for Thorn (a person who was recommended to him by the bug Ted). Thus begins what is a long series of adventures (the series ran for 55 comics which are collected in 9 trade paperbacks).

The adventures in this book are interesting and the comedy is quite funny. Fone is an endearing character and I am definitely in search of volume 2.

The Malta Experience and Sacra Infermeria, Valletta, Malta

The Malta Experience is a dramatic film that tells the history of the island from the ancient past (5000 BC) up to the modern day. We went because everyone from our bed and breakfast owner to the tourist information person and all our guide books said it was good. The film does give a comprehensive view of the history of Malta, a small chain of islands in between Sicily and North Africa. They are a natural stopping point for trade ships crossing the Mediterranean. As such, they've been visited/controlled by every naval power in the history of the Mediterranean, from the Phoenicians to the British. We enjoyed learning the history of the island.

My knight pal and your humble author

Lucy with the knight

The ticket includes a tour of the Sacra Infermeria, the Holy Infirmary of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. Originally the knights were based in the Holy Land and provided medical care and hospitality to pilgrims of any faith. They were slowly driven west by Muslims attacking first the Holy Land and then Rhodes. They settled on Malta and built the largest hospital at the time.

A knight inside the Sacra Infermeria

The Long Hall on the main floor provided hundreds of beds for the sick. The hall is 155 meters long (170 yards) and is lined with small alcoves that were used as toilets by the patients.

The Long Hall

Where the toilets used to be

The care was the best in the world. In addition to the light and air the tall ceilings provided, the interior courtyard had a garden where the ambulatory ill could spend time. The Order also used silver plates and utensils since they were the easiest to clean and thought to be the safest. When Napoleon conquered Malta, he threw out both the knights and the patients but sold the silver to pay for his Egyptian campaign.

Upstairs also has a small chapel where services were held. Some of the sacred decorations, such as medallions of the evangelists at the base of the dome, are still visible.

Two evangelists by the dome

Where the altar was

Another ward is downstairs. After the British took over, the Infermeria was used as both a military hospital and as stables. The horses were kept in the downstairs hall (accessible by a long ramp). The building was converted into a conference center in 1979 and now the downstairs is used as a banqueting hall.

A fireplace downstairs

The hall underneath the Long Hall

Coats of Arms from the Grand Masters of the Knights cover the alcoves where the toilets used to be!

They also have a large theater (which has replaced the courtyard area) for concerts and another exhibit on the Knights Hospitallers which is available as a separate tour. One tour was plenty for us.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tarxien Temples, Malta

The Tarxien Temples on Malta were built over a thousand-year period from 3600 to 2500 BC, making them some of the oldest man-made structures still in existence. Four temples were built, from the small one on the eastern end of the site to the large, six-room temple.

The entrance sign

Lucy at the beginning of the walkway

In the Bronze Age, the south temple was used for cremation. By the time the Romans came, the area was used for farming (for the Romans, these temples were older than the Colosseum is for us!).

South temple

A bit of inside the south temple

The central temple has a six-apse plan, including the paved main apse with a stone hearth for burning things (presumably sacrifices, later used for cremation).

Approaching the central temple

View into the central temple

The excavation from the far side of the entrance

The doorways of the temples have holes on opposite sides used for doors or screens.

Looking down the middle of the center temple

The temples also contain some intricate carving, though the meaning is lost to time.

Intricate carvings

Some of the archeological equipment

The base of a large statue was discovered here. It would have been eight feet tall and freestanding back in the day. It's assumed to be a female, perhaps a fertility goddess who watched over the temples.

Base of a large statue

The complex was discovered by a farmer in the early 1900s. He complained about the massive neolithic rocks and Sir Themistocles Zammit began excavations in 1915. Many bones and ceramics were discovered, most taken off to nearby museums like Valletta's National Museum of Archeology.

Large bowl or basin

Tables with swirls

Stairs or shelves?

More from Malta in the next post!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Book Review: The Year of Eating Dangerously by K. Bennett

The Year of Eating Dangerously by K. Bennett

The Year of Eating Dangerously is the follow-up book to Pay Me in Flesh, a novel about Los Angeles defense attorney-turned-zombie Mallory Caine. The first book was entertaining, striking a good balance between comedy, mystery, noir, and horror. This book retains all the same elements and does a good job though it is a little darker.

Mallory Caine is now defending her father, a zombie-slaying zealot who charged with killing an ex-cop by chopping his head off with a sword. Mallory knows the act was self-defense because the ex-cop was a zombie ready to kill, but can she persuade the judge and jury to go along? Meanwhile, a ten-year old boy, Jaime, comes to her saying his mom is trying to kill him. Mallory's undead heart goes out to the boy, though his situation is a lot more complicated than it seems. He's part of an ongoing conspiracy to bring about the rule of Satan over the earth, starting in Los Angeles. She has to go through some legal shenanigans to get custody of him and some fantasy violence to keep him safe. All the while she is trying to find out who had her killed and brought back as a zombie.

The legal scenes are entertaining but wildly improbable (for example, the ghost of actor Darren McGavin provides expert witness testimony thanks to information he learned when he starred as Kolchak: The Night Stalker in the 1970s). In the middle of the book, she goes on a vigilante eating spree where she starts killing and consuming some higher-level criminals because they are just too evil and getting away with it. That part was a little too dark and too humorless to fit comfortably with the rest of the book. The big confrontation at the end doesn't really resolve anything, other than intrenching Mallory in her quest to save her soul and her city from the forces of evil.

The book is a fun, light read for the most part. I'd recommend it.

Arriving at Malta

We took a late flight to Malta back in February 2014. Late for us being a 4:10 p.m. departure arriving at 8:45. With the time difference it was only 7:45 but still past the kids' bedtime. We picked up a rental car as fast as possible and then headed off to our nearby bed and breakfast, The Burrow (who can resist a hobbity name like that?) in Tarxien. It is located on an alleyway off of one of the main streets. We found the street just fine but the alleyway was challenging. The local language, Malti, is a mixture of many different languages, dominated by Arabic. After one call we turned the car around and went far enough down in the original direction to find the place.

Our B&B (the next day)

We had two rooms but the kids wanted to stay with mommy. I had the upstairs room to myself. The room was cozy but I was far too tired to stay up and read.

My room

View from the bed

Since my room was at the top, I had a large balcony from which I could appreciate the town in the morning.

Would make for an exciting chase scene

More of the town

My morning alarm

Breakfast was great. The kids had cereal while my wife and I enjoyed the typical continental items--fresh bread, cold cuts, cheese. I tried a jam made from locally-grown figs that was great.

We moved to a large hotel later that day, but not before wandering around town for a little bit. We saw a nice statue of the Archangel Gabriel and Mary.

Back of the statue

The front

The streets are narrow but the houses look like fun to live in.

Typical home with upstairs balcony and a niche for a statue

We also went to the Tarxien Temples, an ancient archeological site within walking distance. More on that in the next blog post!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Gesu, Rome

The Gesu was the first Jesuit church built in Rome. Construction went from 1568 to 1584 and reflects the Baroque exuberance of the Counter-Reformation period. The church is a little bit plain on the outside but astonishingly beautiful on the inside.

Gesu, Rome

Exterior statue with the triumph of learning over ignorance

A statue with the triumph of love over hate

The nave is large and airy with a wonderful pulpit in the middle for preaching the Word to the gathered faithful.



The ceiling frescoes are wonderful, especially the Triumph of the Name of Jesus by Il Baciccia. The picture spills over from the border and onto the rest of the roof.

Triumph of the Name of Jesus

Several of the side altars are splendid, including the Chapel of Sant'Ignazio (St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, who is buried there).

Holy Cross chapel

Altar of St. Francis Xavier with a relic

Chapel of Sant'Ignazio

The Sant'Ignazio is flanked by two wonderful statues depicting Religion Defeats Heresy and Hatred and the Triumph of Faith over Idolatry.

Religion Defeats Heresy and Hatred

Triumph of Faith over Idolatry

The main altar is also quite glorious in the back of the church with the Glory of the Mystical Lamb fresco by Bacicci.

Main altar

Fresco of the Glory of the Mystical Lamb

The side altar to the right of the main altar has many relics of Jesuit saints and some fine statues too.

Some reliquaries and one statue

The church is definitely worth visiting when in Rome!