Sunday, June 01, 2014

malta is more than a lost falcon

For some people, “Malta” evokes images of Peter Lorre and a black bird.

For me, the island is wrapped up in the history of Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St. John.  Everybody knows the Templar Knights -- even though the hubris of publicity can be its own worst punishment, as the Templars found out.

Both orders arose out of the Crusades.  The Knights Hospitaller carried out their duties on Rhodes until the Muslim army and navy drove them out in 1522.  Instead, they settled in Malta, and founded the city of Valletta.

But the Muslims were hot on their tail and set siege to the new city.  The Knights survived.

Out of thanks to God for sparing them, the knights built a magnificent cathedral in 1577.  And it may be the church with the greatest contrasts between the exterior and interior.  At least, that I have seen.

The exterior is Mannerist.  Almost austere in its lines.  That is it at the top of this post.

But, the interior?  I am sorry I already used my Baroque-Rococo pun.  It would have been very handy.

The guides call the interior Baroque.  I would put it square in the Rococo camp.  Every inch of the interior is decorated with something.  The ceiling is covered with frescoes.  The walls support paintings and sculptures -- and where there would usually be blank space, the void is filled with symbols.

Even the floor is carpeted -- with highly-decorated marble tablets honoring the then-great of Malta.  It is easy to imagine this is what Gianni Versace’s mind would have looked like reproduced as a church.

But Valletta is more than just a fancy church built by heroes of western civilization.  It is also about street theater.  And not just the “charming” type so often extolled by tourists who encounter vendors flogging their (and China’s) wares in the open air.

Nope.  These were real live hippies.  Playing the beat-heavy type of music we learned in kindergarten and bewailing the dangers of GMO foods.  Even though their prime slogan (“GMO’s [sic] Harm Lab Rats”) needs a little work.  A woman, who looked like a prime target, noticed the sign while walking by and quipped: “Too bad they don’t just kill rats.”

I ignored the slogans and simply enjoyed the simple pleasure of the music.  Anything that would make a noise when hit was banging away.  And, because there is still a subtext of communitarianism amongst old hippies, rhythm devices were distributed to audience members, all of whom became part of a great clanging masses.

Of course, there was one guy telling everyone else what they needed to do.  A practical exercise in why all communes are designed to fail.

Valletta hasn’t failed.  The Knights no longer rule the place.  Nor do the British, the last colonial power to rule.

Malta is now an independent nation -- and part of the European Union.  I might add, it is a tad conservative, as well.  Two shirtless local young men were walking through the main square when a policeman very good-naturedly told them to put on their shirts.  The boys objected, but they put on their shirts.  It was hard to imagine that scene playing out in Melaque.

I have never considered coming to Malta in the past.  But it has been a nice visit.

And now?  We are heading off to Greece.  That means a full day at sea.

This time, I think I will just read.

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