Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Malta Sketchbook

View of Malta, 12 Sept 1995 
(Pencil and watercolour over two pages of 6 x 8 in sketchbook)

OK, let's try to get this blog back on tracks.

I've only been to Malta once; I didn't much care for it. I know many people like the island and there are certainly quite a few artists who go there regularly to draw and paint, but though I've toyed with the possibility of returning, I've never been able to persuade myself that it would be worthwhile. Unless it were with the sole purpose of going back to Tigne Battery (more of which later).

If you're a Malta fan, let me put my case before you throw up your hands in horror. When I was considering a trip there, I asked a friend at work who had been there what he thought of it. His reply was succinct: "It's beige," he said. And so it proved to be. The island and all the buildings are made of limestone which, unlike the limestones of the Greek islands, is not white but, well, beige. I did this drawing of the capital Valletta, on the first day there and found the buildings just blended into one another such that I eventually gave up trying to sort it out. It's not a bad drawing (not very good either), but it didn't satisfy me at the time and still doesn't.

We were staying in Sliema on the northeast coast of the island and a bus took us to the hotel from the airport. On the way there, we fell into conversation with a couple who told us they had been holidaying on Malta for 25 years. They loved it. But it soon became clear they never went out during the day, not because they were vampires but because they were something much more exotic - sequence dancers.

It seems sequence dancing clubs are very big amongst a certain section of the British population and wherever British servicemen have been stationed, there you'll find a sequence dancing club. To cater for their passion, package holiday companies take them on holidays all over the Med - Cyprus, Gibraltar, Malta and the usual bits of Spain. It being too hot during the day to trip any light fantastic, They Only Come Out at Night.

So dancing in the dark is obviously one reason for Malta's attraction. The beer is pretty good, too, being British styled but lighter for the climate. However, when we were there the pubs and even the cafes stuck rigidly to an afternoon closing schedule which made life quite difficult. One day while sitting outside a pub finishing off a pint, they came and took away the umbrellas and left us in the fierce heat., yet there was still a good half hour of opening time to go. Sitting in a cafe we'd just got our sandwiches before 2 pm; five minutes later, other customers were turned away.

The buses were wonderful old machines, beautifully painted and decorated with rosaries and religious icons but all of them went into and out of the main bus station, which meant that if you wanted to go anywhere other than Valletta, you still had to go into Valletta bus station, change buses and out again. I understand there's been a shake-up of the transport now: the old buses have gone and Arriva has taken over. My experience of Arriva in this country doesn't make me any more cheerful to hear that.

Oh, let's finish on the food. I had the worst pizza of my whole life in a restaurant in Sliema. The wait for it was considerable and when it arrived there was a huge bubble in the pastry which had made the topping slide off to one side, leaving a dry lump of pastry bubble at the other side. I was so astonished and so very hungry that I didn't bother to complain.

So there you have it: not what I hoped for from a holiday. I was on the point of giving up on the idea of getting any drawing done when I discovered Tigne Battery. More next time.


Anonymous said...

Like the memoir! Never heard of sequence dancing. 25 years going back to the same place. Guess they must love it.

The yellow in the limestone is I think due to Oolites - little circular structure of limestone which grew around particles of sand. The Cotswolds are famous for it.

Oh, and : HAPPY BIRTHDAY for yesterday. Belated card in post!

harry bell said...

Thank you, Kev. There's something about servicemen that gets them going back regularly to places where they were stationed. I've come across the same thing in Cyprus (another place I didn't much like :0>).

I'm sure you're right about the Oolites. Oh, oh, the Oolites ....

Anonymous said...

Never been to Malta and I don't know if it's moved to the end of the 20th century yet, but the description of opening houses and disregard for customers takes me back, without much sense of nostalgia, to the 1970s here.


harry bell said...

It actually reminded me of the 1950s. I'd like to think they've now cottoned on to what today's tourists actually want.