Monday, June 4, 2007

An adventure, of sorts

Today was an adventure to top all. Mom, you probably don't want to read this one. It starts off well enough. It was a horrible rainy day – completely uncommon for June in Malta, it was raining pretty hard and flooding on the street next to mine when I drove off. The plan for today was that I would do some sightseeing with the lovely parents of the lovely lady here who is in the hospital, because they have only really seen her apartment and the hospital and I have time and I haven't seen much yet myself.

I pick them up at the apartment, and in trying to not take the long way back, we get completely lost in Sliema for a good 20 minutes or so. Remember, this is a tiny island so 20 minutes lost is a lot of time. They have a good sense of humor about it, which I had made sure about before I offered to take them out. We finally get onto a road I know and we are off to Rabat to check out the catacombs. Rather than repeat the exciting adventure we just had, we decide to park in a known area and walk to the sights of Rabat, because everything is incredibly close together. First stop: St. Paul's Church and Grotto. The grotto is allegedly where St. Paul stayed for the 3 months he was in prison when he came to Malta. It is more interesting than my guidebook led me to believe it would be. We also got to see a crypt for some important church people, which is also down there. The church itself is insanely ornate, and definitely overwhelming, but if you focus on one piece at a time (not that you would ever get through all of them that way) and focus on the skill/craft involved in creating the piece, and how long it must have taken the artisan, and then look around at ALL the ornate pieces, it is quite impressive. There are paintings, frescoes, statues, altars, tapestries ... everything you can think of is there, and all hand crafted about 300-400 years ago. It is remarkably well preserved.

Next stop, St. Paul's Catacombs. Here you get audio guides that lead you through first the outside courtyard then down into the catacombs. In several places the lights were out, and we all cursed ourselves for not having brought flashlights. The catacombs are pretty impressive, they go much farther back than we are allowed to go, and the audio guide does a pretty good job explaining how it all worked. It is amazing to think all the now empty tombs or whatever they are called were once filled with dead people. And without the electric lights it was pitch black ... back in the day they only had small oil lamps (there were some artifacts of these lamps in the reception area where you pay and pick up the audio guides) and these lamps didn't look like they shed much light.

At this point it is already close to noon. We head over for a quick walk through Mdina and go to lunch. Because Laurie's mom requires gluten free food, our options were limited. We headed to Cafe Jubilee on the Sliema strand and actually found it pretty easily. Lunch was fun, and we picked up something to go for Laurie – I was bringing her parents to the hospital before I went home. When we walked out of the restaurant it was pouring down rain. Pouring may have even been putting it lightly. Where the road seemed to have the lowest water point the water was above my ankles. Wet feet! We ran to the car, got in, and turned the ignition. Dead, deader than a doornail dead. Silent dead – not even a sputter.

I do a pretty good job not panicking. I know we have our insurance docs in the glovebox so I take them out to see if we have anything there. It is just car-crash insurance. I am thinking we didn't get roadside assistance service. We both had AAA back home and Terry is so handy I think we just forgot all about getting something for overseas. I call Post 1 and because I start my sentence with “I'm not sure if this is something I'd call post 1 about” he doesn't even listen to what's wrong, he transfers me to the operator. Luckily it was Charlie who answered the phone. Charlie works with Terry and is a really wonderful guy. I explain what is going on and that I don't know what to do. He says he can call a tow service and give me the number for getting the roadside assistance service. He takes my number and says he will find out what my options are and call me back. Meanwhile, Laurie's dad has an idea about what is wrong so he has me pop the hood and he jumps out and is playing with the battery cable. He tells me to turn the ignition. The car starts!

Charlie calls back and I tell him the car is running. We are trying to get the windows a bit defogged before heading out, and I finally put the brake on to put the car into drive from park. It goes dead again. Laurie's dad says he knows what the problem is – we have the loosest battery cable he has ever seen. He has seen cables 10 times tighter than ours that didn't work. I call Charlie and he suggests we find a store, restaurant, something in the area that might have pliers and we can get the cable tightened. Not a perfect fix but something to hold until we can get a new one. Laurie's father has another great idea, goes running out of the car yet again, and eventually knocks on my window to have me turn the ignition again. It starts. He jumps in and we drive away. He had put a pin somewhere wedged into something and it should at least hold until I get home ... and I am advised not to turn the car off until I am somewhere safe. Yes, sir!! I get them to the hospital just fine, and head out to go home. Somehow I manage to go the wrong way at one point and have to drive around lost trying to find the right way back. When I find the way back to the main road, there is no way to get to the correct side of the road except to keep going down the wrong way until I get to a roundabout. I go a distance and realize that there may not be any place to turn around until I am practically at Valletta, so when I see a U-turn cutout – meant for folks going the other direction – I check the road is clear and I take it! Meanwhile, the defroster isn't working hard enough and the only way to see is to keep the windows open, so rain is pouring into the car. At one point the rain is so hard that even with the windshield wipers going full blast I can barely see, it is like a faucet of water running all over the car. Finally, finally, I am on the way home, this time I do it all correctly and make it home in one piece. I park under our very new carport, and am home. Wet, completely freaked out, but home.

In the midst of all the hoopla, I had to cancel our stuff coming from the warehouse because I got home too late. The embassy has a certain amount of stuff available to embassy families, like dehumidifiers, space heaters, refrigerators, etc. so we had placed an order for a few things and they were to come today. When the guy comes tomorrow, though, he will bring pliers and we will try to get the cable fitted more tightly to the battery, and when Terry returns we'll probably get a new cable and he can probably put it in himself. I don't have anywhere I have to drive until I pick him up at the airport on Sunday – this is part of why we decided to live where we do – i can walk to whatever I need and a friend is picking me up and driving me to lunch when we go out one day this week.

Completely off topic but it also happened today: occasionally there is a produce vendor across the street from me. I can't figure out which days he comes and he never stays long, in fact I had thought he was just stopping for lunch or something and wasn't actually selling anything. He was out when I got home so I decided to take this opportunity to get a few things without having to leave Kirby because I was very low on fruits and veggies. Turns out this guy is sort of a ripoff, I paid way more to get way less than any other trip to the carts since i got here. Maybe there is a premium for the special trip, the guy told me he comes here because he makes a delivery to one of my neighbors.

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