Thursday, September 27, 2007

Palazzo Falson

In the city of Mdina, in 1233, the building that is now known as Palazzo Falson was first built. The diplomatic spouses group had a tour of the building that focused mainly on the building's restoration and the amazing collections of the building's past private occupant, a Maltese guy named Falson who was an inveterate packrat.

Because of our house reconstruction project (back in Philly, before we joined the FS) i was particularly interested in the stories of the restoration of the building and of the artifacts. I felt some kinship when the curator explained that every time they opened up a wall they found new problems they hadn't expected, with the attendant time and expense added to the project for fixing said problems. When Falson died, he left the house and his possessions in trust and left it to the civil servants to execute the plan .... so the building remained untouched for 40 years. The artisans employed to restore what items they could were innumerable, from armorers, to textile experts, to architects, to university students (who had the exciting task of vacuuming every page of every book in the library, wearing gas masks all the while because the room had been loaded with DDT to preserve the books).

His collections are impressive, and the rooms are well appointed. The dining room is set up for a dinner party of six with the fine china, crystal and silver laid out, the kitchen made most of us envious even though it didn't have modern amenities like running water. All in all it was one of the highlights of my Malta touring experience.

We finished the tour at the cafe on the rooftop. Unfortunately, the cafe is only available to patrons of the museum. Our lunch was topped off with wonderful Fontanella chocolate cake (the cafe owner's mum is the proprietor of Fontanella so he gets desserts from her).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Pointless 2:30 wake up call

In Malta if you get the middle cable package you get this station called NASN which stands for North American Sports Network. This is excellent for me because they cover a fair amount of the US games that I am interested in. The big concern for me ... American Football. I watch baseball when the Phillies are on but otherwise not so much. With Malta being 6 hours ahead of the East Coast catching the games can be tricky. Sunday 1:00pm games are nice because they start at 7:00pm here. The rough ones are the Sunday and Monday night games. These games start around 2:30 in the morning. Being the football starved person I am I get up early on Tuesdays or Mondays and try to watch the second half of some of the football games. Lynne thinks I am totally crazy considering how much I hate getting up early. I will get up early for hunting, fishing, and now it appears football (I have a feeling playoff hockey will get this honor as well).

Last week the New England game was shown live in Malta so I didn’t see the Eagles game. I knew they were going to rebroadcast the game on Monday at 4:30pm so for an entire day at work I would not talk about football, or go to a whole list of websites for fear I might find out the final score for when I watched it later. I made it the whole day and watched the game in agony like the rest of Philadelphia (excepted delayed 21 ½ hours). Last night it was the Eagles on Monday night football and I was very excited, because it meant I got to watch the game live since no other game will conflict with it. All I had to do was get up at 2:30am.

So this morning I rise in the early morning to watch the game. I make coffee, head into the living room, and turn on the television before I go grab something to eat. As I fire up the TV I notice the screen is oddly blank. The little bar along the bottom of the screen from the cable box says there is no signal. So I start playing with the television and sure enough all the channels are out. Next I check the cable modem and that is down. Nothing is coming in over the cable line at all. I checked all the connectors starting outside and working in to see if one of them is bad or loose. Nothing. So after all the playing around I give up and call the cable company knowing this is a lost cause because there is no way anyone is there at this hour. The Maltese don’t really believe you should need service 24/7 if your utilities are not working. So after the phone just rings and rings with no answer I give up. I got and up and went through all this only to be thwarted. So I go to sleep on the couch because I don’t want to wake Lynne up.

Off to work I go. Somewhere around 8:30 Lynne emails me everything is back to normal. She never even had to call the cable company, everything just came back up. Damn you football gods why do you mock me??

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Are you ready for some Football

On September 8th the Malta national football team (soccer for those on the US side of the pond) hosted the Turkish national team. A bunch of us went to the game. This game was held on the anniversary date of Victory Day, a Maltese holiday celebrating a victory over the Turks. In 1565 the Turkish armies came to Malta to take the island from the Knights of Malta. The long battle was called the Great Siege. On September 8th the Turkish army left. The Maltese remember this battle like it happened yesterday. The tenacity of the Maltese people is well documented and impressive throughout history.

So back to the match. The Malta team is out of contention for further playoffs but could play spoiler to the superior Turkish team. I have never been known to be a big fan of football/soccer (from this point I will refer to the game as f/s). The Maltese fans were really into the game and enthusiastic. I was impressed by their enthusiasm. There are some bizarre things about f/s that make it tough for Americans to take. The first thing is the injury time out. What is with this? When a player gets injured the clock continues to run. Officials keep track of the time that play is stopped for injury. Then this time is added to the end of each half so there is a full 45 minutes per half. As you are on the edge of your seat (as much as anyone can be for f/s) for the final seconds of the game the announcer comes over the loud speaker there are four minutes of injury time. So play will continue for another four minutes. Here is the problem with this. The clock stops at 45 or 90 minutes. They never show the injury time up on the scoreboard. So now you have no idea when the game is really ending. Absolutely ridiculous. I have a novel idea. Press the stop button on the clock during an injury so that everyone always knows how much time there is. This really is not that complex, but some reason nobody has sat back and said “this is idiotic” lets fix it.

Since we are on the subject of injuries. F/S players are some of the biggest cry babies ever. I have seen peewee football games with less crying. Diving is unbelievably rampant. Players on both sides will dive if they are so much as touched. I know they are trying to draw a foul but really it cheapens the game and not to mention slows the game down (as if that is possible). Really if you are going to go down with an injury if should be for a real injury. If you leave the field for any reason you should no be allowed back on for 15 minutes. If your team had to be down a player for 15 minutes of the game it might make the players think twice about diving.

On to the biggest problem Americans will have f/s. The Maltese were thrilled to play to draw against the better Turkish team. This drove me and the other American crazy. I want conclusion in my sports. No stupid draws. It felt hollow and empty. I really don’t understand how they are excited about that. Americans like winners and losers. A tie makes you feel like "why bother?". Americans will accept a tie on rare occasion but don’t love it. You have to at least play one overtime period first. There are lots of other quirks about that game that I find annoying but those are the big three. All in all the game was fun and people really get into it. I would certainly go to another game. The one thing me and my boss agreed on is we need teach the Maltese how to tailgate. Cold Cisk and hot dogs for everyone!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Ghar Dalam

We discussed earlier this week that if the current tolerable weather continued, we should really get back to touristing this weekend. Because all sights in Malta are either outdoors and open to the elements, or un-air conditioned, we largely curtailed our exploring a couple of months ago. (OK, there are the catacombs in Rabat and the Hypogeum ...)

So, this morning we prepare to set out. Oh, wait, just as we are letting the dog out one last time before heading out, we hear loud music and many voices that seem to be coming from the road. We walk up to the gate and are greeted by a huge bicycle procession passing on our street. We are not going anywhere until that passes, and the line of bikers passes out of sight. OK, there is a bend in the road about half a block up, but it does seem to go on forever. In reality, we are delayed about 15 minutes. We still don't know what the purpose of the bikers was, so if anyone in Malta is reading this, feel free to fill us in.

Today's trip was to Ghar Dalam, a cave at the south end of the island where remains of prehistoric animals have been found. The cave itself is an interesting geological experience too. We also appreciated the vegetables, randomly but clearly being tended to, growing in the dirt just outside the entrance to the museum portion of the facility. When you first walk into the cave, you can see the only portion that still has animal bones. The rest have been excavated. The cave is a pretty good exhibit, especially by Malta standards where at many sites all the good stuff has been removed and can be viewed at the Museum of Archeology in Valletta. Although I didn't love the Victorian display of rows and rows of hippo kneecaps and huge jars of red deer teeth, I can appreciate the volume of animal remains that were found there and understand that without any full skeletons, a recreation wasn't easily possible. The "new" part of the museum was great, though. Who knew that elephants and hippos were found in Europe during and after the Ice Age? And they reduced in size through evolution when they got trapped on Malta because this tiny island really can't sustain such large life?

After Ghar Dalam, we went to wander around the fishing village of Marsaxlokk. We had gone there once for dinner but hadn't spent any additional time there. I don't know if it is every Sunday but there was a huge flea market type situation all along the water. There was some fish for sale (although I am pretty sure this wasn't the fish market) and some produce (which was very convenient because most things aren't open on Sundays in Malta) but mostly it was the usual flea market stuff. We did find peanuts at a ridiculously low price (we snack on nuts a lot and at the store it is so expensive, for such small quantities, we have been begging parents to ship us lovely Costco-sized bags to keep our habit up). I got a little hungry grumpy after every single restaurant and cafe along a 1/4 mi. stretch of waterfront was full so we pulled out the nuts and discovered why they were so cheap. They were raw. The roasting instructions I found on the internet required removing the red papery stuff from the nut and I have to say roasting peanuts is the biggest PITA ... probably even worse than cooking Indian food, which is time consuming and a huge PITA. We have decided that the next batch of roasting will not include the removal of that stuff and we'll just deal with it.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

September in Malta

Both glorious and painful. The temperature has not gotten over 30C in a whole week! That means I can actually leave the house after 8am to run an errand that requires me to be in the sun for some amount of time. This hasn't happened in about 2 months. Kirby has actually gotten a walk every morning for the last 2 weeks (although, like back in Philly, he tends to get screwed on the weekends). I don't NEED the A/C on at every moment during the day. The humidity is up, but that just means less dust in the air, in the house, and in the pool.

The mosquitoes are out in full force, and this is the kind whose bites cause welts. I got one bite right on the top of my foot, my shoes must have chafed it and now it is a little swollen. No, it is not pregnancy swelling, the other foot is fine.

In other news, the culinary adventures are continuing and I am getting pretty good. Of course, once the baby is here I won't have an entire afternoon to chop and blend and simmer .... as a cooking neophyte, I didn't realize that a good 80-90% of cooking is just the sous chef's job - all the chopping and measuring. I can't wait for a good hardship post where we can have domestic help to accomplish those chores for me. The folks who ship out next summer are going through their bid cycle right now, and it is really exciting to hear about the places they are contemplating. Our next bid cycle is still in the directed phase - the first two posts are "directed" - so it is a different process and we don't get the full list. We're only 6 months here but getting caught up in everyone else's excitement I am anxious to see our list! It will probably be good that I will soon be distracted and somewhat loopy from sleep deprivation.

Terry and I each got a treat a couple of weeks ago: a cappuccino maker and an ice cream maker (the one we shipped just doesn't like the different voltage). We're been having fun experimenting with them. We can't quite get the milk to foam properly ... my decade-plus-old experience with an industrial strength cappuccino maker doesn't seem to help (yes, when coffee shops were just starting to proliferate I worked in an independent one, one summer in college).

Baby update for those who just have to know: nothing new to report, everything is going just dandy. My OB is on vacation this week and starting next week - my 36th - I see her every week until delivery. Baby is healthy, I am healthy, tying my shoes has become a hassle and if I go too many days without swimming my back starts to hurt. I am not desperate for her to be out yet or anything, but I am getting anxious to meet her.