Saturday, May 12, 2012

Incredibly loud and extremely close?

Marsalforn is a small fishing village on the northern coast of Gozo, one of the three islands that makes up the little Republic of Malta, some ninety kilometers south of Sicily, in the heart of the Mediterranean. To the west is Tunisia, on the north African coast, and to the south is Libya. We are pretty remote here. The local language, Malti, has a strong Arabic flavour, but the culture is more Italian than anything. Although everyone speaks English and drives on the left, the telly comes from Sicily. The universal language of football binds everyone together.

In Gozo, everything is blue, more blue than you have seen before. The sky is more sky blue, more than you have seen before. And the sea is more sea blue except for the green. The water is more clear than you have ever seen. It is warm, sunny and warm, for three hundred days a year, including today. The buildings are all of white limestone, rock stacked on rock, each reaching up three floors or more to the same blue sky. Everybody comes here to dive in that perfectly blue-green clear water. Except me; I came here to read.

I sit enjoying my lunch at a small bar by the harbour side in Marsalforn and my quiet is disturbed by a great deal of shouting. I can discern female voices - lots of them it seems, and close by. So loud and so close that you might say incredibly loud and extremely close...

I put down my knife and fork and watch, as around the corner of the street appear three women and a wheelchair. The eldest woman is seated in the wheelchair and the younger is pushing her along, while a third is holding onto one of the handles and seems to be dragged along by the chair. She is limping as she walks, the chair is going just a little too fast for her. None of them are less than sixty years old and the eldest is well over seventy. They are all shouting loudly, possibly at each other, possibly to passers by, possibly to me but I cannot tell since it is all in Malti.

There is some arm waving too and this leads me to believe that the debate, if one can call it that, is regarding where they are going to sit down for a few minutes. They are each pointing to a different part of the sea front. Only the younger one seems to be providing both propulsion and direction so it is inevitable that her will is going to prevail. It does.

Crab-like, they make their way across the street towards the sea wall, where there are some benches, still debating at a high pitch, now a question of which bench. Once they arrive at a vacant bench, the noise subsides and they settle down to enjoy their view of the harbour. I conclude that they are sisters; no-one else could carry on in this way. And I suspect that this is a regular procession. It is practiced and seems to have an order of some sort in the chaos. The shouting, the arm waving, the gesticulating, all seem to be part of well rehearsed routine. I am the only person to take notice of this event; it must be quite normal. It will take more than this to disturb the quiet of Marsalforn.

Normal programming resumes and I return to my lunch.

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