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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
The Ladies of Valetta
Still hot and sunny

Today was a day off from boat work. We took the water ferry across Marsamxett harbour to Valetta. (Oh, the joy of even five minutes actually afloat and the clear horizon glimpsed through the crabclaw points where the capital nearly touches Sliema.)
The tiny, fortified city is austere and controlled, as befits its foundation by warrior monks. Behind the strict fa├žade and trompe d'oeile ceilings of a knightly auberge are the treasures of different eras in Malta's rich Museum of Archeology. The oldest stone buildings in the world are found on these tiny islands, and within them some of the oldest human figurines. They are women.
These are women who have given birth, with rich hips and nipples which point proudly to the floor. Many are headless, for the heads were made separately and got lost. Or maybe the heads were destroyed in some unknown funerary rite. After 6,000 years it's impossible to know the behaviour of a cult which had no writing. This sleeper, who may of course be dead, still bears marks of red ochre, and so we can imagine she was rich in colour as well as form and dignity.
Afterwards, we had a rather good lunch of pizza and spare ribs. In the afternoon sunshine, we watched a small girl playing grandmother's footsteps with the fountains outside the President's Palace. Valetta is not yet too hot or too crowded so early May is a good time to be here.

Places and people
07/09/2010, Sliema

While Jenny and Liz were still here, we discovered the spa! Pip had her feet manicured by Dr Fish (Garra Rufa to give them their full name) as an early birthday pressie! (Liz did video this, but the youtube clip isn't Pip's actual feet.) These amazing little fish eat at the dead skin presented to them, swarming around over toes and heels. It feels like a TENS machine as they chomp away, mini-piranhas that they are.
So, with the boat tucked up, we returned to the hotel one last time. Pip had a back massage and Aurvedic leg rub, while Sarah had her hands chewed by the fish, and then a full body massage.
Blissed out we went to our newly discovered fave bar, the Jubilee CafÚ in Gzira, for a great brunch. We hugged the boat goodbye and set off on the weary trek away from the sun and the sea towards the rain and chill of the east of England. As we won't be travelling for a while, we won't be blogging much either. We're hoping for an easier winter than last year and plan to be cruising again in April or May.

Places and people
Cooling the legs

Roaring Girl has been placed quite close to the high brick wall around the Yard. Beyond the wall is a small slipway. Fishing and sports boats use it, but the main occupants are horses.
Trotting and sulky racing is very popular in Malta. It's hard on the legs, so everyday there is a stream of horses brought down here to stand in the cooling seawater.

Places and people
Lovely friends
27/08/2010, Sliema

Months ago we arranged to meet various friends in Valetta over the UK August Bank Holiday, to celebrate Sarah's birthday. Due to various misfortunes and competing arrangements only the lovely Jenny and Liz could make it. They stayed at the Hotel Fortina, with a spectacular view across Marsamxett harbour towards Valetta itself.
The hotel has numerous facilities - restaurants, spa, pools, air-conditioning and showers . They were both exhausted from various emotional maulings over the last year and a half, while we were both hot and in need of chilling. It also became really windy that week, so in the end the four of us spent most of the five days lying around the hotel pools and drinking pretty cocktails. And lovely it was! We're not sure exactly what Jenny's doing in the photo, though: she's not usually a palmreader!
We'll sightsee properly when we are here in the spring. It'll be much more comfortable then.

Places and people
And the museum

Siracuse is home to an enormous collection of material from the Neolithic onwards. There are rooms of material and its not at all easy to absorb it all. There are no chubby goddesses to gawp at either.
There is this exquisite Aphrodite. She has been controversial for her sensuality and realism, but we thought her beautiful.

Places and people
The archaeological park

To the west of Siracuse, on the mainland, is the area where the Greeks and Romans established their entertainment complex and ritual centres - temples and theatres. The centrepiece is this massive Greek amphitheatre. Much pillaged by the Romans and then the Spanish, at its height it seated 15,000 on massive tiers of stone carved from the hill, and shaded by awnings. Aeschylus' Etnan Women premiered here. It was the centre of civic life for political events as well.
Also in the park are the quarries, where the stone was dug. This includes two enormous caves, created by the work. One has beautiful acoustics and was christened the Ear of Dionysus (after an important Tyrant, not the bibulous god), by Caraveggio. The other, sadly not open to the public, is the even bigger Ropemakers Cave, favoured for the work as the damp air prevented the rope drying and splitting as it was made.
The Tyrant Heiron II built an enormous temple here for sacrifices to Zeus; there are stories of 450 bulls being killed at one annual festival, but not much now remains above the foundations. Alongside is the Roman amphitheatre. This is smaller, but in its heyday was impressively high. The stage seems quite small compared to the Colisseum, but was obviously big enough for gladiatorial fights and the 'circus' of animal contest. The big tank in the middle is far too small for nautical events, and was probably a drain for the blood.

Places and people
Clear water and papyrus

A popular spot in the old city is the Fonte Aretusa. This a pretty fresh-water spring, beloved of papyrus plants and ducks, just a few feet from the sea. It has been here since ancient times, and there are many myths about it and the nymph Arethusa after which it is named

Places and people
Cathedrals then and since

The main Duomo of Siracuse is built on the heights of Ortigia, a site that was already sacred when the Greeks arrived and started a 5th century BC temple to Athena. This building had world-famous decorations, and huge gilded statue of the goddess on the roof, which caught the sun's rays and acted as a beacon for sailors.
The current cathedral, rebuilt after the earthquake, still uses the Doric columns as its skeleton. They are literally in the walls. The internal shape is thus very much that classically proportioned, simple rectangle, and is also spare and dusky. Some Norman columns also still stand, adding a further angularity to the lines. Off to the south side, a number of small chapels have been added, and these are decorated in full Baroque extravagance, with cherubs and friezes and leaves and scrolls and angels and apostles and everything else that could be crammed into the space. You wander from the dim sobriety of the temple to these fantasias and back again as if in a bipolar religious mania.
The fa├žade is Baroque, but as with most of the period's external decoration in Siracuse, it is restrained and formal. The piazza in front of it is beautiful, and pedestrianised so very pleasant. We saw three Guardia pushing an electric cart with a flat battery, which made everybody in the caf├ę laugh.

Places and people
The Madonna blesses the waters.

Every summer we have ended up somewhere exciting for the local ritual of blessing the waters. It often coincides with the Assumption, for example in Nice. But sometimes it's different, as in Northern Spain where St James is invoked. We'd just got the anchor down when it all started. The huge statue is on the back of a commercial tug boat, which came off the quay and did a slow round of the harbour. Around it (and us) was a huge melee of craft -fishing boats, small sports boats, RIBs, three coast guards. No yachts actually followed sadly, but we hooted our foghorns and joined in gleefully. Blessings are always welcome!

Places and people
Entering Siracuse harbour

This is the magnificent fortress, the Castello Maniace, at the entrance to the Porto Grande of Siracuse. Behind it you see the beginning of Ortigia from the east. This is the 'old town', built on its eponymous island and the ancient heart of the city. In fact, the area was badly shaken by an earthquake in 1693 and rebuilt in beautiful, elegant Baroque.
Siracuse has been high on our list of places to visit. For 250 years the city rivalled Athens in power, and is the only Sicilian town ever to have been a major player across the Mediterranean. Here the Tyrants ruled, followed by the Roman imperium, then the Arabs came back and held the island till the Normans took it away. After them more northern Europeans (Swabians, actually), and then the Spanish, before Garibaldi invaded on his way to the unification of Italy in the mid-nineteenth century. Some Sicilians, allegedly, see Italy as another in this millennial history of foreign occupiers; whether this is fair or not, Sicily has its own language, gastronomy, architecture and volcanoes, but has not the tradition of ardent separatism that characterises Corsica.

Places and people

This is a big date in southern Europe, when the church celebrates the assumption of the Virgin into heaven. Here, directly after midnight, there was a massive fireworks display. You can see how still it was from the reflection of the explosions in the water, in the bottom part of the picture.
We had a spectacular view from the cockpit, and were astonished that there were no other boats out. Not even little sports boats just out for the display. Fantastic!

Places and people
Powerful women

These wonderful images belong to pre-nuraghic Sardinia and are several thousand years old. They are described as the 'divine feminine', believed to be goddesses. Their importance is inferred from their positioning and the huge numbers and range of them in significant sites.
Of course there's lots of academic controversy about matriarchy and matrifocal societies, here as elsewhere. In particular, surely someone has written about the changing representations of women in this archaeological record. From these majestic, passive figures, there seems an abrupt transition to the energy of the bronze statuettes. But there's also a change from these powerful images to pictures of women that are either mundane (the breast displaying camp-follower) or passive in another way. One of the most famous statuettes is a beautiful tiny figure of a woman with her dead son across her knees, as if in a pieta brought about by war or vendetta. Despite their vigour and impact, these women do not have the sense of control offered by their predecessors. Later came the Carthaginians, and then the Romans; sculpture becomes more representational and women take their place amongst more familiar images of home, deity and imperial power.
We loved these ancient women, their stature and solidity. Some are big, maybe 60cm high, but others are tiny. The three dimensional Buddha-figures are detailed and charismatic. By contrast the angular, proto-cubist statues are like alien representations of power.

Places and people

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Who: Pip Harris and Sarah Tanburn
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