Ice. I’ve lived in cold places, but never this cold I suppose. Frozen sand, iced ponds, incredible shards and circles and forms, as beautiful on incredible beaches as within the pocked asphalt alongside an industrial estate. I know these have nothing on what can be seen all along the East Coast today, the frozen wonder of Niagra Falls, but then I suppose you should never compare wonders.
An unexpected reminder of the transitory nature of life and flight
An immensity of space
And into the woods
and out again
I have never walked across frozen sand before
through a watercolour world
of frozen waters
The only thing missing, a great flock of salmon pink flamingos glowing against the dark cliffs and snowy peaks, being herded by Tilda Swinton back into her exotic aviary. It did start raining by the time we got back to Nairn to wait for our train.
Enda Walsh… we didn’t know what to expect at the Smock Alley Theatre. We didn’t set our expectations high enough for Disco Pig and Sucking Dublin in this space that I loved quite uncritically, and M liked with rather more critique of highs and lows being lost to us as was a bit of the stage. Bright and violent and shining, seventeen and the world before them when, if, they were able to emerge from the world they had created with each other. Pig and Runt as an us versus all of them, a bit terrifying, a bit beautiful. The sea as a birthday gift. Blue the colour of love. Still babas awakening from a violent innocence. It is also all about how awakening means wanting more, knowing that the other will always hold you back even if you love them. It’s about getting out. Seems like one working class world is so very much like another, a bit glorious, a bit terrible, all we have to differentiate ourselves is our language and the nature of the music that calls us and the drugs that get us through, or our trajectories out and away from grinding work and reproduction. The language was fucking amazing. Of course anything about getting out always rips my heart out, and he threw heroin and some violence against women in there as well so Sucking Dublin finished the job.
I know too there is more than this, that getting out isn’t required. Getting out scars you. A lucky one. An unlucky one. I don’t know.
A lovely, flying, terribly-timed weekend trip to Dublin on the grounds that M was examining a PhD on Friday, both of us studiously trying to ignore the crushing sleep-withdrawing pressure of deadlines and just enjoy, which wasn’t too hard although the weather was baltic and I earned myself the nickname of old face-ache.
So we didn’t walk around too much, just saw a few things. Ate Pho. Climbed down into the crypts to see the mummies in St Michan’s, which were quite amazing. I’m rather glad you can’t touch them anymore. I took this before seeing the no pictures sign. Waste not want not.
The Sheare brothers are also here, hanged, drawn and quartered after the 1798 uprising, and maybe just maybe Robert Emmet. And above, a rather wondrous organ that Handel played the Messiah on.
The Dublin of contrasts.
Friezes of household items, notably fish and carrots on the old market building
Posters of Irish women writers:
We walked through Temple Bar, bookshops, the book market in the freezing wind.
The Little Museum of Dublin, crowdsourced and one of the best little museums I’ve been to and couldn’t recommend more. If we could have had our guide Patrick escort us through the streets of Dublin the whole weekend we would have done. For his story of the duck keeper of St Stephen’s Green during the Easter rising alone I would have paid an entry fee. Ground floor was all George Bernard Shaw…I have my mixed feelings about him, usually want to punch the Fabians, but a GBS posing as the thinker in the buff was quite extraordinary. And I love these old Georgian houses, though I know they were the housing of colonial rule.
Second best behind Patrick and the ducks, what they believe to be Flann O’Brien’s chair hanging from the ceiling.
I pretended it was his policeman leaning there rusty against the wall in the next room.
Went to the Long Hall, once patronised by an excess of 150 Fenians. I don’t know if you can have an excess of Fenians, but perhaps. There were certainly an excess of loud shoppers on a horrible Saturday afternoon and our pints were cold. Jesus. It was beautiful but still we fled. Walked past the big pointy thing again.
Across from our hotel the blessing of the taxi cabs.
And the An Bord Pleanála, which google tells me is an independent, statutory, quasi-judicial body that decides on appeals from planning decisions made by local authorities in Ireland. All I know is that it has a wonderful sculpture of cleaning women, and I love this building dearly.
By night, seagulls on the Liffey.
Last day, Sunday, National Gallery day, surprisingly enjoyable. Malta has made me enjoy those rooms of medieval and Italian Renaissance paintings so much more now that I’ve realised they have spurting liquids and batshit crazy demons and angry horses.
But Caravaggio is here! Not even pictured on the brochure, honestly, but here is The Taking of Christ. I first saw it at the National Gallery in London along with a number of the pictures in this room. I had forgotten — maybe never knew, who can tell as old as I’m getting these days — that the canvas was thought lost then found here in Dublin in the 1970s. There is a whole room dedicated to his influence, it is splendid. The Irish rooms are also splendid, including one of the most beautiful pieces of stained glass I have ever seen.
And there were fish men.
A final view.
I was sad to leave.
I am now going to resume writing about homelessness in Wales. Because life is a bit shit and I have so much to do before Friday and mum arrives tomorrow and I have duvets airing and the rubbish needing to go out and clothes folding and I haven’t hoovered and I am still overdue with that film review and there is no way that article that has been almost done for months is getting out before Christmas. But Dublin will be remembered.
We took the train to Grindleford with a walking plan in place, but as the train wheels span us forward across the moors our hopes were quietly dashed by the mist setting low and low across the peaks. We sat in Grindleford Station Cafe and had the best bacon and egg sandwich I may possibly have ever had, pondered plans. Set off in the wrong direction for Padmore Gorge. Turned around.
We walked through midday’s leafy dusk, boulders covered with moss and great thick trunks of trees rising from massive gnarling roots, the rush of water, twisting branches of oak dark against the emerald green. Some of the leaves glowed golden, already beginning to turn with the coming fall but the day was warm enough to climb the gorge in T-shirts.
The map showed a stone circle, an old settlement, which we decided to leave the gorge to try and find. We failed in this, but found instead a haunting landscape quarried from the earth long enough ago that its edges have been blunted, harsh planes softened by soil and growing things. Spectacular mushrooms that hardly seemed real.
We climbed out to find ourselves on a strange branching isthmus of earth, quarries falling away to each side. A multitude of paths not marked on our map, bracken and white birches. We climbed down and then up again.
A graveyard of millstones. This uncanny landscape the creation of backbreaking labour, skill expended and so much of it in vain. Moss grows on these rolling stones left to sit here across centuries, no longer needed to grind our wheat. The story is that this is Napoleon’s fault, that damn war and shifting technologies which I partly make up and poorly remember as a good story, initial provenance possibly M. John Harrison via Mark, unverified by wikipedia.
Then we crossed the road, and climbed up up onto the moors, the mist retreated to a more picturesque degree and revealed the glories of the Peak District, one of my favourite places on earth.
A woman was flying a drone, it’s ominous buzzing and angry red lights filled me with terrors imagined from places where these military toys carry surveillance and death. We left her quickly behind, the wild beauty of this place swallowed up the ominous, fragile metal thing. How soon it would rust away here, as though it had never been.
And then, briefly, the sun came out.
We continued down, down into Hathersage. Sent tired feet in search of Little John’s grave, thought of Robin Hood.
Thought more of dinner. Walked down beside the river and were sent wrong by directions to the pub. Encountered mist rising.
Then we retraced steps, climbed again, tired, the sun setting across the valley.
Happiness. More happiness in the Millstones Pub and the shape of pints and Yorkshire puddings of the very best kind, heaped with riches.
Well, almost every house. In Valletta it is also every corner. Streets are full of shrines. Especially in Mdina/ Rabat, even where there is no saint, there is a nature scene, or a thanks to country that has made a family member welcome(ish) and able to send money home. They are amazing.
Our last walk on Gozo, it involved no ruins or temples, but we saw more salt pans and we found one stone circle but of nature’s origination. Għarb was definitely one of my favourite villages. We passed the shrine to St Dimitri, who legend has it emerged from his frame in this chapel to rescue a boy stolen away by slavers and returned him to his mother. We passed a tumbled pile of carved stone balustrades. There were wildflowers we had never seen before, more windswept coast — but not quite what we were expecting. I think the beauty of the cliffs all around this island raise expectations a little high. But then we reached the deep gullies carved by ocean, the great window. The sun went setting behind us. Lovely.
For the first time we heard the sea, it roared through the night with a crashing of waves as the wind picked up. No swimming in the morning, even if we had been up early enough to beat the crowds. This sea that I could not imagine other than placid and still suddenly alive and reaching hungrily far beyond where I had thought it’s boundaries lay. We walked down into town, found the narrow path and the stairs in the rock, had no idea there was a cave to be found. What luck that it should be the day when the sea should pound and sing here.
Lizards scurried over the rocks. There is one here if you can find it.
We climbed back out. We sat for a while staring out to the knight’s tower, to the salt pans, watching the crashing of waves and mocking the German tourists.
Then suddenly, pirates.
I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was little, so much. I used to check out books on the Hittites and the Phoenicians, Ancient Egypt and the Sumerians, lug around these hard cover ancient library books probably already out of date when I read them, not understanding the half of it but they were so full of magic in the names I could not pronounce and places I longed to go and puzzles I longed to solve about ancient peoples. Many of them came from Tucson’s beautiful old Central Library before it moved to the new building. They came from the lower level where enormous electric fans kept the air moving and sent a great humming through the metal book shelves. One of my favourite places in the whole world. This is also where I found books on the Amazon rain forest, ornithologies of macaws and botanies of orchids and mythologies of exploration. This was while all of it still filled with innocence, before I knew how colonialism had twisted eager curiosity to understand the world into a way to better control and exploit it. ‘Phoenician’ still remains a word of wonder, lessened slightly by being reduced to the mere ‘Punic’ to signify the loss of Lebanon and the new centre in Carthage. Still, a word of wonder.
To be in a Phoenician Temple. In Ras Il-Wardija, Mark and I, on a high cliff looking out into the Mediterranean where they had built their fortune, the sun just beginning to sink and surrounded by the smell of smoke from farmers burning off the dead remains of old crops. The farmers shared the hilltop with us, staring out over the sea. But not the temple, we were alone there. It sits carved out of the golden globigerina limestone, niches still remaining there in the back of the cliffside. In front of it a deep square cistern, the limestone here strangely twisted and knotted like veins across skin, so sharply cut I felt it through my shoes.
Inside of it the ceiling has been carved into fantastic patterns, I imagine strange winds, the creep of water from above.
Everywhere shells — mussels half emerged from the smooth walls, remains of barnacles clustered in hollows, sand dollars and scallops adding to the strange layerings of limestone here.
Another cistern to the right as you stand staring at it.
This place — a high point. In every sense of the term.
We had started the walk in San Lawrenz.
We passed quarries that show the courses of stone removed.
Climbed out onto the cliffs above Dwejra Bay to find a bronze age dwelling and cart ruts — these have no mystique of childhood attached, but their mysterious nature makes them almost as wondrous as the temple.
Leading up to the dwelling (though likely older? It is only a small pile of rocks now, megaliths having fallen over the edge, fallen apart)
But once the people living here enjoyed such a view — Dwejra Bay, Fungus Rock
We climbed down, looked over the inland sea
Had a drink, well deserved. Began the climb back up to the Knight’s tower, a clearer view of it here from above (pre-drink, forgive the temporal slip):
It guarded the bay and fungus rock both, source of a rare parasitic plant — Cynomorium coccineum which flowers occasionally in the form of what looks like a phallic mushroom they believed to be an aphrodisiac and which they carefully controlled. They built a cable car (ie, a basket on a rope) to run from the rock to the promontory. I found an incredibly, brilliantly detailed article by Guido G. Lanfranco on all of its occurrences in written records, and this drawing which I liked better than that of the article:
I hadn’t realised you could still see the stairs both on the promontory and the rock itself, we did not go out there. Instead we made the steep climb back up the cliffs.
Reaching the top, to our left, the caves of Għajn Abdul, had it been less hot, earlier in the day, we would have climbed up to see these places whose deposits show them to have been occupied 7000 years ago, one of the earliest places settled here.
Looking back towards Dwejra Bay:
We went a bit wrong along teh cliffs, ended on the path closest to the edge. I had a moment of panic, being afraid of heights to some degree, but it was conquered.
And then we reached the temple.
The sun setting, we walked back, again along the path closest to the edge, not knowing we needed to head back up right away to get on the higher one. Poor me.
Finally we came to Ta’Sarraflu Pool, believed to have been built by the Romans, still full of ducks. We saw no frogs or turtles, but it was lovely all the same.
We walked back along the roads in the fading sunlight, racing to Santa Lucija in time to catch the bus.
We made it with three minutes to spare, no time to think about how to adequately capture the beauty of the citadel lit up and rather glorious in the night or the similar glowing of the great church at Xewkija.
I write this as Mark once more sits diligently at the kitchen table working on proof edits.
The Ġgantija Temples are the oldest freestanding temples in the world, built between 3600 and 3200 BCE, they are older than Stonehenge, older than the pyramids…it’s what the guidebooks all say, undeniably it’s partly what invests these enormous stones with what is left of their fascination. Their name comes from Maltese ġgant, or giant.
I like to think they were built by giants. But also that it was just us.
Each monument is different in plan, articulation and construction technique. They are usually approached from an elliptical forecourt in front of a concave façade. The façade and internal walls consist of upright stone slabs, known as orthostats, surmounted by horizontal blocks. The surviving horizontal masonry courses indicate that the monuments had corbelled roofs, probably capped by horizontal beams. This method of construction was a remarkably sophisticated solution for its time. The external walls are usually constructed in larger blocks set alternately face out and edge out, tying the wall securely into the rest of the building. The space between the external wall and the walls of the inner chambers is filled with stones and earth, binding the whole structure together.
Typically, the entrance to the building is found in the centre of the façade, leading through a monumental passageway onto a paved court. The interiors of the buildings are formed of semi-circular chambers usually referred to as apses, symmetrically arranged on either side of the main axis. The number of apses varies from building to building; some have three apses opening off the central court, whilst others have successive courts with four, five, and in one case even six apses.
A map of the ruins here:
There are two caves related to the temples, both full of pottery shards from this period. There is the Xagħra stone circle, one of the most important archaeological finds of the 1980s, sitting between Ġgantija and Santa Verna Temple, of which little is left now where it sits about 1 km away. Like what is now known as the hypogeum (more on that later), this was a roofed-over stone circle sitting above a cave system full of bones. A spontaneous visit to this place is impossible, and there is little now to see. We pretty much only do spontaneous. We did not go. But in the museum are some of the figures that were uncovered during excavations, these figures from what is referred to as a possible shaman’s bag… it bothers me, that words use. As though cultures that still have what we call shamans are somehow the same as these ancient cultures of the stone age, as if they’ve been held in time just like some insect in amber.
These figures are awesome though:
These seated women holding a child, showing us what furniture was once like. So splendid.
More of these incredible figures from Ġgantija itself:
A human-headed snail:
These wonderful birds, scratched into this post post-firing:
From here we braved the blazing heat, made worse by great iron structures shading the path whose purpose was unclear apart from creating a kind of oven effect to counteract the shade they provided. And then the structure itself.
The flat-topped hill behind it is in-Nuffara, a settlement site during this same period.
It is hard to get a sense over-all of the thing. They have built walkways, it is covered with scaffolding. The uneasy lean of the corbelled roof made this feel potentially necessary, but atmosphere can’t really survive scaffolding really. Or wooden walkways. It is found in the small views, the holes drilled through rock (with no metal, with only antler and perhaps harder bits of stone, and why? To screen the inner sanctums perhaps).
Monoliths with the graffiti of visitors from earlier centuries:
The remains of what are probably altars, and more wandering through:
The size of these great slabs of rock though, amazing.
This town was the only place reached by the plague in 1831, and held in quarantine. Here too, in Xagħra, is the Ta’ Kola windmill:
Built by the Knights of St John it is very impressive, though we weren’t allowed in — we had carefully gotten there just before 4:30 to see it, but tickets were only available at the temple complex, so we rejoined the annoying people who had filled our bus.
Xagħra was gearing up for its festival celebrating Marija Bambina, there are street decorations up and down the streets, pedestals set up here and there, everyday streetlamps and fountains cloaked in fake marble.
We sat in the main square, accidentally ending up in an English-owned pub full of other English people.
We watched a group of men fighting to set up a stage, and watching two youths ring bells in the church towers by standing beside the bell itself to pull the ropes.
I recorded it for posterity — they make me miss English bells.
When the drinks were done we walked through the town.
Past this mad empty house
and down the hills towards Ramla Bay as the sun set, still circling in a way this enormous church of Xewkija.