Monday, 7 March 2011


Yesterday was Carnival Day so we got up early, fortified ourselves with a large breakfast, packed up sandwiches and drinks and went off to Valletta.  The city was absolutely heaving but business was going on as usual.  All the shops and restaurants were open, the tourist attractions had queues and apart from about thirty percent of the population being in fancy dress of some sort it looked like a normal day.

We spent some time in Palace Square watching the dancers who were entertaining the crowds by practising their routines ready for the competition later.  We went for a walk down Strait Street which used to be the red light district (it could still well be for all I know, but no-one was touting for business in the late morning) known as The Gut and then went to the pub where Oliver Reed died after a massive drinking session.  The pub is called The Pub and is now a shrine to Oliver Reed, it is very small and only licensed to serve 27 customers.  It seemed to be an Ex Pat haven, serves guest ales and is decorated in the style of a British pub in the 1950's.

We then went up to Upper Barakka Gardens which overlook the Grand Harbour and found a bench to sit on to eat our packed lunch.  It was about one o clock by this time, the sun was shining and it was very pleasant.  We shared our bench with a chap who had stripped off his top, anointed himself with sun cream and was obviously attempting to gain a tan.  I thought he was probably British and was right, I later discovered (the minute he opened his mouth) that he was a Mancunian.  I spotted something on the horizon out at sea which made me get my binoculars out for a closer look, it was HMS Cumberland, returning from Libya with a ship full of refugees.  We watched the Cumberland dock just below us and it felt very strange, as though we were watching history being made.  I had a quite a lump in my throat - it is one thing to see the images on television but quite another to actually see it happening live.

We went for a coffee and then made our way to Triton fountain where we had tickets for the grandstand seating to watch the dance competition and the carnival parade.  The seating was first come first served and we were in the first fifty or so and got really good seats about halfway up the bank, at the end of a row and in the middle of the area so we had a fabulous view.

The Maltese like colour, they like sparkle and they like dancing.   The main colours in use were air sea rescue shades of orange, yellow, pink and green.  With huge amounts of gold and silver, just to make them stand out.  Put the lot together and it makes Strictly look like an afternoon tea dance for a gang of OAP's.  We watched about twenty different teams of dancers in the competition and they were  amazing, all of them.  The costumes were very flamboyant and absolutely massive, they mainly seemed to be made from a sort of foam backed plastic which was heat welded to hold the intended shapes.   I have muddled them up in my brain now but will try to describe a couple of the tableaus to give an idea of what we saw.

There was one lot who did an "Alice in Wonderland" routine and there were half a dozen of each of the suits of playing cards and their costumes took up about four times their body space, all stuck out.  Johnny Depp had heavily influenced the Mad Hatter, the Griffin was there - ten times life sized and very, very, green - Alice herself looked as though she was a Star Wars warrior and the Queen was grotesque.

Another lot did a French tableau, set in costumes reminiscent of Madam Pompadour, which for some reason I still cannot fathom had some men dressed up like pantomime cows with massive Red Indian head-dresses in the back row.  The women all had an Eiffel Tower sculpted on the back of their dresses and the men's hats had more feathers than one sees on the average peacock.

Another set had the men dressed as jesters, a tasteful combination of orange and purple one side of the arena and a very fetching mixture of yellow and pink the other side.  Several pom poms were lost in that energetic little number which might well have cost them points.

The dancing took almost two hours and then the carnival procession started, the violent colours continued in the floats and they are huge.  We had seen most of the floats when they were parked earlier so we only watched the first half dozen and then gave up and came back to the apartment.  It was truly a magnificent sight though and I am so glad to have seen it.

Back in Sliema we went back to the pizza restaurant and this time shared one of those wonderful pizzas with a side salad and wine and it cost less than twenty Euros and was a perfect end to a perfect day.

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