Let the celebration come to us


Musicians at L-Imnarja
Originally uploaded by apes_abroad.

It’s our last week in Malta, and of course they saved the best for last. All month we’ve been watching fireworks from our window as at least a dozen different cities celebrate their saint’s feasts. Last weekend Rabat and Mdina started theirs. The feast of St Peter & St Paul starts with the Imnarja folk festival. It took place in our local Buskett Gardens, a centuries old planted ‘forest’, disappointingly dusty and beige this time of year. It looked much better at night, with lights strung everywhere and music playing. We shared a bottle of local wine in plastic cups and wandered through the stalls of local farmers and merchants. Lots of bee keepers on Malta, and small farms growing organic grains, herbs and heirloom vegetables. I think I’ve mentioned that the farm across the road from us has a small field of thistles which I thought was the oddest thing, although apparently the seeds have uses.

We checked out the prize winning livestock, and I said hello to some bunnies whose brethren would soon be our dinner. I suppose as prizewinners they were going to be spared the grill so they could get busy making the next generation of bunnies. Anyway we grabbed some stewed rabbit (fenek), and what the hell we decided to get a huge plate of snails (bebbux) as well. These snails are common in the fields here although their shells are usually bleached in the sun and the ones we ate were darker, so maybe these were farmed snails rather than found ones. They were… interesting. Colin thought removing them from their shells was like picking boogers, only they tasted better. The rabbit was good, but I liked the gravy and chips best of all the fair food. While we were eating we were serenaded by the traditional g─žana folk music, which sounded like loud caterwauling to us. We also saw a band playing odd homemade looking traditional Maltese instruments. One guy had a zafzafa, a kind of drum he held between his legs, with a pole coming out of it that he pulled in and out of the drum. Most phallic instrument ever.

So that turned out to be a good night, technically just the eve of the feast day and the first night of a week long celebration. The next day brought the eagerly anticipated Imnarja horse races which we could in fact see from our balcony. Well, barely. The finish line was hidden by some trees, but after racing each of the horses was brought up the hill right under our window on kind of a victory lap. The riders sit on little two wheeled (sulky) carts like mini chariots. While I watched, one of the horses was still so excited that it took off and dragged its middleaged rider down the hill. The guy held on valiantly and seemed to come away unscathed, although we later saw riders with ragged bloody shins so there was definitely a bit of danger to the sport. That evening they awarded prizes at the top of the Saqqajja steps (our door is near the bottom) and they had an orchestra and dancers.

Then the best part – someone started lighting off huge fireworks in the farm field across the street from us. I’m not sure they were official – it seemed like some guy had just ridden his motorcycle down there with a backpack full of them – but they were huge, spectacular, and LOUD. The first few were just big explosions, very popular in Malta, but we’d never been so close and it sounded like a bomb had gone off right outside our window. We had a great time, there’s nothing like being able to watch fireworks 200 meters from your own balcony.

So that started feast week here in Rabat, and every day since there have been fireworks at 9am, noon, 7pm and 10pm. Tonight is the final day of the feast of St Peter & St Paul, when they’re scheduled to do a procession through the town. I haven’t had the easiest time looking these events up online in Malta but I saw a poster in Maltese which I think I’ve deciphered. So hopefully we’ll have some fun tonight, then in three days we fly out to Edinburgh to start our month in Scotland and the UK!

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