Lord Byron was a futurologist when he said that Malta was ‘an island of yells, bells and smells’. Because 200 years on, it’s pretty much the same as he described it. And summer is the season that intensifies these infamous attributes of Malta.
We live cheek by jowl, so when we’ve windows ajar hoping to pick up some cooling breeze on sultry summer nights, we get a great deal more of the yells, bells and smells of the island outside our door.
Today, I started my morning at 06.30 in relative peace, except for the whirring of my neighbour’s aircon. By 06.45, the parish church was in full bell ringing mode, already, I might add, having heralded three masses since 04.30 (I’ve grown accustomed to sleeping through those really early bells).
Then, by 07.00, my other neighbour started up a petrol pump to get his well irrigation working so he can water his vast orchard. The fumes and noise disturbed my early morning coffee and reading time in my little patch of garden. A little later on, I heard the fish hawker yelling her wares from the village square (lampuki are now in season, I learned). By the time the sun was beginning to feel a bit warm for comfort, my resident garden cicadas had started up – and boy, aren’t they deafening (though an endearing a sound of summer).
So, Byron, your comments hit the mark even 200 years later. Here’s our Malta InsideOut list of familiar and traditional yells, bells and smells. Feel free to comment and add your own!
Yells (and other noise)
Cicadas – a true sound of summer
Street Hawkers – particularly fishwives with prams
Delivery vans blasting horns; chiefly bakers and gas delivery lorries.
Buses – very throaty roars. Drivers shout to each other from their cabs, apparently engaging in harmless chit chat.
Mobile discos in private cars – bass booming out
Workmen – wolf-whistles, and yelling ‘Ow ‘Chalie’ to each other across the street.
Parish church clocks which tell the quarter hours, 24/7
Incessant ringing at unidentified times – various lesser saints days, bell ringing practice
Festas and Easter (with Good Friday bells being clattered not rung!).
Petards and fireworks – we’ll include them here as they have religious connections and go with bells. Wherever you live, you get at least your own parish festa noise, plus that of around 3-4 other parishes around!
Sweet, sickly smell of confectionery, particularly at Valletta’s city gate/bus terminus where the smell of hot tarmac and diesel mingle with it
Sewerage/drains – always some vapour rising somewhere as you walk along.
Buses – diesel fumes spewing out
Stray cat and dog deposits emanating odours
Sea – particularly Salina direction
Fresh bread – nothing beats its steamy, tempting smell or the deeper smell of the burnt crusty bits
The streets – after a long dry summer, the leached contents of months of garbage bags gives off a real sickly stench – we await the first rains to wash the stains and vapours away. Not long now!
Photo: Walter Lo Cascio