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
Elizabeth Ayling says
Yes, there is! Having lived within a stone’s throw of a belfry for 19 years, I can tell you this:
Our bells (in Siggiewi) tell the time every quarter of an hour.
There is a distinct pattern to morning service bells, funerals, Easter etc, even if not tuneful, there is a certain rhythmic pattern.
Dawn ford says
Is there an explanation for the pattern of chimes?
The only smells I remember were not pleasant. One was the sulfurous smell from the toilet in the bathroom off my room, the other was that organic smell of the countryside. I told my sister about the organic smell and she said, Malta is a small island, and people have lived on it for thousands of years basically doing what people do especially defecating and dying and there probably is no part of Malta that isn’t polluted by human waste. Nice thought.
The yelling. Yes, Maltese men in particular seem rather uncouth, yelling to their friends from long distances. I wished they would just shut up or lose their voice or learn some decent behavior.
The bells. Luckily, the last time I was in Malta, the people seemed to have lost their Christian zeal. Never heard one bell.
Jes Darmanin says
You cant miss out the smell of alcohol (and who knows what else) infused tarmac and concrete in the streets of Paceville, particularly worse in some smaller side streets where drunk teens end up after getting trashed in the weekend. Or a special spot in some secluded areas where it ends up as a public restroom.
On the good side, the smell of freshly baked Maltese bread is definately unforgettable. Or also some freshly made toasted bruschetta with Maltese tomatoes, olives, capers, onions and a drizzle of olive oil! And the smell of BBQ on the beaches in summer is pretty awesome too 🙂
Antonio Anastasi says
The smell of coffee laced with crushed cloves.
The tingling of teaspoons in the traditional coffee shops.
The call of the bigilla vendor each Wednesday evening at 1900hrs. in Nigret Rabat.
The smell of freshly baked Maltese bread.
Alex Grech says
The smell of coffee outside Valletta cafes in the morning…
And of mqaret outside City gate..
Antonio Anastasi says
In Smells you forgot the manure in piled up in all over the countryside.
As for sounds you MUST refer to the British tourists shouting at us asking ‘DO YOU SPEAK EEENGLISH??? Or the bus driver shouting down the saints in heaven when presented with a E20 note for a 54cent ticket :)In Maltese, to tourists :))
(Especially the noise disturbance. And I don’t like trashy EuroDance music, even less when ‘delivered home’. I really tried to sleep with open windows, but it just seems impossible, considering I don’t really have a deep sleep. And all the honking and breaking doesn’t help, either.)