Have you ever looked at an entrance and wondered what lay behind it?
This photo, courtesy of Lee Malta of ‘Photographs Malta’ was my inspiration
for the following story.
The last time I visited the land of my ancestors I was very young. I had been born and brought up in England, and hate to think of the number of times I had been asked to spell out my name. My British sense of humour usually took over as I politely replied ‘J.O.E.’
‘Sorry, sir, I meant your surname. Is it ‘Bella?’ ‘No, ‘VELLA.’
About the only word I remembered from my Maltese Grandfather was Mela! The expression Vella, Bella, Mela! became a standing joke with my offspring, who had all inherited the blonde hair and blue eyes of my English wife.
By the time I was in my late fifties the children had all married and moved away, my wife had departed for a better place shortly after we celebrated our silver wedding anniversary, and I was alone.
The grandchildren had taught me the gift of the Internet, and browsing an oldies web site I discovered a cruise that incorporated a week’s stay in Malta. It was only after I pressed the ‘confirm’ button that I had second thoughts. Too late now. It was better to be lonely in the sunshine than in the cold of a typical British winter.
Much to my amazement the holiday turned out to be the best of my life. Although I was basically shy there were several other single travellers, and being seated together at mealtimes we got to know each other and share our experiences. After a few days the genuine raucous laughter from our table put the younger set to shame.
Although I shared several trips with my new found friends, when we docked at Valletta I decided to explore on my own. Wandering around the back streets I found myself facing what looked like a stable door, but was in fact the entrance to a shop. What attracted my attention was my own surname, resplendent above the entrance.
Just as I took out my camera to capture the moment, the gate-like doors were thrown open, and a grizzled old man beckoned me inside. It was like entering an Aladdin’s cave, but my practical mind was already wondering how I would get anything I bought through customs.
Although the sign said wholesale the owner was more than happy to accept my offer for a small, beautifully engraved plaque. It was only as he took my credit card and saw my family name that all thoughts of business were forgotten.
For the next few hours I was interrogated about my ancestors, family nickname and the village of my grandfather’s birth. As this was accompanied by copious amounts of local wines and fresh pastizzi it was not a hardship. Before too long other locals joined us, and although I didn’t understand much of the excited conversations that followed I felt accepted.
Someone produced a guitar, and although his voice wouldn’t win X-Factor I got drawn into the emotion of the moment. The old man explained the words, and that it was an ancient tradition similar to a Calypso, where friends took turns in making up words to teasingly insult each other.
Before I knew it five hours had passed and I realised I had to get back to the ship before it sailed. Mhux problema. After hugs and tearful sahha’s I was bundled into a car which appeared to be held together with sellotape, but after a hair-raising journey I was deposited safely at the port where my ship awaited.
It had been a wonderful holiday, and the discovery of the shop would always stay in my cherished memories. My only regret was that I had never completed the transaction to purchase the memento of my visit.
Shortly before Christmas I received a small parcel which I had to sign for. At first I thought it was a surprise gift from one of my grandchildren until I noticed the sender was Cotraco, Malta.
My credit card was never debited with the cost of the item, which now takes pride of place on my mantelpiece. However, the card does show an entry for my next trip to Malta in the Spring. After all, family is family and next time the drinks are on me.