Sunday, March 30, 2008

International Woman of Achievement Reception

On March 11, US Ambassador Molly Bordonaro presented Dr. Katrine Camilleri with the International Woman of Achievement award at a reception at the Ambassador's residence. This was part of International Women's Week efforts around the world. Dr. Camilleri has been working with the Jesuit Refugee Service as an advocate for the human rights of irregular immigrants. This takes considerable courage here in Malta, because the country gets quite a few people on their way from Africa to Europe and there are very mixed feelings about having to care for them here. The Catholic Church teaches that all people have the right to immigrate and that all countries should welcome them. But teaching and doing are very different things. Dr. Camilleri, in an often unfriendly environment, tries to ensure that all migrants are treated with the dignity every human deserves.

I was asked to give a short talk and chose to talk about the women role models who were influential in my life, just as Dr. Camilleri is influential for many here in Malta and the larger world. I was both delighted and honored to have anything to do with the recognition given Dr. Camilleri. One of the pleasures of the assignment was that I sent my remarks to the women I mentioned--it was nice to let them know how much they mattered to me. Photos: Ambassador Bordonaro and Dr. Camilleri, a view of the gathering while I was talking.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Walk along Mellieha Bay 2

We walked by a patch of pyramid orchids (not common). I also attempted a quick "close up" of the orchid. Little, tiny blue iris are poking up now, t0o. The last picture, with the chunks of cliff illustrates how the limestone breaks away in large chunks and this reshapes the island over time. This one had a big fissure and water gets into it.

Walk along Mellieha Bay 1

The Malta Geographical Society had a walk today along Mellieha Bay. It was a perfect day, light breeze, 19-21 C (upper 60s low 70s F), sunshine. Just great, glad to be alive weather. A new wildflowers are coming out, so I have some photos of those in Mellieha 2, along with the bay. I like how the waters have multiple shades of blue. The town in the first picture is Mellieha itself. I sincerely wish I'd gotten a better picture of the mimosa trees that are in bloom, you can see the yellow flower a bit in the view of the town of Mellieha. The reddish flowers in the foreground of the sea view seem to be clover or some kind of vetch. I'm still not sure what the yellow flowers are; the leaves look a bit like marigolds.

Monday, March 10, 2008

cliffhanger election

By one seat, the Nationalist Party won re-election. CORRECTION. The Nationalists won the most votes, Labour the most seats. By Malta's constitutional rules the Nationalists are given extra seats so that they can govern as a majority government (4 extra seats). It went on well into Sunday night. Only 1200-1500 votes separated the two parties, apparently.

I'm expecting shuffles in the cabinet. UPDATE 2: This happened, both because past cabinet officers were not elected to parliament and general restructuring. There's speculation the leader of Labour might end up being sacked by his party. UPDATE: Sant, the leader of Labour, resigned as leader, but will remain in parliament.

Other than a few firecrackers late last night, I have not seen or heard anything unusual. Maybe when the dog and I go out, I'll see something. UPDATE: Still pretty quiet. I walked into the next town and it was livelier. There was a band playing and lots of people wearing blue (the color of the Nationalists). I think everyone has a flag of their party to wave from cars. Prior to the election I'd see red Labour flags and the blue ones. Today is all blue. I was talking with someone at the embassy and she said is LOUD and very crowded where she is.

The day was spectacular, too. Sunny, blue skies and blue sea. Just a great day for a walk. I suppose my friends from the Labour side are not too happy today no matter how lovely the day was.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

voter turnout

The Times of Malta says voter turn out was 93% (astonishing by US standards). This is the LOWEST turn out since 1971. In 2003 turn out was 96%. Just imagine if 93% of eligible US voters voted, much less 96%. It would shock our entire US political system.

Meanwhile, back home, Obama won Wyoming, which uses a caucus system. Not many delegates, but every state counts this time around.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

More on election day

The close of voting was moved from 10 pm to 11 pm because of long lines in some places. At 2 pm today about 45% of the electorate had voted (less than 2% had failed to pick up their papers in Valletta earlier). When I went out with the dog at 4:30, there were quite long lines at my local voting place.

I forgot to mention a cool thing Malta did for its citizens. It (I'm not quite sure who "it" is) arranged very cheap flights via Air Malta so that Maltese citizens living abroad could come home and vote. One of my friends told me her brother was coming in, so people are taking the opportunity to vote and visit home. I don't think Malta has absentee ballots, though I am not sure about this.

election day

Today is election day in Malta. They should know the results around noon tomorrow (Sun).

By American standards, they don't make voting easy, and yet they get very high turn out. In the US we debate allowing people to register to vote on the day of elections by walking into the polling place, we discuss on-line voting. In Malta you must present yourself with ID in Valletta at a particular office. The office is closed, like almost everything else in the early afternoon. So, you'd have to take time off from work to get your voting documents. Then you have to show up at one of the many polling places to deposit that ballot (I'm unclear whether the document you get in Valletta is the ballot or a chit of some kind that gets you the ballot today). I went walking the dog this morning around 8 am and people were streaming in and out of the local elementary school where the polling place is. Like in the US it was fairly quiet and no campaigning is allowed within a block or so of the voting place. It was also social, perhaps a bit more so than in the US (though it is also social there).

NOW....everyone told me it would be crazy time once the results are announced. Stores are closed today, Sun and Monday, for example. I was told to be sure to do my grocery shopping for the next few days today. Why? Because those who lose go mope around, while those who win launch one carcade after another. Moreover, I've been told, the partisans of the winning party make it a point to rub the opposition's nose in their defeat by parading around towns known to be heavily populated with voters of the losing parties (effectively "party" because there are two strong ones and two minor ones who don't typically win seats).

In the days that have run up to this event, I've see more mud slung that would ever happen in the US (yes, really...but at least it is by the candidates and the parties rather than political action committees who launch independent ads against their opponents per our election laws). But there are a number of news outlets and they all have political persuasions, so if you read a number of them you get different views of the mud. If I read Maltese, I'd have a better grip on it all.

I've also seen how passionate the Maltese are about the election and their favorite party. I doubt many Maltese would ever dream of splitting tickets (though it's quite possible with their single-transferable vote system). Americans do it fairly often. I seem to have friends who are adherents of three of the four parties, namely I know ones who support Nationalist, Labour, and Alternattiva Demokratika. Each has told me earnestly why their party is A) ruling well or B) could rule well. Just yesterday, a woman who is co-owner one of the local shops where I pick up groceries explained how much the Nationalist Party (the one currently in power) had done for the country. [Note: I've learned that St. Paul's Bay tends to vote for this party; if I were in Paola the tendency would be for Labour.] She told me how she wrote the Prime Minister and got a response. I've had Labourites explain how their party could address current problems in Malta and outline the achievements of the party in the past. It's interesting to me to see so many Maltese citizens so able to discuss their party and what it stands for. Not too many Americans could go into this kind of detail, but then our parties are not particularly strong.

I wish Malta well, however its citizens decide this election, the 10th election since they achieved independence from Britain in the 1960's. For sure they are not afraid to express their opinions!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Back to Malta

Then my colleagues came over to Malta for a visit. We looked around St. Paul's Bay a bit, had lunch. Then we went into the University to see the Rector and some of his administrators for international programs. It was a very pleasant and interesting meeting.

On Sat. we went to Gozo for the tour (Tech and Keweenaw's sort of like going on the Copper Country Cruise with visitors) and then Kim and Christa took me to Tarragon in St. Paul's Bay for dinner (great place--all you folks on Malta who want a nice, fancy-but-tasty meal should try it). Marvin, the chef/owner, came out and made a fuss over us; that was very sweet of him.

On Sunday, Dr. Claude Busuttil, Architect and Restoration Consultant, had volunteered (via the US embassy) to take us on a guided tour of the architecture of Mdina. This really made the place new for me, even though I'd been there before. We ran into a rally by the hunter's, so that was different--even saw dogs in camouflage. After we'd looked in Mdina, he showed us some of the architecture of the surrounding city of Rabat. He then took us into Valletta the back way due to political rallies in two spots by the Labour and Nationalists parties. It was fun approaching the city from a different direction. He was gracious, funny, charming, and wonderfully expert. He also showed us a couple of his restoration projects in Valletta--quite impressive.

On Monday, we returned to Valletta for two events set up by the US embassy. Before the events started, we went to St. John's Co-Cathedral, a magnificent baroque edifice that also has two Caravaggios, Preta paintings, and some wonderful tapestries. You have to see it to believe it. Then to the functions. First was lunch with architects and heritage people in the Malta. We went to Fusion4 up between two sets of walls in the fortifications (and I forgot to take pictures). It was a spectacularly pretty day and so we ate outside. The conversation flowed readily and produced lots of discussion on comparative land use, ways to preserve both natural and built environments, and some general history of Malta. We then moved over to the embassy and met with university students interested in entrepreneurship and young businessmen. All of us were impressed by how upbeat the Maltese students were about the economic future of their island. Things really are happening here, so the mood is hopeful among the young, educated Maltese.

The photos: Salt pans in Gozo, a quarry operation in Gozo, a view of a cloister in Rabat, my colleagues and Dr. Busuttil on the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta.

Greece 7 more Mistral

Photos of Kim (with cat) and Christa outside a lovely church/cloisters. Also some views down to the plains of Sparta.

Greece 6- Mistral

Photos of the abandoned Byzantine city, situated above what was Sparta. On this trip we visited a number of world heritage sites, and this is one of them. We could have spent more time here--never did walk all the way up to the fortress on top. We did plenty of climbing, however. I enjoyed getting Dean Walck's comments. She is quite expert on Russian medieval history and thus knew a lot about Greek Orthodox iconography. I have no interior photos of the painted walls, because I have yet to remember correctly the directions for turning off my flash.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Greece 5--Mistral approach

We learned on our drive to Mistral just how mountainous Greece is--and we weren't even in the area of Mt. Olympus! As we got to the last pass before dropping down towards Sparta, we stopped for cappuccinos--look how cute they were.

Greece 4--Gialova Natural Beauty

Now the Gialova area is home to a major site for watching birds, lovely hikes, a fantastic beach, and Nestor's palace (from Trojan war period, plus add ons over the centuries by other peoples). Nestor's palace was closed due to some sort of danger in the structure that needs to be repaired. Thus, it figures only as an evocative presence in the photos. The island behind me in the photo is, you guessed it, Sfakteria.

Greece 3--Pylos

Here are pictures of the charming town of Pylos. We enjoyed our coffees there.

Greece 2

Here are photos of the island I had to see in pursuit of my Thucydides "hobby." I didn't charter a boat to go over, but I did get a better sense of its geography and location relative to the water and mainland shore. We stayed at Thanos Village (lovely place, inexpensive--little villas with great views) in Gialova. I believe Gialova is closer to the Pylos of ancient times than the current town. This area was also the site of the naval Battle of Navarino where the British Navy wiped out a large chunk of the Turkish fleet and killed 8,000 Turkish sailors in the process. Given the natural beauty and calmness of the place now, it was hard to imagine the triremes of the Greeks swarming around Sfakteria or the British and Ottoman ships of the line pounding away at each other.

Greece 1

Two colleagues from Michigan Tech came to visit me: Dean Christa Walck of our School of Business and Economics and Prof. Kim Hoagland, our architectural historian. I met up with them in Greece first. I had been to Athens, so they came early to look around there (and want to go back, of course). They favored me with a strange quest by going to Pylos on the western side of the Peloponnese, on the coast. I wanted to go there to see the island of Sfakteria (various spellings) in the Pylos area. This is where the Athenians managed to defeat the Spartans on land in the 7th year of the Peloponnesian War; later Thucydides tells the story of how the Spartans defeated the Athenians on the sea. Anyway, the Athenians took a Spartan shield from this adventure and it is on display in a museum in Athens (I vaguely recall it was in the museum near the Agora).

On our way back to Athens we stopped at Mistral, the remarkable remains of a Byzantine city that overlooks the plains of Sparta. Being there gave me a sense of the Byzantine times and an excellent understanding of what the Spartan home looked like--a large flat plain created from their river, with huge mountains on three sides. No wonder they loved it and no wonder they were able to defend it against other Greeks for centuries.

We visited Mycenae on our way to Pylos. Everyone should put it on their "life list" of places to visit, right along with Athens. I wish we'd had time to go to Delphi, which is also a very remarkable place.

Photos are of Mycenae.