Back home but always lots to do here so visited the NGV as they have Van Gogh as their Winter Masterpieces exhibit. Of course it is hard not to love Van Gogh’s work – some of it is so passionate in its colors and vibrancy that it brings a lump to my throat. There are not many artists who can do that. This exhibit takes a seasonal approach to his work and displays the pieces by season rather than in any other chronology. Apparently he loved Autumn the most but I think his summer works are the most spectacular (but then I am rather fond of European summers).
Given my recent visit to Japan I was interested to see that he had been heavily influenced by Japanese block prints (which are also prone to a seasonal focus) and these were shown in the exhibit also to provide context before the Van Gogh exhibit started.
Below are the Japanese block prints, some of my favorite summer paintings and finally the one that drew me back again and again. I had not seen it before. It is a simple drawing of a peasant reaping at harvest time – it was done close to before he shot himself so whether there was any double meaning with the “grim reaper” I don’t know – but there is something about it that I couldn’t stop looking at.
See what you think?
Japanese block prints that influenced Van Gogh and which he collected avidly
My personal faves
On our last day we visited Gozo, the small island about 20 minutes by ferry from Malta. I’d heard mixed reviews from previous visitors – some really liked it and others weren’t too bothered. Maybe because the sun was shining and the sea was sparkling I actually liked it a lot. It is small and quiet and not changing as rapidly as Malta is – that is probably what I liked most about it – it is not full of new or being built high rises. While there we visited the GGantija Temple which is actually older than Stonehenge – who knew and also saw the many salt flats where salt is extracted from the ocean using very old methods – I will never think of sea salt in quite the same way again. All in all a nice day out in the sunshine
The old parts of Malta – Valletta, Mdina and others make this a special place to visit. Equally I worry about the massive construction going on as more and more foreigners flood onto the island both to holiday but also to live and retire (it is a relatively easy place to move to for retirement). The cost of living is low, the crime rate virtually non existent, the water is clear and clean and the sun shines a lot too. I look at the photo below and hope the top section remains the norm, rather than the bottom.
Next stop – home in Melbourne for a while but off again mid June.
Visited the north of the island which I much preferred to the south. In particular I really loved M’dina – the old capital pre Valletta. It is pedestrians only and just a great place to wander around and through alleyways. It was deliberately built high up and as far as possible from the ocean so that all marauders could be spotted long before they made it to where people were living. Seems to have worked as the place is pretty much untouched from how it must have looked 500 years ago.
Gets my vote as a must see.
It feels like there is a church for every inhabitant in Malta and a few to spare. Not just any churches mind you but quite a few massive cathedrals (or co-cathedrals as they call them). Churches are small, medium and many are massive with art (some of it spectacular in its own right
) and gold and wood and stone carvings that would not be out of place in Rome. I think a lot were built following the arrival of the Knights of St John when they were kicked out of Rhodes by the Turks and it has gone on from there. To be honest I found the interiors somewhat excessive for my taste and I am always concerned by extravagant interiors in churches in places where the people are not exactly well off – and certainly would not have been at the time many of these were built. But equally, the Maltese are very proud of them so there you go. Take a look.
My friend Lorna who visited Malta two or three years ago described it as “not at all what I expected it to be”. After three days here I totally understand what she means – it has some great surprises and strengths and other areas where I’m just not sure.
So day 1 and 2 we toured the south of the island and Valetta. The South seems quite neglected and run down and there is not much investment to be seen; Valetta on the other hand – which is in its own right very old is a lovely city with fortifications all around it and tiny alleys at every corner and building with beautiful balconies, dozens of churches and cathedrals (more of those on another post), large city squares and oodles of history.
I had no idea that Malta was inhabited over 7000 years ago by pagans who left buildings and temples and art behind them; it was since conquered by just about everyone (Phoenicians, Romans, Normans, Turks, British to name a few) as it is strategically placed relative to the Mediterranean trade routes. As a result it is an amalgam of all that history and phenomenally well preserved – thanks to UNESCO. It will also be the European city of culture in 2018.
Below are some perspectives of Valetta plus interiors of a Maltese home belonging to the same family for many generations (Casa Rocca Piccola) and indeed the current owners also act as guides for tourists like us!
During our last couple of days in Taormina the dust from the desert winds settled so we celebrated Beth’s birthday by the beach and finished off with some drinks at the Timeo Belmont
Hotel followed by dinner looking over the water. Great way to end the stay.
Next stop Malta.
Spent the day visiting two of the Aolian Islands – mostly Lipari which was delightful and then Vulcano which is known for its sulphur mud baths (with accompanying smells) and its black sand. Although a long day, if it is sunny I recommend a day trip to any of the islands as they evoke an even slower and more mellow pace than mainland Sicily!
The approach to the islands is very pretty.
On Lipari, each corner you turn yields a pleasing view – even on a medium sunny day
And the churches and cathedrals are plentiful too – and some very beautiful with impressive ceiling art.