I discovered the panoramic function on my cell phone camera.
I discovered the panoramic function on my cell phone camera.
So! My dear friends, it’s time (actually I’m running a little late), for what has somehow become a little tradition, namely: Nilo’s Christmas mixtape! I proudly present to you: the 2013 Edition!
You know the deal: another round-up of my favourite tracks of the past year, not necessarily actually released this year but which I listened/danced to a lot (or just enjoyed quietly).
So what have we got? We start off with Belgian heroes Castus, with the opening track of their second album Megalo (awesome, awesome album – get it!) and end with our old, equally Belgian friends of Tomàn. In between, we’ve got the usual: some fun indie pop, some cumbia, some African bangers. Also some Africanesque indie stuff with Goat. Cool funk/soul/jazz/hiphop sounds by BADBADNOTGOOD and Hiatus Kaiyote. A little piano ditty by Chilly Gonzales and more piano wizardry by Tigran, an Armenian jazz musician with another awesome awesome album (Shadow Theatre – get it!).
Overseas is an indie all-star band responsible for another one of my favourite albums this year (just called Overseas – yes, you should also get it), so they are on here too. Boards of Canada, with their grand return, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, subdued yet powerful, Future of the Left severely tongue in cheek. Motorpsycho released another album this year, probably not their best ever, but the opening track Hell, Part 1-3 (and especially part 2) is prime rocking out/air guitar material.
We’ve got a Maltese track as well, by the cheerful boys and girls of nosnow/noalps, and we’ve got a sweet little tune about all things Maltese by Stanley Brinks (of former Herman Düne fame) – he really likes Malta apparently). We saw his anti-folk buddy Jeffrey Lewis perform here in September, and his kickass track about Pussy Riot is also on the list. En nog veel meer.
I did things a little differently this year, there’s no part one or part two, no quiet/exciting part, no sun and moon or any of that. (Although, you might want to know that there are “sun consonants” and “moon consonants” in the Maltese language, as in Arabic - but I digress.) However, if you would like to split up the playlist in two parts, I would suggest doing so after Chilly Gonzales/before Goat.
I know I should get on with the times and post this in a Spotify playlist or something, but I’m just not that modern I’m afraid! (Also, Spotify doesn’t work on this here island.) So you’ll have to make a little effort too and download the whole thing.
Click here to get it (link to a zip file on Dropbox).
But why the chameleon, you might ask? Well, a chameleon, because I finally saw one, on Christmas day, the bestest Christmas gift ever! (Although I didn’t get to keep it, of course. We named him Gerard, in case you want to know.)
So here’s to Gerard, to baby Jesus, to all of you, my dear friends, and to 2014! Enjoy!
Malta has an awful lot of:
- yellow stones (as explained before)
- extremely shiny, slippery floors
-supermarket cashiers with extravagantly long, manicured, glitzy finger nails
- Fiat Puntos
Malta doesn’t have a whole lot of different surnames; Borg, Farrugia, Camilleri, Micallef, Mangion, Vella, Azzopardi, Zammit … that’s about it.
Malta doesn’t have:
- IKEA or H&M
- a crematorium
- a Belgian embassy.
So it’s been one month since I moved down to this little island bang in the middle of the Mediterranean. And i have to say: so far so good. I could start blabbering away about how this country is a disaster on so many levels (cretinous politicians, hunting, mobility/sustainability/environmental planning - perhaps more about that later, but then again: who needs another rant?), but on a personal level, life is pretty good here.
If anything, it’s quieter, simpler, more relaxed. There’s not the stress, the levels of agression one sometimes finds in Brussels. Life flows slightly more gently down here.
Malta is a bit of a mix between England, Italy and the Middle East (people say it looks a lot like Lebanon). It’s European, but not as you know it. It feels Mediterranean through and through, but you can get tea with milk everywhere. They have English style red phone booths, and they drive on the left (and very badly at that). The vegetation, the colours, the quality of the light and the sky are definitely southern though. A little dusty brown island, slowly turning green with the autumn rains. The sea a deep deep blue (and a bit turquoise near the edge).
The language as well is a mixture of old Arabic, Italian and English. And extremely difficult. I’m taking Maltese lessons, which proves to be challenging but fun. (Which reminds me, as I’m typing this: I have to do my homework for tomorrow!) Our teacher’s a bit crap but I have a good private teacher at home.
Luckily, English is also an official language here. (Malta was a British colony until 1964, and still part of the Commonwealth.) People speak it with a funny accent though (even the Prime Minister for instance), which makes it sound like they speak bad English - but it’s not true! (See also: Indians.) They don’t do the “th” sounds though. I am tirrrrty trrrrree years old in Maltese.
I work from home again, then I go out running or cycling. We cook ourselves almost all the time, healthy fresh meals. We are spoilt for choice between concerts, nature talks, walks, other events (looks like we’re going to an indie bingo night on Wednesday.) Or we just head to the beach. November has brought lots of wind, clouds and rain so far, but October was wonderful, warm, dry, sunny, the sea still very swimmable but the crowds largely gone. It’s rather obvious that the climate greatly contributes to the quality of life here.
I love just walking through our village, Lija, and Balzan, the one next to it. Little narrow streets, just barely wide enough for a horse cart. Old people gathered on benches in front of the church, discussing matters of great unimportance. Impressive old houses in yellow sandstone, with brightly coloured doors and ornate brass knockers. Big flowering bougainvilleas and other beautiful flowers. Palazzi and fruit trees. Statues of Virgin Marys and Jezus and all kinds of saints. Every time I see new little details that I hadn’t noticed before. Our apartment is in a new building though, so no heaps of character, but all necessary amenities, as they say. Lija/Balzan is said to be a posh area, but, erm, I don’t mind.
In front of our house there is a sleeping policeman that will wreck your car if you don’t slow down to a near standstill, and the Plant Biotechnology Centre, with a Maltese flag flying in the wind, in case you wake up one day and forget which country you’re in. Next to it is “aunty’s farm” - that’s what Irene’s two-year-old nephew likes to call it: a neighbour has a patch of land with dozens of chickens, turkeys, pigeons, ducks, some peacocks and a bunch of other birds, lots of cats, and a small black Asian-style pig with a pot belly that we like to call Ricky. All these birds make a hell of a racket but are a funny sight. We asked the guy if he had any eggs to spare by any chance (free-range eggs are really hard to find here), but he said they are all very old chickens and they don’t really lay eggs anymore - he just loves all his animals so much that he doesn’t kill any of them.
Unfortunately, Lija is not by the sea, but bang in the middle of the island. As much as I would love to live somewhere with a view over the ocean, where you can just walk down to the beach, here it is not possible, as the nearest beach is about 10 km away. Admittedly 10 km is not all that much, but given that this is a tiny island (246 km² - less than 1% of Belgium’s area), it’s a bit ironic that we’re living as far from the sea as can be here.
But as said before, life is good here. Mela.
The Jean-Mikili album is officially out now! It took a while, a really long while. We started recording in the snow in January, did more overdubs all through the snowy winter, spring came and we mixed it, then there was mastering and next thing you now it’s November. But still, I’m really proud of the work we did on it, it sounds pretty good, if I dare say so myself.
It’s featured on the Luisterpaal - that’s the first time in my life that I ever have an album on there! - and you can also listen to it and grab a physical/digital copy on Bandcamp. Support a starving artist! Or just enjoy the tunes and bring some sunshine into your Autumn.
There’s a truly baffling amount of yellow stones in Malta. Some say the island got it’s name from “melita”, which means “honey”, and refers to te ubiquitous yellow sandstone found all over the island, which gets a honey-like colour when the sun sets.
Valletta, Mdina and other medieval cities are surrounded by gigantic stone constructions, one could call them pharaonic. But you also find them in most of the houses in every village, from the 18th century palaces to smaller, more modest dwellings.
Below are just some random cell phone pics, taken in our neighbourhood.
So I decided to move to Malta. Even weirder is that I decided to do it by car!
My mum’s garage had a cheap right-hand drive car for sale, so we figured it might be a good idea to buy it and then use it in Malta (where they drive on the left - former British colony and all that). After some licence plates issues with some sketchy dudes, we finally left on Tuesday the 8th of October in our little blue Volkswagen Polo. The licence plate is 1-FRZ-something, so we decided to call her Franz (Franzi in Switzerland).
The first stage of our journey took us to Strasbourg. Irene (that’s the beautiful princess who captured me on her island) has lived there for a long while, and we stayed with her Armenian/Irenian “aunt” (not technically an aunt, but certainly affectionately). We got in late, after dark, so we only got to explore quickly the next morning. It certainly seemed like a beautiful city.
The next day we had to make it to Biel, Wallis, in the engineers’ wet dream that is Switzerland. Not a long drive by any means, but we were curious about how the small, heavily loaded and not so powerful Polo would make it through the mountains. Halfway through we stopped in Luzern, which is supposed to have magnificent mountain views, but it was really cloudy so we didn’t see those. Still, I have an old friend from there who happened to be in town so we quickly met for a coffee. Also, it is the place were Irene’s parents first met! On a bench, by the lake. We don’t know which bench though.
After Luzern the mountains really started. Sadly, the weather wasn’t all that great. While we were listening to a great indie mixtape by my dear friend Wim (Slint! Pavement! Yo La Tengo! Sonic Youth!), we were making up our way along narrow winding roads, shrouded in mist moreover. I would have loved to drive over the Furka pass, but since the weather was so bad, we just loaded the car on a train instead, and then the train took us through a tunnel, saving us the hassle.
We stayed with Irene’s aunt & uncle Leni & Bruno, a lovely old couple living in the tiny village of Biel (permanent residents: 57 or so). It’s a beautiful place, with super impressive, ancient wooden houses (up to 200 years old), at the top of the Rhône valley, where it is just a little stream still. To complement the Swiss cliché, we got raclette as soon as we arrived! Score!! Bruno & Leni were really funny, super sweet people, cracking jokes all the time.
The weather was a bit crazy. After a sunny walk in the morning, it started raining, and then snowing! By late afternoon, everything was white. The next day was sunny again, so most of it melted. But then during the night before we were meant to leave, it snowed even harder again!
See? We were excited to test the heated seats in Franzi, but they didn’t work. Luckily though the main road was totally driveable, and we drove down the valley to Brig. There we could - after nearly two hours of waiting - take another train-through-tunnel that took us straight to Italy!
Ah, la bella Italia! Until this year I had never been to Italy! What a mistake-a to make-a! Italy is just a gorgeous country! Landscapes (the sea! The mountains!), the architecture, the food! Mamma mia, I just totally love this country now.
We had a long day of driving, since we’ve had to scrap Cinque Terre from our programme because of the licence plate issues. Instead, we soldiered straight on, past Milano, Bologna and Firenze to Perugia, bang in the middle of Italy, where we arrived just in time for sunset. The little Polo was doing fine. Driving a car with the steering wheel on the right hand side is surprisingly easy, even when driving on the right side of the road.
Anyway, Perugia, a stunning medieval city on a hilltop, simply gorgeous! We decided to stay there, partly because it was on the way but also because Irene’s father used to teach there at the university for foreigners. (We were sort of copying her parents, who also drove a full car from Germany through Switzerland, all the way down through Italy to Malta.) We stayed in the Etruscan Chocohotel (Perugia is famous for chocolate), which seemed a bit tacky, but was fun enough (and good value. And it had a free, private parking - believe me, that’s something you look for when you’re driving a car full of all your personal belongings). It was a bit out of the centre, so we got to take the minimetro up the hill! The 11-year-old in me was very excited about that! The wannnabe gourmet was very excited about the food we had!
So Perugia was great, but we didn’t stay very long either, because we had to move further south in the direction of Salerno, where we would catch the ferry to Malta. So on we went, past Rome, Naples and the Vesuvius, to the Costiera Amalfitana, a truly spectacular stretch of coastline. Mamma mia - molto spectacolare! If you ever want to test your driving skills (our just want to enjoy amazing views), you should drive the SS 163, the narrow, winding but breathtakingly beautiful coast road. I know, it sounds like I’m constantly quoting travel guide blah blah here, but it was that amazing! (I will only drive that road once in my life though, ‘cause it can be quite stressful too.)
We spent two nights in Praiano, a quieter place in between the busier/posher/more expensive towns of Positano and Amalfi. So the next day we had time to walk the Sentiero degli Dei or “Path of the Gods”, a walking trail high along the mountains, with dazzling views of the sea below. The perfect postcard shots. Seriously, one of the five best hikes in my life. Also, perfect summer weather again, after the mist in Strasbourg and Perugia and the snow in Switzerland. Extra cool: we spotted a snake and some dung beetles on the way.
The walk took us to Positano, a super posh resort town, built on incredibly steep slopes - it looks like a giant sugar cake or something. And from there, we took a boat to Amalfi, once an absolute maritime super power but now just a tiny town. We were surprised to see Maltese crosses everywhere, so we went to the tourist office to ask why (me, in my best Italian, even though Irene speaks perfect Italian, being a new Maltese resident, particularly interested in this). Turns out some dude from Amalfi founded what would eventually became the order of Maltese knights. Food for thought, food for our stomachs: some delicious gelato.
After two days in this wonderful, wonderful place, all that was left was a short drive to Salerno, the large port where our ship was waiting for us. An 18 hour sailing, overnight, with a stop in Sicily. Everything went very smoothly, except for the last three hours in open seas, which were very choppy, so we went back to our cabin, lay down, bobbing up and down, and fell asleep again, until we entered the grand harbour of Valletta! Home sweet windy new home!
Valletta grand harbour, as seen from Birgu.
Last weekend we had friends from Belgium visiting, and then what you do on Malta, is you take them across the channel to Gozo. Although it was raining as we crossed and at the small beach in San Blas, things improved later in the day, with some brilliant sun and snorkelling at Dwejra/the Azure Window. In the evening we went for a stroll at the Xwejni salt pans, a really special, beautiful place. They were created by the Romans and are still in use today. It was such a nice, peaceful evening, the sun setting, the sea very quiet (unlike the first time when I went there in June). We walked all the way to the Ghasri gorge and back. There are weird sandstone formations around and above the salt pans (looks like soft sand, but it is rock), and we found what appears to be fossilized sea urchins. The only downside: the sounds of hunters’ gunshots nearby, disturbing this otherwise perfectly peaceful place …
After that, you should head to the nearby town of Marsalforn for a lovely seafood dinner - well, that’s what we did …
Enjoying a foot massage by a lovely shadow.
This is were salt harvesters store their stuff.
Fossilized sea urchin (we think).