They hang, clinging on to the honey coloured façade. They gaze down at us mere mortals as we walk down the streets that our fathers walked down and their fathers before them. They have a proud air about them. They know that they will outlive us, they know that the next generation of human beings will be here, as am I.
Around me, the heaving mass of humanity moves as if one collective organism. Some constituent parts of this entity spin off and disappear into side streets, eager to make an appointment or to visit some planned destination. Few people look up. Few notice the careful and watchful gaze of the Maltese balconies along Republic Street in the island’s capital of Valletta. Seen, but unseen, the balconies continue fulfilling their own destiny and ignore us back.
There are balconies that make the Italianate facades what they are across the grand palazzos that the Italian knights breathed life into. There are sombre ones that have not aged as well as the others. These balconies are not as wide – it is as if they are trying to recede into the building, ashamed of their being so plain, like teenage girls at a school party. They grudgingly accept their corrugated iron roof and wear it uncomfortably. Around them, electrical cables, signs of modern life, snake their way through and around every orifice. The present seems to have no respect for their past and the violation of this is plain for all to see.
Others still are mere shadows of their grown up partners. They adorn windows and doorways and grandly proclaim themselves to be balconies. Everyone accepts that this is the term to use, but this is not really the case. Perhaps they are there to protect the outside world from the children and the infirm who would otherwise rain down on the unsuspecting public.
I navigate the grid that is the capital. Unlike that other famous city built as a grid, the streets here are not numbered but have names that roll of the tongue with a familiar flavour for he who has lived here before. Like many people who lived here for any length of time, I use their Italian names, signs of a past which is still alive around us. Strada Forni is Old Bakery Street. Strada Reale became Kingsway which made way to Republic Street. Strada Mercanti where merchants still set up stalls to flog their wares is a modern-day Merchants Street.
Putting my best foot forward, I join the hustle and bustle of Zachary Street. The crowd spills out into St John’s Square but I ignore the imposing magnificence of the cathedral and turn right. St John’s Street is inappropriately named as a large part of it is a descent down small steps towards the southern part of the peninsula. I reach a clearing, barely a piazza and join the Soul Soother for brunch with a view on the appropriately named Grand Harbour.
Behind us, more Maltese balconies speckle the facades adding a touch of colour. Testament to the style and tastes of the original owners, not all of them are as majestic as the ones I saw earlier but what they lack in substance, they make up for with the stunning panorama. Anyone who stands, or sits, in these balconies cannot fail to be moved in many ways by the sight before him
Which must be why someone decided that his balcony needed plumbing.
Odd customs everywhere you look? Leave us a comment and tell us about them!
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