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Rabat, Gozo

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Rabat parks index:
Villa Rundle Park

Gozo is a good location for which Greek mythology can yet operate as it did centuries before Homer wrote down the oral epics of his age. Homer knew a thing or two about Mediterranean life, island mentality, and the fickleness of the sea. When you walk at the edge of Gozo’s northern cliffs, you experience the wind, the waves, the angry sea that burnished many imaginations to draw stories from “Middle Earth.” Poseidon yet batters the limestone shores of this small island with angry swats from his trident.

Rabat easily plays its part in such stories. Its stone buildings resemble the same architecture used thousands of years ago. The labyrinthine streets catch the sun to reveal mementos plastered into the walls beside doorways screened by slatted shades. The plaques celebrate fish, birds, and boats—life come from and harvested of the sea.

Having grown up in Chicago and lived in New York City, I decided to see what life was like on an island whose size could fit into either of those sprawling cities. I moved to Gozo on a windy January afternoon and stayed five months. Bus is the preferred method of transportation by most locals: it’s cheap, more-or-less convenient, and you meet people. Angelina lives in Rabat, the island’s provincial capital. For a while she worked as a waitress at a wine bar and café in the heart of the city. Grapes is a locals hangout in St. George’s square, where the island’s most celebrated church stands.

rabat gozo cafeAngelina tried to look busy on a cold Thursday morning, wiping tabletops. Her black hair was straight, long; her features a little bit Italian, a little bit south Mediterranean. This was a Gozo woman. I asked her if she liked her job. She gave me a scornful look, but then it softened in that way when people who are asked such questions realize their face must have given something away. “It’s fine,” she told me. “I get exercise. I get to talk to friends who stop by for coffee.” Angelina also told me that this job was temporary for her. She was a college student working in environmental studies. She had chosen that area because she liked the sea. She was a diver, her parents farmed (they sold their vegetables—cauliflower, carrots, and onions—to local market stalls in each of the small towns on Gozo), her brothers owned fishing boats. “The outdoors are life to me,” she said.

Besides her feet being half roots and half fins, Angelina had studied where the Maltese government would expand. Environmental sciences was to be an important subject for further development of the islands, she explained. “It’s not about building and expansion, but conservation for the future of our islands. Without that, we would all have to leave someday. Maybe not in my generation, but soon, if we don’t take care of our land and the sea.”

I asked Angelina the most impertinent question I could think of, just because she was a college student and would want—I should think—to have her knowledge tested. “Have you ever thought of leaving Gozo to live somewhere else? A big city? In the mountains rather than by the sea?” She shook her head before I had finished with the questions.

She had been to those places, she told me. “They are fun to visit, but I feel like a tourist. I would always feel like a tourist.” Gozo was Angelina’s home; the island would never be anything less, and someday it would be more. “Gozo doesn’t have to change for the island to become better. Its people have a way of life that is set, even when more buildings bring more visitors. Some of that life is defined by the tourists.” The tourists hear about Gozo’s quiet towns, friendly people, and savage winter seas. This is not life to them, so they want to see how people live as perhaps their own ancestors lived once, before the West became the cross-continental metropolis that modern times has formed under their feet.

Gozo Vs. Malta
If you holiday in Malta and do not visit Gozo, its sister island, then I think you’ve missed the best part of the Maltese islands. In fact, unless you really, really like sprawling cities, plan to stay on Gozo and take a day trip or two over to Malta. The flavor is as different between the islands as an apple is to a peach. Malta is a fabulous old world Mediterranean island with touches of Italy and Tunis (with a smidgen of England to temper the spice). Its capital, Valletta, rises like a petrified sandcastle from the desert peninsula.

(read more about Rabat, Gozo’s highlights here

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