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I open my bathroom window here in Rome, and see this old orange, still hanging on. And I think of me, with skin once resplendent and firm, now discoloured and marked with creases of time.
It draws my eye because on this first trip abroad since the pandemic, I’m realising that I’m not invincible. Time is catching up. As Andrew Stuart reminds me in a message, “You are 80. We are fading”.
Health issues don’t worry me when I understand the cause and the outlook. However, the clobbering of my old body in excessive heat is something else. It goes beyond drinking sufficient water, and leaning on a walking stick that I bought in the souk in Algeria. On occasion, when I’m sitting enjoying a meal, out of the blue I feel a vertiginous wave.
What the hell is going on? This is new. Episodes of vertigo might be as simple as adjusting to land-legs or vestibular from recent ear problem. I’m not happy not knowing.
And, it’s not so much the fading but a confidence-hit. Reality is dawning. I’m not as young as the people I’ve been working alongside feeling no difference in ages.￼￼
Hearing, memory, and balance of varying degrees is impacting old friends around me. This comes as quite a shock for me on this trip in particular, being so close to many I hold dear on the cruise.
I see￼ so many young people of all nationalities doing things, simply laughing having fun, probably getting up to things that I would never of done at their age￼. Latest fashions, jumping in the water, stealing a kiss, taking risks.￼￼ . . And, I realise, I have left those days behind. I am now firmly in the grandfather age.
‘Stay out of the midday sun’ is the only thought for my brief ‘Roman Holiday’.
So, when I receive the ‘“best pasta in Rome” message from my nephew Mark Schramm with the link to ‘Felice a Testaccio, Cucina Romana’, I have one thing to pursue.
On the restaurant’s Martedi Menu, I see my favourite pasta, Spaghetti con le vongole. I’m set. It pales compared to the roast baby lamb – the sweetest tender meat including the whole kidney sitting there on top of the pink flesh like a little fetus. (After all this, I realise I’ve dined here before.)
‘A marvellous roof terrace at the Hotel Eden’ is front of mind when I make my hotel booking. My late boss Juergen would tell me this when he would stay here when he was in Rome. Up on the terrace for breakfast, I understand why he liked it so much. I reminisce on things I’ve enjoyed with his family, starting with his wedding to Birgit in St Moritz, and being Godfather to Joya his daughter in a little chapel deep into the woods outside Lugano.
The marvellous roof Terrace has an excellent breakfast buffet. The cappuccino, fresh fruits and pastries are to be expected. The more than 180° view is a sightseeing tour without getting up out of my seat. I can see St Peter’s Dome at the Vatican and the towers of Trinità dei Monte at the top of the Spanish Steps all the way around to the Victor Emmanuel II National Monument.
The island of Gozo is half an hour away from Malta on a fast ferry. It’s relatively remote and has a simplicity about it that isn’t drawing the invading hordes of tourists who could turn Malta into another Ibiza.
With Gozitan Anne-Marie relating the authentic past, we relax in air-conditioned comfort taking-in the natural beauty – blue sea, cliffs, beaches and fertile valleys. The homes and buildings are clumped on higher ground, all made of the locally-quarried golden limestone blocks.
Our effervescent driver Charlie, (who went to Melbourne years ago and married Aussie Christine, and is now returned home to Gozo), ensures we see every house with an Australian connection. So many residents proudly returned to Gozo in retirement after migrating to Australia in the 50s in search of work and to raise families. The kangaroo is the message.
We stop at a local Pilgrimage site. the Basilica of the National Shrine of Ta ‘Pinu. Back in the 19th century, two different people heard a woman’s voice coming from what was a little chapel in the middle of nowhere asking them to pray. In the 1920s, Pope Pius XI issued a Decree confirming the authenticity of the message as from the Blessed Virgin. Earlier this year, Pope Francis visited the Shrine and added roses to the crown of the Virgin of Ta ‘Pinu
Anne-Marie relates an ‘alternative’ history that could be said to detract from the pious image and the good that the Knights of Malta still do to help people in the world today. My ears stand up when I hear of one of the Popes giving permission for the Knights to board Muslim ships, capture the occupants and sell them into the slave trade in North Africa. Or make them oarsmen in their own fighting ships . . all in the name of religion.
We enjoy lunch in a simple Bar Restaurant right on the water. Kids run and play throwing black seaweed in the air. Rabbit spaghetti does me fine. But a very fine sand borne in on the breeze from Libya only 200 km away to the south covers the table and our phones with a fine coating of grit.￼￼￼
Being masters of our own arrangements, we abandon more sightseeing and return ￼ to Malta on the fast ferry to check into our hotel in the ancient capital city, Mdina. This hilltop area of limestone buildings, Palaces and Churches remains the centre of the Maltese nobility and religious, authorities where property continues to largely be passed down from families, and from generation to generation.
We walk the next morning to the adjacent, well-conserved old part of Rabat to visit the Cave where Saint Paul preached after being shipwrecked on his way to Rome in the first century. As I reimagine what must have transpired here two millennia ago, singing from Sunday Mass drifts down from the Cathedral upstairs.
On another level, further down below the cave is where the Maltese people used pickaxes to dig into the limestone and make rooms as air raid shelters for their families during the relentless German bombardments during World War II. Stretching further underground, are miles of catacombs from Roman times.
All of us have eyes for the local food. and who better than a local, Anna-Marie, our vivacious local guide, to know the best place – ta’ Victor Restaurant, under umbrellas, in a breeze, by the harour at the traditional fishing village of Marsaxlokk.
A huge ‘Maltese Platter’ – piled high with green olives, juicy capers, sundried tomatoes, tantalising pungent fresh herbs and a little fried onion and crispy garlic, on a bed of warm local bread (ftira) soaked in tomato paste. It’s is enough to make our eyes pop.
It’s accompanied by two other plates of typical Maltese food – fried Maltese sausage, crisp on the outside delicious inside. Dare I mention the bowl of baked Maltese new potatoes with wild fennel seeds, garlic and onion, AND, the local goats cheese (gbejniet), and beans paste (bigilla) to enjoy with the warm ftira (Maltese bread roll)?
Dennis is sitting back still licking his lips after our luncheon repast when two large plates of fried Lampuka, (a local seasonal fish like a young mahi-mahi) are brought to the table. Again, fragrant local herbs garnish and onion, garlic, capsicum and cherry tomatoes add to the piled plate of fish.
After all that, I follow the “ I love the cool of ice cream on the back of my throat, don’t you?” ￼Pam Turner’s lead. I order the Maltese grandmother’s creamy ice cream with candied fruit and a slice of warmed fig tart and diced melon too.
￼The Temple of Concordia and Juno are walking distance from where we sip our Aperol spritz in the shade of spreading Fig and Pine trees. Such a relaxing setting in the cool, until the arugula arrives as a garnish on my appetizer . . . and the bees come buzzing.
The hotel menu suggests that ‘the Terrace is therefore a tribute to the Gods who want to give La Terrazza Degli Dei, (the place where we are dining), a show that is renewed every day and where it is possible to sublimate the food and wine flavors of the territory’.
I search out places like this in preference to confronting endless hours in the heat. Simple meals in pleasant locations with good company are what lasting memories are made of.￼￼
It’s difficult to imagine that one of the temples we’re viewing in the distance was built in the middle of the fifth century BC, and in period and in style belongs to the Archaic Doric period. It’s known as Temple of Hera Lacinia, or Juno Lacinia.
We’re about half an hour away from the ship near Agrigento in Sicily. It’s the end of summer, and the pink of oleanders, olive trees, pines and cactus add touches of colour to the parched ground. That smell of oleander in the summer sun is something that I associate always with Italy.
It’s good to be back! If only for a day.￼
Now, to face the chore of packing, and leaving the ship in Malta tomorrow morning, after three weeks on the cruise from Dublin.￼
Sousse – Tunisia
What a difference a red cap makes . . . to my photos.
Of even greater importance are bottles of water . . . and a walking stick . . . to my survival in blazing heat here in the souk in Sousse, Tunisia.
Do I care when an Arabian merchant￼￼ (seeing me eyeing off his range of walking sticks), sidles over to me from his nearby shop and says, “we won’t bargain. I give you best price”.￼￼￼
My US$20 well spent for a smart-looking black walking-stick on which the paint was rubbing-off before I got back to the ship￼!￼
I take my hat off (red cap in this case) to personal trainer Joe, back in Sydney for enduring strength￼ in my moving parts, but my ‘many’ physicians still have a little more ‘figuring-out’ to manage the effects of extreme heat on my 80 year-old body. Good fellow traveller Michael Inesta from Miami assures me that it’s mental, and merely fight or flight anxiety, fear of losing balance.￼
It’s pretty obvious with this post that’s ‘all to do about nothing’ that I didn’t join one of the organized tours from the ship.￼ The most interesting museums (without air-conditioning in this heat) with the remainder of the tour walking for 4 hours, is not even an option for me.
“ i’ll never pass this way again“, Gerhard Haas, bravely embarks on an 8-hour expedition to visit the old￼ Carthaginian town and Roman colony, Thysdrus, with its surviving amphitheater and now a World Heritage site￼.
I opt to go ashore independently mid morning with friends for a look-see and test my olifactory senses in the open souk. No baking smells or fish markets to report on, but a rare breeze in the souk does carry an enticing scent of spices.￼
This is the third port where it has not been possible to escape the organised tour and do my own thing.￼ The surveillance might be all about protection. ￼But, I wonder, when the local authorities stand watch and seem to control even the zodiac frequencies, and speed-up beside us in the water as we zip to and from the ship￼.
Magnificent edifices, French imports, neo classical and white, set-off with stately palms, surround the harbour. Aren’t we supposed to be landing in Africa on the edge of the Sahara Desert?
Yes, we are indeed. And it’s exciting. But we are also witness to colonialism with its vestiges of elegance, and like in so many parts of the world, to the erasing of local cultures in many respects. Any evidence of the city’s Berber and Muslim origins are tucked away behind all this grandeur. So, let’s at least get a taste of that. Come with me to the Casbah, in Algiers.
I perspire and nearly expire walking up and down potholed alleys in century plus heat and humidity in the Berber Casbah of Algiers. Uniformed and plain clothed police in number ‘walk shotgun’ and to Fr trail us to ensure sure our safe passage and security. I’m not too happy with the rather portly man in the green shirt whom I observe videoing every single one of us on his iPhone.
The cobbled steps up and down the alleys of the Casbah, between very ancient and dilapidated buildings of Berber and Moorish origins are steep, pot-holed and uneven. The step rises are of varying heights, angled, and often slippery. They are acutely hazardous.
With my eyes cast downward for fear of a fall, my opportunity to take-in the many architectural features, doorways and take snaps is limited.
Adding to the distraction and disorientation, not to mention the heat, are the seemingly endless stories of the local guide about the pre-French era and the ‘amazing’ Berber architecture that continue without stop through the voice pod in my ear. To heck with what anybody may think. I’m going back to my walking stick for the next time I’m in these situations of unpredictable surfaces. I’m very pro-life; my own!
There’s an Algerian welcome for us in the central courtyard of a combined family dwelling in the casbah. The family members serve sweet tea or scented coffee with local sweet treats and dates. What a relief to be out of the blazing sun and the hundred-degree heat. Out of the alleys, there’s scarce shade and nowhere to catch my breath.
The local people treat we presumed ‘Americans’ with curiosity. None really try to engage with us, but many are very happy to be addressed in that non-verbal language of a friendly smile and nod of the head.
Sadly, the police and security services appear to have unfettered power. This would extend to any one with authority, similar to many parts of the world.
Such inequality renders most of the population simply digits – without hope. The ‘rule of power’ rather than the ‘rule of law’. Human rights . . . ?
I lay the dilemma at the feet of the Good Lord. How can He have allowed this to be, seemingly forever?
My ever-practical get-the-job-done friend from Florida sees only one solution.
“Relocate the population of Algiers and bring the French back to restore the infrastructure”.￼ He dismisses my concerns about the displacement of people in the meantime as Jesuitical and without any progress.￼￼
Only yesterday while in Kazakhstan, Pope Francis insisted, “A greater distribution of power” is a “meritorious and demanding process. Every country in the world needs to implement measures to combat corruption”.
Edmundo Perez-de Cobos Paul OD
Algeria – Oran, shrouded in mystery!
Silver Cloud is the first cruise ship permitted to visit Algeria after a four-year shutdown.
At lunchtime today, we sail into Oran, Algeria’s second city to a water cannon welcome. An imposing Santa Cruz Fort 400 m up on a mountain top guarding the harbour, evokes a sense of mystery. The excitement on board is palpable. Then we are drawn to our balconies to listen to the band playing rhythmic Arab music.
We are in Algeria! We are in Africa.
And we go back to our lunch by the pool until it’s time to disembark and discover for ourselves. We’ll, sort of!
As we venture ashore, smiling young Algerians stand at the foot of the gangway bedecking each of us with a colourful Algerian sash.
The band of men in blue turbans play Arabian music with frantic drumming, clapping, singing and dancing.
Officials with epaulettes and white gloves stand around with a veiled sense of pride, and surveillance.
Our transport with hazard lights flashing is escorted by motor-cycle police, civilian brigade, special forces and plain clothes – with blue flashing lights and sirens to ensure ease of passage for our coaches to proceed without stops through heavy traffic.
Pedestrians and vehicles are halted in every direction! It’s an extraordinary military-style operation, just for us! We proceed up the incredibly steep cliff road to Santa Cruz fort and church … steep, hot and crowded. My ankles knees and glutes carry me well, but I nearly expire in the heat with so little shade and nowhere to sit.
Just below the fort we visit a Catholic sanctuary with a statue of Our Lady overlooking the harbour with our ship docked way below.
Exclusive access to the Alhambra for the couple of hundred guests of Silver Cloud￼ M
makes for such a magical experience this evening.￼ The history of Christian kings and queens of Spain coexisting with the Muslim Sultans in Granada is reflected with their imprint on the Architecture of the splendid rooms in the Palace.￼￼
Farewell to Seville
Silent as an air ballon in the early morning, we glide down the great-river from Seville to the ocean, through the massive locks and In the perfect breeze. The only sound is the waking bird life as we pass the irrigated farmlands and whitewashed haciendas.
Nothing as pleasant as a chilled Rosé with the seafood spread on the pool deck.￼
The obliging Ukrainian Captain Doroshenko, Master of ‘Silver Cloud’, dropped by our ‘Get-together’ this evening to say hello and raise a glass. This should truly be the last of my 80th birthday celebrations!
He won’t get any sleep this evening as he navigates up the Guadalquivir River from the Atlantic Ocean and through a lock to dock in the centre of Seville before dawn.
(We are missing Lee Campbell in the photo with the captain. He bounced-in dressed in shorts (for a Cocktail Party!) five minutes before the captain. ￼￼￼ Natasa sent him back to the cabin to change. it must be something about the Australian in him. Last night, cousin Julie Hahn’s husband Dennis arrived in the main dining room in shorts. He also had to go change.￼￼￼￼)
We farewelled Frank and Markus yesterday in Lisbon. Our numbers have now swollen to 17, to sail through the Mediterranean for the next 11 days to Malta.￼￼
We have two ports to visit in Algeria. We will be the first ship allowed to enter those ports since before Covid. University lecturers and students will be the tour guides.￼
There will be another photo to share; by a young photographer from the expedition crew on the ship who hails from Goa in India.￼ He caused much laughter when he told Pam Turner that she reminded him of a famous actress from the movie￼ ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’, set in India. We knew he wasn’t referring to Judi Dench, but I’m waiting to see what Pam thinks when she realizes her ‘famous actress look-alike’ is none other than Maggie Smith.￼￼
In Porto – I ‘resolve’, only to ‘relent’
Rocking and rolling after being whacked by a big wave as we make our way towards the dock through fog in Porto, I see a blaze of lights through the doors of my suite – one of those huge cruise vessels that carry thousands of passengers. Enough already!
No group shore excursion for me today! I go back to the bed and pull the blinds. I’ll simply relax and join Frank and Markus on the last day of the cruise (for them) at breakfast and perhaps go for a wander ashore at leisure. Famous Last Words!
After breakfasting alone, I relent, and decide to hop on the coach and stay on as long as I can take it.
And, am I glad that I did. Not only is the coach new and comfortable, the local guide gives a very good description of where we’re traveling on the 20 minutes into Porto. Sitting comfortably while a very skilled driver motors up-and-down and round and about very narrow streets passing wonderful sights I’d never see on my own. I suppress my click finger and decide that it’s well-nigh useless to try and catch good photographs. Sit back and enjoy the drive.
We eventually alight from the coach down in the historical ‘old town’. Like a swarm of bees, tourists following guides with little flags or coloured umbrellas raised in the air come from every direction.
We make it across the ‘acolyte of Gustave Eiffel’ iconic iron bridge to Cellars on the other side of the river for our port wine tasting, and I disappear.
I jump an Uber and make my way up the steep hill to join Edmundo Perez-de Cobos and Reginato de Oliveira with Sonia his mother for a relaxed lunch of local cod and mashed potato at Restaurante Barão Fladgate in the old Taylor’s Port Wine warehouses.
Edmundo and I are the last two passengers to board the ship before sailing for Lisbon. But a memorable day.
Straight up to the pool deck to find Frank and Markus, and to finally sit quietly and enjoy a glass of port wine.￼
Belle-Île-en-Mer, 14 kms off the coast of mainland Brittany, our last port of call in France.
As sunlight slowly breaks through the clouds, the morning brightens revealing a sea so still, like a mirror. I can’t wait to get aboard the zodiac to shore. There’s not a breath of wind as we head off hardly breaking the surface of the sea and round the bow of the ‘Silver Cloud’.
It’s impossible to get to Belle-Île except by ship. Sailing through the entrance to the little harbour, boats rock gently in their moorings and pretty white fishermen’s cottages dot the shore. Le Palais is the island’s main town with a 16th century fort standing guard near the harbour.
Claude Monet beat me here by more than a century. “I am in a magnificent untamed land, a formidable heap of rocks and an incredible sea of colours!”
Today is my first organised tour of the expedition cruise. It’s nice to be taken for a drive right around the island. The furthest stop was at Pointe Des Poulains in the northwest of Belle-Île where Sarah Bernhardt holidayed in a Napoleon III castle located in a most beautiful wild setting.
The last small harbour township of Sauzon has the most wonderful selection of cafés and restaurants.￼￼ ￼ This is where I’d love to return to.
If I were here longer, I would need to taste their famous butter, crêpes, cider, oysters, and lamb.￼
This is truly un Belle￼ Île!
Out for a morning walk in the sun on the cobbled streets of Saint Malo’s old Breton town.
Later to meet-up with Hilary and Rupert who come across from Île de Batz to join us for a seafood lunch.
The gang’s all here in zodiac life jackets before going ashore at St Peters Port at our unscheduled stop at Guernsey in the Channel islands.￼ The easterly winds in the Scilly Isles off Devon made it unsafe for the zodiacs or for the local wooden boats to come take us ashore.￼
With ‘Secret Mission’ accomplished in St Peter’s Port, Guernsey, the A Team bounces through the choppy sea back to home base aboard Silver Cloud.
All are in need of a hot shower and change of clothes after the saltwater drenching, bouncing through the swell in the zodiac holding on to the ropes for grim death.
Crab claws, oysters, and prawns in the fresh air washed down with a chilled Rosé at a table out on the back deck make for the end of an uneventful trip ashore. Everything was closed for a Bank Holiday!
The first stop on our expedition voyage is on the ￼Island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel. It’s an Expedition landing by zodiac on this remote island with very little infrastructure.
We walk for a kilometer and a half up fairly steep paths over rough rocks to get to the little village and other sites on the plateau. Time for a pot of tea at the Marisco Tavern before returning down the hill to the zodiacs and back to the ship for lunch.
All seven of us together on the pool deck for Bloody Marys, and for me, A hot dog.￼￼
Three ex-AMEX friends meet up in Dublin with one Hertz colleague for dinner.￼ So good!
With some heavy arm twisting by my nephew Mark Schramm from afar￼￼, I relent and order the famous Guinness here in Dublin. ￼ I trusted Rachel to take this picture. ￼￼
Not quite 40 shades of green of the Emerald Isle but who’s counting? And it’s good to be on the road again and here in Dublin after three years of Covid confining us to barracks￼.
On Saturday, we’re heading out to sea again￼ for three weeks on Silver Cloud Expedition ship￼ sailing first to a couple of islands off the coast of Devon, England, and then down the western coast of Brittany in France and on to the north of Spain, around Portugal to Lisbon and Up the river to Seville, across the Mediterranean to Algiers and Tunisia, with the final port of call in Sicily before disembarking in Malta.￼
At St Canice’s – in Celebration of the Feast of St Ignatius – 31st July 2022
Celebration, flags, colour, music and mingling at St Canice’s on the Feast Day of St Ignatius inspires a sense of ‘Festa’. Freshly cut banana trees on the columns and at the doorways of the church bring a sense of Railaco to our doorstep here in Elizabeth Bay.
Inside, the church is decorated with flowers; with shiny leaves of the banana tree, huge bunches of bright yellow sunflowers and the red of the Leucadendron remind us of the Timor-Leste flag, and of our sister parish of the Railaco Jesuit Mission.
This feast of Ignatius brings together so many members of our Ignatian family. We are pleased to welcome students from St Aloysius College and the leaders of Jesuit Mission and JRS, along with young adults from the Cardoner Project with Fr Ramesh Richards SJ and Fr Robin Konig SJ, and Doctoral candidate in residence, Dave Braithwaite SJ. Steve Sinn returns and chooses to sit in the pews with so many old friends.
Drama, intended to reach into the imaginations and hearts of our congregation, is added to the celebration through symbolic ritual and sacrament.
The congregation is rather non-plussed at sounds they think to be roosters crowing and birds chirping somewhere in the church. Yes, they heard correctly, with just another little touch of Timor brought to Elizabeth Bay, to mystify and excite.
Muffled sounds of a trumpet from the loft, and then organ and violin joining-in playing ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’ from the Jesuit-inspired ‘The Mission’ is followed by long drawn-out notes of a didgeridoo breaking through an expectant air. Those haunting sounds from South America and of our ancient land pierce our inner consciousness. It’s transporting. And, we are all brought to silence.
Fanfare of organ, trumpet and violin introduce our Entrance Hymn, ‘Christ is Made our Sure Foundation’. It reminds us of the ‘sure foundation’ St Canice’s laid in establishing our sister parish relationship with the Railaco Jesuit Mission 18 years ago.
Most importantly, Fr Sacha Goldman SJ celebrates the Eucharist with a gentle dignity. That prayerful act – whether richly involved like today, or simple – is the centrepiece of all that we hold dear.
In his homily, Fr Sacha speaks about ‘priorities’ and about looking beyond our immediate circle of family and friends to others who might need our support! He likens this to what Ignatius and his companions did, to what all of us are called to do, particularly when we belong to a Jesuit parish!
As we listen to a recent visitor to Railaco, Dan Elias, we are emotionally connected to the Timorese people of our sister parish in Railaco. Dan challenges each of us not to be ok with just being fortunate and comfortable.
He says, “I plead with you to help our neighbours that need our ongoing support. With my own two eyes I have seen how the funds are being put into good use and with my heart I have felt what it means to the community. Every little bit goes a long way. Our neighbours are grateful for what they have! We are ungrateful for what we don’t have”!
Dan closes by recounting the biggest revelation to come out of his experience –
“When I arrived in Railaco, I wanted to cry for these people, by the time I left I wanted to cry for us back home”.
Later in the Mass, our cantor Pascal Herington, (recently returned home from singing with the German Opera), steps across to stand beside Claudine at the grand piano. He sings ‘Nella Fantasia’ to the tune of ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’ the theme of today’s Mass from ‘The Mission’. Pascal‘s mother was only one of many with tears in her eyes.
So rich is this Feast of St Ignatius, we let our joy burst forth in celebration, thankful for the Jesuit charism that flows. After the Mass, we join in the ‘festa’ in the forecourt of the church – mingling enjoying each other’s company and enjoying a special morning tea.
After years of Covid restrictions, we thank so many people for filling the church once again, and for staying to embrace each other looking forward to a return to normality.