Rosaria from Gozo
Self- opinionated doctors always know what’s best. “Walk”, they advice many of their patients, as they tilt back in their comfy and soft leathered chair with grotesque limbs spilling and splayed outwards. It is amazing how many doctors are over-weight. Mrs Azzopardi went to see Dr Raymond about a suspicious and persistent little rash on her elbow. Dr Raymond is also the owner of those large spilling limbs and does most of his work on diagnosing patients’ ills and itches on a computer. He typed in ‘rash’ while also peering over the edge of his computer at the patient.
Mrs Azzopardi was from Maltese background and 47 years of age. She had left Valetta as a young bride married to a butcher and had two lovely children, now grown up. The daughter was 23 and worked at a flower-shop doing arrangements for weddings and funerals. Arranging for funerals was preferred. No one complained because after the service the flowers were either thrown in the grave or just left to the elements. Marital flower pieces were a different kettle of fish, often difficult to get right, dealing with nervous and totally over the top brides and their fiercely dominating mothers. Mrs Azzopardi’s daughter hated it. At times, the flower pieces and all the other wedding paraphernalia that came with it seemed to overtake all. When the future husband took a peek in her shop, she often thought the wedding was doomed before it even had begun. With her bevy of hopeless boyfriends so far she had become somewhat despondent on ever finding a ‘good one’. By that she meant someone beyond the usual ‘football before anything”, and for which romance was something you tried to grope afterwards. Why did they all have to smell of beer and then try and stick their tongue in a mouth?
Mrs Azzopardi’s son was just 19 and he was studying IT. The world of IT was still a concept of awe and wonder for her, steeped in the unimaginable miracles of computers and Skype. Her son had set up Skype and this is how she could still have contact with her Maltese family. Apparently, her side of the family had less trouble with the modern technology of App’s, Pods, and Pads in Malta than she had living in Australia’s Rockdale. This ‘Skype’ enabled her to not only talk to Rosaria, but see her too. Rosaria was her sister, married to a Maltese fisherman living in Gozo. He was one of those happy go lucky Maltese for which a change of country would be the end of his ‘happy and lucky’. If you had fish on your plate and a wine to wash it down with; what more could you want? He could never figure any one even living away from his islands and thought it foolish the world wasn’t knocking on Gozo’s door wanting to live in the best country in the world. Mind you, most of his time was overlooking the vast expanse of the Mediterranean on his little boat. Just the one throw of his net would haul in enough to feed his little family. A second throw of the net, petrol for his boat, yet another one, to buy life’s necessities. He wasn’t and would never be rich but also didn’t want to steep down to a level of having to worry about keeping and adding to a pile of money.
Rosaria’s husband ‘Joe’ was somewhat philosophical in matter of life’s happiness versus seeking material improvements, and with his wife and another baby on the way, could not imagine it getting any better. He moved his small fishing business to Gozo from Valetta after his marriage but fished in the same waters as before. Fish is fish, no matter in what part of the world, he figured, and eating fish with his loving wife added even more to his enjoyment. Rosaria was born in Gozo and had a large extended family. They had welcomed him as one of their own. In fact, they more or less all fished from the same waters, drank from the same well, and pulled the same carts. It was agreed by all that Joe was bringing fresh blood to Gozo, a renewal of spirit as well as an extra boat. It had Joe beat that there were some that apparently wanted something more and would leave for different shores. Some went so far away; they would never be seen again. In Rosaria sister’s departure, they had Skype. Joe figured that Skype was just another form of a depth finder. If a depth finder could find him schools of flounder, Skype was just another step up from that. Instead of flounder, Skype found Rosaria in Gozo all the way from the Azzopardi family in Australia’s Rockdale.
The name Rockdale found some joy at Rosaria’s and Joe’s family when translated from English. It sounded as if taken from a Gozon village. ‘A dale made of Rocks’, perhaps not unlike Gozo? Gozo was mainly rocks as well. Was Rockdale an even better and a lovelier place than Gozo, pondered Rosaria? Would Rockdale also have the people of their village come around? Hzanna Azzopardi from Rockdale did say they lived not far from the ocean but did not say if they also held watch for incoming fishing boats. They did eat fish which they had with fried strips of potato. It was called ‘fish and chips’. Rosaria was most curious if they ate on the outside near the water’s edge. Did they eat with many people? Did they cook the fish on the beach? How many friends did they share the food with? How was the wine? Who did the most laughing? Did their neighbours grow their own wine in those Rockdale dales?
Hzanna said they made friends with some Sicilian people, the Mamone family who had been in Australia for nearly twenty years. They had bought a large house made from bricks and even had veneer. It had a nice garden. The husband grew own tomatoes. They knew some people who made their own wine too. Hzanna seemed happy on those Skype excursions and her two grown up children were certainly doing well. Thanks to her son studying IT, they had Skype and did see each other regularly on a computer. No matter what Joe saw on Skype, he didn’t see Rockdale as a tempting place to go to or that his life of fishing with his soft Rosaria and her yielding thighs (and baby on the way) could possibly ever be improved upon. No, going to another country wasn’t attractive nor in his sights. Joe’s life was just too busy and full. He was also somewhat mystified about the people from Rockdale and the brick veneers. The houses seemed far apart and neighbours couldn’t see each other. They did not want to be seen. They want ‘privacy’, Hzanna told Rosaria. That’s what people like here, living in brick veneers, she added. Joe and Rosaria certainly thought it different.
There was going to be a getting together of Rosaria’s family at L-Ghadira. It was within walking distance of everyone. This little inlet always provided a cool breeze. Usually but not always, after enough wine, most would take a swim, frolic in the water or drink even more. Rosaria was excited. It would be a break for Joe. You can only do so much fishing. She had a goat killed and went to the market to get the largest green olives which she would stuff with her very famous and secret mixture. It would, as always be very spicy. Chilli certainly was one of the ingredients. The mixture of herbs and salty fish was another possibility. No one could outdo Rosaria when it came to stuffing olives. Whether it was the stuffed olives, the copious wine drinking or the grilled goat, everyone would end up enjoying a riotous getting together. The flute playing by Antonio, the singing voices of Maria and her mother Sophia would always bring out the tears as well as the impromptu dancing.
On the day, a general sauntering towards this L-Ghadira inlet was seen to be taken place. Men with bundles of wood, women with baskets of food and the bloodied goat wrapped in hessian were descending towards the water’s edge which was surrounded by huge boulders as well as some small sandy beaches. Blankets and rugs were spread. The children were already swimming. Some arrived by small boats. As the day progressed, more and more arrived. A variety of tables were set up. Huge jars of Rosaria’s stuffed olives were displayed together with baskets of grapes, dates, lettuces, pickled onions, pickled fish, a variety of nuts and dozens of wine bottles. The wine was home- made, young and unlabelled, to be drunk with some urgency. Then there were tables with the breads, stone ground flour dough bread, sour dough breads, black breads, olive breads. There were sweets, honey breads and stringy vermicelli baked sweets soaked for days in molasses. The children dipped into a large vessel of orange cordial and other soft drinks. Fires were lit. Kerosene lamps made ready for when evening would arrive. Musical notes and some singing were soon to be heard and cries of joy began to rent the balmy evening air.
The women were dressed in flowing dresses, many showing sturdy calves with alluring hips and a generous softness higher-up. Their bodies were aglow with robust health which only generations living on diets of mainly fish could have brought about. Rosaria was starting to show her pregnancy adding to her sensuousness. A woman could not have been more alive.
The singing and flute playing had started and the goat had now been on the smouldering heat for several hours. As the music got hold, the wind died and the sea becalmed. All of a sudden the lilt of Sophia’s voice was carried along Gozo’s shore of L-Ghadira. This was a voice as never heard before. Sounds of such ancient origin without words but redolent with roses and cinnamon. Those thrills of continuous notes could only have come, carried along the river reeds of the Euphrates and being of a Methuselah’s age. Or was it from Babylon sprinkled with Myrrh? Perhaps it was a lore born by deep oceans and of their sunken hidden myths. Singing and poetry with Sophia’s voice the lyre. This music Sophia could only have learnt from generations of women and mothers.
Now the singing and music held laughter as well as their tears. The dancing became earnest. Rosaria and Joe with many other couples were seen dancing together with a closeness that held a promise of even closer beckoning loins later on but back in the village, with an urgency that satisfied and sated but that would inexorably collapse in a deep and sweet slumber.