Malta And The Grecian Isles
( Originally Published 1904 )
A FEW hours by steamer from Sicily bring us to Malta, a rocky little island with smaller islands about it, belonging to Great Britain. Malta itself is only nine miles wide and twenty miles long, but it is valuable because of its excellent harbor at Valetta, and because it lies almost midway on the route from the Strait of Gibraltar through the Mediterranean Sea to the Suez Canal.
As we see the island from our steamer, it appears to be without vegetation. The fields are inclosed in stone walls, the hills are terraced with stones, and it is only where the orange, lemon, and olive trees stand out above the walls that green is to be seen.
There are many ships at the wharves of Valetta ; and we make our way through a crowd of Italians, English, Turks, Greeks, and sailors from everywhere, up the steep streets to the main part of the city. We go along the Strada Reale, the best business street, looking at the beautiful Maltese lace in the show windows, and at the silver filigree work which might almost be called lace in silver.
We take donkeys and ride out to spend a day with the peasants. They have small farms surrounded by stone walls which prevent the land from washing away, and also serve to keep out the robbers.
They live in little houses built of stone, with flat roofs and rough doors and windows. They cook upon charcoal brasiers, and their food is scanty and plain. The peasants seldom have meat ; they live mainly on brown bread, macaroni, olive oil, and goat's-milk cheese, and sometimes fish and fruit. They go to work early, but rest a couple of hours in the middle of the day, and always take a nap after dinner.
The people are everywhere busy, but they are generally ready to stop and chat with us through our interpreter. The men are in their shirt sleeves ; they wear trousers of coarse blue cotton, and most of them are bare-footed. The women dress just as simply, having coarse dresses with hoodlike mantles which reach to the waist.
Our donkeys are excellent, and they trot as fast as ponies. The air from the sea is fresh and cool, and we enjoy ourselves as we ride from one little farm to another, now stopping to eat the blood-red oranges common to Malta, and now drinking a glass of warm milk fresh from the goat.
Malta is noted for its goats. They are excellent milking animals, some giving as much as a quart daily. Every morning the goats are brought from the country into the towns and milked at the doors of the customers.
From Valetta we take ship for the Ionian Islands, off the western and southern coasts of Greece, calling first at Zante, not far from the entrance to the Gulf of Corinth.
The Ionian Islands are many in number, and seven of them are of some importance. They have all together an area not much larger than the area of Rhode Island, and their population is little more than two hundred thousand. Only one third of them are Greeks, the others being Jews and people of the mixed races from the countries about.
The skies of Greece are wonderfully clear, the climate is delightful, and the soil is so fertile that oranges, lemons, grapes, and other kinds of fruits grow luxuriantly. Upon the island of Zante there are great vineyards devoted to Zante currants, a seedless grape which is dried and shipped all over the world. It is sold in almost every grocery store, and we have often eaten it in cakes and plum puddings.
From Zante we go north to Corfu, an island noted for its beauty, and then move around the southern coast of Greece to the archipelago in the AEgean Sea.
This archipelago consists of many small volcanic islands, of which some are little more than rocks of white marble; some are almost barren, and others have olive orchards and vineyards built in terraces on the sides of the hills. The people live in little flat-roofed houses painted white. They are mostly Greeks, or of the mixed race found in this region, many of them being sailors and fishermen. Some of these islands belong to Turkey, having a population more or less Mohammedan, while those nearest Greece are inhabited chiefly by Christians of the Greek Catholic Church.