Posts Tagged ‘Mdina’

1.Entrance to MdinaCourtesy: Not a Bad Policy

Mdina is one of those towns people don’t visit often, if ever.  Perched in the middle of the island of Malta, on its highest point, it has a commanding view of both the island and the sea that isolates it from the rest of the world.  Through much of Malta’s history Mdina served as the capital as well as the main bastion for defense.  Even after the arrival of the Knights of Malta in 1530, it continued to be the seat of the archbishop.  From there both the archbishops as well as the Maltese natives cast wary eyes at the Knights, who ruled from their port city of Valletta.  Relations were not always good; and when spats arose, it fell to the Roman Inquisitor to mediate the peace.

Today Mdina is a sleepy town, but it remains an architectural jewel.  Around every corner is  a lovely palace or church, and it’s a pleasure to get lost in its narrow streets.

2.Red DoorLast May I visited Malta with several members of the Order of Malta, and Mdina was the surprise of the tour.  We should have budgeted more time for the town, and we left wanting more.  But we made the most of it, including a pause for lunch at a sidewalk cafe.  Lunch did double duty, since it opened out from a stately  sixteenth-century palace.

The service was prompt but unhurried, and when the bread and water had appeared on the table, the waiter made the rounds to take our order.  When he came to me he stopped, smiled, and politely observed: “You were in Lourdes last week, weren’t you.”

Taken aback, all I could sputter out was “well, yes.  As a matter of fact, I was.”

“I thought so,” he answered.  “I saw you at the Mass in the underground basilica.”

3.Cathedral AlleyThis may sound like no big deal, but there were 20,000+ of us at that Mass, including over 250 priests and bishops.  Since I hadn’t gone berserk or made a spectacle of myself that day, I wondered how in the world he could have noticed me in that vast crowd.

Then we put it all together.  As the clergy filed into the basilica, there was the equivalent of a  human traffic jam, and for five minutes we stood stock still while the ushers untangled the front end of the procession.  With nothing to do, I could have made catty remarks about the organizers.  Instead, I struck up a pleasant conversation with a woman from Washington, DC, who was seated on the aisle.  Our new friend, the waiter, was right behind her.  So of course he could remember me, if he so chose.

It was a remarkable coincidence to run into him a few days later, and a few hundred miles away.  And it made me extremely grateful that I had followed one of my working principles that Sunday in Lourdes:  “never throw snits in front of strangers.”  Those snits can come back to haunt you.

4.Street sceneMore than a few books and movies have featured people who were absolute jerks to others, only to discover later on that the person they had insulted was their future boss or mother-in-law.  Or he was the guy about to park  your brand new car.  Or the waiter who was about to balance hot soup over your lap.  We borrow a phrase from literature to describe such situations, and the term is “poetic justice.”  Thankfully, there was no need for poetic justice in Mdina that afternoon.

For those who travel a lot, and even for those who don’t, life has plenty of frustrations.  People can be quite pretentious in their demands, and others can be downright rude, whether on the highway or in a line or wherever.  The fact is, there are plenty of opportunities to explode in righteous indignation; and the trick is to keep your cool and not have others shrink back in horror at your conniption.  Nor do you want to set others off with your own obnoxious behavior.  After all, it’s entirely possible that their fuses could be even shorter than yours.

5.palaceAs a modern reader I think of courtly behavior as a feature of a bygone era when people had little else to do but be nice.  But as a  medieval historian, I learned better.  Courtly behavior doesn’t come  naturally to people.  It is a code of manners designed to keep little spats from escalating into big wars.  Sure, people still fought duels over the most trifling breaches of etiquette, but courtly manners at least limited some of the violence and channeled it elsewhere.  And if you could restrict anger and voilence to a few hard-core cranks, then most everyone else would be a lot better off.

Courtesy provides many benefits.  Foremost among them is the value of keeping everyone around you relatively happy and sweet-tempered.  There also is a more altruistic motive for being courteous.  We should not overlook the possibility that most people actually do deserve our respect.  Whether they are having bad or good days, they should get the benefit of the doubt.  Besides, one good word or act of courtesy might very well make the difference in their lives that day.

One friend who volunteers in a soup kitchen once confided that he doesn’t derive all that much joy from handing out food.  But what he loves to do is smile to each person who comes through the line.  The smile costs him absolutely nothing, but it may very well be the only smile those people will see that day.  It could mean the world to them.

6.SquareAs for the waiter in Mdina, we had a great lunch, served by his hands.  He showed us pictures of his wife and two kids, and we posed for new ones to add to the collection.  We are now fast friends, or at least we will be when we meet up again in Lourdes next year.

I’m also glad we decided to give him a generous tip.  Three days later, on our last day in Malta, we sat down for breakfast at our hotel in Valletta.  As luck would have it, our friend from Lourdes and Mdina was again our waiter.  Everyone greeted him like a long lost friend, and he responded in kind.

7.Street scapeAs for me, once again I was astounded by the coincidence.  Like God, this guy seemed to be everywhere.  Thank goodness I had been on my best behavior the first time around.  You just can’t be too careful these days.  It’s a very small world, populated by some very nice people.


+On July 13th I attended a reunion of members of a pilgrimage to Poland and Ukraine that I was part of last August.  The gathering took place at the home of Dr. Tom and Mary Ann Okner in Sunfish Lake, MN.

+On July 15th I attened the funeral of Jack Kolb, at Saint Joseph Church in West Saint Paul, MN.  Jack and his wife Rajah are fellow members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, and I’ve been privileged to know them for many years.  The funeral liturgy was topped off with a wonderful offering of incense, taken from the Maronite Rite, in which Rajah was raised.

+On July 17th I visited the dentist to prepare a broken tooth for a crown.  The most notable feature of the procedure was that I fell asleep while they were working on me.  That is a far cry from the days when I shrank in terror from any visit to any dentist.

+On July 19th through the 21st I delivered a retreat to the deacon-candidates and their spouses from the Diocese of Bridgeport, CT.  David Flynn, a good friend and alumnus from Saint John’s University, is preparing for ordination as a permanent deacon in Bridgeport.  I am grateful to him and his colleagues for the invitation.

+The pictures in today’s blog all come from Mdina in Malta.  They don’t begin to cover all the wonderful nooks and crannies of the place, but they give a hint of the city’s charm.


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