A light in the black

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A light in the black

The place: Comino, the smallest of Malta’s inhabited Islands.  The time: 4:30am on a damp and dewy Sunday morning in August.

An early wake up for our yearly appointment with Mass in the tiny chapel at the mouth of Santa Marija Bay where Wied Imdied slopes gently into a smoothly shelving sandy beach.

My wife and I wake up at 4:30am  and we quietly make our way down the deserted hotel corridors and staircase to start the brisk half hour walk from San Niklaw Bay to the next inlet along the coast.  The air is still and heavy with dew.  The stars of the summer constellations twinkle brightly as a faint indication of the forthcoming dawn starts to appear on the eastern horizon.  Across the channel, the sleepy lights of Gozo seem so near and yet so far away.  In spite of the short distances, the feeling of insularity on this tiny island is very strong.

We walk along the dusty path, the limestone gravel crunching beneath our sandals and the noise of nocturnal insects and the occasional scurrying wild rabbit breaking the silence.  The path is dimly lit by evenly-spaced light bulbs but that is enough as our eyes adjust to night vision and the walk is easy and straightforward.  The smells of wild fennel and Mediterranean thyme permeate the air with their cloying aromatic sweetness whilst the occasional brush with a wet African tamarisk, saturated with dew and expelled brine is bound to give a refreshing feeling in contrast to the warm, sticky air of an August night.

Walking through the sleepy Club Nautico bungalows we reach the arms of Santa Marija Bay to the gentle sound of waves lapping the shallow sandy beach.  The bay harbours a handful of sailing boats protected from the currents of the Gozo Channel, huddling together under the watchful gaze of the ancient Police Station built in colonial times to discourage smuggling from neighbouring Sicily.

From here the road slopes gently upwards, from the sea level of the beach to the side of Wied Imdied where the small chapel which is our destination lies, protected by a group of stiff, old cypresses standing to attention like ancient sentinels protecting something precious.

Aside of the few dim lamps affixed to the structures along the road, it is still pitch dark.  The collared doves huddled on the chapel’s roof croon monotonously while a dog barks in the distance, perhaps from one of the tents in the small campsite behind the beach or on one of the anchored boats.  And in that monochrome darkness, a source of warm light stands out: emanating from the open door of the chapel where we, together with a handful of other early risers congregate for the short, rushed ceremony celebrated by the wizened old priest who crosses over from Gozo every weekend for the purpose.

The darkness, the warm, damp night, the sounds and smells of the walk and the thin layer of talc like dust sticking to our feet.  And the welcoming light in the black, coming out of a centuries-old rustic chapel on a one square mile island, suggesting an unchanged ritual spanning hundreds of years.  Simply wonderful.

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9 thoughts on “A light in the black

  1. Your description of the walk in the dark is so evocative, I felt like I was on the journey myself! In my time Filfla was used as target practice by the Armed Forces. Thank you for the post. Alice.

  2. Prosit tal-kitba u ir-ritratt . Hadt pjacir naqra l-ahhar zewg kitbiet fil-blog ghax hsibt li ma kontx bqajt tikteb. Grazzi ghax dejjem nitghallem xi haga gdida minn hawn.

    • Grazzi Fred. Kont imhabbat hafna matul dawn l-ahhar xhur imma qed nipprova nerga’ nsib il-hin biex nikteb. Napprezza hafna l-kummenti tieghek. Xewqat sbieh ghas-sena l-gdida!

  3. Thank you, Leslie Vella. I really enjoyed reading all this, and intend to read your other writings listed with this article. It is the forst time I came across them. This reminded me of the time when my father (RIP) Anthony Schembri built the first hotel on Comino, way back in the 50s. I am now 75 years old, but still remember my father telling me about Comino, how he and his employees travelled there to work, how the building construction equipment was transported there by barges., and why some days, when the sea was too stormy to travel back home to the main island of Malta, they had today there. As a young child it worried me that he was away from us in that wild weather. I am unsure whether the architect he worked for at that particular time was Dominic Mintoff before he became Prime Minister, or Richard England who my father worked for after Dom Mintoff. I realised that there were more buildings added to the hotel, and was unsure if it was the same one,

    • Thanks for your beautiful and informative feedback Benigna! So nice to hear from someone with a direct link to events on my beloved Comino. I will check re the architect and revert. For its time the hotel had a very advanced design. Please do keep reading and give me more feedback. Hope you enjoy the rest of my humble efforts.

  4. I only visited Comino once, in 2010 while visiting Malta, and my husband and I were on one of Captian Morgan’s cruises to Comino and Gozo.
    Father and his workers stayed on the island of Comino when the weather was too rough for them to go home for the weekend .

  5. Thank you, Leslie. I would love to hear back from you by email, please. I shall read all your articles.

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