Sunday, February 10, 2019

If a U.S. citizen ... then establishes residence in Malta (Ex. Rept. 111-3)

I don't have a home of my own anywhere in the world, and sometimes I daydream about where I might want to have one. But Malta has been the first place I have visited that I consider a practical choice based on my aspirations: It has functional infrastructure and usable public transport, Italian food and British pubs. But the main reason I might not want to live there is because everybody else wants to, too. Malta is getting into the tech and financial industries, but it's pretty clear that it still relies heavily on seasonal tourism for its subsistence. 

Luckily, I went during low season, so I wasn't surrounded by the hoards of people I presume overrun the country at other times of the year (perhaps in keeping with the islands' history of being invaded). And they come for good reason: for a collection of islands, Malta has a lot to see. I started with a sight profiled in my in-flight magazine: Mdina, nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage site (top left). Despite the broad promotion, I had the quaint streets mostly to myself (top right), except for the occasional clip-clop of a carriage passing by, like in front of St. Agatha's Chapel (bottom left). The city was the capital until the Great Siege of Malta, when it was strategically moved to the coast, and Mdina was abandoned. That might be the reason for its nickname, the "Silent City," or it might be that it's easy to find some solitude within its walls, such as at the Carmelite Priory (bottom right). 
The city was far from packed, but still, there was some competition to find a table at Fontanella Tearoom, especially one with a view, which I enjoyed as I ate a slice of baci cake and drank a bottle of Phoenix Raw Beer's Tar porter (top left). I enjoyed my brown glassware, but the city is known for its more colorful varieties (top right), whose shades are mimicked in the balconies of the adjacent, unwalled suburb Rabat (bottom left). My guidebook had suggested a free stroll through Rabat's Casa Bernard (bottom right), but now a tour of the 16th-century mini-palace involves a fee, a entrepreneurial indicator to me of the island's growing tourist appeal.  
Luckily, Malta is unlikely to monetize all of its beauty. I doubt anyone will ever be able to charge admission to Dingli Cliffs, a precipice on the southern coast that provides sweeping views of the Med and Filfla Island (top left). The unobstructed horizon explains the placement of the Tal-Hamrija Watchtower (top right). The signaling tower is located between the Blue Grotto, a popular scuba-diving destination, and Mnajdra and Hagar Qim temples, a UNESCO World Heritage site (bottom left). The prehistoric monuments were built to align with the solstices. After visiting the temples and hiking along the coast in the sun, I treated myself to a refreshing Kinnie, the national drink, similar to a non-alcoholic Campari (bottom right).
Upon reaching the Three Cities by bus, I skipped Cospicua and Senglea to focus on Vittoriosa. First, I headed to Kalkara Harbor, where the wounded were brought by boat to the infirmary during the Great Siege (top left). Before the Ottomans tried to take over the island, it was ruled by the Normans. Their 12th-century architectural sense has been restored at the Norman House (top right). Nearby are a couple of the first auberges built by the Knights of St. John. The nation's ruling and protective order also created the distinctive Maltese cross, which was on prominent display at St. Lawrence Church (bottom left). Their triumphant defense against the Turks is memorialized around the island, including by Vittoriosa's Victory Monument (bottom right). 
I toasted my own successful day of touring with a Farsons Blue Label Ale at D Centre, just a block from the monument (top left). I had a second helping, a Hoppy Lager, with dinner at Brew, a restaurant near my hotel that, well, brews its own beer (top right). My hotel, the aptly named Sliema Marina Hotel, sits on Sliema Bay. Breakfast was served on the 7th floor, so you could survey the water while eating your waffles (bottom left). The hotel is conveniently located steps from the ferry that zips over to Valletta, the old city and current capital that is a UNESCO World Heritage site (bottom right).
I never actually took the ferry, but I did take a boat tour around the seven harbors of the main metropolitan area. As we set out, we got a closer perspective of St. John's Co-Cathedral, whose dome stands out amid Valletta's skyline (top left). As the boat rounded the capital isthmus, it maneuvered through Dghajsa water taxis heading to the Three Cities (top right). From Gardjola Gardens in Senglea, a turret keeps its eye and ear open for all vessels entering the harbor (bottom left). Perhaps it even listens when the Siege Bell War Memorial on the opposite side of the water rings out its daily tribute to World War II victims (bottom right).
A little later, I landed underneath the bell itself as I wandered around Valletta (top left). From the bell tower, I climbed up to Upper Barrakka Gardens (top right), right above the saluting battery where cannons are fired at noon and 4 p.m. each day. I heard them my first night in town, although I didn't realize what they were at the time. Next, I sauntered through the city's solitary streets (bottom left), passing by many historical buildings, including the Church of St. Paul's Shipwreck, whose name I particularly enjoyed. The Royal Opera House is being reconstructed after its destruction by WWII bombings, but some locals, likely this resident feline included, want to leave the landmark as ruins (bottom right).
During my walk within Valletta I sometimes stopped for sustenance. I had a mid-morning beverage, a Winter Ale from Lord Chambray Brewery, at 67 Capitali (top left). Later, I had a late lunch of sun-dried tomato ravioli with a Barbuto Craft Beer Marzen Lager at Taproom (top right). I cleaned my plate just in time to take one last look at Triton Fountain (bottom) before I headed to the airport, my hunger and wanderlust satiated for the time being.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The single most resonant occurrence in modern Armenian culture (Armenian Assembly of America Inc. v. Cafesjian)

Even when I ventured outside of downtown Yerevan, I found threads connecting Armenian culture, quite literally. At the Megerian carpet factory (top left), the owners' collection of antique rugs includes a piece that could be in the Genocide Museum: Two sisters who survived the atrocity were able to reunite and rejoin two halves of a carpet their mother had divided (top right). The factory, where all rugs are made by hand (bottom left), is creating replicas of the inspirational rug as gifts to people who have drawn awareness to the genocide, such as George and Amal Clooney. Although I saw the rug destined for the power couple, there sadly were no celebrity sightings at the post-tour on-site dinner (bottom right). 
Besides my evening sojourn to the factory, I took two day trips to various famous sites outside the capital. On the first day, as the bus headed out of town, I saw a shiny-new -- and much larger -- production facility for Dargett Brewpub (top left), where at lunch the day before I sampled a flight of their diverse brews, including a Cherry Ale (top right). Never one to pass up experiencing the local beer culture, I also stopped by Kilikia Beer House, where I had an Elitar unfiltered lager with some pickled chickpeas (bottom left), and Beer Academy, where I had a Weizen Bock with my veggie-grill dinner (bottom right).
The first stop of my first tour was Tsakhkadzor, a ski-resort city (left). The slopes were packed with what I presume were many amateurs, considering I saw two ambulances arrive and depart in the hour we stayed there. Even with the limited time, I managed to make it through the long line, so I could ride the ropeway to the top of the lowest peak. Despite it not being incredibly high, it provided a spectacular view of the surrounding snow-capped mountains (right).
Just a short drive away, we stepped off the bus and into Kecharis Monastery. I originally misheard and thought the monastery was named after khachkars, stone crosses so unique to Armenia that they are a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage (top left). In fact, the most likely source for the name of the still-active church is Kechror, a 12th-century Ararat city (top right). Because it was Apostolic Christmas, the altar area was even more packed than the ski slopes, with congregants witnessing the liturgy (bottom left). I found a different type of devout follower as I wandered around to the other ancient structures of the complex (bottom right).
From the resort, we head down and east to Lake Sevan (top left). As the largest lake in the Caucuses and one of the largest freshwater lakes in Eurasia, it is home to many waterside hotels and restaurants, some of which stay active even in the winter (top right). The regional specialty is native native trout, which is barbecued vertically on skewers within a stone oven (bottom left). I felt luck to try some (bottom right), not only because the meat is delicious but also because the species is struggling. The country is trying its best to reverse the effects of Soviet water diversion, the same kind of which negatively impacted the Aral Sea.
Even with a belly full of fish, I managed to climb the stairs up to Sevanavank Monastery (top left). The 9th-century structure, which is still being reconstructed after the devastating 1936 earthquake, used to sit on an island but is now on a peninsula due to water-level manipulations (top right). The peninsula provides a lovely panoramic view of the the lake, although somewhat sullied by the fence that protects the president's summer residence (bottom).
The next day, the first stop on the tour was Garni Temple, a pagan offering to the sun, which unfortunately wasn't blessing us when we first arrived (top left). The Greco-Roman structure sits above a gorge of the same name, which is home to the uniquely hexagonal geological formation Symphony of the Stones (top right). Also on the plateau sit the ruins of a Roman bathhouse, including a well-preserved mosaic with Greek lettering that roughly translates to "we worked for no pay," which I found apropos, considering this trip was during the longest U.S. government shutdown in history (bottom left). But the saddest part about the site was that, although the temple is one of the oldest structures in the country, it was not accepted as a UNESCO World Heritage site because it wasn't restored properly; for example, concrete was used to replace missing pieces that weren't discovered until after the reconstruction (bottom right).
The region compensates by offering many nearby outlets for lavash baking, which has been recognized as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage (top). The ubiquitous bread is made from a simple combination of flour, salt, and water that is stretched thin through tossing, much like pizza dough (bottom left). The dough is wood-fired, but unlike pizza crust, it is placed directly upon the walls of a pit oven with the help of a pillow-like pad. Lavash is eaten in many ways, but the most traditional, per my guide, is hot out of the oven with some fresh cheese and herbs (bottom right).
It was clear the tour saved the best for last when we turned the bend into Geghard Monastery, built in an area that had already become well-known due to the monastic cells that cropped up in the cliffs next to a reputedly regenerative spring (top left). The noble family, whose crest is carved inside, preserved the spring when it created the church's alcoves within the rock (top right). Like Sevanavank, the monastery was partially destroyed by earthquakes. As if a sign from god, during its grand opening after reconstruction, a rock fell from the nearby cliffs and landed in the courtyard (bottom left). Unlike Garni, the rebuilding was done properly, so the complex hidden in the Azat Valley became a UNESCO World Heritage site (bottom right).