‘You want drinkie?’
A Maltese mother offers her toddler a bottle of water in the middle of Valletta’s high street. She’s communicating in fluent English, a linguistic heritage from back when Malta was British (they achieved independence in 1964).
Five minutes later I overhear a conversation between two young shop attendants at fashion shop ‘Bershka’. They are talking in a language that sounds totally alien to me. A very pretty language, but nonetheless incomprehensible – with a different ring to it than anything I’ve ever heard before. Maltese it turns out.
Hearing the Maltese talk is one way of understanding that Malta is quite a different place. Another way to approach and appreciate Malta’s multi cultural past is by taking a stroll down Valletta’s back alleys and do a sign safari.
A sign safari? I hear you say. Well, it’s one of those things you end up doing when a myriad of type faces, a wide variety of shapes and sizes and faded colors alongside vivid neon grab your attention wherever you turn your head. Most of all however, it is the exotic names that speak to me.
Mr. Zammit’s shop facade displays spices. When I get closer, I realise the shop is long closed, and that what I thought was a tempting assortment of cinnamon, cardamom and star aniseed, is nothing but a piece of paper full of images…
V. & F. Fortelli & Sons have been selling, well.. it’s difficult to tell what really, from a pale blue door. I google them upon my return home, and it turns out the Fortellis are still going strong – in a modern building far away from the one I photographed. They sell all sorts of imported goods, from Christmas trees to safes and party hats! Their company has been passed down from father to son for a whopping 104 years. And as it turns out, today they even have a place on the web: http://www.vfportelli.com
This is when I realise that my improvised sign safari is more than just a stroll. By reading and admiring Valletta’s signs I learn something about a city and a culture I knew nothing about upon arrival. Once I returned home I started researching these signs, and much to my amazement, I discovered that I am not the only one who has found them interesting. Check out Matthew’s wonderful images at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brownwindsor/sets/72157594306293632/with/257447151/
Below are more signs. Mostly because I found them charming, but also because they have stories to tell. About a bakery (pastizzeria) where loose change is enough to buy you the Maltese specialty called pastizzi (small pastry parcels filled with a sweet or savoury filling) . About a barber who ran out of clients. And about a watch maker who lost his eye sight.
If you like Valletta’s signs, maybe you’ll also like the grafitti we’ve covered here: http://photito.wordpress.com/2010/04/12/story-story-on-the-wall/