Reflecting upon Science in the Citadel

Last weekend The Significant Other and I went to the ‘Science in the Citadel’ event in Gozo’s Victoria. In this stunning setting, both inside and alongside the honeyed-gold medieval bastions which went some way to keeping a challenging breeze at bay, a multitude of stands offered scientific interest and inspiration to both those who were visiting specifically and unsuspecting tourists in a one day science festival to rival anything you might find in a much larger place.

There were a multitude of parties involved in the event which was produced and manned entirely by volunteers, an enthusiastic and organised bunch in matching test-tube T-shirts, and the many events – from children’s activities to academic seminars – were clearly laid out in a satisfyingly-heavyweight leaflet that was distributed to visitors on arrival.

With an interest in natural history, The Significant Other and I particularly enjoyed talking to the Shark Lab who (among other things) harvest unborn shark eggs from the morning’s catch at the fish market, and incubate them for several months before returning them to the sea to help maintain the marine populations, and to the bee-keepers, soaking up their wisdom like toast soaks up honey.

After all, Malta is famous for its honey: the name of both Malta and the resort town of Mellieha derive from the Greek word μέλι, meli or ‘honey’; there’s a Valley of Honey in the Mosta parish in Malta and the giant limestone arch at the end of our road crosses the Wied il Mielah.  The archipelago is host to banks of Roman beehives and an endemic species of bee, far blacker than the British variants, and the island’s honey is a whole spectrum of wavelengths which darkens from a light spring yellow to the richest dark brown throughout the year, as the flowers from which pollen is gathered varies with the seasons. And as our flat backs onto fields and farmland, The Significant Other is already planning both the positioning of his beehives on the roof space and his Winnie-The-Pooh breakfasts in years to come.

My own ‘find-of-the-day’ however was the Malta Wildlife photography exhibition, and a particular picture within it. There were many striking images and the one that most caught my attention wasn’t a prize winner or specially commended in any way. It was however a magnificent reflection of the colours of Maltese waters scattered at a seagull’s feet, a wonderful example of the rainbow reflections that are ten-a-penny in all the harbours around the islands (though not necessarily easy to capture digitally).

One of the Oxfordshire artists about whom I have been writing recently, Caroline Ritson, paints watery reflections that depict only the surface of the water. They have an intriguing allure and are both photorealistic and almost abstract.  ‘It fascinates me,’ she says, ‘that if you take just part of a reflection and paint it true to what you see, the end result appears such an abstraction.’

Caroline’s passion for capturing reflections began in Amsterdam and she describes spending hours sitting by the canals watching the world go by and sketching the changing light, fascinated by the way the reflections capture the essence of a place in just its colour palette. She also takes photographs to work from, and the challenge is finding just the right spot reflected on a day with no wind and the sun shines in the right direction.

‘Reflections vary as much as the vistas above – with different shapes and striking colours distorted by the ripples,’ she explained to me. ‘Venice was golden peaches and orange gold with pinks and purples against the bright blue of sky; Amsterdam had a whiter light, with greys and touches of primary colours framed by the black shadows and inky water where the sun didn’t reach. Buildings are the most striking on the water: their edges are softened the movement of slow flowing water and they reflect, even reimagine, the soul of a city, and its dynamism.’

I’d love to see Mgarr, Marsalforn or Xlendi depicted in this way, though taking the photographs to work from is a challenge: you need to find just the right spot reflected on a day with no wind when the sun is in the right direction. So in the meantime, I’ll just enjoy the paddling seagull!

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