I was culling my photo collection the other day, weeding out the blurry pics and the ones that can’t be corrected with the wizardry of photoshop. I take hundreds of pictures on my trips abroad, especially in cities, and nowhere more so than in Valletta on the island of Malta where I grew up. I’m experimenting with panoramas at the moment, and also with 3D pictures which you can only look at on a 3D telly at the moment. I also love taking close-ups, very often of seemingly mundane objects on the street or in cafes.
Except, of course, there is no such thing as a mundane object. Everything in the world, no matter how insignificant it seems to your or me, has a history. It was thought of, designed and made by someone. It probably travelled across the ocean to get to where I snapped it. It saw service, it belonged to a human being, it was polished and looked after, or was neglected and thrown away.
Some things blare out their history the moment you see them. Take this sign on a side street. It tells you a lot the moment you look at it. Victory Kitchen! You know the moment you read those words that this place was a British colony, that it was involved in the world war II, that it had it so bad, the locals needed a Victory Kitchen.
Its bright colours also tell you it’s looked after. The locals are proud of it, proud of their history and their bravery in the war. Further up the road is another object. A giant metal hook embedded in a wall! Kids notice it, but most adults don’t give it a second look. Perhaps it’s because of its dull colour. A hook is just a hook, right? Not in this case. This is rather a special hook. A hook with a history!
According to local historians, the hook was originally installed in the late 16th century to help lift the bells to the towers of the nearby cathedral. It also served as a pillory. Prisoners were tied to it and left to the jeering of the crowd. When the admiral Lord Nelson was in Malta during the Napoleonic wars, he is believed to have tethered his horse to it. That earned it its nickname, Nelson’s Hook, and it became a tradition in the British Navy to wriggle through it for good luck when seeking promotion.
Local residents still remember a sort of initiation ceremony for young recruits. On their way back to ship from the local red light district area, they’d be tricked into wriggling through the hook. Their older colleagues would tie them to it until freed by the locals, by which time they’d have missed the last ferry.
This is a hook that has seen a lot of action. You could write a book about it. It makes me wonder how many other treasures I have yet to discover on the streets of Valletta. Stay tuned!
Related posts! You might also be interested in reading Every Stone Tells a Story
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