Written by Alex Hickey
It’s morning now and the sun is rising high over the harbor; it was a wild night and the warm welcoming November sun was well appreciated. Szidonia and I were out to collect data on the ever changing face of the Maltese islands and as you would have it, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, so we were out bush walking, finding the real juice behind it; mapping out the stories you don’t hear at information booths. And this is what we came back with.
After the escape from the desperate hustle of the ongoing, sporadic lifestyle of Malta, the first site of Fort Chambray on the hill over the port is a welcomed site. It drives my nerves to the core, even as I sit and write this column, the memory of the digging and yelling and constant traffic. It’s not that I don’t understand the principles of living in a heavily populated area, try taking Ventura freeway down to Glendale and Pasadena at 8am, it’s a bitch of it at the best of times. However, this is an island of half a million people and Europe’s most densely populated with cars, not a metropolis of over 3 million people. But here all of that is behind us and now we look to the vast misty seas that lay beyond the window walls of our chic living room as the ships keep rolling in.
We had had a run in with some of the local kids the night before while trying to get some good night views of the harbor. Loud, rattling bike motors crashed over our heads in the late hour and shocked us to the core. I know the biker crowds in these islands and they’re not the types you want to fuck with in the middle of the night. We had just finished getting set up when they showed up and strangely, started riding down the steps through the park with little care as to where they were going. They drove up to us but just as quickly swooped by without even turning their heads to us, but then it sunk in, these guys were riding bicycles with lawnmower engines hooked up to them. But now it was morning and we had to prioritize. The first and most important priority was a coffee and a starting point, and the only reasonable place to start was Victoria center.
Most people head pretty much directly to the Citadel, which was fine until EU funding bastardized the integrity of it, but formalities aside, the town just in front of the walled city is a small maze of roads going in and out of each other, sometimes circling, sometimes coming to dead ends, but all delightfully bursting with culture and character. All my relatives describe Gozo as being just like Malta 40 years ago, and with Malta also being at least 20 years behind the rest of the world, yeah, you get the idea. There’s no other way to see Gozo if not with beer in your gut and in my eyes, there’s only one place in this town to have a proper drink, and that’s Tapie’s just off the bus terminal. I like it there because it’s a ‘no horse shit’ type of place, it’s tough and they’re non-affiliated, anyone could show up there and it wouldn’t be inappropriate. Despite it being a no politics place, doesn’t mean there aren’t politically affiliated people around, and one can see some of their worst political enemies in these kinds of places. In some places people just tend to like me more, but when I’m disliked by a general public, things can get ugly, very quickly.
We walked through the streets in aim of agriculture and the Maltese countryside, to a valley off Kercem, the only place in Malta ever known to have fresh spring water. It bubbles up through the hard layers of rock and creates small fountains all across the valley creating a natural irrigation system and it’s been like that for centuries.
After a quick bus ride, some more beer and a good walk around, we found ourselves sat at a restaurant by the sea in Xlendi; I don’t know what most foreigner think of when confronted with the idea of Gozitan cuisine, but it is truly the best Malta has to offer. That’s the thing about the Mediterranean, food is intrinsic to the culture and a good swordfish steak and calamari on the side, that’s what we call a Maltese wet dream.
It’s the low season around the islands now and you can definitely feel it, with the empty streets and restaurant owners looking destitute as they scurry to please every single customer. There’s a kind of melancholy to it which is strangely pleasant, I hear all the time that there’s allegedly nothing to do in Malta during this time, but that’s the kind of thing that people who have no clue would say, that or PCP junkies at least. Malta’s a cultural place more than anything else and it’s not always going a thousand and one miles an hour, like is the case in St. Julian’s, sometimes it’s nice to just take advantage of the low price off season cocktails and listen to the pebbles crashing on the shore.
Late at night, after hitting old Joe’s place in Marsalforn for more debauchery, we walked silently through the quiet, dark and eerie roads of the coastal towns. The waves were demons, crashing ten, twenty and even thirty feet high onto every sidewalk which we passed on. This however was not why we had come to this isolated part of the island; we still had a long walk till we got there. As the surf crashed up onto the salt pans, and the darkness of night surrounded us, for the first time that night the clouds opened and all the stars in the sky shone bright and full in the darkness of night. There’s something about Gozo, maybe in the salty air or it’s puritan hard headedness to stay away from Maltese development, maybe the food or people, it’s hard to say exactly, yet the feeling here is different; a strange unseen energy fills you with wonder and inspiration.
But now the eggs were sizzling on the frying pan as we worried our heads about getting back to work on time, well why not take a long weekend if you start at 3pm? But the thought alone of heading back to those dusty, old streets and the crude obscenity of the place, it turned my stomach. However as we live in a modern, civilized and free society, we must button up our shirts as decent people do, comb our wild hair and pretend we don’t do such things as loiter or adulterate or lust after one another, as more base humans would; that would be far too lude. And so we continue to explore and understand the threads that hold together this island, however inconclusive the results may turn out, this is Malta; this is the dream.