If you’re like me, you know very little about Malta, except that is was the setting for the classic Humphrey Bogart film, Maltese Falcon and the December 1989 Malta Summit between President George H. W. Bush and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Amy, my contact for this post on Malta, helped fill in the blanks.
How I Met Amy
Amy and I met at one of the last dinners I went to while attending the April 2016 Iceland Writers Retreat. When someone pointed out “the girl from Malta” I literally jumped up from my seat and rushed over to introduce myself. Thanks, Amy, for receiving me warmly and agreeing to be my Malta interviewee.
Please look out a window in your home and describe what you see.
From the balcony next to my desk, I can see into the living room of the neighbors opposite. I try not to spy—though I can’t stop myself from watching their cats sometimes, or saying bongu to the old lady who lives one floor down. We’re separated by nothing more than a narrow gap of street—mostly quiet, except when the festa’s on and the village band comes out to practice. Also, the sea is very near. Just there, really, on the other side of the bell towers that belong to the church down the street—but you’ll have to go further up than our roof to catch a glimpse of it.
What are the first sounds you hear in the morning?
So long as I’m not woken up by people stumbling back from Paceville at five in the morning, or by construction works being done the next block over, usually the thing I hear first is the rumble of traffic as the road that runs along the coast gets moving, or the incessant coo of pigeons.
Walk us through a typical day in Malta.
The day starts early, but picks up slowly. Here in St. Julian’s, we’re far enough away from the North Harbor that we don’t hear them firing off the petards at 6am, but when I leave the flat at seven, the fruit sellers are already setting up, and the promenade is crowded with determined joggers.
After my morning cappuccino, I’ll head to work. By the time I’ve finished my classes and made my way home, I’ll be dripping from the heat. Luckily the sea is close, and I can spend my afternoon swimming at the stone beach just down the street. Afterward, I’ll stop by the tiny grocery store up the hill and pick up some things for dinner: pasta, ftira, or something similar. And in the summer, there’s always something to do in the evenings—whether it’s a barbeque on the beach, an open-air film, relaxed drinks with live music at the pub down the road, or something more lively on the weekends in Valletta or St. Paul’s.
Which languages do you speak?
Having spent my childhood in the States, I never learned any of the Maltese or Italian that most of my friends and family speak. Since moving back here, I’ve picked up a few small words, but most of my studies in school have centered on Spanish and German.
What is the ethnic makeup of Malta?
Malta is a mix of everything—most Maltese are proud to be Maltese, though even that identity is really a mixture of all the cultures and peoples that have called this island home: the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Arabs, and of course, a bit of the French and Brits as well. But there’s also a huge community of expats, and people like me, children of the Maltese diaspora, who’ve come back home from Australia or Canada or the US and UK.
What is something about Malta that few people know?
A lot of people seem surprised to learn that Maltese is an actual language, and moreover, that it’s a Semitic language which some Arabic speakers are able to understand without much effort. Aside from that, Malta has an astounding amount of history for such a small island: some of the oldest temples in Europe stand on our southern cliffs, and there’s a couple more prehistoric structures in Gozo as well.
In terms of natural beauty and culture, what are the most remarkable things about Malta?
Malta is actually fairly well known for some of its breathtaking coastlines, from the Azure Window and Blue Grotto, to the entire tiny island of Comino. In terms of culture, probably the most remarkable thing is the impact of the Catholic Church—first introduced here when St. Paul washed up on Maltese shores. There is still so much church influence everywhere, from the bells that can be heard everywhere at certain times of day, to the village festas that light up the summer nights, to certain legal policies still being enacted and enforced.
If I came to your home for dinner, what would you serve me?
I’d probably serve you an Indian curry, because I happen to be quite fond of them, but if we went over to my aunt’s instead, you’d get a proper four-course Maltese dinner, preceded by nibbles such as galletti water crackers with gbeinet cheese and bigilla: a broad bean paste similar to hummus. Then it would be soup, some kind of pasta, a main course of rabbit, bragioli, or fresh fish, and perhaps a cassata or gelato for dessert.
What does Malta do well? What could it do better?
Malta is a tiny island—30km from coast to coast at its widest point—and yet it has a population of almost half a million. Between the lack of space, the sheer number of people (in summer, the tourists can almost double the population!), and the mela attitude, there’s no lack of frustrations when it comes to everything from noise pollution to infrastructure. Ask anyone about the public transportation here, and you’ll hear all kinds of stories—but of course, complaining is a revered Maltese pastime.
That said, Malta has so much potential, and while opportunities may not be as abundant or obvious as in bigger countries with cosmopolitan cities, the thing that you come to embrace when you’re living here is that if you really want to make something happen, with enough vision and dedication, you can always find a way to do so, even if you have to carve the path yourself, out of the rocks, using nothing but a spoon.
What frightens you?
Right now, when I look around and see everything that’s happening in the world, not just in Malta or the States, but in every corner of our planet: how scared people are and how far that fear can push them away from understanding and compassion, I think the thing that frightens me most is the sheer number of people who are willing to embrace their prejudices and sacrifice their own freedoms—all for nothing more than an illusion of safety.
What brings you joy?
The best feeling has to be those moments when I remember the sea. Of course, living here, you see it every day, but then there are moments, when the waves are wild, or when the sun is setting beyond the cliffs, or when you smell the salt and you remember that it’s there, just taking the time to notice it, stretching away to the horizon.
What is your favorite time of year in Malta and why? Please describe.
Most of the people who grew up here disagree with me, but summers are the reason I stay in Malta. There’s more green in winter, it’s true, and it’s not quite so blisteringly hot, but when I’m here in late summer, when the storms are starting to come in, but the island’s still alive with music and the sea is warm, I can’t think of a better place to be.
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Tags: Arabic, Arabs, Australia, Berlin Wall, Brits, Canada, Catholic Church, French, George H.W. Bush, German, Gozo, Humphrey Bogart, Iceland Writers Retreat, Italians, Malta, Malta Summit, Maltese Falcon, Mikhail Gorbachev, Phoenicians, Romans, Spanish, St. Julian's, St. Paul, UK, US