Or, How Nothingness came out of the Blue. Twice.
I have considered my heart to be the copy of the world. Yes, I’m a romantic, and yes, I also actually hear how that sounds. Still. This means that every new place I visit carves its shape onto it.
Fine, my soul and mind are probably sold to the mountains, but my heart also rejoices in the sounds of the Gujarati streets, in the dust and colours of Marrakesh, or in trying to hold steady on a surfboard on the tiniest of ocean waves. I go for the scorching sun of the Delphi mountains and the alpine peaks of Madeira as much as I go for the winds of the Scottish Highlands. The damp streets of Venice in November make me want to get lost in them as much as the backstreets of Beyoğlu do in May.
All this means that nothing prepared me for Malta. I guess I did have expectations of sort. I came for the sun, to see layers of history (especially of the Arab and Spanish times), the streets with labyrinthine structures.
I was totally ready to embrace the exotic and the new. The everything.
There are two versions of Malta. Neither of them is more alternative than the other, neither of them more or less true, or more or less shaded by the wants of the imagination.
My Malta was a Necropolis. It was a place where everything worth seeing came from the past (either from decades or from millennia ago). It is grand to have a choice of UNESCO World Heritage Sites on such a small territory. It is eerie when there is nothing else.
My Malta was a Kingdom of Silence. It is an island without a seagull sound. And island without the murmur of people. Even when visiting the Citadel on the island of Gozo, some builders came up to us, apologising “We are going to make some sound now”. Not to mention that the old capital is actually called the Silent City. Funnily enough, the loudest sound we heard was just outside of Mdina. There was a dog howling in a way some ships howl when they have already been taken over by ghosts.
My Malta was Un-living. Everything in here was old, empty or a car repairs shop. It was a place where most little businesses were closed, with the exception of the little run-down lottery houses that were open on every street. These gave the place an air of blind hope and desperation.
The locals told us how the other locals are against change. How they love the baroque. The old. The bygone.
In here, one needs to take a bus (to leave the capital) to find a food shop, any food shop, that is open.
My Malta was a Caravan Chalet. Once, we passed a row of caravans huddled together under a long tin roof. We took this scene to be a retirement home for beach huts only used out of mercy for their bygone glory. However, browsing through AirBnB revealed that those huts are actually rented out to guests, still. In here, the past is alive by accident but does not always feel like a natural part of the present.
My Malta was a Slap in the Face. We ran between ferry terminals in heavy rain with me praying for my headache to cough up its final remnants. We were told that “For a woman, a stroke is a very embarrassing thing” without an addition “That was a horrible and a chauvinist thing to say”. We were played birthday music in a restaurant without having asked for it.
My Malta was an island of nothingness where my imagination stumbled into a crevasse without a rope.
My Malta was an island dotted with small green lizards and Barbary figs. In here, lemons and limes grow on trees, and when you rub them against your hand, they actually smell of what they are supposed to smell. (Citrus fruit on trees – every northerner’s Romantic Vision Number One!)
In Malta, there is a quiet quirkiness to everything. In buses, people lean against fire hydrants, making them activate a sudden stream of compressed nitrogen all across the bus. There are roosters having proper show-offs for the hens and rock formations shaped like turtles huddled hiding in the quiet Mediterranean spring.
In here, even if you can’t buy stamps with a card, strangers will use their cash to buy them for you. In Malta, if you squint your eyes just for a second, you can see scenes from Game of Thrones coming to life in front of your eyes. Sometimes, modern times and the bygone do touch hands. And even if you can’t swim yet, you can look through the water until your eyes meet the sea bed.
Life is silent in here. And no one longs for the additional layer of modernity.