Off I went on Easy Jet with the masses, their squalling children thundering up and down the aisle either in glee or terror. Difficult to say which from where I was seated.
Man of Plan B fame nicknamed the airline Sleazy Jet which is not really as all encompassing a joke as I would hope for. Orange carrier of screaming children seems more fitting.
On escaping the flight I was greeted in Malta by a bloated terracotta moon, the scent of smoke and honey in the air, fireworks. Dingys bobbling in the harbour, statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, beautifully foreign and warm at 10pm.
We pulled up at the hotel I had booked, the only other passenger in my shuttle staying there, was a man in his seventies who continually referred to the place as faulty towers, whom I politely ignored. It turns out he was being rather generous. The hall stank of damp which is quite a feat considering the weather. The key to my room was attached to a small metal pole. There was a fair bit of rubbish in the elevator and stains on the walls.
Finally I arrived at my room. The door was a bit flimsy, some men leered in the corridor. I sat down on the cleanest surface and laughed for a solid five minutes and stared intently at myself in the mirror in shock. My predominant thought, ‘I must get drunk. Immediately.’
I strapped all my valuables to my person and set off to do so, quickly succeeding. I slept badly due to the smell of damp in the mattress, broken air conditioner, ants and fear of burglary and/or sexual assault. At five am a large group of drunken revellers ran back and forth outside my flimsy door banging and shouting. I took my purse to the loo with me. At 8am I found new hotel.
I spent the day exploring Northern Malta and can safely say that its skyline is magnificent, filled with sandstone buildings in Art Deco to Roman and Gothic. I can also say that sitting on an open top bus in 36 degree heat in not conducive to keeping sunscreen on skin. It just rolled right off me.
Through out the day, stout bronzed women lent in doorways, men slept or smoked on steps, stray cats leap from nowhere and in the evening there was Bocci on the boardwalk. I stayed to watch the Bugibba Bocci Klabb. A man spat, slowly and deliberately next to me. The crowd watched quietly as they played well into the night. Further along the boardwalk a troupe of line dancers, then a classic car show.
For the next few mornings I woke to the sound of cocks crowing. I people watched furiously, speaking seldom. I passed a group of nuns graceful in their simple white habits. I discovered model planets dotted along the coastline walk.
On Sunday I sailed in a beautiful wooden ship to Gozo and The Blue Lagoon where ‘Popeye’ was filmed, I remember it vaguely from my childhood but more for the love triangle than the scenery. It was an interesting day in terms of come ons. A member of staff on the boat approached my shoulder, almost close enough to kiss it and softly growled, ‘I like your tattoos.’ I thanked him loud and brightly and eventually he moved on. Whilst waiting for a trip to the caves wearing only my bathing suit, I was referred to as ‘Sir’ several times and then once seated the man next to me opened with, ‘Are you German?’
I swam all afternoon off the boat, far from shore in calm seas like navy silk and as I headed back to Bugibba, I lay and watched the mast bob against the sky. We passed St Paul’s bay, named after the apostle, who converted Malta from Paganism. Malta is covered in Roman Catholic iconography.
That night at dinner I wandered into the wrong restaurant, staffed entirely by men, each of whom came to my table to introduce themselves. There were 9 in total. The Matire D smoothed my back when asking if I liked my meal, I was subsequently checked on five times more during mouthfuls, feeling like an exhibit. ‘Woman alone in Malta’.
On my final day I saw a woman from Birmingham fall and in all likelihood have a stoke in a gift shop. I heard the thick sound of her flesh hit the tiled floor and her cry to her son, who went to her, panicked between the aisles. It seemed best to keep walking as there was nothing I could do to help. I think the shock of that coupled with having barely spoken for five days brought me to the limit of happy solitude. My thoughts drifted to past lovers and loneliness.
I discovered that ANZAC soldiers had come to Malta to receive medical treatment and recuperate during World War I, which seemed fitting and resonant. All told it was a peaceful, restorative trip.
I’ve a soft spot for any place that Bougainvillea grows.