20 June 2012
St Paul’s Bay, Malta
Malta is not at all what I expected it to be. As with much of my travels, I came here without knowing much about the place. Here is what I knew – Malta is a Christian country on a small island in the Mediterranean Sea which has a culture that combines aspects of Arab and Italian cultures. I knew there was a film called The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart (I actually ate a steak at John’s Grill in San Francisco where much of the film was made) and that’s actually it. I didn’t know any city names, the language, the history, or anything else although I had some idea of the Knights Templar having something to do with the place.
I”m here to write some articles and also because every few months, I need to clear my head to continue functioning in Morocco while we wait for my wife’s visa to the USA to hopefully come through – the cheapest flight from Fez was to Pisa – a Ryanair flight for $20. I grabbed that. In Pisa, I was picked up at the airport by my AirBnB host and taken to his cool little house along the banks of the Arno River – he and his girlfriend sing in Italian choirs and we had a lovely dinner of fresh pesto and pasta. In the morning, they drove me into Pisa for a little bit of sight seeing before catching my flight to Malta.
This is a short break in Malta, just two days and while my main assignment is in Italy, writing about food tours in Umbria, Emilia-Romagna, and Tuscany – the editors of a couple of magazines have agreed to a piece about short breaks to Malta including the nicest places to stay, top highlights and more. In addition, I will be writing yet another guide about short breaks in Malta. So, sometimes a short break can pay. You’ll forgive me if I don’t tell you everything I’ve learned so far here…but back to Malta.
Maltese is a funny language with lots of words from North African Arabic (Darija!) in the daily language. Words like triq (road) kbira (big) suq (market) and medina (city) are common words here. Many of the people look vaguely Arabic, but make no mistake – this is a very Catholic country. Settled by waves of immigrants from the Phoenicians to the Romans to the Ottomans to the English, this is a beautiful mish-mash culture on a beautiful island that has no rivers or lakes and relies on desalination for most of its water.
This morning I plunged into the sea before doing anything and the dust of the past several months was washed from my soul. Malta was occupied by Napolean and liberated by Admiral Nelson of the UK and then sat under an English protectorate for nearly a century – during which time it was mercilessly bombed by fascists and Nazis before gaining independence and then becoming a member of the EU. The history of this island is fascinating. And, everyone speaks English, the beers are cheap and last night for the Euro 2012 football cup, there were massive crowds gathering everywhere there was beer and a TV screen to cheer for England. Yes, my friends, Malta really is a paradise island.
As to the Maltese Falcon? Here’s the story…the Knights of St. John were an order founded to take care of the sick when they pilgrimaged to the Holy Lands in the Middle Ages – through the crusades they became a much more militaristic force. They were the main barrier between the expansion of the Ottoman Empire and Europe and as a reward for that, they were awarded Malta by the Holy Roman Emperor for the nominal rent of a falcon each year being presented to the Emperor – yes, the Maltese Falcon. As to the gold falcon and Bogey, I’m not real sure…but I’ll keep digging.
It’s a shame I don’t have more time here as I could quite easily spend a lot of time here with very little effort…