Articles By Gord
As I see it... Malta

September 2007 issue of Vibrant Magazine, view the actual article (including images).

As I see it... Malta

Tuesday — Today the waves come rolling in, not with the crash of yesterday's. Today the wind has gone. The sun is brilliant and the rocks are warm to my touch, my fingers explore their shapes and edges. Cath is close, but there are no words between us. Words would only drown the moment. I slip back to the sound of the waves. Waves upon waves, they are endless. The only marking of time is the growing ache in my back and butt from sitting on these rocks. It is that ache that moves me to speak, to break the spell.

“Ready to move on? Go find a café?”

Today, our reluctance to move on, to return to the whir of the city that rages only meters from us behind the sea wall, is as great as yesterday. And the day before that day, and so on. Here is a delicious peace, where the music of the sea changes every day. Every day, here is where we begin.

Thursday — I love the cafes, open to the streets. Open to all the entertainment that those streets provide. The passing swirl of shoppers, lovers, us. The vehicles, horns, shouts, and music from the café that fill in those occasional lulls. We sip away, listening, watching, amused. What do we have to do? Where do we have to go? Shall we just continue our stroll along the promenade? Heavens! Which direction today?

I laugh, because it's January, and it's the Malta experience.

Malta — It is made up of three islands, Malta, Gozo, and Comino the smallest. It sits in the Mediterranean, ninety kilometers south of Sicily. Its people, its language, its beliefs, its architecture and its lifestyles are a fantastic composition of the countless invaders to have positioned armies there over the centuries. It's like when your in-laws come for the weekend, and after they've gone you find a pair of crumpled socks under the bed or worse, your father-in-law's boxers all bunched up in the back of a drawer.

“NO. You touch them. He's your dad.”

Well, that's what these invaders did. They all left stuff behind. Not socks and underwear, but languages and religion, foods like pasta, blue cheese and rabbit done every which way imaginable. The British, the French, the Romans, the Turks, Arabs and it's rumoured that even the Klingons dropped by. (Their spaceship broke down, a loose tail pipe or a crack in the windshield, something like that).

Monday — I have got to mention the Malta buses. They are like an amusement ride. The bus doors are always open and as the bus pitches and rolls, brakes and swoops along the sometimes bumpy, but always twisting roadways, we brace our legs, grasp the seat in front of us or cling to each other. I feel so silly wearing this perma-grin and laughing and elbowing Cath after another curve and we've not been tossed. It's like you were driving the Tilt-A-Whirl to the corner store. After each trip you check your limbs, regain your balance and laugh. The buses crisscross the entire island; everywhere becomes accessible. The silent medieval walled city, Mdina, the cathedral in Mosta, struck by a German bomb during a mass, but miraculously, the bomb did not explode. Buses flash past hotels and beaches, depositing you at the ferry terminal to Gozo or dumping you in the loveliest little fishing village. And the buses run so frequently. You miss one; you wait ten minutes and take the next.

The drivers decorate their area. Pictures and postcards, sports team emblems, rosaries, pictures and statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Religion is a very important part of their lives, and with the open doors and twisting roadways, faith became important to us too. These delightful buses will soon be a thing of the past as Malta has joined the European Common Market and newer, high-tech wheelchair accessible buses are being introduced. Whether the new buses can capture the character of the old remains to be seen.

Friday — We took in the Hypogeum. I had no idea what this was. It could have been a dance club or a snack bar. It was neither. The Hypogeum was a UNESCO historical site. An inverted temple some seven thousand years old. It takes a while to wrap your head about the ‘inverted temple' bit, but imagine one of your local temples, McDonald's or Horton's and instead of constructing the building upwards into the air, you build it downwards, deeper and deeper into the ground. It'll make the drive-through a tad more difficult, but likely just as quick. The Hypogeum was an amazing series of chambers and passageways carved into the limestone. No more than ten people descend at a time. It's kind of eerie exploring these rooms, knowing that thousands of human remains once occupied this space. We felt compelled to speak in hushed tones, not wanting to disturb whomever.

Prior to our tour, Catherine and I were approached by the site manager, he and one of the guides wondered if they could speak to us in private regarding Canada. We followed them into a tiny office where we were beaten senseless. (I'm joking, I'm joking. We weren't senseless.) The truth came to light. They weren't interested in Canada, but wondered if I should be attempting this tour.

I was touched by their concerns. I would have to deal with narrow passageways, low ceilings, steep stairs, “and in places it's really dark.”

“Really dark? You don't say.”

I was apparently the first blind or ‘disabled' person they'd ever had visit the site. Their reaction towards me was by no means unique. Throughout Malta I was regarded as a person of interest. It often seemed I was an invisible person of interest, as Catherine dealt with an array of questions from our hotel staff, shopkeepers, bus drivers and waitresses. They would address Cath while I was standing right there beside her. I was dumbfounded, bowled over and flabbergasted. “Does he manage all right in our rooms? Does he know where he is going? Does he eat much? How much grooming is involved? Does he do any tricks?”

It was as if people living with disabilities did not exist in Malta. Wheelchair accessibility? Good luck. The blind play golf? No way. “Next thing you know the blind will want to try skeet shooting.”

Saturday — Over the two weeks we've stayed on Malta, I've tried to figure it out. It's comfortable; it's easy and familiar. Loads of British seniors that kind of give Malta a Florida feel, minus Disney World. Well, unless you count the buses.

I don't think I'd want to visit Malta in the extreme heat of summer. Our cafes and streets choked by strangers. That rocky beach where Cath and I began each day swarmed with sunbathers and their ghetto blasters.

And our music of the sea? It might never be heard.

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