Malta: Who Smashed All the Toilets?

My bedroom in Malta had a balcony which overlooked the Good Friday procession down the narrow street where we were staying. Twelve large statues carried by eight men in white robes marched through the streets and all around the village in celebration of the crucifixion. imageIt was a long-held tradition in Malta and Ramona told us that it was a great honor to participate in the four-hour march; an honor parents had to keep reminding their bored children of as they were shoved into traditional robes and carried heavy crosses along with the other four hundred participants. The statues were built on solid wood platforms that the eight men carrying struggled to bear. The tops of one scraped against the sides of balconies along the narrow street as they made their way down the hill and back up again to the church in the square. The march would progress several meters and then everyone would stop for a short break before resuming the solemn procession. I could hear the “shrrrrrk…shrrrrrk…shrrrrrk” sounds and off in the distance it looked as if the Ku Klux Klan had been stripped of their shoes and were forced to drag chains tied to their ankles behind a few locals dressed as Roman Centurions. It was getting dark and the April nights in Malta get cold. I headed back inside to make coffee and watch the rest of the curious procession from inside.
Our experience in Malta was the exact opposite of what it had been in Rome. We were put up in a guest house off of the main living quarters, Ramona apologised that the other guest house was currently undergoing construction and she couldn’t accommodate us there instead.
“You should see that house,” she told us, “It’s much nicer than the one you’re in.”
The one we were in had two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a dining room. It had been almost two months since Jason and I had slept separately and the luxury was welcomed by both of us. I’m a violent sleeper and Jason snores in his sleep.
Ramona made regular checks to see if we had enough food stocked and insisted on paying for everything despite my adamant protests. She and Ali arranged for several tours all over the island, ensuring that we would see everything that Malta’s department of tourism deemed fit to see. And we did. We saw it all. The beaches, the archeological sites, the museums, the forts, the ancient cities, the capital, the former capital, the beach where Khal Drogo married Daenyres Targarean, Pocceville, and every secret, secluded spot where we interrupted lovers sprawled out and sunbathing on limestone boulders. We shared in the privilege of getting to see what many tourists will not see in their entire stay at Malta, we ate at some of the most exclusive restaurants on the island, and we were treated like beautifully bearded heiresses visiting from our far away palaces who have no concept of cost or waiting lists.
“We’re definitely not in Rome anymore,” I said.

We explored the ghost strip of a failed tourism venture that Ali had fond memories of visiting in her childhood.image There’s a long stretch of property along the coast line in Sliema (village in Malta) where the prime real estate of bars, clubs, cafes, and resorts have been left abandoned and rusting at the mercy of the salty Mediterranean waves. The inside of the buildings are filled with garbage and broken glass, somebody has smashed all the public toilets and sinks, and there was a question as to whether or not a single white curtain suspended in a dirty, forgotten room was evidence of a temporary refugee encampment. It was strange that such beautiful property had gone to waste. I had several questions running through my head: Why had all these places closed down? What were they being used for now? And who smashed all the toilets?

I couldn’t help but think that on a small island like Malta, there is an inevitable boredom hanging over that eventually, like chicken pox, infects everyone. I saw it in Pocceville where many young people go because everyone goes and what else are you going to do but drink out another weekend at the late night party town? It was in the graffit, or at least what little we could find. It was in the conversations we had with people who shrugged their shoulders when we asked where the underground music scene was, saying that there wasn’t much of anything in Malta. It was such a strange phenomenon because Jason and I were having a blast just exploring abandoned structures and rocky coastlines. We were like kids again, climbing on everything, quoting Indiana Jones movies and looking for artifacts around monuments that predate Stonehenge. Ali and her boyfriend enjoyed themselves too, whether it was because they were seeing these sites for the first time too or simply sharing in our own excitement. I remember five years ago when I finally fell back in love with the United States. It was after I hopped trains with a foreign photographer. His own appreciation of the country gave me a fresh insight and renewed a pride I thought was lost.
Despite the result of the elections on Spring hunting and the general disapproval with Maltese politics,I hope that our presence and eager curiosity has given something back to Jason’s family there. Maybe they’ll see the same old island from a different angle or with a softer light. If not, then I hope that we were at least enough of a distraction to stave off boredom for those two amazing weeks.

– Nathan


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