Mediterranean Summer, chapter 1- Malta: Christendom facing the Muslim dominion

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You’ll see no Rome, Florence, Venice or Taormina in this diary. Instead, I’ll take you to small unknown places of rare beauty often harbouring next to territorial or industrial diseases, ‘ugliness’ of various kind that makes Italy the cradle of the best and the worst. I was taken to these places in the long hot Italian summer by chance or simply by getting lost, always the best way to travel for the non-‘holiday-package’ traveller.

This is not an itinerary, a tourist guide or a suggested tour. I just happen to be in those places and I want to share my sensations and the ideas they evoked in me with you. To make you feel these spots the way I felt them. Even in the frenzy of XXI century life, this is an attempt to recollect emotions in tranquillity through my inward eye.

An old-fashioned modern day Knight of Malta (July 2017)

The shop is small, basic and hot. Outside the hot wind is blowing strong and St. Paul’s Bay waters below us are dancing gaily reverberating the yellow rays of the sun. That’s where I swim almost every day, from the beach to the top of the bay and back, one hour in the warm clear waters, with my French and Spanish friends and colleagues Christian and Alex, opposite the comfortable Salini resort where we are lodging. We are here on business, but we take our time. Again, the feeling of freedom I felt in San Vito’s waters in Sicily last year has come back to me again here in Malta: the malfunctioning of the services, notwithstanding the British heritage, is reworded by the sun, the sea, the weather, the people. I have worked here in Malta for more than twenty years now and, one way or another, I regularly come back. This southernmost point in Europe, historically a crossroads of contrasting civilizations, is now a microcosm of the EU, like the resort we are staying at coordinating students and teachers of English from all over Europe.  It is really a meeting place, a synergy of experiences, nationalities and different lives that come together here.

the modern day knight in between the author (right) and friend and colleague Christian Costes

Down here, happiness comes to me unexpectedly and coincidentally, and it happened again two days ago, when I found myself swimming below ‘The Point’, the new hyper-modern shopping centre in Sliema, as I was waiting for the shopaholics to come out of the mall. There is always a place to go swimming in the island wherever you are, and that particular stretch is breath-taking. Azure water below, Valletta Renaissance skyline on the other side of the bay on an exceptionally bright dry windy day that made the landscape look like a 3D vision.
So the shop is small, basic and hot, vintage 50s, a mini-mini market run by an old thin man. We go there to buy drinking water, a precious item on the island. Last time we went I gave him 5 extra euros by mistakes and now I have just told him, even if with a certain perplexity and shame. He immediately smiles back and tells me that he has been in the business for forty years and that the client is always right. So he picks up a 5 euro note from his meagre income of the day and gives it back to me, smiling. I feel embarrassed and so I start a conversation that develops quickly into a friendly chat and ends up taking the picture you see here. And he gives me his mobile number too, just in case.
Also, this minor incident is part of the lifestyle of the Deep South, it tells the way we were, it is an old-fashion snapshot which adds value to my Maltese experience even more.


A morning in Comino, an afternoon in the Silent City, a night in Valletta: The best of nature and Renaissance in this outpost of Christendom facing the Muslim dominion



Standing on the bastions of Fort Elmo or at upper Baracca Gardens in Valletta in broad daylight makes it difficult to imagine the Grand Harbour below filled with the floating heads of the Christian soldiers the Turks had killed during the Great Siege in the summer of 1564. The Christian Knights, to counter intimidate the Muslim attackers, loaded and shot their cannons with the Turks’ corpses’ heads. It is a 16th-century splatter scene I was once told by a tourist guide; ever since, the beauty, tranquillity and serenity conveyed by the view from Valletta bring this Tarantino-style vision back to my mind. As some of you know, I used this image of horror in a chapter of my ‘most noir’ novel, Dark City. Valletta gives its best at night thanks to Renzo Piano’s recent redesigning of part of the town and to a well-done programme of maintenance and renewal of the town’s array. A walk, a dinner, a drink, a concert in the open air amid the well-lighted facades of the Renaissance palaces is pure quintessential European pleasure: the aristocratic Knights of Malta brought the best of European Renaissance architecture to its Southernmost borders, to this outpost of Christendom facing the Muslim dominion, as if to show the enemy their superiority through splendour, not only through the well-trained army the Guardian of the Faith had.  And in case of theological disputes or suspicion of unorthodoxy, on the other side of the Grand Harbour, the Spanish inquisitor – head of the most disgusting Christian institution of all times – was there, ready to get rid of heretical thought against the given dogma. We can still see the menacing silhouette of his luxurious palace at the heart of Vittoriosa, one of the ‘three fingers’, the towns where the Knights lived before the Siege.

Comino Blue Lagoon

f you are an accidental smart tourist, take a tip from one who tried several times: forget about the heat, the noise, the stress of Saint Julian’s Paceville area, the noisiest place in the island, with its paradoxical name, home of cheap thrills and mass entertainment. Spend the morning in the blue warm crystal clear low water of the Blue Lagoon in Comino, and escape as soon as the herd of tourist invade this piece of heaven on earth. You can find peace and quiet in the old capital city of Mdina, the ‘silent city’ up the hill, the walled medieval town who dates back to the 11th century. Walk in the shade of the narrow round streets surrounded by the Norman aristocratic mansions and enjoy the view of the coast and the sea from its walls. This is the place for romance in Malta, no doubt about it: there I dated my wife for the first time long long time ago, so this spot brings back sweet memory every time I happen to be there.  But again, you’ll have to escape the old silent capital before the Comino herd follow you there in the late afternoon, filling with vulgar screams and shouts the once silent streets. It is the time to grab a cab, leave modern vulgarity behind and reach and enjoy Valletta by night. In the end, it’s such a perfect day!

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