The guys in the waiting staff talk in Maltese. I don’t understand it, a heady of blend of Roman and Arabic syllables. They do speak the universal language of getting things done. One of them opens my bottle of Cisk with the back end of a heavy spoon. I can appreciate this kind of knowledge. It is real, and it is tangible, and it is useful. We walk up to the main Bay Street Shopping Area. Paceville (pronounced pah-chay-villé) is grubby and unkempt and full of undiscerning eateries. I would later spend two euros on a very disappointing pizza slice from this exact place. We stop at La Plage, next to Andrew’s Bar, and the man behind the bar prepares an amazing americano for me. It is the first good coffee that I have had in Malta. The teenagers sunbathe on the small beach, their lithe bodies in opposition to the corpulence on displace at the resort. I wearily realise that I am included in the latter, my passion for ales and chocolate catching up with me. I grimace and take a sip of the coffee. The sun is so bright it is burning on impact.
I go out, late, late, and the night ends with a barefoot midnight skip through the sea, sand in between my toes, the water warm, a couple night-swimming. Dinner had been amazing, and then, some shisha, and then a return to the main club and bar drag. Along the way on this night I have to listen to some earnest attempts on the part of a teenager to pull the person I am out drinking with. I admire his persistence and tenacity in an unfamiliar language that is not his native tongue. I am less impressed by her, not shutting it down, making it last longer by smiling, and hedging the conversation, until finally I sit and drink my beer and tell her that I want to leave. I leave shortly afterwards, but not before I leave her with my bag, like she left me with hers, and take a long time in the toilet. It is petty but it makes me feel better. Someone has puked into the urinal netting. The cubicle is best left unsketched.
I sit in the extremely hot midday sun. It is pitiless in its intensity. I have relaxed on this trip, inasmuch as I am able to ‘relax’. I stare at a blue horizon where there are no clouds and no threat of clouds. I look at the incredibly misjudged boxy communications tower in the distance. Underworld’s ‘Stagger’ makes no sense here. People wear Ray Bans and designer polo shirts, their skin the colour of roasted walnuts. Everyone has very badly judged shorts on. I believe this is what is known as a ‘resort hotel’. Someone I know told someone else I know that I am fuelled by my anger, and that I want to be a writer. She might have been right. An astute judge of character, as so many of us are, but reserving judgement on ourselves, for fear of what lies there. Valetta turns out to be gaudy, garish, and a little bit depressing. I am relieved to leave, although it is occasioned by a recurrence of my walking companion’s migraine. There is a Peacocks outlet here.
Now that we’ve found love
What are we going to do
I realise, somewhat belated, that this might be one of the most profound lines of the 90s pop scene. Because as much as love is a search, and a journey, it is a destination. And after the journey’s end? A load of depressed fat, queasy travellers swapping stories and stroking each other’s bulging, rotund bellies. A disgusting idea but one that resonates clearly in the echo chambers of my mind. Flies settle on the lazy flesh and we retreat to a place where we don’t have to acknowledge our failings.
Another breathless chapter based on a brisk cross-wind on a terrace where ants crawl in Brownian patterns over a beige patio. I listen to the same Saint Saviour song over and over like it contains some kind of totemic meaning, and perhaps it does. Later, I get a White Russian and it tastes better than anything else I have had recently. Like it contains some kind of totemic meaning, and perhaps it does.
I stare up at what is either a planet or a very bright star as people are slingshot into the night sky in a capsule attached to heavy elastic ropes. We sit, and then we lie, and there is a peace, somewhere, inherent, that comes to us, and I look over, and someone looks back at me, the person I am talking to, and we talk, freely, at ease, back and forth, and it is beautiful. I try to remember what is said, but it doesn’t matter. I think of Walt Whitman and I want to ask him a question, but I know that there’s an answer to it somewhere in his poem. Everyone falls asleep, gently, and the crowd thins. We notice the planet, or star, has moved, to the left, and then we know what this is. It night-time, and people are being slingshot into the night sky, in a capsule, surrounded by bright, flashing lights, and that is all that I really have to say, about that. The next day, at breakfast, I have honey and butter on wholemeal toast and it is reassuringly good. The cab driver stops to fill up the tank and tells me that the a/c runs the petrol down very quickly. I agree with him, because that’s what you do, in Malta, in the back of a cab, on the way to the airport, that’s just what you do. I agree with him and he presses the accelerator after we move past a roundabout and somewhere in the entropic remnants of the words I wrote a long time ago I can feel a warmth that was like this sun, and I smiled at you, and you smiled back at me, and the world was our two hands joined, and the electricity between them.