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Amber Paulen

A Trip to Malta

19 October 2010


Arriving in Malta, the plane circled tan-yellow cliffs which rose like walls from the sea. I vaguely wondered if there could even be a runway on that rock adrift like a faded pinpoint among eternal blue steadiness. And when we flew back to Italy, we cut up through the clouds playing slanted sun-streaks, for they were racing after dumping their rain drops from their inconsistent clumps and high towers.

Though I spent five days in Malta, the most I saw of the island was while landing and departing. We went for a wedding: drinking till early hours and sleeping late were priority. And did we drink! And dance till the early hours—even in high heels!—causing me to question my stamina for I will keep going until someone says stop, or I collapse.

The wedding was fine, albeit a little long, yet the wine was as good as the other guests and the view from the reception room as the golden sun descended. The autumn rain has done well for the cramped island, wherever vegetation could sprout, it proliferated. The vibrant green in contrast with the tan-yellow of earth and houses and stone walls was spectacular, like the warm weather and the sea.

We did manage one tourist activity during an afternoon in Valleta: The Beheading of St. John the Baptist by Caravaggio. The painting is hung in a church that is beyond ornate, saturated and gilded around the arches and over the ceiling. But the oratory is plain enough and should be; The Beheading dominates, towers above the whole church. The physical size is incredible, the strength of its characters is in the layered complexity of a single frozen moment. The group of four who stand above the bleeding man are the language of the painting; and how the light shines across to illuminate them, infusing them with life which emerges from the dark stillness.

There is a great shudder that passes through me when I stand before a Caravaggio. And The Beheading, being a monstrous painting, makes the shudder greater. Caravaggio was a dogged man who fled to Malta after murdering a man in Rome. He was one of those volatile geniuses who die too young, whose works do not whisper, but shout.

Malta holds a strange enchantment. Between North Africa and Europe, invaded by British tourists, where divorce is as illegal as abortion, it seems confused, turning its face quickly around the open sea. The food has suffered after 200 years of the English, tasteless, though it shouldn’t be, being in such proximity to Italy. Perhaps the kernels of Maltese life are well-protected, and one must not be hungover to find them.



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