PARADISE ON EARTH.
Malta, a small republic situated mostly on two islands in the Mediterranean, has a rich and varied history. With its balmy climate, beautiful sea and mountain views, relaxed pace of living, it is indeed a paradise for tourists, as well as home to many language schools. The state languages are Maltese and English; Italian is also widely used. The people are very beautiful and friendly. Whatever language they speak, one can hear a musical intonation in it. Many words are pronounced differently from the familiar norm. The name Malta itself, as I heard it, is often said Muelta. The adjective mellifluous comes to mind when one listens to the locals. Honey is a popular word. The sea is nice and warm, if you can figure out how to get into it. The islands themselves, the buildings, the beaches are off-white stone. There are little handrails near the water, to help you get in and out. The water is crystal-clear and sparkling. Tourists are warned not to jump in: one can misjudge the depth and consequently get a nasty jar when the feet connect with the bottom. There are plenty of craggy places all along the shore. If you go on a boat ride, you will have an opportunity to see various caves, and get a thrill when the boat squeezes through tiny cracks in the rocks. You can also go on an excursion to the old capital of Medina, and see the Roman remains everywhere. Valetta, the modern capital, is an amazing city, with sweeping views of the harbor and the sea, ships and yachts. The streets go up and down. If you want to get the feel of the town, prepare yourself for long hikes. There are many statues and ornaments on practically every building, as well as in parks and squares. The story goes that city rules permit a certain selection of subjects for monuments and external house ornaments: people, angels, dragons, life-size only. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it was certainly fascinating to see angels and dragons as they are, at least in the artist’s imagination. Statues of Madonna can be found in unexpected places all over the island; quite often there is a small box by its feet. One can deposit some money in the box, it seems, to buy oneself a few days of forgiveness for sins not yet committed. The little coastal towns blend into one another without any signs or boundaries. Walking around in search of a church, I found myself in a different settlement from the one I stayed in. I decided that there must be a church somewhere, and asked an old man with his grandson where I could find one. He stared, and then said, “Why do you need a church, lady? Sin now, repent later! Enjoy life!”
Malta also proved to be a place which I cannot visit anymore. On day one, I began coughing. Gradually it became a nuisance, a hacking cough which woke me up every night. I noticed that while I walked outside, especially near the sea, I was fine. Once I got inside, the cough began. I went into a pharmacy, and the young clerk, hearing me cough, asked, “Tourist? Alas, madam, it’s this tickly cough. You are allergic to our stone!” He gave me some mixture but it didn’t help much. And that stone is ubiquitous, on Malta. Looking down from the airplane en route to Rome, I said good-bye to this amazing place, to its bright colors, its loveliness.