Safe European Home
15 April 2024

On a flight to Malta, about 45 minutes before landing, I’ll put down my book and look out the window.  If I am in an aisle seat, and depending on the aspect of the plane, I’ll need to lean forward and crane my neck awkwardly to port or starboard to do so. 

Hopefully it is daytime, and I’ll see the Mediterranean’s brilliant azure shimmer where it embraces Sicily’s southern shore.  If it is windy, the sea might be the colour of cloudy malachite, whipped into an angry froth.  At night, all I’ll see is black, like a mirror of the night sky, dotted with constellations of ship’s lights instead of stars.  

At a hippie bar we perched on low stools, on the smooth polished steps at the lower end of Republic Street and we talked about the sea.  Just glance to the bottom of the hill, between the buildings with their green and red gallerija balconies and we could see it.  Valletta, having been built strategically on a peninsula, was designed for just this defensive purpose.  The sea was of course, from where any potential invaders would come.  And throughout history they did.  One of my friends, an artist, said she’d attended a lecture where the speaker spoke of how commensurately quality of life is improved according to one’s proximity to the sea. Regardless of income or social station.  

The sea is, after all, free.  

Every other day I run along the Sliema front.  Above the limestone stretch of beach, past the old chalet and the Roman baths that were cut into the rock at Qui Si Sana. Round Tigne Point and the round fort where the old reverse osmosis plant used to send cold water gushing into Marsamxett harbour, to the stretch known locally as ‘the Ferries’ and on to the gardens at Tax-Biex where I turn around.  I zig-zag through throngs of people and dogs on leads and vendors flogging boat tours to tourists.  I time my run to coincide with the sun’s best height and consider when and where the promenade will be cast in shadow by the high rises of Font Ghadir.  

On the days I don’t run, I attend a boxing gym with a broad bay window that looks out onto Balluta Bay.  Sometimes, as I exercise, as I punch that heavy bag, I’ll grow distracted, and my eyes will be drawn away and down to the water, where they wander out across the small stretch of sea to the facade of the neo-Gothic church and the restaurant Barracuda and on up the coast towards the tower at Exiles.  

Writing this now, it occurs to me that at almost any given time when I’m in Malta, if I am not a stone’s throw, I am at least within sight of the sea.  

How old was I when I was christened by the Med?  A toddler?  A baby?  Perhaps dunked by a parent or relative, anointed, like an Achilles in reverse.  This did not make me invulnerable, but it did serve to form an enduring relationship.   

So is it any wonder I begin to grow morose when the prospect of leaving all this grows nearer.  Work responsibilities dictate I must ditch my safe European home and head across and towards other bodies of water.  

I have worked and sailed on the ocean and many seas, but they do not possess the same depth of feeling, the same pull, the same wealth of memories as the Mediterranean.  Is it a touch romantic to suggest that this sea is in my blood?  Buried somewhere deep in my DNA.  Not romantic maybe, but certainly a cliche.

The wretched anxiety I get for whatever myriad dysfunctions in my cerebral cortex, looms heavily before I ship out. Dread, along with its stalwart concomitants, shame, fear, and despair.  These four horsemen of my apocalypse effect my moods, my thoughts, and my sleep, causing unsettling and sometimes downright horrific dreams.  Last nights was relatively benign. I dreamt I was driving an old, vintage car when the brakes failed.  I lost control and went off the road and careened down a steep, grassy verge.  My fear was intensified by the irritation I felt at my father, who was with me, shaking his head and proffering unwanted advice.  He has always been deeply critical of my driving skills.

In the last few months, in an effort to achieve some self-betterment I have taken up chess.  I’ve studied rudimentary texts and I have played a lot of games, most of which I’ve lost.  I have a singular inability in chess, as in my life, to plan ahead and as in chess, in life I seem to make increasingly poor decisions.  Perhaps it is misguided, but the chess playing is an attempt to address these deficiencies.  

On Easter Sunday a gang of us slid ungracefully down the loose clay scree that clads the steep ridge between Ghajn Tuffieha and Gnejna.  The going was sketchy, but the reward was ample: a quiet beach and small bay that few venture to for the precarious nature of the descent.

The sea is the coldest it will be all year at this time and a cursory dip of toe certainly proved that.  But I have swum in colder waters, and I was not going to be dissuaded and I plunged in and so did my friends.  One, a visitor from Canada, had never swum in salt water before.

I love the feel of salt on my skin.  In my hair.  The hot sun drying the salt onto my face and shoulders.  That wonderful dry, salty-skin crinkle.

We talked about a cave nearby where there’s tell of an important anthropological/archeological discovery.  It is being kept hush hush until its investigated further.  The chemical composition of clay has apparently kept matter and DNA immaculately preserved and there are within, its rumoured, paradigm changing discoveries about who we are and where we come from.  

We are, as humans, always searching for clues about ourselves and what our distant ancestors did.  I don’t think I’m unique in the way in which I introspect.  In trying to decipher who I am and why I behave the way I do.  What compels me to write this down?  Why am I so shit at chess?  What makes my pulse quicken in anticipation 45 minutes before the plane lands, when I lean forward and get that first glimpse of sea.