‘Where’s your accent from?’
‘I’m from Malta.’
Where’s that? I’ve heard of it but not sure where it is.’
‘Between Italy and Africa. In the middle of the Mediterranean.’
That was when I first fell in love with the man I was dancing with, and later the ‘Rock’ that was his homeland.
Our first trip together was a new experience after 60s London with its mini-skirts, free love and bright lights. Even the airport was a revelation. Not the impersonal formality of Gatwick, but cheering and waving relatives standing within view on the open balcony as we descended the steps from the plane.
Customs and passport control were interspersed with ‘How are you?’ ‘How long are you here for?’ ‘Come over to lunch on Sunday.’ ‘We’ll have to meet up for a drink.’ ‘I heard you were coming, the family are looking forward to seeing you again.’ The old airport was in his family village so I suppose it wasn’t surprising that nearly everyone we met was either a distant relative or an old school friend.
I didn’t speak Maltese and his Mother only knew one word in English ‘Eat!’ His Father loved history and I discovered not only the heritage, but also the names of herbs growing wild during our family jaunts around the island. It was many years before I actually learnt the English translation for a herb he picked for me, which I still refer to by its Maltese name.
Andy’s insistence on doing the driving surprised me until one day his brother-in-law took the wheel, and I appreciated that although it was quicker to go the wrong way round the roundabout it wasn’t the safest way to drive. Although theoretically they drove on the same side of the road as the UK, the Calypso at the time of driving ‘in the shade’ rang very true.
This was the old Malta, traditional, religious, male-orientated and insular. His sister was upset she had nothing suitable to wear when the four of us arranged to go out to a dinner and cabaret one evening. Although she was shorter than me we were a similar size so I lent her one of my full-length (the fashion at the time) low-cut, V neck dresses. She was delighted, but before we were allowed to leave his Mother insisted on pinning a religious brooch on both of us, to draw together the neckline as we were exposing our décolletage.
Over the years we visited Malta regularly but took to staying at hotels in the up and coming tourists resorts, although we still saw the family regularly during our trips.
Even in London many of our friends were Maltese and I learnt not to worry about the loud, shouting, scary arguments which were actually no more than two friends discussing the acquisition of a new car.
The parties on my birthday were always open-house for friends of friends of the local Maltese community, but after Andy died I didn’t intend to celebrate. My mind was changed when I was persuaded by the many new Maltese ‘family’ members I had acquired over the years.
My first trip back to Malta without him was poignant and I was in two minds about going. As soon as I mentioned the idea it became a foregone conclusion. Maltese friends offered me their apartment, another arranged my Air Malta flight, transport from the airport was sorted, and all that was left for me to do was to get on the plane.
That was when I realised that although not Maltese by birth, I would always be Maltese by heart. The many memories of those early days somehow found themselves incorporated into my first book ‘Changes’ which not surprisingly was set mainly in Malta, although it is now very different from my first visit all those years ago.
Small villages where every move was monitored and discussed have become modern International tourist resorts. The three or four hotels I remember have mushroomed into more like a thousand, everything from two-star to five-star, from small family run to luxury brand names.
All this reminiscing has reminded me; it’s time to click that link www.airmalta.com, book my seat and find a smile crossing my face as the plane begins its approach to my ‘home from home.’
See you soon Malta.
Sahha u Grazzi.
© Voinks January 2017