January hit hard this year. We had locked down from Thanksgiving onward, due to the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, which looked like a hockey stick in the charts – erasing previously visible peaks and trough with it’s through-the-roofness. So the holidays were lonely and quiet. In January, we had to even stop seeing the one family we’ve been able to spend time with through the whole pandemic. And the dark cold of New England winter – always a challenging time – felt downright impossibly claustrophobic. But a ray of light beckoned: if we could thread the needs of infection, we planned on doing something so impossible in the COVID era it seems beyond the realm of fantasy: travel to the Mediterranean island of Malta.
A thousand things had to go right for this to work. We couldn’t get COVID. My parents couldn’t get COVID. No one could get a close exposure. The days leading up to my folks arrival and our departure felt impossibly fraught. I was terrified to take a test and have all hopes dashed, but the uncertainty begged for the reassurance of a negative test. But through a miracle, I found myself on a Friday night lifting into the oncoming night, sunset scattered behind us. I had bought an absolutely ridiculous journal for the trip – leather bound, and closed with a long strap and a charm, with extremely heavy watercolor paper. It’s the kind of journal that’s too nice to write in – and it came with a gorgeous box and amusingly a perfectly sized tiny backpack. Through the trip I journaled and drew on alternating pages.
It was not as bad as I feared, flying transcontinental in a mask. We were tired, pulling the redeye, and it was so strange to find ourselves amidst other people and in places we’d never seen before. We found ourselves finally at the three room apartment we had rented, which was in the old city of Valetta and dated back an unkonwn number of centuries, but was likely at least 500 years old. The sandstone steps were well worn in the middle, and each room, though small, occupied an entire floor. The mandatory balcony looked out onto a street of stairs, and every morning at 9 am an old woman would lean outside her balcony and smoke a cigarette above the day’s drying laundry.
What we wanted from Malta was novelty and change. Having looked so often at the same four walls, I yearned for something new to think about, to talk about, to imagine. I wanted to unlock doors of the mind that did not spring from the hallways of my everyday life. And so we did – carefully. We ate outside all but one meal, despite the cold, and did few things indoors. Masks and vaccines were rigorously enforced. But they did not inhibit our enjoyment a bit! Mostly what we did was appreciate the history and culture of the island. We didn’t see EVERY museum in Malta, but we did go to: The Archaeological Museum, the neolithic Hypogeum, the War Museum at St. Elmo, the medieval walled city of M’Dina (with the cathedral museum and a preserved ducal palace) and the catacombs of Rabat, the upper and lower Bukkarra gardens, the best Turkish hammam (only?) in Malta, the neolithic Tarxien temples, the Citadel in Gozo and the old prison and smaller Archaeological museum, the cliffs of the northern coast, the Roman era salt flats, Ġgantija (the oldest freestanding building in the world – older than the pyramids), the armory museum, a boat tour of the harbor, a horseback ride at sunset, the astonishingly ornate Co-Cathedral and the firing of the signal cannon.
We also attended a baroque concert and TWO amazing jazz trumpet sets in alleyway bars that made me feel MUCH cooler than I actually am. And everywhere we went there was emblazoned – in ironwork, or masonry, or marquetry, or paint – the Maltese cross.
As I wrote in many post cards: I have good news. The rest of the world did not disappear while we were all responsibly locked down. The sun has not hidden itself forever from a cold and weary world. There are new things to be seen, foods to be tasted, experiences yet to be had. Welcome back to the world.
If you really want to, you can see all 1000+ of our photos here.