A successful method to realize that you are just a 10-minute-lifespan, buzzing gnat in the endless hallway of the universe: travel to Malta, whose recorded history stretches back a mere 5,000 years or so, and consider whether your dust might make it into any buildings of the 22nd century, like the dust of those in Malta’s buildings from the 13th or so. At least there are the Aperol Spritzes.
My inamorata Alice and I just returned from several weeks of house-sitting in Malta (with a short dip in the Mediterranean in Sicily), and goodness gracious, history hits you in the face there. Since Malta was invaded over time—that winnower of souls—by pretty much every culture you’ve heard of, and some you haven’t, the Maltese (and some of their occupiers) built massive fortifications and emplacements all over the island. Along with a mere 300 or so giant domed churches, being good Catholics and all.
As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Twain, however, didn’t have to contend with Maltese drivers, prejudice towards whom, rather than vegetating, might save your life.
Travel Is Word Fertilizer
I’m writing about Malta because I’ll be writing more about travel to Malta later. The converse of travel’s fatality toward prejudice is its genesis toward creation, writing creation. Being in a place utterly foreign, even surreal, spurs considerations, concepts and captivations that the familiar dust-bunnies of your “regular” life can’t fathom. Those novelties are worth every inconvenience, like back-aching plane rides and heat and humidity that made our daily Maltese excursions a bit of a fever dream.
Or maybe it was all those Aperol Spritzes, a drink I’d long liked, but which seemed to loom out on advertisements on sandwich boards and windows in every cafe in Malta. (By the way, it seemed that every café in Malta, no matter if it was a cafe that could barely host a desk and a stool, had a full bar. They are civilized that way.)
So, keyboard, meet Malta. I must admit to being somewhat disheartened in that I didn’t land an assignment to write about Malta before I left, though I queried a number of publications. Some of them, like the Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury News, for whom I’ve written many travel pieces in the past, no longer solicit pieces on international travel. Other publications have cut back on freelance budgets, and often editors don’t answer queries if they aren’t interested, even for a place as fantastical as Malta.
But I’ll keep working the room a bit on a travel piece. And there’s always a chance that some flavor of Malta might slip into some upcoming fiction, even if the story isn’t set in Malta, but might need a provocative statue of a beheaded saint in it. Malta is very big on statues of saints.
Travel is good for everyone, but I think particularly good for writers. Even if no articles or stories based on a journey come to mind right away, seeds are planted. And they could grow into gigantic fortresses of the imagination.
Steal a Copy of Sticky
If you’d like to read an electronic/PDF copy of my memoir of my teenage wickedness, Sticky Fingers, and consider writing a review, check out this page.
At the least, I think my criminal exploits will amuse you. When they aren’t appalling you.