I picked Malta to start my six-month journey around the world because one of the characters in the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle runs away to Malta to get herself together. At least that’s how I think it went. It’s been a long time since I read the book. I am a big fan of Haruki Murakami and at the time I read the book I had never heard of Malta. It sounded fascinating in the book and when I looked it up. Murakami was as good a reason as any. I thought about living somewhere for an extended period – but where exactly? I thought about tracing my roots and going to Norway and Puerto Rico (I’ve been), Armenia and Ireland — it seemed equally random as I’ve never felt a particularly strong biological or cultural connection to any side of my family. So here I am. In Malta. What is this place?
I am besieged by culture shock. The city has a European feel, but does not use the European outlet. Valletta, the capitol city, is dotted with iconic red British phone booths, gold encrusted churches and frescoes from the great Italian painter Caravaggio. The cuisine – rabbit livers and snails – suggests a poorer region – southern Europe or North African. The ultra-rich have made Malta a playground. Maltese is the only Semitic language written with a Latin script, and the only Semitic language that can claim to be an official language of the EU. The Maltese people I have met are proud that neither Sicilians nor Arabs can understand them – as if the entire country is engaged in it’s own inside joke. Indeed the stone buildings, and windy streets of the Mdina feel alive with secrets. The secrets of a long and complicated history dating back thousands of years before my young country was compelled into the Western world.
I can see why Murakami would choose a place like this. This place, like his stories, twists the mind. The history and conquests of the Moors, Spanish, Normans, Italians, British, French, Portuguese, and Knights of St. John each leaving their mark. But none quite blending with the other, as if each conquest could still hold a tiny piece of this small island country to be its own.
Some days I want to explore the island. Other days I simply want to sleep and be woken up when the confusion is over. I am starting on a six month journey around the world. I am lucky and grateful, and I’ve been gloating to all my friends that I am doing this. What’s wrong with me? Am I depressed? No, I can’t be. I am taking the same dose of anti-depressant I was taking in the U.S. Am I scared? It’s confusing, but there’s really nothing scary about Malta. Am I homesick? I don’t have a home anymore. I sold my home in Los Angeles. When I do return to the US, who knows where I will return to, and whether or not it will feel anything like home. For the next six months at least, I am homeless.
I think I thought traveling around the world would automatically be magical. The trip itself would be like all of my favorite books rolled up in the time span of one of my favorite movies. Instead, it is pouring down rain outside, and I am cold because the townhouse where I’m staying is not well insulated, stuck in this confusing place where I don’t know a soul.