Sunday, May 30, 2010

Raining in Malta

The informational pamphlet for the Malta study abroad program promised nearly perfect weather every day. Nearly perfect. So I probably shouldn’t feel lied to, but there’s something violative about waking up on a Sunday morning to wet sounds of car tires on concrete and an eerie wind like an exhausted siren. I can see the church goers from my balcony dashing up and down the slippery steps. The Mediterranean is roiling like the bathtub water of a child who hates being clean. Which makes the single luzza I see all the more toy-like, bobbing desperately against the thrashing-limb waves. It’s anchor seems to be slowly giving up ground to the sea’s forces. The sky is one big white plain of cloud. The roads are slick mirrors.

It’s cliche, but my concept of time really changes when I’m away from all the bustling-hustling of America. I’ve only been here for about 10 days now, but it seems like a month. Not in a bad way, time is just perceivably different.

Like Ramona Quimby, Age 8, I don’t know what to do with myself on rainy days. Fortunately, I have at least 3 readers, so I’m trying to be productive by throwing a few words together for the internet. From the speed of it here, I suspect the Maltese are still operating on the series of tubes, pull-strings, and whistles Al Gore rigged up back in the 90s.

You’re sure this place doesn’t sell the Royale with Cheese?

There’s something strange and appropriate about the fact that I go to the McDonald’s down the street when I want to check in with people back home in America. It’s my internet access point, the golden arches are my Stargate. Before anyone starts spouting anti-american fast food rhetoric, McD’s is pretty high class here. The McCafe serves tiramisu that’s made fresh. Really, it does not come from a pull-top sardine tin or squirt out of an aerosol can. The baristas (I never thought I’d ever call a person with the golden arches sewn into the right rump pocket of his/her jeans a barista) draw flowers and treble clefs on the cappuccino foam. AND, if you order an orange juice, the employee behind the counter bends down and gets several ACTUAL ORANGES from beneath the counter, slices them in half, and then squeezes the juice. All right in front of you! So with regard to the McCafe and internet access portions of the international McDonald’s experience, “im lovin it.”

Mediterranean’s 11?!

On the trip back from one of our many beach adventures, I was on an OscarMeyer (again, those are buses), minding my own business (which at the time was talking American-loud ((yes, I’m back to my ol’ parentheticals within parentheticals shenanigans, count the parenthesis!) an entirely different level of loud than Europeans are used to) about how the radio stations all play American music), when Nick the Brit plopped down in the seat next to me.

Nick the Brit is one of those older Brits with lots of visible capillaries on his nose, a white blazer, black shirt, and boat shoes. Clearly an Ocean’s 11-type heist mastermind. His cover was that he was just a nice old man on holiday with his wife, Marcel, and that the seat next to me was the easiest to lower his arthritic frame into. Yeah, right Nick the Brit, “holiday.” Like you can just declare a holiday any old time you want. He had heard me talking to some of the other students on my trip so he already knew I was American. Nick said I reminded him of one of his sons (code for “do you want in on this heist of the Maltese Falcon I’m planning?!”). His “wife,” Marcel, was in a seat behind us and she agreed in nearly-incomprehensible Cockney that “e’s a spi’in emige a ‘arry ow’ight” (I’m guessing [H]‘arry was arrested or otherwise decommissioned after the last heist). I replied that their son must be a scoundrel (international heist code for “I’m in for no less than 5% of the taking.”). They exchanged glances, laughed twice and Marcel nodded. Clearly, they were satisfied with my offer. I should have asked for 8%.

They told me to find a place called the Dubliner, an Irish pub owned by Nick’s “cousin,” Carl (probably the demolitions expert), and to tell him that “Liverpool is rubbish.” Yep, definitely a heist. I can’t wait for a first back-room meeting where the montage plays that introduces the other members of the team plotting to steal the Maltese Falcon.

Please submit ideas for my catch phrase. The Token American has to have a catch phrase. Clearly, I’m the Brad Pitt character in this scheme so think cool, think sexy to people from all walks of life, think Angelina Jolie totally wants to date me, DO NOT think Burn After Reading Brad. He’s hilarious, but I’d rather like to not wind up dead.

Paul, remember how bad it turned out for you when you tried to join that Rugby team in South Africa?!

Those of you who were on my mailing list when I was in SA know that I tried to join a Rugby squad. I’d rather not relive the memories or subsequent physical therapy, psychotherapy, aromatherapy, etc. BUT, I’m at it again. I went into a boxing gym a short walk from my apartment to see if I could use the facility for a month. Steve, the Australian owner, said he’d love to have me as a punching bag. I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m pretty sure this is my vocation- I’m destined to be a great boxer. Unlike rugby, there’s no tackling-type maneuvers, my bongo skills probably translate into some mean jabs, and I’ve seen other people play Punch Out! on original Nintendo (thanks roomie!). Qualifications? Check.

And by the way, which one’s Pink?

Malta confuses me. It’s an incredibly Catholic island. Most of the houses have a ceramic saint protruding from the wall next to the front door. Saintly statues appear every few kilometers along the roads. They have more churches than days in a year. During the summer, every church apparently has a festival celebrating its saint. So I wasn’t too surprised when I overheard some people talking about going to the feast of St. Joseph:

“Are you going to the Feast of St. Joseph tonight?”

“Of course! What else would I do on a Friday night? Dance at a nightclub?!”

“Yes, I was being very silly by asking. I hope they play Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”

“Yes, and Have a Cigar”

I was under the mistaken impression that all church feasts are pious affairs involving a lot genuflecting, spritzing with holy water, some wafer-chewing, and the only rock going on is Peter himself. Not so in Malta. No. These people celebrate their saints by hosting rock concerts complete with firework pyrotechnic displays and carnival food. For the Feast of St. Joseph, the church of St. Joseph in Ghaxaq (pronounced like you’re trying to cough up a fishbone; “aaaakcha”) hired The Scandinavian Pink Floyd Project to shove the spirit of the season deep into the souls of the faithful with their renditions of The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon.

So, being the good Catholic that Momma raised me to be, I went to church Friday night.

When I got there, I discovered an outdoor plaza filled with people and loose rubble on the ground. The buildings surrounding the space looked a little like the Alamo. Their were families, elderly couples, teens with crazy haircuts, and a fair number of them sporting their favorite black Pink Floyd T-shirts.

Somewhere between Quidditch, Soccer, and Rugby is a sport called Gaelic Football

TV in Malta is D-I-F-F-E-R-E-N-T. An apparently crucial game of Gaelic Football is on right now. From what I gather, a herd of hulking Irishmen careen into another herd of Irishmen while a guy in a white lab-coat and floppy hat waves flags crazily. A grumpy bald guy with a Secret Service earpiece flashes yellow and red cards now and again. Apparently he’s some sort of attention-craver who just want’s the players to stop and watch his card tricks. If the ball goes between some uprights installed above a soccer net, the crowd gets loud. Other times, a guy is knocked unconscious; his body becomes an obstacle on the field for the players and the EMT squad might get a point if they can remove his behemoth unconscious carcass before another player’s cleats poke holes in him. No one wears pads so this happens more often than you’d think. There are goals and goalkeepers, but they don’t seem to be part of the game yet. In fact, they look a little confused about what’s going on. The ball can be dribbled, kicked, thrown, or completely forgotten about if it’s time for a fight. Oh, there’s one going on right now. The score is 0-13 to 2-04. 0-13 seems to be winning, but only by 3 points. The announcer’s accent is pretty grotesque, but I think he said something about a bludger going through the sticky wicket under the scrum?

Huuawe, you guys made me Ink!

We spent a portion of today on the island of Gozo, a short ferry ride away from the main island. We had lunch at an outdoor restaurant situated at the bottom of what can only be accurately described as a fjord, but since I was taught in grade-school that fjords only exist in Scandinavia, I’m thinking it’s a conspiracy. Hmm... So there were are, at the base of the fjord, eating mediterranean food when some children of the village we were in got excited about something they were pulling out of the water. Being the snoop that I am, I left my goat cheese and salty sun dried tomatoes to investigate and found that they had caught a squid. Squiddy, all in a panic about being yanked from his natural habitat was inking all over the place. When he finally calmed down/ran out of ink, one of the village boys let me hold him. The PeTA in me momentarily considering hucking the spent tube of Bic filling back into the sea, but the 1L law student in me knew that whenever a person captures a whale or other wildlife, it becomes property and hurling property into the sea might amount to a trespass to chattels or a conversion warranting damages. Not wanting to get involved in the Gozoan (Gozonite? Gozoish?) courts, I returned Squiddy to the boys and, like Pontius Pilate, washed my hands of Squiddy’s inkiness.

The Return of Scuba Storm

I’m heading back to the depths in search of monsters and treasure and swimmer’s ear. Look out bottom of the deep blue sea, I’m setting up camp and I’m not leaving...until the gas tank empties out...or shortly before since I might like a sweet, sweet bit of 02 on the way to the surface

Popeye Village

I will be going to this magical place. Apparently Santa lives there. Is this section vague? Yes it is. But you’re curious enough to go on a Wiki adventure while you wait to hear about it. Aren’t you?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

MALTA! It begins.

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages, various creatures smart enough to operate the internet- Bloggie is back and more Mediterranean than ever! Tom Johnson, I hope you're out there; haven't received a life-threatening fan letter in quite some time. If you're stalking some other blogger these days, I want to win you back.

Ok, so the drill goes like this: I give you titles and brief tidbits tangentially related to those titles. If it looks boring, it is. Skip it. If it looks like I went cross-eyed while writing it, I probably did (and you should too just in case I slipped one of those Magic Eye Pictures into the text.). That being said, lets' go ahead and take a look at the first days of Paul Storm's trip to Malta!

I think an Invisible Falcon just pooped on my carry on luggage

Wow, Paul. You really started with something pretty ridiculous. Yes, yes, I did. So here's the explanation that puts it into context. I had a layover in Detroit. If 8-Mile taught us anything, Detroit is a tough town. Fortunately, I suffer from the delusion that I'm highly alert and aware of my surroundings. So there I am, listening and looking and smelling and touching with all my sensory might when all of the sudden, I hear what sounds like a screeching bird-of-prey attacking (and presumably killing) what sound like tiny mammals. None of the employees of the airport seemed to find it unusual. 5 minutes later, another innocent marmot or ferret or maybe a vole squeaked it's last tiny squeak (this time I was sure I heard a vertebrae snap too.) Turns out, Detroit's airport has a set of speakers set up that play the sounds of Predatory Birds. Really, I’m not making any of this up. While I was being searched (Yes, I got picked for the “random” search) by Yolanda, the security guard, I asked about it. As Yolanda tested the pH level of my tea (yes, holding a hot tea is a potential sign of terrorism that warrants additional searching, and yes they actually tested the pH level of my tea with litmus paper), she explained that a lot of little birds found their way into the airport. As you can imagine, that means random splats of bird poo fall onto the heads and shoulders of travelers. The solution the airport came up with (aka plan to scare the birds shitless...yeah, pretty corny joke there, but I'm just getting warmed up and a few duds have to fall every now and again...baddum chhh!) was inflicting psychological warfare on the trapped birds...I can’t imagine what sort of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that must cause, but I’d be a pretty paranoid little sparrow dealing with some serious fears of invisible psychotic falcons if I was trapped in D-Town airport.

Shining Time Station's got nothing on poor Maltese fishermen

Right now I’m sitting on my balcony looking out at the waterfront. Yes, I have a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. Big glass windows, comfy chairs, the whole I-don’t-deserve-something-this-nice package. Luzzas are small rowboats painted like bathtub toys. The harbor is full of them. Somewhere along the way in Malta's history, someone got the idea of painting eyes on the front of his boat to scare away evil spirits. And like the LaCoste Alligator, Starter pullover half-zips, and Zoobaz, a status symbol was born. Suddenly everyone had to have eyes on his boat. With big bushy eyebrows.

We Built This City. We Built This City On Rock And...More Rock!

This city is nothing but hasty rectangles stacked on and squished between other misshapes. Like the way kids draw cities. Just row after sloppy row of rectangles getting progressively shorter the closer they get to water. The streets are European-narrow. Maybe half the width of Summit Avenue. Cars whiz by each other with inches (well, this is Europe, so I guess it’s centimeters, but you get the idea) between the rear-view mirrors. There aren’t really “lanes” on the road so much as suggestions about where to point your car. People drive down the middle of the street until they see oncoming traffic, then it’s a game of chicken. Most cars here are tiny hatchbacks. Occasionally a Ferrari or Porsche or Aston Martin shoots by blaring bad accordion-based techno music. The sidewalks, where they exist, are hardly wide enough to walk on and seem to double as parking space. There's no green space, very little of what we would call "fertile topsoil" in the midwest, and most things are carved from rock or made of rocks carved into the shape of bricks. There are a few trees, but no one's building a log cabin here anytime soon.


Yes, there is a calendar called “The Cats of Malta” in one of the shops I went searching for postage in. Not only that, the calendar features 12 feral cats. Celebrities of the gutters apparently. For whatever reason, Malta is a fan of the feral cat. People sometimes leave water dishes out for them. Not sure what the feeding policy is.

Do you have a Flag? No Flag, No Country! That's the Rule...That I just made up.

Malta has a weird history. Since prehistoric times, an army from one corner of the world or another had landed and declared itself the ruler of the Maltese as part of some sort of pyramid scheme to rule the Mediterranean. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Napolean for a week- everyone throughout the ancient/not-so-ancient-but-still-pretty-darn-long-ago world seems to have shacked up on Malta and plunged a flag between the rocks at one time or another. The Maltese weren’t too keen on the idea at first, but they eventually accepted that, like bird poop on your windshield or random acne flare-ups, there just isn’t much they can do about it. So the Maltese made lemonade of the situation by developing one hell of a fusion cuisine culture while the powers-that-be killed one another for control of Malta’s harbors and strategic location. Once everything calmed down, they made a 45-minute documentary I had to watch on a tour we took through the oldest, most important city on the island; Valleta.

There are no cars in Valleta. The streets are too narrow. Buses and cars must park outside the walls of the city. Yep, walls. Carved right out of the rock itself. 30 feet thick in some places and as tall as 60 feet (I did the metric conversions for you). Valleta was a giant military-industrial compound before it became the bustling center of Maltese social life it is today. This is where I will attend school while I’m here. The streets are always filled with people and music and street performers. Food smells are everywhere, and the plazas are littered with monuments to people I’ve never heard of but apparently did a lot more than I have at this point in my life. Lame little blogs just do not get you statue status apparently.

Goodbye iPod

Saturdays in Malta are for one thing and one thing only; beaches (which in my case means that Sundays are for aloe vera and loose clothing). Yes, now is an acceptable time to get jealous. A crew of us boarded one of the Oscar Meyers (my name for the buses because they’re painted in the same colors as the WeinerMobile) around noon and rode North to a beach recommended to us by some locals. The WeinerMobilemen (bus driver) must have watched The Transporter a few too many times. Gas pedal firmly stomped to the floor, he was taking hairpin turns all the way up and down the coast slowing down once for a goat, but otherwise trying to move fast enough to violate some basic principles of physics and pass through the oncoming traffic unharmed. The bus creaked and swayed like it wanted to get up on two wheels whenever the driver spun his steering wheel. All the Maltese were calmly reading or looking out the window while the white-knuckled Americans started picking out deities to make absurd promises to in exchange for a safe ending to t- OH MY GOD HE JUST GAVE A HIGH-5 TO THE DRIVER OF AN ONCOMING BUS! THE MANIAC DID A 100KM/HR HIGH-5?! DOES HE STILL HAVE HIS ARM?! THAT’S IT, I’M SACRIFICING THE WOMAN’S CAT IN THE 4TH ROW TO ONE OF THOSE ANIMAL-HEADED PAGAN DEMONS, I WANT OFF THIS BUS NOW! GRUNGLEMEBADESH, I SWEAR ON THE LIFE OF THIS FELINE THAT I WILL COMMIT MY LIFE TO SPREADING WORD OF YOUR COMMANDMENTS IN EXCHANGE FOR THE BEACH. PLEASE OH PLEASE JUST LET ME FEEL SOFT SAND, HOT SUN, COOL AND SALTY WATER, AND MAYBE ENJOY A KLONDIKE BAR!!!!!!

Which reminds me, have you heard the good word? No? We’ll talk later.

While some of the others splayed out on their beach towels, I decided to talk a walk down the beach; see the seeables, smell the smellables, etc. I grabbed the ol’ iPod and started strolling. I’m not the dullest crayon in the box, so I noticed right away that beach-goers in Malta avoid tan lines. Women go topless, men sport the speedo, kids rock the naked. Whatever clothes is on people gets wedged up into whatever crevice is available to hold them so that even the places meant to be covered find their way into the UV rays (You don't like the visual that paints? Well I had to look at the real thing. You're lucky I'm leaving out the guy who altered some sort of sports bra to fashion a unique little pair of skivvies for himself.).

You’re wondering about the iPod? Well, I'm an expert rock skipper (Those of you who've figured it out can quit reading now. Those of you a few feathers short of a duck, sharp as a marble, or an enchilada short of a fiesta platter may need to read on.). The Mediterranean has some pretty choice skipping stones and, being an expert skipper, I got to work hurling stones seaward. I got a few 7 and 8 skippers (and one 11 skipper! Ok, so that's a lie) before I saw something metallic skip a few times across the water before sinking out of sight. All the arm whipping I had done dislodged my iPod from my armband...yes, I wear my iPod on my throwing arm. No, this was not my proudest moment. If I were any slower in the ol' brain box, I'd need to be watered once a week and occasionally rotated. Anyway, I ran out into the water (of course there wasn’t soft sand at this part of the beach, just big, hard, uneven stones) searched around, found it, pulled it out, but, I’m sorry to say, it was too late; the iPod is no more. So it seems Malta is on a mission to strip me of all my electronics. Grunglemebadesh, I don’t suppose you can tack a new iPod onto my list of goods and services I'm trading for eternal enslavement? Please?