Updated: Oct 16, 2018
NARRATOR: Narrative/Exposition The Narrator sets the scene by giving background information. The Narrator is a Detective in the Film Noir style, travelling with the Assistant. (Voice Over (VO) opening credits)
When thinking of Malta, two things might come to mind: cute little white dogs and the novel 'The Maltese Falcon', by Dashiell Hammett and the film starring Humphrey Bogart as famed detective Sam Spade. 'Sam Spade', for some reason, was my mother's definition of male beauty, but that is not essential to this plot. I was in Malta, not to buy a dog, but to conquer my Top Ten Malta list for this blog. I packed up my Bogart fedora and trench coat (both items packed metaphorically because it was one million degrees outside), adopted a film noir detective attitude and set off to solve the mysteries of this Mediterranean island.
NARRATOR CONTINUES: Background information/ Maltese history/ Plot setting
The Maltese Archipelago is a group of 3 islands; Malta, Gozo and Comino, in the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and Libya. Early Neolithic settlers arrived on the islands from Sicily somewhere around 5200 BC and since has been ruled by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs right up until 1091 when it was finally conquered by the Kingdom of Sicily. It remained that way until 1530, when the archipelago, along with Tripoli, was given to the Order of St. John of Jerusalem as a vassal state of the Kingdom of Sicily.
Napoleon, 1798, must have liked the weather as he invaded and personally occupied the islands until the British formally colonised them in 1800. Malta was finally given its independence in 1964. SCENE ONE: departure/arrival montage We meet our Narrator detective hero and the willing assistant as they scuttle through Heathrow Airport on a cloudy Friday afternoon. There is a chill in the air and Terminal 4 is heavy with people of all ilk.
Old style flying montage, from the plane window, a bit of lightening sprinkled in, just for effect. The characters arrive at Luga airport. NARRATOR CONTINUES: Finally, the beginning of the story
We arrived on the island at 11:05pm. Noticed nothing unusual en route except a suspicious blonde using two children as decoys. She had earlier created an altercation concerning children's scissors in carry-on luggage, thus easily diverting the security staff's attention away from the fact that she had more than the allotted two carry-on bags per person. Clever rouse, though not that clever as everyone knows you can't take scissors on a plane. Suspicious blonde also took up too much room in the overhead bin. That makes her a person of interest in my crime novel.
Taxi ride montage from Luga Airport is similar in speed and accuracy to that of the video game Crazy Taxi. Our characters arrive at the Corinthia St. George's Hotel. Close-up of the 20 Euro bill for the taxi fare. The hotel lobby is impressive, the hotel staff is friendly and the check in is easy. They make their way to the room.
SCENE TWO: The next morning
The detective and assistant enjoy the breakfast buffet and discuss the plan for the day.
(VO) Woke early and went to the breakfast buffet. The spread was bountiful as we partook in the local delicacy, pastizz, which is pastry filled with ricotta cheese, or mushy peas. As it was breakfast, happily went with the ricotta.
The detective and assistant leave the hotel
Taxi to Valletta. 20 Euros. There was a pattern forming: everything cost 20 Euros, didn't much matter what, 20 Euros.
The detective and assistant are dropped off at the Valletta City Walls. The sun is shining and it is a beautiful morning. Valletta is a creme coloured Tetris of a city, with pavements and sidewalks mined of stone from the sea floor. Careful, though, the pavements are still as slippery as if they were still on the bottom of the ocean. The characters slip and slide all over the place.
Our mission was to find the Royal Opera House and our starting point was Auburge de Castille I had assumed that this was just another run-of-the-mill castle. But that was a bad self-translation as the Auburge de Castille is actually a government ministerial building.
The characters begin their navigation of the city of Valletta.
We followed Republic Street from the city gate toward Fort Saint Elmo ( insert here: muppet jokes or jokes about self-indulgent movie stars driving around Washington DC in the 1980's with bad soundtracks and worse haircuts. Assistant did not get my Demi Moore references or my assertion that Rob Lowe should never wear dangly earrings) in search of the Royal Opera House. Assistant attempted to use new-fangled GoogleMaps, but even with this, the Opera House remained elusive.
Detective and assistant pay their 20 Euro entry fee and enter St. John's Co-Cathedral. It is very crowded with tourists and very, very hot.
Followed leads into St. John's Co-Cathedral. I am not sure why this is a co-cathedral and not the head cathedral. Perhaps there was some biased squad voting and thus pacifying the lesser squad member's parents with an erroneous title. The exterior of the cathedral was built in limestone and completed in 1577. The interior was redecorated in the 1660's, is very ornate, Baroque in design and dedicated to John the Baptist. Here, visitors can view two paintings by Caravaggio, completed in his brief but tumultuous time spent as an ordained Knight of the Templars.
The characters gaze upon the very dramatic "The Beheading of John the Baptist" and "St. John Writing" The paintings are located in a nave that is very, dark and throbbing with one million visitors. The camera pans to show the works of art and also of the amazing floor tiles which feature rather jovial skeletons.
"St Jerome Writing" was stolen in 1984, hidden for two years then held at ransom for a further 8 months. The thieves were eventually caught, but both died before the trial could begin. "
"It is really hot in here."
The characters attempt to exit through the gift shop as per usual but are guided to a back door instead.
"They should sell a 'No Exit through the Gift Shop' T-shirt in that gift shop."
The characters continue along Republic Street until they come upon the Grandmaster Palace. They enter.
"This building, which housed the Knights of the Templar of Malta and its armoury, was built in the Austere Mannerist style. The interiors were later redecorated in 1818 by the British in the Neoclassical style, which means, in other words, everything was painted gold."
The characters enter the Tapestries Room.
"The Tapestries Room is very interesting to see as it is so dark in here you cannot see the tapestries. Translating for you, assistant, the tapestries are telling us the story of a 1637 Dutch exploration of Brazil. It also says something about a ' French Gobelin factory, Indian cartoons and that the factory lost Indian cartoons"
"Yeah, these tapestries are in fine condition because they keep them in the dark. But how did they know to keep them in the dark in 1637? Something does not add up here."
The characters are back out into the heat of the day. The streets of Valletta are hung with vibrant banners with religious iconography. The detective and assistant think there might soon be a religious festival, but cannot be sure. They do agree that the town is very cool looking, indeed.
We turned back up Old Bakery Street, still hot-footing it after the Royal Opera House. When we reached the city gates we came across the Triton Fountain. Another landmark to cross off our list but one that sprouted up new mysteries. On close inspection, you find similarities between the fountain's mermen and the face of the creature from "The Shape of Water". 98% sure they stole the fountain merman's face. Another case for another day.
The characters continue past the fountain, so hot they thought about diving in and continue to what one could only conclude were the Barracca Gardens. Envisioning a cool breeze, assistant, weary from the heat and our failures to find the opera house has an idea.
"Hey, why don't we do a Hop-on, Hop-off bus. We haven't done that in ages!"
I too was beginning to sag, so I acquiesced.
The detective and assistant, now perched on an upper deck of a sightseeing bus, view passing glimpses of many bastions back along the way to St. Elmo's Fire, er Fort, and stop at the newly renovated harbour. At this point, an overly zealous American woman with a fanny pack yells over the side of the bus to the driver.
OVERLY ZEALOUS AMERICAN WOMAN WITH FANNY PACK:
"Is this were that elevator thingy is?"
My assistant and I had a cheap laugh at naive Americans and their inability to pronounce anything that is not McDonald's (I can say this as I am American).
The detective and the assistant roll their eyes at each other.
Speeding along we came to Paola, which is the location of the Hal-Safkueni Hypogeum. This Unesco World Heritage Site is a large complex of rooms cut from limestone 11 meters/ 36 feet below the surface. We jumped off the bus only to find that the Hypogeum is guided tours only, over an hour long and sold out for the day. Adventurous spirits not dampened, we left the Hypogeum in search of other Paola-ian treasures.
" Paola is meh. not interesting, not dangerous, not even derelict."
There were no treasures or adventures in Paola, so we made out way back to the bus stop, where we waited for 45 minutes.
The detective calls Omar, the taxi driver that had dropped them that morning and told them to call if they needed another ride.
"Where are you?"
"We are near that limestone thingy."
"In Paola, near the Unesco hypogum thing."
"Just What's App me the location. We will be there in 15 minutes. 20 Euros."
Of course, the bus came in the next five. But in the taxi, we were safely back in Valletta and back on the trail of the Royal Opera House.
Nourishment was in order so we wandered through the streets looking for a traditional Maltese eatery. We settled on a corner joint at Freedom Square, which is the Maltese equivalent to eating in Times Square or Piccadilly Circus; No local would ever be seen eating there. No local would be seen cooking there either because my traditional Maltese Club sandwich featured 8 slices of bread, a hot dog and a fried egg.
We then stopped off at a patisserie for the other Maltese delicacies know as a Honey Ring, which is molasses encased with anis-flavoured dough that Assistant likened to a bastard child of baklava and a pizzella, and a Kanolli, which is ricotta or cream filled cones of pastry or in other words, a cannoli.
Somehow we ended up back on Republic Avenue and finally St. Tickle Me Elmo's Fort of Fire. It was getting late, and very hot.
"Let's just take the hop-on bus back to the city gates"
So we jumped back on the bus. When the bus made it's fateful turn back onto the highway toward Paola, My assistant, usually the meekest of things, jumped up and begged the driver to let us off the bus. We then walked back up the hill, past the elevator thingy and through, what we did not know was finally the Upper Barracca Gardens.
The characters jump in the taxi and speed back to the hotel.
We had managed to see four of the Top Ten Things to See in Malta and were so longing for the sea that we forgot all about our original mission of finding the Royal Opera House. We settled into loungers by the water's edge and I excitingly unpacked my full-faced snorkelling mask that I have been dying to use for 10 months. Finally! The water was calm and warm and beautiful...for 10 minutes.
The detective swims frantically to shore, climbs the ladder out of the water and pulls off the snorkelling mask.
"Help! I have been bitten by something!!"
"No, you haven't. But there is something on your shoulder."
The detective flicks whatever it was directed at two young girls who ran to the commotion to offer help.
"You just flicked an earring back at those two girls. Good thing it wasn't dangerous as you, seriously, flicked it right at them."
"I think I might have just been bitten by a shark. It really stings."
The detective whimpers out loud and does what must have been a rather disturbing dance of pain.
"You were not bitten by a shark, but there are giant welts on your back. Might have been a jelly fish."
There was a large group of jovial German men playing 'I will throw this football into the air and you will try to kick it while jumping into the sea." They were having a great time.
I considered, from the pain of my sun lounger, warning the Germans about the jellyfish infestation but I decided to let them suffer. This must have been a subliminal act of vengeance as we while booking tickets for that evening's performance of Aida at the Royal Opera House...the Royal Opera House featured on many 'must see Malta' websites, was a ruin due to the WW2 bombing campaign. We had been walking past these ruins all day.
"(Undecipherable German for those people who do not speak German), HAHAHAHA JELLYFISH HAHAHAHA!!!!!"
Clearly, they were not at all threatened.
Back in my room, I did what the internet doctors told me to do for a jellyfish sting. Rub it with the sharp side of a credit card and pour alcohol on it. I used, what will certainly be a 20 Euro aeroplane size bottle of Smirnoff and rubbed my sting with my room key. Kudo's to the internet doctors! this actually worked!
Showered and dressed, we taxi'd back to Valletta for the Opera. Unbeknownst to us, while we were lounging at the hotel, Pride had taken over the town and there were sound stages and parade floats all over the place. Another mystery to solve as this action had not been there two hours before.
"What kind of devils' magic was happening here?!"
The characters are back in Valletta, bewildered at the change in tempo. Seriously, change in tempo: there is techno playing everywhere. They make their way to the 'Open Air Royal Opera House' and take their seats amongst the many for the start of the opera.
(VO) Aida was very good. It might have been more enjoyable to have a small clue about the plot before sitting through an Italian Opera, but our guesses landed pretty close to the story. Unfortunately, I was unable to achieve great smugness with my USB chargeable fan, as there was finally a cool breeze and it would have been silly to pull out the fan. We left during the intermission, in search of local Maltese traditional food that didn't include hot dogs.
The characters now sit down in an underground restaurant, recommended by the Daily Mail. There were what sounded like fireworks going off all around the table, but being that close to Libya, there was no telling if some war had just broken out.
We both ordered the Lampuki as a main, and I ordered what I thought was widow's tears soup as a starter. It arrived as more of a bouillabaisse and the sight of the giant langoustine really did make me cry. My assistant took on the task of slaughtering the giant prawn/small lobster while I just watched. With hospitality, she said it was good, but I am not a big fan of liquid fish.
The Lampuki or Mahi Mahi (two pieces, even) was, like Paola, meh.
We left the restaurant in search of Sicilian Gelato and found the Pride parades replaced by a religious parade of some significance and a marching band complete with, gladly, fireworks, not artillery fire, as first thought.
The characters enjoy the fireworks, the gelato and the taxi ride back to their very air-conditioned hotel.
" How about tomorrow we just enjoy the sea?
"Best idea ever!"
It is the next day, and we find our characters enjoying early morning massages. The day is set for sun, sea, and full-face snorkelling before the return flight at 5pm. They have secured sea-front loungers, which is amazing luck considering the amount of Germans at the hotel.
"I can't believe I was attacked by a jellyfish. Out of all the people in the water, why was I the one attacked?"
"Because you were wearing that ridiculous mask. The jellyfish probably thought you were an anglerfish, and therefore a predator. It was only doing what nature told it to do-the sea is it's home and you are just a visitor."
Assistant Googles a picture of an anglerfish and compares it to that taken of the detective in the full-face snorkelling mask.
The characters are now back at the airport. Tired from this whirlwind trip, but happy at all they had seen and done in such a short period of time.
Boarding the plane to Heathrow, we came face to face again with the mysterious blonde and her decoy kids. I was going to ask how the paper-cutting went but was afraid to cause an international situation.
Old fashioned plane montage going the opposite direction as the characters are now returning to Heathrow.
"I don't mind a reasonable amount of trouble." is a quote from "The Maltese Falcon" and that is exactly what we found in Malta: a reasonable about of trouble. Another often quoted line from the book is " When I slap you, you'll take it, and like it." Though this line was delivered from one man to another, in the spirit of "Me Too", I thought it best to go with the first quote.
Dramatic smooth jazz plays over the ending credits. Fade to black.