Welcome to Malta with writer, Angela Guillaume
I am a lawyer-turned-writer from the island of Malta in the Mediterranean. Married to an American, I lived in Atlanta for over 11 years. We now live in Malta
Can you give a description of the city to someone visiting from another country who would know nothing about it (in 100 words or less – if you can)?
Malta is a Southern European nation consisting of a group of islands, an archipelago, strategically placed right in the middle of the Mediterranean – south of Sicily and north of Tunisia. The main island is very small and one can drive from one side to the other in a little over an hour, if that much. Over the centuries, Malta was conquered by many civilizations and this has contributed to creating our unique hodgepodge of culture. Maltese people have names originating from different countries. Mine is French, but my friends’ names come from places like Italy, Spain, Portugal, England, North Africa, etc. The way we look also reflects this melting pot—anywhere from fair and delicate to olive skinned or dark.
Nonetheless, we are a part of Europe and place our identity within the European context. My family (and I) have lived in the capital city of Valletta for many years. This city, surrounded by fortifications, was built in the time of the Knights of Malta in the mid-1500’s. Malta is an island rich in history and straddles two different worlds: the old and the new. It has one leg in the 21st century while the other leg is still standing in the past. This can be a source of frustration to its citizens as much as it can appear charming to the occasional visitor. Undoubtedly, it is a source of inspiration for a writer.
Why did you pick this location to write about?
Believe it or not, I have not set a story in Malta yet, although I plan to. I have lived in many places…Holland, the United States, and visited dozens of countries as a tourist, including 8 visits to Italy alone. Froman early age I have had a passion for travel. This perhaps explains why I am injecting that sense of place more and more in my writing. In my WIP, I placed my characters in 4 different countries, on 2 continents. In other WIPs, I go from Brazil to Italy to the moon. I do not limit myself by space. The world has so much to offer, and I want to show it.
That said, Malta has a richness of culture that is worth writing about, and indeed many authors have already. I see this island as a paradox, as one that is still searching for an identity after centuries of colonization. Despite gaining its independence in 1964, only now I am starting to see a shift to a nation imbued with the confidence that nothing is beyond its grasp.
This attitude, however, is not a collective one. While the older generation are sometimes cynical about this, the younger generation and those who still seek more from life challenge the status quo by breaking the barriers of limitation and pursuing dreams and non-traditional professions that in the past were perhaps dismissed as not “a good career”. For instance, we are seeing a lot of scientists, artists and even writers who are making a name for themselves these days. Attitudes vary from traditional to unconventional. Malta embraces the Roman Catholic religion and this faith has a huge impact on some peoples’ lives and attitudes, but in a modern world many people here are not afraid to question things and religion must always walk hand in hand with the pagan (Malta is a party place with beaches, resorts, nightclubs, wine bars and all the frills – yeah, there’s lots of fun to be had!) and the mundane demands of Western life. Somehow, surprisingly, the two co-exist.
For this reason, I believe Malta does not have a “collective” identity. It is a series of fragmented identities. The Maltese themselves are a paradox: at intervals traditional and unconventional, saints and sinners, friendly and impatient, passionate and lackadaisical, reserved and boisterous. This would be fascinating to write about and I’m working on it J.
3 of my favorite restaurants…
La Mere, Merchants Street, Valletta – Reasonably priced. Dishes are eclectic…from Indian to Mediterranean to Middle Eastern. To die for…especially the Indian cuisine.
Amici Miei, Strait Street, Valletta – Reasonably priced. Casual place with a couple of really cool areas for dining. One area in particular is my favorite. It looks like a library with a large (albeit fake) bookcase/mirror, beautiful tan leather arm chairs and old world décor. The Tuscan owner loves my son Cole who, on days when customers are scarce, is allowed to crawl in this room to his heart’s content. Dishes here include some mouthwatering pasta options and really good pizza.
Hugo’s Tapas, St. Julians – Mid-priced. Fantastic, delicious tapas and unique salads. Love this place.
There are many more places that I love, such as Trabuxu, a small, quaint wine bar with fantastic cheese and meat platters and home made dips, and Da Pippo’s, where there is no menu but only dishes with what the chef found fresh in the market that day. There’s Badass Burgers – for the enormous, juicy, that’s right, Angus beef burgers. The Avenue, a great family restaurant in St. Julians where every dish is delicious and priced incredibly well. And there are also a number of high end but wonderful restaurants in the old ‘silent city’ of Mdina – all of these offer a unique experience. Alas, I’m limited to three J.
What is a hot local topic for this date?
A few years back it was membership in the EU. Now that is all settled and water under the bridge. Today, we have extensive restoration projects going on in the city of Valletta. The blueprints for these projects have engendered much debate and mixed opinions. There is also the issue of illegal immigration that, sadly, I believe, is often misunderstood. Maltese, however, are notorious for blowing up about an issue one minute, and forgetting about it the next.
What is this city known for that is not stereotypical?
I would say country, rather than city as the nation itself is so small. Malta offers different local specialties. One is a local savory pastry called “pastizz” (plural: “pastizzi”). They are essentially filo/phyllo pastry cases filled with a mixture of ricotta cheese, seasoning and eggs, or peas, onions, garlic, curry and other spices. Many believe they are delicious. I know I do. After all, they are loaded with calories, as anything delicious tends to be J. I think there is a place in Astoria, New York, where quite a few Maltese live, that offers pastizzi.
How would you describe the general population of this city in fifteen words or less?
Malta is a winding pathway wedged between history (past) and the modern world (future).
Can you name five famous people from this location?
Edward de Bono – Creator of Lateral Thinking
Larry Attard – Hall of Fame jockey (Canada)
Caroline Smailes – British author of Maltese descent
Joseph Calleja – Tenor
Lorenzo Gafà – Baroque architect
Mario Azzopardi – Movie director
Bryan Adams – Performing artist of Maltese descent
Giuseppe Calì – Painter/ artist
Tiffany Pisani – Fashion model (Britain’s Next Top Model winner, 2010)
I know…again…that’s more than 5. I could go on, but I won’t J.
Something that might interest our readers.
- Malta is a very OLD country, literally. Our prehistoric temples are very unique and the standing stone structures that still exist are listed as the oldest in the world. Great fodder for an imaginative mind!
- Maltese drivers are a dangerous lot – beware, the road is a (almost) lawless place, a bit like the Wild West J.
- Although I lived in Malta for the first 27 years of my life, when I returned after my 11 year stint in the US, the experience was a culture shock. After a year and a half, I’m still adapting to witnessing the old ways that I had left behind when I first left. Example, stores that close between 1 and 4pm, stores that close on Sundays, and petards fired at odd hours during religious feast days. Things are slowly changing. Malta is becoming a business hub. Tourists are, as always, its lifeblood and locals share the space with the millions of foreigners that flock in each year. While living in the US I learned a new way of being and thinking. It took me a while to get used to that, and now, I’m restarting the process. In Malta, I believe the issue is always that phenomenon of old vs. new. That said, Malta will always be home, no matter where I live. When stripped to the bare bones, it is quite the little paradise.
- Malta offers (good) free healthcare and free education to its citizens and residents. This rocks!
- Small business is supported and protected in Malta. Although one occasionally hears people complain about the economy, the islands are riddled with Moms and Pops stores that have been surviving for decades.
- Although it is a small island, when one is actually in it, it doesn’t feel so small because there are so many things to see and do.
What does the city smell like?
To me, it smells like home, like my childhood. The buildings are made of limestone and there’s that smell of things that have been around for a long time. The smell of the salty sea, when I walk the promenade in a town called Sliema, is for me something beyond compare. I just love it.
What does Malta mean to you?
I believe Malta is akin to a used, worn pair of slippers that we like to slip our feet into first thing in the morning. Sometimes we think of throwing them away for a new pair, but we hold on to them because they are so comfortable.
What section(s) of town would an old-money character likely live in?
Probably in one of the palace style town homes in Valletta, called a “palazzo”. Or else in an old palazzo in the city of Mdina.
Are there any parks or dog parks or walking/running trails that are popular?
Not many…the place is densely populated and one town leads to another. But thankfully, there are some untapped areas still left. As far as parks go there is one in a place called Ta’ Qali that is a familyfavorite. There is also a lot of rugged terrain and rural areas that are popular with adventurous hikers. Then, of course, we have the beaches.
Are there Universities or colleges that have an impact on the city? Rivers that have an impact on splitting up the socio-economic or ethnic communities?
We have one main University: the University of Malta. As regards socio-economic status, we have a divide between the north and south as is the case in many other countries. The north is considered more affluent. However, there are many middle class people today that are preferring to choose a residence in the quaint and beautiful south, thus blurring the separating lines between rich and poor, cultured and proletarian.
What are the local sports teams and what is the current popular view of them?
Soccer is huge here in Malta. We have a national soccer team but many people here are avid watchers of the World Cup and the European Cup. I think that many still lack confidence in the local team but love it when they see them do better.
If there was one must see, can’t miss thing you would recommend to someone new to the city, what would that be?
First time in Malta, I recommend a visit to the Hypogeum prehistoric megalithic temples consisting of a series of underground chambers – a UNESCO heritage site. This is a truly unique and spiritual place. Going there requires advance booking as only a limited number of people can enter at any one time. I had blogged about it here: http://angelaguillaume.blogspot.com/2007/12/i-am.html
You can find more information about Malta at the following links.
Want to read more about Angela Guillaume? Look for her at the following links.
My Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=563297082
My Website, which is a work in progress and planning on revamping this year: http://www/angelaguillaume.com
(Pictures taken from Angela and www.malta.com)