Short answer: Malta.
Long Answer: I watched this film on television the other day. Six Days and Seven Nights (1998), an action-y rom-com with Anne Heche and Harrison Ford. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone but…. they get together in the end. Surprise! Their chemistry is undeniable: he is an old, macho commitment-phobe and she is eye-crossingly annoying. When these two stereotypes collide on a deserted tropical island there are literal sparks. From me throwing the remote at the TV.†
In spite of, well, everything about it, I saw the movie all the way through. At one point, while the future love birds are still at the Harlequin prescribed hate-each-other stage, they have a run in at the bar of a touristy resort on some island in the Pacific (at least I think it was the Pacific. I watched the first bit of the movie in Italian). Heche looks around at all the single people cruising the club and says something about them all coming here to find the love they couldn’t find anywhere else, blah, blah, etc.
“It’s an island, babe. If you didn’t bring it here, you won’t find it here,” replies Indiana Jones.
And that line stuck in my head (the only line of this film to succeed in that regard) perhaps for no other reason than I happen to be on an island right now. A small one. Mediterranean, warm and made almost exclusively of limestone and prickly pears.
It’s the island my grandparents left when they were still in their teens. The place I’ve visited once before in real life (briefly, compared with this current trip) and a million times in my imagination.
I invented Malta’s landscape in my mind before I ever witnessed the real thing. I etched narrow dust-laden streets into my brain, painted aquamarine bays and sandy beaches behind my eyes. My Nunna and Nunnu’s hometown of Zeitun (Zay-toon) had a bustling, beige existence in my head. Scenes from my grandparents’ early lives. The sea urchins Nunnu – before he was even close to being a nunnu – would carry out of the sea and leave to bake on the rocks. The first bombs falling, marking the War’s arrival in Malta the same day my grandmother was born. A leather belt embossed with teeth marks when hunger drove my grandfather to take a bite out of it.
Malta became legend to me. It was Hogwarts and Middle Earth and Narnia. With less elves and stuff.
And now I’m here. Sitting in bed with a map (one made of paper not Google) and wondering where I should end up tomorrow.* Being here. It is like trying to reconcile the movie adaptation of your favourite book with the story you read in the novel. I’m in the midst of a novel here, meeting new characters (some of them family) and experiencing tangential story lines that didn’t make the cut for the whittled down movie version in my head.
Did I come here looking for something… a chance to dig through my roots? A fresh setting to kickstart creativity? The perfect photo maybe? Love (nawt)? I think of what I brought with me: a desire to not be in Ottawa, English and a few scattered Maltese words I’m too afraid to use, my bicycle helmet, ignorance, a craving to learn, legends, histories, self-absorption, expectations, my camera. And a large section of backpack dedicated to gifts for my relatives from my mother.
Harrison Ford’s character’s line in Six Days and Seven Nights might not be the gospel truth for islands everywhere but it did get me thinking of the relationship between what I bring to a place and what I take away in the end. Everything is give and take, even traveling. All these things make up the lens I view Malta through (especially my camera since I usually have the viewfinder glued to my left eyeball). The items I brought, both physical and intangible, will guide my experience and affect what I find.
Anyway, old macho commitment-phobe had better be wrong because all I brought for footwear is running shoes and I’d like to find something nicer.
And that is where I am.
†Correction: the sparks scenario only happened in my head.
*not that a map is all that much help. I will discuss this further later.