Visitors arrived that summer

Grand Harbour view from Valletta

I didn’t suffer the entire time Tomoko was abroad because my old friend Zachary Peoples stopped by with his new wife on a round-the-world honeymoon. 

I’d met Zack at a border crossing in Central America in my late twenties. We traveled together for a while, and he became a main character in my book Vagabond Dreams. We’d last crossed paths in Tokyo a decade previously, so there was much to discuss.

On a slow freighter to the Corn Islands, Mosquito Coast, Nicaragua

I stocked up on the local wines I liked best: Bel syrah and Melquart cabernet sauvignon / merlot blend, grown on the island by Meridiana and named after Phoenician gods; and bottles of Antonin from the vineyard at the end of my street. 

I laid a case of each in the cellar, and filled the bar fridge with bottles of Blue Label amber and Hopleaf pale ale. They would get to know the island through its grapes, because wine contains the soul of a place.

The week passed in a blur of conversation. I woke early each morning, made coffee and climbed the stone steps to my study, where I would spend the morning writing. 

Zack and Lyndsey slept late. They would spend their morning in the courtyard, scribbling in travel-stained journals or reading, enjoying a long break from life on the road. 

The table in the courtyard was piled with books which were only set aside each evening for dinner. The buzz of the espresso machine and the turning of pages were the only other morning sounds.

My favourite Delimara swimming spot

We spent our afternoons swimming at the small rocky cove of Peter’s Pool, or exploring distant corners of the island: beloved Valletta, the old walled capital of Mdina, and the prehistoric temples of Hagar Qim high on a rocky cliff. 

Lunch was a greasy pastizzi or two, washed down with cold Cisk lager on a patio next to a main road, with a bit of sun-drunk limestone grit in every glass.

Before dinner, a siesta, or perhaps a little more work. And then I would climb the winding stone steps of the tower to our highest roof to summon my guests. 

Climbing the tower for the call to cocktail hour

I stood by the parapet overlooking the courtyard, cupped my hands around my mouth and gave a wailing cry. It was the Call to Cocktail Hour, and the fact that it transgressed religion only added to its appeal. 

Late nights of Durrellian conversation…

We assembled on the other roof, on wicker chairs beneath the olives, where a silver tray held a pitcher of water, a cut glass vase filled with ice, and a bottle of pastis, that anise-flavoured nectar found in variations around the central and eastern Mediterranean.

“I wanted to have napkins printed with some sort of logo,” I said, setting out a plate of olives, bread and oil, “and Palazzo Marija in script. But life moves slowly here. I haven’t gotten around to it.” 

In the evenings, we debated by candlelight at the table in the courtyard, resuming conversations begun a dozen years earlier on the Mosquito Coast. 

Resuming conversations begun a dozen years earlier…

Jupiter was ascendant that summer, and we watched it from the jacuzzi with gin and tonics perched on the rim. 

One night we decided to do a whiskey tasting. We opened every single malt Scotch in my cabinet, and then moved on to Irish. When all three of us fell asleep in the jacuzzi, we knew we’d have to reign it in.

And when my friends finally left on the early morning flight to Istanbul, I went back to my routine of boiled eggs and solitude. They were my only guests in all those island years.

About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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