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...

Fending for myself in the village


From the vegetable vendor around the corner My peaceful reading and writing routine was disrupted that autumn when my wife decided to take a trip home.  “I’ll explain the shops to you,” she said before we left for the airport.  “How hard can it be to buy food?” “You’d be surprised. So, there’s the food you buy from vendors, and the food you buy in shops…” I knew about the bread man. He...

The inconstant gardener 


Palazzo oranges from the tree in our courtyard “The gardener will come at 8am to trim the fruit trees,” our landlord Marian said. “Please make sure you’re there to let him in.”  As with most local tradesmen, he insisted on starting as early as possible, and so I set my alarm and struggled out of bed a few hours after I’d settled comfortably into it. Bougainvillea climb the stair to the tower...

A phantom lodger


The dining room in the palazzo We inherited a cleaning lady when we rented the palazzo, and she became our main contact with the village.  Josephine’s Day was always a struggle because she preferred to arrive much earlier than we preferred to wake up.  She was kind and reliable, but I never knew what to say to her, and so I barricaded myself in my study all morning and stayed there...

A deluded awakening 


Not from that vicious old lady Insects could be defeated through the miracle of science and chemistry, in spite of their overwhelming numbers, but I never succeeded in my six year campaign to resist the rhythms of an island inhabited by larks.  I was a night person trapped in a dawn person’s world. The mismatch became apparent very early in our stay. I experienced a sudden reunion with...

The wars I waged


Nothing can harm me now (except stingers) As I immersed myself in books about the island’s past, I started seeing the small events of my life as stages in a larger military campaign. Living in Malta was giving me a siege mentality. My conflicts were fought, not with Turks, but with the Genus insect. Where other places have seasons of weather, Malta had seasons of insects: enormous springtime...

Nescafe baristas


Zejtun church from my roof It was just 6am when I slipped out the door for the first time, jet-lagged, pale and squinting in the harsh island sun.  A cacophony of tiny birds chattered in the morning cafe of a tree. Pigeons circled the village in a cloud that sounded like bedsheets flapping on a clothesline. One of their number insisted on occupying the toilet off our courtyard, and for a...

Does a palazzo buy happiness?


Looking across the courtyard to the tower – the door of my study straight ahead Nighttime in the palazzo held its own magic. We often took a nightcap in the living room, after the day’s work and reading was done: gin to slake the summer heat, or a winter whiskey to drive the damp from our bones.  I liked to take my glass up to the roof at those times — down that cavernous arched...

That time I lived in a palazzo 


That time I lived in a palazzo For several years I lived a secluded life on the island of Malta. The house we took was a sprawling palazzo where the walls had a chalky tang, as yellow as aged cheese. It was the first thing I noticed when I walked in the door, and I noticed it again every time I returned from a trip. It was the dry dusty scent of time. Time passed slowly, and in silence.  An...

Watching films in palaces and prisons


Berlinale summer screening at Charlottenburg Palace Covid cancelled Berlinale, but summer brought a week of screenings curated from this year’s films. I watched the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize winner last week a short bike ride away at Charlottenburg Palace.  Waiting for darkness to fall It was the second-best place I’ve watched an outdoor film. The best was in Malta. We...


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