It took two years to get a smile 


I noticed the old lady across the street watching me all summer when I slipped outside at 2am to put out the trash before bed.  There would be a movement behind the slats of lit shutters and the window would open very slowly. It happened more often when the summer heat was at its worst.  Sometimes a full moon shone down on our alley, and I would stop for a moment to look at it because I...

Festivals and autumn storms


Dust crusted summer absent of rain By the end of summer in an island without rain, the roads were crusted with a carapace of filth.  Trees were burned brown. What grass there was had withered to straw. Only the prickly pear and olives retained a pale green.  Old ladies polished their front doors at dawn with buckets and rags, to no avail. The island thirsted for cleansing rain, as...

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...

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...


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