q a l a

[ 01:14 monday 14 april – qala, island of gozo, maltese archipelago ]

i’ve just got back to my room in qala (pronounced “aala” – malti is a remarkable language), a sleepy village of old sandstone houses perched on an escarpment at the north-eastern corner of gozo (pronounced “godzo”). gozo is the the smaller of the archipelago’s two main islands, about ten miles long by five miles wide. there’s much less development here than in malta to the south and its population is just thirty thousand compared to malta’s three hundred thousand.

i’m here for the red herring europe conference which starts this evening in the town of st lawrence on the main island. trampoline’s been picked as one of the top hundred technology businesses in europe so i’m due to give a talk. but since i’d never been to malta before i was keen to come over a couple of days early and explore. as usual i looked at a map and picked the most remote place i could find, which in this instance was qala. i planned to fly out on friday evening but that was thwarted by a broken down train at london bridge. i met a friendly maltese chap called michael who was trying to catch the same flight to spend the weekend with his family so we grabbed a taxi together. however this in turn got caught in roadworks on the motorway and we reached the airport half an hour after check-in had closed. we booked ourselves onto the saturday flight and returned dejectedly to london.

in fact the evening turned out rather well. on a tip from daichi i biked over to an improvisation concert in old st pancras church. four musicians played saws, bizarre violins with welded-on gramophone horns, a double bass and the church’s organ. the music was eerily beautiful and the church was lit entirely with candles. afterwards i ended up with a dozen people back at my house which rapidly degenerated into a frenetic jam session. i kicked everyone out at four in the morning, woke up late and almost managed to miss my flight. i reached check-in with five minutes to spare and found michael at the departure gate where he’d been waiting for a couple of hours.

arriving in malta i picked up a rental car and drove with michael up to the north end of the island, grateful for his navigational services. there were plenty of roads but not quite enough signs. i dropped michael at his familial home in st paul’s bay then continued to cirkewwa harbour at malta’s northernmost tip, where the ferry to gozo departs. the next crossing wasn’t due for three quarters of an hour so i locked the car and walked out along the coast. there was a strong wind blowing and waves were crashing against the rocks. there’s nothing more energising than a stormy sea. i returned to the car as the ferry pulled in and we set off past the miniscule island of camino to arrive at gozo just before the restaurants all closed.

this morning i got up early and set off to hiking around the coast. the wind had died down and the sky was serene. i walked north out of the village, enjoying the rustling bushes and birdsong. i stopped to take a photo of a small house whose open door was plastered with pictures of exploding fireworks and was immediately hailed and beckoned inside. three men were sitting round a table drinking home- made wine and watching football on an italian channel. the inside walls were covered with photos of fireworks just like the door. the old fellow who had hailed me, evidently the host, introduced himself as joseph, a maker of fireworks. he gave me a glass of wine and proudly pointed out photos of enormous fireworks he’d made. then he pointed to a succession of pictures of grinning men beside equally huge fireworks and explained how each of them, friends of his, had met grisly ends when their handiwork blew up on them. with a certain glee joseph recounted the details of how this one had been cut in half and that one had his head blown off. as i bid farewell he invited me to come back in august to see the biggest display of the year in honour of a notable saints day. he also invited me to visit his workshop but after the descriptions of his friends’ dismemberments i had mixed feelings about this.

from joseph’s house i continued along the road then on a whim struck off along a track. a little further on i departed in turn from the track and soon found myself picking my way across jagged limestone crags and hopping across narrow gorges. the going was not easy but eventually i made it down to the coast where a flat shelf of sandstone jutted out into the sea. the sun was high in the sky so i stripped off and plunged into the chilly water for my first sea swim of the year. after drying off on the rocks for a while i walked around the coast and picked my way up through the terraced fields until i reached the escarpment and returned to qala.

i’d spent most of the day traversing difficult terrain without any clear path. i trusted my instinct to discern where leaves were slightly flattened from someone passing in the last month, or to sense a route hopping from rock to rock that would lead me in the right direction. many times i reached a dead end, with thorn bushes or steep crevasses on every side, and had to retrace my steps before striking off along a different route. but inexorably i progressed and arrived where i sought to. it felt like an appropriate metaphor for much of what i’m doing with my life.

: c :

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