Valletta Walk: The rock and sea, your only companions

“He said that the geometry of the dream-place he saw was abnormal, non-Euclidean, and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours.” – HP Lovecraft, ‘The Call of Cthulhu’

Marsamxett 1

Perhaps it’s not exactly loathsome, but there is something non-Euclidian about this place. It’s a place that fascinates me and yet, I don’t even know its name. A resident of the city told me that it probably falls under the Marsamxett Harbour, but he didn’t sound certain enough for my liking.

Marsamxett 2

The sea-and-weather beaten soft stone shaped in undulating, irregular bumps and curves. The remains of metal features, structures, now so completely rusted they look more like rancid fauna than a man-made imposition on the landscape.

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The man-made features that do retain a discernible function – the staircases connecting the the haphazard, treacherous space – are almost a parody of themselves. The entire area is so precarious that you feel stairs shouldn’t be there in the first place – walking through it shouldn’t be encouraged.

Marsamxett 4

Then there’s a kind of stone clearing; there comes a point when there are no longer any bridges or staircases, and you can get a level, clear view of the sea.

But this is only partly true, because the last staircase you see is also the largest one in the whole place. And the most obsolete. It stands like an obelisk, though it’s pinnacle is now boarded up by a iron gate (it’s new, as far as I know, but at a distance it looks thin, brittle). It amplifies its uselessness by simply being there – standing proudly to signify nothing.

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Around the staircase, another inviting paradox. The place is both anonymous and open. It faces the sea, and from a certain vantage point – i.e., its neighbour across the sea, Sliema’s Tigne – it is the most exposed part of the entire city.

But in truth, it’s so removed from the rest of the city that it provides a quiet, strange sanctuary. Perhaps this is why it’s a favourite spot for fashion photo shoots. It has a disquieting, undisturbed glamour. Or maybe its draw is that it’s one of the few places by the sea that more or less guarantees isolation. Logic: the droves that crowd to the sea at the first sign of decent weather aren’t going to brave this treacherous terrain so eagerly.

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But although the place is finally open – going by just this one snapshot, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish the area from Sliema’s ever-popular Surfside – it remains treacherous. Even if there are no longer any cramped, suspiciously sturdy stone staircases to make your way through, the rock here is entirely exposed to the sea, and the visitor is forced to negotiate through puddles now. Puddles that are really little ponds – the liquid inside them the dark green of fairy tale illustrations, where frog princes dwell. (Imagine slipping, now. Imagine falling on your back – the city where humans mill about to either side of you but so far, far away.)

These pods sometimes grow – they widen; not just puddles dotting the rock but a space big enough for a daring spirit to swim in.

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Turn a corner and find a shanty town; green doors caked with dirt and chipped with age, a family around a formica table, the patriarch with a blood-red bald head and hands flaked with a dazzling coat of white hairs. You imagine his fingers to be chapped, leathery like the rest of his skin.

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The water assumes the shape of a canal now. Below the shanty town it’s an emerald green, almost as if to mirror the doors. And on it float bread crusts – ten of them, then around twenty and then thirty, before they thin out to two or three as you walk on. There are no fish to disintegrate them, at least not now.

The cramped shanty town contrasts with its mirroring view. The sea opposite is a vast gulf framed by another mirror image: Valletta and Sliema sit at either side of your peripheral vision, as if ready for a duel.

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And then you walk under a tunnel, and what was wide is now thin again (the city’s familiar grid. You knew this interruption to its structure couldn’t last). You pass through this rounded maw of brick and you find yourself assaulted by fruit flies and saints: a commemorative collection of holy pictures stuck together, with an artificial candle standing vigil. The fruitflies are as multiple as dust mites.

You’re back in the city, and the only way forward is uphill.

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One thought on “Valletta Walk: The rock and sea, your only companions

  1. Pingback: Post-book launch post | Managing clutter | Soft Disturbances

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