This is a post for some random interesting stuff from Malta. Such as the language. What Maltese sounded like to me was a mixture of Arabic and Italian. Which in fact it more or less is! It originally descended from the version of Arabic being spoken in Sicily around the turn of the previous millennium (9th to 12th centuries A.D.), and it’s still considered by linguists to be a variety of Arabic, although it’s written in Latin characters (with some lovely funky additions like an H with an extra bar) and only perhaps a third of the current vocabulary descends from Arabic.
The fact that I know some Arabic and more Italian did not really help me understand the lengthy Maltese mass we attended on Christmas Eve, nor what people were actually saying in everyday life. However, I could understand what most of the place names meant, and also recognised, for instance, the Arabic word for milk. Which wasn’t especially important, since most of the island (and all of the signage and packaging) appears to be functionally bilingual; the opposite side of the carton says “milk”.
I did also encounter some actual Arabic, though. There’s something weirdly satisfying about the symmetry of a bilingual box where one language goes from right to left and the other goes from left to right.
The cereal box above we encountered at ValYou grocery store, aka the Maltese version of your friendly neighbourhood Carrefour. We first encountered the French mega-chain Carrefour in Italy, where it was fifty times bigger than any other grocery store, and carried a bewildering variety of both Italian and French cheeses. In Malta, the combination of Italian proximity and British history turns Carrefour into something of a foodie paradise, at least to my eccentric, admittedly sometimes plebeian tastes. On the Italian side, there were fresh pastas of every description, and Christmas panettone and pan d’oro in every conceivable flavour. For British tastes, you could find the likes of steak and onion pies or port-infused Irish cheddar. Going back to the breakfast cereal (which in the health-nut-mother-cursed Familia family is a treat reserved for weekends and holidays), we found all our American favourites, but in a bewildering babel of languages. Malta apparently gets breakfast cereal designed for audiences from Spain to Ukraine to the UAE. We made a breakfast game of guessing the language on the box.
But the best food we found at Carrefour, by far, is my favourite variety of Italian honey.
It’s called melata honey, and has the distinction of having passed through the bodily orifices of not one, but two different species of insects. Small insects up in the mountains eat the sap of trees, which passes through their digestive tracts and is deposited (see how palatable I made that sound) on the leaves of the trees, where the bees collect it and further process it into honey. How wild is that? You can’t make these things up.
Once you get over the fact that you’re eating the excrement of an insect (and then wonder why it grossed you out anyway, since you were always OK with eating bee spit), melata honey is absolutely divine. This one tasted a little different from the Piemontese melata we used to eat, since it’s from Lombardy, but it was still delicious. And yes, we consumed an entire 500 gram jar during our two week vacation. And it wasn’t even difficult.
We’re not huge souvenir people, partially because we’re kind of cheapskates, partially because except in the very direst of circumstances (such as moving overseas) we travel only with carryon luggage, and partially because our house is tiny and we can’t fit a lot of extra stuff in it. So we try to buy small stuff, like shot glasses and magnets, or jewellery. In this case, as well as the aforementioned items, I also encountered some lovely hand-turned egg cups made out of olive wood. I have been wanting egg cups ever since I kept seeing them in British movies, and then finally got to use one when I stayed at a Bed and Breakfast owned by a British couple whose dream had always been to start a bed and breakfast in Florida. True story. At any rate, I now own these (plus one more, which for some reason isn’t in the photo):
My final item comes with the disclaimer that when I told my coworkers about it they were appalled and started muttering about danger and electrocution. So please, don’t try this at home, or at least don’t sue me if you cause some kind of major disaster.
I failed to put two and two together before our trip and divine that 150 years of British rule would result in Malta using British-style electrical outlets. We have plenty of adaptors, but we left them all at home. Fortunately, our AirBnB host was kind enough to show us a clever trick that allows you to plug European devices straight into British outlets! All you do is use something skinny (plastic please, NOT metal!; I used a ballpoint pen) to gently push down the little metal piece in the top hole whilst simultaneously plugging your device into the two bottom holes, WHERE IT WILL SUDDENLY MIRACULOUSLY FIT. Here is visual proof of my accomplishment. I felt like a cross between McGyver and Jason Bourne every time I did this.
Americans, you’re sadly out of luck with this trick, since not only can your plugs not be made to fit, but if you somehow manage to make them, you’ll probably fry your devices. Everyone else: You’re welcome.