In Malta

I am tired, contented, and in Malta.

I came here to talk about some books. My abstract, for a paper on ‘biology as (unstable) space in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy’, was accepted for the annual Postgraduate Symposium at the University of Malta. So I wrote down my thoughts about these books — these brilliant, shifting books with their looming intimation that the only hope left for earth’s climate is to re-constitute human beings beyond all recognition — until they were twenty minutes long. I got on an aeroplane and flew to this island in the Mediterranean Sea.

I arrived in Luqa airport in the early afternoon. In Maltese, a ‘q’ denotes a momentary silence. I did not learn this until after I had ordered at least one qassatat. I took a bus to Valletta, got off the bus and walked down towards the nearest sea. I apprehended the Meditteranean with naked eye. I apprehended a cruise ship which could have housed a city. I walked north, and I found myself at the foot of a giant elevator, which rushed me two hundred feet up, to a garden high above the blue harbour. English tourists and expats, some perhaps disgorged by the gargantuan ship, took coffee on pavement cafés under the shade of umbrellas. Stray cats twined between dusty, yellow, stone pillars.

I wandered Valletta with my eyes stretched wide to take in streets which plunge then soar. I photographed the skypoking points of the City Gate. I found the bus station again, and travelled amid a gaggle of Maltese teenagers travelling home from school. Ciao-ciao! they called to each other when they hopped off at their stops. I stayed on until Lija, where the University were hosting me. The University accommodation is two levels of apartments ringing a bright blue pool, where young international students had speakers blaring pop music into the afternoon sun. My apartment was not just my apartment; three small blue beds, a wide handspan apart, filled the bedroom. No-one else was there yet. I threw my rucksack on a bed, stretched tired limbs, and headed back to Valletta for the conference’s opening reception. This bus was crowded, and became mired in a long, thin traffic jam as hunger made me irritable.

Now, two days and three nights have happened, and I sit in a café in Sliema, a less-antique, noisier city which also hugs the dramatic inlets of Malta’s north-eastern harbours. I will talk about the conference in some videos soon, but I think my paper went well and was well-received. I flanneled a little during the questions, but I’ll get better at that. One very well-informed questioner has mentioned an interest in responding to my paper in a blog, which I look forward to. Outside of my own paper, I saw twenty-four others; three keynotes, four by academics, seventeen by fellow postgraduates on many different topics. By the end of each day my brain was fried; but now I know more about early women’s film festivals and streetlights in New York and viruses in the Matrix and installation art in Portugal, and other things which will filter into crevices in my brain as it slowly decompresses.

After the second day of the conference, last night, I wandered the bars of Valletta until late, with new friends, clinking Cisk lager bottles together and arguing the toss about language and thought. This is an easy life to think oneself cut out for.

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