Nov. 3, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • 7:45 AM UCT
Fishing boats line the harbor separating Cospicua from Vittoriosa in Malta.
Fat Charley, the man we came to see, sat at a table across from the bar. On either side of Charley sat two skinny Maltese women with long brown hair, maybe in their early 20s.
The one sporting a blue body-hugging Adidas sweatsuit featured black teeth. The other wore jeans and a leather jacket, and she had a few teeth remaining.
While Charley regaled us with stories of his trips to 12 different states – Louisiana, California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Chicago, and a bunch of others he couldn't remember, the girls sat quietly playing with their cell phones.
"They don't speak English," Charley said, then he said something to the girls in Maltese.
He must have ordered us a round, because the black-toothed woman in the blue sweat suit served Alex and I another pair of Cisks, the local Maltese beer. After she returned with an appetizer: the Maltese bruschetta that features butter beans, red peppers, onions and capers, she sat down with a Pepsi.
As we sopped up the olive oil with the fresh bread, Charley announced, "They're hookers."
"Okay," I said, not sure how to respond. The third round of Cisk settled into my bloodstream, and I was drunk like a mariner should be.
"Hookers," he repeated. I wasn't attracted to the either of the girls, and even if I was, I wouldn't partake in their services. Prostitution doesn't appeal to me.
"You can have them if you'd like," Charley said. How do you politely decline a sales pitch from a pimp? I shrugged my shoulders, and took a swig from my beer.
I've been propositioned by street walkers on Laurel Street in Hartford and unionized pros in Amsterdam's red light district, but when offered a woman for pay in a bar owned by the Malta's second largest political party, I was dumbfounded.
Yet despite Charley's lewdness, his honesty was refreshing. In Malta, adultery and homosexuality are legal, yet divorce isn't. Fair enough. Ralph Nader once called the Connecticut state capital a whorehouse.
But imagine if the Democrats had a bar in downtown Hartford where pimps hung out? At least the Maltese aren't hypocritical about sex and politics like we are.
If I had any doubt about her job, a fifty-something white haired man dressed in black approached the black toothed woman and gave her a five pound note. At the current exchange rate of $3.41 U.S. dollars to one Maltese lira, that was about $18.
They talked for a moment, then she left. A few minutes later, she returned and they went upstairs, and didn't come back down for a half an hour. A man in a leather jacket sat down and drank the rest of her Pepsi while she was gone.
And Charley kept buying us drinks, and french fries. I had had a few, and I made my way through the maze of empty tables to the men's room. I passed young people loitering in the back, necking and playing pool. The bathroom had no toilet paper and smelled like hell.
"Hey buddy," Charley said when I returned. He told me for the 80th time that he loved Americans.
Most Maltese do, a pleasant change from other Europeans, who right now seem not too fond of the United States. Although while buying bread from a hole in the wall shop last week in Rabat, the bread maker bashed George Bush in broken English.
The bread maker and his customer in Rabat discuss American politics.
"Bad man," the bread man said. "When does he leave?"
Charley wouldn't bash Americans. Charley the pimp loves Americans. Still fresh in his memory, like many of his countrymen, are the World War II heroics of the U.S. Navy, when the U.S.S. Ohio, a tanker carrying badly-needed fuel, broke the blockade.
Malta's strategic location between Africa and Europe has made it a battleground for centuries. The Phoenicians, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Turks, the Knights of St. John, Napolean and the English all fancied this chunk of limestone at one time or another.
As far as blitzkriegs go, Malta endured three times the onslaught the British did during World War II. Starting in 1942, Bombs fell for 154 straight days on Malta.
Of the thousands of tons of explosives that fell, three bombs fell on a church in Mosta, a city west of Valletta. Two of the bombs bounced off the side of the dome, a third went through the dome and landed on the floor, but none of them exploded.
The people of Malta endured sieges before, like when the Ottoman sultan Suleymane the Magnificent in 1565 sent thousands of troops to take Malta. But Jean de Vallette, who in 1566 founded Valletta as the leader of the Knights of St. John, repelled the Turkish invasion.
Since Malta has no oil wells, fuel and food were running low, and back in the days when American warships meant freedom, the people celebrated when they saw the Ohio, strapped between two warships, limping into Grand Harbor.
The three cities of Grand Harbor had to be completely rebuilt after the Nazi-Fascist bombing campaign. But the Maltese rebuilt the cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua on the same ancient street plan. Houses went up exactly where houses stood, churches were reconstructed on their old footprints.
Vittoriosa and its marina attract luxury yachts from all over the globe.
Walking around the three cities, I had no idea that Hitler and Mussolini flattened the area. It looked old and poor. Some streets are boarded up for blocks, so I figured it was just poverty. Every country has it.
And the forts and the British naval yards looked fine. A few days later, a postcard salesman in Valletta explained the destruction and the resurrection of the Three Cities.
Charley's friend George wore a U.S.S. Gonzalez baseball hat. In the Scotsman, a fish and chips and soccer and rugby bar in St. Julians, a party town 6 miles west of Valletta, a collection of U.S. Navy hats adorns the walls. No pimps hung out there. Only Brits, Scots and Irishmen and sailors of all stripes.
I'm not sure which place I liked better.