The sun rises on a beautiful Sunday morning in winter over the Sliema seaside promenade on the east coast of Malta. It looks heavenly. On this pavement, I have run a thousand times, probably many more than that, before my body said, “Enough!” Early morning, late evening, any time in between, rain, shine, baking hot or rough and windy, and on one memorable occasion at 1 a.m. as I couldn’t sleep because of jet lag…

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A blissful scene. Quiet. Serene.

Well, no, not really. Even on a Sunday morning it’s already too noisy with traffic. Turning 120 degrees to the right you will see cranes, in the plural. And I’m not referring to birds, but to the construction variety.

It’s a good illustration of Malta. My country. I grew up in it and it grew in me, making me what I am. As long as I’m alive, it would be impossible to extricate the one from the other, even while I reside in a distant land. Which is probably why I find it some aspects of it to be so exasperating and annoying.

Take those ridiculous creatures, so common, trying to impress us about how well off they are by driving around in huge powerful cars. These vehicles could accelerate to 200 kph in 5 seconds or something like that. The problem is that the maximum speed limit in Malta is 80 kph, and in most places it’s either 60 or less. The longest uninterrupted stretch of road is barely 2 km. And even where you could legally drive at 80 kph, traffic is so congested that the giant SUV, sleek Ferrari or whatever would need to wait behind a truck laden with building blocks, chugging forward at 30 kph while belching black smoke at the SUV. Or a rusty Ford Anglia manufactured in 1963, which only God knows how it passed its yearly roadworthiness test. Or behind another SUV stuck in a traffic jam…

For a split second, an opening clears up making it possible for our rich expensive vehicle owner to accelerate to 100 kph (in 3 seconds) only to be forced to stop after 120 metres behind a concrete mixer truck. Then, after 2 or 3 years on the road, the BMW or whatever loses three quarters of its market value, tens of thousands of euros mixing up with the black fumes from the concrete mixer truck and vanishing into thin air.

Visitors and holidaymakers condescendingly find this endearing and “quirky”. There you go – a polite version of my exact description above, exasperating and annoying.

 

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