You know how I’ve been struggling to figure out what exactly this newsletter should be? If you do know, then thanks! You’re one of the reasons my open rate is surprisingly decent.
Recently, it came to me. I am a travel and food writer. So, I’ll make it about travel and food.
Starting now, I’m calling this newsletter “Next Stop.” I’m going to share snippets from my travels, usually involving food, and finish with a quick round-up of any work that’s been published recently. (A writer’s gotta promote, ya know.)
Now before I ramble too far off on a tangent––I know me––let’s slide into the window seat, look out over the Mediterranean, and check out Malta.
You’d think I’d be better at journaling, being a writer and all. But I’m not. At best, I bring it along for the ride and scribble some notes before it finds its way back into my suitcase for the rest of the trip, like a one-use kitchen gadget shoved into the corner to collect dust.
Malta was different. I wrote. A lot. Something like 8,145 words… If I were counting. Below are a few snippets from the trip.
Chris is as warm and affable as you’d expect in a food tour guide. He’s come prepared for our food tour of the Maltese capital, Valletta, with water bottles in his backpack for guests, but more importantly, he’s carrying our first bites of the tour––pastizzi. These flaky morsels of deliciousness contain either ricotta or mushy peas. The ricotta, Chris explains, is the Arabic influence of the island. The mushy peas are a more recent addition, gleaned from the island’s British rulers during that final run of colonialism.
I take a bite of the ricotta first, the butter shining on my fingertips as flakes of the phyllo escape into the wind.
“Pastizzi is the plural, but I would never order a ‘Pastizz’ because it’s slang for a dumbass,” Chris explains with a smile as I nosh into the perfect block of ricotta. He also notes the diamond shape of the Maltese breakfast item that would, let’s just say, make Georgia O’Keefe proud.
Between the two, Chris prefers the pastizzi with mushy peas. I have to agree. I find it slightly more savory with a hint of curry flavor. But at the end of the day, I’d happily take either one.
The Original Squid Game
Later, Chris walks us over to the Grandmaster Palace Courtyard for a bit of history between bites. It’s a scene that will look familiar to anyone who’s traveled to a European square, place, piazza, Platz, or plaza.
Chris’ interest in the courtyard, though, is in a hole in the ground covered by an opaque casing. It was where they used to raise their maypole. Maypoles were used in traditional European festivals. But the Grand Master, which has a strangely KKK ring to an American ear, used it for what Chris calls the original Squid Games.
He shows us drawings depicting the scene. Every year, the maypole would be outfitted with food left out to taunt impoverished Maltese. (It’s important to note that the knights running the joint weren’t actually Maltese.) The maypole became a sadistic game whereupon the Grand Master’s order, people could climb the maypole and keep whatever they got a hold of. Naturally, this often led to serious injury and even death when falling from such heights.
One year, Chris explains, the Grand Master was taking his sweet time to come out onto his balcony to proclaim the beginning of these, well, Squid Games. Impatient and desperate, people started climbing the maypole. The Grand Master hears the commotion and comes out, furious to see that people started the festivities without his command. So, he orders them executed and a massacre ensues.
You might wonder what the Grand Master was doing that kept him from starting his sadistic game on time. Attending to important matters of state? Taking care of his children? Helping an old lady cross the street?
None of the above. Chris reveals that the Grand Master was supposedly in the midst of an orgy. (Committing a massacre surely killed the mood of the orgy as well.)
And with that piece of twisted history rattling around our brains, we leave the courtyard in search of ftira––Maltese bread stuffed with tomato, tuna, and capers. We all need to get the bad taste of an orgy-turned-massacre out of our mouths.
A few things have gone up since you last heard from me. Here are those things.
I’ve got a couple of other pieces in the works; another on vegan Jewish deli and then a piece on kosher whisky. Stay tuned for those!
Oh, and if you want to let me know what you think about the new format, go for it.