National Geographic : 1969 Jun
Democracy's Fortress: Unsinkable Malta adopted it and brought it to Malta, when the island was a trading and stopping point on their Mediterranean voyages. Didi saw me looking at the eyes. "You like them? The youngsters don't put them on any more. Boats in Malta have always had eyes-I don't know why. To see their way, perhaps." He laughed. So great is the force of tradition in this is land that he had never queried why the boats have eyes on them. Generations of fishermen, son copying father, had perpetuated the Eye of Horus into the 20th century. Yet, even as we sat chatting, the midday jet flight from London was whining into Luqa airport, and automobile traffic thundered down the small road behind us. "Too many cars!" Didi grimaced. "The road is too small. Malta was made for donkeys and carts, not for all this traffic." The island has more cars per square mile than any nearby Mediterranean country. But despite this sign of well-being, Malta needs to bridge the economic gap opened by independ ence and the departure of the British. Look ing round St. Pauls Bay, I could see that the problem was being tackled imaginatively. New hotels stood along the rocky coast, and holiday villas clung to ledges. Powerboats, water-skiers, swimmers, and skin-divers com peted for space, and bright umbrellas and brown bodies dotted beaches like confetti. Tourism is creating a new prosperity. In 1965, the islands had 48,000 visitors; in 1968, more than 136,000. The archipelago now has some 110 hotels. Malta attracts permanent foreign residents Once again besieged, Malta braces for a welcome invasion by sun-seekers. Shipwrecked on the island in A.D. 60, St. Paul received "no little kindness" (Acts 28:2). Nineteen centuries later, the government has begun capitaliz ing on Malta's reputation for hospi tality, introducing it to the world as a new international holiday resort. Yachts festoon the harbor, and seaside villas ribbon the shores of St. Pauls Bay (left), a paradise for water-skiers. A short drive down the coast, sun bathers (right) scatter across a lime stone beach near Sliema Point. as well as tourists, for its low income tax is alluring. The climate is almost as appealing. Temperature in winter averages 55° F., and in summer ranges between 75° and 90°. Malta is best in spring. In summer it turns parched and sun baked, but in spring the acres of flowering clover are purple against the backdrop of the sea. Every nook and cranny bursts with color, the red soil fecund with crops and wild flowers. On the flat roofs of the houses pumpkins ripen in the sun. Ten-mile Trip Becomes an Expedition Island food offers a further inducement to visitors. One day my wife and I lunched in a new restaurant overlooking St. Pauls Bay. We started with lampuki, a firm-fleshed local fish, followed by baked macaroni pie andfraises des bois, tiny wild strawberries in cream, delicious Maltese bread, and sheep's-milk cheese ripened in black pepper and vinegar. The cost of the meal was about $2 each, and a bottle of good white Maltese wine added only about 25 cents. Sometimes when I lunch with Maltese friends we eat bebbux (beb-bush)-cooked snails served with a peppery sauce. Other island specialties are fried or stewed rabbit, and widow's soup, made with eggs, vegetables, cheese, and spaghetti. That afternoon we took the taxi of Salvo Scerri, a Vallettan who speaks good English, across the island to the farming town of Zur rieq and its nearby fishing hamlet, perched above the narrow inlet of Wied iz Zurrieq, where some of Salvo's relatives lived. Although the trip was less than 10 miles as the crow KODACHROMES ( N.G.S.