I had never even heard of Malta and yet I found myself on the island in the summer of my twenty-fifth year. I arrived almost by accident — I was living in my native country of Canada and my neighbour relocated to London. She invited me for a ‘beach holiday’ in Gozo to visit her retired parents. I had just finished my incredibly demanding and challenging undergraduate degree, I quit my handful of part-time jobs, and I had left a long term relationship a few months prior. I was young and free and ready to shed who I was and have an adventure.
I spent three weeks under the hot July sun in Gozo (the temperatures that summer were on record). I was enchanted by the dusty island and its quiet solitude. I took long dips in the sea at Xlendi and Hondoq; I drank bottles of Cisk for pocket change; I ate too many pastizzi and gorged myself on the delicious food on offer. I learned how to make Ħobż biż-Żejt and acquired a taste for the local tomato. I took many photographs, each one reminding me how far away from home I was; how different this culture is from my own.
And then one evening, I met a man. I had seen him in Gozo at the festa of San Gorg and was immediately drawn to him. I cannot describe it in any other way except to say that it was electric, magnetic, and incredibly surprising. I did not have the chance to speak to him — he was on one side of the pjazza and I was on the other — but I knew, viscerally, that he was significant. I do not know if I believe in love at first sight and I do not know if it was a ‘connection’, but that night, there was a pulse beating from him directly into my heart.
Thankfully, destiny stepped in and I saw him again in Malta one week later. Although Malta is small and this may not seem notable, it is — there were many factors that should have prevented us from being in the same place at the same time, and yet, we were. When I saw him I remember there was a shimmer around him, maybe from the wine or perhaps from the magic of meeting one another again and for the first time.
A few days later I left Malta and returned to Canada, but I knew I had left a part of myself on that island. I remembered the way he moved and how he laughed, I remembered the shape of his smile. Now just flashes written upon my memory. Two weeks later I found myself on another plane, flying the same path back to that man.
We spent seventeen days together: learning about each other and about our cultures. I think we intrigued each other — we had different opinions, different influences, different traditions and perspectives. We challenged each other in ways that we had not experienced in prior relationships: I am Canadian and he is Maltese.
He showed me the island and I saw it with fresh eyes, his eyes. He was the island’s ambassador and I was the tentative explorer. We went for lunches and dinners, so much of what we did revolved around food. Pizzas in small villages on the Southern tip, cappuccino's and pastries in Sliema and St. Julian’s, forkfuls of Cassata Siciliana at seaside restaurants; famous pastizzi in Rabat. Food punctuated our conversations and our courtship. And I started to learn and understand the prominent role of food and eating within the Maltese community.
Now, five years later, I am living in Malta permanently with my Maltese man and our daughter. Writing these words and remembering how we met it now feels surreal, like a story spun from gold as opposed to the narrative of my life. Although I still have pangs of homesickness, I feel peaceful and settled in the life we have made here in Malta.
Food continues to be an important part of our daily lives, but gone are the days when I indulged in pasta and pizza and Maltese bread with every meal. Since becoming a mother and learning of my daughter’s food sensitivities to wheat and gluten, I have discovered a new way to eat and enjoy food. Avoiding wheat while living in the Mediterranean — where wheat is a staple of the diet — may seem like an anomaly, but I have learned that I am not the only one. There is a small, but growing community of individuals on the island who are changing the way that they eat.
My parter has adopted my alternative cooking practices — he does not eat any wheat at home, but will occasionally treat himself when he is out. We agree that since we have cut down on wheat we have more energy and feel less bloated. We eat in solidarity with our daughter who cannot have any wheat in her diet. We indulge in local, seasonal vegetables fresh from the farmer. We eat rice, quinoa, lentils, and sprouts in abundance. Local and Italian poultry and meats from the butcher; and cheese from across Europe and beyond.
It is not always easy to change, it can be very hard, even impossible. What has always been a unique and important part of our binational relationship is our individual ability to explore, experiment, and adapt to each other’s different cultural position. We each bring something unique to the table, whether it is a new perspective or a fresh and healthy meal.