by wjw on June 1, 2023

A local goddess relaxes before her temple.

{ 1 comment }


by wjw on May 31, 2023

There are a surprisingly large number of Michelin-starred restaurants on Malta. Despite my devotion to gastronomy, I’d never eaten at a restaurant with a Michelin star, and I thought it was about time I did. So even though I knew that Kathy and I were going to be facing a week of very large and probably very tasty meals on the boat, I decided to make the experiment.

Of the various restaurants available, I picked Ion, because its rivals featured Mediterranean cuisine, while Ion showcased Maltese ingredients. It was our last night on Malta, and our last chance to enjoy any unique flavors the island might provide.

To my surprise, we got seats on less than 24 hours notice. Apparently Tuesday is a slow night in Malta. I did have to provide a credit card number to guarantee our seats, and if I’d canceled I would have paid a hefty fine.

Ion turns out to be on the top floor of a hotel, with gorgeous views of the harbor. As we dined, we watched the sun set over the island, turning the walled city to gold.

Ion is “by” Simon Rogan, whose other restaurants are in the Lake District of England, including l’Enclume, which has no less than three Michelin stars. Should I ever find myself in Cumbria . . .

There was a 12-dish tasting menu for a reasonable 135 Euros per person, though of course once you pay for the service, the cocktails, the wine pairings, and the extra-special caviar for two the price does go up. Because we were only going to do this once, we shelled out for everything.

We had one— server?— who wasn’t so much a waiter as an attentive guide who steered us through the meal, and of course the sommelier stood by just in case we needed enlightenment about the wine. (He favored somewhat green unoaked whites, which worked well with the fresh-tasting food.)

None of the plates held a lot of food, but there were still a dozen, and like the prices they added up, and by the end of the evening I felt quite full.

Here we have “aerated pea with asparagus from Gozo, calamint and smoked roe.” Very fresh and bright, though since peas were in season I was offered them with practically every meal over the next week, and after a while I began to actively avoid them.

I didn’t love every dish, but I disliked none. Even those that fell a bit flat seemed like worthy experiments.

One favorite was “large white pork and eel doughnut, cured fat and own blend caviar.” The cured fat was in the form of a thin transparent caul that sat atop the dish and melted to provide a coating of luxuriant flavor for the tongue.

After a while I began to get an idea of the chefs’ methods, which takes full advantage of the fact that you can ship food all over the world fast enough that it arrives tasting fresh. So the dish that featured “scallops from Orkney, chamomile, buttermilk, and smoked pike perch roe” features one element flown in from Scotland, the pike perch roe from some freshwater source north of the Med, and the rest probably local. Combine flavors from enough far-away places and you can come up with a dish that has literally never been tasted before.

The final three courses were desserts. Because why not?

We rolled out of the restaurant with a feeling of content.

(And you can stop feeling jealous now, because the next morning Kathy tested positive for COVID and our whole trip went to shit.)

{ 1 comment }

Launch Day!

by wjw on May 30, 2023

A new audiobook launches today!

The Praxis Triad consists of all the short fiction from my Praxis series, read by the dulcet Stefan Rudnicki. Because the stories were published by different publishers they’ll never be together in print, but here they are together in audio format.

And Impersonations isn’t even short fiction— technically, at over 50,000 words, it’s a novel. So you get a novel, plus two stories, for the cost of three stories.

It’s a bargain! Find it wherever fine audio books are sold!

{ 1 comment }

The Beginning of History

by wjw on May 29, 2023

Ħaġar Qim

So now we get to the chief reason I wanted to go to Malta in the first place: to view the gigantic stone monuments found on the island.

There is nothing like them anywhere else. They were built out of the local limestone roughly 3500-2500 BCE— before the Pyramids, before Stonehenge. They are right smack at the beginning of history. Until the recent discovery of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, these were believed to be the oldest freestanding monuments in the world.

I have a deep fascination with the Neolithic and the sorts of things people did and believed. Their belief systems seem alien and impenetrable, but yet they were a deeply practical people— they knew how to build all those monuments, for one thing.

No good story ideas have come out of this yet, but I live in hope.

There are two kinds of monuments to be found on Malta: temples and hypogeums, which are underground burial complexes that held thousands of human bones. I managed to view the two temples closest to Valetta: Ħaġar Qim and Tarxien.

The temples are all within sight of the sea, and built to a standard design: you enter through a large trilithon gate into an open space, from which you can proceed to a number of lobe-shaped chambers, usually three but sometimes more. The temples also have an astronomical function, with the sun intended to enter the temple at the equinox or solstice. Unlike other megalithic monuments, where the builders went to considerable trouble to arrange the stones to provide a passage for sunlight, the builders here just knocked holes in the already-standing stones to let the light in, as seen in the central stone above.

The temples had roofs of wood or of skins, which have not survived.

The shafts of light are directed onto various slabs of limestone which presumably had significance to the builders, however meaningless they are to us. Possibly there was something else there, an idol or other special object, but most of the monuments weren’t excavated properly so we may never know.

Note the incredibly smooth floor

Excavations began in the early 19th century, when archaeology was far from a mature discipline. Most were excavated by local enthusiasts, in some cases by neighboring farmers. They discovered massive amounts of artifacts, then took them home, and eventually lost track of them. Even the more professional digs didn’t understand about context, so if they found an artifact they may have recorded it, but they wouldn’t record where it was found in relation to anything else. One professional archaeologist headed a dig, then decided to become a missionary in Tunisia and left without publishing his discoveries.

The result is that we’re missing a lot.

The principle deity worshipped at the temples seems to have been hermaphroditic, or perhaps completely asexual. The being’s lower body is that of a highly exaggerated female, with enormous thighs, buttocks, stomach, and hips. The upper body seems to be male, with equally exaggerated features, and without breasts. Because of the superficial resemblance to “Venus figurines” found in Europe and Eurasia, archaeologists originally thought the Maltese were part of the widespread mother-goddess cult they were then inclined to believe existed, but it’s now appearing that Maltese religion was original to the island.

Many scattered animal bones indicate animal sacrifice was an element of the religion. There are no human bones found in the temples.

The standing stones, which weigh tons, were rolled to the site while riding cannonball-shaped stones that acted like ball bearings. The rolling stones are still scattered around the temples where they were abandoned when their job was done.

A short distance away was the Hypogeum of Ħal Saflieni, which I very much wished to see, but apparently tickets are limited. This is an underground burial complex that contained the remains of 7-8000 people. Originally the bodies were deposited whole into the structure, but later the hypogeum became used as an ossuary, with the bodies being dismembered, and skulls stored in one place while femurs were stored elsewhere, etc.

Examination of the remains shows that most of the Maltese came from Sicily, with a large minority originating in Africa. There are no signs of conflict between whatever groups existed— no city walls, no warrior burials, no weapons. The locals got along, and the islands were too difficult for outsiders to invade.

Some of the later burials show sign of genetic disease, so possibly there was too much inbreeding going on.

The temples and other sites were used for a thousand years, and then abandoned. They weren’t destroyed, but left to the elements. The Maltese gave up on their religion, presumably because it had stopped working for them. The current theory is that environmental degradation resulted in reduced crop yields and produced a shrinking and sickening population. There was 50% infant mortality, which argues that conditions got pretty dire.

The original population was succeeded by a Bronze Age culture that built a few dolmens and vanished. Nothing much happened until the Phoenicians conquered the place in the 8th Century BCE.

But underground, buried in rubble, the great monuments waited. For us lucky few, as it turns out.

{ 1 comment }


by wjw on May 28, 2023

A monument to the inventor of the minidress.



May 27, 2023

A sight of St. John’s cathedral in Valetta is enough to sear the eyes right out of your skull. The style adopted for the interior was Go-For-Baroque, with enough gold, marble, and brilliant color to rival a fever dream of John of Patmos (as opposed to John the Baptist, for whom the cathedral is actually […]

Read the full article →

Behind the Walls

May 26, 2023

First, an update. Kathy’s finally come home after 13 days in COVID jail in a hotel room in Malta. And I’ve got a cold, which tests insist isn’t COVID, so two cheers for me. But enough of the depressing stuff. Let’s talk about the good things. We spent a few days on Malta before Kathy […]

Read the full article →

Well Damn

May 25, 2023

The world has lost Tina Turner. She had a career that lasted over 50 years and even in the new millennium she was still one of the hardest-working acts in the business. (She danced for how many hours? And in those heels?) Here she is at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, […]

Read the full article →

Worst. Trip. Ever.

May 19, 2023

After 24 hours in planes and airports I’ve returned from the Med, jetlagged, miserable, in considerable pain, and without Kathy. This trip sucked. Bad luck struck on my first day in Valetta, when I tripped on a marble stair and seriously damaged my right knee. The heavy frames on my sunglasses blocked my view of […]

Read the full article →

Cast Ashore

May 8, 2023

So after 30 hours in airports and aircrafts, we finally washed up on the shores of Malta.   Here is a photo of Valetta Harbor at night, taken from our hotel. Valetta was named after Jean Parisot de la Valette, Grand Master of the Knights of St. John, who defended the island during the Ottoman siege. […]

Read the full article →

Contact Us | Terms of User | Trademarks | Privacy Statement

Copyright © 2010 WJW. All Rights Reserved.