Malta is a collision of cultures at all times. It's always been like this -- this island has been taken over by just about everybody and they have all left their mark on the language, the food, even the genetic code. For me the most shocking collision is the one between the ultra-catholic Malta (the one I was told about growing up in Canada) and a place called Paceville (Patch-a-ville), an over-the-top club zone in the seaside town of St. Julians (above) where one bar spills into the next and out onto the sidewalk. They say Catholic cities have more fun, but the extremes of Paceville make that phrase a holy understatement.
On an island as unique as Malta, Paceville is a genuine European Nowhere, a Rohypnol wasteland where the kissing never stops. You can hear it blocks away, like a giant Eurobeat jackhammer machine, the bass from one club booming out into the street and mixing with that of adjacent club. Sometimes the volume on the street itself is club level and you have to yell to be heard. It's all lit with old school neon lights over the clubs and various food kiosks. I call it Malta Blade Runner because it so closely resembles that landmark film's dystopic aesthetic, minus the helicopters and robots. It's Malta, but it isn't, and there are people from all corners of the EU working some angle here, making whatever money they can squeeze out of the sidewalks.
A woman without much clothes on asked if I was a spy one night when I was taking pictures. I said no. Where are you from you don't sound British? I'm from Toronto. Where? Canada. Ah, she said with her Russian accent. I'm Pilipino and my family lives in Canada. Where, I asked? I don't know, the city I think. Yes. She didn't give me one of the flyers she was being paid to hand out (only to men, I noticed, as she drifted back into the crowd) so I don't know what angle she was on. But there are lots.
Most clubs have open fronts, but are chilled inside by powerful air conditioners that produce a blizzard of cold air powered by 240 volts of expensive British-style oil fired electricity generated on the other side of the island. I certainly didn't drink enough cheap beer to pay for the amount of cold air I used up, but the other patrons likely made up for it.
I've been to other clublands in other cities, but none are as open and fluid as Paceville. In Toronto's clubland there are crowds on the streets but each club or bar is a separate experience with no easy flow from one to another. The public and private divide is nearly invisible here, as bottles and glasses are taken out of one bar and into another and drinks can be finished on the street. Paceville is full of tourists and loads of ESL students stationed in Malta, but also Maltese themselves.
The clubs are big and small and they all have an individual DJ playing the Eurobeat (that seems to repeat every half hour or so) who get on the mic occasionally and work the crowd into a frenzy. "Is Romania in the house tonight!?" Yeah! Gozo? UK? Dubai? Yes, they were all there. A lot of these DJs look and sound like British Ex Pats. If you've seen It's all gone Pete Tong
you'll know this particular breed of aging, well tanned fellow with the wrinkled skin and cocaine face. However, Malta is not Ibiza, so imagine a non-superstar version of Pete Tong, without the entourage, money or fame. It was one of these guys that announced a "Happy 14th Birthday" for a girl one night in a club and then go on to to sing "who loves testicles?" over the music -- both of which we took as a signals to leave as quickly as possible. In other clubs giant plasma TV's show CNN Situation Room coverage of an earthquake in Southern California while the crowd shouts along with whatever Euro-anthem was playing. On Saturday night, at a club built like a prehistoric cave, perfectly sculpted Olympic athletes worked the pummel horse in High Definition while the sweaty mass underneath smoked and drank the super cheap alcohol and sort-of danced, but mostly raised their hands above their heads and/or groped each other. The sacred and the profane, making each look more extreme.
The proximity of very different spaces in Paceville is most amazing. Just off the 3 or 4 blocks of wasteland are nice restaurants that serve food late and luxury hotels where multi-million dollar yachts dock in human-made coves. Paceville -- and Malta in general -- is truly urban as these can coexist so close to each other.
By day Paceville is relatively quiet, with most of the clubs closed and workers power spraying the vomit and sweat and smeg into the drains, while people head to the beach to nurse hangovers in the killer sun, getting ready for another night, followed by another night, and another…Note: Night pictures taken on a "quiet" Tuesday evening. Cross posted on Spacing Toronto.