Those still living should bring umbrellas

Last October, a journalist in Malta was killed by car bomb. Daphne Caruana Galizia had a host of leads and evidence against Maltese politicians and powerbrokers, unraveling webs of corruption they were perpetuating. Like, for example, did you know Malta sells “golden passports”, basically a quick path to EU citizenship for a fee. (I read that and was like, oooooh, how much? But it’s 650,000€ so don’t get too excited.) She had persuasive evidence this program is obviously sketchy, as well as fuel smuggling and sketchy links to the first family of Azerbaijan.

I remember reading about this murder in a local newspaper when I was in Malta over Christmas. I remember it so distinctly too. It was a Sicilian-style bakery and bar where I got a nutella-filled croissant or a sweet cream-filled sfogliatella and a cappuccino every morning. I saw the paper folded on the table one day, in English, not Italian or Maltese, and while waiting for my friend to meet me I decided to read. Because I like to think of myself as a person who supports local journalism (because I’m pretentious).

It was a crazy and fascinating story, like something out of political thriller. It was pretty clear that her murder had been ordered by politicians or crime bosses, the people she had been investigating. This was acknowledged (or at least implied) in the newspaper I was reading, even though politicians routinely denied any involvement or dragging their feet on the investigation. But like a six-month-old baby, once I left Malta the story was out of sight, out of mind. Until I saw this article pop up in my daily news feed a few weeks ago.

A big part of travel writing is talking about a place you visited like you took some sort of profound understanding away from your short time there. But we’re kidding ourselves. Sure, I went and took lots of pictures of Maltese street art, but what did I understand about it? Was there graffiti about Daphne Caruana Galizia  (soon to be removed at the behest of the government) whose meaning totally escaped me?

If we want to “citizens of the world” (a moniker I see on many a travel blogger’s profile), we can no longer play dumb to the problems of the world. If we want to be global, cosmopolitan sophisticates, we have to consider the places we visit as real places whose problems should concern us, whose problems are more important than our own desires for a good selfie in front of a Instagram hotspot.


I’m posting this on the morning of the US midterm elections–well, morning for the US, for me in China it’s already the following day. I hope we are all learning to be better citizens, of our own communities and of the world. And I really fucking hope this election turns out better than the last.


The title of this post, “those still living should bring umbrellas” is from a poem by Wisława Szymborska: “The Day After—Without Us”

9 Replies to “Those still living should bring umbrellas”

  1. Interesting thoughts here. I remember that piece of news so well. Before I got pregnant, I was entertaining the thought of applying for a translating job I saw that was in Malta. I’ve never been there but it looked nice in tourist pics and it’s warm there so that was good enough! Then after deciding not to apply, I read about this murder (a car bomb, right?) and was appalled. Sure, these things happen everywhere, not just Malta. But it shattered my illusion of a cozy nice holiday island. Real life existed there, too. No escaping life’s cruelty and the wrongs of the world.
    Another thing I thought of when reading your post is how I just saw a travel program on TV today where an American woman, the presenter/reporter/pro traveler, was visiting a rural area in India. She was telling the viewers of a local ritual of pouring milk on a stone as an offering. She lined up to get the milk and then poured it while talking to the camera and then did a few “namaste” bows.
    It looked so hypocritical to me. Maybe I’m just too cynical for that stuff. But come on! She has no in-depth knowledge of the locals, that ritual or their beliefs. Why do these travel presenters always have to participate in every obscure ritual they see? The ritual’s meaning to them is nothing like its meaning to the locals, who must be thinking this foreigner is a pretty weird wannabe. It’s just distasteful in ways that would take up too much space in this comment to detail. To sum it up: pretentious. Ugh.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, it really broke the perfect tourism bubble for me too, because almost everything I had seen online about Malta was sponsored travel bloggers.
      I agree, its weird when people do that. It’s like, they HAVE to involve themselves, they can’t even let the people speak for their own culture. It’s weird. I much more appreciate the Anthony Bourdain style of travel presenting.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Very very good point! It reminds me of people in Algarve distributing leaflets about a petition against off-shore drilling there which could potentially destroy the sea and the beaches tourists so much enjoy…

    Liked by 1 person

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