Seven O'clock in the evening is a good time to head off up the road and find a nice place to relax in with a beer to hand.
Our ship had just arrived in Malta and we would have this one night to visit the town and to see what it was all about. Only two of us went ashore and we went with neither clue nor idea about where to go, what to see or even what the local currency was. As a seafarer I know from experience that the best place to get information about a city or place is in a bar, and I also know that nearly every bar near a port will take US dollars.
And Malta being Malta would most likely accept UK Pounds or Euros in exchange for a beer or two.
We stepped off that ship and we walked up the hill. We walked for miles and many more and never once did we see a bar. My companion having no compunction about asking the way stopped many passersby and asked them where a bar was and in each turn they gesticulated violently up one hill or another, across or round piazzas until we had traipsed the whole of the area and arrived back to where we had started.
For one and a half hours we had traipsed the streets of Malta and we where drooling at the mouth. At this point we decided to head back to the only place that had shown signs of life, a sort of cinema complex in the middle of nowhere. And there a kindly girl pointed us in the right direction. One hour late and parched we eventually arrived at our destination.
Funnily enough had we turned left instead of right when leaving the vessel we would have hit downtown Malta and the active night life but .........another story.
The Bamboo Cage Bar
The first signs of the bar being in existence was a dull glow from this half shuttered doorway and a swinging neon sign that creaked ominously and uninvitingly. Peering inside and adjusting our eyes to the single ten-watt bulb that hung dangerously low from the ceiling it was ascertained that the Bamboo Cage Bar was in fact a Bar and that it was open for business after all.
Two Customers sat at a table by the door. Ignoring our entrance they sat hunched over their glasses of beer and puffed smoke into a cloud that already hung dangerously low. A discussion of the nights take, drug pushers taking a break or just two friends catching up on life, who knows. They certainly were not interested in us.
The bar was tiny, three tables at the door, a little bar at the back with three stools crammed against it, a store room of minuscule dimensions and a fridge against one wall that incongruously housed a selection of candy bars and packets of chips. A tiny passage at the back led off to a toilet that had not seen a scrubbing brush in many a decade and to a notice about a dog that had large teeth ?V the dog itself must have been on holiday. The whole area was cast in shadows of dingy browns and yellowed stained walls as the ten watt bulb struggled to pass light along.
A few square meters of drinking space - eight drinkers would have been a crowd.
The bar resembled a prison cell of a man, cast away on an Island for many a year with only himself to communicate with. A coat of paint would have done wonders to the bar but then that would have destroyed the works of an unknown writer/artist who had adorned every available space with emotion. All the walls had graffiti scrawled in endless streams on top of the remnants of yellowed paint that had once been white. The bar itself was adorned with thousands of pieces of cardboard with hastily written notices to the public and the spaces filled in between with further graffiti sprouting words of wisdom and attack on society. Every space except the ceiling and floor had words of attack on customers, on life and on Malta and the politicians. Memories of a lost life intermingled with hastily written poems of love, and tributes to loved ones who died in battle sat silently next to warnings of death should one not pay for their beer.
This bar did not rise in a day this was the work of years!
My arms are old and tired from brushing floors and cleaning up the ****** ashtraysØ said one notice that actually had some meaning behind it. And in accordance with this requirement it seemed as if the floor had remained un-swept and the ashtrays glued with time to the table tops. You ask me for tax on my car, you want tax for my house, you want money for my bar and more for just living ..........how can I get money if you keep on taking it away from me??Ø This one presumably meant for the government went on in a weeping mode and one filled with self-pity. He died fighting, a young boy of twenty and left a mother behind, did you have to take him awayØ, was scrawled next to........
You can beat me but not defeat me. Hit me and kick me and I will not fight back, but I don?¦t care, my heart will keep on goingØ. This one in answer to somebody that had beaten him up whilst trying to steal from his bar (he told us this later).
The Author Barman
The barman heard me reading one of the ??writings?¦ to my companion and he chuckled in delight. And so our attention turned to him. A wizened little man of about seventy or so: unshaven and doddery and keen to talk. He told us that he was from Malta but had spent 27yrs working in London in everything from bus driving to house painting but had returned to Malta to prevent himself being carted off to jail ?V he had taken (kidnapped his children) to get away from a terror wife.
He talked about Malta as we sipped away on our Cisko Beer (Malta?¦s own brew), he talked about the life as it is today on the Island, the large drug scene, the love that Maltese have for politics and that most of the younger generation leave Malta when they are old enough and in search of work. He would have still been in London had his wife not turned nasty! He talked in stuttering English that had turned rusty over the years, a language only used now in his graffiti for all to read except those from Malta who never learnt English.
Old, wise and cackling away is how I remember him.
His graffiti skills where born many years ago when he first opened up this broom cupboard bar. And it was all a side effect of alcohol, too much of it and an unrequited frustration for the world at large. He initially started writing small notices to try and keep his back street bar in order: gentler versions of the ashtray warning having long since turned into larger and more vehement postings. Then after endless trouble caused by drunken youths his anger and his etchings became lengthier and more prominent, traversing from little pieces of cardboard to large signs and then to the black marker pen graffiti on the walls. And as time went on and more drunken nights ensued he would fortify himself with alcohol and the walls slowly became tributes to the written word and to whatever problems or thoughts had stuck in his addled mind - long after the doors had locked for the night.
I mentioned to this wizened writer that seeing as how the walls were nearly filled from top to bottom that he should start on the ceiling. This part of the bar could have done with some attention as the paint was all but gone and the remaining flakes occasionally floating down to land in ones beer. He had though stopped writing years ago after one fateful night when he was balanced drunkenly on a table top, trying to relieve himself of built up thoughts. The table gave way and he ended up in hospital with a broken leg. After that accident he decided to hang up his pen for good and to lay his bitterness to rest. He told us, have said it all, there is nothing left to sayØ.
His past bitterness was by no mean apparent in his conversations, he was in fact a very happy man and content to while away the evening with us. At one point when I asked if a certain item was five dollars he broke up into cackles of laughter and bent up double in mirth. Turns out that my five dollars should have been five cents, not so funny to us but he got good value from the mistake.
The rest of the evening......
Well, that was the Bamboo Cage Bar. My friend and I stopped there for three beers before heading on down town for a more civilized drink in a more up market place. Our kindly barman pointed us in the right direction for a taxi to take us there and we made our escape.
Funnily enough we happened to pass his establishment on the way back to our ship. He was busy trying to shut the door against the weight of a sozzled ex-customer who had trouble standing up and as he smiled so happily upon seeing us we decided to have a last beer with him. We further made his day by spending all of our remaining Maltese Pounds on Candy Bars from his fridge must have been the largest daily intake that he had ever had.
It was this last visit to the bar that brought an answer to something that had been niggling away at my mind since I had first seen that swinging neon sign that promised so little yet held so much. Why is the name of the bar The Bamboo Cage Bar?
Standing at the bar and sipping the last of the Cisko Beer I happened to glance downwards and there covering the bar side where many sticks of bamboo. I had not noticed them before as age had turned them from light brown and supple shoots to dark brown matchsticks with all the gaps filled in with cigarette ash, dirt and grime from the years of service. The spaces were filled in so completely that the surface of this bar covering was almost flat. All those years ago this covering would have stood out and might have been the center piece to the bar. But time had cured that and without peering closely one might never know why the Bamboo Cage bar was named thus.
I do still wonder why anybody would have a Hawaiian themed bar in the middle of Malta but that I may never know.
Tags: Travels Tourism