(This is a 5- to 6-minute read.)
“One’s impossible, two is dreary/Three is company, safe and cheery.” –– Steven Sondheim, from the musical Company, “Side by Side by Side”
I went to Malta with my friends Larry and Gerri. Whenever I say their names together like that, it sounds to me as though I’m talking about a cartoon duo. And when you’ve gotten to know your friends well over the years, they start to seem––as do family––a bit like cartoons of themselves: you’ve seen enough episodes that you know how they’ll behave in most situations.
I’ve been “the third” to many couples in my life. I don’t recall ever feeling like “a third wheel.” If anything, I felt like a welcome distraction. I agree with Sondheim––two can feel like an inescapable rut. I’m often quite content as one, but traveling is best enjoyed with others, I think. I like the fluidity of the dynamics among three––it’s a constantly shifting two-to-one that always seeks a new balance.
I think of our trip to Malta less as a cartoon, though, and more as a favorite episode of The Three Stooges, with a title like one of their highest-rated episodes––”They Stooge to Conga.” Occasionally, figuratively, we smacked each other upside the head, but more often than not, we cracked ourselves up. Larry composed a little ditty, which befits the Stooges comparison:
We happy three
We sainted, untainted yet scrappy three
We’re e’er do wells
Not ne’er do wells
We’ve been to Malta, can’t you tell?
Relax, Cole Porter, I think your legacy is safe. But Larry is particularly proud of “e’er do wells,” and you have to admit it’s clever to describe a trio of swells like us. (Personally, I think Cole would have gone for the anti-grammatical rhyme of “can’t you tells?”)
The first major sight we saw in Malta was the Lascaris War Rooms. Malta was among the most heavily bombed places in Europe during World War II. These were the underground headquarters of the British forces on Malta, from which they tracked incoming enemy bombers.
Our guide was… let’s say… a “generously midriffed” Englishman (not that I’m casting any stones from my own glass waistline) with a dry sense of humor; the kind of guy who makes a sarcastic joke without ever smiling.
Right before the guided tour, I caught Larry and Gerri where I thought they blended perfectly with their backgrounds.
One of the things I loved about traveling with Larry and Gerri was their willingness to spontaneously go off-plan when something intriguing arose. Coming out of Mass at St. John’s Co-Cathedral––where we came close to being the only three people over the age of 60 ever to be expelled from a Catholic mass––we encountered a troupe of bass-players, performing outside the Cathedral. They were students of the instrument, gathered for the Malta Double Bass Days––a workshop for players of all ages and levels.
As luck would have it, they were giving a concert that night at the University of Malta, right around the corner from our hotel. How could we not go? I’m sure we were the only people who were not family or friends of the performers, but we cheered as boisterously as any proud parent for the students from around the world, who’d come to improve their skills.
Our favorite was a local boy named Giuseppe, who was the youngest of the group, and who performed the first solo pieces. When the director announced that Giuseppe was six years old, Giuseppe interjected ––and a half! (I vaguely remember some distant era when a half a year made an important difference in my age.) Whether it was due to that half-year or not, Giuseppe totally rocked, plucking out the double-bass-repertoire equivalent of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. His parents sat in front of us and were glowing with pride and joy.
One of our more adventuresome adventures was the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour of Gozo, the second largest island of the Malta archipelago. It wasn’t clear before arriving in Malta exactly how one got to Gozo. Inevitably, a ferry had to be involved. Reviews on Trip Advisor consistently warned that one company managed all the trips, and that it was basically total chaos.
Without going into the gory details, suffice it to say that by the time we were on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus that toured Gozo, there was no time to hop off anywhere––not even to grab a snack, much less lunch––before we had to be back at the ferry dock to return to the island of Malta. The bus made one mandatory stop at a tomato-processing outlet, where you could buy various products, tomatoes being a big crop on Gozo. I bought a small jar of a tasty sun-dried tomato spread. The joke––which a British couple we befriended who were sitting behind us on the bus overheard and enjoyed––was that we’d bought the Hop-On Hop-Off tour and only got to hop off for a jar of tomato paste.
For the most part, the three of us exalted in or endured our various adventures together. Once after a long day, Gerri declined a dinner out, and Larry and I made our way to a kind of touristy food court not far from our hotel, where we had really good Italian pizza and some decent wine.
On the other side of this table, I’m raising my Nero D’Avola to my traveling companions, who were the real reason this was such a fun trip. As Larry liked to joke with a fake Russian toast whenever we clinked glasses––Garagekey!