Underneath my yellow skin

Frailty, thy name is humidity

gorgeous humidity.
Beautiful, but deadly.

I am back from my week of fun in the sun, emphasis on sun. I went to Malta, Gozo more specifically, with my family and Ian, and it was an experience unlike any other. First of all, I have to get the elephant in the room out of the way.

The heat. More to the point, the heat and the humidity. It’s the summer in Gozo, and it’s the worst of the worst. More than one Gozitan commented that we had come to the island at the wrong time while looking as cool as a cucumber as I sweated a river down my body. My mom’s sandplay association had a conference and why they chose Malta during sweat o’clock time, I’ll never know.

Here’s the absolute worst part–we were staying at a Jesuit retreat center. That’s not the bad part–they were wonderful people. Very kindhearted and generous, which I’ll get to in a minute. The retreat center had no air conditioning. I repeat, the retreat center had no air. Now, if you know anything about me, you know that I HATE the heat. Hate it with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. Anything over sixty makes me cranky, and when it hits eighty, I’m a right bitch. In Gozo, the average temperature while we were there was high eighties with an 80% humidity. There were two large fans in the bedrooms, but all it did was move the hot air around. Ian and I kept the windows open (one in the bedroom and one in the bathroom), but it didn’t help much, either.

I couldn’t sleep in the heat. It was oppressive. I know that phrase is overused, but it was true. I never knew how much I took for granted that nighttime would bring about a cool and much-needed breeze. I love my air and pay fealty to it, but I reasoned I could live without it. I have. My air was broken at the beginning of this summer, right when we had a few days of 100 degrees. It was actually broken since last year, but the AC company told me to wait to fix it until April of this year so the warranty would last longer. Well, not longer, but you know what I mean. In April, we had a 1 1/2 – 2 feet snowstorm, so the last thing I was thinking about was my air conditioner.

Anyway, I suffered through it wearing as little as possible and blasting a big box fan right in my face. I moved as little as possible, and it was relief once the heat broke. My air was fixed a few weeks later, and I haven’t looked back yet. Naively, I thought if I could deal with that, then I could deal with Malta.

I could not have been more wrong.

The heat hit like a Mack truck the second I stepped on that island. It surrounded me like a shroud and grew incrementally tighter every second I was there. From the moment I woke up until the moment I went to sleep, it wrapped around me like a blanket and wouldn’t let go. Breakfast was at 8 a.m., lunch was at 12:30 p.m., and dinner was at 7:30 p.m. We got there last Tuesday, I want to say afternoon? It’s hard to remember because time was so convoluted in Malta. Anyway, my heart sank when I realized there was no A/C, but I naively thought I’d be able to deal with it on some level.

That’s a lie. I knew I would have trouble with the heat. I’m a wimp when it comes to heat–there’s no getting around it. I can’t even deal with Minnesota heat which is bush league in comparison to what I experienced in Gozo. I’d lay down in the heat around midnight, drenched in sweat, feeling miserable as I waited for sleep to find me. I had one fan blowing directly on my face, but it didn’t help. I was miserable and pissed off, but trying not to wallow in it–or my stench.

Sleep was not my friend during those nights. I’d sleep for maybe an hour or two, and then I’d wake up hot and sweaty. To make matters work, I didn’t fully understand how the toilet worked, and I have a thing about public toilets anyway, so by the fourth or fifth night, I was pretty much avoiding the bathroom in the bedroom and using the one in the center itself. Ian and I got into a fight over the toilet in our bathroom, and it’s in a large part because both of us were sleep-deprived and majorly cranky. I felt like everything was working my last nerve, and I had to actively hold back from snapping.

Ian and I would go out to smoke at three or four in the morning, and it would be minimally cooler. It was actually cooler outside the rooms than in, but, again, it was a matter of degrees. As in less than five. We’d stay outside as long as possible, and then return to the stifling room. We’d both try to sleep, but it was nearly impossible. My sleep is shit in general, but in Malta, it got even worse. It hit Ian even harder than me, and I don’t think either of us got more than three hours of sleep at a time.

We’d wake up around six or so and then swan around miserably until breakfast. I have to give the retreat center props for having gluten-free cereal and bread (from my favorite maker, Schar) and vegetable milk, even though I don’t know what exactly it’s made of. Breakfast was  gluten-free flakes and vegetable milk, a banana, gluten-free bread with three slices of ham. Coffee or tea, orange juice, and water. Another smoke, and then life on the bay.

This is one of the ways the men at the retreat center were so wonderful. The director drove my father, Ian, and me to Xlendi Bay the morning after we arrived and picked us up a few hours later. He did that the next day as well. On the third day of the conference, he was busy, but he had one of the fathers drive us instead. Xlendi Bay became our second home, and, yes, it’s a tourist haven, but it’s gorgeous, and the water was crystal clear and cool. I loved wading in it, feeling the buoyancy keeping me bobbing. I had to be careful because of the rocks, but it was such a breath of fresh air–pun intended. Plus, there was a breeze that kept the air from being stifling.

What I loved most about the bay was seeing a plethora of people from all around the world–or more accurately, from all around Europe. There were people of all shapes and sizes, and none of them were self-conscious about their bodies. I saw older and large women who were rocking bikinis and bathing suits with confidence, not giving a damn about the cellulite on their thighs or upper arms. They didn’t give a thought about how their bodies appeared to others–which was so mind-blowing to see. I’m so used to American women (me included) being obsessed with what is wrong with our bodies, and even if it was an illusion, I loved seeing women who just didn’t give a damn.

Related note: Right before going to Malta, I went shopping to look for a bathing suit at Target. I had little hope of finding one because bathing suits are not made for women like me. But, I tried on a two-piece that was made by a company specifically for plus-sized women, and to my surprise, it did not make me want to cry when I saw it on myself.

In Gozo, I saw a women similar to my size wearing a swimsuit that was similar to mine except it was bright blue and flowery while mine was black–natch. The top had a camisole-like base with flowing drapes over it. There was cleavage shown, but still had support. The bottom had boy shorts with drapes over it as well. I didn’t feel uncomfortable in it, but mostly because of how comfortable everyone else was around me. On a related note, there were so many beautiful people–but not in the conventional way. They all looked like they lived hard and joyfully, and I had to stop myself from staring more than once. It’s why I like European flicks–the actors look real. Haggardly beautiful, but real.

After a refreshing morning at Xlendi Bay, it was lunch time. It was usually some kind of pasta followed by meat, potatoes, and veggies. Then, dessert or fruit. I tried to stay strong, but I broke. I had to eat the pasta because I was famished. Another thing I didn’t realize is how used to eating whenever I want I’d gotten. I don’t like to eat three times a day–I prefer to graze. In Malta, I felt I had to stuff myself when I had the chance because I wouldn’t eat again for a long stretch of time. On the other hand, I was so hot, I rarely felt like eating. It was a weird situation.

Dinner was vegetable soup, then meat, potatoes and veggies, and then wine. The first day of food was great. By the last night, I think everyone was a bit sick of the same thing. Oh, there was bread for every meal as well, but I couldn’t eat any of that. The pasta I had was good, but it wreaked havoc on my system. I stopped eating it after three days with just a pang of regret.

The last day we were in Gozo, Ian and I begged off the planned tour despite persistent urging from my mother (because I fucking hate tours. I hate crowds of people. I hate people telling me what to do or where to go. And, to be honest, I wanted the time away from my family. After breakfast, Ian and I walked into the town center with the explicit plan to visit the shopping mall and the citadel. There would be air conditioning in the shopping mall, we reasoned. Oh, how wrong we were. It wasn’t really a shopping mall, but merely a collection of shops for tourist with an occasional blast of air, but not A/C per se. I was dying at this point, but it was our last day in Gozo, and I didn’t want to waste it.

Walking to the citadel was painful; I’m not going to lie. I was gasping, though I tried to keep it quiet, and my extremities were tingling. My right thigh was numbing in pain–and this thigh has been a problem for the past six months or so. My dad has a lot of pain in his thighs in a similar way to what I’ve been experiencing, and it’s turned out to be serious. I’m not a doctor, but my interpretation is compressed vertebrae. There’s talk of an operation. The citadel was very interesting, but I was seriously hurting by the time we got there. I overheard a mother asking her daughter in concern if the daughter was OK, and the daughter nodded, but her face was dangerously flushed. I hope she’s OK, but it heartened me to know I wasn’t the only one who was having such difficulties with the climate.

I had a fish stew that was fucking amazing. But, no air until the cab we hailed to go back to the retreat center. I know we overpaid, but I didn’t care by that point. I would have paid five times the amount for five minutes of cold. It showed me how weak my flesh was and how willing I was to do anything to get out of that remorseless heat. I said to Ian that it started to feel malevolent, as if the heat was personally targeting me. Yes, I know it’s not true, but it really felt malicious by the third night I couldn’t fucking sleep. We slept with the door open during the day which helped, but it felt weird to do that at night. I don’t know why, but sleeping with the door closed was nearly impossible.

I have much more to say, but this is getting long. I’ll wrap it up here and pick it up at a later time.

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