EuroPride in Malta: Day Three
Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 5 MIN.
The floats are lined up and celebrants mill back and forth, some in leather gear, some sporting angel wings, some in full drag regalia, and others in their everyday casual clothing. Anticipation hung palpable in their as a contingent of women on motorbikes assembled in advance of the floats – the local chapter of Dykes on Bikes, I guess. A costumed, excited group clustered around a huge Pride banner, carrying the enormous, multi-hued expanse of fabric-like firemen stretching out a blanket; Pridegoers buzzed up, camera in hand, to capture a shot of the banner stretching off meter after meter. Meanwhile, other groups took hold of smaller banners that stretched across the road or took hold of flags on lengthy poles, waving the Progress Pride Flag, the Transgender Flag, and numerous other designs.
The EuroPride March was scheduled to kick off at 4 p.m. In reality, it begins somewhat later, launching not in Valletta but in the adjacent town of Floriana. The afternoon sun is still high in the sky and the temperature is somewhere north of "hot," if not "damned hot." Our group has been out in the sun for hours already by that point, and sunstroke doesn't feel out of the question; we cling to the shadows on either side of St. Anne's Street, a long, straight boulevard leading up to the War Memorial (a tall concrete spire flanked by two ever-burning torches) as we await the start of the march.
Earlier in the day our tour guide, Isabelle, had shown our group around the town of Birgu, where officials in power had once lived and worked – including, Isabelle told us, representatives of the Spanish Inquisition. (Fun fact: The Church did not permit blood to be shed in the "interrogation" of people, so the torturers used devices like the rack to stretch the body, snap ligaments, and break bones, all without breaking the skin. Another favorite ploy was to hang people up and let them die of thirst. These means of execution were perfectly fine with the blood-shy religious authorities of the day.) In keeping with the era's authoritarian practices, there were certain zones where common people were forbidden to enter, unless they were servants of the officials. To walk up the wrong street was to invite arrest and a fine – or, if one was unlucky, some of that supposedly kinder, gentler torture.
After Birgu, Isabelle escorted us to the fishing village of Marsaxlokk, located on a harbor filled with brightly painted boats. We lunched there at the waterfront restaurant La Nostra Padrona, where the fresh-caught lampuki (otherwise known as mahi mahi) proved an irresistible lure, having just gone into season.
"The colors of the boats attract the fish," Isabelle explained to us, before pointing out how the boats also sported painted eyes on the bows. These, she explained, were a tradition dating back to the earliest inhabitants of the island, the Phoenicians; the eyes are supposedly those of the god Osiris, and they fend off disaster.
Hours later, as the EuroPride March commences, The Eyes of Osiris are in evidence on the lead float, which seems set to sail along a great rainbow river, with a vast Pride banner stretched out before it. Revelers pick up the huge banner, and the procession begins. Filled with dancing, shirtless men, the float is more party barge than fishing boat; the land-bound vessel rocks visibly, not from ocean waves but from its occupants, who dance energetically even as they wave and cheer.
But this is only half the fun; both lanes of the boulevard are filled with marchers and floats, and we dart back and forth between the two lanes, mixing with marchers and fellow onlookers alike. (Check out the photo albums of the march, the marchers, and the crowd here and also here.) Smiles are everywhere; any notion that we are too hot, too baked by the sun, or courting sunburn is swiftly forgotten as the march continues on, an endless whirl of color and dance music. The procession makes its way up St. Anne's Street to the War Memorial, and then takes a left turn onto the sweeping, ascending Great Siege Road, an uphill climb that leads into Valletta proper and affords spectacular views of the city and the harbor below.
It is here, on the Great Siege Road, that the march's full magnificent extent became visible: The procession of floats and marchers together with a nimbus of onlookers, stretch all down the long, ascending road, looking like a Roman triumph or a great army advancing up the ramparts of a promised land – an army not of battle carts and soldiers, but rather of peace-loving and stalwart revelers, garbed in queer joy, whose great battle is for equality and whose overriding cause is that of human dignity. It cannot be a coincidence that the Pride March route takes us right by the Palace of the Prime Minister.
The march winds down as dusk falls, but the night holds more events, including the EuroPride Concert at a stage built near the city's magnificent Triton's Fountain. Christina Aguilera is the headliner, but the opening acts – Ira Losco, Emma Muscat, Katerina Stikoudi, popular Maltese pop group The Travellers, and more – aren't merely a warm-up; they cook! So much so, that Aguilera seems lackluster by comparison. "She's phoning it in," my husband notes, as the crowd grows ever more dense and frenetic around us. Obviously, not many people mind the low-energy early portion of the set. But then, a transformation: Aguilera's act suddenly peps up, coming to life and sizzling as the superstar and her dance troupe own the stage (and the crowd, which only grows more delirious).
But the true peak of the evening is yet to come: After Christina Aguilera's final song (there is no encore), a local couple – David and Luke, according to press coverage and Instagram accounts – appear on stage, and David, falling to one knee, proposes marriage to the ecstatic Luke, who tearfully says yes.
The proposal is a kind of bookend; earlier in the 10-day EuroPride, at the on Sept. 9 Gozo Concert, another local couple publicly became engaged as Oriana Farrugia proposed to her girlfriend, Stephanie Hili.
As a capstone to the day's events, David and Luke's engagement was a sweet moment that sent the crowd on their way on a high note.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.