This book is largely about those material traces, presenting an archaeological perspective on the artefacts and places that characterise one particular and extraordinary street in Malta's capital city, Valletta - Strait Street. Archaeological traces typically encourage conventional descriptions of how lives are led, and how people adapt and survive. Some descriptions, however, are distinctly subaltern in their outlook and ambition. It is these `counter-narratives' that interest us more, and this book provides an extreme example of one such counter-narrative.
We are often asked how this project came about. In 2003 one of us (JS) visited Malta at the invitation of Heritage Malta, representing his then employer English Heritage at a conference on Malta's Second World War heritage. At dinner (Malata's Restaurant, off Strait Street by co-incidence), a conversation on what constitutes military heritage prompted the response that, for him, it was more than just the gun emplacements and pillboxes. JS explained how military heritage should constitute a much broader field, one that encapsulates all that supports and is given support by militarism. The offer of a visit to Strait Street was made and, following dinner, a walk was taken down a dark, empty section of the lower end of the street, viewing the bar signs, and hearing tales with exotic and, at times, adult content! About thirty years earlier, one of us (EM, aged 5-6) was dancing for American sailors in the Golden Eagle Bar in Rabat, while her parents and some friends (all British Naval families) looked on. She collected two shillings for her efforts.
There is a persistent view that this is a story best left untold; that Strait Street was a violent place where people were murdered and women and children exploited. Much of this is certainly true, and parts of the story undoubtedly will have the capacity to grate and offend. But whoever said historical analyses must always be clean and safe? People have died in Strait Street, but people had fun there too. Our intention is to create a balanced account, through the places that remain and the people who remember them, whatever their associations with Strait Street might have been.
This book was never intended to be the story of Strait Street. It is a story, or more correctly a number of stories woven together in a format and style that hopefully provides both a`field-guide' to what remains and a contextual overview of the events and personalities we describe. Readers may find gaps in our coverage or spot inaccuracies. Certainly in the Orientation (Chapter 4) this is likely as, despite our researches, some bars remain unknown and unnamed. It is important that we fill these gaps and that we correct any inaccuracies that we have inadvertently introduced. So if you can help, with stories, photographs, information, or mementoes, do please contact us. If a second edition of this book should be warranted, we can obviously then ensure that any such inaccuracies are corrected.