Water, a not so natural presence
In Murakami’s novel The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1995), the protagonist meets a woman called Kano Malta. This is her stage name, which she has chosen after spending 3 years in Malta, during which she lived in a small, unnamed village situated at the foot of a mountain range, from whose peaks runs a healthy and miraculous spring. Drinking that water is like an ascetic practice, a necessary exercise.
Unlike the water from the mountain springs, the tap water on this island is defined as undrinkable, awful: It’s like diluted sea water …
There is some truth in this.
But it’s also true that the taste of water changes from place to place; every city has its own water, just as it has its own streets, monuments, the time at which the sun rises and sets. Water is intrinsically localized and dependent on context.
As a result of both these geographical contingencies and the different tastes it acquires, water can be viewed as ultimately relative, something that cannot be taken for granted.
If the more fortunate among us cannot take the taste of water for granted, complaining that the water that issues from their taps lacks freshness, thereby justifying their purchase of tens of plastic water bottles every month, the less fortunate cannot even take its presence for granted.
This is what we were reminded of one recent afternoon in the fields below Rabat, where Ġanni, a farmer, demonstrates the somewhat unpleasant consequences of having water that can indeed come down in driblets from the hills (the mountains of the novel, perhaps?) after the winter rains, but only for brief periods. It’s difficult to store it for extended periods, difficult for the dry soil, heavy with clay, to hold it in summer, difficult to regularly water the thirsty plants that need the moisture all year round.
And this is what Alex and Maya tell us about the years of war in Lebanon, their homeland, and the way the water supply was regularly cut: a display of power and control over the people. At some point, even the supply of bottles of still and fizzy water in the supermarket, became something that couldn’t be taken for granted. Thus, the problems of carrying home heavy bottles, or finding a parking space close to home on one’s return from the supermarket, paled into insignificance when compared to the problem of finding water in the first place.
Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival | August 2013