Malta is an island for quiet Maltese people, elderly British tourists, and a bunch of students from all over Europe who take English language courses there. None of these groups are considered to be prime target audiences for lap dancers and strip teasers, and yet there’s a whole street in Saint Julian’s, a neighbourhood near the old town of Valetta, dedicated to these activities. The GC Club, The Havana, Ladies Dance, the Dash Club, Club Anonymous, all flashing neon signs. Fierce-looking bouncers block the entrances, and a few girls are on the street, actively, or perhaps more accurately aggressively, trying to lure clients.
Inside one of the clubs Maria, 1m60, very blond, reasonably pretty, is dressed in leather pants and a T-shirt two sizes too small. She comes to sit next to me in my booth, while a colleague of hers performs a rather acrobatic pole dance to Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines. Next to me there’s a group of four men, French I guess, although I can’t hear them talk, and a girl doing a lap dance on one of them. The others continue talking as if nothing is happening.
Maria is Greek, she says. ‘I studied to become a school teacher.’
Other girls are perched on bar stools, looking bored. It’s about 11, still early in Saint Julian’s sleaze district.
I can hardly hear her, but understand that she is trying to convince me to go private with her, somewhere behind the curtains. 100 euros. We agree to meet the next afternoon, for a cup of tea. And a few euros: she is ever the saleswoman.
How was teaching children?
‘I never got to that, I couldn’t get a job, so I went to Italy, stayed there for 4 years.’
What did you do there?
‘Same as here.’
She considers herself an erotic dancer, not a sex worker, because she doesn’t have sex with the clients. She dances for them, from a pole, on a lap, or in private, even naked behind the curtain, where customers are allowed to masturbate – if they pay a lot – but no, she is not a prostitute, not a sex worker. I don’t argue with her, but I don’t agree (and categorise her as such).
Did you like Italy?
The country yes, but the men no, they promise you the world but never pay.’
Why did you come here?
‘I like to change country every once in a while.’ She likes the club where she is working, she says. ‘We’re all friends, even the boss.’
Is he Maltese?
‘Yes. He pays on time, the boss in Italy didn’t.’
She is dressed more conservatively now, in Puma-sneakers, jeans and a T-shirt that might even be called oversized.
Will you ever become a teacher?
‘I don’t know,’ she says. ‘Once you’ve tasted caviar it’s hard to go back to normal food.’
How much do you make?
She tells me about Greece, the little village she’s from, her family. ‘I’m very close to them. They visited me here last week. My brothers also came to Italy three times.’
Do they know what your job is?
‘They think I’m a bartender.’
Is it difficult to lie them?
She shrugs her shoulder, looks out the window. Then says: ‘it’s not easy. It’s a lonely life. I can’t remember the last time I had sex.’
‘I like the EU, because it gives young kids the chance to explore many countries. But in the end we all go home.’
But what do you think of Greek politics, of the Troika?
‘I don’t follow politics. Politicians are thieves.’
Do you feel European?
‘Of course. Europe started with Greece.’
What is typically European?
She thinks for a moment. ‘I think we have style. And old history. Well, the Chinese too,’ she interrupts herself. ‘But I feel connected somehow. At the club there are girls from many countries, mostly from the EU but also Ukraine and Russia. That’s Europe as well, right?’
‘I feel we are the same type of people. But maybe it’s also because we are all girls, and we all love dancing…’