One of the unique experiences of living in Malta is to be at once a spectator and a participant of the ever-colourful spectacle of life. You can never have a dull moment. What seems insignificant at first sight has a potential of expanding into a mass outcry in no time.
Though the interpretations of the saga varied, it was eventually presented as a squabble between Patrijotti and NYB which is to say that spectators were expected to side with either of the two. So it happens that I’m one of those who sides with none of the two major characters and thinks that retaining complexity is a healthy approach to any argument.
To start with, the whole list of players was broader than NYB and Patrijotti and should have included Leonardo Da Vinci as the painter figure, the charismatic Galilean Jesus Christ himself and, finally, the burgers. The curious interplay of opinions and interests makes the saga far more interesting than it appeared from the beginning.
Plot 1. Patrijotti vs NYB
As it happens in a classic play, while the protagonists appear mortal enemies, their visions are more alike than different. Patrijotti and NYB, personified by Diacono brothers, are the two sides of Maltese exceptionalism.
Despite their differences, both sides agree that Malta is exceptional in a way, good or bad. Malta of Patrijotti is a loyal guardian of sacred values, circa the embodiment of the Holy Spirit. Malta of Diacono brothers is a shithole of a place, “a rubbish dump of Europe in food”. Both positions are uncritical, superficial and paint everything in one colour – either white or black. Both positions are popular and are shared by a large fraction of population which makes exceptionalism a cliche interpretation of Malta in general.
Both sides also compete on the lack of imagination and creativity when it comes to implementing what they care most about. While Patrijotti defend the sacred from the fast food profanity by literally tearing Jesus out of the advert (doesn’t divinity deserve better?), the Diacono brothers’ solution to Malta’s “mediocrity” is … a burger joint.
Either my sense of humor is failing me or I’m a poor expert on greatness, but in no way do I see a burger, no matter how high is its quality, any innovative and phenomenal. Given that the worryingly high obesity rate in Malta is driven by the abundance of affordable fast food, calling for more fast food is simply shortsighted. If NYB plans to offer affordable, healthy, quality snacks, I’d be the first to welcome their decision.
Plot 2. Leonardo’s masterpiece vs fast food
The motivation behind the protest act by Patrijotti (slammed as vandalism) was indeed dubious. The warriors of proper faith demonstrated how eager they are to take justice in their hands – and that is a disquieting manifesto.
But let’s focus on vandalism per se here. To some commentators, especially those for whom art has a sentimental value, the design of the advert equaled to vandalism of its own kind. Yet again, one of the most iconic works of Western Art was reduced to a backdrop for pizza, burghers, fries and milk shakes. Correct, the depiction of relationships – friendship and betrayal – and the apprehension of sufferance that is looming upon Christ was replaced by the kitsch one-dimensional message “buy our food”.
And if centuries ago the most prominent works of art were commissioned by the most powerful Renaissance families to manifest their power and affluence, the interest of various entrepreneurs in art is even more applied than that – it is mercenary. As anything else, the value of a work of art is as high as profit generated off it. Sadly, classic art works served as adverts countless times and Jesus “modeled” for fast food adverts in the past as well.
The design of the advert can also be classified as plagiarism of the Chinese-American artist Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung’s “The Fast Supper”. The difference between the artwork below and the NYB’s advert is that the latter encourages what is questioned by the former. Unlike the advert, the “Fast Supper” does not encourage a viewer to engage into a mechanic act of food consumption, it poses questions and has depth.
Plot 3. Religion, business and cocky leftists
Finally, there were commentators whose take on the saga was different from anything mentioned above. Nor they stood for Patrijotti, neither did they see NYB and Diacono’s brothers as champions of the secular modernity in Malta. And it wasn’t the devaluation of classic art which angered them most but the self-righteous attitude of the entrepreneurial class represented by the brothers.
Let’s admit it: entrepreneurs are pushing away the old saints from Malta’s pedestal of worship. Yes, church still enjoys a significant influence but craving for entrepreneurial success is speedily replacing Catholicism as Malta’s new official religion. Those who see the latter as a sign of progress are certainly not paying enough attention: the commandments of business are as oppressive as the Christian dogmas.
In their interview to MaltaToday, Diaconos present themselves as a gift to Malta. Armed with top notch burgers and fries, the immaculate businessmen are on a mission to drag Malta out of the Middle Ages where they presume it still resides. However, their business attitude is far from innovative and is rooted in protestant ethics which itself is as old as 1517 thesis of Martin Luther.
Diacono’s suggestion for business revival is simple yet ingenious. It seems that Maltese students are way too comfortable to be an obedient industrious workforce, thus cutting stipends should improve the employers’ lot. Isn’t it horrible that Maltese students are not debt-ridden as their North-American and British counterparts? Horrible indeed. Not to mention that anyone who thinks that Maltese (students and others) are too comfortable to catch “a cheap bus to wherever” is clearly out of touch with the realities of the local public transport.
And here is another question to ask: since when does a producer of fast food complain about the comfortable and lazy lifestyle to which it contributes so lavishly? And if stipends and buses are responsible for turning Maltese into lazy slobs, how about the comforts of being part of a wealthy family and the safety net which comes with it?
As an after note – isn’t it incredible what interplay of various interests and opinions was unlocked by an advert of a fast-food outlet?
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When I moved to Valletta five years ago, one of my greatest surprises was seeing that particular face expression each time I told somebody where I was living. “Valletta?” – they cried, turning their face into a display of disbelief and frustration – “but why?!” It was then my turn to be surprised and reply “Why not?”, only to learn that the problem was “those-ħamalli-hostile-to-every-stranger-and-whom-everyone-in-their-right-mind-avoids“, or, in brief, the stereotyped residents of Valletta. I usually replied by admitting that I had not noticed anything outrageous about my Valletta neighbours, compared to my previous neighbours in Msida and Gzira, and used to receive a skeptic look, followed by a short yet affirming “not yet”.
Although so much has changed in five years, ironically, the expression of surprise accompanying the question “Do you live in Valletta?” remains, but of a different kind. The alarmed look has now been replaced by a brow-raising suspicion of my riches. The most frequent question now is “How can you afford it?” This curiosity is easily understood: at this point in time, the monthly rent for a basic two-bedroom property is no less than €700, whilst more fashionably furnished properties cost between €1000 and €2300 (!) per month.
What’s happened? How has the capital so closely associated with “slums”, “criminals” and “ħamalli” become trendy and barely affordable for an average earner within just a couple of years? One way to answer this question is simply the effect of gentrification brought on by handsome property investment prospects as part the European Capital of Culture 2018. However, the side effect of the approaching V18 is only part of a bigger picture. In fact, rather than being smoothly revamped into a “capital of culture”, Valletta 2017 has become much more of a battleground between antagonistic cultures and the winner is the one which promises highest profits.
What is Culture?
The rapid transformation of Valletta is a source of many disputes. Some argue that Valletta is far more charming in a crumbling state, whilst others say that a facelift is necessary due to the hosting of the European capital of culture. One way or another, the ultimate majority of discussions about the future image of Valletta focus exclusively on the visual aspects of its facades and omit the stories of human relationships hidden behind them.
To start with, there is no universal definition of culture. In fact, the two most frequently referenced definitions contradict one another. According to one of them, culture is “a moral and aesthetic ideal, which found expression in art and literature and music and philosophy”. This definition is attributed to Matthew Arnold and his work “Culture and Anarchy”. The other author, Edward Burnett Tylor, suggested that culture is “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, arts, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”.
The fate of Valletta depends on which kind of culture it is going to be a capital of. Is it the culture limited to prestigiousentertainment or is it the culture of everyday life experiences which bring the place and the people into a tangible bond? Is it the culture which only sees Malta’s capital as a gourmet backdrop for trendy performances or is it the culture which can be experienced only by becoming part of its daily fabric?
Valletta as two cities
I always thought that every place owns its unique spirit to the indissoluble relationship between its architecture and its people. However, soon after having become a part of Valletta myself, I began to realise that, in the eyes of the public, Valletta was two distinct things: one – a marvel of Baroque architecture and the other – a swamp. One – to be admired, the other – to be disdained and vilified. One – its facades and the other – its 3rd class residents.
I learned that Valletta was severely bombed during World War II and the majority of its A-list residents fled to safer places. Countless times the elegant ladies and gentlemen shrugged, spreading their hands to indicate disapproval and telling me “Valletta was a city built by gentlemen, for gentlemen … and look what it is now!”
The tragedy of this immensely charming city is that Valletta’s architecture and Valletta’s residents are not recognised as one coherent whole. Sadly, in the eyes of respectable citizens and heritage guards such Din L-Art Helwa, the residents and the architecture belong to different dimensions and worth of contrasting treatment. The residents, often stereotyped as primitive boors, leeches depleting the social welfare or criminals, are presumed undeserving of the places they inhabit, in which every stone tells a story of its past noble magnificence.
The Maltese gentry, for whom culture and Baroque are interchangeable terms, goes at lengths to emphasize that the city built by their forefathers still belongs to them and it should be reserved for worshiping high culture. They denounce anything unfitting of Valletta’s noble image. The Monti, pastizzi shops, clothes lines – everything inseparable from the daily lives of many of Valletta’s residents – is classified as desperately brutish, plebeian and culture-lacking. The social housing units of Mandragg and lower Valletta fall into the same “shameful eyesore” category.
Hipster Valletta: regeneration with a taste for venerating poverty?
Unfortunately, the nation-wide pride of its architecture did not protect “the city built by gentlemen” from decades of neglect. In his renowned photographic essay “Vanishing Valletta”, David Pisani documented the crumbling abandoned buildings which neither “gentlemen” nor the government rushed to restore. The most beautiful facades were not deemed worthy of care until a few years ago, when shabby suddenly became the new chic. New bars on Strait Street and lower Valletta (former red light districts) were injected with a new vibe. However, these trendy outlets rely mainly on the fashionable hipster crowd who visit Valletta for a sip of “authentic experience”.
The hipster crave for “authenticity” deserves a special mention. Unlike the conservative baroque-worshipping gentry, the predominantly young creative middle class is not repelled by shabby walls and laundry lines. On the contrary, the youth unfamiliar with the realities of true undignified poverty sees dilapidated spaces as aesthetically pleasing and “cool”. Thus, to the hipster culture, Valletta’s crumbling facades are a splendid backdrop for a trendy party.
The hipster culture does not seek a deeper relationship with the city because its interests do not go beyond the aesthetics of the facades. This way of experiencing the city also deprives its residents of their humanity as it folklorises them into exotic creatures. The condescending acceptance of embarrassingly styleless specimen best manifested itself in a LovinMalta’s article: with a touch of sentimental sadness, it waved good-bye to the Triton Fountain kiosks, classifying them as amusing, yet unfitting to the upscale image a European Capital of Culture is expected to flaunt.
The contrast between the outspoken poverty of a few Valletta’s neighbourhoods and the trendy entertainment culture thriving on romanticising this poverty is stark. Hipster’s willingness to hang around dilapidated spaces sets a precedent for opening of more bars designed to suite a particular taste. While Tico-Tico, Café Society and the Gut physically belong to Valletta, they remain an isolated bubble which overlooks the life of the local community.
However, my skepticism towards the hipster attitude to Valletta does not extend to criticising all of the younger vibes. On the contrary, Valletta’s population is ageing, which means that many more houses will become vacant in the near future. Will these houses be reborn as homes or will they turn into outlets whose only contribution to Valletta’s life is commerce?
Boutique hotels for the tasteful caste
The handsome profitable prospects brought by the European Capital of Culture have turned Valletta into a goldmine and a battleground between various interests at once. After the decades of neglect and distant worship, the vacant houses and residential properties discovered a new meaning of existence – that of a boutique hotel.
It is easy to lose count of the permit applications for boutique accommodation popping up practically around every corner.
With no exaggeration, there soon will be more boutique hotels than residents in Valletta: exclusive accommodations such as Ursulino, Casa Ellul, SU29 and Palazzo Consiglia are now competing for distinguished clientele with La Falconeria, De Vilhena, Valletta Boutique Living, Valletta Vintage and a dozen more boutique hotels-to-be at Republic, St. Paul’s, St. Christopher, St. Ursula, St. Barbara, Old Theatre, Old Bakery Streets and Valletta’s old fish market Pixkerija. Barbara Bastions can now be safely renamed into Boutique bastions since only a couple of houses in that location are not being converted into exclusive accommodation of some kind.
The construction works were criticised by the local council as “the worst siege ever” and slammed by the residents, the heritage organizations and the intelligentsia alike – albeit for contrasting reasons. Whereas the residents have to endure the non-stop sounds of drilling, the cranes above their roofs and the clouds of dust, the reasons for critique from the heritage activists and the creative class are not as straight-forward. It is not the appropriation of residential houses into boutique hotels that the “baroque or nothing” heritage activists protest, but the obscure appropriators whose cultural unawareness and opportunism are enough to infuriate the gentry. The creative crowd predictably protests the visual aspects of the developments: the cranes distorting the skyline, the disappearance of venerated shabbiness and the heavy presence of scruffy workers, so unpleasant to the aesthetically sensitive taste.
On the other hand, the ever-growing number of boutique accommodations provides a perfect opportunity for implementing interior designer skills and entrepreneurial ambitions – the traits highly respected by the tasteful critics. Thus, once the cranes, the trucks and the workers are gone leaving behind a new deliciously designed hotel, the critique is immediately replaced by ovations and excitement at the prospects of welcoming the esteemed guests. Gentrification of Valletta is not only barely spoken about but is openly celebrated. Same is true about the Three Cities – Senglea, Cospicua and Birgu.
It certainly is positive that the buildings of such beauty and history are being restored, yet it is equally sad that the restoration of these buildings is deemed worthy only if it promises solid investment rewards. Besides, the “boutiquefication” of Valletta reduces the residents and the everyday life to a decorative view from a holiday room.
The employment and career opportunities offered to a broad category of professionals by Valletta 2018 are certainly among its positive aspects, yet the statements like those said by Sean Buhagiar are indeed irritating, because they refuse to acknowledge any other definition of culture except from artistic performances which he and his colleagues play an imperative role in. Indeed, the demand for sophisticated entertainment is at the core of the middle- and upper-class cultural habits yet culture, in its broad sense, is not equivalent to the consumption of concerts, performances and exhibitions.
Sincerely, I have lost count of various Valletta-related arguments to disagree with.
I disagree with sentimental conservationists who morn the Valletta of crumbling facades and regard it as far more dignified than Valletta restored. While shabbiness might appear particularly spiritual to spectators, to many residents it simply signifies poverty and the inability to carry out restoration works on their own.
I disagree that the only way to restore Valletta is to convert it into a host of exclusive guest houses for the privileged caste, trendy bars and luxurious shopping outlets. The Valletta of boutique hotels would be hollow and soulless. The void of community spirit, which makes every city so unlike any other, would be replaced by temporary visitors who don’t have a profound relationship with the city. It would turn locals and their households into somebody’s room with a view. Yet, how can Valletta resurrect as a city with its own vibrant community life, if properties here are out of reach for the majority of the Maltese population?
Finally, I disagree with reducing Valletta to a backdrop for upmarket entertainment and tasteful consumption wrapped into “the European Capital of Culture 2018” package. As any other place, Valletta does not lack culture of its own. On the contrary, it has plenty of it – the little mundane rituals of “hello” and “how are you”, the feasts, the relationships between the people whom Valletta comforts and makes feel at home. Unlike the pre-packaged commodified experiences offered by hipster culture and Valleta 2018, the culture of daily participation cannot be exhibited at a museum or performed on stage – it cannot be experienced in any way other than becoming a part of its fabric. Too bad this kind of culture does not offer profitable returns and hence is not held in high regard.
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Experiencing the arts as part of Malta’s social landscape ~10 minutes read~
Last year Malta was marked by the triumph of developers, conspicuous privatization plans and the steadily growing media attention to ‘arts and culture’. Curiously, in spite of the seeming attempts to popularise the latter topic, various articles concluded that there is a public indifference to arts and culture in Malta.
Instead of proving or denying these allegations, let us first figure out whether the general public has an unobstructed access to the arts locally.
Experiencing the Arts [Part 1]
Arts as a frame for socialising … around the artist’s persona
In speaking about the way local art is experienced, the first question is where to find it. In Malta, only a few places such as Spazju Kreattiv at St. James Cavalier and MUZA(still in the making, previously, National Museum of Fine Arts) welcome the general public. Other than that, contemporary artworks are displayed at art events, of which there are plenty. Most frequently, art is showcased at private exhibitions and book launches which, by default, imply their secluded or commercial nature.
As far as genuine contemplative interest is concerned, socialising around the artists and their art lacks the opportunity for intimate and solitary engagement with artworks. In a small, densely populated country like Malta, a person usually meets artists before their works, unlike in the majority of larger countries where pieces can be seen as anonymous and independent from their creators. This either results in a few fan clubs surrounding the artist or, on the contrary, the audience rejects the works straight away because they are repelled by the artist’s persona (or by her/his political views).Had he lived and created in Malta, with his reportedly bad temper, Picasso would have never gained any recognition for his works locally in such proximity to the potential audience.
Mixing art with the artist’s personality does a disservice to the works since it pre-conditions seeing them as personifications of their creator. In the essay “Death of the Author“, Roland Barthes points out how interpretations of a work should not be reduced to seeking answers in the author’s personal experiences. Regarding artworks as direct expressions of the artist’s personality inevitably turns them into a dull and limited subject, as the artist’s personality is hardly more important than anybody else’s.
As for an artist, art is a source of income. In the context of art business, an artist produces goods of a potentially high market value. This makes art a prestigious job. Self-promotion at events and on social media is intended to add value to the artist’s personality and to establish them as a brand in order to facilitate the sale of their intellectual property. However, it would be unfair to blame artists for self-promotion since it is a necessary evil for making a living in a neoliberal society where literally everything is a commodity.
Experiencing the Arts [Part 2] Personality-driven art scene and loads of politics
Another aspect of experiencing art at social events is the type of crowd which attends them. In fact, attempts to evaluate public interest in art and culture by attendance of exhibition openings and book launches inevitably end in misleading results.In a country where just about anything is interpreted in the context of political affiliations and class symbolism, events-going is another political and social statement which has little, if at all, to do with the art.
The art scene in Malta shares many common traits with the local politics: the lack of transparency, nepotism and being personality-driven, to name a few. Openings of exhibitions are little spectacles of cult where it is expected of attendees to praise the artist (“prosit, keep it up!” or “this is so interesting!”). The act of launching a personal exhibition is a manifestation of creative net worth which, sadly, overshadows the works.
The complicated web of social interactions which surrounds arts in Malta is one of the many obstacles between artworks and the public. Who in their right mind would attend an event where they are unwelcome and marginalised?
Experiencing the Arts [Part 3] The revolving-around-art social bubbles
Finally, ‘interest in arts’ is a traditional privilege of the upper- and middle-classes. Replicating the conventions of the privileged by flaunting art awareness and art consumption is a sure way to affirm or to boost the social status.
Meanwhile, the low attendance of the art events by the general public – that is, the majority whose professional and consumption interests are not directly linked to the arts – is used to justify a few people’s claims on exclusive monopoly on understanding and valuing ‘true’ art.As many other expressions, arts preferences is another opportunity to insulate the ‘true’ art-appreciating social bubbles (‘pedigrees‘) from the village festa fans (‘peasants’). Alas, socialising around the arts feels like a perpetual “You Are What You Buy” performance. Sadly, we all are evaluated on the basis of prestige of our consumption preferences. So it happens that the prestige of art consumption is incomparably higher than that of fast food.
Grossly generalizing, the avid art-followers in Malta are of two kinds:
the ‘blue-blood’ Maltese
the middle-class art producers, art dealers and intellectual consumers.
The art circles’ membership is available to the candidates with the right family background, the right occupation, the right dressing style and, as suggested by theG Plan exhibition, the specific taste in furniture. Although the pathway to contemporary arts is barricaded by snobbery, foreigners might be awarded a bonus pass.
Finding a passage to the arts: newspaper culture columns
In theory, newspaper culture columns are meant to spark public interest, yet it is not quite so in Malta. Given that the attendance of (and attention to) the events is driven primarily by the social and political factors and not by the content displayed, the reviews turn into a redundant formality.As long as the local art scene remains personality-driven, the critics do not have an opportunity for honest criticism because it may result in a personal grudge (or even a conflict), capable of provoking a greater isolation between the little art fan clubs and bubbles. The lack of honest criticism is quite unhealthy for both, boosting genuine public interest and challenging professionalism of the artists.
The limited opportunity for honest criticism forces culture journalists to report the activities of their close circle of friends whose works can be acclaimed with a clear conscience. At the same time, this still does not help the reviews to be seen as credible and unbiased. The conclusion is: with a seeming purpose of stimulating the public’s interest, the reviews are written by the art crowd, for the art crowd.
Also, in a personality-driven environment where critics too are ambassadors of the arts, a critic’s persona often receives more attention than her/his professional merits. Thus, positive reviews by a critic, who is known to be personally unpleasant or politically opinionated, might discredit an artwork in the eyes of the public, no matter how valuable and engaging it is. In such circumstances, arts reporting has a chance of attracting public attention only if the ‘Maltese artist exhibits abroad’ formula is applied. Then, it is the sense of patriotism, not the content, which is celebrated.
‘Interest in art’ cannot be treated as a phenomenon of its own, unaffected by the social interactions surrounding it, because there is simply not enough distance between the artists and the critics, on one hand, and between the artists and the audience – on the other.
Public-friendly art displays: scarce, yet powerful and much needed
Not all is dark and hopeless about experiencing the visual arts in Malta. Unlike the pretentious rubbish displayed at many private exhibitions, these works are the stunning examples of art with a meaning. Spared from snobbery, they are anonymous, harmonious with their physical environment and for everybody to contemplate on. “Euro Jesus” by Twitch is a spot-on profile picture of Malta 2016. Hypnotising and meditative, the wind vane at Exiles beach by The Rubberbodies Collective is a tribute to Sliema’s past serene relationship with the stories of fishermen, wind and sea (isn’t it ironic that the excellent article about the public project is part of the Times of Malta paid content?).
It is safe to conclude that the popular cries about the lack of ‘care for art’ in Malta do not refer to the to the lack of spiritual devotion but to the particularities of events-going and the lack of prestigious art consumption. In this context, it is profoundly hypocritical to expect ‘care’ for contemporary art from the members of society who are not only discouraged from attending the events but who are also not accustomed to value this kind of art since they are unable to approach it and to purchase it.
Surveying sentimental care for art is as intrusive as evaluating love. In a broad sense, everyone has a tender relationship with an art object – be it a photograph, an altarpiece, a graffiti, a Valletta corner statue, a firework or a pickled shark by Damien Hirst. And if love is a deeply personal choice, educating people on which kind of art is right to love is not unlike the ‘gay cure’ therapy (thankfully, banned now).
While personal tastes are entirely up to individuals to pursue, the claims that ‘interest in the arts’ is to be given a paramount status of national importance should be followed up by boosting public arts venues and arts displays in public spaces – squares, gardens, streets, beaches and schools. Yet, the opposite is being done by giving these spaces away for private development – which ensures not only a poor access to the arts, but a general drop in living standards.
There is more to it than stereotypes ~8 minutes read~
The first few words of Maltese any foreigner learns soon after having moved to Malta inevitably include swearwords as well as some specific ones – ħamalli and pepè – whose meaning is not at all clear despite their popularity. Although considerable volumes of writing have been dedicated to the subject, here is a take on it from an outsider’s perspective.
In a nutshell: if you are fond of oriental philosophy then you’ve come to the right place since Malta has its own yin and yang elements too. No matter how opposite ħamalli and pepè are perceived to be, they are entirely inseparable at the core. The more detailed description of Malta’s best known social species might also serve for better understanding of the country.
Noun and adjective: ħamallu (masculine singular), ħamalla (feminine singular), ħamalli (plural)
Adjective: ħamallata (something that has attributes of ħamalli). Example: this car is a bit of a ħamallata.
Ħamallu is a label of genealogical or moral inferiority. In a nutshell, it alludes to the stereotypical class prejudice or moral indictment.
The Maltese see ħamalluregular (latin: Ħamallus miletensis or Ħamallus vulgaris) as a separate species whom they try to dissociate from as much as possible – that makes Ħamallusvulgaris a key stereotype of Maltese society. The curious fact about Ħ. vulgaris is that, despite the fear to resemble him, nobody quite knows what it means to be one. Some might tell you it’s the bad manners and vulgar clothes, others are convinced it’s the lack of education and culture awareness while some would insist Ħ. vulgaris originates from certain localities and family backgrounds.
This scope of mixed indicators points at the wide-spread class prejudice in Malta. For instance, by labeling a certain dressing style as ħamallata, one underlines the lower class habits of the other. Thus, the privileged Maltese blame the inferior mortals for belonging to the lower class or for expressing the lower class social habits.
As a moral indictment, ħamallu implies a profound disrespect and hostility to anything outside of one’s little world. It is usually reserved for somebody who refuses to consider anything except himself, his house, his little social club or, maximum, his locality. Anyone with no consideration of others and no recognition of authority other than himself can be referred to as Ħamallu. The label then refers to someone who blasts the sound in his car or house, parks on two parking bays, builds a property on public land, disturbs his neighborhood with outbursts of loudness just because he can.
Ħamallu/a is often applied to a person who is not thrilled by nature and whose approach to anything is mercenary. If he ever notices anything delicate it is only for the sake of his pocket. In this sense, the label cuts across all the social strata.
Maltese from upper-middle and/or creative classes recognise another variation of ħamallu – the moneyed one (ħamallu bil flus), hamallu advanced (Ħamallus pergrandis) or simply nouveau riche.
.While still bearing the main characteristics of ħamallu regular (i.e. profound disrespect to anything outside his little world) he enjoys quite a bit of power and has access to the decision-making procedures at the national (sometimes international) level. He might not be of royal origin yet he shares Louis XIV of France’s maxim “I am the state” and expands his little world to as far as he can get.
Ħamalluadvanced is a dangerous species, for his financial assets allow him to implement his maxim without much resistance. Locally, this stereotype embodies the public image of the construction industry tycoons but he truly is an international kind. The perceptions of Ħamallus pergrandis vary tremendously:
to the pedigree Maltese, he is an opportunist who has managed to rise to their level of wealth and power while still clinging to the lower class habits;
to the socially- and environmentally aware Maltese, he is the epitome of nature destruction and social injustice;
Ironically, pepé phenomenon is intertwined with the one of ħamallu since the main struggle of the former is to distinguish himself from the latter. The fear of him influences the absolute majority of pepé social interactions in Malta. Definitions of ħamallu/a/i vary and so do definitions of pepé. Pepé regular (Pepé vulgaris) sees himself a civilized, cultured, distinguished kind and makes sure everybody gets to notice his polish. To the rest of the population who is fortunate not to belong to either of ħamalli or pepé species, pepé regular is an intolerable snob who craves to be recognised as pedigree. Although pepé sees hismain life achievement in being of a non-ħamallu bunch, his self-absorbed insulated social habits makes him indistinguishable from ħamallu.
The saddest fact for pepé would be to admit he is not authentic. Whatever pepe regular does, it is a reaction to his definition of ħamalli:
If his idea of ħamalli is “ċwieċ ta (fools from ) [fill in the blank]”, he prides himself for growing up in “Sliema, the way it was in the older days”;
Pepé prefers English because ħamallu is not fluent with it. For same reason, he also tends to be a grammar nazi;
Pepé travels because ħamallu cannot afford travelling;
Pepé carefully selects his clothes not to resemble ħamallu dressing style;
Even though pepé is secretly indifferent to culture, he has to emphasise his literacy by “reading books”, “loving culture” and “watching films” because, by doing so, he underlines his non-ħamallu nature. To pepé, books are countable physical objects that can be displayed on shelves or whose titles can be flashed for sake of prestige;
Pepé often adopts a double-barrelled surname for his children to hint at their superior origin;
Pepé craves titles, degrees and privileged jobs. He firmly believes he’s in great service to humanity;
Pepé cannot be relaxed, he’s always on alert. He has to prove his excessive genteelness, proper manners and “good breed” behaviour. He simply is too afraid to be playful or humorous, again, not to be mistaken for ħamallu. His pseudo-sophistication and snobbism are suffocating;
Just as when you are afraid of spiders they all come to you, pepé suspects there is ħamallu in every corner. He is so frustrated of a ħamallu encounter that goes all the way to develop his own set of indicators to spot them from afar;
He avoids locations particularly rich in ħamalli yet, still, firmly believes Malta is infested with them so it’s time to leave the country for good;
His main issue with the political might of ħamallu advanced is that the latter dares to be corrupt while wearing those horrible shoes and necktie. From pepé’s political perspective, elegant clothes and sense of style justify a few misdeeds.
Finally, pepé wastes so much time and energy to distinguish himself from ħamallu that does not even know what he likes. He sees everything through thick glasses of class symbolism and is unable to form a genuine interest of his own.
“Is there hope?” you’d ask. Is there anybody else apart from ħamalli and pepé in the country? The answer is yes. There is a fair number of decent people in Malta but making new friendships requires an abandonment of class prejudices.
Have you noticed that the Maltese blogosphere has finally lost its unipolarity? LovinMalta, the new media company everyone is talking about, has finally offered the local broad audience an alternative to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s Notebook which, until very recent, enjoyed its unique status of the only unofficial largely followed source of updates on Maltese life, entertainment and political revelations.
Controversy surrounding DCG’s Notebook is as undeniable as its fame. On one hand, the Running Commentary challenges political establishment (Labour side, to be precise) and points out relevant corruption-related issues, while on the other, it is a pillar of Malta’s segregation, class-frustration and the constant “Nazzjonalisti vs Laburisti” rival. The infamous “pesants vs pedigree” concerns might be well-understood and supported by the Maltese older than 40, yet the accentuated cast symbolism is no longer meaningful to the younger bunch whose adolescence happened well after the 1990s. The younger bunch, which certainly could no longer uphold these views, was in great need of a breath of fresh air – a new media source reflecting their vision of Malta 2016 and not Malta 1980.
Both, DCG’s Notebook and LovinMalta, approach their topics in ironic and playful manner yet their targets differ significantly. While the Running Commentary primarily focuses on deriding the ’embarrassing low class habits’ of Labour Party establishment, LovinMalta covers a broad range of topics appealing to the audience from diverse backgrounds, aiming to shake the existing symbols of segregation. LovinMalta is gaining momentum not only in “7 ‘Subtle’ Ways Your Maltese Family Calls You Fat“-like stories but also as a source of political irony. If until very recent, the Running Commentary was the only credible source of such (rather bitchy) humour, LovinMalta contested it with their “Muscat On Cannabis Law, Property Prices And His Strict Diet Regime”. The cleverly spotted vacant niche, the witty content and the refreshing style resulted in a blast that is more than a million views in just four months.
Here are three reasons why LovinMalta wins over DCG’s Notebook in a longer run:
Vision of Malta
LovinMalta has indeed made a historical shift away from the persisting dualism in anything politics, society and culture. Let’s see whether it will succeed to eventually blend the isolated social clusters into something new and refreshing.
Now, that’s a strange topic for a write-up. Weddings are known to be fun and certainly do not require survival skills unless they are replicas of GoT’s Red or Purple weddings. So why does anybody need to know how to survive a wedding in Malta? Simply because weddings here tend to be too formal and, for that reason, outstandingly boring. In fact, it is a mystery how a nation known for its colourful religious feasts, buzz and a refreshing irreverence for formalities came to adopt such a sombre fashion of (supposedly) once-in-a-lifetime event celebration. Given that the wedding season is in full swing, it doesn’t hurt to learn a tip or two on how to make the most of it.
On making their first inquiries about weddings in Malta, foreigners usually hear a lot about an open bar and loads of food. Although the promise of an open bar and loads of food is true, reality, as usual, rarely lives up to expectations. Unlike Gozo where weddings celebrations are mainly executed in a traditional, seated style, in Malta it’s a standing-up reception normally held in a villa or a garden. The wedding venue manifests itself by the melancholic jazzy tunes and the absence of parking spaces in its proximity.
Once a bright-coloured caterpillar of sparkly evening gowns, high heels and black ties ceremoniously proceeds through the entrance, it immediately breaks into small groups, couples and single individuals in search for acquaintances among 300-600 guests or chairs to rest on. To be fair, a few tables and chairs are scattered around the venue but they are meant mainly for elderly, so unless you are at least 65 years old, you better keep wishing someone gets tired of seating down sooner or later.
The classic Maltese wedding party consists of three well-define phases:
The Cool phase: the first hour at the party;
The Phase of Desperate Boredom: 2nd hour until cutting of the cake;
The Phase of Wild Joy: after cutting of the cake.
The Cool Phase
The first hour at the wedding party is fun. The relatively small number of guests still allows some space around you to breath freely. Everyone is still too relaxed or too busy taking selfies to queue for drinks. The ladies are very pleased with their looks and the gentlemen are delighted that the ladies are pleased. The sound level still allows small-talk conversation – if you are lucky to run into an acquaintance and strike a conversation in the first place. And if you are unfortunate to know not a soul around, the ambiance is still enjoyable thanks to the music. And what music that is! You just can’t stop humming “The Girl from Ipanema”, “Fly me to the Moon”, “My Favorite Things” and, of course, “Xemx wisq sabiha” (you better learn the lyrics as you are going to hear that one a lot of times).
The cool phase is reaching the plateau. In the meantime, the newly wed are walking around and welcoming guests with a well-concealed struggle to remember who all these people around are. Inviting everyone and their dog to a wedding is a norm in Malta. Often the wedding celebrations are the only chance for distant relatives to meet – no wonder the groom struggles to recognize the bride’s mother’s third cousin and the bride meets her husband’s great aunt for the first time right at the wedding.
Once the greetings are said, hugs – given and pictures – taken, you can briefly enjoy a few bites of finger food and another glass of bubbly flowing by on trays. The fun phase smoothly turns into the phase of desperate boredom.
The Phase of Desperate Boredom
Now, this phase does require survival skills not to end in a state of severe grumpiness. It begins when a temptation to find a chair reaches the level of obsession. In the best case scenario, your group of friends finds and guards a chair which all of you, in turn, rest on. However this could be rather tricky if you are just a couple without a sight of a familiar soul among 300-600 guests. The music is still too melancholic to beat the growing boredom yet already too loud to hear anything else apart from it. Very soon you discover that, although the bar is open, you are separated from it by a long queue of other guests. Food trays reach you in an emptied state encouraging to move closer to their source (and you aren’t the only smart pants – the same idea occurs to the others as well). Despite the large quantities of finger food, consuming it with no proper social interaction and no continuity of courses gives little satisfaction. Therefore, unless you do not intend to suffer all the way to the end, it’s time to entertain yourself somehow. Here are some tips to consider:
Inspect the cake and decide whether it’s worth staying any longer. If you are indifferent to cakes and their like, you still have a chance to save the rest of the evening by heading some place with more chairs and people you know (nobody will spot your absence anyway).
If you are vegetarian or vegan, try to enjoy your remote engagement with food by watching others eat.
If you are a woman, forget about your aching feet and purposelessly walk around looking pretty. If you are a man, enjoy the sight of pretty women purposelessly walking around.
Take as many selfies as you can (when will the next occasion to wear that dress/suite, be after all?).
Entertain the idea of jumping into the pool to the shock of the hosts or imagine a random guest falling into the pool. In case you didn’t know, the wedding venue pool is there for a decorative purpose only. Should anyone happen to fall into it, the hosts have to pay a lump sum of a fine.
Learn the lyrics of “Xemx wisq sabiha” so you can sing along – helps to pass time as well. “Ga-a-a-awrha ta’ qa-albi lilek irrid“, “Iva lilek irri-i-i-id“.
The cost of the wedding that is killing you with boredom is likely around 30-40K Euro. Thanking your lucky stars for it is not actually your wedding might boost your mood a little.
Once you’re done queuing for a drink, start queuing for another one right away so, by the time your glass is empty, you’ll have a full one. Thus, while everyone struggles with boredom, you’re spending time with purpose.
The Phase of Wild Joy
Once you’ve stoically made it through the Phase of Desperate Boredom, be sure the worst is over. The reward – a piece of the cake you decided to stay for is served immediately after the couple is done with the waltz. Moments later the music abruptly switches from jazzy mellow “You raise me up” to the mix of wild rock n’ roll with a splash of tarantella and hava nagila. Finally, with the support of the open bar and the upbeat music, it is beginning to feel like a wedding. The new jolly ambiance calls to the dance floor but the tortured feet refuse to follow. To gentlemen’s delight, a bunch of ladies still makes it to the dance floor, shaking off their fatigue while courageously ignoring their stilettos. A few more bites of dessert and it’s time to go home. Never mind the bride’s bouquet.
This slightly exaggerated yet not entirely untrue sketch of weddings in Malta might make you wonder why the heck your peers are so enthusiastic about being invited to one. For a long time, this puzzled me as well until I have finally found the key to this mystery. A wedding reception is a sip of glamour, a chance to entertain a few celebrity red carpet moments for today’s Cinderella. While for some it is an opportunity to air that fab outfit and to try that hairstyle, others take a chance to explore the open bar content and to admire the beauty efforts of the fairer half. At the end of the day, everything boils down to a selfie.
We all know how Malta looks on tourist booklets: turquoise sea, Azure Window, Blue Grotto, luzzu boats. While the tourism sector of economy profits from these pretty landscape features, construction boom is actively reshuffling the cards and screwing everything up. Look around and picture what tourists see most frequently during their holiday in Malta? What do you see on your daily home-office-shopping routine? Blue Lagoon? Azure Window? No, what you see is cranes.
Since my first arrival to Malta in 2007, never have I seen as many cranes here as in 2016. They literally dominate the horizon. Malta 2016 is a perfect location for filming a blockbuster where cranes turn into carnivorous monsters and some superhero comes to the rescue by exploding all the construction sites. The concentration of cranes this high looks intimidating and inspires a pessimist vision.
I’ve lost count of cranes seen on a daily basis following a weekday route Valletta-University and a weekend Valletta-Sliema route. These two routes are also the most common among tourists and students visiting/living in Malta. So is it cranes/construction sites/future skyscrapers that attract visitors to Malta for or is it pared-down Mediterranean lifestyle and views that they are after? Unsurprisingly, Malta is painted as ‘a lifestyle destination’. The slogan, however, is not verified by reality.
So let the routine crane count begin.
On the way from the bus stop to the office I see another one, right on campus. That makes 4 cranes.
After work, I walk to the other bus stop and see two more construction’s skeleton silhouettes (that makes it 6).
Right upon arrival to Valletta, I am greeted by three more cranes (9 so far). Walking through Melita Street I see another one: 10 cranes on the way from Valletta-University and back through the main roads.
Concentration of cranes along the University-Sliema-Valletta route outnumbers this count. Density of construction sites on the way from Gzira to St. Julians raises proportionally to the concentration of tourists. Therefore, what guests of the country experience most during their stays in Malta is cranes, noise and construction dust.
Over a 30 minute walk from Msida to Tigne cranes are the most frequent encounter. Malta Tourism Authority should advertise crane sightseeing in Malta.
In case you fancy a walk from Tigne to St. Julians, crane sightseeing becomes even more exciting.
Anyone whose routine journey includes Valletta-University-Sliema route is likely to come across at least 23 cranes per day. That makes one of the most tourism-dense areas in Malta also one massive construction site with all its cons. If the tourism industry plans to survive the construction boom, about time it starts planning crane sightseeing trips, as there might soon be nothing else to see. 20 cranes:1 Blue Grotto is a great reason to visit the country, isn’t it?
Many expat acquaintances of mine have a hobby of complaining about many things Maltese. Some of these complaints are justified: yes, public transport and urban planning here are non-existent, silence is nowhere to be found and cranes are the permanent eyesore on the skyline. However, one statement I particularly disagree with is that making good friends among Maltese and integrating in Malta is difficult. In fact, it is quite contrary: finding your way around Maltese social bubbles is much easier for an expat than for a local. And here is why:
Many middle-class Maltese prefer finding friends among foreigners
Have you noticed how cautiously Maltese make new acquaintances? It might sound like a thing of the past but in Malta, still, one is evaluated not only on the basis of who he is but also by which background he comes from. When introduced to a stranger, Maltese do their best to find out whether or not the acquaintance-to-be belongs to their circle. The procedure of such evaluation varies from questions like “which town are you from? or/and “what school did you go to?” to shameless peering at the stranger’s outfit and accessories in search for ‘this is my tribe’ signifiers. The latter approach is especially popular among the so-called tal’ pepe – the cluster infamous for their snobbery and class frustration, whose code of conduct is articulated by the best-known local blogger. The single fact of having grown up in Bormla or Hamrun – pretty much any place south, including Valletta or, God forbid, Gozo – is enough for a contemptuous look.
Grounded Maltese also do not hesitate to fish out as much information about strangers’ origins as they can. It is customary to burst into tireless mention of possible common friends, acquaintances and distant relatives right upon having learnt about the strangers’ home locality. Conversations like “you are from Birgu, right? My mother’s cousin’s husband’s brother is from there! And Gorg, mastrudaxxu, do you know him?” might seem pointless to the outsiders yet practically unavoidable for the locals. A Maltese cannot sneeze without revealing something about his locality, family or political views.
Once landed in Malta, the majority of foreign IT developers, PR professionals, designers, architects, researchers and so on immediately and by default find themselves in the middle class environment. The middle class in Malta is very young and diverse, with a non-uniform level of education and family background. Many of the young and prominent Maltese figures come from rural areas and modest family backgrounds and thus detest being evaluated on the basis of their origin. On the other hand, foreigners do not care which school their Maltese friends went to, and which locality they come from – that is why, among foreign friends, so many Maltese feel appreciated for who they are.
Being able to enjoy the country in all its diversity without having to pass everything through a filter of bizarre local symbolism is a great advantage for foreigners in Malta. A foreigner in Malta can see things fresh and judge them by what they really are and not by what they mean – it counts, doesn’t it?
2. Expats in Malta have more social freedom and mobility
Maltese society is very fragmented and operates within a few rigid bubbles that do not interact. In fact, the very sentence “Maltese are …” is incorrect as there is no single stereotype or a common understanding of what it means to be Maltese. Maltese from different bubbles have as little in common as do British and Sicilians. Malta’s rural areas are divided into bubbles by locality and the urban Maltese bubbles have schools, professions and family traditions in common. Bubbles have their own infrastructure; their members mostly attend events organized by the bubble, giving no damn about what other bubbles are up to.
Bubbles are units of social interaction. In Malta physical proximity means nothing. Alternative youth, hipsters and slightly off-mainstream adventurers might hang out a few meters away from one another yet barely they would notice each other’s existence and whereabouts. It is not exaggeration to say that most of Maltese do not imagine a bigger picture of their own country.
No wonder that after a while such clustered socializing becomes suffocating, claustrophobic and boring yet even then, for a Maltese, changing bubbles is ultra difficult. For a local, assimilation into a new cluster is a challenge. A new bubble member has to pass through the “school-locality-status” evaluation procedure which isn’t fun.
On the other hand, foreigners can attend events organised by different bubbles and hop from one bubble to another. Today they can attend a poetry book launch, tomorrow – join a high-society event and the day after go to the Hamrun feast. What sounds simple to an expat is out of reach for a local. Seeing the country through thick glasses of class symbolism, Maltese cannot explore and enjoy all aspects of their diverse country.
3. Foreigners in Malta do not have to constantly prove themselves
Bragging about high self-esteem and active self-promotion are culturally accepted in Malta. In case your Nordic mentality kept you from enlightening everyone what amazing talents you possess, here you don’t have to hesitate. Not only is enthusiastic self-promotion not considered cheap here, it even becomes almost necessary not to disappear on the background of oh-so-bright and so-very-talented individuals praised with countless ‘prosit’ upon their achievements. Maltese from humble family backgrounds feel pressure to prove they are worth something and that is where the never-ending flow of self-praising comes from.
Foreigners in Malta are spared from having to prove something to everyone. They certainly do not have to flaunt their degrees and career achievements, they can just relax. Maltese, to some extent, look up to foreigners so there goes your bigger-fish-in-a-smaller-pond moment.
N.B. However, in case you moved to Malta to have your bigger-fish-in-a-smaller-pond moment of glory, you are soon in for some disappointment. Here is why:
The problem is that the pond is even smaller than you think. Basically, the size of the pond is the size of a bubble. If you are, say, an artist, your audience will barely exceed a bubble of a few hundred people (artists or wannabes themselves). Most of creativity is produced and discussed within a bubble, for the bubble and stays there.
Your moment of glory won’t last long. Soon after, you will need to remunerate your peers with all the prosit! they gave you. People applauded you today in order to receive ovations tomorrow.
The number of prosit! does not depend on degree of achievement nor does it reflect any merit of your work. While it is customary to brag, ‘well done!’ in Malta means nothing, absolutely nothing.
Once I was told how you would never stop looking up when strolling around New-York. I cannot tell – I have never been to New-York – but I trust it must be exciting. What is stopping you from never ceasing from looking up in Valletta, however? New-York is far, Valletta is close and balcony-spotting there is fun full of discoveries.
Soon after the selection of Valletta’s most beautiful balconies had been complete, a new portion of new unique finds accumulated. It is difficult to spot two identical traditional balconies in Valletta unless they belong to the same palazzo. The variety of balcony types in Valletta is the beautiful side of Malta’s architectural anarchy. St. Ursula and Archbishop street are particularly rich in unique architectural features.
Click on the map below for a virtual balcony tour or access the full map.
Have you ever seen a wooden balcony-resembling structure smaller than this dwarf in Archbishop street? This curious structure is a mix between a muxrabija window and a balcony. One can only wonder whether it serves any purpose apart from decorative and what it feels like for an adult to stay in there.
2. Little Green Juliet
Balconettes, barely protruding from the wall structures, also referred to as Juliet balconies, are not uncommon in Valletta. This one in St. Dominic Street is the smallest in size.
3-5. Curved elegance
Although all unique, these three balconies have one thing in common – curved shape. The green balconette’s rounded base is almost indistinguishable from the decorative edge on the facade. With its curved shape, tiny size and the elaborate metal railing, the balcony is fit for a doll’s house.
The white elegantly curved balcony in lower West Street is similar to its green sibling except it protrudes a little more prominently from the wall. Squeezed between much larger balconies, it appears out of place. It is one of the many symbols of the architectural anarchy in Malta.
The all-wooden blue balcony on Archbishop street is a surprising discovery if you look up every so often while strolling around the baroque city.
6. Medieval Grey
This balcony forms part of the newly restored house in lower West Street. Its imaginative roof design is unique to Valletta – so much it resembles Medieval coffer ceiling with its essential decorative elements.
7. Beige Box
Even though aluminium window frames ruin its authenticity, this balcony in lower Republic street has its particular humble charm. Another asset of the architectural anarchy in Malta.
8. Yellow nest-box
Although this yellow balcony on the corner of Old Mint and Archbishop streets is a little larger than a bird’s nest-box, it is equipped with clothes lines.
9-10. Little neighbours of Casa Rocca Piccola
Have you ever noticed these two triple-window miniatures in the close proximity to Casa Rocca Piccola? Indeed, strolling around the baroque city with your head up is worth it.
Double-window balconies are scattered around Valletta. A couple of them, twin brown balconies in St. Ursula Street, were newly restored.
Triple window mini balconies are most concentrated in lower Valletta, especially lower Republic street. From all the balconies of various shapes and colours one is especially particular. Spot the little green balcony in Sappers Street, part of the abandoned house, and you will notice the flushing tank right above it. Overlooking the Hastings Gardens, this must be a toilet facility with best view on the island.
Just a few inches deep: Valletta’s balconettes
Wooden balconettes are intriguing. Although their shape is similar to the other traditional balcony types, they barely protrude from the facades. A wooden balconette is a teasers of a balcony – it only mimicries proper balcony appearance while lacking its functionality. You can spot a few balconettes in lower Valletta, around Old Hospital and North streets.
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What if you could meet yourself from a far away land as if you were strangers? Would you recognize yourself then? Hardly do we see ourselves LEGO-like, constructed from different customs, languages, mentalities and geo-references that can be altered into a new combination. No difference is felt between a self of yesterday and that of today. What if your consciousness is not as indivisible as you think? What if you met yourself a decade younger, would you be friends?
A few days ago a ghost from the past sprang out from an email by someone once very dear, whose influence on me back in my Russian days was unprecedented. It felt as if I could hear myself of a decade younger talking to the present day me and the voice from the past did not sound any familiar. On the contrary, those few sentences made me realize how much these past few years have changed me, how far ‘my Russian past self’ and ‘the Maltese me’ have grown apart and how much this transformation is irreversible.
The message, the sound call for patriotic love for the motherland and the firm condemnation of immigration brushed upon my senses like sandpaper on bare skin. It was disturbing and alienating. It made me wonder what response the exact same words would have caused in me if I never left Russia – would it have been natural to side with that point of view? I would have been different then, no doubt. Existence determines consciousness. ‘The Russian me’ today would have regarded ‘my Maltese self’ as a traitor, a poor-spirited westerner who exchanged the excitement of belonging to one of the world’s greatest powers for the comforts of a European residency. ‘The Russian I’ would disdain, just as much as my former alter-ego did, the lightness of the Mediterranean lifestyle as unintelligent. The very thought of how different my consciousness could have been in different environment from what it is today scares me. And what scares even more is that I could have approved of something I so dislike now.
You know it precisely when you hit the point of no return and the idea of returning to a place once called home brings fits. When a message from a former soul mate, so admired back then, is ideologically offensive, you know there is no way back. It is not the fear of being again misunderstood and constantly unaccepted but the fear of subjecting myself to a risky mental experiment – existence determines consciousness – and feeling comfortable with the ideas cultivated on the other side of the fence. If, to a great extent, my consciousness is a function of the social reality around me, I would like to be able to choose what reality to be a function of.
Even after decades spent in immigration, many of us still care of that, often invisible and unsensed, umbilical cord connecting to the place of birth. There our eyes saw the world for the first time, there belong all our childhood memories. Cutting yourself off from the homeland is painful. Your senses were hurt beyond healing and you had to perform an emotional surgery. What once had been an indivisible part of self became external and disconnected. The remains from that umbilical cord are now in the fragmented memories of rather sentimental than ideological significance – the sunlit memories of bursting buds and of the air filled with the rustle of sticky newborn leaves, of the spicy smell of spring grass, of the smoky scent of autumn and the cards with greetings. The memories are the roots transplanted into new soil.
Admitting to yourself there is no return unavoidably separates you in two: the one back then and the one now. These two might be best friends or they might not be, but in either case no longer are they one.