The four political parties to appear in Malta if PL&PN were abducted by aliens

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The collage includes a cartoon of Malta traffic by Steve Bonello

Just imagine! ~7 minute read~

Just imagine: one fine morning you wake up to the news of an unexpected late night visit of an extra terrestrial mission which abducted ALL the politicians from the both major political parties. What a shocking loss! Your mind quickly runs through all the stages of grief (joy?) from denial to acceptance, finally hitting a question: “what does Goebbels Daphne Caruana Galizia have to say about it?” Oh, my! She is absolutely certain it is yet another PL conspiracy: “the PN are taken hostage to the PL’s shady deal on the new intergalactic hotel for adult entertainment!”. You wonder if such allegations are a tad too much for an “internationally acclaimed journalist” and look for some objective proof, alas in vain.

You are enviously picturing how freely the former officials (and un-officials) are speeding through the Universe towards Kepler-442b while you are stuck in traffic on your way to  work. You stare at the sky once more before another question hits your mind like an asteroid: “what about the elections?!” “Who on Earth am I going to vote for?!” Do not panic! Well, although this wake of sudden and refreshing anarchism is nothing to be afraid of, you’d better make up your mind on where your interests belong.

One option to do so is to take this test. Its disadvantages, however, are significant: the questions and the options to choose from are too limited and standardised to represent one’s realistic political worldview. So here is another option: choose which worldview fits you most and see which local party would best represent it.

Worldview type 1:

  • The social hierarchy is necessary and justified: some people clearly worth more than others because they are born that way. Titles and degrees help to distinguish the capable from the rest.
  • The job of a lawyer is much more important than that of a farmer because it requires greater skills.
  • Intelligence and propriety can never be evil. It is a duty of the educated, well-mannered and sophisticated to rule over those who are none of that.
  • People do not change: a person born into an uneducated family will always remain inferior even if dressed appropriately.
  • The main responsibility of the government is to discipline the people. The peasants should never be let into power because they ruin everything.

Briefly: you approve of the social ladder but you dislike the climbers.

Worldview type 2:

  • The social hierarchy is justified: some people are clearly more capable than others. I hold entrepreneurial skills and creativity in particularly high regard.
  • The job of an artist or a scientist is more important than that of a farmer or a cleaner because the former are responsible for progress. Innovations lead us to the brighter future; mundane and non-creative work does not count.
  • Personal ambitions should be encouraged. Talents should be rewarded by higher income and a higher social status.
  • A person is what he makes of himself. Take risks, compete, build yourself, climb up and the world is yours!
  • The creative mind are the main asset of the country. Their non-conformism is part of their nature. They should always be free to create. The government is there for the crowd.

Briefly: you approve of the social ladder and you disrespect those who fail to climb up.

Worldview type 3:

  • The social hierarchy is unjustified and unfair. Everyone’s input is equally valuable.  Personal altruism is as high on my scale as creative and technical skills.
  • Everyone deserves an equal respect for his contribution to the society. A farmer, an artist, a manual worker and a lecturer are all valuable.
  • Personal success is a fallacy – nobody becomes successful on his own. Individual success can never be possible without the help from the other members of society.
  • The more prosperous ones need to help the others to reach the higher levels of prosperity. Equal opportunities must be provided to everyone.
  • The main responsibility of the government is in sustaining of the social welfare.

Briefly: you think the social ladder is a bad idea but you do not blame the climbers.

Worldview type 4:

  • The social hierarchy is never justified. A fair society should have no distinctive social classes.
  • Material needs come first. Contributions of a manual worker and a farmer are more crucial than those of an artist and a writer unless their art is devoted to mass empowerment.
  • Personal ambitions need to serve a purpose of collective success and social justice. Individual advancement is unethical.
  • Collective effort and cooperation is the key to a better society. The collective success is more important than the individual success. From each – according to his ability to each – according to his need.
  • The government is an administrative tool to redistribute wealth and to sustain egalitarianism. Good enough is enough.

Briefly: you think the social ladder is a bad idea – everybody should be equal in opportunities and results.

Ready to see which of the parties would represent you best? Here they are:

mpp1Worldview type 1 (Conservative / fascist)
Party: Malta’s Patrician Party
Slogan: Save Malta from savages!

Agenda: Our agenda is short but effective. We must defend the country from the continuous attacks of the common and crude! Only we can protect Malta from the dark and unenlightened masses.

Ħamalli and the penniless migrants are the root of all our problems. We promise to re-establish order: no more pastizzi in the public places, no more tacky shoes in the parliament! To rule is our birthright and we do know how to rule in style. Panama accounts are for the ħamalli, we state that the British Virgin Islands is a much more appropriate place to evade tax.

We propose to build a few reservations in the south of Malta where we will keep all the peasants. We will keep them disciplined with the help of the army. We will make them work more for less! The festa “celebrations of sweaty polyester” will also be banned because we ought to teach the peasants some discipline. The low cost of labour will bring the established and respectable foreign companies to Malta. We will make Malta sleek sophisticated, polished and attractive to the most distinguished people in the world – green lawns, best architecture, golf courses and high culture. We will make Malta great again!

 

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Worldview type 2 (Liberal)
Party: Malta’s Liberal Party
Slogan: Entrepreneurial and creative mind for modern Malta!

Agenda: the absence of the PL&PN has opened the door towards true meritocracy. It is time for the creative, innovative and entrepreneurial mind to lead the country towards modernity. Liberal values are the key to the modern, prosperous Malta.

We are liberal economically and socially and promise to ditch the old-fashioned religious morality as unfitting to the new liberal order.

We stand for the free market economy with maximum transparency. The income tax for the higher tax brackets will be lowered to encourage the businesses to declare their profits. We will not increase the minimum wage not to harm the business. Malta is a tax haven and will remain it.

Privatisation is the solution to all our problems – it will unburden the tax payers and the government from extra spending. The country is to be governed by entrepreneurs and the creative mind. Malta will be promoted as a cultural hub of the Mediterranean, welcoming the artists and the writers to live and create in the country. Festa celebrations will be restricted to facilitate the perfect conditions for the innovative creativity.

 

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Worldview type 3 (Social democrat)
Party: Malta’s Social Democratic Party
Slogan: Malta deserves better!

Agenda: the absence of PL&PN has given us a chance to turn Malta into a better, fairer society. It is time to ensure the greater equality by revising the country’s tax laws and introducing stricter repercussions for tax evasion and tax avoidance.

We stand for immediate abolishion of healthcare privatisation plans. No to the privatisation of the country’s main assets!

Wealth redistribution is our major commitment. The country’s welfare will be strengthen by the new tax laws. Tax rates for the lower income brackets will be reduced from 15% to 9%. Average family incomes above €80K will be taxed by 45%. The tax refunds for foreign companies are to be reduced from 6/7 to 4/7 highest. VAT on luxurious products and services will be increased up to 25%. The purchase of the third and the consecutive residential properties per household is to be taxed higher. Top earners and all the local companies are to publicly declare their revenues and bank statements.

The welfare funds will allow to increase the minimum wage and to ensure the better standards of living. Working hours will be reduced – that will ensure employment of more people and will create more free time. Civil liberties and gender equality will be encouraged.

We promise to regulate the rental market. The maximum amount of rent will be established for the different kinds of property and locations. We promise to improve public transport by building a monorail. The latter will also create jobs, decrease the amount of cars from the roads and improve quality of air.

 

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Worldview type 4 (Socialist)
Party: Malta’s Socialist Party
Slogan: Together for social justice in Malta!

Agenda: The people have finally got a chance to reclaim what is rightfully theirs.

We propose to implement partial or complete nationalisation (with minimum or no compensation) of Malta’s major assets which were previously given to the private sector. Malta International Airport is to be nationalised to keep AirMalta afloat.

Construction industry tycoons are a threat to democracy – their lobbying is the major source of corruption in the country. For as long as they continue exploiting the country’s beauty for profit, the well-being of Malta and the Maltese is at risk. We propose to nationalise the major construction companies on the ground of their harm to the country. All profits from the nationalised industry will go to the national funds.

Priorities to the Maltese producers! We will encourage the local small-scale cooperatives in tourism. Malta will be an exporter of the great quality food: olive oil and pastizzi. Pastizzi global export will be an excellent source of national funding.

We promise to improve the housing conditions: 1) the amount of rent will be fixed for the different kinds of property and locations and 2) more social housing will be built.

Minimum wage will be increased to €15/hour. Jobs in construction sector will be created from building more of cooperative and social housing as well as from building a monorail. The latter will improve efficiency of the public transport, decrease the amount of cars from the roads and improve quality of air.

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confused-smiley-cliparts-co-rmsgwn-clipart“Hmmm” you say. “Doesn’t the Patrician Party look a bit like a cross between the PN and Emperium Ewropa? And the Liberal Party sounds pretty much like an airbrushed wholesome kind of PL… And the Social Democrats is AD plus some substantial propositions. Imma vera ma nafx who the socialists in Malta are.” To which we reply: we had no slightest intention to mock any of the Malta’s political parties, thus all the possible similarities are apparent and strictly coincidental.

Did you find your political party? Any party to add?

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What it means to be a ‘global citizen’, an ‘expat’, a ‘migrant’ and a ‘refugee’ (in Malta and not only)

The state of affairs described below is not unique to Malta but the size of the country and the physical proximity of its different elements makes it more obvious.

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In a nutshell, the terms ‘expat’ and ‘migrant’ echo the profound class and racial inequality which is still present in the world. ‘Expat’ is usually reserved for an individual from the EU&Co, North America and Australia who left his native country for work in a multinational company or for leisure. ‘Global citizen’ describes the specific, most privileged kind of expat, who sees the world “without borders” because the borders literally do not exist for him. The advantages of his golden passport and the financial assets spare him from the humiliating struggles for the freedom of movement.

A migrant, on the other hand, is everyone else who leaves his place of birth in search of a better life. A migrant only aspires to become a global citizen because his opportunities for re-settlement are institutionally restricted. ‘Refugee’ is the most disadvantaged kind of arrival: his resettlement is not driven by the free will but is forced upon him by war, natural disasters and/or extreme poverty.

‘Global citizens’, migrants and refugees do not receive an equal treatment. In fact, the treatment they receive directly corresponds to their status. Where a wealthy expat is greeted with an open gate, a migrant finds endless bureaucracy and a refugee – a barbed wire. For instance, this inequality of treatment was exposed by the favourable attention to the insensitive rant of the white, privileged, proud-to-be-expat Canadian who labelled Malta a “developing country”. Unsurprisingly, many Maltese swallowed the offence with resignation. Too many just nodded with embarrassment, apologising for the lack of sleek sophistication they could offer to such a distinguished guest.

***

While some expats bathe in public attention, homeless migrants die in poverty. The three-paragraphs-short articles reported the tragic events in a plain and casual manner, stating that one migrant was found dead under the bridge and the other – in a games room at Xatt il-Mollijiet in Marsa. Both Somali men came from afar only to find their lonely death in Malta. They left their native countries but poverty stayed with them until the very end.

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Identity Malta office is a migrant’s torture chamber. Applicants have to queue from the early hours often just to be dismissed

While a refugee and a migrant constantly live in fear of deportation and repercussions, a wealthy ‘global citizen’ is welcomed with open arms and with the exclusive offer of a Maltese passport (if he happens to need one). On the other hand, a refugee is unwelcome: due to an alleged mysterious deal between Italy and Malta, a few refugees disembark here.

While refugees risk their lives and constantly battle the exhausting bureaucracy for a better life in Malta, the fat-walletted expats claim that the country is not good enough for them. Isn’t it profoundly disrespectful to wave the privileges and the superior demands in front of those to whom these privileges are out of reach?

Just like the natives, expats and migrants often complain about the treatment they receive in Malta – but they do so in a different manner and for very different reasons. When a privileged expat complains about Malta, he implies that the country fails to meet his exclusive demands, suitable for his high rank. A migrant (myself included) complains about the frustrating experience which obtaining of a residence permit involves. Anyone is likely to derail having to battle for their rights on a day-to-day basis, yet the luxury of the “hassle-free residency” do not stop a wealthy expat from expressing his constant dissatisfaction. The migrant’s complaints are the cries of distress whereas those of a privileged expat are a means of morally instructing the locals.

***

Overall, migrants contribute to their new home country much more than do the ‘global citizens’. Migrants perform the most necessary jobs – care taking, nursing, cleaning. If employed by the local companies, migrants pay their tax in Malta and contribute to the Social Security funds. An ordinary migrant is not too different from an ordinary local. All he aspires to is a secure job and a stable, decent quality of life.

The privileged expat hops from one country to the other with a mission to verify whether or not the many dots on the world map live up to his expectations. He wishes to customise every country according to his demands. He has no interest in participating in the celebratory, eccentric and often absurd spectacle of life which makes Malta so special.

Integrating into a foreign society is below a ‘global citizen’. He has the whole world to cater for his demands – and everybody seems eager to respect his privilege. Yet, concerns on integration immediately raise when migrants and refugees happen to pursue their cultural habits. In fact, the cultural particularities of migrants and refugees are always blamed on their ‘lack of civilisation’ while the disdainful attitudes of ‘global citizens’ are excused for their superiority.

***

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Migrants are part of the crowd and for that reason they are visible. A crime committed by a migrant causes an outrage and quickly leads to an anti-migration movement. Though much more grave, the crimes of a ‘global citizen’ are invisible to the majority. These crimes are executed in an elegant, quiet manner: tax evasion, tax avoidance and shady business investments to mention a few.

The crimes of a global citizen are legalized. He prides his intelligence for tax avoidance and that is why he specifically chooses Malta to save – not spend! – money. While most of the inferior mortals – migrants and natives alike – are struggling to keep up with the soaring high rent, more luxurious property is designed to lure the ‘global citizens’ into the country. The luxurious apartments are built by the migrants for the expats to benefit a few tycoons.

A ‘global citizen’ rejects the blame for being the cause of global inequality. He pretends to be a charitable philanthropist. The facts, however, prove the opposite: the recent research has established that the wealthy investors extract more profit from the poorer countries than vise versa. They set foot in a country to take – not give – money.

***

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the proposed residential development in St. George’s Bay is designed for the ‘global citizens’ (the estimated price of the apartments is over 1 million Euro each)

The new luxurious development projects in Malta are not designed for the ordinary Maltese and neither they are affordable to the migrants. Have a look at this website to see who owns the country. Malta is being given on a plate to the wealthy ‘global citizens’ – to that same cast of the privileged who call it a “developing country” and come here for “sun and the low tax”. And if the economic reasoning prevails, ask yourself: is it even worth to be humiliated by someone who comes to Malta to save – not spend! – money?

Venting anger is a physiological need in a setting of high economic pressure and social injustice. The universal tolerance is a poor response to the deepening inequality of opportunities and results. How can we pretend to treat the people, whose status and life conditions are profoundly unequal, in an equal way? Contrasting attitudes can be the basic act of justice, aiming to compensate for the abundance of privileges or the lack of them.

Do not keep “go back to your country!” to yourself but use it justly. Venting your anger towards the least privileged, the most vulnerable, the lowest levels of social hierarchy is too easy, not to mention unfair and unkind. Vent your anger with a purpose – channel it at the privileged representatives of corrupt institutions. Stand up for those in need of help –  tell the parasites to go back to wherever they belong and tell them to quit tax avoidance for good.

Contemporary art in Malta: how and where it happens

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

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Artist as a brand: Damien Hirst, a multi-millionaire, poses in front of his artwork in London’s Tate Modern art gallery in April 2012

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 valueThis 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

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Presence of a politician or a controversial political blogger at the exhibition opening automatically turns it into more than just socialising around art (credit: Lily Agius Gallery, photo by Charles Calleja)

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

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BLITZ exhibition poster. BLITZ is an independent, not-for-profit, arts space which also featured on Tate Modern Art gallery’s website. Tate’s reference is highly prestigious – “one of the best-loved arts brands in the world” also enjoys a proportionally large corporate sponsorship. Some of Tate’s previous partners included BT, Louis Vuitton, Unilever, Vodafone, UBS, Google and Le Meridien

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:

  1.  the ‘blue-blood’ Maltese
    and
  2. 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 the G Plan exhibition, the specific taste in furniture. Although the pathway to contemporary arts is barricaded by snobbery, foreigners might be awarded a bonus pass.

Let’s not be fooled by appearances: to art dealers and art consumers, art is a special kind of Big Mac, with the only difference in the price and the resale possibility. Keeping to their little well-insulated circles, the art-following crowd seems unwilling to ditch snobbery in favour of welcoming the ‘dark unenlightened masses’ to ‘arts and culture’. Their main interest is in guarding their trademark of ‘© cultured’.

 

Finding a passage to the arts: newspaper culture columns

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The title of the article in MaltaToday. Appealing to patriotic senses is meant to attract public attention to Adrian Abela’s sensitive works

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?).

Conclusion?

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).

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To paraphrase the statement in the article in MaltaToday, “it’s your pocket we’re after, not your heart”. The art crowd indirectly admits: art is just an enterprise. And if this enterprise fails to provide space for greater social cohesion, why is the public expected to hold it in a higher esteem than any other occupation?

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.

Connect to Malta Sketches Facebook page if you like to read more analysis of Malta. Here is more about prestige of consumption preferences. 

Lions on your door: lion head door knockers of Malta and Gozo

Among the great variety of door knockers that grace townhouses in Malta and Gozo, the lion head ones enjoy a particular popularity. None of the motifs are present in such a range of shapes as the lion, which brings a question – why is it exactly the lion and not Triton, Athena or the Maltese cross that won hegemony over the Maltese doors?

During the centuries preceding the 1700s, the human perception of the world was dominated by symbolism and the lion too had a place in it. In times when”the world of nature was freighted with symbolic meanings of such density that they can no longer be perceived by the modern observer”, the lion was seen as a perennial attribute of Strength and was associated with symbols of royalty which made it a popular theme in heraldry. Lions occupied a prominent role as a heraldic charge from the very earliest development of heraldry in the 12th century. The English and the Scottish crowns, among many others, adopted lions as their heraldic emblem.

The rampant lion, symbol of the English crown, also features on the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom. Given that Malta was a colony of the British empire for one and a half century, could the particular popularity and variety of lion head door knockers be a reflection of its colonial past? The knocker on the door 10 Downing Street in London, the official residence of the British Prime Minister, is also lion head-shaped.

There are at least 24 different types of lion head knockers guarding the doors of Maltese (Gozo included) houses. They are a significant element of the great sentimental experience that a stroll by a line of traditional townhouses brings. All the elements – the balconies, the windows, the doors, the knockers, the whole of the façade – welcome the curiosity about the people whose lives are hidden behind them.

1. The Guarding Lion

The most popular “don’t mess with me” lion head knocker.

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2. The Smirking Lion

Although it might look like a weathered copy of the previous motif, this one was produced using a different mould. Location: Rabat, Gozo.

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3. The Red Rebel Lion

It might look similar to the first two, yet this lion on the door of the abandoned Rabat’s (Gozo) house still bears unique features.

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4. The Tamed Lion

The lion on the door of Valletta townhouse looks peaceful and welcoming.

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5. The Gallant Lion

Another similar-yet-different lion on one of Mdina’s doors.

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6. The Hangover lion

The lion’s muzzle looks so swollen as if it had been drinking all night long. Location: Rabat, Gozo.

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7. The Grumpy Cat Lion

Located in the lower Republic street, this must be the oldest lion knocker in Malta.

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8. The Fierce Lion

This intricate lion motif can be spotted in Valletta, Mdina and Rabat (Gozo).

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9. Prime Minister’s Lion

This lion is a painted replica of the knocker on the formal residence of the British Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street in London. Installed in the 1770’s, the door featured a centre door knob, lion head door knocker and brass letter plate which bore the inscription ‘First Lord of the Treasury’. Soldiers heading to off to the trenches during the First World War used to touch the lion head door knocker for good luck.

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10. The Pretty Lion

One of its kind – spotted in the Lower Republic Street in Valletta.

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11. The Roaring Lion

Sculptural and naturalistic, this type of lion head knockers is especially common in Valletta and Mdina.

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12. The Wrinkled Lion

Another one of its kind pair of knockers were spotted in Rabat (Gozo).

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13. The Round-faced Lion

One of the lesser common knockers spotted in Sliema.

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14. The Devil Lion

Another one of the lesser common knockers – spotted only in a couple of copies. Location: Floriana. One of the knocker designs recommended for recreating the style of Victorian era.

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15. The Abstract Lion

One of its kind knocker in Valletta.

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16. The Chiseled Lion

One of the lesser common knockers which could be spotted in Valletta, Mdina and Sliema.

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17. Monkey lion

One of the Floriana lion head knockers.

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18. The Largest Lion

You can spot the largest lion head knocker in Malta on one of the Mdina’s doors.

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19. The Noble Lion

One of the few unique knockers of Mdina.

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20. The Fancy Lion

One of its kind, intricately designed lion head knocker on one of Valletta’s doors.

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21. The Brutal Lion

Spotted only in a single copy in Sliema.

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 22.  The Timid Lion

Although only a single copy of this particular knocker has been spotted (in Sliema), similar motifs are more common.

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23. Brothers but not Triples

The Original (Edwardian?) knocker and its more recent modifications, all spotted in Valletta.

24. The Lion King

This impressive celebratory knocker was spotted on one of the Valletta’s doors.

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Feel free to share pictures of the lion head door knockers which remain unnoticed and didn’t feature in this post.

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Culture is the new Maltese swearword

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Culture is one of those words everyone has their own definition for. Yet, this abundance of definitions would still have a few broader characteristics in common: it is an opportunity to break from an individual isolation, to experience the world outside of self and to unite with others in a deeper, more sincere way than that of kitsch nationalism.

If a couple of years ago, culture was generally free from any negative connotations for me, now it sounds almost like an insult for it being a convenient façade for all kind of individual and institutionalised cynicism in present-day Malta. The meaning of the word began to deteriorate a while ago after I had become acquainted with a number of cultured specimen, involved in the process of making Malta a more cultured place (whatever it means). Without pointing fingers at anyone in particular, a follower of Maltese cultural events can easily picture the kind of specimen I am referring to: those who imagine themselves in the role of Prometheus (albeit not sharing his punishment), proud to carry the light of culture to the dark uncultured masses. They wear the titles of the events they organized and attended like medals on their chests and act as though they deserve canonization. The cultured specimen say they loooove Caravaggio (mainly for his ties to Malta) and do so with such self-pleased facial expression as though they stood beside Caravaggio advising him on composition. Be it for the vociferous calls for recognition from smug culture protagonists or the attempts to martyrdom by sub-culture frontmen, in Malta, culture might cause an allergic reaction if brought up in conversations with the genuinely interested in this human phenomenon, in its cleaner sense.

However, it’s not the Maltese culture protagonists that have turned it into a new swearword. The number of news articles announcing yet another cultural achievement by the establishment that poured onto our heads recently, suggests a strong link between culture, material gain and cynicism. The (great) news of Picasso exhibition for Valletta 2018, for example,  was wrapped in comments like “his [Picasso’s] works fetch the highest prices at auction houses”. Read: the works cost a fortune therefore they are not rubbish. The final step in the making culture an insult was announced in the Times of Malta article from the 26th September 2016. Apparently, according to the Office of Prime Minister, “the upcoming high-rise projects in Mrieħel and Tigné would each contribute €50,000 to a new artistic fund”. Glorious! Considering that the Malta’s independent-minded bohemians actively oppose these developments, the unmasked cynicism of this piece of news stinks unbearably much.

But hey, putting the new swearword into good use is certainly more fun than blunt bitching about its origins. Here are a few possible combinations with culture instead of more conventional obscenities:

  • go fuck culture yourself! (an exclamation expressing anger or contempt for, or rejection of, someone);
  • fuck culture off! (go away)
  • what the fuck culture are you doing?! (said to express incredulity at someone’s behavior)
  • are you totally fucked cultured-up?! (to a person who has a tendency to make a mess of things).

Although they haven’t made it to the Oxford Dictionary yet, these new combinations have a potential to express disagreement with the status quo in many ways. Enjoy!

Malta’s Yin and Yang: ħamalli, pepè and those in between

There is more to it than stereotypes ~8 minutes read~

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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.

Ħamalli

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.

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Cartoon from “Sausage people” series by Seb Tanti Burlo

 

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 ħamallu regular (latin: Ħamallus miletensis or Ħamallus vulgaris) as a separate species whom they try to dissociate from as much as possible – that makes Ħamallus vulgaris 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. Ħamallu is anyone who has no consideration of others and recognizes no authority higher than himself. He 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 is not thrilled by nature. His 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.

The ħammalu label cannot be applied to anyone with acute sense of solidarity, class solidarity included. Also, a fisherman or a farmer is seldom ħamallu since he has a great respect for the force much greater than himself – nature.

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Cartoon by Seb Tanti Burlo

One particular variation of ħamallu stereotype is ħamallu advanced (Ħamallus pergrandis). 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.

Ħamallu advanced 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 epithome of nature destruction and social injustice;
  • to the various others, he is a role model.

Pepè

Noun: pepè (masculine singular, feminine singular, plural)

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cartoon by Seb Tanti Burlo

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 a smug philistine, a snob who craves to be recognized as pedigree. Although pepé sees his main 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.

Breaking from the stagnant dualism is impossible without creating new combinations. The universal principle of evolution, be it biological or social, is that the new combinations result from mixing. New initiatives ought to aim at stirring up a greater social cohesion among the young generation who see these clichés outdated. There will be light.

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