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 lion and not Triton, Athena or the Maltese cross that won the hegemony over the Maltese doors?

During the centuries preceding the 1700s the human perception of the world was dominated by symbolism and 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 perceived 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 and Gozitan houses. How many of them do you know?

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.

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Cartoon by Seb Tanti Burlo

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

For the rest of the country, ħamallu regular (latin: Ħamallus miletensis or Ħamallus vulgaris) is a separate species they try to dissociate from as much as possible and that makes Ħamallus vulgaris a keystone figure 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. All of them are partially true yet still miss the core indication of a true ħamallu regulartheir profound disrespect and hostility to anything outside their little world. Whether they are genuinely clueless about the outer world or deliberately ignorant of it, ħamalli refuse to consider anything that does not concern themselves, their house, their band club or, maximum, their locality.

Ħamallu blasts the sound in his car or house, parks on two parking bays, occupies as much space as he can at the beach, builds a boat house on public land, disturbs his neighbours with outbursts of loudness and his neighbourhood – with gunshots because he recognizes no authority higher than himself.

Ħammali is not even a class phenomenon since recognizing certain class solidarity already broadens one’s perspective. On the other hand, a fisherman or a farmer is seldom ħamallu since he is humbled by the force much greater than himself – nature. Ħamallu regular is not thrilled by nature. His approach to anything is utilitarian. If he ever notices anything beautiful and delicate it is only for the sake of his pocket.

Someone might say ħamallu regular is not unique to Malta but widely spread across the globe. Well, similar varieties might be present in all countries yet Ħamallu miletensis is endemic to Malta because:

  • he evolved in the specific conditions of post-colonial country environment, where higher education was a privilege originally available to the few;
  • the absence of such great landscape features as mountains combined with the warm Mediterranean climate favour ħamallu power since there is nothing to keep the human ego in check. Not even the giant of Catholic church has managed to humble him down;
  • he influences the absolute majority of social interactions in Malta. Be it the cases where ħamallu is the initiator or where the rest counteract his misdeeds, he still remains a centrepiece.
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Cartoon by Seb Tanti Burlo

Another variation of ħamallu 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. Sadly, he truly is an international kind.

Pepè

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

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No local cartoons of pepe found. Pepe is a dull subject, that’s why the local cartoonists prefer to draw caricatures of hamalli instead

Ironically, pepé phenomenon is intertwined with the one of ħamallu since the main struggle of the former is to distinguish himself from the latter. 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. Pepé’s main life achievement is to be of a non-ħamallu bunch and he simply can’t get enough of his bliss.

The saddest fact for pepé would be to recognize 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 does not see beyond his village;
  • 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 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. Mistaking ħamalli for a class, 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. Do not despair. There is a fair number of independent thinkers in Malta. Squeezed between ħamalli and pepé, they have no choice than hiding away and keeping to their bubbles – that’s why navigating around Malta is much easier for a foreigner than a local.

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. Recently, more and more attempts are being made to stir up that mixing among the young generation who see these clichés outdated. Civil Society Network, Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent, LovinMalta, Terraferma Collective do their bit to eliminate “ħamalli” vs “pepé” misconceptions. There will be light.

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Who gets the Maltese audience: DCG’s Notebook vs LovinMalta

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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 etiquette-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:

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  1. Target audienceaudience
  2. Contentcontent
  3. Vision of Maltavision 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.

How to survive a Maltese wedding

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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 exuberant religious feasts, buzz and low respect 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:

  1. The Cool phase: the first hour at the party;
  2. The Phase of Desperate Boredom: 2nd hour until cutting of the cake;
  3. The Phase of Wild Joy: after cutting of the cake.

The Cool Phase

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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

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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:

  1. 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).
  2. If you are vegetarian or vegan, try to enjoy your remote engagement with food by watching others eat.
  3. 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.
  4. Take as many selfies as you can (when will the next occasion to wear that dress/suite, be after all?).
  5. 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.
  6. 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“.
  7. 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.
  8. 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

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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.

Happy wedding season to all! Like Malta Sketches Facebook page if you like more articles like this one.

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Malta 2016: all you see is cranes

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.

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Ads versus reality. Never mind the ‘sunny temperatures’ bit.

So let the routine crane count begin.

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Crane count begins on a bus to the University. How many cranes do you see on this photo? The correct answer is 3.

On the way from the bus stop to the office I see another one, right on campus. That makes 4 cranes.

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The crane on campus

After work, I walk to the other bus stop and see two more construction’s skeleton silhouettes (that makes it 6).

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Two more cranes from the University bus stop

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.

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A “Welcome to Valletta” message from cranes

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.

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A massive construction site in Gzira (Manoel de Vilhena Street) – 3 cranes so far.
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The Strand, Gzira: more cranes. That makes it 4.
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Another crane at the Strand (5 cranes)
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A playground and a few cafeterias share the space with 4 cranes in close proximity. Scary stuff, indeed (9 cranes)
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On a ferry from Sliema to Valletta: cranes are from either side of the boat. These two are on Sliema side (11 cranes)
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Two more cranes grace Valletta skyline (13 cranes in total).

In case you fancy a walk from Tigne to St. Julians, crane sightseeing becomes even more exciting.

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The guy on the graffiti is evidently escaping from the crane behind him
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Even on the beach it’s impossible to escape the signs of local Apocalypse
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And here are two more.
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St. George’s bay in St. Julians is where the crane concentration is above the survival limit. And it’s only a start.

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?

Support Kamp Emergenza Ambjent and Front Harsien ODZ to defend the country from the ongoing crane siege.

Why Malta is more fun for expats than for locals

(5 minutes read)

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:

  1. Many middle-class Maltese prefer finding friends among foreignerssouth

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 mobilitybeach

 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

prosit

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.

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