The Islanders: Maltin u Għawdxin

Every island is a world of its own. This was one of the first discoveries made soon after settling in Malta five years ago, just a few days after the arrival. I remember how much it surprised me when I heard the Prime Minister (Lawrence Gonzi at that time) addressing his speech to the nation and saying “ghaziz poplu Malti u Għawdxi” (‘dear people of Malta and Gozo’). “Why didn’t he call everyone ‘Maltese’?” – I asked a Maltese sitting nearby. “Is ‘Gozitan’ a separate nation?”. “Because THEY like to think of THEMSELVES as if they were a separate nation”, was the answer. For a moment I imagined how a Greek Prime Minister would mention all islands in his speech to the nation and it seemed just awkward.

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‘Gozitans have a reputation of charging different prices for Gozitans, Maltese and foreigners (that’s everyone else)’ Cartoon by Steve Bonello (http://www.stevebonellocartoons.com/editorial.html)

If you ask me to describe Malta (as a country, not island) in a few words, one of them would certainly be ‘segregation’. Although experienced at many levels, it most clearly can be observed in segregation between ‘Maltin u Għawdxin’. In a few years here I have come across the ‘Maltese vs Gozitan’ argument for a great number of times. The most memorable comment that simply struck me was given during a field trip around Gozo by the boat captain who said “I love the island but not the people. We go THERE and spend OUR money to keep THEIR country going! These Gozitans!..” The comment, especially the “our money” and “their country” bit left me silent with eyes wide open. Two broken pieces instead of a whole thing. How is it possible that populations of the two small islands, located so close to each other, co-existing within the same country, sharing the same religious views and speaking the same language do not form a united nation? Is the difference between these islanders so great that it makes them feel remote from one another? Or, to start with, are there any drastic differences at all? Here is how the whole Maltese-Gozitan affair looks to a unbiased outsider:

  1. Gozo is one of the safest places in the whole world. Crime rates in Malta are generally low but Gozo is extra safe. In some villages you might see keys left in keyholes – an unbelievable sight for a foreigner from a big city. However, if you are too indelicate with your ways around, things go wrong and (let’s imagine) one day you discover a bomb underneath your car (METAPHOR!), then it is very unlikely you will ever find out the sender of the ticket to the better world. Gozitans are a close community so nobody will testify against his/her neighbour. Having such strong back up, Gozitans feel secure not to pay attention to legal matters in general.
  2.  Gozitans are champions in trying to be good on everyone’s books. One thing all my Gozitan acquaintances have in common is a skill of avoiding direct confrontation. In fact, at times it is difficult to find out what they really think about you. Even if a Gozitan dude dislikes you with passion he would rather stick a bomb under your car (METAPHOR AGAIN!) than telling it in your face. However, do not rush to label them double-faced or accuse in having hidden agendas, there is a very logical explanation for this mentality. Expressing your opinions and taking sides openly might result in making more enemies than friends – not a good strategy when you live on a tiny island with a few people around.
  3. There is a number of sayings about Gozo made by Maltese. ‘To leave like a Gozitan’ (to leave without saying good-bye), ‘nobody knows what happens in Gozo behind closed doors’ and ‘dubbien ta’ Għawdex’ (direct translation ‘a fly from Gozo’ and a synonym of ‘an annoying fly’) characterise the islanders in an odd light. However, I am unaware of such sayings from the other shore. Perhaps, fellows of Gozo are not much interested in gossiping about the mainland (a far-away land from that perspective) or it is another side of them being so masterful in avoiding confrontations. Nevertheless, Maltese never miss a chance to spend a tranquil weekend in Gozo, silently admitting their admiration for the island’s wonderful landscapes and peaceful environment.
  4. The Gozitan dialect of the Maltese language is a constant source of inspiration for Maltese to joke about their compatriots from the sister island. The difference in pronunciation can be spotted even by a foreigner. However, from a linguistic perspective, this dialect is closer to the proper Maltese language than the official one.
  5. The young generation of Gozitans disprove the disdainful jokes about their home island. Often very ambitious, goal-seeking and career-oriented, they aim high and do their best to get there.
  6. In terms of architecture, Gozo wins over Malta. Small villages are full of hidden treasures – beautiful stone balconies, unique antique door knockers, untouched old houses and quiet narrow streets.

Frankly, I do not think the opinion of many Maltese about Gozitans fits into ‘metropolitan dudes look down on retrograde provinсials’ scheme. The more you pay attention to the image of Gozo portrayed by the mainlanders, the more distinctively you would smell the scent of jealousy. Does it only seem to me that many residing on the main island envy Gozo’s green hills, open spaces and tranquillity? Perhaps in Gozo they see what Malta was in the past and simply cannot forgive their compatriots for their own loss of the traditional charm, sacrificed for a sake of development and modernisation.

P.S. ‘Bomb underneath a car’ in this article generally stands for indirect ways of telling outsiders they are unwelcome.

(to be continued)
Check the section ‘Malta Sketches’ for more articles about Malta https://raisatarasova.wordpress.com/category/malta-sketches/

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Becoming a fan of Norwegian TV (a confession of a TV know-nothing)

'Y Kveld med Ylvis'
‘I kveld med Ylvis’ (image from http://www.tvnorge.no/programmer/i-kveld-med-ylvis-live/ylvis-tilbake-p%C3%A5-skjermen-1.24707)

Never have I expected myself to write a post about TV, although, by all means, a discovery of the few Norwegian TV shows is among the coolest things that happened to me this year. I need to start by admitting that for the last eight years or so I have been as ignorant of any TV productions as one can be. It started long before my immigration to Malta, in my family’s apartment, when our Soviet dinosaur TV eventually died right in the middle of one of the “Lost” episodes and we decided not to spend money and time on such a useless furniture item. Since then my TV ignorance have been growing and flourishing. Every time a conversation turned onto discussing “The Borgias” or “Games of Thrones” I had nothing else to do but yawn and blush, embarrassed of my cluelessness (yes, that bad).

Another curious fact about becoming a fan of TV Norge’s shows is that I could not define myself as particularly knowledgeable about Norway, its traditions and mentality in general, let alone, its TV shows. Although Hamsun, Grieg, Munk were admired and my curiosity about Janteloven had reached a level of fascination, I used to picture modern Norway as an overly satisfied socialist paradise that has nothing exciting to offer. Fortunately, as in numerous times before, my categorical opinions based on little experience were proven wrong.

It all started from watching the hilarious prank “Intelevator” by two Norwegian brothers which I found simply striking. Such razor-sharp sense of humour is only possible if based on a solid cultural background, that’s why it was difficult not to pay more attention at their other pieces. I was then grateful to my curiosity for directing me into the few other videos by Ylvis (that’s what the duo is called) which left me delighted and thirsty for more. Finally, I was conquered by the “Fake trailers” series, particularly by “Jacues et Florine” –  genius satire on intellectual European films; and with the “swearing experiment” – the cherry on the cake – I have become a freshly baptised eager follower of TV Norge in general and Ylvis in particular. Since then, searching on YouTube for more “I kveld med Ylvis” (“Tonight with Ylvis”) shows have become a constant source of genuine laugh and discoveries about the mysterious northern nation.

Swearing experiment
The hilarious ‘swearing experiment’ is definitely a must-watch (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73x3w3MGwTc)
Fake movie trailer 'Jaque et Florin', razor-sharp satire on European arthouse films
Fake movie trailer ‘Jacues et Florin’, razor-sharp satire on European arthouse films (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRC8UAQPsGs)

“Norges Herligste” was another exciting set of series produced by Ylvis for TV Norge in 2007-2008. These wildly funny series were dedicated to Norway’s ‘different’ people and (oh my!) never had I seen anything more genuine, hilarious, eccentric and straight-forward all at once. Instead of seeing the commonly stereotyped as being cold, proper and inhospitable Nordic people the screen revealed cranks of all types, both cute and easy. Add to it the wonderful serenity of Norwegian landscapes and the aesthetical pleasure from the TV hosts’ perfect, cut from stone, profiles that could have been an inspiration to Michelangelo.

"The Hermit", one of the Norges Herligste series
‘The Hermit’, one of the ‘Norges Herligste’ series (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h01y9TRyB2o)
"Tommen", the story about a 56-year old snowboarder with (ahem) rich life experience
‘Tommen’, a story about a 56-year old snowboarder with (ahem) rich life experience (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sI-r3x3GQ00)
'Boxer-shorts-man' from Kristiansand and his songs about Christianity - one of the funniest 'Norges Herligste' sketches
‘Boxer-shorts-man’ from Kristiansand and his songs about Christianity – one of the funniest ‘Norges Herligste’ sketches (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3PoAdvKVds)
'DJ Helmet-on-Fire' - fun DJ interviewed by Ylvis in ""Norges Herligste" DJ Bakkeslett"
‘DJ Helmet-on-Fire’ – fun DJ interviewed by Ylvis in ‘Norges Herligste DJ Bakkeslett’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNqnffVE4ys)

I love the sound of Norsk but, unfortunately, my understanding of it is limited to a few words (mostly those you would not say in public). Thus, for talentless in languages poor fellows like me the only option is waiting for subtitles to be added, luckily most of the videos get subtitled quickly. The sparkly sense of humour, endless creativity, straight-forward use of foul language when applicable make ‘Norges Herligste’ and ‘I kveld med Ylvis’ beyond comparison for all who appreciate genuine things.

P.S. By developing a soft spot for Nordic fellows I probably have become more Maltese than ever.

Malta: not a day without a celebration

Fireworks of Hal-Lija are often a work of art

Anybody who has spent at least a year in Malta eventually finds him/herself living in a movable feast. For a good half a year, from April till October, when the country is immersed into the season of celebrations, exploding salutes become your best alarm clock. As dusk approaches, bangs echo from one side of the country to the other, with clouds from salutes always floating over the horizon. Fireworks become an obligatory attribute to the night sky over the islands. “Wait. Wasn’t there a feast last week already?”, you ask yourself, loosing count of bangs, clouds, fireworks, paper trimmings, and finally getting used to the festive fever around. Without exaggeration, there is no summer day without a celebration in Malta. Weeks between Carnival and Saint Publius (the first feast of the year) are merely a short break to prepare more fireworks, cut paper trimmings and recharge energy for more fun.

The official explanation for this phenomenal bustle is too prosaic to believe it. According to it, there simply is a feast for each church in every village. Doesn’t it leave behind more than explains? Why not to combine forces into a fewer but bigger feasts? Or was it a mere coincidence that the patron saints of the utter majority of churches are those who occupy summer days in the religious calendar?

If a question “Why not to combine forces into a fewer but bigger feasts?” sounds logical to you then you do not know Maltese people a tiny bit. The Maltese are driven by a spirit of individualism. Just look around! Hardly you will find two identical doors next to each other, staircases often make a web on facades just because everyone prefers having a separate entrance (although, having a shared staircase could save some space for living). It’s always “us” and “them”, where “us” is restricted to a family or a village and “them” means everyone else. Sharing fireworks with someone else, you say? Total nonsense! The epitome of such individualism is a two-feast conflict in Zurrieq, where supporting both feasts would be a daring act of anarchy. That’s why humble fireworks of Qrendi melt in the sky next to grandiose fireworks of Mqabba. ”So what if THEIR feast attracts thousands? We have OUR OWN and that’s what matters most!”.

The religious component to a feast is more a legitimate justification for a need to celebrate than a true reason. Many Maltese are proud of THEIR church and THEIR statue but still, it is the need for an energy release and the colourful spots in the sky that sets the ball rolling. Oh, let’s just make every day as bustling as possible, who needs reasons for that? No matter what saint is it, let’s just splash it all out and stretch for as long as possible!

Or could it be that festive fever is the best remedy for the main country’s fear, the fear of silence? In Malta the term ‘ life’ is strongly associated with sounds, be it a church bell chime, hunters’ gunshots in the countryside, noisy motorcycles or exploding sounds of fireworks. Every salute strengthens the power of life in a battle against the threatening silence, leaving no space for it other than afterlife.

More articles about Malta: https://raisatarasova.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/malta-lovely-yet-overly-politicized/

Carnival in Valletta in 2014
Carnival in Valletta in 2014
St. Publius feast in Floriana
St. Publius feast in Floriana
One of the feasts in Valletta
One of the feasts in Valletta
Fireworks of Hal-Lija are often a work of art
Fireworks of Hal-Lija are often a work of art
People watching the famous pyro show in Mqabba
People watching the famous pyro show in Mqabba