Ten of Valletta’s most beautiful balconies

Every workday morning government officials and tourists mixed into one gigantic swarm, invade Valletta, rushing through Republic Street before disappearing in the quiet narrow side streets. Every evening the same human stream flows in the opposite direction, leaving the baroque city to its residents and self. Like the Moon, Valletta induces tidal human flooding. Like the Moon, it is familiar to every Maltese since childhood yet carries its “other”, hidden side, unknown to many.

How many times did you look around today, on your way to work and back home? How many times did you notice sometimes new? The hectic lifestyle, eyes and fingers stuck to screens leave little space for surprises and new discoveries. Sometimes, lifting your head is all it takes to be surprised. Valletta happens on many levels. The abandoned, crumbling balconies and the busy human swarm belong to different eras and dimensions; the contrast between them is particularly striking.

Here are just a few of Valletta’s unique balconies, discovered while roaming around on a warm October evening.

  1. The Rococo Beauty
    St. Ursula Street is known for its haunted reputation. While a paranormal encounter is not guaranteed, a walk through this street would nourish your aesthetic sense. The facade of this house, particularly the balcony, remains my favorite spot in Valletta. I can never get enough of its curved shape and the beautifully carved windows.WP_20151006_18_07_06_edt

2. The Ensemble of Perspective

Right opposite St. Dominic’s Church, in the corner of Merchants and St. Dominic’s streets, is located this humble, both in shape and in colour, ensemble of balconies. What is unique about it, however, is the vertical perspective: the whole ensemble narrows toward the top, giving the visual impression of a much greater height.

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3. The Rebel Corner

Now keep walking on St. Dominic’s Street towards St. Paul’s Street. A very particular corner balcony crowns the corner of these two streets. The most peculiar side of this architectural specimen is not it’s shape however. It belongs to the world of its own, as if it was designed for a different building but, for some strange reason, became part of this one.

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4. The Shabby Elegance

Unfortunately, there are many more of these exquisitely carved yet abandoned balconies as this one on the corner of Merchants and St. Lucia streets. Located at one of the busiest spots of Valletta, with the close proximity to the Valletta 2018, it yet remains in this state.

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5. The Baroque Twins

Merchants Street is home to Valletta’s most beautiful balconies. The variety of styles and colours in this area is truly amazing. This facade, right in between the Russian Centre for Science and Culture and HSBC, blends Rococo decorative features with understatement of elegance.

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6. The Nobleman

I bet everyone can tell where this one is. Correct, this baroque splendor is located right above Camilleriparismode store. Breathtaking architecture!

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7. The Humble Curves

This one is easy to miss out. Too, a resident of Merchants street, unlike its close neighbors, does not manifest itself with bright colours. Look closer: it’s curved windows did not get the glass to fit the frames. WP_20151006_17_44_36_edt 8. The Dusty Chic

Now turn to Zachary Street, walk towards St. John’s Co-Cathedral and, approaching the cafeterias, look up and you’ll see it. Finding this one feels beautiful: the narrow street with little light has more  to offer.

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9. The Grand Master

Grand in all aspects, this corner balcony needs no advertisement. At least once in their lifetime, anybody who ever walked past the Palace paused their pace to admire it.
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10. The Lady in Red

Walking through St. George’s Square, turn right, pass through Archbishop’s Street and then immediately turn left into St. Frederick. One of the narrowest streets of Valletta hides a jewel. Just look at this newly renovated facad and the oval  balcony. Simply beautiful!

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P.S. Sometimes, a simple solution to traffic problems lays in a relaxed lifestyle. After finishing work, take a stroll around Valletta. It is much more pleasant than being stuck in traffic.

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More articles about Valletta:
https://raisatarasova.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/parallel-worlds-reflected-valletta/

What bubble of Maltese society do you belong to?

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This is a non-serious yet quite realistic scope of Maltese society. Choose the bubble that ticks most boxes for you and read the description at the bottom of the page :). Please remember to laugh and not to take it all seriously.

Oo. Bubble 1 .oO

Political party: Labour/Nationalist.

Religion: Believer.

Interests: cars, family, fashion, local TV programmes, feast and other loud events, pop-music (preferably loud)

Attitude to immigrants/refugees: send them home!

Do you like Valletta City Gate project? Le ta.

How accepting you are of new bubble members? Jien naf!

Places to hang out: social media, bars, Paceville, Café del Mar.

How you see other bubbles: Mhux Maltin ta veru!

How other bubbles see you: try not to have much in common.

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Oo. Bubble 2 .oO

Political party: Nationalist.

Religion: Agnostic/Believer

Interests: international politics, British/French literature, travels, fine dining (basically, everything what excludes interests of bubble 1).

Attitude to immigrants/refugees: not so much in favour but you keep it to yourself

Do you like Valletta City Gate project? Yes, about time we get a fine example of contemporary architecture.

How accepting you are of new bubble members? Only if they are born in the same bubble.

Places to hang out: art events, receptions, boutique launches, fine restaurants.

How you see other bubbles: plebs and peasants.

How other bubbles see you: uppers class snobs.

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Oo. Bubble 3 .oO

Political party: floating voter/Alternattiva Democratica

Religion: Never!

Interests: blaming religion for all world’s disasters, astronomy, non-fiction or comic books, action movies or true stories, vintage rock music (all wrapped in “Science will save the world!”).

Attitude to immigrants/refugees: Generally favourable. If not, you still pretend it’s favourable.

Do you like Valletta City Gate project? Never, it is ugly!

How accepting you are of new bubble members? If they are ready to bitch about church, they are very welcome!

Places to hang out: mostly in front of PC, trying to solve world’s problems by arguing with idiots on social networks.

How you see other bubbles: morons!

How other bubbles see you: with caution.

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Oo. Bubble 4 .oO

Political party: Alternattiva Democratica

Religion: Not particularly but Buddha sounds like a nice guy.

Interests: Environment, human rights, green politics, organic/vegetarian/vegan food, meditation, a joint once in a while.

Attitude to immigrants/refugees: Very favourable! The world is one and we need to help less fortunate ones!

Do you like Valletta City Gate project? Generally yes, but we need more open and green spaces.

How accepting you are of new bubble members? They are welcome; we need more like-minders.

Places to hang out: Gugar, Juuls, Happy Days, reggae parties, indie film, literature and ethnic festivals.

How you see other bubbles: ignorant plebs and slaves of capitalism.

How other bubbles see you: annoying hippies.

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Oo. Bubble 5 .oO

Political party: Alternattiva Democratica

Religion: No.

Interests: Visual and performance art, architecture, arthouse films, smart TV series, personally styled clothes, geek books and other stuff that makes no sense to other bubbles.

Attitude to immigrants/refugees: Favourable.

Do you like Valletta City Gate project? Very much so.

How accepting you are of new bubble members? Generally accepting but let’s keep the number low: we feel more special being a minority.

Places to hang out: Gugar, St. James Cavalier, Blitz, I’Ingliz bar, indie film, literature and ethnic festivals.

How you see other bubbles: uncultured shallow plebs with no sense of aesthetics.

How other bubbles see you: deny your existence.

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Oo. Bubble 6 .oO

Political party: Liberal something.

Religion: No, but Krishna sounds cool.

Interests: LIFE! Good music, good entertainment, good company, diving, climbing, adventures.

Attitude to immigrants/refugees: Favourable.

Do you like Valletta City Gate project? Yeah, nice.

How accepting you are of new bubble members? Our bubble sustains on new members.

Places to hang out: St. Julians, Paceville, boat parties, Café del Mar, live music concerts.

How you see other bubbles: know nothing about them. If they aren’t with us, they must be boring.

How other bubbles see you: unaware of your existence.

 

Bubble 1:

Congratulations! You belong to the most numerous bubble of “Typical Maltese” (or a “Typical Gozitan”) whatever it means :). Your preferences are main-stream to the bone. Regardless of your educational level, you care little about such useless things as classic literature, philosophy, art and other cultural aspects (or, in short, areas that are not connected to your money-earning routine).

Bubble 2:

Congratulations! You are so-called “Tal-pepe”, a well-mannered individual, familiar with dining etiquette, often mistaken for a snob. You strive not to mix with Bubble 1 and even speak Maltese with English accent to scare them off. With your good education, good taste and style, family traditions and high status, you make sure others understand they can’t imagine they are your equal.

Bubble 3:

Congratulations! Most likely, you are a member of Malta Humanist Association. You see yourself as hope and future of the Maltese nation. With all your devotion to humanism, science and politics you lack awareness and appreciation of art in all its forms and ways. If something is not linked to Dawkins, Hitchens, Sagan or another scientific dude, then it’s worthless rubbish (exception made for superheroes, they are cool!).

Bubble 4:

Congratulations! You are an environmental activist. Your bubble is pretty much international. You are a politically aware, thinking and socially responsible individual which hopes (and works for) to make the world a better and fairer place. Most likely, you are a member of an environmental NGO. Others see you as a weirdo and a dreamer, and for that reason you have no other choice but to stick to your bubble.

Bubble 5:

Congratulations! Together with bubble 4, you belong to the minority of thoughtful individuals. You are artistic or have a deep appreciation and understanding of art (also, you might have none of these but just want to hang around cool people). You and other bubble members are not so easily approachable what makes it rather difficult to penetrate into your bubble.

Bubble 6:

Congratulations! Most likely, you are a foreigner or a rare example of Maltese who do not keep to bubbles, do not care for ideology and do not hold to roots. You live somewhere around Sliema/St. Julians/Gzira/Msida, love life, dedicate some time (but not a lot) to thinking and ready to leave Malta in a minute if a better opportunity crops up.

Didn’t find your bubble in this scope? Define it yourself 🙂

A Bus to Sliema

Malta is not as tiny as it looks on a map. With all its diversities, it does feel like a much bigger country, metaphorically speaking, it is a large country squeezed into the size of a pea. Here distance of one kilometer separates often incompatible realms with completely different realities. Close neighbors, Attard and Qormi easily could be two different states. Different worlds exist across from Valletta harbours. One of them, Sliema, is particularly tempting to explore.

A few decades back, Sliema was a hub of Maltese families with traditions. Nowadays, with property costs sky high, fewer and fewer Maltese can afford to live here. Those able to afford it much prefer a villa in quieter areas to non-stop noise from construction sights and the nightmare of searching for parking. Yet, Sliema still is a magnetic world, full of life, energy and a particular eclectic charm.

Sliema is Malta’s own California, a locality where the country’s foreign heart beats at a high rate. Visiting Sliema feels like going abroad – so different it is from anywhere else on the island. The Sliema experience starts from catching a bus from Valletta terminus: unlike many other bays, here you are surrounded with a young, colorful crowd, looking forward to burst out its energy at a party night. Tourists, students, frequent visitors and permanent residents fill the bus space with sounds of all languages and dialects. Sensual Spanish sibilant “s” mixes with croaky German and roaring Slavic sounds, creating a crazy yet exciting mix of different cultures heading towards the same destination: Sliema.

Once off from the noisy bus, you are standing on the Sliema seafront. Mellow tunes are seeping from Surfside restaurant, the sea meets the sky at the horizon, waves softly embrace the rocky beach – that’s on a sunny day. Stormy Sliema seafront would greet you with waves crushing on the shore and the unique sound that only surf can produce. One thing stays the same: regardless of what the weather is like, the promenade is taken by joggers – a rare scene in Malta outside of tourist localities. Expat Sliema/St. Julians body cult is one of its defining features; nowhere on the island have you seen such concentration of fit and attractive beings per square kilometer. Watching the world jogging by while trying to guess joggers’ country of origin is an easy entertainment for a lazy afternoon to spare.

Sliema promenade
Sliema promenade (source: web)

Gravity of all life pleasures attracts people from different walks of life (and that is what makes the locality so special). Yoga instructors and spiritual gurus coexist here with gold diggers and adventurers of all sorts, IT nerds – with environmentalists, left-wingers – with admirers of luxury and comfort. However, there is something that unites them all – uncertainty where life will get them tomorrow. They might stay here for years or might leave in a few days with the change of their fortune’s wind.  The sense of uncertainty and joyful presence at the moment creates a mysterious, morphing façade which is not easy to break through.

Sliema stranger (source: Getty images)
Sliema stranger (source: Getty images)

While being pretty much one big family, the Sliema colorful expat community is at the same time quite isolated from the rest of the country. As much as they belong to the world, as little they pay attention to Malta’s local news and nuances of its routine struggle. Many came here seeking life full of entertainment, with long lists of desired achievements which integration into the Maltese society makes no part of. Ruled by its own conventions, this multicultural hub is the quickest escape to a foreign land which is always close if you need it.

2014 in Pictures

Traditionally, the final post of the year is dedicated to a selection photos and the stories behind them. Many thanks to all the followers for their interest and shares! Happy New Year 2015!

JANUARY

Narcissi

On a cold windy Saturday a woman was selling narcissi at the farmer’s market. The contrast between the tender, sunlit flowers and the gloomy sales person was striking. She seemed absolutely uninterested in what was going on around her, not even paying attention to a few potential customers.

Narcissi
Narcissi

MARCH

The Malta Experience

If Maltese population is to be described in two words, it would be ‘politicized’ and ‘segregated’ that fit best (https://raisatarasova.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/malta-lovely-yet-overly-politicized/). Truly, politics in Malta is a very sensitive topic, thus, in previous years poking fun at politicians in a direct manner at carnival was not allowed. This year, however, the taboo was finally abolished and politics became the central topic for the carnival in March 2014. Politicians caricatures were waving from the floats and walking down streets in Valletta – finally, Maltese got a permission for something they had been longing for. On the photo below, Nationalist party leader, Simon Busuttil, floats above the crowd of Labour supporters.

The Malta Experience
The Malta Experience

MAY

The First Feast of the Year

Passion for celebrations is another signature of Malta. Starting from St. Publius feast in Floariana, the country dives into enormous bustle of street celebrations, ‘bombi’ and fireworks (https://raisatarasova.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/malta-not-a-day-without-a-celebration/). To be fair, not everyone in Malta is a fan of fireworks yet sounds of blasts rolling from one shore to the other silence their disagreement.

The First Feast of the Year
The First Feast of the Year

JUNE

Midsummer Evening

The view from the Hastings Gardens in Valletta is one of the best on the island, many came to enjoy it on the longest day of the year. I could see a group of teen-aged guys, jumping on the thick walls of the gardens – such a good shot! – yet missed the moment of the jump by a split second. Every missed good shot feels like a dream which will never come true. Thankfully, midsummer nights are filled with joy and leave little time to revisit moments of sadness.

Midsummer Evening
Midsummer Evening

JULY

Bird-watchers

BirdLife Malta organised a few boat trips for the public to admire colonies of Yelkouan shearwater, migratory species of birds that can be easily recognised by specific raucous cackling calls in the breeding season. When the boat came closer to the colony raft, most of the passengers reached the state of delight and euphoria, seeing the birds flying very close by. Cameras were clicking hundreds of times per minute, exclamations of excitement and wows dominated our little boat. I was standing there, in the middle of it, failing to share this passion and unable to feel that way, once again struck by the evidence of how many different passions there are in the human world. What possibly is the most exciting thing in the world for one might mean nothing to the other.

Shearwaters
Shearwaters

AUGUST

Fireworks of Mqabba

The little village of Mqabba in the south of Malta is renowned for it’s state-of-the art pyroshows. The show attracts thousands of visitors, Maltese and foreign, eager to see what is claimed to be the finest fireworks in the world.

Fireworks of Mqabba
Fireworks of Mqabba

The New Valletta Entrance

As has been mentioned above, in a simplified yet still realistic manner, the Maltese population is divisible into ‘Labour’ vs ‘Nationalist’, ‘pro-hunting’ vs ‘against-hunting’ and in 2014 it also became ‘Renzo Piano’s project fans’ vs ‘Renzo Piano’s project haters’. Whereas the new City Entrance is praised by some, it is passionately rejected and criticized by others. The Entrance and the New Parliament Building are often called an ‘eye-sore’ and a ‘pigeon house’. In my opinion, the Entrance is simply stunning with its clear lines and the beauty of architecture which calls for associations with Ancient and Medieval times. The new steps, however, unite the fans and the haters. Yes, I love them too!

The New Valletta Steps
The New Valletta Steps

SEPTEMBER

One Funny Russian Wedding

Unlike the current Maltese wedding customs, Russian weddings are easy and informal. Frankly, most of Russians experience more than one wedding ceremony in their lifetime and keep it easy and informal. In Astrakhan (my hometown https://raisatarasova.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/astrakhan-where-east-meets-west-and-both-get-confused/)marriages are registered at the Wedding Palace the place where love oaths are part of every day routine. The formal wedding procedure does feel like routine: couples and their friends gather in front of the Palace, entering one by one, the continuation is standard: ‘I do’, signatures, kisses, a glass of champagne, walk out of the Palace on the path, covered with rose petals, a group photo. If you stay next to the Palace for longer, you would see a long line of couples walking in and out, taking the photo on those steps and you would also hear the elderly woman complaining about the mess (the petals) that she has to swipe after each and every couple. And off it all goes – couples drive away in cars, rose petals end up in garbage bags. Everything passes, love shall not :).

One Funny Russian Wedding
One Funny Russian Wedding

The Sun Worshiper

Mnajdra Temples in Malta are among the world’s most ancient man-made constructions, designed for the cult of equinox worship. On the 23rd September A broad range of audience gathered inside the walls of the Temples waiting for the first sunray. The misty sunrise almost ruined the scene leaving no trace of light on the altar. Slowly but surely, we all were becoming disappointed when at 7.30 am the sun finally managed to cut through the clouds and to light a path straight onto the altar. Greeting the sunrise at the ancient place over 5000 years old, where the mysterious civilization used to perform its cult, felt magical.

The Sun Worshiper
The Sun Worshiper

OCTOBER

The Reflexion

This photo free from any stories and interpretations apart from the fact that it features Castille Place, the office of Prime Minister. Make your own, if you like.

The Reflexion
The Reflexion

NOVEMBER

Footprints on Sand

On one very sunny November day we ended up in Gozo for a field trip. The weather and the atmosphere was calling for an adventure (and it did come, not on that same day but later on). After a picnic, our group headed to Ramla bay, beautiful sandy beach in Gozo. Our footprints on the sand are now gone and we are not there but the memory of it survived.

The Footprints on the Sand
The Footprints on Sand

Big hugs, small kisses and best wishes! See you in 2015!

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/

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

Malta: lovely yet overly politicized

When politics is not about ideology.  ~5 minutes read~

Maltese politicians game-1
Politicks, the card game created by Log Hob Games was a smashing success on crowd-funding site Indiegogo. The game finally gave Malta a chance to play with politicians.

What would you call Malta’s signature trait, a specialty that can be experienced only here? Besides its relaxed and life-appreciating lifestyle, it is the extremely polarised and passionate political involvement that makes Malta so exiting to witness. With its two-party system, Malta is divided into Laburisti (red) and Nazzjonalisti (blue) with a [growing] pinch of liberal-minded citizens. It was utterly surprising to me as foreigner to discover that almost every Maltese above 30 has a strong political opinion and is assigned to either one of the political parties. Politics literally infiltrates every aspect of life in the country. Everything here – from universal concerns such as environmental conservation and development to personal preferences like the colour of car and dressing style – might be seen as political.

To even bigger surprise, I learnt that political views are often inherited from family members. Open support for one of the parties eventually becomes a label, strongly associated with the rest of personality and is often used as description. A phrase like “He is Labour” or “She is Nationalist” is a piece of information, sufficient for indictment. Members of the two clusters support their party’s decisions with near religious fanaticism, at times bordering with complete intolerance towards the other party’s members. To liberal-minded Maltese and outsiders, numerous examples of such passionate devotion look similar to fights between football fans during big championships. Not only such association comes to mind from direct observations of supporters’ delirious performance but also they result from a failure to logically comprehend the reasons behind such fanaticism with a touch of serfdom.

Steve Bonello
Sometimes it is hard to tell whether politics inspire carnival satire or the opposite is true. Cartoon by Steve Bonello.

What is the difference between the two confronting ideologies? Are they ideologies at all? It would be unjustified to say that one represents the interest of underprivileged while the other stands for more established citizens. So, if not ideology, what makes one Labour or Nationalist? After a few years of wondering, I have come to a conclusion it is [hopes for] personal benefits for oneself and his/her family or paying off for the benefits/lack of them in the past. In a nutshell, it is gratitude or rancor. To be fair, not everyone in Malta is enthusiastic about the two-party system. There are a number of independent thinkers siding with Alternattiva Democratika, and those utterly skeptical about politicians as a class, labeling them all immature.

All these observations are quite unbelievable for a Russian person. At the beginning, Malta’s political realities were incomprehensible for a citizen of the country with a very low, almost non-existent, trust in the political elite whichever side it represents. Yes, despite the ever-alarming political and economic situation in the country, Russians do not believe their vote would make any difference or that it has any power at all – that is why the political climate in Malta was a whole new experience.

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Red vs Blue. Cartoon published on MaltaToday in 6th January 2016. The original is available here.

Even though at times Maltese political scene looks like a verbal gang fight, there are still some undeniably positive facts about it – facts regular for the Maltese and incredible for foreigners. Politicians here are very close to their electorate – they literally are part of the crowd. You are very likely to meet them on streets, at restaurants or on the ferry. A minister might be living just a few doors away and a Member of Parliament might hang at your bar. The powerful guys are just one handshake away and they do remember to whom they owe their power. The very fact that reaching for the Prime Minister’s hand in Malta is quite realistic is already surreal to me. Living in a nearly totalitarian country, I got used to the fact that politicians exist in some parallel universe, completely isolated from mortals with high fences and protected by armed guards. While  Russia’s leaders might well be virtual remote characters or realistic game-generated images, in Malta they are mere humans made of flesh and bones. And that alone gives the public a very powerful mechanism of controlling them.

Politics in Malta is a very delicate personal issue. Personal, because by declaring their vote to one party or another, the Maltese very often follow practical, not ideological, interests: contracts, job promotions, boathouses, customised business offers, little treats for the party clubs and so on. At the end of the day, an outsider understands there is a lot more sense in overwhelming political involvement of the Maltese than it seemed at the beginning. Behind the curtain of fanaticism, there is a very logical desire to be well-connected. Whereas in many other countries voting for ideas will get you nowhere, in Malta a vote can transform into a very feasible matter and the gang can eventually throw a bone or two.

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Votes are Malta’s priciest currency. Cartoon published in MaltaToday on 6th January 2016. The original is here.

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