The blog has moved to the new address

Dear followers,

The author has shifted her interests from sharing random thoughts about nothing in particular to freelance writing on matters pertaining social justice and political analysis.  You can follow here in Malta’s online magazine Isles of the Left. Thank you for your interest!

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

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

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

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

There are at least 30 different types of lion head knockers guarding the doors of Maltese (Gozo included) houses. They are a significant element of the great sentimental experience that a stroll by a line of townhouses brings. All the elements – the balconies, the windows, the doors, the knockers, the whole of the façade – welcome the curiosity about the people whose lives are hidden behind them.

 

1. The Guarding Lion

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

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2. The Smirking Lion

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

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3. The Red Rebel Lion

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

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4. The Tamed Lion

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

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5. The Gallant Lion

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

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6. The Hangover lion

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

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7. The Grumpy Cat Lion

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

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8. The Fierce Lion

This intricate lion motif can be spotted in Valletta, Floriana, 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. The 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 Slim Lion

The narrowest and most elongated of all lion head knocker designs. Spotted in Sliema.

the Slim Lion

 

25. The Honey Ring Lion

Another knocker design on one of Sliema’s doors looks as though it is chewing a honey ring.

The honey-ring Lion

 

26. The Foxy Lion

This unique intricate design of lion head door knocker was spotted in Rabat (Malta).

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27. The Big Nosed Lion

One of its kind, memorable designs on one of Birgu’s doors facing the marina.

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28. The Wild Boar Lion

Another captivating and sculpted knocker, found on a door in Għarb, Gozo.

The Wild Boar lion

 

29. The Lion Duke

A spectacular, intricately designed knocker in St. Paul’s Street, Valletta (also found in the historical core of Rabat, Gozo).

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

LM vs DCG

Have you noticed that the Maltese blogosphere has finally lost its unipolarity? LovinMalta, the new media company everyone is talking about, has finally offered the local broad audience an alternative to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s Notebook which, until very recent, enjoyed its unique status of the only unofficial largely followed source of updates on Maltese life, entertainment and political revelations.

Controversy surrounding DCG’s Notebook is as undeniable as its fame. On one hand, the Running Commentary challenges political establishment (Labour side, to be precise) and points out relevant corruption-related issues, while on the other, it is a pillar of Malta’s segregation, class-frustration and the constant “Nazzjonalisti vs Laburisti” rival. The infamous “pesants vs pedigree” concerns might be well-understood and supported by the Maltese older than 40, yet the accentuated cast symbolism is no longer meaningful to the younger bunch whose adolescence happened well after the 1990s. The younger bunch, which certainly could no longer uphold these views, was in great need of a breath of fresh air – a new media source reflecting their vision of Malta 2016 and not Malta 1980.

Both, DCG’s Notebook and LovinMalta, approach their topics in ironic and playful manner yet their targets differ significantly. While the Running Commentary primarily focuses on deriding the ’embarrassing low class habits’ of Labour Party establishment, LovinMalta covers a broad range of topics appealing to the audience from diverse backgrounds, aiming to shake the existing symbols of segregation. LovinMalta is gaining momentum not only in “7 ‘Subtle’ Ways Your Maltese Family Calls You Fat“-like stories but also as a source of political irony. If until very recent, the Running Commentary was the only credible source of such (rather bitchy) humour, LovinMalta contested it with their “Muscat On Cannabis Law, Property Prices And His Strict Diet Regime”. The cleverly spotted vacant niche, the witty content and the refreshing style resulted in a blast that is more than a million views in just four months.

Here are three reasons why LovinMalta wins over DCG’s Notebook in a longer run:

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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.

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.

The worst of all, however, is not the cranes per se but the purpose behind their concentration. The current construction boom is not happening in the name of affordable or social housing but is committed with an unmasked intention of generating more and more profit for the construction industry.

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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 partisan allegiances. 

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 middle class foreigners in Malta. They 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 very little in common. 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, expats 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. Expats in Malta do not have to constantly prove themselves

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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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Parallel Worlds: Reflected Valletta

This project shaped out quite spontaneously, almost out of thin air, as I was walking aroud Valletta with the vintage manual camera loaded with black-and-white film, taking shots for my assignment. That month I was rediscovering photography, all thanks to David Pisani and Zvezdan Reljic, tutors of the Workshop F/1.4 (http://edebooks.eu/workshop-f1-4/).

Valletta, with all its eclectic character, is a paradise for photographers – each defines his/her own unique image of it. These pictures show the city in a different dimention – reflected in shop windows and puddles, overlapped with the crowd rushing through its narrow streets, merged with the crowd’s thoughts and dreams.

“Amore”. Love is complicated (Piazza Teatru Rjal) B&W film. Developed and hand-printed at Workshop F/1.4.
Romance
“Romance” (Corner of San Gwann Street and Strait Street) Developed and hand-printed at Workshop F/1.4
Escape ... from your past
“Escape … from your past” (Merchant’s Street). Developed and hand-printed at Workshop F/1.4
Dreams about a woman
“Dreams about a woman” (South Street). Negative scan
South Street Cafe
South Street Cafe. Negative scan
Style .. is shining
“Style .. is shining” (Corner of Strait Street and St. Lucia’s Street). Negative Scan
Away
“Away” (Pjazza San Gorg). Negative scan
Burlesque
“Burlesque” (Republic Street). Negative scan
Scream
“Scream” (Republic Street). Negative scan
"Caught in mirrorland"
“Caught in mirrorland” (Merchant’s Street). Negative scan
Heaven´s grating
“Heaven´s grating” (Entrace of Upper Barrakka gardens). Negative scans