Ede photo books set new standards in search of Malta’s photographic identity

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Ede photo books Series Two. Photo by Jacob Sammut

On Friday, 19th February Ede Books launched the 2nd series of the photography books by both, local and international photography enthusiasts (I avoid using term ‘professionals’ intentionally, more about the reasons for it below). Apart from introducing a few great images from a variety of categories – from travel photography to urban and abstract – and attracting a broad spectrum of audience, Ede photo books’ events signified a cultural shift in Malta’s photographic scene. The outcome of these series certainly is a milestone, a breakthrough in a collective effort in search of a new photographic identity. A fair number of the photographs displayed at the launch signify the end of the era dominated by overly edited images of a rather poor aesthetic quality, locally marketed as ‘professional photography’.

Some of the photographs were greatly influenced by the Workshop f/1.4, a monochrome film photography course opened two years earlier. By demonstrating the fundamental concepts and the magic of analogue photography, the workshop led by David Pisani and Zvezdan Reljic enriched photographic vision of many enthusiasts in Malta. The tutors’ passion for photography as an integral process was inspiring to many and bore great results.

The book launch event was symbolic in many ways – it brought out the emerging eager for true photography as well as a few aspects which clearly undermined the persisting public misunderstanding of the very idea of photography. A number of times I was approached with the same question which, to my surprise, was addressed by seemingly culturally aware people. The question (or, to be precise, a remark) was ‘I didn’t know you were a photographer’. What makes one a photographer? Is it having a website with a collection of images, a self-description, a Facebook page or perhaps a tacky practice of watermarking pictures? Or perhaps just owning a camera does the trick? Sadly, flashing an expensive camera and a few lenses seems to be enough for many to call themselves ‘photographers’.

Whereas there are various definitions of ‘photographer’, a description of someone fascinated with imagery who also thoroughly enjoys depicting it, is the one I side most with. The aesthetic value of a truly good picture is always greater than the object/event it portrays. While paying respect to the nature of the object/event, a photographer contributes his/her vision to the image and that is why the visual interpretation of the captured moment cannot be translated into words. An image that can easily be described with no loss of unique imagery is not a good photograph.

The event also pointed at a few other particularities of Malta’s local photography scene. Surprisingly, a number of the authors took the publication as a chance to praise their personal achievements of all sorts. It was abhorrent to discover the extensive lack of humility and self-irony that some of the authors revealed by literally dedicating chapters to themselves on the back page of their book. Manipulating public opinion by explaining why your own photographs need to be appreciated or, even worse, praising yourself for being a great photographer, is a foul approach that needs no further comment.

As Milan Kundera wrote, “if a novel is successful, it must necessarily be wiser than its author”. The same is true about a great photograph. It speaks for itself better than an extensive description of its qualities. Ede photo books present a variety of such images. The greatest outcome of the whole initiative was in encouraging individuals, passionate about photography, whose work until recent had been overshadowed by individuals passionate about digital editing.

Should you be interested in purchasing a copy of a specific photography book or a whole set of books please contact edebooks.eu.

P.S. I sincerely hope the article does not offend anyone since it was never meant to be an offense. I believe certain aspects need to be articulated even if they reveal an unpleasant side. As part of a group effort, I perhaps should have abstained from commenting on those aspects publicly but, alas, I did not manage. 

Kenneth
Untitled photograph from ‘Grif’, a book by Kenneth Borg
Charles Balzan
“Stephansdom” by Charles Balzan. His book ‘Not Alone’ promises to be of the most influential photography books launched so far
Nigel
“Elsa” by Nigel Baldacchino (book “Still life/Guest”)
Martin
Valletta City Gate by Martin Galea de Giovanni

Off-season Comino: a treat of silence

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In Malta silence is scarce. It is unwelcome and is almost feared. As if united in some secret anti-silence conspiracy, blasts of fireworks, church bell chime, gas delivery horns, loud conversations and passers-by’s vocal chords or/and car horns acting as door bells perform together to tear silence to pieces. Mediterranean passion for life and bustle does not have high respect for the noise-free environment. Every day, passion for life is celebrated here with fanfares and splashes of colour, leaving silence no other place but afterlife.

Comino, the smallest of the inhabited islands, attracts hordes of tourists and locals alike. In summer the famous Blue Lagoon fills up with boats, parties and laughter – everything that stands for summer fun by the sea. For too many, the Blue Lagoon is where Comino starts and ends, perhaps, that is why, by the end of autumn, the tiny rock of impeccable charm turns into a retreat of silence.

Off-season Comino is a meditation, a temple of silence worship. Every day spent here is refreshing for the body and the mind. The hidden caves, the sunset views from the tower, the flocks of birds flapping over your head effortlessly transform you into a silent observer of the beauty that surrounds. Small details, unnoticed during the summer, now rush to speak to you. A flower petal, a bee hive or a cliff of a particular shape stand out and call for admiration. While treating yourself with prolonged indolent moments you feel how the rustle of tree leaves and the bee’s buzz hypnotise and convince not to disturb their flow. The appeal of Comino extends far beyond its pretty turquoise bay: it allows the sense of intimacy with nature to develop – the effect that is difficult to match.

The true love for the natural world begins from the tender, meditative state of unity with it. Silence is an indispensable chord which sets us in tune with nature. Silence is magic.

P.S. Could it be that Maltese present-day obsession for concrete development and lack of appreciation for silence are related?

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A few things you do not know about residence permits in Malta

As every Maltese and many foreigners know, one can buy a Maltese passport for approximately €1M. The residence permit issuance racket got it to the local and international news a couple of months ago. According to Times of Malta and MaltaToday, 54% of all those willing to call themselves Maltese are from Russia and former Soviet Union countries. These are the stories and figures that make it to news, but what is left behind are the stories of individuals having to combat with the bureaucratic authorities for their right to reside here.

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Source: Times of Malta

The very unbiased fact is: it is ultra difficult to get Maltese residence permit if one decides to follow all the requirements and use no shortcuts. Even after 6 years of working and feeling at home in Malta, my right to reside (my whole peaceful life) in the country depends on a number of permits and decisions. And this is the story I would like to be heard and shared.

The right to reside in Malta is granted to a foreigner from a non-EU part of the world upon a few reasons, such as marriage/partnership/family reunion, work, study and economic self-sufficiency. For many, marriage is the easiest way to acquire the residence permit. It is also the quickest way to obtain the Maltese citizenship (takes as long as 5 years being married to a Maltese citizen). However, not everyone sees marriage as a fix of their financial or/and citizenship issues (not all marry for those reasons, to be fair), some go the hard way by finding a job and applying for a work permit. The most unpleasant side of applying for the work permit is the constant change of requirements. Year after another, attempts are made to MAKE IT LOOK like there is a transparent selection process through which only qualified individuals are able to apply. These requirements complicate lives only of those who follow them. Just as locks protect against honest people only, these requirements DO NOT STOP a massive flow of far-from-qualified ones.

Applying for permits is, with no exaggeration, a stressful business. Applicants often start queuing up outside Identity Malta office as early as 5.30am. Many have been here for a number of days but their applications were rejected so they try again and again. Many slip to desperation and disrespect by trying to skip the queue and push others to the side (and all humiliation that follows). That’s not all. The attitude of many officers lacks not only basic politeness but basic understanding of benevolence.

Once all the documents are verified, fingerprints – scanned, fees – paid and the application finally accepted, an applicant is expected to wait for at least 6-8 weeks for the residence permit to be issued. It means that for these 6-8 weeks a non-EU applicant cannot travel outside of Malta. The residence permit on employment grounds is issued for a period of one year (3 years for spouses/partners of Maltese/EU citizens), which implies that 11 months later the nightmare has to be repeated. Some unforeseen situations might make your life even more difficult. One example is my stolen, still valid ID card/residence permit, took 3 months to be reprinted, and, correct, for all these months I could not travel. A couple of times I received a formal letter telling me to leave the country within 10 days, with no explanation. Apparently (and thankfully), both times it was somebody’s mistake.

The long-term residence is one way to improve the situation. Yet do not imagine it is an easy path. The requirements include having at least 80% score in Maltese language level 2 (how many Maltese can brag about such a score?), a course on Maltese history (fair enough) and a course on living and working in Malta, all completed at least a year before the application. Add to it a good chance that, by the time an applicant has everything in hand, the requirements will change again.

No, do not take me wrong, I am not complaining nor I am exaggerating. I consider myself lucky for arriving here on a plane, not on an overcrowded boat. It is just a routine struggle the description of which was, in fact, smoothed. I have been living here for 6 years, I understand Maltese and able to communicate in it, have a great interest in local customs and respect the local lifestyle (and I am not the only foreign resident like this). Isn’t it justified to say I deserve my right to live here? I have become Mediterranean and I love every day under this bright sun. Yet termination of the employment contract can be enough to end my residence here. Now admit, it is not right and it is human-unfriendly. Unfortunately, that’s the world we created and are living in, the world that is so immersed in global scale events that gives no importance to lives of single individuals.

With no unnecessary moralizing, one final suggestion: before complaining about many outsiders of whichever origin and skin colour poring into the country, imagine the procedures they have to pass. Respect their courage and dedication to go that hard way to improve their lives. Please share this story.

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 🙂

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/