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/

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

“Why in Malta?” Tolga Temuge: “Once we happened to evacuate a tiger when cleaning Lower St. Elmo for a backstage”

Tolga was born in Turkey in 1967. After his graduation in business administration, he worked in international trade for several years until he joined Greenpeace. He sailed on Greenpeace ships and became the co-founder of Greenpeace in Turkey. He was then appointed the campaigns director for the organisation’s regional Mediterranean office. Tolga has been actively working on environment, human rights and peace campaigns for over 20 years. He was the executive director of BirdLife Malta between 2006 and 2010. His company, East to West Communications, provides service on communications, campaign and project development and management to non-profit organisations in Malta and abroad.

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WM: You were born in Turkey and had visited many countries, what made you settle in Malta?

TT: The first trip to Malta was related to my job with Greenpeace. At the time I was part of the Greenpeace Mediterranean Regional Office. Besides Malta, we had offices also in Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon and Israel, but none of these locations was suitable for setting a headquarters as we couldn’t organise staff meetings all together due to hostility of most of these countries towards each other apart from Malta. Thus, the Greenpeace Mediterranean headquarters office, previously located in Mallorca, was relocated to Malta. I remember my first arrival to Malta in 1994, when, on board of “Rainbow Warrior”, we entered the Grand Harbour. My jaw dropped! The Grand Harbour is the most spectacular natural harbour in the world! In 2000 I met my partner at the time in Malta who is Maltese and had started working for Greenpeace. I moved to Malta temporary in 2003, as I thought, but I have been living here for many years now – eleven to be exact.

WM: Do you think life in Malta influenced you in a way?

TT: Living in any place for over ten years influences a person – you cannot isolate yourself from the surrounding. Malta certainly did it in a very positive way. Here I have learnt to take life less seriously and a bit easy too. Istanbul is a highly populated place (with a population of fifteen million) and life there is way too fast. At the beginning, it was difficult to get used to this easy lifestyle but, as time passed, I started appreciating it and understood that living fast is not the right thing to do for one’s health.

WM: Do you feel a mentality difference between Malta and Turkey?

TT: Since Malta is a Mediterranean country, I am less exposed to cultural shocks here than, say, people who come from Northern European countries. It is true that here it takes so much long before something is done, and yes, it was difficult to adapt to that. However, the main thing that struck me, as an environmental activist, is the attitude of many Maltese towards nature. Do not take me wrong, Maltese are very respecting towards both, each other and foreigners, yet often this respect stops once they leave their home towns and villages. There are many examples of such lack of respect to nature, or, to be specific, to the countryside: hunters, fireworks enthusiasts, campers etc.

WM: In your opinion and from your personal experience, is it an advantage or a disadvantage for Malta to have foreign residents?

TT: Definitely, it is an advantage for any country. Malta, as a small island state, benefits genetically from the influx of foreigners. Another advantage is in experiencing other cultures. Many Maltese travel abroad and get a chance to see foreign lands but it also is great to be able to learn about foreign customs and traditions here, at home. Besides, foreigners bring new ideas and professional experience. It is especially true when speaking about NGOs, this sector lacked experience in management – just one example from the NGO I worked for BirdLife Malta which became a truly professional NGO over the years thanks to the involvement of many professional foreigners who worked for BirdLife.

WM: Do you prefer to spend your spare time with Maltese or with foreigners?

TT: Mostly with Maltese.

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WM: Which experience in Malta would you classify as “ultimately Maltese”?

TT: There were many curious incidents; one of them was especially memorable. In 2004, after having moved to Malta, my partner and I decided to organise the first world music festival, for which we brought famous musicians from all around the world. Lower St. Elmo was chosen for a venue, as we wanted to bring this place to life. It is a magical, mystic historical place, which also served as a set for “The Midnight Express” and it could be used as art space. Sadly, Lower St. Elmo was used as a dump site for many years, the amount of garbage estimated in truckloads! As we were preparing the venue, a curious accident happened. Once I received a phone call from the stage manager, telling me “We have a tiger here! What are we going to do with it?!”…

WM: a real tiger?!.

TT: Yes, a very real tiger! We heard that the animal’s owner bought the old tiger from an Italian circus (the information was not officially confirmed) and just kept it there, at Lower St Elmo. It sounds unbelievable, but when we were cleaning the place for a backstage we had to move the tiger out! Besides the tiger, there also were other animals – donkeys and pigs. We kept them though, to keep the atmosphere.

WM: Do you plan to stay in Malta for long?

TT: I do not make such plans. I never had an idea where I will be a year after. I always dreamt about living in Barcelona but so far I am enjoying living here. I will see what life will bring.

Malta: lovely yet overly politicized

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

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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.

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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.

Liked the article? Send it to your expat friends living in Malta. Follow this blog on Malta Sketches Facebook page. Grazzi ħafna!

 

2013 in Pictures

The photos selected for this post capture moments of daily life, important events on the island of Malta and just curious accidents. I thank all my followers for supporting the blog, for their interest, and hope not to disappoint them in the future. Wishing you all Happy New Year!

JANUARY
Hidden Danger

On Janury 22nd the field outside of Chemistry Building (University of Malta) was no longer the same – a bulldozer arrived on the field full of green grass and poppies. It mercilessly passed over the flowers, dipping its bucket into the soil. In a matter of hours the blossom was gone from the field. Almost a year later there are offices for the university staff instead of flowers and weeds. Functional necessity won over beauty.

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FEBRUARY
Faces of the Street

Via Cavana in Trieste is a paradise for street photographers. Mysterios portraits on the old building’s wall watch over passers-by as if they were guards of the street.

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MARCH
Red for the Labour

On the 10th March Malta’s Opposition Labour Party won a general election for the first time in 15 years. Party’s supporters organized an improvised march, celebrating the victory. The scale of these celebrating activities was vast, exotic and unprecedented for a foreigner. A girl waving the Labour Party flag from the top of her parent’s car is just an example of the total mass euphoria on that day.

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APRIL
Three Men for St. Publius

On April 14th St. Publius feast was celebrated in the town of Floriana. The feast opens the long-going season of feasts which brings galore of fireworks and street celebrations to Malta in summer. The photo tells nothing about the feast itself but shows three man, separated from one another yet still connected in some invisible manner – a symbolic picture in my opinion.

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MAY
March against Monsanto

March against Monsanto held on May 25 in Valletta gathered a crowd of protesters against food monopolization in general and MONSANTO corporation in particular. The youngest protesters were among the most active ones.

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JUNE
Silence of the Doves

L-Imnarja Feast in Buskett garden on the June 29 celebrated two very important Saints in Maltese religious lore. It is one of the oldest feasts on the islands. Buskett garden was turned into a tradition fair with fruits and vegetables from local farmers, yummy food and folk music. The caged animals, however, did not seem to enjoy the celebration.

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JULY
Malta Jazz Festival

Malta Jazz Festival is an annual event and a treat for all true music admirers. Still under the impression of Chano Dominquez’ performance last year, I was not equally delighted by Michel Camilo’s Trio. The photo features Lincoln Giones (bass) from Michel Camilo Trio.

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AUGUST
Meeting with Big Friday and His Friends

August was an unforgettable month because I met Big Friday, a wonderful horse from Gozo. This glorious and tender animal wins races and cherishes friendship of those who care for him.

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New Face of Aeroflot

Another discovery in the month of August was Aeroflot (its new image, to be precise), the Russian company at the stage of re-inventing itself and improving its service.

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SEPTEMBER
Old Astrakhan

In September I paid a visit to my home town, Astrakhan. The city, a unique oriental character of which was sacrificed for modernization, is sinking into alcoholism and drug addiction. This photo signifies hope for the place to resurrect in its former glory.

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OCTOBER
Sails for Two

On October 30th both, locals and visitors, witnessed a spectacular show of the 34th Rolex Middle Sea Race. One by one boats were leaving the Grand Harbour, opening their sails of all colours to the wind, in order to return in a few days.

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DECEMBER
Bethlehem in Gozo 

Christmas is taken very seriously on the island of Gozo. Bethlehem Village takes visitors two millennia back to the town where Christ was born. The festive atmosphere was infused with warmth of mulled wine, children’s laugh and enthusiasm.

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Happy New Year!

“Why in Malta?” Edouard Michel: “Malta is the perfect place to be surprised”

Edouard Michel and I met at the University of Malta. Having learnt that Edouard came from France, I could not resist asking him to share his experience of living in Malta.

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WM: How did you come to Malta?

 Edouard: I came to Malta for my job. After a work experience at a regional office of the UNEP, at the end of 2012 I was looking for a job and had applied for a vacancy which was for a Programme Manager for the Mediterranean at CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research). I noticed the job’s location was in Malta and decided to go for it, although at that time I knew nothing about Malta. I had to move here very quickly as my contract in Malta began only two days after the end of my other contract. I was living in Nice at that time and had to move some things back to my parents’ place before leaving France. It was hectic! Same thing will happen again at the end of September: my current contract in Malta finishes the last day of September and on the 1st October I start working in Paris.

I knew nothing about Malta and its people. Yes, I had heard about the knights but not much apart from that. I was aware that the population speaks English well because years ago, I had seen a newspaper advert for Maltese English schools. I had lived in Greece before and could picture life on small Mediterranean islands.

WM: What was your first impression about Malta then?

Edouard: In terms of architecture and landscapes, it reminded me very much of Syria and Lebanon. I have never been to Sicily so I don’t know if it is in any way similar to Malta but it felt like Middle East to me. Besides, I speak a little of Arabic and Maltese language is similar to Arabic, which make this impression even stronger. I was also surprised by the density of population and the lack of open spaces.

 WM: What do you like most about Malta?

Edouard: It might sound funny but I love the fact that in Malta you have to be relaxed. When I try to rush things, it does not work. On the contrary, when I leave things by themselves, it works. Of course, it works at its own pace but the final result is usually good.

… And the weather is fantastic here!

 WM: Is there anything you do not like in Malta?

Edouard: I would not say there is something in Malta I really dislike. Yet I miss nature very much. By nature I mean mountains, forests, open spaces and hiking paths… Friends tell me ‘Come on, Malta is famous for diving, there is underwater nature to discover!”. But I am rather a ‘land’ person.

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 WM: What are the most amusing things in Malta in your opinion?

 Edouard: Recently, I have made a discovery. Right now it is too hot for a hot shower so I turned off the heating system. To my surprise, water from the cold tap is warmer that water for the hot water tap; it heats up in the tank on the roof! Therefore, I use water from the hot tap to have a ‘cold’ shower. I think it would be more rational to switch hot and cold water sources: hot water tank could be placed on the roof where the full use of solar energy is made.

And another amusing thing is the transport system! It takes an hour and a half by bus to cross just a half of Malta. The first month here I tried using buses but they always were too slow, with many stops, traffic jams, or even never showing up. Traffic is crazy here! Then I decided to walk to the University from Sliema; it takes about 30 minutes and yet it is still faster than taking a bus.

WM: If you asked about Malta in Paris what would you say?

 Edouard: I would say it is so completely unexpected. When I came here I was surprised by the place: it is a small island and, at the same time, it is a country. I travelled a lot but had not seen a place like Malta; it is different from everything I had seen before. When looking at Malta closely, you would not expect such a difference: there are slight differences in culture and traditions, architecture, food, everything still feels close enough. However when everything sums up, it becomes very different in total. If someone looks for broad sandy beaches or untouched nature then Malta would not be their thing. But if you are curious, if you are looking for new impressions then Malta is the perfect place to be surprised.

 WM: What would be your brightest memory about Malta?

 Edouard (thinking and smiling): It is not so easy to answer. I would say, waking up in Xlendi after spending a night on the flat rocks, and seeing only the sea – unbelievably beautiful scenery.

WM: Do you think Malta lacks a broad variety of cultural events?

 Edouard: I knew I was going to stay in Malta temporarily so I have not missed it, but on for a longer time, I probably would. In Paris you are surrounded with cultural venues, however, any place has its own ‘museum’ to be discovered. For Malta such ‘museum’, besides the actual ones, would be any town or village, and especially during the “festas” which transform familiar places into something completely new.

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“Why in Malta?” Fritz Grimm: “Malta taught me there is something very special in the Universe”

Something tells me this edition of “Why in Malta?” will be especially popular among ladies. Fritz Grimm, who is an aspiring photographer, a very handsome guy and just a charming person, kindly agreed to share his story of becoming Maltese. We recommend you take a look at his photography website http://www.fritz-grimm.de and his page on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fritz-Photography-Malta/453777761357867?fref=ts.

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WM:  Fritz, your home country, Germany, is a dream country of many. How did you decide to change it for Malta?

Fritz: I would say I am different from the most people in Germany. They are so close-minded and live so much ‘in the structure’. It is pre-defined that a person gets a job and then keeps working, buying, and spending. I never liked this lifestyle, especially when a lot of people in the world are living in much worse conditions. When I was younger, I used to dream about living by the sea in a warm country and imagined Caribbean, something like paradise, but those dreams were not realistic. I never seriously thought about leaving Germany until some time ago because my daughter was still too young for me to leave her. Now she is 9 years old and comes to visit me from time to time.

WM: Why did you decide to move to Malta and not to any other Mediterranean country, say, Italy, Spain or Greece?

Fritz:  At the end of 2011 I met a Maltese girl in Thailand. We became close and in the beginning of 2012 we decided to be together. We visited each other a few times: I came to Malta twice and she came to Germany. She could not imagine working there; a whole day at the office, besides there is a language barrier – finding a job without knowing German is unrealistic. For me it was fine to move, I was prepared; I liked the country and the people.  By the time I moved to Malta, however, our relationship became unstable; we spent some time on and off. It did not change my plans to move to Malta, though.

WM: What do you miss about Germany the most?

Fritz:  Greenery, forests, hills, my daughter and my family. I cannot say I miss friends; they always can come over to visit me if they want, and they can afford it. In fact, some friends come to visit, others promise to come but do not. In that way I can see who the real friends are and who are not.

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WM: Did Malta teach you something new?

Fritz: It is a good question… Yes, I would say Malta taught me there is something in the Universe, something very special and particular. Maybe, it is God…

WM: Was it the country’s lifestyle that gave you this experience, or the people?

Fritz: I think it is a mix of factors: the place, the people and how they live together. Maltese are so relaxed, sincere and warm. They are not always polite, but, at the same time, not as mean as some people in other countries. Germans in comparison are too negative, close-minded and consumerist. When it happens to share business ideas with them, the negative response just shocks me sometimes.

WM:  What do you do in Malta apart from photography?

Fritz: Although, photography is a big part of my life, it is just a hobby.  I work part-time for a company where I am responsible for quality management system.

WM: Is there anything that makes you uncomfortable in Malta?

Fritz: I can see many things are not well, but I am a foreigner here and I do not think I should teach the locals. One thing is particularly unfair: electricity and water rates for foreigners should not be higher than for Maltese. It is a big deal to get resident’s rates. If Maltese cheat on foreigners then foreigners have every right to cheat back, which is not a good situation.

 WM: Do you prefer to spend your free time with Maltese or with other expats?

Fritz: With Maltese. I live in Tarxien and do not know other foreigners living there, it is so peaceful and quiet. I cannot imagine living in Sliema – a busy tourist area which looks the same in many countries. It has no true spirit of Malta.

WM: Do you feel the mentality difference?

Fritz: Yes, the Maltese mentality is different; the people are relaxed and not so exact. I can understand this, however. It happens to me not to be on time too because in Malta you cannot plan well. One day it takes you 10 minutes to get somewhere, another time on the same route you can spend half an hour looking for parking.

WM: Do you think to stay in Malta for long?

Fritz: I do not make plans, but certainly, I cannot imagine going back to Germany. It is too alien for me now with its consumerism and predictable life.

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