Believe it or not, it took me half a year to go and explore Manoel Island, which is off the coast of Gzira town and is known for parties and events. In winter especially, it looked like the best parties take place at Funky Monkey, expats′s go-to bar on the island. On the other hand, I also knew the island as an obscure development project, whereby a company, MIDI PLC, is building commercial venues in exchange for restoration of the island’s historical quarantine and other heritage areas. The agreement was signed in 2000 by the ruling PN administration at the time – the political party that tried to win elections this year promising greater transparency than the incumbent government. However, a part of the contract with the developer reportedly went missing. According to Eurostat, three in five Maltese men and a third of women have not read a book over the past year, probably because news look like detective novels or thrillers. As the plan for the island contains a hotel, a luxury casino, and a shopping area, some NGOs fear emergence of the second, but less ambitious, Dubai, while the company promises that most of the space will be accessible to the public.
The island is connected to Gzira by a narrow bridge, which is a road without a sidewalk (not surprising in Malta). The first thing one notices upon entering is the famous Duck Village.
Between the main inhabited islands of the Maltese archipelago lies a not-at-all hidden gem, the island of Comino. It has only three permanent residents and serves as a bird sanctuary. It is also known as a habitat for various reptiles. As such, it is not overdeveloped like the island of Malta, and tenting, heavily restricted on Malta, is popular here. Despite these advantages, it′s not the land that attracts hordes of tourists to the island. Like a cumin seed from which its name is said to be derived, it adds delightful flavor to the archipelago experience.
Tourists looking at the rocks through their smartphone screens
I finally went there after visiting Malta on vacation and having moved to live here this year. I was told that May is the best time to go, and it′s best to skip the high season, but I missed that chance this year. I can see why people were giving me this piece of advice. The Blue Lagoon, the most famous place on Comino, with sea so magically blue that it could serve as an endless artistic inspiration, was littered with noisy party boats, pedestrian paths full of vendors selling stuff, so and reminded me of Sharm el-Sheikh a bit. Continue reading
I wanted to draw this couple since March, when I saw them in Msida. At the same time, I′m trying to master a graphic tablet, which makes my drawings quite rough and primitive, compared to drawing by hand on paper. I am trying a mixed technique – drawing on a photo I took, inputting text with a text tool for better readability.
I hope it will at least remind you those nostalgic stickers we used to get with chewing gum. I have one more idea for ‘Love in Malta is…’ Yet this is the most extreme manifestation of romantic feelings I have seen in Malta so far, because buses are rare, unreliable and unpredictable. Missing the bus meant that the man will have to wait heaven-knows-how-long. Continue reading
Social theorist Pierre Bourdieu famously defined the sum of acquired tastes and various dispositions as habitus – not exactly an over-structure where individuals merely participate, but neither an individual portfolio of competences, crafted upon a free choice among components. Although this theory is about everything and anything, I find it very useful both academically and in my own observations about societies.
On April 20th a friend and I went to see a free concert in Valletta – a part of the Malta International Music Festival. The concert hall, hidden somewhere inside the Mediterranean Conference Centre, looked long and small, and we wondered where we could enjoy the best acoustics. The crowd looked cheerful, and there were several dressed-up children with excited parents, suggesting that the Russia-based duo, Karen Shakhgaldyan (violin) and Natalia Sokolovskaya (piano) are not the only stars of the evening for some.
The best excuse to explore more of one′s country of residence is teaming up with people who are there for a very short visit. This is how I set out to explore the famous South-Eastern areas on a warm and lazy Sunday. Specifically, the fish market of Marsaxlokk has become a popular tourist attraction, and as for Birzebbugia, I did not know what to expect at all.
My first impression of Marsaxlokk was that it was shockingly hipster. I realized that I hadn′t seen such a concentration of hipsters anywhere in Malta. Whatever their lifestyle, the faux-lumberjack look is not popular with the Maltese at all. Accordingly, hipster men were in a company of colorfully dressed women, who would otherwise not stand out as much. There were many elderly tourists, too, probably English, given how much they had undressed for the bright but still not so generous Mediterranean sun. And some local families, too, looking for a bargain.
I was among, apparently, around 170 people who signed up for a free tour by Nature Trust Malta to explore Babu valley (Wied Babu). When people sign up to an event on Facebook, one must divide the number by three and extract a square root to know the realistic number of attendees, but hiking tours in Malta are different. When people click they will attend, they actually show up and bring their friends. This is the scale of the ‘invasion’ in Wied Babu.
It has become a tradition for me to seek a Mediterranean escape around this time, when Southern countries get ready for the carnival. I did not grow up with a similar tradition. There is a festival (called Užgavėnės) with scary masks and pancakes, but it is very different from the colorful costumes and street music of the South. I grew up hating Užgavėnės with a passion. My first experience of it was at primary school, when older kids stormed our classroom with cans of paint and threw it at our faces. I spent the next hour or so trying to rinse my eye. In middle school, we were paraded to a nearby forest in makeshift scary costumes to make campfire and play games – a tiring and quite pointless trip. And let′s not forget that people still make derogatory masks depicting Jews and Roma in the Lithuanian version of this festival, two generations after the genocide of these populations. Needless to say, the only tradition I respect from the Lithuanian festival is making pancakes.
Last year I spent the carnival days in a small town in the region of Murcia (Spain). Although it wasn′t quite warm, it was sunny enough for the whole town to be on the street. The local school paraded its children, dressed in various costumes. Parents didn′t have freedom to choose the costume – it was decided top-down. In my friends′ son′s class, all boys had to be nutcrackers, and girls had to wear ballet costumes.
After the procession ended, many girls were sitting around and posing for photos with these short skirts and heavy make-up, which in the adult world would be considered ′slutty′ if seen outside of the carnival. Mothers, many in hijabs, proudly took photos of them with their cellphones.
This year I attended the carnival in Malta.
I like my cities walkable, so as much as I like the Mediterranean island of Malta, sidewalks are something I still cannot get used to. Not only because they are often sloping – this is not different from Vilnius old town. In British English they call them pavements, so there is not even a promise of walk as in ‘sidewalk’.
My experience on the island reminded me of my first day in Cairo, when my friend G. instructed me to walk on the side of the road at all times. “You are much safer on the street than on the sidewalk,” he said, contrary to my habits and intuition. Sidewalks there were a colonial imposition – just like traffic lights. They were not used the way I′m used to. I had to accept it – this is simply a different culture, and this is how they do it. I must adjust my mind this way here as well.
Malta has long been my priority destination. It is logically a perfect place for vacations – it has the sea, plenty of sun, and an English-speaking population. The few days I spent there confirmed every expectation that I had. Malta is easy to navigate, because everyone from the age 10 to 100 speaks English, it is culturally interesting and has a lot to offer. The only drawback is that the beaches are rocky, but there is also one sand beach. The Maltese cuisine has clearly had a lot of Italian influence, but they fry their food more, compared to other Mediterranean cultures, and the local specialty is rabbit. The Maltese language is unique – I was told by a speaker of Libyan Arabic that it’s easy to understand by Libyan Arabic speakers, but it has many English and Italian words in it, which, I presume, makes Arabic more difficult to understand for Maltese speakers.