Unwish lists and lockdown consumption

Spending more time at home forced many people to look closely at things in their lives. Buying, hoarding, stocking, keeping busy demanded materials. As much as our socialising, learning, and interacting moved online, our leisure and rituals became increasingly physical, and called for things to keep them this way. More cooking and baking called for more equipment. The absence of gyms asked for various tools at home. Replacing restaurants and cafes with deliveries meant constant accumulation of boxes and bags. People like me, who tried to live with minimal possessions and invest into experiences instead (travel, events, workouts, etc) had to completely reconsider their lifestyle, as most of these experiences became unavailable. Where does it leave our relationship with material objects? Continue reading

Writing about travel on lockdown

Numerous blogs, microblogs, magazines, and individual careers are all about travel. Now that travel is so heavily restricted, how does one write about it in a meaningful way?

The first inspiration for this post came from an instagram account that promotes tourism to Malta. Since 21 March, Maltese authorities suspended commercial flights, making leisure travel next to impossible. So if that account is all about promoting consumer travel, should it stop posting, or should it find new ways to keep its followers engaged? The account painstakingly sought out hashtags like #thankstotravel, #moretoexplore, #staycurious and others – and many travel bloggers and ‘influencers’ jumped at them too. Many of them desperately struggle to stay relevant as people ease into the new normal, but these promises of delayed gratification (‘you will be able to consume travel destinations in the future – meanwhile, please, please consume these promises of future consumption’) sound out of place and tone-insensitive.

Still, making snarky remarks about the struggles of these people and businesses to stay relevant as their livelihood is threatened would not be helpful. I believe that amid this crisis, we should use even stronger filters of kindness and helpfulness before we publish or post anything. Social critique of systemic flaws in the travel industry is helpful, because it is necessary for improving our societies, but picking on individual ‘influencers’ and businesses is not. Instead, I would like to invite them to critically reassess what’s helpful and kind in their business model.

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Jordanian short stories: a review

Before the COVID19 pandemic hit, I had a nice plan to finally visit Jordan. It was on my bucket list for ages, and cheap flights from Malta would have enabled me to go there even on a short break. But life took a different turn – already in early March it started becoming clear that the trip will not happen. Instead, I took a literary trip to Jordan, having picked up Snow in Amman – a collection of short stories translated and edited by Ibtihal Mahmood and Alexander Haddad.

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Working for free: a guide

Decisions about working for free are rarely straightforward. In an ideal world, survival would be guaranteed for people, so they could freely choose to volunteer their skills when they find it meaningful rather than desperately hope that this would lead them to paid positions in a distant future. Unfortunately, we are very far from this perfect world, and many of us have at some point worked or hired people to work for free. I am certainly guilty of both, and some of these transactions in social capital, to use Pierre Bourdieu’s terms, were more successful or meaningful than others. Based on this experience, how does one navigate the world full of offers to work for free with very uncertain returns?

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Magical North Macedonia

Between two listicles in The Guardian recommending Ohrid in North Macedonia as a top holiday destination (2016 and 2017), the price of the newspaper’s recommended hotel seems to have doubled. This tiny detail reveals that the country is basking in attention, and having it on one’s list of places visited is no longer a badge of off-the-beaten-track travel. Thanks to direct flights, many people visited the country and continue singing praises to this day. And why wouldn’t they, given that N. Macedonia has mountains, greenery, water and city life to enjoy?

Click on the images to enlarge them

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Kayaking in Malta

The sea is pretty much the only kind of wildlife Malta can offer, so spending time in and near the sea is very important for making the most of living on this island. Thanks to my friend M. I had an opportunity to try out sea kayaking, which is one of the most exciting ways to explore the islands from unusual angles.

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When businesses encourage wasteful behaviour

A recent article in the New York Times attempted to calculate individual contributions to climate change derived from driving, flying and other activities. The criticism is very valid, but once again it is focused on individual responsibility and individual behavioural changes, which make life less enjoyable for those already ‘converted’ to environmentalism. It is true that we vote for the world we want with our money, but I would suggest first and foremost focusing on businesses that encourage this wasteful behaviour:

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Libraries, public space and obsession with cafes

A NYT article about libraries and civil society was one of the warmest and most hopeful texts from the other side of the Atlantic in the recent years. It made several key points: libraries are open, inclusive and fun spaces to interact – or to be by oneself. The growing emphasis on libraries can hopefully replace the recent obsession with cafes in many discussion circles.

On my three most recent visits to Vilnius, I couldn’t help but admire how cool the national library has become. People go there to record their podcasts, schedule meetings, work on their stuff, concentrate on reading or talking, or attend events. The building is bright and inviting. I could only dream of this when I made a few attempts to get work done at the national library in Valletta. The gloomy building was cold and dark, and although I enjoyed the selection of newspapers to read and the set-up, it was clearly built for reading something from the library’s archives. To continue discussions on public space, ignited by last year’s Capital of Culture events, Valletta should revitalise its libraries rather than move community events and discussions to cafes. Libraries should be our focus as we, as communities and democracies, seek to create the ultimate anti-Facebook.

 

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Birdwatching at Għadira Nature Reserve

Last Sunday was the day of 40 birds in Lithuania, which means, according to traditional wisdom, that 40 species return from the South by that day. Some say that due to climate change the list of species changes, but their number remains roughly the same. I trust one of my favourite Lithuanian photographers, Marius Čepulis, for the species count. Meanwhile, I am trying to keep track of bird presence in Malta.

Birds in Malta do not get all the protection they deserve, bird-watching in spring is exciting in Malta, as various species pass by on the way to continental Europe, and, thanks to dedicated volunteers who monitor protected birds against hunting offenses, many survive the journey.

Robin is a common and brave bird. Click on the images to enlarge them

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Decluttering, backlash against Marie Kondo, and obsessive ownership

My Facebook feed is full of posts denouncing the suggestion made by decluttering guru Marie Kondo to keep no more than 30 books (example). How dare she, they write,  attack the most noble of middle class obsessions – book hoarding? In the age of bite-sized online news, screaming headlines and kids who never let go of their tablets, aren’t books the last refuge? As an avid reader, I beg to differ. Continue reading