Category Archives: Analysis and commentary

Books replace travel: not my Vilnius in Vaiva Rykštaitė’s novel

I have never been so ‘grounded’ for 12 years or so – although travel options briefly reopened in summer, going to see my family and friends in Lithuania became overly complicated, and going on a holiday abroad felt irresponsible. So since March the furthest I’ve been from this rock is a smaller nearby rock that is Gozo. This left me jealously watching my friends’ Instagram feeds, full of mushrooms, trees, camping, greenery, trees, hiking, and did I mention trees? I am exploring a fuller palette of feelings, by extension. Longing is not something I normally feel, but the intense longing to see trees enjoying themselves in a natural environment, with birds, bees and maybe even small mammals, resulted in a personal essay published in this lovely book. For the first time, I’m a published writer.

Yet it is other people’s writing rather than my own that kept me company throughout these dull and challenging months. And I am still trying to make a point to read literature from countries I couldn’t visit. Unexpectedly, I found myself looking for Lithuanian literature to replace a missing visit to familiar cities.

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Books replace travel: Icelandic short stories

When I thought of what I wanted to do this year and things were still normal, I decided that it’s time to visit Iceland. One of the options was to go with a photography group straight from Malta. One or another way, the pull of this magical island seemed irresistible. But as we know, travel has been disrupted around the world, and I prefer not to contribute to increasing avoidable risks just for pleasure. What about my old dream to visit Iceland? Well, Project Gutenberg came to the rescue.

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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

Books replace travel: Jordanian short stories

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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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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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

Mogul sets off to lecture young people, admits infrastructure flaws

Real estate mogul Frank Salt, whose family-owned business is one of the largest in this sector in Malta, is known for writing somewhat puzzling columns for the Times of Malta, the country’s largest, conservative-leaning newspaper. I won’t help the editors, who eagerly publish all this, in their clickbaiting efforts, but you can find out about Salt’s interpretation of things by searching for his name plus ‘Times of Malta’.

In one of his columns in December this year, he said of British colonialism: “It was a match made in heaven.” Later in the column he wrote that it paid off to be friendly and not to mistreat people from other countries. Perhaps he was correcting the damage of his previous column, which I wanted to discuss here not because of its any meaningful contribution to public debates, but because of a very interesting warp in Salt’s reasoning, where he starts off by stereotyping and blaming people from other countries and ends up admitting that many of the problems boil down to bad infrastructure. Continue reading

Why do restaurants shoot themselves in the foot?

Food is increasingly glorified – as a travel, community, bonding and self-development experience. Many people of my generation and social class spend a huge portion of their monthly budgets on eating out rather than saving for purchases. Unsurprisingly, catering is a robust business even in countries that are still grappling with the impact of the economic crisis. Restaurants compete for this ever-growing market – if not locals, then at least tourists will consume whatever is on offer. Yet I keep seeing habits that are counter-intuitive and don’t seem to make business sense.

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