In anticipation of the opening of the Valletta – European Capital of Culture 2018 programme, the city of Valletta prepared a full list of activities for residents and visitors – local and foreign bands, an acrobat flown around by a giant balloon, interesting characters walking in the crowd, colourful projections and, finally, fireworks. As ugly as Mediterranean winters can be, the day was exceptionally nice, with almost no wind. Predictably, many people chose the main square of Valletta to meet the new year – it is estimated that there were around 85,000 attendees, which is around 13 times the population of Valletta!
It’s typical that the best cafes and bars are hidden in courtyards between several apartment blocks, a friend explained as we went for drinks to a trendy bar, complete with trees and a touch of South American fusion in its menu. With many outdoor cafes and bars outside of the tourist area thus hidden, Bucharest’s eclectic facades look somewhat grim. But who stays with the facades anyway? Bucharest invites the viewer to move on and search deeper.
The first day of September was rich in intercultural events: Appogg (the governmental youth agency) and UNHCR Malta brought several communities together to share food and traditional music in Msida, targeting mostly families in their Building Friendships event, and Spark15, a young migrants’ NGO, publicized a contemporary music and games event in Valletta. It was a tough choice, but Msida and Valletta being relatively close, I expected to make it to both. The first one was attractive for the opportunity to meet organized diaspora communities in Malta. The second one promised an energetic and youthful vibe.
Msida, home of Malta’s junior college, is a well-connected town by the sea. With the event taking place opposite the church, there was a good chance that passers-by would spot it and spontaneously decide to join. The center of the square was kept free for folk dancing performances, and several food stalls were arranged in a semicircle, offering Palestinian/ Levantine, Bangladeshi, Ghanaian, Maltese and Somali food, with face-painting and drums workshops in between. Continue reading
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.
Come to Lithuania in June, they said. Chill and swim in a lake, they said. So I expected to have very chill vacations, looking scruffy and eating garden-grown veggies. But then my friend and comrade Sandra put me in a designer dress for a photoshoot for her magazine, Verslo pietūs. Focusing on success stories, her magazine has become home for my latest travel articles before I embarked on my new Mediterranean adventure.
This team is fantastic, and I always learn a lot just by hanging out with them. At the same time it was a learning experience to see what areas of Vilnius are suitable for taking photos when the sky is cloudy. Our photographer chose the area near the White Bridge, which offers green spaces as well as urban landscapes.
Ah, work-related travel… Anything is better than those single-day trips to Brussels I was made to take at some point, but I′m sure that everyone who travels for work is struggling to strike a balance between being fresh and alert in the morning and seeing as much of an unknown city as possible during the limited leisure hours. I stayed in Rome for four days and three nights, with a very busy schedule, but not only the organizers made sure that we see something, but also I was blessed to have a companion who has lived in Rome, as well as a colleague who grew up there and generously shared tips before I went.
I was prepared that if I do not manage to see the famous landmarks, at least I will enjoy charming urban landscapes.
Yet I managed to see everything I wanted – Rome is really easy to navigate, walkable, and has efficient public transportation, given its size and Mediterranean culture.
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.
Culture reporting is every bit as serious as war reporting.
– My friend Alexandra Belopolsky, a culture reporter
Several of my Facebook friends shared this map, which claims to represent each country’s favorite book. How does one measure that, the creators did not bother to explain too much. A reddit list became the primary venue to crowdsource this information, but clearly the author came up with the list out of the blue and did not quite respond to comments. Some of my friends were pleased to find respectable works of literature representing their ancestral or adoptive homelands. Lithuanians, it seems, were left puzzled. Continue reading
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.
“…And if you′re planning a stag party, have a nice stag party,” a flight attendant said on my Amsterdam-Prague flight. To me, putting the words ′nice′ and ′stag night′ in one sentence is a sign of out-of-the-box thinking taken to the extremes, but I smiled to myself. This sounds very Dutch. After all, Amsterdam ran an information campaign for purchasers of substandard drugs to seek medical help immediately. What else could the service industry wish typical tourists in Prague, I wondered, remembering my first trip there in 2011. “May the content of your stomach be easy to clean?”
I went to Prague to attend a conference, and decided to stay the weekend after with friends. I was highly motivated to bust the myths I created for myself last time and to enjoy a completely different experience.