Malta Diary Exit the three-legged horse; enter the Monty Python “Monti” saga
The Frenchman Jean Parisot de la Valette, Knight Grandmaster and founder of Malta’s capital city Valletta described by British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli as “a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen”, is rumoured to be rolling and rumbling in his 430 year-old burial crypt. Celebrated Italian and internationally-famed architect Renzo Piano and his assistants are said to have choked in their cups when informed.
Those familiar with the stories of the fictitious and loved Italian priest Don Camillo penned by satirist and cartoonist Giovanni Guareschi are familiar with the internal struggles of the little north Italian town besides the River Po as Don Camillo continually tussles for soul-winning triumphs over the Communist mayor Peppone (written a few years after the end of World War II when Italy had the largest Communist Party in Europe outside the Soviet Union).
Step forward Malta and Gozo where all these real and fictitious characters spin and whirl in the melting pot that makes up daily life with an eternal, internal strife that goes this way and that in the political struggle for power and votes.
Last week I mentioned the power the bird-shooting hunting gun lobby has over the ballot box. It’s not the only one however. Most countries usually regard minorities as down-trodden groups struggling to be heard and given their rights.
Electoral logistics in Malta determine the equation to be the diametrically opposite other way with these minorities holding a substantial balance of power and substantially flexing it with open threats during electoral campaigns that normally result in weak resistance and eventual capitulation by political parties and triumphant acquisitions by the pressuring group.
The saga of Renzo Piano’s creation of a new city entrance gate and a new Parliament building continues, even though the project is far from completion. Like it or not – and I certainly do not like the new building – the whole project has however given a tremendously positive uplift to Valletta’s entrance.
The project was a raging controversy from the start with the scales ranging from “a heavenly creation” on the one hand to “outrageous” on the other. Further scorn was heaped when the sculpture of the three-legged horse was temporarily placed at the entrance and directly opposite the new Parliament – despite the philosophical explanations provided by the sculptor.
Well, the horse has now gone, moved to another location and a statue of La Valette is due to be the replacement. But the Monty Python saga continues.
Enter the Valletta flea street market known as “Il-Monti”, a street “suq (souk)” synonymous with Valletta which in recent years has been moved hither and thither in largely less prominent locations within the city.
The market has a history in the past, much-sought by the lesser privileged looking for bargains more suited to their pockets and lower levels of income. As such it held a certain charm and was much favoured.
However, over the years it underwent gradual transition and has nowadays deteriorated into what at best is regarded as being a market for tat with cheap Asian goods and gaudy tee-shirts aimed at the tourist market with such slogans as “I went to Malta and all I got was this lousy tee-shirt”, together with a glut of cheap imitation football strips favouring top European clubs and leading football nations.
Nevertheless, the hawkers and vendors – thoroughly despised by shopkeepers who have to pay rent, licence charges, energy bills and employees’ wages – consist of a powerful minority lobby – just as the gun-toting bird hunters do.
Now it has transpired that as part of their pre-electoral promises the present Government and the Opposition had promised the vendors to re-locate the market in Ordnance Street which happens to run between the new Parliament building and the converted open air theatre, undoubtedly a glaring eye-sore of tat slap-bang in the centre of a multi-million euro project and no less a Renzo Piano creation.
The Government seems intent on keeping its promise as a guarantee that what was promised has been kept. The Opposition has changed tack (sensing the general public outrage at such a move) and said they never made such a promise (even though it was clearly inscribed in black and white!) and that in any case, they have now changed course.
To add insult to injury some back-room boffin recently revealed the scores of new stalls to be adopted by the market (manufactured at the cost of 1,000 euros each) a cheap and monstrous concoction of tacky plastic screens that are even tackier than the goods to be put on sale in them. These have now thankfully been shelved.
Jason Micallef the Chairman of the Valletta City of Culture Committee (which Valletta will be in 2018), and a committed pro-Government supporter spluttered in fuming anger whilst it was reported from neighbouring Italy that architect Renzo Piano almost collapsed in anguish.
The battle has commenced, battle lines drawn and a saga set to continue.
For my money, my line on this is “better out of sight and hence out of mind” and the market should be consigned inconspicuously elsewhere.
Indeed, welcome to “The Little World of Don Camillo” one of Giovanni Guareschi’s more famous books.