Malta Diary The rape and pillage of my home town, Sliema
The name ‘Sliema’ is a derivative of the word ‘Sliem’ (peace and goodwill in Maltese) is a derivative of the word ‘Salaam’ (peace and goodwill in Arabic). Compared to the rest of the towns and villages in Malta and Gozo it is a relatively new ‘babe’, a latecomer and was an overspill from the capital city of Valletta across Marsamxett Harbour and from the large town of Birkirkara to the west. The overspills blossomed during the middle of the 19th Century.
Most towns and villages in Malta, and their peoples, have a nickname of one sort or another. Just to mention a few, the people of Senglea are known as ‘Ta’ Cacu’ because of their boasting; the people of Floriana as ‘Ta’ l-Irish’ because of the barracks of the Irish Fusiliers stationed in Floriana and the green colours of their football jerseys; the people of Birkirkara are said to be ‘Ta’ sormhom ċatt’ signifying they have flat posteriors because of their lazy tendencies and sitting about all the time; the people of Qormi as ‘Sa nofsinhar irġiel’ meaning they are only manly up to 12 noon because the area was famous for bread-baking, the bakers awoke early to bake fresh bread and felt clapped out by noon and retired for a siesta before continuing with their baking.
The people of my home town Sliema have two nicknames, ‘Tax-Xelin’ and ‘Tal-Pepe’. ‘Xelin’ means shilling (in the old British currency) because of their association with the British and the fact that many men took the Queen’s/King’s Shilling and joined the British military and ‘Tal-Pepe’ because they were regarded as being stuck-up, aloof, proud and looked down on everybody else and preferred to use the English language rather than Maltese.
Right, so yes, I am proud of being from Sliema, although I was born in nearby and neighbouring St Julian’s. However, all my relatives on my paternal and material families were Sliema residents and I was raised in Sliema although I have to admit that both my grandmothers were born in Valletta and my paternal grandfather was of Gozitan origin.
From what was once a small and remote village in the early 19th Century in 1853 the population began to grow until it was declared a parish in 1878 (Stella Maris – Our Lady Star of the Sea – Parish). The town’s name originated from a small chapel dedicated to ‘Our Lady of Good Voyage’ which sadly no longer exists but was a welcome sign for Maltese seafarers as their ship approached Valletta’s Grand Harbour, and thus home shore and hence peace and goodwill.
The town grew and grew and spread westwards and northwards to Balluta, St Julian’s and Paceville and southwards to Gzira to become a major residential and commercial area and later a hub for Malta’s tourism and hotels of all star categories.
My family origins were middle to lower-middle class and so we were by no means ‘Tal-Pepe’ and no we did not prefer speaking English to Maltese although we were literate and indeed my maternal grandfather George was an expert philatelist, stamp collector and dealer and my paternal grandfather Gianni (John) a Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer and Officers’ Cook while my father Frankie rose to the great heights of being promoted to Officer status in the British RAF, the only Maltese to have been thus promoted from RAF Malta.
I will not write of Sliema as it is today in 2017, an ugly blot and blemish on Malta, a concrete urban jungle that has run amok and rife and has been raped and pillaged over the last 30 years by developers and some enabling and colluding politicians. This being its state today more urban jungle is being proposed although at least it is now subject to strict surveillance and regulation. However, what’s done is now done and cannot be undone.
Politicians being politicians, many of the same politicians who in Government enabled the rape and pillage but are now in Opposition are now up in arms shouting “rape” and “shame” and forcing themselves to wring crocodile tears from their eyes. They lead so-called groups of environmentalists who enjoyed the sleep of Rumplestiltskin for the last 30 years but now bleat and moan and protest march with useless placards.
The accompanying pictures with this article show Sliema as it was in my boyhood and youth, a quiet and peaceful place of style and dignity with rows of Edwardian buildings along the Sliema Seafront (in Brighton, England style), beautiful walks along the same front and generally resplendent residences although the inner core areas where my family lived was modest and humble but orderly and the people genteel and generally well-meaning.
What a contrast to today’s hotchpotch of apartments along the Sliema Front blocking sunlight from the inner areas and its jungle of commercial and retail outlets as well as the generally lacklustre varnish of unkempt appearance and heavy traffic pollution.
I prefer to remember my Sliema as it was and not as it is today after being raped and pillaged beyond recognition.