MALTA DIARY: Cramming 48 hours into 24…..never a dull moment….not around here!
‘Ole Blue Eyes’ Frank Sinatra dreamt of waking up “in a city that never sleeps” (‘New York, New York’) and would have felt at home in Malta and Gozo, close to his beloved Italia and Sicilia and also close to his like-mama-used-to-make plate of spaghetti. Not that there is any relativity or comparison between Malta and New York because Manhattan and Brooklyn put together are probably larger than the Maltese islands.
Many years back I took my works football team for a relaxed week-end in a leading north Sicilian holiday camp following a season of successful results. Within hours of arrival they ran riot in a series of escapades, fuelled by alcoholic inebriation.
The next morning the camp manager sent for me and expressed his deep dismay at the debauchery in a camp that was frequented by families with children and he adamantly emphasised that when our visit ended we would not be welcomed back ever again.
To my surprise at the end of this chastisement we shook hands and then he gave me the traditional Sicilian kiss of friendship on both cheeks but made sure that the automatic revolver in his jacket pocket made its impact on my thigh to deliver his proper message….I have ways and means of dealing with troublemakers and would not hesitate to use them.
I sent for the team captain and gave him a right dressing down and asked him to explain the shameful behaviour. Without hesitation he replied “because we Maltese love to enjoy ourselves and we all try to cram 48 hours activity into 24”. This piece of barrack room impromptu philosophy left me gobsmacked!
However, later in the day our lads regained their spurs despite an alcoholic and virtually sleepless night. We lounged around the swimming pool where I could keep an eye on them. The camp organised a team springboard diving event and some of our boys went in for it and were doing well heading the honours list.
Then the Master of Ceremonies announced the next event was imitation diving mimicking a disabled person. Our boys would have none of that. They approached the MC and told him it was wrong and cruel to mimic disabled people and if the event went ahead they would withdraw – which they did. I was proud of them and told them so.
Carnival came to an end last week having come early this year because – apparently – moon movements and other complicated stuff dictated such. At midnight on Tuesday, 9th February, Carnival officially came to an end and at midnight plus one second Malta embarked on the beginning of Lent, the start of Ash Wednesday and to boot a Public Holiday celebrating the feast of St Paul’s Shipwreck on the islands 1,956 years ago (according to The Bible, Acts of the Apostles, St Luke). Two days later Tom Cruise breezed in to start work on his new film.
Yes certainly, never a dull moment around here.
Now I have never been a fan of Carnival and all its razzmatazz, even though my mother loved it and insisted we did so too, from an early age. When we lived in England for so many years one of her brothers annually sent her an album of Carnival pictures to keep her in touch with developments. I’m not a dance fan, I don’t particularly like the syrupy sweetmeats that underscore Carnival and my take on the Carnival floats was always that they were cheap and amateurish.
Well, this year I have had to eat my words – if not the sweetmeats – and did so willingly. This year it was simply superb and the organisers and participants responsible have lifted it to international standards – not to be compared to the voluminous Rio Carnival or the finesse of the Venetian Carnival yet nevertheless in an expressive niche unto itself.
The floats were simply superb with the aid of the latest electro-mechanical movements enhancement and a real wealth of fantasy creations that were a burst of precision and colour, the costumes were elaborate and equally superb and the dance companies were exquisite, colourful, well trained and sensual.
Not that I went mind you but did manage to see live tv broadcasts and was simply spellbound in fascination. If marketed properly in future years and IF the standard is maintained, it can well resolve to be a tourist attraction in itself during a period of the year which for tourism is “off shoulder”.
The beauty of it all is that despite this year’s highly professional veneer, by far the greater number of participants are strictly amateurs and do what they do for fun and a sense of pride and personally spend many, many euros on all the lavishness. The Carnival Committee does award prizes for various float categories, best costumes, best dances and what have you, but the cash prizes are a mere fraction compared to the expenses. The quest is not the cash, but the honour of being declared a winner.
Those involved are so absorbed, preparations are made throughout the year. On the day after Carnival, the floats begin dismantlement and plans kick off for the coming year involving themes, designs and material assembly.
The fact that it has survived at all over the years is a great miracle and an expression of the enthusiasm of the participants. The float organisers have to provide their own workshop and in most cases these do not provide adequate protection from wind and rain topping all by the fact that normally at this time of the year winds are furious and rainfall pretty constant.
This year it was all sunshine and fine weather and thus a great source of satisfaction – never mind the significance of having summer weather at the height of winter! Those that organise floats have been requesting the Government year after year to provide a sheltered locality for them, followed by discussions and more discussions but no result.
Now however, it seems the message has been received loud and clear by the authorities and some months ago the Government announced that a new and modern centre is to be provided at Marsa complete with workshops, sheltered accommodation and a Carnival Museum and this year’s enormous success should continue to spur on the concept.
For decades all the celebrations were concentrated in Valletta, but each year as it grew and grew, Valletta became smaller and smaller to cope adequately. Its narrow streets hampered the ambitions of larger and more spectacular floats in width and height.
Now it has expanded into Floriana while after an absence of many years Hamrun organised its own spectacular celebrations and there are plans to gradually root and spread more localised organisation in other towns and villages.
And to make sure that Malta’s organisers are on their toes, in recent years Gozo has been pumping up the volume with the ever-increasing popularity of the Nadur Carnival, mainly an exhibition of the macabre, bizarre and exotic but a major attraction to Maltese youths who flock there and spend a week-end binge drinking and merry-making. Victoria organises its smaller Carnival, mainly for children.
Well, it’s all over now for this year but for the very first time ever I can actually say I am looking forward to next year’s edition.