Sunday, November 25, 2007

Chocolates?

(Winner of this year’s “Obscure-to-incomprehensible blog post title” award)

Malta is (to me) the most obscure country in Europe. Even places like Andorra or Belarus, Liechtenstein or Iceland, seem somewhat higher up in my consciousness than Malta. I didn’t even really know where it was (and I pride myself on my atlassic knowledge – if one can have atlassic knowledge, and not just encyclopaedic knowledge of atlases). I knew it was in the Mediterranean, that it was an island, and that it had some long standing links with Britain. Beyond that there really wasn’t much.

But it’s a pretty interesting place, with a very odd history. A country which for much of its existence was run by knights, which is a bit quixotic, I suppose. At one point in Malta’s history, Napoleon stopped off, ostensibly en route to somewhere else, and said he really needed a glass of water. The chivalrous knights, of course, invited him in, and he proceeded to annex them. Which, I have to say, is not the way I was brought up. Someone offers you their hospitality, and you don’t just take over their house and tell them to get lost.

Valletta, the capital, is an old city, which is a UNESCO thingamajig. It has an odd motto/branding slogan which is “A city built by gentlemen for gentlemen”. In the old days the word “gentlemen” meant “posh blokes” but these days it seems that it means “blokes who go to strip clubs”. I presume the gentlemen bit in the slogan refers to the knights rather than sex tourists. There is an even older capital than Valletta, though, which we visited on our brief tour – that is M’dina (which was pretty funky, though not particularly cold).

It is a small island, and it appears to be almost entirely built up. Certainly in the eastern end of the island in which we spent most of our time, it is basically impossible to ascertain where one “town” ends and another begins. It’s sort of an ancient European Singapore or Hong Kong, though the crumbling nature of some of the buildings and the ancient buses actually put one in mind of Havana at times. The national food appears to be rabbit, which is understandable since there is no real room to breed anything larger.

The language is fascinating – it’s like Arabic with the occasional Italian word (and English and French) thrown in. A typical sentence runs something like "Wahad ithnein allahu akhbar bonsoir habibi al quds grazie" (y'know, it sounds something like that anyway). The only Semitic language to be written in Roman script, I’m told. On the minus side, though, the island appears to be infested with right wing English pensioners, who apparently spend the whole winter there as it is cheaper to stay in a hotel with full board in Malta than to stay in the UK and heat your house. The other bonus, as far as they are concerned, is that Malta doesn’t have many immigrants in it (and I’m basing this on three separate overheard conversations, which is not exactly a huge sample size, but still pretty repugnant). The newspaper kiosks are filled with copies of the Mail and Express, which gives you an idea of the target market.

I’d do my usual “name 5 famous” routine, but I have to admit I’m struggling myself. There’s Michael Mifsud who plays up front for Coventry, and Tony Drago the mid-ranked snooker player, and after that, I can’t really think of any. Edward de Bono, apparently is one. That’s about it (as far as I know).

So there we are then, Malta in a nutshell. Or perhaps in a crispy chocolate coating. I had a good time, though my time was very limited and most of it was filled with the light honeycomb centre of work and stuff.

7 comments:

Maeen said...

Dear Andy: I read some of your blogs previously when I was a more regular reader. Today's write-up about Malta the best. I like your natural way of expression. How to d'u get so much of time, or do you import them from you diary? Good hobby. Cool! I may try some in future.

GadjoDilo said...

If no other early-middle-aged telly-watching Britons are reading, maybe I win this year’s “Obscure-to-incomprehensible blog post title” competition :-) Maybe to claim the prize, contestants should then have to answer the question "How do you make a Maltese cross?"

Catherine said...

Joe Sacco was born there apparently (but left when he was a year old, so I don't know whether they're claiming him or not...).

Andy H said...

Hi Maeen, thanks for coming and commenting. This is my diary, I guess, so I don't so much import them from there as just publish my diary (a little egotistically, perhaps). Let me know when and if you start a blog of your own, and I'll come along and read about life in Ghatail!

gadjodilo - kick him in the nuts?

Catherine - really? That's good to know. I love his Palestine books

Jean Azzopardi said...

I am a Maltese, and regarding your comment about the Maltese Language, I wonder if you met any actual Maltese at all!

A typical sentence runs something like "Wahad ithnein allahu akhbar bonsoir habibi al quds grazie" (y'know, it sounds something like that anyway).

How about, Bongu sieheb, kif int? : Good morning friend, how are you?

Andy H said...

Hi Jean

Yes, you'll be pleased to meet I met a lot of Maltese people - I was working with them after all. My sentence was meant to be a parody of a Maltese sentence written by someone who speaks no Maltese. I just stuck a load of Arabic words together and broke them up with bonsoir and grazie (two words which I know you do use).

I mean I thought I had made it clear with the whole "sounds like" and the parentehtical bit afterwards, but in case you are offended, sorry

Jean Azzopardi said...

In that case, I apologise for taking your quote out of context. Yes, we do use bonsoir, and grazie, although we morph the words into bonswa and grazzi. The Maltese Language is mainly semitic, although when the Arabs were expelled from our islands by the Normans, the language started picking up more of a Latin colour. Sadly, many people are now intermixing English and Maltese without any thought as to whether there already is a perfectly good Maltese word which would suffice...and thus we end up with words which sound totally ridiculous!

Anyway, I'll stop on the Maltese Language. However, there are some more famous Maltese, such as Joseph Calleja - an international tenor, Avid Pardo, the Father of the Law of the Sea conference, and "Baron" Mikel Scicluna, professional wrestler..