It’s difficult to be neutral about Malta – you either love it, or you hate it. It may surprise you or it may disappoint you, but some kind of emotion it will evoke.
I can recall three memorable anecdotes that illustrate this truth.
Back in 1988 I was the Administration Manager of Malta’s then largest insurance broking company. One fine day our CEO called the Accounts Manager, Martin Gauci (one of my best friends), and me into his office and detailed our brief. We had an important visitor from Swiss Re, one of the largest reinsurance companies in the world, and the two of us had to look after him, take him to lunch and show him around.
The brief came with a warning. He was a top executive, Swiss-German, adroit, stiff, dry, punctual, a no-nonsense type of guy. We were to be on our best behaviour. No monkey business. “Sure,” we said.
Martin drove and we picked him our guest at his hotel. He wanted a fish lunch and so we chose Wied iz-Zurrieq, a small fishing village with beautiful views. We pointed out areas of interest as we drove by but I found the formality and small talk unbearable. So I lit up a cigarette.
“You smoke in cars?” he asked disapprovingly.
“Yes. Why? Would you like a cigarette?”
“No, thank you, My wife forbids it”.
My eyes met Martin’s in the rear view mirror, and we spoke to each other without words.
Along the route we had a rush of hair-raising experiences, which are quite normal in Malta. A car driving wrong way down a one way street;; another car making a sudden u-turn on a main road; a driver stopped in the middle of the road to converse with a friend who was in a car in another lane.
Our guest blinked often, raised eye brows a lot, and gasped a time or two, We finally made it to lunch, which was lovely, with lashings of wine. Slowly and surely, down came his disciplined camouflage as he began to relax. More wine and he began to chat freely, laugh loudly, and loosen up.
On the return journey he asked me for a cigarette and smoked three before we arrived at the Hilton. I admit, our Swiss-German insurance man was much worse for the wear. But Martin and I jumped out of the car to shake his hand and say our farewells. Instead, his arms opened wide, his face beamed, and he hugged us closely.
“Thank you for a lovely day. This has been the best day of my life! It’s so wonderful here. Everybody is free. Everybody does what they like and what they want to do. I have never been to a country like this”.
After II left the insurance brokers, I took a temporary job teaching English to middle aged business executives – mostly Germans. One lady, was a high level executive with a leading Germany manufacturer, was uptight and very nervous. On the third day of her classes, she informed me of her decision to return to Germany “because I can’t stand the indiscipline around me and it’s fraying my nerves.”
I calmed her down and told her to give it a little more time; to relax and take things as they come. We held many discussions about her work and the stress and strain she was always under and I counselled her to review her whole life situation and, if need be, find an alternative job.
She stuck out her two weeks with me, and three weeks later I received a surprising letter from her. She told me she had taken my advice and given up her high level job. She intended to travel and to learn to relax, beginning with a mountain trek.
The Sunday morning San Gaetano Band Club march at Hamrun in the High Street is a riot of colour and music, It’s also a point of pique tension as the band marches by two rival parish bands on the Sunday morning for Hamrun’s San Gaetano Feast, Attended by thousands from all over Malta, it’s normally held on one of the first weekends in August, in steaming hot temperatures. The competition between the band clubs can be quite fierce, and on this day, the two clubs were San Gaetano Band Club (sporting red colours) and the St Joseph Band Club (sporting blue colours), the first band to be founded in Hamrun.
It used to be the bands left their band clubs at 10.15 am, strolled around Hamrun and continually played, one following the other (in annual alternate fashion to keep all happy) and returned to their clubs at 4 pm – a marathon of heat, alcohol, and rivalry. Nowadays, the time has been drastically shortened to avoid incidents.
At the time, a friend of mine asked me if he could bring his cousin along, a cousin of Maltese descent but a resident in New York on his first visit to Malta. Before we left I cautioned him to be prepared for all and everything. Patronisingly, he smiled and said “I “I live in New York and have seen everything before— parades, band marches, St Patrick’s Day. I don’t expect anything to surprise me in Malta.”
At the end of the day, however, he was like a rag doll, worn out, completely sloshed, and we had to carry him back to our car. However, he did manage to say “Boy, I’ve never seen anything like it. It was completely amazing”.
Yep, that’s Malta. Love it or hate it, because there is no place for emotional indifference.
BeSeeingYou In: Malta
Good to know: Hamrun is a town close to Valletta and the Grand Harbour with a population of around 8,800 people
WOW! Factor: The street decorations during the feast of San Gejtanu are second to none
Tip: Every year, around 95 festi are held in Malta and 10 in Gozo, so check the calendar if you want to witness the spectacle first hand
Author bio: Albert Fenech
e/mail – firstname.lastname@example.org
“His soul is in his teeth”
This indicates a state of total fragility because soul and teeth are fragile. English equivalent “hanging by a thread”