The Intriguing Story Of Pawlu T-tork Hawn. Cabaret shows, music, and dance – one of the more sophisticated outlets / “Welcome sailor – come in for a drink and dance” / Beer on tap and lots of gin – sailors enjoy!
It may not be flattering and it may well not be morally worth commemorating, but ask any British or NATO servicemen – mostly Royal Navy and Army, stationed or passing through – about Malta up to the early 1970s and with an animated twinkle in their eye they will immediately mention “The Gut”.
By the 70s it had already begun a sharp decline and after 1979, when the last British and NATO servicemen left, “The Gut’s” death knell was sounded.
ITS RED LIGHT DISTRICT!
Bars, music halls, and guest houses were locked, barred, and bolted but nowadays have been refurbished and renovated to become outlets of family entertainment whilst continuing to emphasize how Valletta’s “The Gut” always underlined the economic backbone making of the Maltese nation.
One of my very first articles on B-C-Ing-u.com published on 18th January 2014, dealt with the history and development of Malta’s principal Red Light area and revised postings have always been highly popular because as former media magnate Lord Thomson once correctly said, “the public wants sex, more sex and even more sex”.
For decades, the area was Malta’s precious economic lifeline in the Valletta street known as Strait Street (and unflatteringly dubbed “The Gut” by British servicemen), a thoroughfare so narrow that in some areas you can touch the street’s walls on either side with outstretched hands.
It is the narrowest street in the parallel patchwork of grid streets that make up Valletta, running vertically and horizontally parallel and crisscrossing each other at perfect right angles.
That is how Knights of Malta Grandmaster Jean Parisot de la Valette wanted Malta’s capital city Valletta built after the rout of the invading Ottoman Empire forces in 1565 and that is how it has remained. Aptly named Strait Street it is the narrowest one in the city. As for being straight and narrow, morally it did not live up to its name!
In its early years, it had already acquired a reputation as a dueling spot for the Knights and courted a reputation as a locality for courtesans and prostitutes frequented by the supposedly celibate Knights who were as prone as anybody else to venture off the straight and narrow.
One of the more renowned bars on the street corner
The “big bang” came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mostly thanks to the British military. However, Valletta’s Grand Harbour throughout the centuries – stretching back to Phoenician times – was a massively important trading Central Mediterranean port, and naturally during the British era for decades it teemed with Royal Navy cruisers and destroyers and Merchant Navy vessels transporting servicemen to and from the Suez Canal, as well as general cargo vessels.
Thus was established Malta’s main “Red Light” district as progressively Strait Street began to fill up with bars and music halls which in turn filled with female sex workers. The hustle and bustle were phenomenal. Beer and alcohol flowed like water; honky-tonk pianos and bands with brass and string instruments blurted popular tunes and cash tills jingled merrily and continually.
It is popularly accepted that British crooner Frankie Vaughn took his first step to fame as a singer in one of Strait Street’s many bars and many Maltese singers, orchestras, trios, and quartets fondly regarded the street as their starting point.
There were three categories of female economic activity. Some were barmaids or cleaners, others were “hostesses” with whom one could enjoy a drink and a dance and others were prostitutes. Hostesses worked on a commission basis – the more they danced and the more their partners sloshed back the beer, the greater their commission.
An array of bars and entertainment places
Interestingly enough, prostitutes had to undergo regular medical check-ups and if they had clearance from VD and STD they were supplied with a metal tag which they would exhibit to prospective customers.
Vaudeville, jazz, and can-can oozed from every corner, and with money flowing in, many music halls imported female singers and dancers from all over Europe, particularly Hungary, Italy, France, and the Balkans.
Needless to say, Military Police and the local constabulary (selected for brawn rather than the brain) were everywhere. Truncheons worked overtime and the “paddy wagon” came and went on shuttle service.
The hiatus was reached in 1950 and the real battle of battles is still strongly etched in the brain of those who can remember it, took place in 1950 and is recorded in folklore history as Strait Street’s and Valletta’s most infamous.
Thousands of British troops were being withdrawn from Palestine where they had dealt with the front-line brutal confrontations between the newly-launched state of Israel and the start of Palestinian resistance.
These were of necessity tough and hard-grained commandos sorely deprived of female company and alcohol during their stint in Palestine. At “The Gut” they amply made up for lost time and for many weeks trouble had been brewing.
The residents of Valletta had over the decades become almost totally inured to troublesome occurrences but the quarrelsome conduct of these returning commandos was more than they could bear and particularly that of one commando troop which ran amok amongst the many bars and drinking clubs.
An ad hoc meeting of bar and club owners, as well as the various minders and bouncers fashioned a “Valletta Troop” and on one early evening they formed a chain determined to bar the commandos from the street.
An array of bars / Narrower and narrower – the lower part of Strait Street
The result, needless to say, was bedlam. The commandos were tough, but the “Valletta Troop” was equally tough and resilient, seasoned as they were in street fighting and dealing with trouble. Pitch battles ensued over the next three nights (the local constabulary seemed “unaware” of what was happening and the British Military Police could only deal with British servicemen). Finally, the British Admiralty acted and confined all servicemen to their troop ships until the troublesome commandos sailed away.
Amongst the fiercest local individuals was one “Pawlu t-Tork” (Paul the Turk), a most interesting and endearing character. He was a gigantic man of Turkish descent who by day worked as a bread-seller pushing a large wooden trolley laden with fresh bread, the most gentle and docile of men despite his massive build. His endearing calls of “Pawlu hawn” (Paul is here) became a bye-word in Malta.
By night he was a different character and worked as a bouncer, a seasoned and accomplished street fighter who was frequently challenged by other bruisers to bare-knuckle fights but always emerged victorious.
With the Admiralty announcement, the “Valletta Troop” claimed victory, and henceforth, the residents of Valletta became affectionately known as “Tal-Palestina” and their war cry “Tal-Palestina, hadd ma just Galina” (we are invincible and nobody can match us). Although 72 years have elapsed, the slogan is still widely used today and particularly chanted during football matches when Valletta FC is playing!
As for “Paul the Turk” he died many years ago but is still affectionately remembered as a folklore character and to those who can remember him, for his sales-pitch cry of “Pawlu hawn”.
This element was further greatly exacerbated when in the late 50s and 60s NATO forces joined the British and pitched battles between American Sixth Fleet sailors, and Italian and French sailors – together with the British and often with the Maltese – clashed to defend their national honor.
Today’s revamped Strait Street – is more of a family affair and on the straight and narrow!
Still, today, there may yet be life in the old dog and Strait Street may yet return to the glorious days of the straight and narrow – but will remain straight and narrow. Today it is a family panorama of restaurants and entertainment areas and is still very popular.
e/mail – firstname.lastname@example.org
“Tal-Palestina, hadd ma jista’ ghalina”
The slogan of the Valletta community – “We are the Palestinians, invincible and nobody will ever defeat us”
Top 10 Travel Tips for 2023
Get the top 10 Tips to increase the awesomeness factor of your next Travel Adventure. You will also receive updates on new and amazing places to travel to.