So little, dirty, dusty Malta did not make it to the World Cup, and may never make it. So many of us are disappointed that our teams did not go further than they did (I write this just before the clash between the French and the Italians tonight so I can’t be sure whether practically all of us are disappointed or some are now elated!), but we had an immense consolation prize last Saturday, the eve of the World Cup Final.
An evening with Joseph Calleja, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, (conducted by the equally charming Russian Vasily Petrenko) and other artists including his very pregnant wife made us forget, just for a couple of hours at least, our World Cup disappointments, the ugliness that surrounds us, the utter rudeness, lack of table manners and infighting that is marking us out as a nation, the squalid, selfish, senselessness and mean-mindedness that pervades too much that we do.
Of course the whole evening had to start on a Maltese note, a bit late. I left home around 7.30pm for a concert starting at 9pm expecting the worst, when you try to squeeze over 6,000 people through one entrance, into an admittedly amazing venue at Fort Manoel, Manoel Island. Anyone who left home around 8.30pm expecting the normal 10 minute ride anywhere found themselves locked into an enormous logjam made worse by the Gzira feast, and if you were coming from Sliema, some kind of weird half luzzu, carnivalesque
vehicle that was on its way somewhere with a full police escort held up tonnes more traffic. So, we started almost 40 minutes late, although one patient female kept thanking us for our patience, some boorish people in the crowd started to do the whole slow clap thing, as if that was going to speed up anything, like when people caught in traffic jams start to set off their horns. We had perhaps a mild case of opera rage instead of road rage, but all the bad feelings soon evaporated when we heard a brilliant orchestra, and particularly the amazing voice of Joseph Calleja and his friends.
I’m not the world’s greatest fan of opera, but somehow when you hear that voice, watch Joseph smile and perform, you marvel both at his genius and at his modesty, whereas we as a nation seem to revel in mediocrity and less, masquerading as great talent. He reminded us all of simple good things by dedicating one song to the late Budaj. He reminded this chauvinistic nation to appreciate its women more, when he dedicated another song to all the women in his life, including his babysitter!
He just made us forget the frustration so many of us feel at how downhill we are going, or feel we are going (it’s just as much about perceptions!), despite ostensibly being financially better off, more educated, having more opportunities, being members of the European Union and all the blah blah which doesn’t fit the reality of the Maltese experience.
And yet we are so patriotic but have so little to be proud of... except of course of a few amazing talents like Joseph Calleja. We have some pockets of amazing countryside, most notably the beautiful natural wilderness that is Ta’ Cenc and we are contemplating building it up, or putting a massive lawn for golfers to frolic on. (I like golfers, it’s a sport of gentlemen and women, but please rehabilitate a grotty part of Malta for a golf course, don’t desecrate one of our natural jewels.)
We have so few buildings or building structures that are an inspiration, except perhaps for the legacy of the Knights of St John without whom this island would look even more unpleasant than much of it is. And with this ugliness you have to include the buildings behind Fort Manoel which from the sea especially look totally ugly when we could have done much, much better; the cramped over-development at the Hilton which maximised profit, but provided no green relief at all, and so many others blots that could have been beauties. But that is the story of modern Malta isn’t it, a blot that should have been a beauty...
Yet the Maltese love to sing and have quite a lot of talent in this area. Not the talent we focus on at events like Eurovision but talents that spend hours upon hours perfecting and honing their art. And one Maltese man has managed to conquer the world stage with his special talent, and allowed us to feel good about being Maltese.
There is such a negative vibe everywhere. Perhaps this is something our political classes should hone in on. We do want to feel good about ourselves, good about being Maltese, proud and justifiably so of our country, its achievements and its talents.
So thank you Joseph, thanks to your family who brought you up and nurtured you, and all those who made you the smiling genius you are today, not only thanks to your voice, but to your immense niceness, modesty and good manners which many, many more would do well to emulate.