Some six months ago my family moved house and we are now living in the heart of a village, and this after almost 46 years living in a busy, hectic area with a non-stop stream of traffic buzzing around us confusing as a bag of Skittles. Mind you, not that a village is traffic and chaos free but somehow it feels like the disorder has application and meaning. As you might imagine, this mini-family diaspora had an impact on me much more that I thought would actually be the case because I never believed that the difference of living in a village from a town would be so distinct from what I was used to.
The smells, the sounds are like chalk and cheese but equally fascinating.
The lack of architecture linearity and uniformity are simply striking, make perfect sense and are a pleasure to look at, contrary to the concrete jungle we now call houses in most of our towns (and unfortunately villages as well) that are starting to look like ‘Khrushchyovka styled-buildings’. You might not find one facade like another, that’s true, and yet somehow they create a harmony and a feeling like music annotations on a stave as you go about walking through streets and allies. Another facet of village landscape are the oodles of niches and religious symbols that lie everywhere. If this indulgence thingy worked and had I to pop in some cents in the insert lying in front of every niche I come across, I would possibly be guaranteed a place in Heaven some 20 years before my expiration. Then again, the intensity of the socio-religious symbolisms is nothing short of striking. They provide character, decorate the streets and might be for some or many a reminder that good has to be done.
Then there is the self-sufficiency.
The people who lived in villages must have thought that there was no life outside the village boundaries. The Ellul Mercer classic, Leli ta’ Haz-Zghir, comes to mind. Leli seemed to struggle with this sense of closed community that is continually inward looking. It might feel a bit confining and possibly suffocating true but I think there comes a time in a person’s life that the comfort zones and sense of containment are incredibly beneficial. I must admit that this might be that particular time of my life. With all the hectic, non-stop lifestyle I choose to live, I am pretty comfortable living in this way.
The piazza in a way is self-contained – a resource of incredible solace for many.
It was designed to give rest to the mind after a hard-day’s work. You could choose to strengthen the spirit by popping over to the Church or to one of the many chapels that line the surroundings. Or you might choose to get yourself a pastizz or two and a bottle of lager at the band club. If it is a word of wisdom there’s the Parish Priest and a word of counsel will see the Lawyer featuring heavily. When it is a pain killer for an ailment you want to fight there is the pharmacist ready to sort it out with the family doctor closing up for any additional backup. Oh and if you lost a button as you are walking down the strada reajale you will quickly find a haberdashery ready to provide you with all the required supplies. Still you cannot forget that the piazza is replenished by political parties all set to celebrate their leader and to tell us how best to sort out the country’s complaints. The marble plaques spread all around help the piazza feel like a walk through history book.
So if you had to think about it, what is it that people needed more?
The impressive dynamics in the piazza are still very strong in this community I am living in. People stop each other at every corner, whether inquiring if ‘you’ came to live there, whether you are visiting, whether you have any roots in this village. It is absolutely bliss even when in a hurry people are tugging at you to share a tea and a chat.
What a lovely place the piazza becomes had it to be void of traffic and left to its reason of existing.
You have the people who almost feel that they rule and govern the space, the old men sitting on the unobtrusive benches shying away from too much attention reminiscing how the past is not a mirror of the present situation, children waiting to be picked up for school, old ladies pulling with a great deal of effort their shopping basket and in the background the flapping of the Maltese flag rising above everything and everyone with pride and belief.