The Malta Independent 10 April 2020, Friday

Marie Benoit's Diary: You can’t keep a good man down

Marie Benoît Sunday, 16 February 2020, 11:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

I don't know many 90 year olds but I have a cousin who is over 90. We celebrated this 'venerable' birthday with a small,  family gathering one or two years ago. It was a very happy occasion.

Stephen Sant'Anglo, fondly known as Steno, is still handsome at 90 and carries on with his voluntary work, walking all the way from the bus terminus in Valletta to Palazzo de la Salle, the seat of the Society of Arts, down Republic Street, and back every day.

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He has two adoring and clever daughters, one, Victoria, a doctor, married with two sons and the other Silvana, a working lady-about-town whose name can often be found on theatre programmes.

Recently the Committee of the Society of Arts under the Presidency of Perit Adrian Mamo, agreed to celebrate their long-standing Hon. Secretary's 17-year-long contribution with a musico-literary evening -  Memoirs: an evening of Appreciation in honour of Stephen Sant'Angelo, at the renovated Palazzo. Memoirs collated key social, cultural and political memories spanning Steno's nine long decades of personal and professional life.

The soirée featured readings by Jo Caruana and musical accompaniments by Domenic Galea the Maltese pianist and composer, whose father Sammy, in his 90s, still plays the piano. Domenic comes from a musical family. His mother Doreen is the well- known singer and composer who also comes from a musical background and is related to well-known clarinettist Freddie Mizzi.

No wonder Domenic plays with such ease, as if it is the most natural thing in the world to sit at a piano and entertain.

The evening was introduced by Jo Caruana: "We are here to celebrate a distinct man who has, in the most discreet of manners and over many years, become synonymous with the Malta Society of Arts. The evening has been aptly called 'Memoirs'. We have collated key social, cultural and political memories spanning nine long and variegated historical decades. Each memory has somewhat moulded this man in the process, making him the exceptional man that he is.

We trust that the evening will serve as a fitting tribute to Mr Sant'Angelo whose work and unstinting contribution has so developed and enriched this institution."

While Jo read appropriate quotes from famous people, Domenic played excerpts from popular music such as Gershwin's I got Rhythm, Cole Porter's Night and Day and so on.

The projections on the screen, the quotations beautifully read by Jo and Dominic's music were integrated so that it made for an evening of great entertainment.

It all started with the 1920s a decade during which Steno was born when a photo of Lord Baden-Powell was projected on the screen. And there was Charlie Chaplin in an excerpt from his film The Circus. Here's the quote from from Baden-Powell: "Happiness is within the reach of everyone, rich or poor. Yet comparatively few people are happy. I believe the reason for this is that the majority don't recognize happiness when it is within their grasp."

We came to the 40s and a short video of Mussolini declaring war followed by another short video of Malta at War, a war which devastated all those who had the misfortune to go through this ordeal. But how lucky were those who lived to tell the tale.

Then a quote from Churchill: "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." And so to Marlene Dietrich and what else if not Lili Marleen?

Then a picture of Sir Alexander Ferguson, the Scottish former football manager and player who managed Manchester United  came on the screen and a quote read by Jo: "If I have my health I can carry on. There will be a point when I do quit but I have absolutely no idea when that is".

We then watched a short video of a Manchester United game.

This Manchester United business was most appropriate as Steno is a Manchester United fan (to say the least) and feels the same about retirement as Sir Alex, who was born in 1941, so a good 20 years younger than Steno.

2010 and a quote from Steve Jobs (1955-2011) who achieved so much in his short life. "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it."

And so to the '60s and England's World Cup Victory in 1966 and Malta's Independence in 1964 recalled in short video projections.

So to the '70s and a quote from Aldo Moro, the statesman and politician, Italy's 38th prime minister. Who doesn't remember the death of this honourable man in May 1978, his body found riddled with bullets, in the back of a car in the centre of Rome? He was kidnapped by the Red Brigade terrorists after a bloody shoot-out near his suburban home.

I remember being impressed by the horrible pictures in my parents' copies of Oggi and Corriere della Sera. Here is the quote used that evening: "Quando si dice la veritá non bisogna dolersi di averla detta; la veritá e sempre illuminante."

 And another quote from Sandro Pertini, the former journalist and later President of Italy: "I giovani non hanno bisogno di prediche, I giovani hanno bisogno da parte degli anziani, di esempi di onestá, di coerenza et di altruismo."

A quote from the formidable Dom Mintoff: "It is not my style to crush opposition. All my life I have striven to convince this country is too small to remain divided for long. I hope you believe me."

We were then reminded of Malta becoming a republic in 1974.

In the '80 we had Gorbachev and the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

Mikhail and his wife Raisa were a popular couple in the West. He is admired for his policies and widely praised for his pivotal role in ending the Cold War for which he was awarded the Noble Prize. I love the quote used that evening: "What we need is Star Peace and not Star Wars." How true but is the world listening?

And at last a quote from a woman, who else if not Margaret Thatcher. "It pays to know the enemy - not least because at some time you may have the opportunity to turn him into a friend." Very optimistic that. I wonder if she ever acted that way.

We were reminded of the Falklands War and a quote from President Ronald Reagen: "Education is not the means of showing people how to get what they want. Education is an exercise by means of which enough men, it is hoped, will learn to want what is worth having."

It is inevitable that there should be a quote from the much-loved Pope Karol Wojtyla: "Freedom consists not in doing what we like but in having the right to do what we ought."

The '90s brought us Tony Blair and U2, Pavarotti and the film Miss Sarajevo.

The in the 2000s we had the tragedy of the Twin Towers and Malta in the EU.

There were more quotes and projections but I am running out of space. The designer is screaming for copy. Deadline, deadline!

The soirée ended with a short speech by the President of MSA Perit Adrian Mamo who thanked Steno for his relentless work, commitment, love and dedication to the MSA. He said the evening served as a fitting tribute to the man whose work and unstinting contribution developed and enriched the Malta Society of Arts and that his daily work continues to help the MSA in its endeavours.

Steno, in his usual soft voice, gave his thanks and said he would continue doing the work he does. It seems he has no intention of retiring.

The President then presented him with a lithographic portrait of himself by artist, curator and MSA Vice President Roderick Camilleri.

Before ending I wish to mention the secretary of MSA, the hardworking Joe Scerri who works behind the scenes.

We then went down to the courtyard, so beautifully restored and enjoyed drinks and canapés. There we met with cousins and second cousins and reminisced and heard interesting stories we had not heard before. An excellent opportunity to catch up. There is always so little time but for some of us so little time left, too.

Steno lead a meaningful life, senza storie as they say, always with great discretion and humility. He retired as Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education when Dr Mifsud Bonnici was minister. We all love him. I loved him from the minute I first set eyes on him when he came home with his mother to visit us all those years ago. I must have been around seven at the time!

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