The Malta Independent 11 August 2022, Thursday

Marie Benoit's Diary: It’s all about survival

Sunday, 21 November 2021, 09:00 Last update: about 10 months ago
Maria Micallef, your Diarist and Carina Camilleri
Maria Micallef, your Diarist and Carina Camilleri

Any invitation the venue of which is Palazzo Parisio is always promising. I know it's going to be enjoyable. This elegant palace in Naxxar was acquired from the Parisio family in the middle of the 19th century by the philantropist the Marquis Giuseppe Scicluna (1855 to 1907). He was the third generation of the successful Scicluna banking and merchant business in Malta. This palazzo is one of the premier heritage attractions on these islands. His great, granddaughter the Baroness of Tabria, the Noble Mrs Christiane Ramsay Scicluna comments: "It was he who enriched it and endowed it with immense style and opulence, turning it into the great stately home that it is now."


Even when compared with the grand and historic palaces associated with the Knights of the Order of St John its significance as a cultural contribution to the island's heritage is overwhelming. The enthusiasm of the Baroness is unabated: "Every room or hall, each landing and corridor, the mirrored ballroom, the grand dining room, every painting, chandelier and fresco - even every marble floor tile and step of the grand staircase - bears tribute to my great grandfather's original inspirations and aspirations and to the generations that followed." Yes, she's giving honour where it is due. A man of vision. So few in Malta these days.

Claire Busuttil, a metastatic cancer patient and Rita Cassar Montanaro

It is true, the Marquis Scicluna had a fine foundation on which to build for the house was originally built, in 1733, by the Portughese Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena, the island's most popular ruler and who had an instinctive eye for architecture and was responsible for many of the greatest buildings on the island. But so many improvements have been done since those early days, by the Parisio family but most of all by the Marquis.

Jennifer Xuereb, Lara Azzopardi, Michelle Muscat, Neil Darmanin and Mariella Agius

The Baroness and her daughter, Justine, not only live there but with their various teams make certain that the gardens justly described as a "miniature Versailles" are impeccable all the year round; every effort is being made to maintain the Palazzo's original decorative condition and protect its uniqueness and that every event which takes place there is a success.

Jennifer Xuereb with Patrick Dalli’s ‘Nude’

So it was with a light heart that I set off to The Pink October Lifestar Gala perhaps the most important fundraiser of the year for The Marigold Foundation and which was held there on 30 October, an evening of entertainment and dinner.

Pre prandial drinks and canapés were served on the landing outside the ballroom and on the terrace overlooking the gardens. The Grand staircase was lit up with candles. On the landing, greeted by Mrs Muscat, pleasantries were exchanged and friends and acquaintances caught up with each other's lives. There were several survivors of cancer present to give hope and to celebrate their lives.

The number of subscribers to that evening exceeded all expectations and dinner had to be served beyond the ballroom with its extraordinary gilded opulence and unique to Malta and where mirrors reflect every angle. Grandiose indeed. Not that I enjoyed being doubled up in a mirror. Thank goodness I am short sighted. One of me is more than enough. Dinner was also served in the two adjoining rooms, splendid in their own right.

Special care had been taken in the laying of each table in the three rooms.  The detail, the shimmer, the glam! The pink Chrysanthemums which decorated each table added to the opulence.

Maxim who came from Italy to entertain us

Service was outstanding especially considering the number of people who had to be served with mainly warm food. An Italian was managing the catering and he did it extremely efficiently and quietly, like a good conductor directing his orchestra. It was a refined menu, suitable for the occasion. I counted some six courses.  Among the dishes served the Velutata di Cavofiore inspired me to make my own cauliflower soup that week but which did not turn out quite as good.  The Paccheri al Limone Amalfitano were delicious;  portions were small, as they should be in a six course dinner. There was veal and dessert delicate pink Pavlovas, seemed too beautiful to eat but gently attack and consume I did.  Then, such a pleasant surprise, one of Sunday in Scotland's chocolates which are beyond delicious and truly unique. If you haven't yet discovered them do go to the Sunday in Scotland café down Strada Santa Lucia and discover a world of sophistication. 

I particularly enjoyed Ruth Casingena's singing as, catching a glimpse of me and knowing how devoted I am to this great singer, she burst into a Piaf song. The young violinist Mario Ciantar was entertaining and I am sure the younger generation enjoyed the singing of Malcolm Pisani. But perhaps the star performer that evening was Maxim L'Illusionista who went from table to table with his red balls intriguing us with his clever sleigh of hand.

There was a lottery with generous prizes and the main prize was a Patrick Dalli watercolour nude. Whether slim or fat, they are well known and coveted. His son Luke, whose programme L'Awla is so popular, was there, towering over everyone. Unfortunately I didn't win the nude painting and have no idea who the lucky winner was either of that or the other generous prizes

The whole point of the evening was related to the work which the Marigold Foundation has been doing since 2014. Conceived and led by Mrs Michelle Muscat this year the Foundation went beyond the Pink October breast cancer campaign which was so present in the media. It also focused on cervical and ovarian cancer. Women were urged to learn how to prevent getting sick, to check themselves properly, do the necessary screenings and face the fear that often throws us into inertia.  It is now known as the Pink Oct_Mov '21 Campaign and stretches over two months. It supports patients battling cancer and champions other NGOs that support patients, develop ideas and new approaches. It also funds ongoing research at the University of Malta. Now both Prostate and Testicular Cancer are included in the campaign.

Lovely evening sitting between two intelligent women Carina Camilleri and Maria Micallef, CEO of the General Soft Drinks Co. and that attractive couple Lorraine (clad in Chanel) and her husband Eman and Maria's Ray, so well travelled and always so interesting.

Great evening and all for a very good cause.

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