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Sunday, November 28, 2004

November Rain

I must say that I'm surprised at how relatively mild the weather has been so far this season on the North Yorkshire coast. Someone told me that it will get rougher but at the same time Scarborough tends to have less wintry weather than most inland places around this area of England, simply because it's by the sea.

I've been waiting for a powerful north-eastern storm to hit us. A classic Maltese-style grigal, like the one that supposedly brought St. Paul's shipwreck to Malta. Those things are spectacularly terrifying and always remind me how fragile everything really is. And this brings me to something I wrote on this blog a few days ago. I'm referring to the thoughts of impermanence that have saturated my mind over the past several weeks.

My friend Joe Meilak from asked me whether this meant that I was thinking of leaving Scarborough to return to New York. Well, that's hardly what I had in mind...even though I miss Christine and Dina very much.

Thoughts about impermanence always come to me at this time of the year. Some years are more intense than others. It hasn't been this intense for the last couple of years. These thoughts and feelings come from two things mainly. One relates to my childhood associations with November as a month in which we remembered the dead. The other comes from the work I do with Mario Axiaq at about this time every year on writing obituaries about Maltese personalities who passed away during the year. (More on that in a few weeks time.)

Don't think for a second that I've submerged myself in morbid thoughts. Death is an essential part of life. It's one of those things that make life even more precious than we say it is as a matter of fact. My thoughts on impermanence are also very much informed by my understanding of the important place this idea has in Buddhist belief systems.

Nothing lasts forever. That simple thought can alter the shape, colour, smell, size, texture, and all other dimensions of anything I come across these days.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Money (it's a gas)

I've just finished working with my colleagues in the MaltaMedia newsroom to produce a special online feature about the government's budget for 2005.

I must say that I was never a fan of budget speeches. The fact that MaltaMedia Editor-in-Chief tells me that this is a budget of firsts makes it a little more enticing. However, I must admit that as I get older I am quite fascinated by the workings of governments. In Malta's case the budget is a grand performance, in more ways than one.

First there is the elaborate performance people see on their TV screens from the house of parliament, including both the debates as well as the press conferences and after-event discussions. Then there's also the perform-or-else factor that comes with every budget.

This year's budget brings a couple of surprises with it. Well, at least they're not what I expected, but then again the Gonzi government has a lot of work to do if it hopes to keep working beyond the next four years.

The first thing I never expected was a roll-back on the way public holidays that fall on weekends are compensated by giving workers an extra day off during the week. And this measure comes from people who made a huge deal in the early 80s when Mintoff abolished most religious public holidays from the secular calendar. I suppose there was some reason to the old man's madness. What a performance that was!

Another unexpected measure was the introduction of an increase in children's allowance to parents with more than four children to encourage a higher birth rate. Only a government with a catholic agenda could propose such a thing and keep a straight face. The last thing that Malta needs is a larger population! Hasn't anyone in government ever considered that our tiny islands may already be overpopulated as they are?

I wonder how long it will take for a different government to change either one of these two measures in the future. Then again the first is a reversal by the same party in government, while the second is certainly a way to appeal for votes...even though I imagine we're years away from another general election. Then again election campaign funds cannot buy future votes the way clever budgetary measures really can.

To read today's blog entry without knowing much about me you'd think I really know what I'm talking about. To be quite honest, other than the part about performance, I know very little about politics, so your opinion is as good as mine.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Man in the box

The 114 boxes and packages that left my apartment in New York almost three months ago arrived at my flat in Scarborough this morning.

The movers were quite efficient. There's no lift (that's elevator in American-English) in my building and they didn't complain at all even though they had to haul all the stuff up a couple flights of stairs to the first floor (that's the second floor in American-English).

There's hardly any space to move around now. I'm surrounded by cardboard boxes and packages. I'll spend most of this weekend unpacking. I'm sure I'll be pleasantly surprised to see some of the things I've lived without for so many weeks. Apart from my books CDs, DVDs, guitar and electric piano, the thing I'm most glad to have back is my bed. I feel like I haven't slept in a real bed in ages!

To complicate things nicely I'm also trying to get a broadband connection to work in my new place so I can really start turning it into a home for the foreseeable future.
I am really looking forward to getting my living quarters into a comfortable pad, even though thoughts of impermanence (and not just in the Buddhist sense) are quite predominant in my mind these days.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Rhapsody in Blue

The grim reaper must be working overtime! Another former colleague of mine passed away yesterday. Anyone who has ever listened to anything other than pop music programmes on Radio Malta probably knows his name: Publius Micallef. He worked as a recording engineer at Broadcasting House in Gwardamangia for many years. How ironic that he should die within just a few days after Joe Zammit Cordina, someone he recorded so many times.

Pullu, as everyone who knew him personally called him, was always a very special individual to me because he was the person who recorded the first every radio programme I made for Radio Malta: a special documentary marking the 50th anniversary since the death of George Gershwin. We spent countless hours working together on my radio plays, documentaries and magazine programmes after that, until 1991. I was brimming with youthful enthusiasm while he was always gentle mannered, soft spoken and extremely patient (read: unphased).

Pullu was only 61. I sometimes joked with him that he was too old to rock 'n roll, but he was certainly too young to die. I'm sure his family and friends will miss him very much. Rest in peace my old friend.

I have a picture of the two of us working together in one of the Radio Malta studios in 1988, but it's in a warehouse somewhere in the south of England right now, along with the rest of most of my worldly possessions. If I manage to get my stuff within the next few days I'll put it up here on the blog.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Friday on my mind

Today I experienced an element of culture shock that I had first experienced at about the same time when I first moved to America. The best way to explain this is to tell you what happened this time.

For the past several weeks I've been expecting the delivery of the 114 cardboard boxes and packages with the worldly possessions my wife and I had in New York. The shipment arrived in England a couple of weeks ago and cleared customs soon after that. Earlier this week I received a telephone call from the UK shipping agent to tell me that my stuff would be delivered next Friday. I was asked to call on Thursday to confirm the delivery time.

Today being Thursday I called to see about tomorrow's delivery time, but I was informed by a slightly confused clerk that the delivery was not scheduled for this week but for next week. Whereas in American-English "next Friday" means the next Friday after today, in British-English "next Friday" means next week's Friday.

It took me a while to get used to this difference when I first moved across the Atlantic. So adjusting back to the meaning structure I lived with before 1994 is easier said than done.

Perhaps this is just a personal misreading of the meaning of "next Friday" since I am not a native speaker of the English language...not even the Anglo-Maltese variation. It could be just a simple misunderstanding between me and the shipping company employee who originally communicated the delivery date to me. Whatever it is all I really know now is that the delivery will not happen before next week. And so back to the Zen life we go.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

I go to sleep

My most recent transatlantic journey has shown me that my body is certainly older than it has ever been. In some ways that's stating the obvious, but for the first time in over 10 years of transatlantic flights I found myself falling asleep very easily on the plane.

I remember my father's uncle whom we knew as iz-ziju Mabbli, saying (when he was in his late 80s) that the older you get the less sleep you need. I have always considered this to be something to look forward to as I got older, but somehow I'm discovering that this is possibly only true when you're an octogenarian and it doesn't necessarily apply when you're still getting older but at a relatively younger age.

Perhaps it's also because our lifestyles have changed considerably since the days when iz-ziju Mabbli professed the correlation between age and hours of sleep. He died over 20 years ago at a time when people in Malta still didn't fall asleep in front of the TV almost every night or fly round-trips across the Atlantic more than a dozen times in a decade as if they were just visiting another country in central Europe.

I'm not a sleepy person. I strongly believe that we build sleep debts when we sleep less than 8 hours every day. So I suppose this could explain my falling asleep on the plane instead of watching the in-flight movies as I've always done. Then again the movie I was watching on the flight this last trip was a real sleeper: De-lovely with Kevin Kline as the devine Cole Porter.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

United States of Whatever

This past week was a very unusual week. The first unusual thing about it was the US elections and the amazing results that came from it. The other thing that made it unusual for me was that this was the first time I left the UK since the first day of September. Moreover, this week has shown me how the personal and the public are more intertwined than I sometimes realize.

This will only make sense if you know the basic geographical layout of North AmericaMy friend Ange Taggart sent me the map you see here the day after the majority of American voters gave the Bush regime another four years of power. I believe that this little graphics sums up quite a lot.

The map took on a new resonance for me these last couple of days as I visited the US-Canadian bordertown of Buffalo. I had been there before with my family around New Year's day in 1999. This time I saw it in a different light, not only because the last time I visited Niagara Falls it was blistering cold and this time is was pleasantly sunny, but also because I saw how meaningless political divides can be. If you've every visited Niagara Falls I guess you have a better understanding of what I'm trying to say here. Or perhaps this is too personal a feeling to express in words.

The world is now poised to endure another four more years of the actions that have made the United States of America hated by so many people around the world. I'm not surprised that more Americans have chosen to align themselves with the side that chooses to be hated, after all Jesus taught most of these people to turn the other cheek.

Surprisingly there's more solace to be found in Christian teachings than non-Christians or agnostics apparently think there is.

I'm now in New York City again, and I'll be here for another couple of days. I wonder how much sense what I've written here today will make by the time I return to my chosen life in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside town on the North Sea.