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Sunday, February 27, 2005

Wherever I Lay My Hat

It's been a while since my blog featured a post about my private life. Partly because I believe that most people don't really care what I'm personally up to, and partly because I like my privacy.

In spite of all this, I think it's alright to mention that I've just made arrangements to visit Malta. I bring this up mainly because this is my first visit to Malta in almost 4 years. This is quite unusual for me. It's the longest time I've ever spent away from the place where I was born and raised. It is also the first time I'm visiting since I left New York City.

Change is inevitable, so I'm quite curious to see what changes have occurred in the Maltese Islands since the last time I was there. Some of my observations will undoubtedly end up on my blog.

Although I'm not usually a nostalgic sort of person, I must say that I'm really looking forward to this visit. Most of all I'm eagerly anticipating the joy of spending time with my family and friends.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Like a Rolling Stone

I've had enough Maltese pop for now. Time to turn back to the rest of the spectrum. Ironically I'm doing this with quite a downer. I've just found out that the great gonzo shot himself in the head at his Owl Creek farm near Aspen, Colorado, last Sunday. Hunter S. Thompson is dead. He was 67.

I can't say I'm surprised. By his own admission, he was "an avid reader, a relentless drinker and a fine hand with a .44 Magnum." If anything, I'm surprised he didn't do this earlier. He's been a gun enthusiast for four decades or more. Still, this was unexpected, because some of us thought that old age had mellowed him. It obviously hadn't mellowed him enough.

Reading his adrenaline-packed narrative Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in my 20s, I was amazed to see how he turned his drug and alcohol-fueled clashes with authority into the best beat novel since Kerouac's On the Road. Thompson was a hero (or is that anti-hero?) for anyone who believed in challenging the quieter norms of established journalism.

For a generation that has taken to moving images rather than literature, Thompson's alter-ego, Raoul Duke, is beautifully captured by Johnny Depp in the 1998 film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Reading some of his obituaries this morning I see that Rolling Stone magazine is seen by some as his best pedestal. That may be so, however, it can also be argued that he was essential for Rolling Stone to acquire its status in the early years. Hunter S. ThompsonRolling Stone held gonzo's stance for a very long time, even though it has lost much of it in recent years. In 1994, when I first arrived in America for my own savage journey to the heart of the American dream, I remember reading Thompson's obituary for former President Richard Nixon in Rolling Stone. Most other commentators offered a re-assessment of Nixon's legacy, as is most often done when someone dies. King gonzo eulogized Nixon as "a liar, a quitter and a bastard. A cheap crook and a merciless war criminal."

His utter contempt for power and his unique writing style makes him one of the top writers in my list of all-time greats. I will forever treasure his quip for people like me: "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The one that you love

Scarborough, North Yorkshire
United Kingdom

20 February 2005

Dear Chiara -

Congratulations on your success at the 2005 Malta Song for Europe! You are a marvelous artiste. I must admit that I am so in awe of you that instead of just another blog entry I decided to write you this open letter.

Let's deal with my infatuation with Olivia first, so you can see that my words are most sincere. Anyone who has ever heard me speak about Maltese pop over the past few years knows that I'm a great fan of Olivia. She is not only a charming performer, but also someone who takes risks. Her most recent risk may have cost her the few hundred votes that gave you your victory. This is not to say that you did not merit 1st place. Far from it! Gimmicks, such as that dastardly dress Olivia wore or Augusto Cardinali's novelty approach for J.Anvil, can make or break an act. The almost Zen-like simplicity of your act, shows how true this is.

I promise not so say anything else about Olivia in this letter, but I'm sure you now know where I stand on her placing second once again.

It has often been said that you are a gifted person. Indeed you are very gifted. However, I think that you're also a gift. What do I mean? You're the first performer to represent Malta at the Eurovision with the benefit of experience. Not only do you have a personal experience of the Eurovision (even though things have changed quite a bit in the last few years since you sang The One That I Love) but you're also singing your own song. You have called it your baby. As a former songwriter, I know that singing your own song is a different kettle of fish from singing someone else's song.

In the coming weeks, I imagine that the pressure from the Maltese public to "win it for Malta" will be quite astounding. I believe that your previous experience with this sort of thing will help you deal with that. There are pros and cons to both the way things are done now in terms of voting, and the way they were done back in 1998. Your charm and angelic voice are your secret weapons...but it takes much more than that to win the Eurovision. Luck is a greater part of it now than it ever was in the past.

Speaking of the past, you should take strength from the fact that in 1991, the year I was directly involved in Malta's Eurovision entry, the contest was won by Swedish pop sensation Carola (who? - she sold 23,000 tickets for her first concert in Gothenburg after Eurovision 1991, a number that during that time was only for superstars like U2, Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen.) Like you she had appeared in a previous edition of the contest (1983) and placed third, just like you did last time.

Anyway, I'm sure this is not the last of what I have to say about your next moment in the sun and the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest. Until then, I wish you all the best.

Your sincerely,

Toni Sant

PS: I am very glad that you wrote your own song and that you're above all the ridiculous discussions about foreign songwriters taking part in the Malta Song for Europe. If only more Maltese singers could write their own songs. I just saw you on TVM with Eileen Montesin and your silence during most of the post-show discussion was stunningly wonderful. Well done!

Friday, February 18, 2005

Singing this song

My earlier concerns about the Malta Song for Europe blew over this morning after MaltaMedia acquired a CD with all 22 songs taking part in tonight's Song for Europe contest. We even received a verbal apology (of sorts) for the delay.

The songs are now available for on-demand web streaming via

The televoting process for the winner makes predicting who could win a veritable gamble. There are too many variables that could work against a worthy song or in favour of a less deserving song.

Here's my pick for top 10:
(in order of appearance during the final night)

  • Love is the Reason - Charlene & Natasha
  • He - Eleanor Cassar
  • Don't Tell It - Fabrizio Faniello
  • Addio Ciao - Aldo Busuttil
  • Déjà vu - Olivia Lewis
  • The Sky is the Limit - Rosman Pace
  • Words Of Love - Nadine & Fiona
  • Holding Me Down - Karen Polidano
  • There For You - Leontine & Roger
  • Angel - Chiara

    The best 5 songs according to Toni Sant:
    (i.e. songs I would vote for, in order of preference)

    1. Déjà vu - Olivia Lewis
    2. Words Of Love - Nadine & Fiona
    3. Angel - Chiara
    4. Don't Tell It - Fabrizio Faniello
    5. There For You - Leontine & Roger

    Don't hold your breath! I doubt that either one of these five songs will actually be the winner, but I'm certain that one of them will be the runner-up.

    Words of Love from Paul Giordimaina and Fleur Balzan is a fine rock ballad. Nadine & Fiona deliver it well. Chiara remains one of the best pop singers to ever grace the Maltese music scene. Fabrizio Faniello sings a beautifully crafted song from Georgina and Paul Abela to perfection, as do Leontine & Roger; Don't Tell It and There for You show that the Abelas still know how to write a decent love song.

    My personal favourite remains Olivia Lewis. If she doesn't win this year I truly believe that she should give up on the Eurovision Song Contest. I'm still raving about her song from 2003, Starting Over. What a great song! I can't believe that song lost to let To Dream Again sung by Lynn Chircop acquire the lowest number of points for Malta at any edition of the Eurovision Song Contest. This year Olivia is singing a song by the Vella/Borg winning duo. The song has a very magical moment when the chorus sings in Maltese while she goes on in English. Vella/Borg used phrases in Maltese for Desire which took my good buddy Claudette Pace to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2000.

    The troublemaker in me prays for one of the songs written by non-Maltese composers/authors to win. Yet it would be a sweet victory indeed if one of my top 5 made it to Kiev this spring.

    Listen to the songs on and feel free to let me know if you dis/agree with me.

    Personal notes for my friends...

    for Paul Giordimaina: Play On is up their with all those Maltese songs you know I love so much. Why waste it on the Eurovision contest? This is a classic case of pearls for swines! And by the way, where did you find that Pamela? She's sounds heavenly.

    for Augusto Cardinali: You're one of the most innovative pop composers to ever walk the streets of Malta. This year's Song for Europe is brightened beyond belief by your cute tune...and the arrangement is divine! Your song didn't make either of my two lists for the simple reason that it really is in a class of its own.

  • Tuesday, February 15, 2005

    Could it be?

    This weekend Malta will choose its entry for the 50th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest. I know that this introductory sentence has caused some of my readers to stop reading instantly, but I have already made my position quite clear on this matter in an earlier post.

    Anyway, there are various things I think about every year when we come to select a representative for the longest-running annual music show on TV. This year my pre-show thoughts are overwhelmed by the absence of audio clips from the songs on

    Over the past few years has given Internet users the opportunity to listen to the finalists in the Malta Song for Europe. Since the event is partly funded by taxpayers we feel it is their right to have access to the songs online.

    MaltaMedia's editor-in-chief made an official request via email to the Maltasong Board Secretary a couple of weeks ago. Although the songs were made available for radio over the past two weeks, we have still not received a CD to enable us to make clips available as web streams on Our editor-in-chief has followed up on the original request, which was quite politely received, but so far our request has not been granted by Maltasong, even though the secretary has emailed us a couple of times about other matters. We've even published press releases from Maltasong, such as the one on tickets for sale for the final coming up this weekend.

    Why have the song clips not been made available to this year?

    The Maltasong board certainly understands the potential marketing tool they have at their disposal via Then again, the Maltasong official website leaves a lot to be desired, and perhaps is a clear indication of the real value Maltasong sees in the Internet as a prime marketing tool for the event they've been entrusted with by so many hopeful singers and songwriters.

    Malta Song for Europe 2005When we approached one of the local radio stations to enquire about their source for this year's songs, we were told that there's resistance towards having the songs played before the festival. I can understand this. Many years ago, when I was a member of the organizing committee for the Malta Song Contest (a predecessor to the Malta Song for Europe) we restricted radio exposure (on the one and only radio station available at that time) to ensure that none of the songs received preferential treatment before the contest. Yet I somehow doubt that this is the true reason the songs are being held back this year. Someone please tell me I'm wrong.

    Surely people entrusted by the Malta government to handle such a high-profile music event know about digital rights management (not to mention the difference between file downloads and audio streams) and that making song clips available to the foremost Eurovision fan site from Malta a win-win proposition.

    Are the songs being held back from the Internet in an attempt to preserve CD sales? What could be more important than marketing the 22 songs, singers and songwriters in any way possible to the people televoting for them this weekend?

    Does the fact that the chairperson of the Maltasong board is also an owner of the main recorded music retail company in the Maltese Islands pose any conflict of interest?

    Monday, February 14, 2005

    Sister Fatima

    The last eyewitness of Fatima died yesterday. Sister Lucia de Jesus dos Santos was 97 and she was the only one of the three children connected to the apparitions of Virgin Mary who lived beyond childhood. Her cousins Jacinta and Francesco Marto died of consumption soon after the Fatima apparitions of 1917.

    Growing up in Malta I was always fascinated by the Maltese devotion towards the Madonna of Fatima. My Gozitan grandparents even named three of their offspring after the Fatima children! So, what was the significance of the Mother of Christ appearing in that small village in Portugal? And what, if any, was the connection with previous apparitions at Lourdes in France some 60 years earlier?

    The 3 children of Fatima in 1917Many believed that the children were told of things to come during their visions. Those things included world wars, the rise and fall of Soviet communism, and the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in the early years of his papacy. Incidentally, the appartitions always took place on the 13th of the month, the Pope was shot on the 13th of May, and Lucia died on the 13th of February. How's that for unlucky 13?

    In case you think this is all just old catholic folklore, there's even a connection with Islam in the Fatima apparitions. In his book Fatima: The Great Sign (originally published in 1979) Francis Johnston explains:

    "The Muslims, who have a certain devotion to Our Lady and recognize her Virgin Birth and Immaculate Conception, were intrigued by the fact that Mary had appeared at Fatima, which was the name of Mohammed's favorite daughter and regarded by the prophet as the highest woman in Heaven after our Lady. In Zanzibar, the Muslim sultan placed a wreath of flowers at the [Fatima] statue's feet, while the Muslim chief of the Ismaeli tribe in Mozambique placed a golden necklace about the statue's neck saying: 'Thank you, Our Lady of Fatima for the work of love you are accomplishing in Africa'" (p. 126).

    The Pope is now too frail to combat militant Islam the way he battled communism in the Soviet bloc. However, I cannot but wonder if the next Pope will have a charge from the Fatima visions to engage with the ills of Islamic extremists in a way similar to the Vatican's quiet war on communism in the 1980s.

    Friday, February 11, 2005

    Golden Years

    Arthur Miller, the American playwright, is dead. He was 89. This was just announced on the 4pm BBC news on Radio 2.

    Arthur MillerThis passing marks yet another closure on the living memory of the golden years that were the twentieth century. Miller had a great life. A troubled one, no doubt, between communist "witch hunts" and his tempestuous marriage to Marilyn Monroe. Yet, no one will deny that he is among the foremost playwrights of the second half of the last century.

    On a personal note, when I was a trainee at the BBC in the mid-1980s I worked with a recording of the Chinese version of Death of a Salesman, probably his best known play. It was remarkable to see how interested some Chinese theatre-makers were in this play about a pathetic man and his family. Another time, about six or seven years ago, during my postgraduate studies in New York, I handled a polite letter of rejection he sent to a professor who invited him to a symposium at our university. This was also about the time that New York's West 49th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue was renamed Arthur Miller Way.

    Although I was never a great fan of his work, I really liked the film version of The Crucible starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder. One of the most remarkable lines in American dramatic literature comes from The Crucible: "Perhaps God damns less a liar than he who throws his life away."

    I have a feeling that either one of the film versions of his plays or some documentary about him will appear on TV over the next couple of days.

    Monday, February 07, 2005

    New World Man

    I am very grateful that the Curia of the Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church in Malta has taken the time to respond to my comments regarding the Archbishop's views on the Internet. Since neither the Archbishop nor the Curia have a blog, they chose to comment via The Malta Independent, a newspaper that reported what I said on my blog, as it was reproduced in Robert Micallef's Wired Temples.

    The statement released by Charles Buttigieg, the Archbishop's Curia Public Relations Officer, paints a picture which is less dark than the one conveyed during the Archbishop's sermon from a couple of weeks ago. Regretfully, however, there is still a fundamental misconception about the open nature of the Internet. That is to say, I am still not convinced that the Archbishop's Curia sees that the Internet is not only a mass medium like the traditional mass media, and a means for personal communication like the telephone, but it is also a forum within which hierarchies are broken. With the Internet, everyone potentially has an equal voice.

    It is for this reason that I find the following sentence to be a reiteration of the issue that drove me to write about the Archbishop's position in the first place: "The Internet offers extensive knowledge, but it does not teach values; and when values are disregarded, our very humanity is demeaned and man easily loses sight of his transcendent dignity." The apparent logic in this statement is based on a huge fallacy because the Internet does not disregard values. This is why I have a hard time with the Curia's point of view.

    Our discussion on this issue is a way to "teach values" via the Internet. Modestly speaking, I'm teaching my values to the Archbishop's Curia. I value subjectivity. My values do not disregard the Curia's values. They simply question the essence of the Internet as understood by the Curia. Any one of us can teach or disregard values (ours or other peoples) but the Internet in itself does not have this discretion. That is not only a technical fact but also its intrinsic value.

    The problem is underlined by the way the Archbishop's Curia has engaged in discussion with me so far. They did not send me an email, even though it is very easy to contact me via my website. Mr Buttigieg did not leave a comment on my blog, as many blog readers have done over the past several months. Neither was the statement sent to the newsroom, even though it is fully accredited by the Department of Information and thus on the PRO's office contact list.

    Will today's blog entry suffer the same fate as my first one on this subject? If it does, more people will hear about this little discussion of ours. If not, then my concern for the Archbishop's understanding of the Internet was/is well placed.

    Saturday, February 05, 2005

    Remember a day

    When January ended at the beginning of this week, I thought about blogging the highs and lows of the month that was. I didn't manage to do that when I wanted, partly because of the unusually heavy workload with my full-time job at the university and partly because I was too busy with the newsletter and other MaltaMedia things. I almost let it go, until my friend and colleague Mario Axiaq (who produces's Today in Maltese History) and I exchanged a few thoughts via ICQ about the death of Alfred Buhagiar.

    So, what were the highs and lows of January? Let's start with the lows. If I still lived in New York I'd surely say there's George W. Bush's inauguration and the death of Johnny Carson. Actually, I think those were two sad days anyway. Undoubtedly, however, the Safi fiasco will be remembered for years to come. I'm so fascinated by the relative importance or actual significance to world events of things like this. In any case, another low for January was the discovery that Maltanet is limiting access to websites hosted overseas for subscribers who exceed their bandwidth usage allocation. This sad revelation piggy-backed on Archbishop Mercieca's condemnation of the Internet in a tone not too different from Archbishop Gonzi's banishing of rock 'n roll in the late 1950s.

    And now the highs, starting with the undeniable surge in Maltese activity on the blogosphere. For me the introduction of an eco-tax on plastic bags was also a high; and yes I realize that some people see it as a low. Coming to think of it, January didn't have that many high points, as far as I'm concerned.

    One event was a veritable rollercoaster of lows and highs during the first month of 2005. I refer, of course, to the aftermath of the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

    As we enter the first weekend in February I can already see a post similar to this one taking shape for the end of this month. I see that at least two events have the potential of being mentioned at that time. No, I don't mean Valentine's Day, especially now that I know that one of my former lovers (from many years ago) has forgotten all about a very special 14th of February we shared together. What I had in mind was even cornier than Valentine's Day: Carnival and the Malta Song for Europe festival. Perhaps my spinach and ricotta pies deserve a place on that list too.

    Final thought of the day: why haven't I blogged about Desperate Housewives yet?

    Tuesday, February 01, 2005

    Humble Pie

    A staggering statistic was released today by Malta's Home Office: 4,052 immigrants arrived in Malta in the last seven years, mostly from Africa. On reading this I was seriously tempted to blog about the long-term effect this sort of immigration can have on Malta, but then I realized that loosing any sleep over this issue is not something I'm really inclined to do. I actually believe that thoughts of national purity will eventually be frowned upon in the future as much as old-style slavery is abhorrent now.

    Again, I really have no desire to be controversial. Certain members of the Armed Forces of Malta stationed in Safi have done a better job at being controversial than I ever can.

    So I resort to the life's simple pleasures. Why not? I worked hard enough to be able to enjoy something like baking a pie. I made my first ever spinach and ricotta pie a couple of weeks ago. As I finished my second one this evening I realized that it's much like riding a bicycle.

    Don't think this post is a personal glimpse into my private life. If I really had a blog for my private life I'd be blogging about my workshop with our 2nd year university students on Yoko Ono's Cut Piece. And I'd be showing you one of the pictures I took this afternoon of the students cutting up each other's clothes, instead of this photo of my first spinach and ricotta pie.