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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Don't eat the yellow snow

Today's news about the success of Jamie Oliver's campaign to raise the amount of money spent on the ingredients for each school child's lunch in England is an excellent example on how old media can still work wonders.

Over the past several weeks I joined thousands of other TV viewers in the UK in watching Jamie's School Dinners on Channel 4. Week after week we saw celebrity chef Jamie bust a gut persuading schools to ditch the processed, ready-made junk the students are used to eating, and replace it with fresh, tasty, nutritious food, prepared from scratch every day. Although sometimes he was disheartened by students who would not eat his appetizing dishes, his greatest headache was how to come up with decent menus for under 40p per day.

Today's announcement by the British Government that school children's meals will now be budgeted at 50p per day (60p for teens) is both a triumphant victory for Jamie Oliver and a great electoral campaign opportunity for the Labour Party, weeks away from a general election. Sadly, Jamie did not manage to convince the government to ban junk food from schools.

I don't oppose the political stunts of politicians before elections completely if they result in making something better than it was; something that will last beyond the election. Politicians are professional tricksters, and we should just enjoy their tricks or vote them out of office. Sometimes the best strategy is simply to ignore them, but that's somewhat naive and unrealistically utopic. I say all this because we need more Jamie Olivers; not just in the UK but in most other countries around the world.

This is one of those rare moments when I almost regret that I am no longer directly involved as a producer with mainstream television and traditional media. Still, my most recent comments about the empowering aspects of the internet make Jamie Oliver's success seem like a white elephant.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Sometimes you can't make it on your own

It's good to be home with my monkey and my dog, even if it is a grey rainy day in New York City.

Although at first I was tempted to comment about the new green paper on divorce published by the European Commission this morning, a point Ġużè Stagno made on his blog a couple of days ago merits more of my attention this morning. It relates to a topic I've focused on for the past few years in my professional life; one which I continue to follow with great interest, as underlined by my recent fall-out with the Archbishop's curia.

Here's what Stagno said: "Il-pubblikaturi huma dawk li huma; u sta ghalina li 'naqbzuhom' u nohorgu xoghlna ahna. U ghala le? Dawn il-blogs diga' qed jaqdu din il-funzjoni; imma mhux bizzejjed. Hemm bzonn li l-kittieba jiehdu s-sogru u jippublikaw xoghlhom. Kemm jiswa biex tistampa elf ktieb? Lm600? Lm700? Flok tmorru tixorbuhom Panzerville, faddluhom u aghmlu fattikom..."

To my knowledge, Stagno is the first Maltese person other than me to celebrate the way the internet has made it possible for any writer to reach an audience without an intermediary publisher. However, he feels that blogs are not enough and that authors should seriously consider self-publication, which in the Maltese market makes financial sense since a run of 1000 copies for a novel or other book costs about Lm700 (less than $2000 or about £1000).

Stagno has hit this coffin nail on the head twice: (a) the internet is an excellent way to reach an audience without the need of a third-party editor/publisher/funder, and (b) a few hundred liri is money well spent by any creative person who believes they have something to say and can't be bothered to wait for the appropriate "authority" to validate their work.

The current debacle concerning Progress Press and Immanuel Mifsud's Kimika shows how pathetic the Maltese publishing industry really is. Validation from the establishment has its value, but none that cannot be surpassed by the appreciation of a loyal audience who follows the works of an author or other creative person.

Sometimes you can't make it on your own...but most times you can.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Everything starts with an E

My portable PC has a monitor/display problem so I've been unable to work properly since yesterday. Thankfully, computers are pervasive enough that this is just an inconvenience rather than a major disaster. So much so that I've even found a few minutes to blog today.

As I prepare for my much awaited trip back to New York this weekend, I see that my blog has just been listed on NYC Bloggers, where New Yorkers with blogs are listed according to the subway train station closest to wherever they live and/or blog from. My association with Jackson Heights gives me various options, but somehow I'm marked with the E rather than the F, V, R or 7. And I like that.

This new listing makes me feel like I now need to live up to the honor of being listed on NYC Bloggers and write a couple of good entries from Jackson Heights over the next few days. This pressure is not something I like, but hopefully it'll motivate me to write a little more than I did during my recent visit to Malta.

I can't wait to be home with my monkey and my dog!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Good times bad times

Bertolt Brecht believed that the bad new days are more worthy of our attention than the good old days. This idea captures my post-visit thoughts as I sit down to write my first blog entry since my return to Scarborough after two weeks in Malta.

Unlike the popular maxims where it is believed that the more things change the more they stay the same, or the old Maltese expression "konna aħjar meta konna agħar" (we were better off in worse times), I see the present and immediate future of Malta as a flat rejection of any tradition (good or bad, high or low, whatever duality you prefer) that builds towards any sense of legacy. Much like the mainstream United States of America I left last year, Malta has become awash in baseless materialism.

Instead of turning this blog into a moaning gripe (so no one can scream "sour grapes" at me!) I prefer to cherish the beautiful moments I experienced during the last couple of weeks. In essence, I am very pleased to have met a handful of people I treasure as the warmest and/or most interesting people in Malta I've had the opportunity of meeting during my lifetime.

I'm not referring to my family members. My mother and father are dear to me because they're my parents; I can never understand people who fall out with their parents. Friends from my childhood and youth have a special place in my heart and some of them are closer to me than cousins...almost like brothers and sisters. Luckily I have also made some new friends and acquaintances. I truly treasure many of the moments I spent in the company of friends and acquaintances, old and new, mostly in relation to my work at the University of Malta and the MaltaMedia Online Network. Following last year's traumatic losses (especially Mario, Louis and Maggie) I've found a new appreciation for the human touch.

About half a dozen encounters stand out head and shoulders above all others. Without going into too much detail, a few of these most amazing hours cannot escape my blog completely. Photo portrait of the young man (Toni Sant) by an artist (Pierre Portelli)I've already blogged about Ġużè Stagno. The photo you see on my blog today was taken by my good friend Pierre Portelli at his home in Żebbuġ during dinner with his wonderful extended family. Have I mention the red wine yet?

My long-time colleague and close friend Mary Ann took me to see Antoine Camilleri, my adopted grandfather, at the St Vincent de Paul Geriatric Hospital in Luqa. It was wonderful to see him again. He's 83 years old now. I was pleased to hear that he has a little space he can use as an art studio at the old people's home, but I was very disturbed to see the wild horse deprived of his natural bon vivant options by old age and an environment lacking the kind of soul artists need to remain inspired.

All in all I'd describe my visit to Malta (and Gozo) as a good time during a bad time. I've explained what I think is good about this time. The bad is partly personal and subjective but mostly political/cultural. Infrastructurally and politically the country hasn't been in the state it is now (in post-independence age) since the mid-1980s. Malta's new EU membership offers the same hopes that many of us believed anyone-but-the-MLP government could give us in 1987.

Aside from all this, in the most private aspects of my life, attention for the bad new days is more useful than longing for the good old days...especially because a mine of unconditional love still awaits me in New York. (More about that next week.) My hope is that I can at least look back at my private bad new days as good old days by this time next year.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Paperback writer

I am rarely starstruck. Last night I was quite starstruck for the first time in years: I finally met Ġużè Stagno face-to-face. To me he's the most relevant Maltese novelist of our time.

He picked me up in his white car outside the old entrance at the University of Malta as I said goodbye to Kenneth Scicluna (another under-rated creative mind). This Monday saw me spending five hours exploring and discussing Bertolt Brecht's Short Organum for the Theatre with my Theatre Studies students. It had already been quite a day even before I met Stagno.

He drove us to Sliema with the intention of having a drink at what used to the be the Allies Bar down by the Ferries. This was an effort to evoke the spirit of Francis Ebejer who sat there on a regular basis between the 1960s and his death in the mid-1990s, drinking and smoking cigars. The plan failed for two reasons, possibly three. The place was packed. Parking on the Sliema seafront at about 5pm is not a pleasant experience. We probably weren't exactly too keen on communing with the ghost of Ebejer anyway.

So Ġużè drove to Valletta via Sa Maison and parked by the Catholic Institute. We walked through City Gate in search of a watering hole of sorts. I needed to use a toilet, badly. As we cruised through Republic Street we were stopped by a couple of acquaintances who hadn't seen me in years, and I gladly introduced them to Ġużè Stagno, the author in person. He mentioned a couple of bars we could go too. I just needed one that had a decent gents' room. It transpired that most places in Valletta are closed at 5pm during the week. We tried the Premier. Closed. Let's try the Australia Bar. My fascination with that place started when I first read about it in an Albert Marshall poem. We turn the corner but sadly the Australia Bar is now just a distant memory.

Somehow we end up at the Lower Barrakka where the public toilet has been recently refurbished. When we discovered that even the local bocci club down by the Mediterranean Conference Centre was closed we no longer cared for a drink. So we sat down on one of the Barrakka park benches next to the rather fascist looking statue by Ugo Attardi, unveiled by President Demarco in the presence of Valletta Mayor Paul Borg Olivier some years ago.

Eventually I managed to steer the conversation towards the idea of a Toni Sant biography written by Ġużè Stagno. We had already discussed the topic briefly via email some time ago. I doubt that the project can come to light anytime before the end of this decade or the next. However, I found this topic to be an excellent conversation device whenever he asked me something about myself rather than continue to talk about himself as most egocentric creative-types would do.

On our way out of Valletta we bumped into Andrew Alamango from Etnika. What a wonderful coincidence. We exchanged contact numbers and now I'm looking forward to having coffee with him tomorrow morning after standing in line at the ID card office.

Stagno kindly took me to Sliema where I had planned to spend the rest of my evening. Before he left I insisted on giving him a parting gift, which I know he enjoyed very much: a copy of Artwork's only 45 rpm release from twenty years ago. Perhaps now he'll stop pestering me in public about the music section on my personal website; something I still can't seem to find the time/energy to do since I launched my site in 2000.

Ġużè Stagno and Toni Sant posed for a photo outside the Imperial Hotel in Sliema before they parted.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Touch me

My blog has often been a source of surprise for me. Among the most unexpected experiences I can now add the reaction to my most recent post about my current visit to Malta. Saying that there's nothing special to blog about after the few days that I've been in Malta has provoked some very interesting reactions.

The first person to respond was Pierre Mejlak, who also happens to be on a visit to the Maltese islands right now. He is based in Brussels, where he works as a translator within the EU machine. His comments are saturated with romantic nostalgia for the aspects of our beloved San Blas in Nadur, Gozo, where time has almost stood still. I am very fond of Pierre, so this weekend I'm off to Gozo, partly in search of the watercolour paintings depicted in his comments on my blog. I believe that I'll see them if Pierre is there to show them to me. Otherwise I'm convinced that the years have blurred my vision considerably.

The last person to respond (although there may be others soon) was Immanuel Mifsud. My good old friend Manuel knows me well enough and sees the way I embrace paradoxes (such as the one portrayed in my earlier posting and my response to Pierre's comments) with both arms as firmly as possible. Incidentally, I'm really looking forward to the Jim Morrison video he just discovered...but that'll probably have to wait until I'm back home in Scarborough. Finding easy Internet access in Malta has proven to be more of a challenge then I expected during this visit. Part of the reason for this is the fact that my visit is too short and my daily agenda is packed with things to do, that keep me away from hooking up or jacking in.

Other comments include words from Mark Vella, Maria, Il-Kurat gybexi and 'Caska', as well as the delightful Guze Stagno, who suggested that I forget about my blog during my visit in Malta and focus on keeping a promise I made to him some time ago, regarding the music section on my website. I dare say that the most exciting thing that happened since I arrived in Malta is Guze Stagno's Blog, which was launched during my first full day in Malta after an absence of almost four years.

Malta has changed. As far as I'm concerned it is even less attractive than ever as a place to live and work. Yet, it feels like the people I really care for on these islands are even warmer now then they ever seemed to me. Nostalgia? I don't think so.

Appropriately I'm reminded of Song 19 in Act II of The Pirates of Penzance from Gilbert and Sullivan:
 A paradox, a paradox,
 A most ingenious paradox!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Lost for words

I'm finally posting from Malta. It's taken me a little longer than expected to blog from Malta not because I couldn't really get some quite time in front of a PC before now, but also because there was very little I cared to write about. Malta hasn't changed much in the 4 years since I last visited.

If it wasn't for the people I love and know well, I don't know that I'd care much to be here. Against my expectations, I think my next entry from Malta may not be about my visit to Malta.

Then again, it would be quite nice to find something worth blogging about. Perhaps I could say something about the MEPA's upcoming decision on Wied Garnaw or blood shortage at St. Luke's Hospital or even the investment in the Dock One regeneration project. In many ways, however, I feel like there's more than meets the eye as I walk through the streets of Malta. Could this be a case of reverse culture shock?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Wind of Change

Today I'm taking care of last minute things before my first visit to Malta in almost 4 years. I honestly don't know how I've managed to find some time to write this entry in my blog. It's probably because I can't pass up the opportunity to blog about what I consider to be memorable moments.

I just came across a couple of blog entries by two good friends of mine. Mark Vella and Immanuel Mifsud. Manuel is actually commenting about Mark's blog entry regarding a strange nostalgia for Mintoff's rotten regime. If more people feel this way in Malta, I know I'm in for a pleasant surprise during my visit. Still, I somehow doubt it.

Would love to write more about this right now, but I literally have a train to catch. So until I get to Malta this will have to do as my last blog entry.

This nostalgia for former regimes is quite a fascinating thing to think about in view of the apparent wind of change that has swept the Maltese islands over the past 20 odd years. I know I'll be having a conversation with Manuel about this over the weekend.