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Blog : Valletta

Valletta old girl, we’re killing you.

Valletta old girl, we’re killing you.

This morning I came across this article from two years ago (don’t ask my why the photo is there, perhaps Valletta’s face is changing so much it’s now not Valletta anymore). It speaks of rents driving out people who can actually afford to live here, the loss of hawkers and small shops that make the city a pleasant place to live in, not to mention breathe life into the stately streets. A quote by Malta’s then prime minister, “The profit motive must not become the predominant one: look at Sliema, Dr Gonzi said, with its seafront all taken over by the profit motive.”
 
Two years down the line the situation is many times worse. Every day more tiny rooms get a fancy renovation including a colourful door and a quaint name and a listing on AirBnB. Every day more of the old shops disappear making way for character-less chains and imagination-free tourist products.
 
The soundscape is now 70% construction noises, 20% traffic and 10% everything else. The pigeons still rule the overground, the cats and cockroaches compete for the underground kingdom that has not yet been turned into overpriced weekend accommodation. The rubbish still piles up in the corners day in day out.
 
Once in a while I encounter some signs of life. Some signs of humans who are interested in more than just money. Humans who own property that they prefer to rent out to those who will actually be living there (shock, shock, horror, horror!). Shops that seem to want to do things ethically and creatively. Artists still managing to exist within the madness of the old city. People going about their daily business as if none of this madness even exists.
 
Most days though, I walk the streets trying to ignore the development notices on every second or third door because I cannot bear to see another pool on the roof, boutique hotel or residence to offices conversion happening. Sometimes I complain about it to whoever might be inclined to listen but to be honest I’m even tired of my own rants, void of some sort of solution as they are. 

Can we not, for once, decide that perhaps we have enough?

That perhaps we can actually afford to leave a portion of that block of flats available to those with a lower income who will contribute to the place feeling like home rather than 3 sets of tourists rolling in luggage every week? That perhaps it would be beneficial to all if we look around to make sure that we manage to keep the things that make the city a good place to live in? The little food shops, the ironmongers (possibly the only non-endangered species thanks to all the construction going on), the workshops with people making and repairing things often with their shutters open, the random bazaars, the tea and pastizzi shops, the old stationeries.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we should press the stop button on time or change. That never works. But neither does this do-nothing approach that lets market forces decide which things die and which live. Yes, in 50 years time perhaps people will realise that a museum city is not really that interesting and the bubble will burst. Perhaps Valletta will just become another Venice, a sinking relic in the midst of throngs of day-trippers on the hunt for cheesy souvenirs. Perhaps we’re already practically there.

Or perhaps we can use the experience of countless other cities and do something about that which is inevitable unless we drastically change course. It’s not like we don’t have clear examples of what gentrification does to cities without even glancing at the many local studies conducted. Can we possibly not create something different for ourselves? Are we actually so incredibly unimaginative as to simply plod along known roads to mediocrity?

In a small island like this one, where it’s practically impossible to avoid eventually swimming in the sewage you have yourself thrown out, can we not actually work together to create something we actually want? Valletta is a city born out of a collective effort of some of the best local and foreign minds and purses of the time. A city planned out meticulously before it was built. Surely over 400 years later we at least owe the old girl some thought over what will make her once again truly alive rather than a polished shell for a rotting interior fabric.

Endnote:

And in case you’re wondering what you yourself, tiny person can do, there’s plenty.

If you own property, consider capping the rent to what you feel is enough, whatever that means for you not the estate agent. Consider renting to people who will live in the city and make it better.

If you’re renting, speak out about unacceptable prices for tiny dark rooms. Create a relationship with your landlord.

If you’re visiting, stop by one of the small shops or peer into the workshops. Wander beyond Republic Street.

Have conversations with tourists, locals, builders, garbage collectors, bar owners, developers, share a cup of coffee with a stranger. You never know what new realities you might learn about.

Read some of the development notices and decide whether they are helping create a more liveable city. Act on those thoughts by contacting the Planning Authority or even searching out the owner and having a good old conversation where you might agree to disagree.

If you’re an architect dare to give the feedback that’s on the tip of your tongue about how to make a better living space and why it’s not ok to turn every square metre into tourist accommodation. Dare to have standards for yourself.

If you live here, get some plants going, take the garbage out at the right time, speak to your neighbours and see if they are ok even if they seem grouchy.

Seek out the artists and support them, they make the place better for everyone.

If you’re in a position to influence even small things, use it well. Have that conversation, check that situation out, do your homework and stand up for what you feel is right instead of repeating the same old excuses everyone is tired of. You can actually do better.

We can all actually do a lot better.

Experiments with enough – Days 54 and 55

Experiments with enough – Days 54 and 55

Another double post? You’re clearly slacking here. What happened to posting daily?

My mind has been loud today and a lot of me feels a bit like a failure for missing out the post yesterday. There’s also quieter side of me that can see that it has actually been a two-day process that is better-explained in one post.

These last two days I’ve been thinking about my work / leisure ratio and generally struggling with the fact that I feel like I need a break and yet my work load + the proximity of my most recent holiday seem to suggest it’s time to work flat out. Yesterday I woke up early, did a mini yoga session, breakfast things, a morning of Biennale work. We’re at packing stage at the moment so the objects are getting wrapped at three different locations in preparation for shipping to Venice.

I got home, cooked, ate and felt really sleepy. I toyed with the idea of a nap but decided I was far to busy to spare 20 minutes to sleep. I sat down to write since I wanted to finish the copywriting job I am working on and so that I could have the day off today. I just could not settle. I read news, formed conspiracy theories about the man dragged out of the plane being a staged story, played around with a candle creating many wicks throughout its surface, panicked about the sheer amount of work I still need to do and my inability to get going. I stuck with it. Eventually I switched Noisli.com on and kind of got going. It took me about 5 hours to do what I would have managed in 1 if I were on my game. I did not stop to eat dinner, I hardly got off my chair at all. At around 11pm Johannes called to say he’s in Valletta and all the churches are open and lit and I should come out. I did the last 15 minutes of writing and finally ventured out into the world outside.

I was hungry, grumpy and tired yet also in awe that I had completely separated myself from this world just outside my doorstep. I can really get completely absorbed with my work. We walked, we got some much needed food, eventually I began to feel like a human being again but by then the churches had all closed.

I had a good sleep and a super late wake-up today. My body really needed that. I made breakfast in the early afternoon and thought about plans to go to the beach and visit a Good Friday procession ( I have not actually been to one for years). I ended up getting semi sucked in by work and finally making it out at around 6pm for the procession. It was the first time I saw one in Valletta and I was seriously impressed. The organisation, the logistics involved, people’s dedication, the costumes, amazing teamwork in carrying statues. Apparently the Maltese can execute an incredibly well-planned thing when they wish to. How do we spread this kind of ability into other aspects of Maltese life?

Walking home I felt an intense love for this city I live in. Where else on earth would one find this combination of architecture and human past and present that dance together in such intriguing ways? So many layers to discover, so many details to observe, such density of intricacy and richness. How is all of this going to remain alive in the coming years? How will it remain relevant, real? How will this city change in the next few years? More importantly, where is my role in all this? What can I do to make sure the depth remains? I started to feel overwhelmed at the possibilities, at all the things that need thinking about, doing something about. Where do I start?

This evening I ate, did some errands and brainstormed some ideas with Letta and came up with a few mischievous plans. This is exactly what I love about my living companions, we regularly hatch plans. Here’s to this one being the start of some very fun and helpful initiatives.

Sidenote. Kind of related articles I read today:

How working less could solve all our problems

Goodbye things, hello minimalism

You can see where all this is going 🙂 Less work, more life.

 

 

Experiments with enough – Day 20

Experiments with enough – Day 20

Right now I feel a little as if I’m in suspension. In the middle of two states and neither fully here nor there. I’m not tired yet not particularly energetic, I’m not elated but not sad, not fully relaxed, not stressed. Everything seems to be somewhere in the middle in a way that feels like it’s passing from one state to another rather than resting after it found its balance at last. It’s a peculiar thing to observe.

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Experiments with enough – Day 8

Experiments with enough – Day 8

There are days (like this one) when I feel like my life is not interesting enough for a public diary. Yet I guess the mundanity of it is exactly what this is about at the end of the day. Apart from sharing my experiences and thoughts with anyone who might be reading I’m really seeing this diary as a way of observing my own life, my thoughts and goings on for a period of time. So here goes today.

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Experiments with enough – Day 2

Experiments with enough – Day 2

I seem to have survived the first of about a month of very structured days intact and in good spirits. I woke up at about 7:30 and did half an hour of morning yoga with YouTube’s Adriene who is an absolute pleasure to wake up to. Whether I’m trying to fit many things into a day or struggling to motivate myself during a lull I always find that having a morning routine helps me. I generally like to sleep with my phone on airplane mode, wake up and go straight into yoga, have breakfast, shower and then get the old phone going and connect up with the world outside. The ‘generally like’ part of that statement is due to the fact that I fall out of this routine from time to time. My least favourite morning mode is when I make the mistake of checking my phone in bed and then get pulled into things immediately and two hours have gone by before I even realise that I’m sugar crashing and not actually making much sense. Starting the day on my own terms gives me a sense of ease and balance that feed into everything else I do later.

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We’re home! Nesting in Malta and getting back to healthy routines.

We’re home! Nesting in Malta and getting back to healthy routines.

I must say it feels good to be home. Not quite what I was expecting.

I lived through the last month or so in Oregon with frequent pop-ups of intense longing to stay on the road mixed in with feelings of dread attached to the prospect of going back to ‘real life’ in Malta. The idea of seeing very much missed friends and family helped make going back home a little more liveable but it was nowhere near enough to tip the balance.

Coming back home in stages helped a lot. We did this epic journey from Medford to Portland to Boston, spent the day in Boston, flew from Boston to Iceland overnight (missing many hours to the time difference), spent another full day in Iceland (which was entirely awesome) and then hopped over to the UK where we spent around a week and a half zooming madly between friends and family and making up for lost sleep.

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