Well, I guess that means we have settled in! We have had no major events to report, only a gentle progression from day to day. I am sitting on my tiny back balcony with the sun streaming down, listening to the birds chirruping in the tall pine (new species to me – must look it up) and huge bushes sandwiched between us and the old Maltese house next door. Most of the birds are sparrows, and are particularly loud at 5am, but that is not to disparage them. They are a rare species now in UK even if they are so numerous as to be a pest here. We have swifts also. I think/hope they are nesting in the derelict hotel close by. We had a couple of families nesting in a previous house and since then have had a soft spot for these magnificent “devil screamers” who fly so powerfully and feed, sleep and mate on the wing, alighting only to breed. They are much bigger and more powerful than their relatives the martens and swallows. there are still some migrants. Last night on a walk to Tal-Virtu, a local palazzino with a chapel that dwarfs the house (not big, but for sale at €4K), we saw a male whitethroat displaying fiercely to his love, who was nowhere to be seen. The hunting season is closed officially now , so hopefully they will be safe.
I have mentioned the hunting before, so will not go on about it, except to say that it is one of the issues that make me realise that we have moved to Malta at a time of transition for the Maltese.
The population is split over hunting. It is also split about the demise of the old busses with their colourful ancient exteriors and great gouts of black smoke! Like the traditional fishing boats the luzzus, with the all seeing eye of protection painted on their bows, they have epitomised Malta to generations of tourists. Everyone recognises that the buses are a health hazard and do not meet EU emissions regulations by a mile, but their reliability and frequency is to be applauded. Their quirkiness and cramped seating positively encourages interaction between the multinational passengers. It will be a sad, if necessary day when their bright yellow and white disappears from the Maltese roads. There have been suggestions that the hotels should commission some to be reconditioned and use them as courtesy buses – also that the airport could use them as transfer buses, thus ensuring that they do not fade from the Maltese experience of which they have been a part for so many decades. Many of them had their coaches built onto the chassis of old military vehicles originally. Hopefully the drivers will be maintained to drive the new Ar-riva vehicles which have already made it onto the island and which are due to be on our streets on 3rd July. The new livery is aqua-blue and white, and they are air-conditioned, with better seating and more room for luggage. Malta is coming up and progress has its price.
Another very important issue dividing the islanders is the upcoming referendum on divorce. Malta is an exceedingly catholic country. Every village has its festa, when the patron saint, whose statue is often paraded around the streets on his/her Saints Day, but instead of a solemn event, the festa is accompanied by loud music from the local bands and colourful firework displays. Indeed, several of the villages and towns honour the same saint and every one has their festa on the same evening. This means that from a strategically placed restaurant terrace for example you can see the whole sky lit up with fireworks from as many as ten locations. they are each substantial displays. So their religious affiliation for the Maltese people is important. Divorce is prohibited by law in Malta.
However, there has been a progressively more influential movement among many Maltese to legalise divorce, representing a more secular approach to the issue. It is not so straightforward as saying that all those who support the pro-divorce movement are not religious. Many of them are devout, but it has caused a large debate in Malta. The government have possibly ducked taking responsibility for a decision on the matter, or perhaps they just feel it is too important an issue without wider consultation with the population, so have opted for a referendum which will take place on 28th May. It will be interesting to see the result.
There have been many interesting aspects to the campaign adverts on both sides. The “No” group have relied very heavily on religious imagery and biblical quotations. I thought the “Yes” group were less prominent until our trip to Valletta on Saturday, where we saw a beautiful bride in a lovely cream brocade dress accompanied by her groom, bridesmaids and family who were handing out what appeared to be wedding invitations to the passers-by. Mystified, we accepted one. It was not an invitation. It stated that these two young people who had been cohabiting happily for the last two years could not marry as he was still legally married to another, although all parties wanted a divorce.
It was a dramatic and effective statement by a couple who epitomised the problems felt by many in Malta. However, as we know from our own recent referendum on the alternative vote, results are not always for change. So we will have to wait and see how it turns out. If the pro-divorce lobby are successful, it will mark a significant alteration to the traditional values hitherto held so firmly, and possibly usher in a new social era for Malta.