Alex Grech's blog

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The unbearable lightness of summer

There is something as inevitable about the tail end of summer as the drop of water that splats on your windscreen as you are about to exit the Santa Venera tunnel.

We’re tired.

Summer in Malta is when the brain fries and time stands still. Same as it ever was, splutters David Byrne in my car, in the middle of a hazy Monday morning traffic jam.

Summer is the sickly-sweet smell of diesel as you skip over the bubble gum at City Gate and meet a pseudo-Peruvian band next to McDonalds. Summer is sea salt on your lips as you watch Gozo recede into the distance from an August ferry. Summer is half days for some and grumpy service all the time and sweat snaking its way down your back and turning your shirt into your own branded map.

Something stirs the parts not yet ravaged by cynicism and 45 summers.

Surprise me, my old rock. Show me there is still a pulse in the scorched earth.

Summer is Babel. MTV TRL Generation X has long moved on from beer festivals. DJs germinate out of billboards at the same rate as ants crawl out of August kitchen cupboards. Tribute bands at the Splash and Fun rub shoulders with memories of the real thing at Luxol. Renzo and N’faly Kouyate’ bring world music to the Verdala Palace.

Everything is bigger and louder. The BBQ sets on the beach get 21st century. We have gone from weekend village festas to one-week events brimming with local ‘talent’ on sets in front of the parish. Big Bangs outgun throaty bells, rattling window panes, scaring the very old and the very young. A rogue petard catches a kid’s clothing on fire. We celebrate our own unique blend of festa junk in village squares – the nougat, the broken beer bottles, the holy confetti. Empty vessels.

Ash. Flaked skin. Sun-burnt tourists in string vests, visible G-strings. Tattooed backs. Perhaps the ink will cope with another twenty more summers.

Oh you pretty things. The English language girls get chatted up by the testosteroned Maltese boys in pigeon English. Birgu Waterfront is accosted by pretty designers and nouveau speculators. Locals watch bemused and reverse their vehicles to avoid head-on collision on a one-way, two-way road in front of the table tops with the muted lamps.

Cranes pepper the skylines. Nothing will stand in the way of progress and urban development. The huddled trees outside Castille shudder and whisper to convince responsive politicians to extend the Development boundaries. Today a town house in Sliema, a washroom that is really a penthouse, tomorrow Ta’ Cenc. The devastation will be felt long after this generation of decision-makers have stopped feeling anything.

Who pays for this? A girl collapses in a doorway in Paceville in the early hours and dies. Somebody’s daughter; somebody else’s responsibility.

Go home, they scream, at what remains of the boat, as the Africans try to make it to shore.

St Paul would have a rough time getting shipwrecked here these days.

Roger Waters does not trust the Government. In the break before the Dark Side of the Moon, the giant screen snaps politicians in the complementary seats engrossed in animated conversations with the business community in the expensive seats. For a moment, spontaneous boos and laughter startle the men with the pot bellies.

Hilarity. Nearly forty years after the Prisoner, I discover I am not a number, but a Brand. We drive next to taxpayers’ billboards and the dirt, over the pot holes, diverted round another MEPA-blessed supermarket.

It’s about the product, stupid. It’s about wanting to do something about it, instead of raping it. It’s about education and customer service instead of treating our environment like a toilet and fleecing others. If we go for mascots again to show our true face, let’s go for the guy with the hard hat or the loadsamoney plasterer.

The cicadas are hoarse. A wasps’ nest takes residence outside my son’s balcony. In a designer office with muted lights, the drains get blocked every week. Tourism dips, chairmen resign, two trawlers are sunk in the presence of dignitaries. The fish are puzzled, but divers and hoteliers hope they will congregate for the party all the same.

The first shots ring out on September 1st. We can shoot them in the air, we can shoot them on the water, we will never surrender to a bird’s right to fly over the Archipelago of Malta. The GWU shifts uncomfortably as the port workers go their own way.

Love Lost. On a Sunday afternoon, Shevchenko races to the crowd at Stamford Bridge and kisses a blue shirt on prime time TV. Down at the Milan Club in Qormi, the die-hard rossoneri burn posters of the mercenary No. 7. The Juve fans prepare for life in Serie B. The World Cup plastic flags must have made it to skip land by now. Football will be strange, this winter.

Give me some space. Teenagers who cannot find it on land, find it online on MySpace. From the hum of her PC in B’Kara, MaltaChick1 competes with Geriatric27 in Slough for the attention of a global online audience. The Maltese discover reality TV. The Annual Awards ceremonies have replaced the Annual Rabbit shows. Air-conditioners hum, the lights twinkle in the courtyard, despite the surcharge.

So we sail. Watch the twin keel of the catamaran slice through the morning. Hug the first beer of the day, watch the light hit the bastions. Laugh, like a four year-old.

Doesn’t Malta look manageable from the sea?

Maybe summer is about waiting.

We wait for Smart City to make us smarter. To get rid of our inferiority complexes that make us feign superiority, reward mediocrity, resist change, recycle the same faces. We shall prevail despite our disastrous placing in Eurovision, the lack of FDI, the kids moving to Continental addresses. The Opera House will be used again. We will stop pissing against walls, stop chucking our rubbish in our neighbours’ back yard, stop worrying about everybody else’s business and plant some greenery outside our doors. We shall travel on a low-cost airline to a regional city with access to a train network. We shall read more, talk less, make great music, make love to those we love. We are all connected: by blood, by football ties, by You Tubes, by curiosity and index fingers pointed at the sky. We will realise someone moved our cheese, and that we have to race to find some more in different places.

Fingers rattle a keyboard.

As the moist clouds start to build over Siggiewi hill, you can almost touch the regret at the passing of another summer.