Thursday, June 16, 2016

Oh Malta, who'll save you now?



An ugly room can coagulate any loose suspicions as to the incompleteness of life, while a sun-lit one set with honey-coloured limestone tiles can lend support to whatever is most hopeful within us. 
Belief in the significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are, for better and for worse, different people in different places – and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be. 
Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness

Beautiful spaces, both indoor and outdoor, inspire feelings of awe within us, like any pieces of great art. In London, strolling past a row of perfectly preserved terraced houses and their front gardens beckons me in with feelings of serenity, comfort and satisfaction, while a derelict council estate does the opposite.

People travel across the world seeking marvels of architecture, both ancient and modern. No-one can deny the beauty of a quaint, untouched rural village whose cobble stones and shades of grey, blue and white fit together in a perfect puzzle. Artists find the deepest inspiration in beautiful spaces and structures, paying tribute to them in writing, paintings and photographs.

It’s safe to say that people value beauty in their surroundings, and will do what they can to preserve it – whether the natural beauty of their country’s landscapes, or the beauty of a well-designed and well-executed building.

And yet, while these spaces are so integral to our experience of the world, we are allowing greed, bad taste and a false sense of progress to overshadow our need for beauty. It saddens me to look at the overdevelopment of Malta - a place where space is so limited - and the process of uglification that is happening daily all over the island. It’s become acceptable to knock down a historic building, rich with character, tradition, and the skill of those who built it, to make space for a towering block of white concrete which lacks any of these things. It isn’t just the (already harmful) act of destroying grand structures or plots of land, but also the creation of new, bare, ugly spaces which will never be conducive to public enjoyment and activity; will never enrich our culture or traditions.

How terribly sad that pure utility – the unrestrained need for more hotels, more empty flats and more parking lots – has taken the place of beauty, of history, of culture. How insulting that instead of paying homage to the island’s natural beauty and ancient architecture, and doing our best to preserve and restore it, we build relentlessly, with no proper planning, creating a concrete jungle where ugliness meets the eye at every turn. What impact will this have on our biggest industry – tourism? Moreover, what impact is this having on our collective psyche, our happiness, our imagination?

It saddens me that my home is a place I can no longer be proud of. It’s a place I don’t want to return to, not for lack of opportunity or lack of familiarity, but loss of beauty and inspiration. Day by day, with every new soulless development, we’re crushing our shared history and eating away at our culture. And unfortunately, none of this can ever be undone - it's shaping the future of our country.

To the developers who have nothing to speak of but greed and money, to the shamelessly corrupt and irresponsible politicians who give away everything we are proud of, to the passive bystanders who continue to support these politicians regardless: How dare you destroy the beauty of my home? Your actions are irreversible. Will you stop before it is too late?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Mum

'Maaaa, I'm ready!' I shout at age six, when the whole toilet procedure still requires her help.
No answer. I can hear her on the phone in the other room.
'Maaa, I'm readyyy!' I repeat, more melodically this time, exaggerating each vowel.
No answer. The person on the phone makes her laugh. 
I wait a few more seconds before bellowing a final 'MA! I'M READY!' urgently.
One of the many things I rely on parents for in the early stages of life: Vital lessons in Toiletiquette. Lessons being one of the functions of our parents, our teachers and guardians.

When I'm seven or eight, I ask mum if she's ever been drunk.
'Once,' she says, 'And it was horrible.'

At age twelve, when I've fallen out with my best friend in a big way, Mum tells me that it isn't, in fact, the end of the world, and that some girls really aren't worth it. 

By fourteen, she has become antagonist to all that is fun and daring. I do what I can to navigate the many rules and curfews that imprison me. I roll my eyes when she says it's harder to say 'no' than it is to say 'yes'. Actually, I roll my eyes at most things. I feel guilty when she catches me out in a lie.

The state of imprisonment goes on for a few years. Despite this, Mum is still the best person to talk to when things go wrong. The various occasions when the end of the world is nigh. I am lucky that we get along so much, much more than some other girls and their mums. Except when I argue with or break said Rules of Imprisonment.

I am embarrassed by my parents. Mum often asks, lightheartedly, whether I think she gives a shit what my friends, and in fact any teenagers think. Well you don't give a shit but I do, I think to myself. 'You know, the great thing about getting old,' she assures me, 'is that the older you get, the less you care.'

All through school and sixth form she reads my essays. Sometimes criticism welcome, sometimes irritating. It's the same with my clothes - at times she raises a quizzical brow at my outfit, as though it's the oddest arrangement she's ever seen. 'Whats wrong with it?!' I ask angrily, as I'm already late and have spent hours agonising over clothing options. But I always go back and change, as she is probably right.

When I am doing big exams at eighteen, she wakes me up with a cup of sweet tea. If I'm lucky, and with enough persuasion, she will sit on my bed and chat to me till I'm ready to get up. We can chat about all kinds of things, big and small, serious and not so serious.

At university, I start to see Mum as a bit more of an ordinary human being, and less this unchanging constant with a set of fixed responses and reactions. It's nice that we can have honest conversations and we can even swear! Though she still gives her children a look when we say fuck this or that, or this is fucking bullshit, as is her Motherly Duty. I begin to understand the old Rules of Imprisonment and their various benefits. It doesn't matter now, because there are little to no rules and I'm less inclined to break them.

Another thing that happens in years that follow is that I begin to like the things she likes. Clothes, music, lifestyle choices. I realise that she actually has pretty good taste. I begin to regard her as pretty cool! Unthinkable to teenage me. I value her opinion very much, even when she says what I don't want to hear.

Just like me, she isn't perfect. She's a person like any other, with a history, one that stretches long before me being born. She, too, has had a childhood and youth and twenties, which I am now in. We laugh at the story of her saying she got drunk once, and it being horrible.

I sometimes hear myself talk and am shocked by how much I sound like her. My brother teases me and says I'm becoming Mum. I joke that it frightens me, but it doesn't. I don't mind a bit. I was embarrassed once, but now I'm just proud.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Curious Characters

We all know, or have known, someone in our lives who is impulsive. Carefree. Erratic. Charismatic. The kind of person who is constantly in pursuit of the next thrill. The person who always takes it slightly too far, the person who has little respect and concern for boundaries, whether natural or man made. But this isn't a bad person. He or she is a person with a warm heart, a joy to be around (at times), a huge capacity for empathy, laughter, and honesty.

I'm thinking of this after Pear Cider and Cigarettes, an animated film that circumstances allowed for me to watch a few days ago. The film tells the story of Techno, an erratic type, the type I described above, and the narrator's longwinded attempt to save him after he inevitably lands himself in deep trouble.

There is a kind of charm in the risk takers. In contrast to the narrator's (and our, presumed) fear and shame, Techno's defiant grin beams out of the back of a police car when he gets arrested. People like him are charming, but frightening. On a good day, we cherish their company. On a bad day, we're fearful for their lives. What makes them the way they are? Is it inherent, manifesting itself in the tiniest acts of rebellion as toddlers and children? Or does circumstance compel them to push on and on, irrespective of the consequences?

How can we measure love of life itself? People like Techno seem to love life more than anyone. They chase every experience to its extreme, even - in fact often - when it puts them in harms way. These people, of whom we all know one, to varying degrees of extremity, could die for experience itself. They could die, they would die; they have died reaching for transcendence, in speeding cars and bottles of liqueur. For us, on the other side of extremity, life is precious. Survival is key, and nothing that puts life in jeopardy is a risk worth taking. Does that mean we love life more? The essence of life, being alive? Satisfied without having to go beyond that?

These carefree souls are a bundle of contradictions. We regard them with both pity and admiration. They are brave and fearful all at once, and as the film aptly puts it, 'completely in control and completely out of control all at the same time'. And while their stories, often tragic, are cautionary tales, they are intriguing ones. Perhaps there is a thing or two we can learn from them. Perhaps we can challenge our fear of all kinds of boundaries. Perhaps we can praise their lively spirit, their raw disobedience, their bravery. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Good News, Bad News

I have a lot occupying my mind. A whole lot of good - I like my world, I like being where I am right now. I like my house off the park. I like waking up on a clear, cold day and the leafless tree branches framing the window being the first thing I see. I like hot tea in the evenings. I like my daily routine, my commute and work. I love London and the person I’m here with.

But there’s bad too – not a whole lot, but it’s there. The intermittent bad news that is filtered through websites and papers. Margaret Atwood once wrote that ‘we live in the gaps between the stories’ – and I couldn’t relate to this any more than right now. Stories of displaced people all over the world, of injustice and cruelty beyond imagination. An endless narrative that sees humans methodically destroying our planet. 

Life is a kind of balancing act between the foreground and the background. Occupying the comfy foreground, ignoring the blurry background.

The Bad

Millions of people have been displaced by the (4-year) civil war in Syria. Taking treacherous journeys in a desperate attempt to leave the place they once called home – but that is now, largely, a barren wasteland – they are on the move. Some have stopped in camps or on fenced borders, but this is just a brief interim. Their circumstances are largely temporary. And rather than make a fully-fledged, united effort to process the thousands, Europe has cast them away. We have erased them from our land and our consciousness. We have allowed fear and misunderstanding to shut us off from all empathy.

Donald Trump is a serious contender in the Republican race. And thousands of people are cheering him on. He appeals to the ignorance, the bias, the bigotry in people. The problem isn’t him becoming president – he won’t, but it’s the paradigm he creates. He makes it OK for people to be racist, prejudiced and oblivious to reality.

Climate change is a real thing. We can all feel it. It’s not just something they’re warning about. Production processes of everything we buy, from our clothes to our food to any other commodities, are totally skewed. They exhaust natural resources and cheap manual labour and have huge repercussions on the environment and on people and communities all over the world. We buy things without asking where they have come from. Clothes that are cheap at the expense of real people’s livelihoods, food that is pumped with cancer-causing chemicals and available at the expense of slaughtering millions of animals.

It's not all bad though.

The Good

Corporations and businesses – who ultimately hold the majority of the power in our societies – are opening up to the idea that good business is good business, i.e. shifting their production and distribution models to be more ethical and sustainable reflects well on them, and might bring them more revenue. If the promise of revenue is what it takes to make this shift, then so be it.

Art – so much of it. Books, films, exhibitions, illustrations, projects, experiences. It’s all out there for us to grab with few limitations. The internet has made all this wonderful art accessible, and also opened up the possibilities for collaboration. 

Travel is more accessible than it’s ever been before. We can whizz to the other side of the planet at a relatively cheap cost. Incredible experiences and new insights are within our grasp.

Bernie Sanders, and the majority of the population who have good intentions and kind hearts.

And we can’t leave out the calming manatee. This guy helps even on the worst of days.



If The Bad makes you angry, or upset, or just wrenches something inside, however small –there are ways your actions and choices can be a force for good. Curate your life; lace it with value; live slowly and consciously.