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Raphael Vassallo

Sorry, but we never had an ‘Azure Window’

Let’s cut all this crap about losing an ‘Azure Window’, and start talking about it for what it really was. A Blue Door. We lost a Blue Door...

Raphael Vassallo
14 March 2017, 7:35am
What should have been done? Let’s see now: we could have passed legislation through Parliament to ban storms of over Force 4, perhaps
What should have been done? Let’s see now: we could have passed legislation through Parliament to ban storms of over Force 4, perhaps
It is often observed that ‘people don’t really know what they have until after it’s gone’. In our case, however, it seems that we continue not knowing ‘what we had’ even after it does what everybody’s been predicting for generations, and collapses irretrievably into the sea. 

The Azure Window, I mean: you know, that curious rock formation in Dwejra, Gozo, that: a) was never ‘azure’, and b) was never even a ‘window’ to start with. 

I mean, come on: you’ve all got windows in your homes, haven’t you? Do they reach all the way down to the floor? No, I should think not. There is, after all, another word for a window that reaches all the way to the floor: it’s called a ‘door’... and failing to properly distinguish between the two can result in nasty misunderstandings (if you don’t believe me, try entering a shop through the window next time, and see what happens). 

As for the ‘azure’ part... well, that I’m going to be a bit pedantic here (I have long argued that a ‘Pedants’ Revolt’ is long overdue in Malta anyway) and insist that ‘azure’ is not synonymous with ‘blue’. Not in English, anyway. It’s a type of blue, yes... heraldic blue, to be precise... but the only time you’d ever use it to describe an actual colour is when spray-painting your car. (Leaving aside that, if the sea ever looked ‘azure’ when viewed through the Dwejra ‘window’... it would have appeared just as ‘azure’ everywhere else, too. Not to detract from the magnificence of what we lost... but it didn’t actually have the power to change the way light is perceived by the human eye).

So let’s cut all this crap about losing an ‘Azure Window’, and start talking about it for what it really was. A Blue Door. We lost a Blue Door... and it made headlines all around the world. 

But even that doesn’t quite fit the description of what actually collapsed in Wednesday’s storm. A doorway without an actual door might be a more accurate way to describe it... but all along there has been an even better architectural term that fits both rock formations and household features with equal accuracy. 

An arch. There: how difficult is that? It was an arch we had at Dwejra all that time. Not a window, not a door, and not a flipping flying buttress either. But in any case: whatever it was, it’s gone now. And while I sort of understand the three days of national mourning this event warranted... seriously: all that remains is to fly the flags at half-mast, and to collectively flagellate ourselves in the streets...  I’m starting to get the impression that what we are witnessing is actually the beginning of a national nervous breakdown.

OK, let’s look at a few reactions. One of the first that got out and about was from Clyde Puli, Opposition MP, who tweeted that: ‘The Azure Window has collapsed! What negligence!”

What negligence, indeed. I’ve been saying the same thing for ages now. If ‘Mother Nature’ was a real mother, she’d lose custody of her children in no time at all. I mean, just look at how carelessly she treats them: allowing them to just rot like that, through millennia of exposure to entirely avoidable natural erosion. Not to mention lashing them with the fury of a Force 10 gale, just when they’re at their most vulnerable and precarious. No, indeed. We should not have allowed this to happen. All the fault of the Social Services, if you ask me. They should have intervened sooner, rescued the Azure Window from the clutches of its abusive parent, and brought it up in a wholesome family environment...

Oh, wait... now I get it. He meant ‘negligence’ on the part of the government, right? Ah, yes... because in a democracy, ‘keeping natural rock formations from ever collapsing’ is universally recognised as one of the more pressings functions of any government. How could I have forgotten something as basic as that? 

So what should have been done? Let’s see now: we could have passed legislation through Parliament to ban storms of over Force 4, perhaps. We could have stationed wardens out on speedboats off the Dwejra coast, to issue on-the-spot fines to any waves which break the new regulations restricting wave-height to no more than 16 inches.  On a more practical note: we could have filled all the cracks with Polyfiller, and hoped none of the tourists would ever notice. Or we could have built stainless steel scaffolding to hold the entire structure up: in which case: a), it would look no different to any random building site anywhere on the island; and b) we could hardly keep marketing it as a ‘natural wonder’, now could we?

And yet, Clyde Puli’s was actually one of the saner reactions. Some bordered on the self-destructively pathological. One newspaper, for instance, carried a story about how the collapse of the arch left the impression of a ‘face’ on the rocks by way of compensation. There was a photo to prove it... but unless it was the ‘face’ of an as-yet undiscovered life form, looking something like a cross between a rhinoceros and the Sydney Opera House... I’ll be damned if I could see it myself.

There was, however, one face clearly visible in that photo. It belonged to a man standing only inches away from the edge of a cliff WHICH HAD ONLY JUST COLLAPSED! And parts of which were still very clearly and visibly crumbling under his feet.

I mean, while you’re at it, why not shout out a challenge to the elements? “Oy! Pussies! You left this piece out right here! Too chicken to come back and get it, huh? Not so tough now that I’m standing on it, are you...?”

Now: under normal circumstances, that would have to go down as the outright wackiest reaction possible: the sort of lunacy that eventually makes it to the annual Darwin Awards. But again, I include it here only as a footnote: overshadowed as it is by a much larger contingent that seems to seriously want the thing rebuilt.

No, I’m being perfectly serious.   There is even a petition to that effect – which may admittedly have started out as a joke, but which some are taking very seriously indeed. They want the thing ‘rebuilt’... like it had ever been ‘built’ in the first place. 

In a sense, it reminds me of my first encounter with a walnut, aged around two or thereabouts. I remember thinking: how odd, that someone would invent something like a ‘walnut’... and then make it impossible to actually open without the use of power-tools. It was only when I noticed that some were of different sizes that I realised they were not actually mass-produced in a factory somewhere...

Sorry, folks, but you don’t just ‘rebuild’ natural rock formations caused by millions of years of erosion. And if it were even possible – which it isn’t – what on earth would you want to do it for, anyway?  Part of what made the ‘Azure Window’ such a magnificent (and irreplaceable) spectacle was precisely the knowledge that it was carved out of the rock by the forces of nature... and not by man, in which case it would have been considered an eyesore. 

Had it really been ‘built by man’, you can rest assured that it would not have been sought after as a backdrop for so many movies, music videos and soft-porn bikini fashion shoots. In fact, short of possibly Las Vegas, I can’t think of anything that can compete with an artificial Azure Window for pure kitsch (which, of course, also means that such an aberration could very easily become a huge hit with tourists).

That last thought brings me to the outright winner of this week’s ‘whacky responses’ competition: and yes, for a change it’s the prime minister who can’t claim to be the underdog. Let the lesser mortals clamour for the artificial reconstruction of an un-rebuildable natural wonder. Joseph Muscat has a better idea... we’ll retrieve the pieces from the sea and hold them up for the public to marvel at and adore.

I shall have to concede that, as a tourism marketing ploy, the idea is sheer genius. Yes, let us turn Dwejra into a global centre for pilgrimage. Who wouldn’t travel the world to see (possibly even touch, if you can afford it) the famed fragments of the Fallen Window? Why, the same strategy worked wonders with ‘pieces of the True Cross’ back in the Middle Ages. And the best part of it is that all you need are a bunch of stones – any stones – from the seabed. 

Who the heck will ever notice if it’s the wrong stone, anyway? It’s not as though the window was made of some kind of special rock found nowhere else on the islands. The ‘roof’ was limestone, and the pillar was... my, what a coincidence! More limestone.... only the ‘lower coralline’ variety this time. In other words, the same stuff that the rest of Malta and Gozo is ‘built’ of anyway. You can literally chip away at the walls of your own house, soak the rubble in seawater, and then claim it’s an authentic piece of the True Arch.

Which for all we know could even be true of most of the stones submerged under those cliffs anyway... regardless whether they fell there last Wednesday, at the time of the Great Siege, or somewhere in the Late Pleistocene era. That was all part of the erosion that formed the Azure Window, too.

So make no mistake: Joseph is into something here. It’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s doable... and there are even contracts to be given out to labour donors. In time, I can see the annual Azure Window pilgrimage – complete with laser shows, fireworks displays, and concerts featuring forgotten cover-acts from the 1970s – rivalling even the Hajj in Mecca.

All thanks to a window that was never even a window to begin with...

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