Lessons from London

Some of our arguments about architecture, environmental protection and townscape in Malta must be fuelled by some decent reasoning, not one based on simply preserving everything as it is

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan
9 January 2017, 9:17am
I shot a photograph of the Tower of London from Tower Bridge to illustrate what I mean, and it will take some effort to figure out where the Tower of London is
I shot a photograph of the Tower of London from Tower Bridge to illustrate what I mean, and it will take some effort to figure out where the Tower of London is
For those who know me well, I am anything but an Anglophile – actually I always tended to be a Francophile. But apart from reading Le Monde, enjoying French wines, paying French taxes and loving French culture, I cannot really say that I dislike Great Britain.

Born in 1963, I was – to a certain extent – the last of a generation of colonial children born within the British Empire. Everything from red jelly to Cadbury to the red telephone box left us somehow partly English. We were brought up (very wrongly) to believe that the Maltese language was not fit to be spoken, not as important as English was. At De La Salle college where I attended, we were presented with the cane if we dared speak a word in Maltese.

And as young boys, we were avid readers of English football magazine Shoot! and Victor, a war comic and magazine which immortalised the English fighting infantry man and demonised the dastardly Jerry.

At school our history books made scant reference to the Phoenicians and Romans in Malta, but instead we learned about William the Conqueror and Magna Carta. In all the village bars, illustrated pictures of the Queen hung high over the bar stand, and at weddings we drank brandy not cognac, and scotch, not whisky.

To this day, institutions such as the Royal Malta Yacht Club and Royal Malta Golf Club insist on keeping this nomenclature, and I cannot understand the sense. Old habits die hard, just like those tea bars which use sweetened tinned milk, a leftover from the last war.

Listening to the BBC and religiously reading the London Times and the Guardian catapulted me to the media world. And as I write this piece from London – a city I don’t know as well as Paris or Rome – this visit has triggered much reminiscing.

Apart from the incredible construction explosion in the City, I was amazed at the transformtion since my last visit in 2002. I was shocked as well as pleased with the merging of old and new architecture that overshadows the London skyline.

London, a city that voted to remain in the EU, is still defiantly successful on the surface. The financial world is still investing in more skyscrapers, and there seems to be no hesitation in building high-rise beauties or monsters next to historical sites and cultural icons. 

Looking at the Tower of London next to Tower Bridge I could not help noticing the financial centre dwarfing the Tower of London. Such a scene would be unthinkable in Malta. Here is a nation that institutionalised town planning as a science and presented it to the world as a model.

Which brings to mind their success in reneging on the old format and introducing modernity along with the traditional and the past. I shot a photograph of the Tower of London from Tower Bridge to illustrate what I mean, and it will take some effort to figure out where the Tower of London is.

Which brings me to the question of high-rise. I am not suggesting that we plonk a high-rise in the middle of Valletta. But with the planning approach I have seen in London, I would not be too surprised if the Brits would have done just that in the city of Valletta.

Which is why some of our arguments about architecture, environmental protection and townscape in Malta must be fuelled by some decent reasoning, not one based on simply preserving everything as it is.

Monuments created by man should be preserved, never destroyed, but they have to be seen in the context of societies that continue developing and living. Most Londoners I spoke to are not shocked by the towering skyscrapers that rise high over their elegant city. 

England will, it seems, continue to flourish. Even though London is one big metropolis with diverse communities, it cannot become what many English retrogrades want it to be.

They hope that by some miracle, the doom and gloom that tabloids and middle-England prescribed for staying in the EU would turn out to be a perfect case of fake news.

The ‘educated’ Londoners continue to talk of the tragedy of the post-truth campaigners and the fake stories that dominated the Brexit campaign. They cannot believe that people believed what they were being told in the blogs and the tabloids.

***

Which brings me to our own post-truth crisis in Malta, with our fair share of believing lies. Accusing people of being stupid and idiotic is a sure sign of arrogance. But isn’t this exactly what applies to people who believe the lies that the Libyan airliner hijack in December was concocted by Joseph Muscat himself? And it gets worse: one of the MPs who relished in tweeting stories and blogs about this fake news, Jason Azzopardi, then had the gall to offer his legal services to one of the hijackers themselves.

Other newspapers like The Malta Independent insisted that the fact that nobody died in the hijack, was simply down to some kind of plot by Joseph Muscat. Then Jason Azzopardi, the man who presents himself as more Catholic than the Pope, ends up shooting all allegations about these fabrications.

This is not the first time Azzopardi has shown himself to be such a darn cheap hypocrite. 

When two years ago he chaired the parliamentary committee on the 2013 oil scandal, he stood there asking questions about the Farrugia brothers of John’s Group, trying his best to damage their credibility. Next to his microphone, he had his Volkswagen keys, the keys to the same Volkswagen he sometimes garaged at the facilities of John’s Garage; the same company that had helped him on so many different occasions with transport for his coffee mornings.

***

If there is one thing that I have learnt from being in the media, it is that the best media is that which is irreverent to politicians, irreverent with all those who believe that they can get away with murder. From Jason ‘Mr Bean’ Azzopardi to that other sly fox, Evarist Bartolo, who chooses not to answer questions from the media about the FTS scandal that has come to haunt him. It is a scandal that has clearly shown that when Bartolo expressed his opinion about what Konrad Mizzi should do after the Panama Papers allegations, he must have been joking. 

For in Konrad Mizzi’s case, there is abundant evidence of unethical behaviour, albeit no solid proof of criminal behaviour or corruption.

But in Bartolo’s case, there have been clear references that allegations related to the alleged kickbacks by others to Edward Caruana, his former driver and canvasser and brother to the Education Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, were known about well before MaltaToday published the story. Stay with us for much more in the weeks ahead. 

And if more evidence were needed that politicians are always economical with the truth, yesterday’s press conference by Owen Bonnici on Jason Azzopardi’s knowledge of the Qormi sale is yet another contribution to our lack of faith in the political class.

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan is the founder and co-owner of MaltaToday. He has reported on Maltese poli...