raphael_vassallo
Raphael Vassallo

Orange you glad you’re not a carob?

Is it possible that the only thing a carob and an orange tree would strike up a conversation about was a minor legislative amendment concerning marriage equality among humans?

raphael_vassallo
Raphael Vassallo
18 July 2017, 7:30am
I think we may need a root and branch reform of the entire situation
I think we may need a root and branch reform of the entire situation
Funny things, trees. They can just sit there for centuries, without ever uttering so much as a whisper... but then, a carob and an orange tree somehow strike up a conversation; and they just don’t stop nattering away for days on end. 

A little like small children, I suppose. You spend your first year as a parent eagerly anticipating that all-important ‘first word’ (which I imagine would now have to be ‘Parent!’ instead of the traditional ‘Mama!’ or ‘Papa!’)... and around the next 18 wishing they’d just shut the hell up. 

Well, I’m beginning to feel the same way about those two arboreal chatterboxes. OK, initially it was fun to read news reports about ‘what the carob said to the orange tree’... but, dang it, you now can’t even access the Internet without being instantly flooded with more (and more, and MORE) snippets of that conversation.   

And besides: at first it was just a carob and an orange tree. Now it’s branching out to cover the full spectrum of Maltese arboreal flora, too: olives, almonds, pines, oleanders... name the tree, and you’ll find it talking the roots off a tamarisk somewhere. And they’re mostly just gossiping, too. The last update I saw concerned what a lemon tree remarked to a cypress about the size of a certain Znuber’s ‘zokk’, for instance. Or how that fig-tree’s bark is worse than its ‘bajtar’...

It’s all getting out of hand.   I think we may need a root and branch reform of the entire situation.

Not, mind you, that I begrudge any tree, plant, shrub or fungus the faculty of speech. Oh, no: trees have as much right as the rest of us to shoot their... um... whatever-they-talk-with off as much as they like. And about any subject they choose, too. I’m just a little disappointed that they can’t seem to find anything worthwhile to actually say with this newfound gift of theirs. 

I mean, take that tweet which started this whole cacophony of tree-speech to begin with. Is it possible that the only thing a carob and an orange tree would strike up a conversation about was a minor legislative amendment concerning marriage equality among humans? 

If trees really could talk, surely there’d be more pressing things for them to discuss right now. The orange tree would probably have a thing or two to say about the uncontrolled use of pesticides in Maltese agriculture, for instance. As for the carob, my hunch is that it would complain about always being uprooted to make way for development... even if it is supposedly a ‘protected species’ at law. 

And that’s just as far as those two varieties are concerned. Given half a chance, I’m fairly certain Maltese palm trees would have a lot to complain about, too: like being periodically dismembered, so that their precious leaves can be used as props during the annual Palm Sunday celebrations. (I bet Archbishop Scicluna never thought about that, when choosing ‘trees’ as vehicles for his own opinions). And ALL Malta’s trees would almost certainly have strong opinions about the way they are generally treated here... that is to say, as public nuisances to be felled and removed wherever possible. 

But no: of all the things to chatter incessantly about for days on end, it had to be the ‘Marriage Equality Bill’.   And even then, only the terminology aspect: how the new law redefines the legal language in which concepts such as ’mother’ and ‘father’ are expressed for purely legal purposes.  

Then again, I suppose it’s just as well they never got round to discussing the actual issue these changes were intended to address.  I somehow suspect Archbishop Scicluna would be horrified to hear a real orange tree’s perspective on a subject like ‘same sex marriage’. Most citrus trees are self-propagating; orange trees in particular are very often both male and female at the same time. So if you apply the so-called ‘conservative/traditional’ model of ‘marriage = man + woman’ to an orange tree... well, most would be able to simply marry themselves, and get it over with.

Humans, of course, don’t have that luxury. (As it happens, neither do carobs... but let’s not miss the wood for the trees.) And it’s not the only thing that sets us apart from trees and other herbaceous life-forms. We also have the faculty of structuring and ordering our societies to reflect the changing exigencies of its people at any given time. This is just one of the reasons why we need laws which adequately respond to social realities as they are today... as opposed to what some people think those social realities should be, in some kind of ‘ideal society’ that has never existed.

From this perspective, Archbishop Scicluna’s original tweet actually makes a lot of sense (provided you overlook that it’s meant to be ‘trees’ talking). How did it go again? ‘A carob tree says to an orange tree: ‘See? They changed the law, but it didn’t even remotely change how we refer to ourselves or each other...’

Erm... hang on a sec: whose side is the Archbishop on, anyway? Most of the objections we heard in Parliament were all about how the new law was going to force us all to call our parents ‘parents’, instead of ‘mother’ and ‘father’. As David Agius (MP and PN whip) put it: “For God’s sake, the bill is proposing the total abolishment of the words mother and father, husband and wife, even brothers and sister.” [...] “I was not exaggerating. You cannot call your parents mum or dad because it is not in the law...”

It was supposed to spell an instant end to Mother’s (and Father’s) Day, too.  Strange, I always thought, how a simple amendment to legal terminology should somehow be expected to override an entire industry – cards, flowers, presents, meals at restaurants, etc. – that only exists because of those two annual occasions. You’d think that the global forces of consumerist capitalism were made of sterner stuff, than to be made redundant from one day to the next... by simply amending the legal definition of ‘mother’ at law.

But now that the Marriage Equality Bill has been enacted, we can all test this hypothesis. According to its opponents, we should soon start seeing stationers removing their ‘Mother’s/Father’s Day’ cards from their selections... restaurants removing their special ‘Mother’s/Father’s day’ set menus... hotels no longer offering special ‘Mother’s/Father’s day’ weekend breaks...  gift shops closing up altogether, for want of anything to even justify their existence anymore... and all because the marriage law was amended to remove legal ambiguities that might arise in certain marital situations. 

That’s some power we’ve been ascribing to this new law, you know. If you believe any of that is likely to happen, you may as well believe those two trees really did suddenly start chatting away like gossips at a barber’s shop. The latter only requires an inexplicable evolutionary quantum leap involving perennial woody plants of a certain size. The former, however, involves the suspension of the entire Western industrial-economic paradigm. 

Even a carob tree would be able to tell you which of those two scenarios is likelier in practice. (And if you ask it nicely, it might even give you a jar of ‘gulepp’ to take home.)

Yet now we have the Archbishop himself, no less, telling us – through his arboreal alter-egos – that the new law actually made no such difference whatsoever. It came and went, but we are all still free to use whatever terminology we choose to describe our own family relations. The orange tree remained an orange tree. The carob, a carob. Just as ‘mother’ will remain ‘mother’, and ‘father’ ‘father’, regardless how the law chooses to define such concepts for its own purposes. 

The analogy has been made elsewhere, but it’s worth repeating. If David Agius’s argument, above, had any validity... i.e., that the removal of a phrase from the law-books means we can no longer legally use that phrase in everyday speech... then you would no longer be able to go to the police and file an assault and battery charge using your own words to describe the attack. Instead of saying, ‘he beat me up’, you would have to say something like: ‘he caused grievous bodily harm on my person’. Otherwise, your complaint would not be legally valid. And you might end up being arrested for ‘illegal language’.

Again, even a ‘tronga’ – to use the word literally, for a change – would instantly see the absurdity in that reasoning. And oh look: according to Archbishop Scicluna (foremost among this law’s critics)... it did. One other thing that his tweet also underscores is that this truth is so obvious, so self-evident, that even a couple of non-sentient woody perennials can work it out for themselves. Yet we have members of parliament – not to mention a whole body of public opinion out there – who evidently can’t. 

So all things considered... I think I’ve changed my mind about wanting all those trees to shut up.  They’re beginning to make a lot more sense than a great chunk of this country’s sentient human population. So speak on, my good old woody, leafy friends: don’t hold anything back. Just pour out all that undiluted sap you’ve been dying to talk about for centuries...