Our common past | Peter Apap Bologna

Author Peter Apap Bologna, whose second installment in his autobiographical trilogy has just been published, speaks to IGGY FENECH about the process of compiling 75 years’ worth of memories

Peter Apap Bologna
Peter Apap Bologna

I have known Peter pretty much all my life; yet while I knew he had a good memory and was an ardent collector of various things, I never realised just how comprehensively he did all this.

Peter Apap Bologna (b. 1941) has lived an interesting and full life – from working as a banker in London and New York, and owning an art gallery here in Malta (the Melitensia Art Gallery in Lija), to being friends with Prime Minister George Borg Olivier and his family, and seeing the Independence Day ceremony from the roof of the Phoenicia Hotel in Floriana.

Those, of course, are his own memories. And, once you add the collective memories of his relatives and friends, most of whom were in the thick of it all at a time when Malta was transitioning from an Island Fortress under the rule of the British Empire to an Independent Nation with its own Head of State, a story of our common history emerges.

But what makes those stories all the more important is that they come with snippets and anecdotes that shed a more human light on some of our past leaders, including the late Dom Mintoff and the aforementioned George Borg Olivier, as well as on other people of interest, including journalists like Marie Benoit, philanthropists like Lilian Miceli Farrugia, and well-known people such as Nicholas de Piro.

Those stories are for Peter to tell in his three-part autobiography entitled Memories; what I set out to discover meanwhile, was the process of collecting over seven decades worth of photographs, letters, pamphlets and other trivia and turn them into a story akin to Herbert Ganado’s groundbreaking Rajt Malta Tinbidel.

Hence, I sat down with my old friend and mentor, to pick his brain about his remarkable talent.

How long have you been working on this book?

The first volume Memories 1941-1973 was published at the start of 2015, when I was already working on Memories 1973-1988. When I embarked on this project I planned for three volumes, the third to cover the years 1988-2005. I am working on this now and hope to have it ready by this time next year.

The truth is that I believe I had been planning to write about my life since I was at school. When I became a boarder at St Aloysius, we were strictly obliged to write a letter home at least once a week. The letters had to start with ‘A.M.D.G.’ (Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam), the motto of the Jesuits, at top right, then the date. The letters were scrutinised by the Prefect of Discipline before mailing, too.

I enjoyed writing, and asked my mother to save them, as I might like to write about my college days in the future. The same happened when I went to study in London. So my mother kept all my letters, and I kept hers to me. This was a very useful archive when it came to writing the Memories trilogy.

You have photos and information dating back decades. How did you manage to keep it all in one place?

I was a keen photographer from the start, following in the footsteps of my father. At college I had my own dark room, set up for me by Fr Maurice Naudi. For the early years I had my father’s albums to pick from, then my own. As with the letters I kept all the photos, either in my mother’s safe-keeping or my own. I also often recorded events in writing, keeping a diary in fact, though sporadically. This, too, came in helpful.

What was the process of sifting through that information?

I decided to put it all together in chronological order. A good memory came in handy, but I was also guided by the dates of the letters. The photos could by placed in the context of when they were taken (again with the help of memory).

This is the second volume of your autobiographical trilogy – which memories mentioned in the book are you fondest of?

I very much enjoyed my years in international banking, especially the extensive travel in Latin America, but it was very disruptive of family life. When I left banking in 1984, we settled at our home in Ireland. It is in County Cork, near Bandon, on the coast of Courtmacsherry Bay. That was an idyllic time, as the family was united; we had a lovely circle of friends, and we were living in one of the most beautiful spots in the world. Moreover, I was working with the things I loved most, books.

My wife Annie, and daughters Kate and Sarah, adored life there, and have now all, including grandsons, settled there permanently. My girls and their maternal grandparents, who also lived close by, had a very special relationship. I think this greatly influenced my children’s development as the grandparents, Geofroy and Hazel Tory, were very special people.

You’ve lived an incredibly interesting life, but what made you decide to write it all down and share it with readers?

Publishing your own books is sometimes called ‘vanity publishing’. This is not the case with my Memories. For my daughters, and more so for my grandsons, Malta is a mythical place. Though they know me as a loving parent and grandfather, they accept me at face value without any real understanding of who I am and where I come from.

That in itself is not necessarily so important. But the people and the land from where I come is of great importance. My wonderful parents and grandparents, my siblings, and wider family and friends, and this great country in which I happen to have been born, are the roots from which they too have sprung. So that is what it is all about.

Memories 1973-1988 is the second instalment in Peter Apap Bologna’s autobiographical trilogy. Along with the first installment, Memories 1941-1973, it can be purchased from all leading bookstores in Malta and Gozo