Land of the brave, home of the ‘pastizz’

Is it down to the nature of our interminable insistence at finding fault with every... last... single... goddamn... ANYTHING that can possibly be turned into a political weapon?

Funnily enough, this opportunity presented itself at a time when Joseph Muscat was being criticised for precisely that: losing touch with his working class roots
Funnily enough, this opportunity presented itself at a time when Joseph Muscat was being criticised for precisely that: losing touch with his working class roots

Honestly, though. Who would ever have guessed that the fallout from an exploding ‘pastizz’ could be so... cataclysmic? And there I was, thinking that ‘pastizzi’ were just harmless little savoury snacks made from pastry filled with ricotta or mushy peas. (Apparently they have another meaning, too...  but it is far too ‘crude’ and ‘common’ to be mentioned in a high class article such as this. Madoffi, ta, etc). 

But before proceeding, a necessary disclaimer. I like pastizzi. Admittedly, I’d like them a little more if they didn’t wreak havoc with my hiatus hernia, but that’s another story. (Note: I mean the savoury snacks, not... the other thing). Oh, and I have a passionate fondness for wall-tiles, Formica-laminated table-tops, and cracked peanut shells all over the floor. Nothing makes my tea-in-the-glass go down better, than a good, healthy Maltese ‘pastizz’ in an environment where I can also rub shoulders with the local one-eyed village mutant.

I thought I’d get that out of the way as quickly as possible, as it turns out that ‘pastizzi’ may also be something else again. The Ultimate Weapon of Mass Destruction. All you need to do is hint that they do not meet your own personal tastes (culinary and/or social) and... Ker-BOOM! Your political reputation will be raining down like a gentle shower of flaky, crumbly pastry specks, all over the country, for days to come...

One just exploded in the vicinity of Qrendi around three days ago, for instance; and even as I write, the Nationalist Party – whose president unwittingly detonated the device, by means of a Facebook status update – is now scrambling desperately to put out a fire in its own engine room. Meanwhile, the effect of this ricotta-radiation fallout is visible all over Facebook: memes have mutated that minor incident into a deformed monster of gargantuan proportions. 

It reminds me of ‘When the Wind Blows’. We might all have to build our own pastizzi fallout shelters, in case of World War Pea.

And all because Anne Fenech said she considers ‘pastizzi’ to be beneath her social class; because she was embarrassed and aghast at how Joseph Muscat would so tastelessly expose the great and the good of Europe to the common Maltese hoi polloi – warts, carbuncles and all – instead of wining and dining them at a plush, exclusive restaurant serving haut-cuisine (as any proper Socialist prime minister should, of course).

Guys: cut her some slack, will you? As the president of a party that hopes to one day govern a country so enamoured of the humble ‘pastizz’... Dr Fenech is fully entitled to denigrate and belittle our most dearly loved national product as much as she likes. It’s called the Fundamental Freedom to Shoot Your Own Mouth Off, and it’s enshrined in the Universal Charter of Human Frights. If that’s the sort of thing Dr Fenech thinks will endear her or her party to the electorate, so be it. We live in an age of unprecedented minority recognition: snobs and elitists are also human; their rights have to be protected, too.

No, what interests me more is how astonishingly accurate ‘pastizzi-gate’ works as a general comment of the state of 21st century Malta. I don’t recall such a widespread and unanimous reaction to any other single issue since... um... ever, really. It seems that a country which remains so truly, deeply and madly polarised when faced with corruption from both camps... environmental destruction from both camps... mismanagement and nepotism from both camps... can suddenly put aside all its differences, and come together in defence of our most iconic and cherished national symbol. 

The Maltese Pastizz. Yes, absolutely. What could possibly make more sense than that?

Clearly, there is something more at work behind this than an obsessive national devotion to a pocket of pastry stuffed with cheese. Anne Fenech did not go running to Is-Serkin to get herself photographed eating a pastizz, just to prove she actually likes the taste. My guess is that she realised – painfully too late – how her comment would have sounded and smelt like to anyone who wasn’t born with the Lord of Her Majesty’s Admiralty serving her breakfast with a silver spoon. And it is the ‘too late’ part that I find most intriguing.

Of all the reactions that made it into Lovin’ Malta for posterity, the ones that questioned the political wisdom of such an extraordinary outburst are the most resonant. Had Dr Fenech not been a public personality – still less a politician – the calls of ‘snob’ and ‘elitist’ would not matter all that much. But she is a politician, and her party is trying to position itself as the natural choice for the Maltese worker who feels betrayed by Muscat’s ‘Socialist’ government. So they do matter: very much indeed. 

It is the fact that she consciously and deliberately invited those calls herself that seems so unearthly. To summarise this category of reaction most succinctly: how could anyone be so... stoopid?

This intrigues me because I know for a fact (and, separately, have it confirmed on very good authority) that Dr Anne Fenech is not stupid at all. At least, not when operating within her professional capacities outside of politics. Could it be then, that politics made the difference in this case? Is it down to the nature of our interminable (and increasingly intolerable) insistence on finding fault with every... last... single... goddamn... ANYTHING... anything at all... that can possibly be turned into a political weapon; and then using it as rashly, indiscriminately and thoughtlessly as possible? Is that what concocted this incredible ‘qassata’?

Well, that’s my reading of it, at any rate. Clever people do not do singularly stupid things unless motivated by singularly stupid causes. The reaction was, in a sense, the inevitable consequence of making all-out annihilation one’s number one (indeed, only) political strategy. People cannot take politics seriously, when politicians insist on launching full-scale attacks at every possible opportunity...even on such a spectacularly insignificant issue, as the choice of Is-Serkin as a venue to host foreign PMs at a European summit. 

Under such conditions, the childishness of that strategy can no longer be disguised or excused. This might explain why most of this category consisted of people who usually stick up for the PN.

There is, however, a secondary shockwave from the initial explosion. Not only did the infamous ‘pastizz’ Facebook status update spark a totally unnecessary and self-inflicted backlash... but, more damagingly, it also provided Muscat with a dream platform to say with conviction precisely the sort of thing every other European socialist prime minister can only say with embarrassment. 

‘I’m not ashamed to sit beside the local one-eyed village mutant, and have a humble ‘pastizz’ with a glass of tea. Unlike others, I haven’t forgotten my working class roots, etc. Etc.’ (or words to that effect)

Funnily enough, this opportunity presented itself at a time when Joseph Muscat was being criticised for precisely that: losing touch with his working class roots. The Paceville Masterplan, for instance: which was presented as a grand scheme to evict ordinary nobodies from their own homes, so that multi-millionaires can build themselves a private playground. The private university built on supposedly protected land, to attract paying students from the world’s most fabulously wealthy countries; the IIP scheme, which turned Maltese nationality into a saleable commodity.

And to think all that could so easily be turned around in the bat of an eyelid... by nothing more than a common ‘pastizz’, washed down by a glass of crude tea on a Formica-laminated table in a bar in Rabat. It honestly and truly boggles the mind.

Now, just close your eyes and think: we have at least a year of this nonsense ahead of us; and as the election draws nearer, we can only expect the level of absurdity to intensify. So that joke I made earlier about the ‘pastizz fallout shelter’? I meant it seriously. In fact, I’ll be ordering my own from Ikea at the earliest opportunity.  

But first, ‘pastizzi.’ Little did I realise that just writing about those things – the savoury snacks, please note – would open up such an appetite...

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