Posts Tagged ‘Malta’

  • THE SISTERS OF THE CRIB

    Madre Phyllis Agius“This place was much livelier when children were around, especially in Christmas,” reminisced 60-year-old Madre Phyllis Agius of Jesus of Nazareth Institute in Żejtun. Around forty years ago, when she became a nun, the institute catered for orphans, teenage girls with family problems, and Muslim refugees. Nowadays, the nuns have dwindled to only nine and the institute serves mainly as a night shelter for the elderly.

    “It was the need to take care of children which made me decide to become a nun. When I was a little girl, I noticed the institute’s orphans attending my same school in Żejtun and I hoped that one day, I would be able to give them all my love and support.”

    She was initially approached by a nun while she was participating in a raffle which was being held at the institute as part of the Christmas activities.

    “I visited the mechanical crib at this institute each year and like many others, I tried my luck at the raffle. On one of these days, I won the raffle but I had no idea which gift to choose. It was at that point that a nun gave me a pamphlet which read – Why not you? From then on, I began to consider becoming a nun.”

    The large mechanical crib which was opened for the public in 1947, was one of the main attractions which brought people to the institute.

    “People were simply amazed by this crib and its moving figurines. When it opened for the first time, crowds came from all over the island to see it. There were such long queues that people got restless waiting and the police had to be called in to calm the situation. By time, we became known as the sisters of the crib.”

    Il-presepju (1)“No entrance fee was charged to visit this crib but people gave us donations to support the needs of our institute. Both this crib and also the orphans drew the attention of several benefactors who helped us to live a simple but comfortable life.”

    Like Madre Phyllis, when I was young, I remember some of these young children who attended the primary school in Żejtun. They were always very smart and tidy.

    “Older nuns recall a time when there were around two hundred children at this institute. There were not as many children when I became a nun, and the last group who lived here around twelve years ago, consisted of just six children. Although the children lived a disciplined life, they were all very dear to us, and some of them are still in contact with us.”

    “Our children were always very busy during the Christmas season. Nuns trained them to participate in plays and also in the institute’s choir. A group of nuns who could play instruments organized a small orchestra which accompanied the choir. On Christmas eve, the Institute’s director would attend and he was always very pleased to see everyone having fun.”

    L-Isqof-Emmanuel-GaleaThe first director of this institute and orphanage was none other than Bishop Emmanuel Galea, the very person who came up with the idea to construct the large mechanical crib.

    “During the Christmas season, the children attended to many parties and they received several presents. Some of the children were also invited to spend the Christmas with families. It was such a happy time.”

    “One of the nuns, Sister Ursola, was an excellent pastry maker. The aroma of baking Christmas cakes and qagħaq tal-għasel was heavenly during those days. Much of these sweets were given to our benefactors as a sign of gratitude.”

    As no more children were left and fewer nuns joined the institute, life changed considerably. Now, most of the benfactors are gone and the elderly nuns have to rely on the help of friends and volunteers. Yet Christmas is still a cherished time.

    “Three weeks before Christmas, we start with the Advent season which prepares us for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus. This consists of teachings and readings during the daily mass that takes place at the institute’s church at 7.00am. Nine days before Christmas, we celebrate the novena which consists of readings and singing at the end of the mass.”

     The expectation for Christmas triggers also a number of traditions within the institute.

     “Volunteers come to help us to decorate the institute’s halls and rooms with cribs, baby Jesus statues, Christmas fathers and Christmas trees. One of the volunteers also takes care of growing vetch for us which is eventually used to decorate the institute’s church together with ponsiettas.”

    Joseph-Pavia - rd“Joseph Pavia, the nephew of Pawlu Pavia who constructed the mechanical crib, calls to check whether everything is fine with the crib and the figurines. In the meantime, we prepare the items for our Christmas bazaar from which we sell books, toys and crafts prepared by the nuns.”

    The day before Christmas eve, Madre Phyllis prepares her renowned chocolate drink which has become a favourite with parishioners.

    “My recipe consists of chunks of exquisite chocolate, drinking chocolate, baking chocolate, vanilla drops, sugar, and peel of oranges, lemons and mandarines. I melt and blend eveything together in two large cooking pots and leave the mixture to cook slowly.”

    “This chocolate drink and a piece of Christmas cake are then offered to all those who attend to the Christmas eve mass which is celebrated at the institute’s church at 8.00pm. Children are also given a present by Father Christmas.”

    The nuns spend Christmas day together at the institute.

    “We wake up at 5.45am to say our prayers. Then we have breakfast and at 7.00am we attend to mass. Afterwards, we fill the nuns’ Christmas stockings with small presents which mainly consist of chocolates since they love them. Some of us receive family visits while others welcome the public at our crib. At noon we have lunch and we pray again.”

    Istitut Gesu Nazzarenu - rd“After enjoying some rest, some of us stand again by the crib to receive the public. More people tend to come at this time, bringing along their families with them. Many people seek this annual opportunity to talk to us. It is pleasant to see that people still trust us and believe that we are a faster way to God,” she said as she smiled.

    Indeed, this is the time when people approach them to share their personal problems, seek advice, and ask for prayers. A good number of those attending give them donations to help with the needs of the institute.

    “Christmas day ends with more prayers and dinner. Then we gather together to watch tv while enjoying some sweets and a sip of vermouth. After all Christmas is about being with family and this is our family now.”

    The Institute of Jesus of Nazareth is located at St Gregory Street in Żejtun.

    This year, the mechanical crib will be open between 16th December 2018 and 6th January 2019. Opening hours: 9.30am – noon and 4.00pm – 7.00pm all week.

    (This feature was published in the Christmas Times issued with The Times of Malta on 8th December 2018)

    2018.12.08 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • Gone but not forgotten

    “St. George Preca used to say that the cemetery is the biggest book and I had the opportunity to confirm that,” revealed a Capuchin friar who served as a custodian of the Addolorata cemetery for some years. Living among the dead, day and night, helped him to learn much about humanity and its weaknesses.

    The origial residence and office of the cemetery's custodian - 1 (Photo - Fiona Vella)“The Capuchin friars were selected by the British authorities to administer this cemetery because they were loved by the locals. They had always been the ones who stood by the people during the worst moments and in situations which others avoided,” explained researcher Eman Bonnici.

    “The British authorities hoped to attract people to bury their dead at the Addolorata cemetery. One of the best architects, Emanuele Luigi Galizia, was chosen to design this magnificent cemetery which took seven years to construct at the expense of £33,000. However, a well thought strategy was also required since this necessitated a considerable culture change within Maltese society.”

    “Around 150 years ago, no one was buried in a cemetery except for those who died of contagious diseases or prisoners who were hanged. People buried their loved ones within the churches, chapels and crypts of their towns and villages to keep them close and within sacred grounds. Yet authorities considered this custom as a time bomb for some epidemic catastrophe. From time to time, outbursts of plague and cholera appeared on the islands, and it took days before the malady was identified. Case in points were the first plague victims of 1675 and 1813. Both were buried at Ta’ Ġieżu in Valletta, right at the capital city which was densely populated.”

    “Initially, the Addolorata cemetery was intended to serve as a burial site for Catholics who were from Cottonera, Floriana and Valletta. As an incentive to start a new chapter in burial custom, those who had a private grave in any of these areas, were offered the possibility to choose a space in this cemetery and their grave would be dug for free. They were also given the privilege to use the cemetery’s church for burial rites and prayers before their loved ones were laid to rest. A further benefit consisted of a daily mass which was celebrated in this church and dedicated to all those who were buried within the cemetery.”

    “Although a new law passed in 1863 prohibited further burials within churches, and the Addolorata cemetery was blessed and consecrated in 1869 to be ready for use, it was not that easy to convince the local population who had very strong beliefs related to death and burial customs. No one wanted to bury their dead in the new cemetery. Until one day, a poor woman from Naxxar who lived in Mosta, 64 year old Anna Magro, died at the general hospital, and since she had no relatives, she was the first one to be buried at this cemetery. Some time later, a number of people from Cospicua decided to accept the offer to have their own graves at the Addolorata, and from then, things moved on.”

    The custodian’s role of the Addolorata cemetery was quite challenging. He had the responsibility of all the administration of the cemetery which included the registration of burials, the issuing of burial permits, the applications for new graves, the research for the public about the deceased and their graves, the maintenance of the cemetery and its church, the management of the workers, the distribuition of salaries which was still given out in money, the celebration of daily mass, and the hearing of confessions and spiritual advice. 

    “Originally the friars who acted as custodians were expected to spend the night at the cemetery. I spent around five years living at the cemetery together with a brother who was responsible to cook for me and to take care of the cemetery’s church. Although the brother resided at the cemetery for the whole year, friars alternated every week,” explained the friar.

    “I was shocked when I was requested to become a cemetery custodian. I had studied philosophy and theology, and I had no idea whatsoever about the administration of a cemetery. However, my Provincial promised me that he would provide me with all the necessary assistance and so I accepted the role.”

    Monuments at the cemetery (Photo - Fiona Vella)“Ironically, this work was a blessing in disguise! I had never imagined that the very place connected to death would fill my life with such significant experiences. A cemetery gets you in contact with all the levels of society, from the poorest to the richest, from the average person to the most successful. You learn a lot about humanity’s weaknesses and strengths, about love and hate, about repentance and revenge, about the excruciating suffering of illnesses and death. Ultimately, when the time came, it was actually difficult to leave this role.”

    “Some of my experiences at the cemetery are simply unforgettable. Some of them fill me with distate, others chill me to the bone, while a number of them remind me of the unexplainable power of prayer, love, hope and belief. At times, the pain and suffering which I had to deal with became unbearable and I had to seek out the comfort of the convent. More than the freezing cold of the night which reigned within those historical rooms, it was the distressful questions which people confronted me with, day after day, which affected me most.”

    “Why is your God doing this to me?” asked a woman while carrying her sixth dead foetus for burial. “Her husband had brought the previous five and I had prayed with him and listened to his suffering. It was the first time that I was facing his wife and the news of yet another miscarriage was intensely sad and shocking. In moments like those, I asked God to guide me and he never failed to assist me. This is not the work of God but of nature, I told her. God would never do this to you! Give a name to each child and pray for each and to each one of them and you will find peace.”

    “Around five years passed from this incident. Then, one day, the brother informed me that a couple needed to speak to me. I went out to meet them and they reminded me of their story. ‘I did just like you advised’, the woman told me. ‘And now we have him,’ she said as she reached out to a pram with a beautiful little baby boy inside.”

    Stories poured out from the friar. He was still so emotional about them, as if they had just happenned the day before.

    “On a very cold and rainy day in February, a smart and well-dressed man came to knock at my door. He gave me a grave number and I informed him that it was located in the common graves’ area. The man asked me to accompany him with a car to see this grave and I drove him there.”

    “As soon as I pointed out the grave, the man jumped out of the car, fell to his knees on the ground and began to cry out for his mother’s forgiveness. ‘Forgive me mum! It was not my fault!’ he repeated over and over again while the heavy rain rammed on his back. I felt so distraught for him but eventually I managed to pull him back in the car and help him to calm down.”

    “He told me the story of how forty years before, his mother and his wife had a quarrel, and his wife threatened to leave him if he ever got in contact with his mother again. She even forbid him from going to his mother’s funeral, calling him twice at his office on that day to confirm that he had abided to her rules.  ‘We have four children and I did not want to mess up my family,’ he informed me, leaving me dumbfounded.”

    It was very compelling to witness such hate and thirst for revenge, even after death.

    “One day I was asked to give advice to a very affluent man who came to buy a plot to construct a chapel in the cemetery. He was insisting that only he and his wife, their children and their offsprings could be buried in this chapel, leaving out all his sons’ wives, explicitly named in a contract. I told him that this was very uncharitable on his part but he was resolute. I warned him that on knowing about this, his sons would curse him and his wife but he brushed this comment off, ensuring me that he was leaving them all well off.”

    “The old couple died and they were buried in the chapel. All went well until one of his sons was widowed. He came to us to make arrangements for his wife’s burial in the family chapel. As soon as he identified himself, I braced myself for trouble since it was clear that he knew nothing about his parents’ decision. He could not believe his ears when we informed him that he could not bury his wife in the chapel. He got so angry and swore so badly, cursing his parents over and over again, that we had to threaten him with the police. Matters worsened further when he realized that this condition affected also all his brothers. He called them all and they came to the cemetery in a frenzy, infuriated at this unexpected news.”

    “No matter how much they insisted with us to eliminate this condition, there was nothing we could do. The woman had to be buried in a new grave. All the other brothers bought a new grave too. Their parents’ richly adorned and expensive chapel now lies abandoned and in ruins.”

    Nowadays the cemetery is no longer administered by the Capuchin friars.

    (This article was published in the SENIOR TIMES – NOVEMBER issued with The Times of Malta on 15th November 2018)

    2018.11.15 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • Repairing the house before it rains

    Dr Xiaoming Yang and Ms Wei Han (Photo - Fiona Vella)“In China we have this concept to repair the house before it rains. We give great attention to our health and well-being because certainly prevention is always better than cure,” declares Dr Xiaoming Yang, a traditional Chinese medicine physician which is presently giving his services at the Mediterranean Regional Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine in Kordin, Paola.

    This Centre was established in 1994 as part of a project of cooperation between Malta and China. From then on, every two years, a new Chinese medical team was sent to Malta to replace the previous group in order to continue their duty at this Centre and at clinics in Mater Dei hospital and the general hospital in Gozo. This time, due to new arrangements, this group of Chinese doctors will only stay in Malta for one year until a new group comes to take over.

    “Each time, the best Chinese doctors are chosen to come over to Malta since this country is regarded as a very important hub from which to introduce traditional Chinese medicine to other countries as well. Malta’s strategic location makes it ideal to act as a significant connection between Asia, Europe and Africa.”

    “Nowadays more and more people are pursuing a healthy lifestyle, and they search for ways in how to keep fit, how to prevent disease and how to prolong life. The key to all these questions is to return to nature because we are part of nature. Nature provides us with all the necessities which are indispensable for our survival. The concept of unity between man and nature is the most basic principle on which this traditional Chinese medicine was founded.”

    Dr Yang showing Tuina manipulation (1) (Photo - Fiona Vella)Through his experience at this Centre, Dr Yang noticed that in general Maltese patients, especially the senior population, complain from arthritis, insomnia, frozen shoulder and neck and lower back pain.

    “It is difficult to find a common factor to all these afflictions because many of the patients have different circumstances. However, I did notice some habits and way of life which may lead to these dicomforts, pains and illnesses.”

    “In contrast to China, few Maltese people tend to do regular check-ups. Many of them go to the doctor only when they feel pain or some other disturbance. In China, hospitals send out reminders to people to attend to regular tests and many of them comply. This helps the doctor to identify any health problems at an early stage.”

    “Another custom in Malta is to attend gyms, often irregularly, without proper supervision or any sensible preparation. Exercising too hard or too long, and training without suitable warming up will eventually lead to health problems. In China, people use traditional martial arts to train the mind, body and soul by doing slow but effective movements which give rise to no strain.”

    “Over-exertion is another issue. Although in China I heard that the Maltese enjoy a siesta in the afternoon, in reality I found out that most people have more than one job, starting very early in the morning and continuing late at night. Such long work hours will inevitably lead to over-exertion which will then generate fatigue, strained muscles or disease. Being always so busy makes it also difficult to attend to the required amount of treatments. In fact, while in China, my patients come to my clinic to get treatment around three to five times a week, in Malta, a patient will call to have therapy only once a week or once a month. In my country, people are given permission to leave work in order to have treatment because if a worker is in pain, he may make mistakes. Taking leave to attend therapy does not seem to be as easy in Malta.”

    Since regular therapy is essential to heal faster, Dr Yang dedicates himself to teach his Maltese patients how to do self-treatment exercises.

    Demonstration how to prevent stiff neck and frozen shoulders.“I have trained Maltese people to make tuina manipulation by themselves generally to treat headache, migraine, neck pain or spinal pain. Knowledge of tuina manipulation involves the pressing of particular acupoints to help release discomfort or pain. This helps to increase the curative effect of my therapy at the Centre.”

    “Tuina manipulation includes the use of hand and arm techniques to massage the muscles and tendons of the body, the stimulation of acupressure points to directly affect the flow of Qi energy through the system of channels and collaterals, and manipulation techniques to realign the musculo-skeletal and bone setting.”

    Other services offered at the Centre are acupuncture, cupping, ear acupressure, and moxibustion.

    “Traditional Chinese medicine is different from Western medicine since it looks at the body as a whole and does not focus just on the inflicted area. When a patient comes to me, I take time to question him about several factors in his life. I look at his appearance, his tongue, his walk. I ask about his appetite and whether he is suffering from insomnia. Then I continue to search for the root of the problem by touching various acupoints in order to identify where the real trouble is. Sometimes a patient might tell me that he is suffering from a headache but then I realize that the problem is in his neck or that it actually is psychological stress.”

    During a recent open day held at the Centre with the theme A Journey into Traditional Chinese Medicine, Dr Yang explained about the different treatments which are being offered at the Centre. He also announced that in March, he would be training Maltese people in traditional Chinese martial arts.

    “The intent of traditional Chinese martial arts is to relax and exercise the body in a gentle way by absorbing the energy from the surrounding nature and improving the Qi (energy in the body). For several centuries, these martial arts have helped people to obtain and enjoy a state of good health and well-being.”

    Ms Wei Han (Fiona Vella)Ms Wei Han, the Chinese interpreter at the Centre provided interesting information about the use of herbs to improve health and well-being.

    “Being with these doctors I learnt a lot about traditional Chinese medicine and herbs. In the past, when our ancestors were sick, they went back to nature to find answers in how to regain their health. Through experience and experiments they found the right herbs and they used them as natural medicine to treat illnesses and more important to prevent disease and to maintain health. They also found that certain foods can also be used to treat illness. Some herbs can be used both as food and for medicinal therapy. Ginger for example is often used as spice to give flavour to other foods and obviously it is food. But it can also be used as a herb with medicinal values – it helps us to warm our stomach, to improve digestion and to control nausea.”

    As a taster to the participants, the Centre’s chef prepared mutton soup with angelica and ginger, and Chinese berry tea with lily bulbs and red dates.

    “We are glad to invite at our Centre all those who are interested to know more about traditional Chinese medicine, traditional Chinese martial arts and traditional Chinese philosophy. Visitors can also enjoy our traditional Chinese garden which though small, it incorporates all the typical philosophical ideas and most important elements. Stones in the garden represent the body of the world, like hills and valleys. Water is the spirit of the world providing oxygen, like blood running through the veins. The pavilion is always located at the best point where one can watch the sunset and the sunrise, and meditate about life or simply relax and have a rest. Our patients find this garden optimal to calm down and to escape from the outside world where pain ceases to exist, at least for a short time,” concluded Ms Han.

    For more information, one can contact the Mediterranean Regional Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine on 2169 1799.

    (This feature was published in The Times of Malta in 2018)

    2018.09.20 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • FROM STORIES TO HISTORY

    For hundreds of years, the recording of the past focused on public records, statistical data and the lives of prominent people. Yet in recent decades, the spotlight turned onto the general public and its memories in order to provide a more accurate picture of the historic narrative.

    0007 (Eng.)“People who have lived through particular events can contribute different viewpoints and perspectives that fill in the gaps of documented history, at times correcting or even contradicting the written record. The project MEMORJA aims to give a voice to those who have been unheard,” explained James Baldacchino, the administrator of the MEMORJA Project.

    MEMORJA is an oral, sound and visual archive. Its main objective is to employ cutting edge research, methodologies, theoretical and archival approaches and techniques to collect, record, transcribe, preserve and make available and retrievable all the deposited material detailing the islands’ history.

    “Work on this project has begun in January 2017. This is a new platform which is giving an additional dimension to the National Archives since this time, it is not only collecting records but reaching out to create them.”

    At the early stages of the project, four themes were selected, namely the Second World War, British expatriates in Malta, public administration and the Lampedusa-Malta connection.

    0005 (Eng.)“The theme related to experiences during the Second World War aims to document and record a past which is slowly disappearing from public memory especially with the passing away of the older generation. Oral testimonies and photographs serve to recollect the terrible years of war and what the people have lived through in those times. Stories of the outbreak of hostilities and the first bombings on June 11, 1940, the mass evacuations and refugee experiences, fear and uncertainty, hunger and the Victory Kitchens, shelters and sanitation, soldiers and sirens, and tragedies of bombings are part of the significant remembrance which needs to be collected and preserved for future generations before it is lost for good.”

    The history of the relationship between the UK and Malta is another central theme which has not been documented through the eyes of the British and Maltese individuals.

    0006 (Eng.)“This section includes interviews with British and British-Maltese people who were either in the British forces during the 1960’s (or their spouses) and remained in Malta, or civilians who married a Maltese person and relocated to Malta. Such recordings open a window on everyday life in Malta during the 1950s – 1970s. Much of the narratives relate to military bases, post-war experiences, political issues, relationships and cultural differences. This theme was further expanded when the experience of service families’ children was included as well. These children had attended the Naval Childrens’ School and HM Dockyard Children’s School which had occupied sites at Ta’ Xbiex, Cottonera, Senglea and the Dockyard before moving to Tal-Ħandaq.”

    0003 (Eng.)Civil servants are often regarded as those who are implementing the Goverment’s policies. However, through their memories we can get a glimpse of what happenned ‘behind the scenes’ during the most important political, social and economic decisions undertaken by Maltese political leaders.

    “These include background revelations of what was taking place during the granting of Independence in 1964, the dismantling of the British military base in 1979 and how the Maltese prepared for such an event, membership in the EU and how it affected the civil service, the migration of the hospital from St Lukes to Mater Dei and many other memorable challenges.”

    Lampedusa and Malta are two islands with different political histories. Yet to some extent they share similar economic, trade and socio-cultural interest.

    0008 (Eng.)“We have an interest in Lampedusa since in the early 1800s, there were a number of Maltese settlers on this island. Until now, no one had attempted to record these people’s history in order to understand the link between the two islands. The MEMORJA Project is focusing on two time frames to investigate the islands’ shared history. The first one relates to the period from 1800 – 1843 when Lampedusa was colonised by Maltese settlers working in agriculture and animal husbandry. The second covers the period between the 1950s and the 1980s when Lampedusani fishermen visited Malta regularly for the maintenance of ships, the sale of blue fish and the provision of supplies.”

    As the team of the MEMORJA Project reached out to people, they were soon welcomed by the different communities who were eager to share their recollections.

    0002 (Eng.)“We found a huge amount of data which existed only in the minds of people and in their photos. Many individuals were enthusiastic to make their voice heard in order to help out with the shaping of the public’s narrative which up to now was not formally recorded for posterity. Even though we have four selected themes, it does not exclude us from recording other memories as well which we deem to be of importance to form part of the community memory.”

    The search for the stories which make the history is still going on. The final goal of the MEMORJA Project which will be officially launched later on this year will be to make this information accessible online for educational and research purposes.

    0001 (Eng.)“Oral history allows people to express the personal consequences of change, from the simplest things in life to the more complex. It enables people to share their experiences in their own words, with their own voices, through their own understanding of what happened and why. Eventually, such documentation will offer depth to the understanding of the past to present and future generations.”

    If you are interested to contribute to the MEMORJA Project, you are invited to contact James Baldacchino on james.baldacchino@gov.mt or call 21459863.

    The National Archives is located at ‘Santo Spirito’, Hospital Street, Rabat, Malta.

    (This article was published in SENIOR TIMES – MAY 2018 issued with The Times of Malta dated 24 May 2018)

     

    2018.05.24 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • CORNER COMFORTS

    Frankie Cutajar (Photo - Fiona Vella)“You wouldn’t survive in this business if you are not brought up in it since childhood. It is just too demanding and it takes up your life completely,” insisted Frankie Cutajar, the owner of Lady Di Pub in Tignè Street, Sliema.

    “On the other hand, if the seed of entertainment has been nurtured in your blood from an early age, it is difficult to let go of such an engaging and colourful world,” he said as he laughed heartily and poured a tin of golden beer into a large glass for a client.

    Cutajar hails from Valletta. Two of his family members are the renowned late musician Oscar Lucas and popular singer Joe Cutajar.

    “Back in the old days, their cheerful attitude and exquisite talent used to light up the thrilling atmosphere of Strait Street. I can still remember the time when 10,000 foreign soldiers sought that area in Valletta each week and all those who had a business there, concocted new ways to attract them to their locale.”

    “My uncle Oscar Lucas played in various venues. Together with Jimmy Grech (also known as Jimmy l-Irish), he owned the Las Vegas which was the first nightclub to open in Malta and boasted a capacity of 500 seats. It was huge, running from the area where today one finds the Marks and Spencer store and going up to the Embassy. At the age of 12, I worked as a commis waiter in this nightclub, serving customers which were mainly young couples, between 6:00pm and 8:00pm.”

    Frankie Cutajar presenting appetizers (Photo - Fiona Vella)Cutajar got married when he was 18 and kept working at Las Vegas until it closed its doors.

    “The British Forces’ departure from our islands drained all the energy from Strait Street, turning it into a shadow of what it was. Paceville became the new attraction for the younger generation while Valletta died out during the evenings. Eventually, Jimmy l-Irish, my older brother Harry and I acquired a bar in Melita Street and called it Pippo’s.”

    “Later on, my brother and I also took over a business in Tignè Street, Sliema. This place was originally a bar known as Neriku and it was run by my grandfather and grandmother. After it served as an antique shop for some years, we decided to open it as a pub. Many of the visitors who came to Malta and stayed at the surrounding hotels in Sliema were British. So we had no doubts whatsoever about what we were going to name our new pub.”

    Frankie Cutajar showing The People's feature about him and his pub (Photo - Fiona Vella)A framed copy of a newspaper feature which hangs on one of the walls narrates how the name Lady Di Pub came to life. Cutajar recounted this incident proudly.

    “I was having a meal with a well-connected friend of mine at a London restaurant when he introduced me to Lady Diana. I told her that I would be naming a bar after her to record the memorable event of her marriage to Prince Charles. Shortly afterwards, I saw her again at a film premiere in Leicester Square and she reminded me about it.”

    Lady Di Pub opened its doors right on Wednesday, 29 July 1981; the day of the eventful fairytale wedding.

    The earlier Lady Di Pub“This is how the pub looked at the time,” Cutajar said as he pointed at another old photo. “It consisted of just two small rooms. However, it had a very good clientele.”

    Meanwhile, Pippo’s bar in Valletta was turned into Da Pippo’s restaurant and his brother Harry stayed to manage it. Frankie opted to run the pub in Sliema. In 2006, the Lady Di Pub was rebuilt after the property was earmarked for development and was demolished.

    “Although the pub was new, I decided to recreate its old British soul. I knew that my clients would appreciate the warm feeling of a unique traditional corner huddled amongst the tall and modern buildings.”

    In recent years, Sliema’s architectural context has changed considerably. Huge, inanimate buildings are replacing traditional stately homes, a small number of which still survive in Tignè Street.

    “Times change and people have to move on with the progress which is generated. Sliema is not Valletta. Whereas Valletta is a historical city of culture, Sliema is a business hub and a touristic area. The more modernized it is, the more people it attracts, and the more customers will come to this pub,” Cutajar stated as he winked playfully.

    Frankie Cutajar with client Ganni Fenech (Photo - Fiona Vella)“His charismatic character and that of his son Keith who also works here are the secret of the success of this place,” revealed Ġanni Fenech, a regular client who was having a beer at the bar. “They have a way of making everyone feel welcome and they are also very good in the kitchen. The appetizers in this bar are always bountiful and delicious, urging you to keep on drinking so that the food continues to come out. Seasoned bread, pasta, ricotta and pea pies, cheesecakes… They simply taste like heaven with a glass of beer.”

    Right on the point, Frankie came out of the kitchen with a plate of thickly sliced crusty Maltese bread spread with kunserva, a sweet tomato paste, and topped with olives, onions, lettuce and broad beans.

    “Especially on Fridays and during weekends, Lady Di Pub is full of people and it stays open until the early morning hours. Some of our clients work in the nearby offices and come here to end the week in a good mood and meet friends. A number of others are regulars from Sliema including a small group of elderly people who have been gathering here each Sunday for the past 30 years! Other locals come from various areas around Malta. However, the majority of our clients are foreigners.”

    Frankie starts his day at around 8:30am by doing errands, including buying fresh bread. After enjoying a coffee at a nearby coffee shop, he opens his pub at 10:00am. Soon, the first clients will come in and he starts preparing some inviting appetizers. By now, his long experience and a good knowledge of his clientele have furnished him with an invaluable insight of who will be calling at his pub on each day and what he will need to prepare.

    Frankie Cutajar in his pub (Photo - Fiona Vella)“We are here to make our clients feel comfortable. Should they wish to have lunch or dinner, we can cook anything to their liking, once they advise us beforehand. Last week, we cooked a selection of pasta, fried rabbit and rib-eye steak for a group, and they surely loved it!”

    Whilst the younger generation prefer to seek out Keith’s company, the older clientele feels closer to Frankie.

    “I am 67 now but still going strong,” Frankie joked as he turned to a laptop and turned on some music. “Back in Valletta, we enjoyed live music at our nightclub. Until some years ago, I had a juke box here. Now I have to rely on this new technology. Flexibility is a must in such a business. Nowadays clients demand to hear particular songs while having a drink and this is the most practical way.”

    Culture change is also evident in the choice of requested alcohol and in the clientele’s attitude.

    “In the past, people preferred whisky especially Jack Daniels. We also served gin and vodka. Today, very few will ask for gin or vodka and the whisky which we sell is mainly J & B, Jameson, and Johnny Walker Black. Earlier generations used to come in and offer drinks to friends and to other people in the pub. We also had incidents when people got heavily drunk and still insisted to have more drinks. The present generation will generally order and pay for their own drinks, whether male or female. They are also more aware of the risks of over-drinking and they rarely get drunk.”

    A corner in Lady Di Pub (Photo - Fiona Vella)Several framed photos of Lady Diana keep a watchful eye over the pub’s customers.

    “These were given to us by her photographer who became our friend,” Frankie explained. “Customers love to look at them especially now that she’s gone. She was very cherished by the people and they still miss her terribly.”

    After her tragic death on 31 August 1997, Lady Diana’s fans were distraught. They frantically searched for anything which connected them to her.

    “For a number of days after her demise, people left flowers at our doors as a sign of mourning. A British journalist for The People came to visit the pub and interviewed me about this experience. It was certainly a very disturbing loss but in this little corner in Malta, Lady Di’s memory is still very much alive.”

    (This feature was published in SLIEMA TIMES – APRIL 2018 issued with The Times of Malta)

    2018.04.14 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • Ancient practices to relieve modern issues

    The Mediterranean Regional Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine in Kordin, Paola offers a variety of services which aim to improve health and wellbeing. Based on Chinese medical practices which date to more than 2000 years of knowledge, the Centre is run by a team of Chinese doctors who promote an alternative medicine which is well beyond what conventional medicine is about. Besides providing medical treatments, the Centre acts also as a source of information for those who would like to learn more about these ancient practices.

    On Sunday, 25 March 2018, a series of three lectures which were organized at the Centre introduced the participants to the themes of neck problem therapies, moxibustion treatments, and the perimenopausal syndrome.

    Dr Lu during his lecture - Photo by Fiona VellaDr Lu discussed the widespread problem of neck pain and showed some exercises which one can use to avert or to alleviate neck pain.

    “Neck pain does not only affect the neck area but it can also lead to several discomforts along other parts of the body. Nowadays many people tend to spend long hours in incorrect postures while looking down at mobiles, sitting at office desks while working on a computer, and watching tv in bed or on a sofa. These are some of the common traits which lead to muscle stress and pain. It only takes little to avoid these mistakes: mobiles should be read at eye level, office chairs should allow workers to sit straight and look comfortably at the computer, tv should not be watched while lying down, and an appropriate pillow should support the spine at the right curve to allow the neck to relax. Ideally, one should change posture regularly to relieve or avoid muscle soreness.”

    Dr Zhang showing the moxibustion treatment (Photo by Fiona Vella)Dr. Zhang explained the benefits of moxibustion treatments and demonstrated how these are applied to patients.

    “Moxibustion is a traditional Chinese medicine therapy which consists of burning dried mugwort leaf, also known as moxa, to bring relief from pain to the patient. This leaf has a pleasant fragrance and is easy to ignite. Moxibustion is safe and easy to operate. It is also non toxic and has no adverse reactions. However, it should only be done at a professional clinic since there is a risk of getting burnt if not handled properly. Doctors apply moxa to warm meridian points along the body in order to stimulate blood circulation.”

    Dr Ma talked about women’s health care and focused on the perimenopausal syndrome which affects a wide section of the female population from the age of 45 to 55. She indicated some exercises which help to relieve stress and also improve memory.

    Dr Ma during her lecture - Photo by Fiona Vella“Perimenopause refers to the time when the body makes the transition to menopause, thereby marking the end of the reproductive years. At this point, women may undergo various symptoms which can make their life stressful and difficult. Sudden hot flashes, insomnia, vaginal dryness and discomfort during love-making, headaches, forgetfulness and emotional instability are some of the main occurrences. Although this change is a natural process, ideally the outcome of menopause should not take place abruptly since this might seriously disturb a woman’s life and also the lives of all those around her. By living a healthy life, eating properly, doing exercise and keeping positive, a woman may help herself to allow a smoother transition which will lead to lesser repercussions. After all, life is what you make it.”

    More information about the Mediterranean Regional Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine and its services is available on Facebook or by calling on 2169 1799.

    (This feature was published in The Times of Malta on 1st April 2018)

    2018.04.01 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • A THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE

    U3E members at the Archaeological Museum.It is never too late to learn something new. Evidence of the benefits of lifelong learning is overwhelming. Feeling connected to life and to others, being eager and motivated to explore different themes, keeping active intellectually, socially and physically are just some of the rewarding factors.

    Martin Diacono has been attending to lectures at the University of the Third Age for the past 10 years.

    “It is mostly my thirst for knowledge which urges me to follow these lectures. I even attend to the lectures which are offered to the general public by the University of Malta. I have a deep interest in art and these lectures provide me with the opportunity to acquire more information about this subject and to involve myself in related study tours abroad,” explains Diacono.

    The University of the Third Age which is also known as U3A was launched in Malta on 23 January 1993 under the auspices of the University of Malta.

    During a symposium with guest speaker Prof. Olga Mikhailova from Moscow.“The main aim of U3A is to promote a yearning for knowledge and creativity. Although the lectures are held at university, their purpose is different from those which are intended to coach students to obtain academic qualifications and find a job. There are no admission requirements and anyone above the age of sixty may apply, irrespective of the level of education. There are no assignments to work on and no exams to sit for. Lectures are there for the sheer pleasure of learning new things in the company of a group of people who nourish similar interests. The cost for the lectures covering from October to June is 12 euros.”

    U3A operates from four centres; three in Malta and one in Gozo.

    “The head centre is at the Catholic Institute in Floriana. Lectures are held from Monday to Thursday from 09:00am to 11:00am. The Sliema Centre is at the Salesian School of St. Patrick’s. Lectures are held from Tuesday to Thursday from 05:00pm to 7:00pm. The Cottonera Resource Centre is located in St Edwards Street, Vittoriosa (Birgu). Lectures are held every Thursday from 09:00am to 11:00am. The one in Gozo is at the Day Centre of Għajnsielem. Lectures are held every Friday from 09:00am to 11:00am.”

    10885162_1519852661618128_1789226735035724261_nShortly after the launching of the University of the Third Age, its first members felt the need to establish a Foundation in order to organize a number of social activities together.

    “This Foundation eventually turned into a formal Association which was named the Association of the Members of the U3E. A statute was set up to define it and a Commitee was elected democratically. The Commitee has a term of two years, after which an election is held to form a new one.”

    “The Association’s objectives are to promote and safeguard the aims and activities of the U3E, to establish a point of social contact and support to its members, and to organize extra-curriculum activities for its members. Moreover, the Association is responsible for the publishing of a quarterly newsletter and for the organisation of a biennial conference on third age learning.”

    Membership in the Association is only open to U3A members. The membership fee is 3 euros annually, however members will be asked to pay a nominal fee if they wish to attend to the activities which are organized by the Association.

    Since most lectures are held from Mondays to Thurdays, social activities take place on the first and third Fridays of each month.

    “On the first Friday of each month we attend to a mass followed by lunch. Each month we go to a different parish in order to give the opportunity to our members to visit various parishes. Lunch will be booked in a restaurant which is close to the particular area selected in that month.”

    U3E members at Ras il-Wardija overlooking Xlendi Bay, Gozo.“The third Friday of each month is dedicated to a cultural tour, again followed by lunch. The excursions generally consist of visits to sites of historical and cultural interest, both in Malta and Gozo. Guides accompany the members during such visits so that they can appreciate the full value of each place. Some of the places which we have visited in Valletta are St John’s Co-Cathedral, the Archaeological Museum, the War Museum and St Elmo, the Fine Arts Museum and Casa Rocca Piccola. Other sites include the Mdina Cathedral and its Museum, and Wignacourt Museum in Rabat, Malta.”

    “From Mondays to Thursdays, further activities are also organized throughout the academic year right after the lectures end. Fitness classes held by qualified persons take place from Mondays to Wednesdays and these consist of Keep Fit, Line Dancing and Ballroom Dancing. On Thursdays, members of the Association’s choir attend to rehearsals under the leadership of Dame Marie Therese Vassallo. This choir performs in the mass which is held on the first Friday of each month, at various care homes for elder persons, and also at the national event of the Active Ageing Awards.”

    U3E members on the Sicliy 2017 cultural tour.“Annual milestones for our Association are the Christmas buffet lunch, the Malta round trip boat cruise, and tours abroad. In 2015 and 2016 we organized a day trip to Sicily where we visited different places of interest. In 2017 we went for a five-day tour to Sicily where we visited Palermo and its surroundings. This year we intend to take our members to a five-day trip to Paris.”

    For the past 4 years, Mr Diacono was elected as the President of the Association of the Members of the U3E.

    “It is a privilege to be able to form part of the Committee of this Association which provides so much opportunity to elders to enrich their quality of life and their social development. From 1993 to 2017, this Association has worked very closely with Prof. Joseph Troisi who was the Director of the University of the Third Age. Since his retirement, we are now looking forward to establish a strong relationship with Prof. Marvin Formosa who is the new Director.”

    The outgoing Director U3A, Prof. Troisi presenting a donation of books to the U3E.Applications from persons who are interested to attend lectures at any of the Centres of the University of the Third Age, and to join the Association of the Members of the U3E open in September. However, one can also register throughout the academic year. Lectures cover a wide range of topics and each module consists of eight lectures. Between February and June 2018, the following modules will commence at:

    The Floriana Centre: Malta Marittima by Dr. Timmy Gambin, The British Period in Malta by Richard P Agius, Government systems in Malta and abroad by Lawrence Grech, Il-Folklor Malti bħala parti mill-wirt kulturali (Tieni Parti) by Marlene Mifsud Chircop, Interpretative Perspectives of Maltese History in Constructing National Identity by Dr Charles Xuereb, Voices of U3A members (sharing experiences), Għerf Missirijietna: riflessjonijiet filosofiċi fuq il-proverbji Maltin by Prof. Joe Friggieri, and Looking into art: How to discuss works of art from different standpoints by Dr. Christian Attard.

    The Sliema Centre: The Constitution of Malta by Prof. Kevin Aquilina, The Medieval Millennium by Vincent Zammit, Historical, Literary and Theological aspects of the Bible by Rev. Dr. Stefan Attard, and Understanding Dementia by Dr. Anthony Scerri.

    The Cottonera Centre: Malta During the 19th Century by Vincent Zammit, and Ħajti tiegħi – nagħżel jien! by Marica Mizzi.

    The Gozo Centre: L-Iżvilupp tal-Edukazzjoni f’Malta by Joseph Xerri, and Ġrajjiet Malta u Għawdex: Storja u Letteratura by Kav. Joe M Attard.

    For more information, one can contact the U3E head office at the Catholic Institute in Floriana on 2124 3202 or by email at diacstef@onvol.net .

     (This article was published in the Senior Times – January Issue issued with The Times of Malta on the 18th January 2018)

    2018.01.18 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • MAN ON A MISSION

    Angelo Zahra (Photo by Fiona Vella)“Ageing should not be a barrier in life but a further opportunity to excel,” insists 80-year-old Angelo Zahra who has recently been selected to receive the main prize in the award ‘Premju Anzjanità Attiva’ (Award for the Active Ageing) for his voluntary management of three homes for the disabled.

    Zahra studied mechanical engineering at the Dockyard Technical College and for several years, he served in managerial roles. Before his retirement, at age 63, he was the Director of the Manufacturing and Services Department with the Government of Malta.

    “I have known Fr Angelo Seychell since his priesthood and I have always admired his work. When he founded the Nazareth Foundation in 1995 and opened his house to provide a home for people with special needs, I supported his venture by collecting donations from my colleagues twice a year. However, I was not directly involved with Dar Nazareth.”

    Dar Nazareth (Photo provided by Angelo Zahra)Yet Fr Seychell had for long earmarked Zahra to help him develop his mission to create a warm family environment in which people with disabilities could lead a good and respectful life which gave them the possibility to be happy and to achieve their full potential.

    “As soon as I retired, Fr Seychell approached me and asked me to consider serving as the administrator of Dar Nazareth. I accepted on condition to start three months later since I had promised my wife that I would finally take a much-awaited break from work. In the meantime, my wife and I booked a tour to Lourdes and to our great surprise we found out that the group which we were going to travel with were none other than Fr Seychell, his volunteers and the residents at Dar Nazareth. This was a golden opportunity to get to know everyone better and soon, I was deeply involved with the Nazareth Foundation.”

    Workshop (Photo provided by Angelo Zahra)“In September 2000, when I joined in, there were only five residents at Dar Nazareth. However, in a short time, the house was elaborated to receive a further five residents where it reached its full capacity. A year later, the Foundation rented a workshop wherein our residents could attend daily to entertain themselves and to make crafts which could be sold to the public.”

    Dar Nazareth addressed a demand which had been stalled for several years. Soon, its success lead to the establishment of two other houses.

    “In 2004, the Foundation opened the second house, Dar l-Arċipriet Degabriele, which welcomed a further nine residents. Five years later, the third house, Dar Jean Vanier, opened its doors to another nine residents.”

    While in the beginning Dar Nazareth was operated by volunteers, the increase in residents and houses required the engagement of full-time workers.

    Photo by Jeremy Wonnacott - DOI“The funding of such projects is always one of the major stumbling blocks. The Foundation had succeeded to purchase two properties and develop them into residential homes. It also managed to acquire enough money to fund the salary of 30 full-time workers. Nevertheless, the sourcing of further income to sustain all the expenses required to keep these three homes functioning are a constant responsibility. Thankfully, in 2016, the Government signed an agreement with Nazareth Foundation through which it was given 1.4 million euro over a period of three years. This serves as a safety net for the Foundation’s administration to provide the best service possible to its residents.”

    For the past 17 years, Zahra has voluntarily taken in hand the management of these three homes and presently he also acts as President of the Nazareth Foundation Board.

    Residents (Photo provided by Angelo Zahra)“This work has become my mission to do something worthwhile with my available time. It gives me utter satisfaction to see our residents living in a friendly and family environment where they can feel safe, at ease, and loved. Their appreciation and happiness in return give me a sense of fulfilment and help me to feel much younger.”

    (This feature was published in the Senior Times supplement issued with The Times of Malta on 15 December 2017)

    2017.12.15 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • LIGHTS OUT FOR CHRISTMAS

    Christmas time and the days preceding it are generally associated with colour, light, optimism and fun. Yet this was not the case in 1939 when the Christmas season became synonymous with gloom, darkness, uncertainty and fear.

    On 18 September 1939, a table showing the duration of the ‘Official Night’ was published in Government Notice No. 459 in The Malta Government Gazette. This table included each day of each month and the beginning and end of what was to be considered as the official night hours. Such instructions formed part of the Malta Defence Regulations, 1939, which aimed to protect the Maltese Islands and its inhabitants as World War II ravaged in other countries.

    Black-Out (2) - (Photo by Fiona Vella)Two days later, on 20 September 1939, Government Notice No. 473 issued the Lights Restriction Order which was effective from that day. The directions of this Order had to be observed between midnight and 4:30am on every day of the week, and also between 10:00pm and midnight on Fridays. During these times, all lights in any building had to be masked to be invisible from the sea and from the air. No lights, other than lights authorised by the competent authority, were permitted in any open spaces whether private or public, in yards, roofs or open verandas. The use of illuminated lettering or signs in any shops were prohibited unless authorised by the Commissioner of Police or the competent authority. The traffic of motor vehicles during these hours was banned and any vehicles which did not comply with these provisions could be stopped and detained until 6:00am. Obviously, all fireworks were also prohibited.

    Black-Out Order, 1939 (1) (Photo by Fiona Vella)An Air-Raid Precautions Order was communicated in Government Notice No. 504 on 4 October 1939. Eventually on 9 December 1939, The Times of Malta published the provisions of The Black-Out Order, 1939, which had to be observed on every day of the week between midnight and the official sunrise. During these hours, all the lights on the Islands had to be extinguished or masked as to be rendered invisible from the sea and from the air. Special Black-Out hours could also be determined when necessary.

    As part of the Black-Out Order, from 14 December 1939, all motor vehicles which had to travel at night, other than those belonging to His Majesty’s service, had to have their bulbs removed from their lamps. Opaque cardboard discs were to be fixed to the lights of the vehicles and the reflectors’ surface had to be covered with a non-reflecting substance. A white disc had to be affixed at the back of all motor vehicles at a height of three feet from the ground to make them visible on the roads. Traffic of motor vehicles during the black-out was prohibited except for those who obtained permission from the Commissioner of Police or a competent authority.

    Another notice which appeared on The Times of Malta of the 9 December 1939 urged the inhabitants to comply with these regulations for their own safety. People were recommended to stay at home and to avoid going out in the darkness. Those who needed to get out were advised to walk on the right-hand side of the road to face oncoming traffic and to carry with them a white object to make them more visible to drivers. Owners of goats were informed to keep their animals off the road at night. On the other hand, drivers were cautioned to drive very slowly and with great care.

    Measures were being taken to prepare the people how to take the necessary precautions in preparation of an expected war. Black-outs intended to prevent crews of enemy aircraft from being able to identify their targets by sight. Nonetheless, these precautionary provisions proved to be one of the more unpleasant aspects of war, disrupting many civilian activities and causing widespread grumbling and lower morale.

    The Times of Malta of 13 December 1939 reports that some misapprehension had arisen among that section of the public who had to rise early for work and travel by early buses, since it was not clear at what time the bus service started. Indeed, all buses were to continue their usual service provided that they adhered to the regulations regarding headlights and lights, including the inside of the vehicles which had to remain in darkness.

    War-Time Xmas (Photo by Fiona Vella)Even though the Maltese Islands were not yet directly involved in war, a foreboding atmosphere crept its way into the lives of people. As if matters were not yet miserable enough, a Bishop’s Circular which was published on The Times of Malta of 17 December 1939 declared that the Christmas midnight function in the churches was to be suspended. The Novena and feast functions could be celebrated from 4:00am onwards provided that no lights were visible from the outside. Those churches which required singers and musicians from far places for the early Christmas function had to apply to the Commissioner of Police for the necessary permits to travel. While it was permissible to give a small sign to the faithful by the ringing of bells for the function of the Novena and Christmas Eve, this had to be done according to predetermined rules.

    Albeit the continuous warnings and pleas to adhere strictly to the black-out orders, it seemed that not everyone was following the rules. An announcement on The Times of Malta of the 20 December 1939 issued by the Lieutenant’s Government Office advised the public that the black-out on the night of December 15-16 was not entirely satisfactory, and that there were several lights showing in the Valletta, Sliema, Hamrun, Cospicua and Naxxar districts. Several lights were only put out as aircraft passed overhead. This notice pointed out also that a section of the public could still have been unaware of the black-out rules since they seemed to have been published only on The Times of Malta and Il-Berqa newspapers. Illiterate persons would therefore have had no way of being forewarned except by hearsay. Therefore, a siren warning which was different from the Air-Raid alarm signal, was recommended to be given throughout the islands at sunset.

    Letters by readers in the Correspondence section of The Times of Malta of the 20 and 21 December 1939 vent their frustration and contempt at those who were not taking these black-out precautions seriously:

    “Many people rather irresponsibly remark that they do not quite see the use of strict black-outs when Germany is at such a distance away. The reply is that precaution is better than cure. I am sure that these people will think very different if they find one day a German bomb dropping at their door-step or in their backyard, just because some stray lights guided an enemy to an objective.” Signed ‘Common-Sense’.

    “I am sure that a number of law-abiding citizens in these islands feel that the time has come for coercion to replace coaxing. Those people who scorn to comply with reasonable regulations are either knaves or fools and most dangerous to the community in war time; they should be under lock and key for the duration of the war: either in jail or in a lunatic asylum. The pathetic appeals made by the authorities are becoming nauseating.” Signed Lieutenant Colonel (retired) H. M Marshall.

    Xmas wishes on TOM (2) (Photo by Fiona Vella)Special Black-Out arrangements for Christmas and New Year, published on The Times of Malta of the 23 and 30 December 1939, informed the public that the black-out of buildings on the nights of 24 – 27 December and 30 December – 1 January were to be postponed for one and a half hours from midnight. On these nights, motor vehicles were allowed on the road without requiring special permission until 1:30am, and shops and places of entertainment could remain open until 1:00am.

    December breaks all records (2) (Photo by Fiona Vella)Possibly few had considered that light could be their enemy until it became essential to extinguish it. There was no mention of accidents or fatalities due to the black-out on the Islands in the December’s Times of Malta newspapers. However, reports from Great Britain relating to the high increase in road fatalities during the night were quite shocking. On 13 December 1939, the British Official Press stated that road fatalities had increased considerably from September to November. Yet the worst scenario took place in December, as reported by the Reuter’s Service on 16 January 1940, when 895 people were killed on the roads of Great Britain during the black-out hours. This was 212 more than those who were killed during December of the previous year.

    This was surely a strange Christmas to the Maltese people who are accustomed to celebrate these days in a profuse way. Although through no fault of their own, they were involved in war and they had to adapt to war conditions. Alas, much worse was yet to come.

    (This article was published in the Christmas Times magazine issued with The Times of Malta dated 13 December 2017)

     

    2017.12.13 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • Long shell life

    Baby Jesus in eggshell - Photo by Fiona VellaAlthough during the Christmas season, it is customary to see statues of baby Jesus in a manger or in a crib, in Candice Fava’s shop New EGGsperience, the holy child would be seen resting in a decorated eggshell.

    “I love to create unique hand-made objects and this craft of eggshell decoration has provided me with the opportunity to have my own niche market,” Fava explains.

    Fava was raised on a farm in Australia, where her family sold eggs. They had several clients but one particular client intrigued Fava since she regularly purchased a substantial quantity of eggs.

    “One day I decided to ask her why she always needed so many eggs and she promised that the next time she called at our farm, she would bring me a gift to show me. I felt deeply curious and I awaited her next visit with much anticipation. Eventually, she brought me a little jewel box adorned with lovely fabrics and accessories. I could not believe that she had actually made it with one of the eggs from our farm!”

    Xmas eggshell decoration (3) - Photo by Fiona VellaFava was so fascinated with this idea that she decided to learn this craft. At the farm, she had all the eggs that she required and in time she learnt how to clean them without breaking them. Soon, she was producing her own eggshell decorations.

    “The first item I made was a jewel box which I painted with bright nail polish. I was so delighted when I saw it ready! Today I realize that it wasn’t much but it is still very dear to me as it reminds me from where it all started.”

    Along the years, eggshell decoration became an integral part of Fava’s life. Which explains why she was surprised when she came over to Malta and realized that this craft was totally unknown on the island.

    “It was hard at first to find the necessary materials to work with. However, my husband Ivan helped me to locate some local farms which could provide me with eggs. He also assisted me in the cleaning and sterilization of the eggshells.”

    Eggshell carriage - Photo by Fiona VellaInitially she decorated eggshells for her personal enjoyment. Then she began to give them out as gifts to her friends.

    “My friends were delighted with these eggshell decorations since they had never seen anything like them before. Soon they were asking me to make some more creations for them so that they could give them as presents to others. It was only a matter of time until I confirmed that there was a demand for such products.”

    Ultimately, people’s positive reactions to her craft led her to open her own shop in Zabbar.

    Xmas eggshell decoration (5) - Photo by Fiona Vella“By then, I had produced so many various eggshell decorations that I had no difficulty to fill the shop with my creations. Each time that new clients come in, it is charming to see their incredulity that so many exquisite things can be made from common fragile eggshells.”

    Nowadays, the Favas have located foreign suppliers who are able to furnish them with quantities of ready-made cleaned and sterilized eggshells. Moreover, they have also managed to establish contacts with suppliers of other materials with which the eggshells are decorated.

    Candice and Ivan Fava at their shop - Photo by Fiona Vella“My husband supports me a lot and helps me to come out with new ideas. Along the years, he too became enthusiastic about this work and now he is able to make his own creations.”

    A wide range of differently decorated eggshells which are ideal as gifts for various occasions are displayed at their shop. However, a few of them are not for sale.

    “When we join forces, we create the best decorations,” the two agree. “The collaboration of ideas lead to exclusive objects which become difficult to part from. Some of them, such as the lamp shade, the handbag set and the sea vessel, are cherished objects and we have won prestigious awards for them at local national craft competitions. Such works provide us also with the opportunity to combine different materials and crafts like woodwork and eggshell decoration. Our imagination has no limit, however we are restrained with the eggshells’ curvatures, although we take that as part of the challenge.”

    Lamp shade - Photo by Fiona VellaEven though all of the creations may serve as decorations, some of them also have their own practical use, acting as exotic containers, wearable accessories or light fittings.

    “Besides selling our creations from my shop, I also participate in several fairs and exhibitions and therefore more people are getting to know about this craft. Presently I am also taking part in the program Niskata which airs on TVM. Yet there is still much more to do to create more awareness.”

    “It is great to see how far a simple hobby can take you. Little by little, all my family has become involved in this craft. In fact, my daughter is already coming up with her own designs and creations and my little son is showing interest too.”

    In these last years, Fava has also dedicated herself to teach this craft to all those who are interested, both children and adults. She has also furnished her shop with all the necessary materials including eggshells of various sizes, cut eggshells, acrylic paints, stands, bases and a multitude of other items.

    As Christmas time approaches, the two explore the possibility of new designs and ideas in order to come out with original creations which relate to this theme.

    Eggshell crib - Photo by Fiona Vella“We are always dreaming of what we are going to do next. We work with all sorts of eggshells, starting with the smallest ones of love-birds and parrots, and moving on to larger ones such as those of pigeons, quails, ducks, geese, emu, rhea and ostrich. The geese’s eggs are the most practical because of their size and shape. Other eggs are relished for their natural particular characteristics such as the blackish colour of the rhea eggs and the large shape and pearly shade of the ostrich eggs.”

    “Christmas brings a lot of joy and memories. This festive season opens up a whole new world to create related items with baby Jesus statues, cribs, angels, Father Christmas, reindeers, sparkles and a whole range of bright colours. We love to reflect the warm meaning of Christmas in our works.”

    2017.12.03 / no responses / Category: The Sunday Times - Articles