Posts Tagged ‘Żejtun’

  • A CURIOUS DISCOVERY

    Times of Malta dating 15 April 1969 (Photo by Fiona Vella)Skeletons found in hidden Żejtun corridor reported the Times of Malta on Tuesday, 15 April 1969. A photo of sacristan Ġann Marì Debono holding a skull in his hand accompanied the news of this remarkable discovery which up to this day is still shrouded in mystery and imbued with controversy.

    I have been investigating and researching this find, often by interviewing persons who declared to have been involved in this discovery. My findings were discussed during a national symposium which was organized by Wirt iż-Żejtun in 2014 and later published in the book The Turkish Raid of 1614 which was issued by the same NGO.

    Charles Debono, the eldest son of Ġann Marì Debono (Photo by Fiona Vella)I never got the opportunity to talk to Ġann Marì Debono since he passed away in 2001, at the age of 78. Therefore, I accepted gladly the invitation of his eldest son Charles Debono who offered to share with me his father’s story.

    “My grandmother had many children and so my father was brought up by his uncle Pawlu and his wife Beneditta Fenech. Pawlu was the sacristan of the parish church of St Catherine in Żejtun and he often took my father with him while he was at work. Soon, my father got very fond of this job and he gave a hand to his uncle whenever he could. Eventually, when Pawlu died, my father took over his duties and he became the new sacristan.”

    Along the years, the old church of St Gregory which originally was the parish church of the village, had become neglected.

    St Gregory church Zejtun“There was nothing but a few farmhouses in the area. However, when a housing estate was built in proximity to this church, it made sense to revamp this building to provide service to the inhabitants who lived close by. Since my father was considering leaving his job at the parish church, Fr Ġwann Palmier, who was responsible for St Gregory’s church and also a friend of his, offered him a job there. Soon, my father was appointed as the sacristan of this church and together with Fr Palmier, they began to restore the place back to its glory.”

    On the right - Gan Mari Debono“My father was blessed with a curious nature and a strong determination. He had often listened to the rumours of the old villagers who insisted that there were some people that were buried around the dome of St Gregory’s church. He tried hard to locate this area, especially while doing maintenance work around the dome but he never succeeded.”

    Time would reveal that this was an impossible task since the human remains were actually buried around the roof and not around the dome.

    “There was a raised stone close to the exit of the stairway’s room which led to the roof. My father often commented that it looked unusual and out of place. He was convinced that there was something beneath it. One day, there were some men doing maintenance work on the roof and he asked them to try to remove it.”

    St Gregory's church in the 1960's - red arrow pointing to the raised stone on the roof (Photo by Johnny Vella)“Once the stone was removed, it was clear that it was covering an opening which led into the church. When my father entered into this space, he found his way to a small chamber which led to U-shaped passages that ran around the roof. Inside the corridors, he found several human remains. I remember him coming home on that day, full of excitement and telling us ‘I found them! I finally found them! I will take you to see them!’”

    When Charles visited the passages with his father, he noticed that the skeletons seemed to be lined up near each other along the corridors, as if someone had arranged them in that way. There was about 3 centimetres of dust which had collected in the corridors along the years during which the passages were blocked and closed away.

    Figura_14._Sezzjoni_mill_armarju_li_bhalissa_l_oggetti_misjuba_huma_mizmuma_fih.Within this dust, a wooden shoe sole with a high heel, a small gilded wooden cross of Byzantine design, odd bits of a gilded wooden frame (perhaps an icon), three coins: two bronze with the cross of the Order, the other gold, but very worn out that it cannot be deciphered, pieces of pottery of the 16-17th century, fragments of animal bones, and a part of a chain mail armour vest, were discovered.

    “My father found these passages in pitch darkness but soon he noticed that there were stones blocking five narrow loopholes in the thick walls. Once he removed these stones, he realized that three of them were pointing directly at St Thomas Bay and Marsascala while the other two looked out at Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa.”

    The skeletons which were discovered in the secret passages (Photo provided by Charles Debono)To avoid them being trodden, Debono picked up all the human bones and stacked them at the end of the third corridor. Yet the story does not end there….

    “My father was sure that there was another entrance to these passages within the church itself. He pondered this idea and made several attempts to trace it out. Eventually he came upon a wall cupboard which was situated in an area along the winding staircase and seemed to be of no use. He decided to ask his friend Ġanni Vella, who was known as Ġanni l-ġgant (Ġanni the giant), to bring one of his mason’s tools; a huge iron nail with which building stones were kept in place. He knocked on the wall cupboard with this tool and suddenly, this feature moved out of the wall, revealing another entrance to these passages. It is from this entrance that people get in to view these passages nowadays.”

    In 1978, paleopathological studies were done on these human remains by Seshadri Ramaswamy and Joseph Leslie Pace. These experts concluded that the bones appeared to have been exhumed from a cemetery and placed in the passages. However, others find this conclusion hard to believe and they insist that these remains possibly belong to a group of people who were trapped in these corridors whilst hiding there during an Ottoman attack on the village in 1614.

    Ġann Marì Debono (Photo provided by Charles Debono)Every Wednesday after Easter, the traditional feast of St Gregory is celebrated in this historical church in Żejtun. Probably few of those attending are aware of the secret passages and the human skeletons lying within.

    Considering that 49 years have passed from this discovery and that several scientific tools are now available to provide more conclusive results, including perhaps dna tests to trace family ancestry, isn’t it time to resolve this mystery by identifying who are these people and how they ended up in these passages?

     (This feature was published in the Sunday Times of Malta issued on 25 March 2018)

    2018.03.25 / 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.”

    Dar Arcipriet Degabriele (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.”

    Jean Vanier (Photo provided by Angelo Zahra)While in the beginning Dar Nazareth was operated by volunteers, the increase in residents and houses required the engagement of full-time workers.

    “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.”

    Residents (Photo provided by Angelo Zahra)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.

    “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 SENIOR TIMES – DECEMBER 2017 issued with The Times of Malta)

    2017.12.18 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • IBGĦATHIELI BIL-POSTA

    Saviour Busuttil - ritratt Fiona Vella“Il-Milied ta’ dari kien inqas kummerċjali minn dak ta’ llum u dan huwa saħansitra evidenti minn dak li tirċievi fil-posta,” għarrafni missieri Saviour Busuttil li qatta’ 37 sena jaħdem bħala pustier.

    Infatti f’dawn l-aħħar snin, hekk kif jibda joqrob il-Milied, il-kaxxi tal-posta tagħna jintlew b’għadd ta’ rivisti u riklami, b’kompetizzjoni bejniethom biex iħajjruk tixtri l-prodotti tagħhom. Ftit li xejn għadna nirċievu kartolini tal-Milied mingħand qrabatna u ħbiebna. Ġeneralment illum dawn l-awguri jaslu bil-fomm, bit-telefon, b’xi email jew b’xi sms fuq il-mobile.

    “Sa ftit tas-snin ilu kont għadni nibgħat il-kartolini tal-Milied lill-ġenituri tiegħi u lil ħuti kollha, avolja ħafna minnhom kienu joqogħdu viċin tiegħi. U naturalment jien ukoll kont nirċievi kartolina tal-Milied mingħand kull wieħed u waħda minnhom. Hekk kienet titlob l-użanza. Għaldaqstant tista’ timmaġina l-volum kbir ta’ posta li kien jinħoloq fi żmien il-Milied.”

    “Konna nkunu mifqugħin bix-xogħol, tant li wara li konna noħorġu nqassmu l-ittri matul il-ġurnata u nistrieħu ftit id-dar, konna nidħlu lura x-xogħol biex nissortjaw l-ittri. Ġieli domna sad-9.00pm għaddejjin sabiex insibu x-xogħol lest biex jitqassam għall-għada fil-għodu. Żmien il-Milied kien l-uniku perjodu li konna naħdmu l-overtime fih.”

    Saviour Busuttil mal-kollegi (it-tieni mil-lemin)“Biex inlaħħqu mal-kwantità tal-posta, fi żmien il-Milied konna noħorġu nqassmu mat-8.00am. Konna nippakkjaw il-barżakki tagħna sa ruħ ommhom u nerħulha nduru mat-triqat dar dar. Minbarra l-ittri konna nqassmu anki xi pakketti iżda f’każ li l-pakketti jkunu kbar wisq, konna nħallu avviż ħalli dak li jkun imur jiġborhom mill-uffiċċju tal-Posta.”

    “Matul il-bqija tas-sena, is-servizz tal-Posta kien jagħti garanzija li ittra li tintbagħat qabel is-7.00am kienet tasal għand ir-riċevitur dakinhar stess. Dan kien impossibbli li tiggarantih fi żmien il-Milied għalkemm konna nagħmlu ħilitna kollha biex il-posta tasal malajr kemm jista’ jkun. Konna nkunu konxji li ħafna kienu jkunu qed jistennewna bil-ħerqa. Sa 40 sena ilu, mhux kulħadd kellu telefon id-dar u l-posta kienet l-uniku mezz ta’ komunikazzjoni. Ngħidu aħna fost l-ittri ġieli kien ikun hemm noti tan-namrati li kienu jiktbu lil xulxin biex jifthemu fejn u fi x’ħin se jiltaqgħu. Mur fehmielhom din liż-żgħażagħ illum!”

    “Meta l-internet kien għadu ineżistenti, kollox bil-posta kien jasal u għalhekk in-nies kellhom ċerta relazzjoni ta’ ħbiberija mal-pustier. Hekk kif induru l-kantuniera konna ndoqqu l-qanpiena tar-rota ħalli n-nies jindunaw li wasalna. Imma kien ikun hemm ukoll min ikun qed jistenniena fil-bieb tad-dar tiegħu. Fil-Milied in-nies kienu jilqgħuna b’mod speċjali u jpattulna tas-servizz li konna nagħtuhom matul is-sena kollha. Ħafna kienu jippreparawlna xi grokk u jekk ma noqogħdux attenti, nispiċċaw immorru kuljum fis-sakra d-dar! Kien hemm min jagħtina wkoll xi ħaġa tal-flus u konna ndabbruha tajjeb f’dawk il-ġranet. Kont tħossok apprezzat u allura x-xogħol kien jagħtik aktar sodisfazzjon.”

    Saviour Busuttil mal-kollegi (it-tieni mil-lemin ringiela ta' quddiem)“Illum ċerti affarijiet inbidlu qatiegħ. Il-mezzi ta’ komunikazzjoni żdiedu u allura l-funzjoni tal-Posta ma baqgħetx daqshekk assoluta. Ħafna nies illum jaħdmu, inkluż in-nisa, u allura ssib inqas nies fid-djar filgħodu. Hemm ukoll il-fatt li llum meta jiżżewwġu ‘l ulied mhux neċessarjament qed jibqgħu joqogħdu fl-istess raħal jew belt fejn twieldu. Dan qed ninnutah fiż-Żejtun hekk kif m’għadux jikber bl-istess rata ta’ qabel. Inbidel ukoll it-tip ta’ bini u allura fejn dari il-pustier kien iħabbat bieb, bieb, dar, dar, illum jidħol ġol-entrata ta’ blokk ta’ appartamenti u jħalli l-ittri ġol-kaxxi mingħajr forsi qatt ma jara lir-riċevituri. B’hekk jista’ jkun li r-relazzjoni tan-nies mal-pustier ma baqgħetx li kienet. Madanakollu, jien li niftakar żminijiet oħra, għadni nilqa’ l-pustiera d-dar u ġieli noqgħod nitħaddet magħhom. Fi żmien il-Milied, kif ħaddieħor kien jagħmel miegħi, nagħtihom dik ix-xi ħaġa żgħira wkoll.”

    Missieri daħal jaħdem bħala pustier meta kellu 18 il-sena.

    “Iz-ziju Ċikku kien jaqra l-gazzetti kuljum u kien hu li qalli li kienu fetħu l-applikazzjonijiet għall-pustiera ġodda. Ta’ 16 il-sena temmejt l-edukazzjoni tiegħi u bħal għadd ta’ nies oħra spiċċajt nirreġistra. Kien ikun hemm ringieli sħaħ ta’ mijiet ta’ nies jirreġistraw għax ma tantx kien hemm xogħol. Biex tilħaq pustier kien ikollok toqgħod għall-eżamijiet bil-miktub fil-Matematika, l-Ingliż u l-Ġografija u ridt tiġi minn ta’ quddiem. Meta dħalt jien kienu applikaw madwar 170 u għażlu 50.”

    Saviour Busuttil fil-bidu tal-karriera tieghu (it-tieni mil-lemin ringiela ta' quddiem)“Dħalt naħdem fl-uffiċċju tal-Posta taż-Żejtun li dak iż-żmien kien ikopri wkoll lil Ħal-Għaxaq, il-Gudja, Marsaxlokk u Birżebbuġa. L-ewwel ħmistax kont tqattagħhom titgħallem ir-rotta li tkun ġiet assenjata lilek. Kont tmur issegwi pustier ieħor ħalli tara kif jaħdem. F’dawk il-ġranet kont mistenni titgħallem l-ismijiet tat-toroq u tkun taf fejn huma d-djar. Jien ma kelli l-ebda problema f’dan il-qasam peress li minn tfuliti kont nixtieq insir pustier. Kont affaxxinat bit-toroq u bl-ismijiet tagħhom u għalhekk kont diġà qbadt nitgħallimhom bl-amment. Imma xorta waħda kien hemm triqat jew sqaqien fiż-Żejtun li ssorprendewni għax qatt ma kont dħalt fihom qabel. Aktar il-quddiem imbagħad kelli l-opportunità li nsir naf it-triqat ta’ partijiet ta’ Ħal-Għaxaq u tal-Gudja peress li kont inqassam hemm ukoll.”

    “Ix-xogħol mill-ewwel għoġobni. Toqgħod iddur fit-toroq u l-isqaqien u tgħid ara das-sqaq qatt ma rajtu qabel! U n-nies kienu dħulin. Kienu jħobbuna ħafna u jafdaw ħafna fina. Uħud meta jirċievu xi ittra kienu jistaqsuni ‘Ta’ x’hiex inhi?’ U ngħidilhom tal-income tax jew tal-Awstralja per eżempju. Kif ngħidilhom tal-Awstralja kien ikun hemm min jistaqsini mingħand min għax kien ikollhom ħafna tfal hemm. U ġieli kien hemm min kien idaħħalni d-dar, jagħmilli belgħa tè, jpoġġi miegħi mal-mejda u joqgħod jismagħni naqralu l-ittra.”

    “Fil-bidu pustier ġdid ma kienx ikollu r-rotta tiegħu imma kien iservi bħala sostitut sabiex jagħmel tajjeb għal meta pustiera oħra jkollhom bżonn jieħdu l-leave jew ikunu ma jifilħux. Iż-Żejtun kien maqsum f’erbgħa sezzjonijiet u ftit ftit kont tasal sakemm titgħallem ir-rotot kollha. Wara 5 snin kont tieqaf tissostitwixxi u jkollok ir-rotta tiegħek.”

    Saviour Busuttil (it-tieni mil-lemin fit-tieni ringiela) mal-kollegi waqt zjara mill-On. Wistin Abela“Ix-xogħol ta’ pustier kien jinkludi li jinġabru l-ittri mill-kaxxi tal-ittri pubbliċi kollha taż-Żejtun, il-Gudja, Marsaxlokk u Birżebbuġa fis-7.00am u jittieħdu l-uffiċċju. Imbagħad l-ittri kollha kienu jitqassmu skont id-distrett tagħhom. Dawk l-ittri li kienu se jitqassmu mill-Posta taż-Żejtun kienu jinżammu filwaqt li l-oħrajn kienu jintbagħtu ma’ vann li jiġi jiġborhom biex jeħodhom fl-uffiċċju prinċipali tal-Belt. L-ittri li jinżammu kienu jiġu rranġati skont ir-rotot u kif inlestu noħorġu nqassmuhom fid-djar. Kollox kellu jitqassam dakinhar stess u kif tlesti stajt tmur lejn id-dar. Min kien imur idur bil-mixi u min bir-rota u għal dawk ir-residenti li kienu joqogħdu fl-imbiegħed, bħall-inħawi tal-bajja ta’ San Tumas u Ħal-Far, il-pustier kien imur bil-mutur. Għal xi l-10.00am kien jasal vann ieħor mill-Belt li kien iġib il-posta li jkunu rċevew l-uffiċċji tal-posta l-oħra.”

    “Qattgħajt 22 sena niġri bir-rota u nqassam l-ittri. Bħal kull xogħol hemm is-sabiħ u l-ikraħ tiegħu. Fis-sajf kont tbati mis-sħana u mill-qilla tax-xemx imma fix-xitwa kien wisq agħar għax kont tixxarrab jekk ikun il-maltemp u tirriskja li tlaqqgħat xi riħ. Kien hemm ukoll problema bil-klieb tan-nies li ġieli kienu jħebbu għalik kif jarawk riesaq. Darba minnhom gidimni kelb u ċarratli l-qalziet tal-uniformi.”

    “Wara 22 sena ngħatajt promozzjoni u lħaqt Mail Officer u xogħoli kien fuq ġewwa biss. Meta għaddew 10 snin oħra lħaqt Mail Inspector u hemm ġejt responsabbli mill-uffiċċju tal-Posta taż-Żejtun. Matul is-snin rajt diversi żviluppi jseħħu fosthom l-introduzzjoni ta’ pustiera nisa li qabel kienu jiġu evitati biex ma jkunx hemm taħlit bejn nisa u rġiel. Finalment ta’ 55 sena ħriġt bil-pensjoni.”

    Saviour Busuttil mal-kollegi waqt mument ta' mistrieh (l-ewwel mix-xellug)Illum missieri jgħodd is-70 sena iżda għalkemm għaddew 15 il-sena minn mindu waqaf mix-xogħol, għadu jiftakar ċar l-ismijiet kollha tat-triqat tal-inħawi li ħadem fihom, in-numri tad-djar u saħansitra l-kunjomijiet tas-sidien tagħhom ukoll.

    “Sal-bieraħ iltqajt ma’ waħda ġo ħanut li kellha madwar 40 sena. X’ħin ratni qaltli ‘Tiftakar kemm kont tagħtina posta?’ Għall-ewwel m’għarafthiex imma meta semmietli t-triq fejn kienet toqgħod, stajt ngħidilha n-numru tal-bieb tagħhom u l-kunjom tal-familja. Stagħġbet li kont għadni niftakar wara tant snin!”

    Meta tkun qattgħajt daqstant żmien taħdem bħala pustier diffiċli tinsa l-informazzjoni kollha li tkun immemorizzajt. Missieri jistqarr li kultant għadu joħlom li qiegħed idur bir-rota madwar it-toroq iqassam l-ittri lin-nies.

    (Dan l-artiklu ġie ppubblikat fis-suppliment Senior Times li ħareġ mal-ġurnal The Times of Malta tal-15 ta’ Diċembru 2017)

    2017.12.15 / 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

  • It-traġedja tal-patrol boat

    Kelmtejn qabel: Ktibt din il-ġrajja fl-1986, meta kelli 15 il-sena. Kienu għaddew sentejn mit-traġedja li laqtet lill-kuġinti Mary Farrugia fis-7 ta’ Settembru 1984, imma ż-żmien ftit li xejn kien taffa’ min-niket. Għaldaqstant kont qbadt pinna f’idi u ħażżiżt il-memorji tiegħi fuq il-karti sabiex b’hekk almenu moħħi u qalbi setgħu jistrieħu kemmxejn mit-toqol li din l-esperjenza kienet ħalliet fuqi wkoll. Għal xi raġuni ddeċidejt li nikteb il-ġrajja minn fomm kuġinti. Xejn minn dak li ktibt m’huwa mmaġinat għax dawn l-emozzjonijiet, il-ħsibijiet, u t-tifkiriet miktuba hawnhekk, smajthom u ġarrabthom flimkien magħha u ma’ wliedha. F’Diċembru 1987 iddeċidejt li nittajpja din il-kitba u bgħattha lill-bord editorjali tar-rivista Sagħtar sabiex jikkunsidrawha għall-pubblikazzjoni. Victor Fenech, wieħed mill-membri tal-bord editorjali, kien kitibli ittra sabiħa ferm fejn kien għarraffni kemm kienet qanqlitu din il-ġrajja. Eventwalment din ġiet ippubblikata fis-Sagħtar tal-ħarġa ta’ Frar 1987.

    It-traġedja tal-patrol boat

    Qomt daqsxejn kmieni aktar mis-soltu dakinhar peress li żewġi Twanny kellu jmur għax-xogħol. Ippreparajtlu daqsxejn ħobż, geżwirtulu f’karta, u poġġejtulu ġol-haversack ċkejken tiegħu.

    Wara li libes il-ħwejjeġ tad-Dejma, inġabar flimkien miegħi mal-mejda biex nieħdu l-kolazzjon ta’ fil-għodu. Wara bies lit-tfal u hekk kif bies lili qalli li jekk idum daqsxejn ma jiġi, ma kelliex għalfejn ninkwieta peress li ma’ xi suldati oħra tad-Dejma kellu jmur jarmi xi murtali lejn Kemmuna. Kien għoddu ħareġ meta ftakar li kien nesa l-ġiżirana tad-deheb tiegħu. Magħha kellha mdendel salib kbir bi Kristu msallab fuqu. Kienet għal qalbu wisq dik il-ġiżirana u qatt ma kien jonqos milli jeħodha miegħu.

    Qajjimt lit-tfal u tajthom jieklu u wara poġġejthom f’kamrithom biex jilgħabu daqsxejn sakemm jien innaddaf id-dar. Ma tantx stajt nitħabat peress li kont tqila bit-tielet tarbija tiegħi, iżda xi tfarfira ‘l hawn u ‘l hemm stajt nagħmilha faċilment.

    Xi ftit ħin wara ġiet it-tifla ta’ ziti Fiona biex tgħini daqsxejn. Ħaslitli l-art u l-ħwejjeġ u b’hekk ħelsitni mix-xogħol iebes tiegħi. Qabel telqet wegħedtha li għal xil-5:00pm, x’ħin kellu jiġi Twanny, kellna neħduha magħna l-baħar. Sadanittant, biex ngħaddi ftit tal-ħin, qbadt żewġ ħbula u waħħalthom flimkien f’forma ta’ bandla bil-ħsieb illi la jiġi Twanny idendilha x’imkien fejn it-tfal ikunu jistgħu jitbandlu fuqha.

    Għaddejt il-ħin tal-ġurnata bħas-soltu. Kienu saru xil-5:15pm meta smajt taħbita fuq il-bieb. Ħsibt li kien ġie Twanny iżda kienu xi zijiet tiegħi. Staqsewni jekk Twanny kienx irritorna d-dar. Għedtilhom li le u kollha ħarsu lejn xulxin b’ħarsa li tfisser ħafna. Għall-ewwel ma ndunajt b’xejn iżda meta bdew jiżdiedu aktar zijiet u nies li jiġu minni, bdejt nitħasseb. Fuq wiċċhom stajt naqralhom xi dulur jew biża’ li kien qiegħed inikkithom.

    Saru s-7:00pm u kont għadni ma naf b’xejn. Josef, it-tifel il-kbir tiegħi ta 5 snin, beda jilgħab mar-radju sa ma xegħlu. Kienu bdew l-aħbarijiet. Ma tajtx każhom sakemm smajt xi kliem li ġibidli l-attenzjon tiegħi….

    Spiċċaw il-punti ewlenin u l-qarrej beda jaqra l-aħbarijiet aktar fid-dettall. B’li smajt bqajt imbellha u msammra ma’ l-art! Qalbi bdiet tħabbat sitta sitta u ħassejtha trid tinqala’ minn postha bit-taħbit.

    Xtaqt inwerżaq imma ma flaħtx. Ħassejt rasi ddur bija. Ma ridtx nemmen lil widnejja li Twanny tiegħi kien… mejjet. Il-lanċa li fuqha kien żewġi flimkien ma’ xi suldati oħra kienet splodiet! Wieħed kien salva, erbgħa oħra sabuhom mejtin u mtertqin f’wiċċ l-ilma, u t-tnejn l-oħra baqgħu ma nstabux.

    Ġrejt lejn dar ommi biex inċempel lil dawk li kienu nkarigati. Kienu tawni aħbar li ħawditni. Ma kontx naf jekk kellix nittama jew nitbikkem: Twanny tiegħi kien wieħed minn dawk li ma nstabux.

    “Imma tgħid salva?” staqsejt bejni u bejn ruħi. “Forsi kien iffortunat u salva. Mhux li kien! Imma jekk le? Alla tiegħi għinni għax ser niġġennen,” bdejt ngħid imbeżżgħa, imħawwda, u mbellha.

    Xi wħud jaħsbu li t-tfal ma jifhmux xi jkun qed jiġri iżda dan mhu minnu xejn. Josef u Roderick, iż-żewġt itfal tiegħi, bdew jistaqsuni għal missierhom. Iż-żgħir ta’ sentejn beda jibki għax ried lil missieru ħdejh. Iżda l-aktar ħaġa li għaġġbitni kienet meta t-tifel żgħir ta’ ziti ta’ 4 snin resaq lejhom u qalilhom, “Għaliex qed tibku? Il-papà tagħkom miet għax waqa’ minn fuq id-dgħajsa. Issa ma jiġix għax miet.”

    Għalkemm ma ridtx nemmen, ħassejt li dan it-tifel ċkejken kien qed jgħid il-verità.

    Issa kien dalam sewwa u kulħadd qata’ qalbu milli għad jara lil Twanny ħaj. Kulħad inġabar lejn daru u raqqadt lil Fiona miegħi dakinhar biex teħodli ħsieb lit-tfal għax ma tantx kont qed inħossni fiha. Dakinhar ħadd ma seta’ jagħlaq għajn m’għajn u kull ħoss, anki l-iċken wieħed li beda jinstema’, bdejt nistħajjlu li żewġi ġie lura. Sa fl-aħħar moħħi ttaqqal bl-inkwiet u rqadt. Dħalt f’dinja ta’ ħolm ikreh liema bħalu; bdejt nara wiċċ żewġi mtertaq u mbiċċer b’ħarsa li twaħħax f’għajnejh.

    Qomt mis-sodda mbeżżgħa u sibt li kienu xil-5:00am. Ma stajt norqod b’xejn u qgħdt inħares lejn iż-żewġ uliedi reqdin qishom xi żewġ anġli. “Il-kbir jixbħu wisq!” għedt f’qalbi. Xagħru safrani u għajnejh koħol kienu bħal ta’ missieru. Intbaħt li dakinhar ibni ma kellux dik it-tbissima fuq fommu bħas-soltu u minn ħin għall-ieħor kien isejjaħ, “Papà, papa`.”

    Sejf ta’ dulur daħalli f’qalbi u f’dak il-ħin ftakart fit-tieġ tagħna. Kemm kont ħsibt li ser ngħaddi ħajja twila u ferħana miegħu. Għall-ħabta tas-6:00am qam kulħadd. Kull siegħa għaddejnieha nisimgħu l-aħbarijiet b’tama kbira iżda kien kollu għalxejn. Minn ħin għall-ieħor bdejt nirċievi telefonati mingħand niesi biex juruni s-sogħba tagħhom. Għal xil-11:00am irċevejt telefonata fejn għarrfuni li ġisem Twanny kien għadu ma nstabx. Qaluli wkoll li veru kellha tkun għalih il-mewt għax proprju dakinhar, hu ma kienx imissu jmur bil-murtali, imma kien ċeda lil ħabibu biex imur għall-festa. Twanny ma kien qalli xejn dwar dan għax kieku żgur li ma kontx inħallih imur.

    Bqajna nittamaw għal bosta u bosta ġranet, imma kien kollu ta’ xejn. Kull lejl bdejt ngħaddih nibki u nħares lejn is-saqaf. It-tfal bdew iħossu aktar u aktar it-telfa ta’ missierhom! “Imma,” kont naħseb, “kemm nista’ ndum nigdbilhom? It-tfal qed jindunaw li ġara xi ħaġa lil missierhom.”

    Iż-żmien itir bla ma biss tinduna u kollox jintesa miegħu. Hekk ukoll intesiet din it-traġedja iżda jien ma ninsiha qatt! Minn din il-ġrajja li ġrat sewwasew fis-7 ta’ Settembru 1984, għaddew sentejn…

    Ma kinetx l-unika telfa tiegħi dik ta’ żewġi. Bix-xokk u l-qatgħa li ħadt, it-tarbija tiegħi twieldet qabel iż-żmien u tpoġġiet f’inkubatur. Semmejtu Anthony-Paul għal żewġi u għal missieri li kien miet xi ftit ġimgħat biss qabel Twanny. Ibni dam jilgħabha mal-mewt għal tliet ġimgħat, iżda hekk kif kien kważi rebaħ din il-battalja qalila, l-aħħar frott ta’ żewġi miet u mar jingħaqad flimkien ma’ missieru. Għadni niftakar li ma ridtx nemmen lil għajnejja hekk kif rajt lill-għażiż ibni mejjet! Ma ridtx nitilqu minn idejja. Kien qisu eżatt bambin ċkejken. Id-dmugħ qabiżli minn xfar għajnejja hekk kif missejtlu jdejh u xofftejh tarija u rqaq.

    Kemm ħsibt li proprju b’dawk l-idejn għad imellisli wiċċi u proprju b’dawk ix-xufftejn għad isejjaħli, “Ma.” Iżda l-akbar għafsa ta’ qalb kienet meta firduli ‘l ibni minni u rajtu jgħib taħt it-trab għal dejjem! ….. Intlift minn sensija u ma nafx x’ġara aktar. Iżda meta stenbaħt sibt ruħi mdawwra b’uliedi, b’ommi, u b’zijieti.

    Il-memorja bdiet tiġini f’moħħi bil-mod il-mod. Iva, issa rajt kollox ċar. Issa ma kien fadalli lil ebda wieħed minnhom. F’inqas minn xahrejn kont tlift lil missieri, lil żewġi u lil ibni. Bkejt kemm flaħt sakemm dmugħ iżjed xi nxerred ma baqgħalix.

    Wara xi żmien, lil uliedi ħadthom iċ-ċimiterju biex isellmu lin-nannu u lil ħuhom. F’dik is-sikta tlabna flimkien għal ruħhom. F’qalbi kont qed nitlob għal ruħ żewġi wkoll. Kont mitlufa fi ħsibijieti meta ibni l-kbir reġa’ staqsieni l-istess mistoqsija li kien ilu jistaqsini għal bosta drabi, “Ma, bilħaqq il-papà għadu ma ġiex jara lil Anthony-Paul.”

    “Il-papà jiġi, dalwaqt jiġi,” erġajt tennejtlu l-istess tweġiba li kont ilni ngħidlu għal sena sħiħa.

    Dawwart wiċċi biex naħbi żewġ demgħat li ħarbuli minn għajnejja. Mur għidilhom lil uliedi li missierhom qiegħed jitlob għalihom mis-sema. Mur għidilhom li qatt u qatt m’hu ser jirritorna lura lejn id-dar! Tassew kienu tfal sfortunati aktar mill-oħrajn dawn uliedi għax lanqas ġisem missierhom ma nstab. F’jum il-missier, lanqas fjuri fuq qabru ma jistgħu jagħmlulu, għax ġismu qiegħed hemm, imtertaq taħt il-baħar, fis-skiet ta’ dejjem…..

    2016.09.10 / no responses / Category: Uncategorized

  • IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK

    450 years ago, the Maltese Islands were in the spotlight of several European sovereigns after they had succeeded to come out victorious from the massive siege that was laid upon them by the powerful Ottoman Empire. Fort St Elmo lay in ruins and the other fortifications and houses which had been targeted by the enemy were in no better shape. The land still seeped in the blood of the thousands who had lost their lives during the fighting, whilst many others remained maimed.

    Amid this devastation, the eminence of the surviving Knights of the Order of St John surged, and their fame reached legendary proportions. Letters of congratulations which they received from all over Europe, uplifted their spirits, whilst generous donations eventually helped them to build the new city of Valletta.

    The Knights of St John continued to rule the Maltese Islands until 1798, when they were ousted by French Military General, Napoleon Bonaparte. Although, some might believe that at this time, the Order was obliterated, in reality, these mythical Hospitallers are still present amongst us, and are as real as ever.

    The Russian Grand Priory of Malta

    Saviour Garcia (photo - Fiona Vella)Since the early years of the Hospitallers’ foundation by Blessed Gerard, the Order protected the faithful and provided aid to the sick and poor. These elements have always remained deeply rooted in the mission of the knights who followed throughout the centuries.

    “Even today, as Knights and Dames of the Russian Grand Priory of Malta who form part of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitallers, under the constitution of the late King Peter II of Yugoslavia, we strive to continue to live up to our motto “Pro Fide, Pro Utilitate Hominum,” declared Chev. Saviour Garcia as we stood in front of a large painting of Blessed Gerard at Palazzino Sapienti in Valletta.

    “Today, the Order’s mission still incorporates the duty to profess the Christian faith. However, its present members are not fighters but humanitarians who swear to act for the common good of all people without distinction of race or religion.”

    Garcia outlined a number of philantropic projects which the Russian Grand Priory of Malta have been taking care of without much pomposity. Amongst these he mentioned St Joseph’s Residential Home for children in Żabbar, Dar Nazareth’s Residential Home for people with disability in Żejtun, and the construction of a hospital and a hostel in Thailand which caters for the needs of dying children with AIDS.

    “The first investiture and the official institution of The Malta Priory took place on March 8, 1964. A few days after, His Majesty King Peter II of Yugoslavia legitimized the Order by giving it a new Constitution to meet 20th century demands. Within the first decades of its existence, The Malta Priory made several notable achievements which ultimately led it to be elevated to Grand Priory by Royal Warrant from King Peter II on Feb 22, 1970. This Royal Warrant gave our Grand Priory the name of Russian Grand Priory of Malta.”

    Palazzino Sapienti, Valletta

    Library at Palazzino Sapienti (Photo - Fiona Vella)Interestingly, it was the same king who donated the sum of 1000 dollars in order to open a fund for the purchase of a large house which was expected to serve as the World Head Quarters of this Order. The choice fell on the prestigious Palazzino Sapienti which today is located at 223, St Paul Street, Valletta, right opposite to the University of Malta Valletta Campus.

    An original letter held at the archives of Palazzino Sapienti that was sent to Czar Paul I by Grand Master Hompesch in 1797, indicates that at the time, the Russians had an interest to involve themselves in the Order. That is why, after the Knights of St John were expelled from Malta, some of them opted to find refuge in St Petersburg, where they elected the Russian Emperor, Paul I, as their Grand Master, thereby replacing Ferdinand von Hompesch who was then held in disgrace and had to abdicate in 1799.

    Prior to its present distinguished function, Palazzino Sapienti had its fair share of interesting history.

    “Whilst researching about the origins of this building, I discovered that its construction was commissioned in the late 16th century by the English Grand Prior of the Order of St. John, Sir Richard Shelley. However, he did not have the opportunity to enjoy his residence for long, since he got into disagreement with the Inquisitor after he failed to present to him his correspondence to the Protestant Queen Elizabeth for censorship, as was the regulation at the time. Soon, matters got worse when Shelley had also a dispute with Grand Master Peter del Monte, and in a diplomatic way, this building was taken away from him after he was offered another property. Instead, Palazzino Sapienti became the residence of Fra Nicolo Sollima, the Collegium Melitense Rector,” revealed Garcia.

    Palazzino Sapienti (Photo - Fiona Vella)“Stone used for the building of the house was quarried on site. Once the building was complete, the resultant small quarry was used as a water cistern and basement. This process of cutting stones directly from Monte Sciberras hurried the process of the building of the new city.”

    “The facade of the palazzino was imposing, having a main door flanked by two others. The main entrance was decorated by a barrel vaulted ceiling, typical of the 16th century. Traces of a blocked arch located under the staircase which leads up to the piano nobile points out that originally, the level of the street was lower than it is today.”

    “On 12th September 1634, a gunpowder magazine located in the whereabouts of the palazzino, blew up, killing 33 persons. The devastated site was left abandoned for thirty years until Grand Master Nicholas Cotoner established the Fondazione Cotoner in order to rebuild the houses in Strada San Paolo. The palazzino had suffered some cracks in the walls and its glass windows were shattered. Some structural changes were done to it, however, this structure was never intended to be built higher than two floors, since it would have been higher than the opposite building and would have cast a shadow on the University’s sundial.”

    “Traces of red paint on the walls show that this building was painted in this colour. Meanwhile, the limestone balcony supports, the internal courtyard and the main staircase were adorned with seashell carvings that represented St John the Baptist, the patron saint of the Order of St. John. The seashell is also representative of the water element, in this case creativity and knowledge, as befits the University Rector’s house.”

    It was a pleasure to explore this palazzino which I had never visited before. In the meantime, Garcia recounted some curiosities about the notable tenents who lived there.

    A room in Palazzino Sapienti (Photo - Fiona Vella)“In 1919, the tenant of Palazzino Sapienti was the lawyer Luigi Camilleri. On 7th June, 1919, Prince Lobanov-Rostovsky and Count Andrey Bobrinsky, both Russian Imperial refugees, were visiting Camilleri at his residence when suddenly the ‘Sette Guigno’ riots broke out. A large crowd made its way to the Royal Malta University and started to attack it, tearing down the English Imperial flag. These two Russian nobles who were witnessing this from the opposite palazzino were scared stiff since the remembrance of the Bolshevik revolution still haunted them. They stayed at the premises till the 12th June when they were escorted back to San Anton Palace in Balzan by Police Superintendent James Frendo Cumbo.”

    “During the Second World War, the premises were used by the British Royal Air Force for the decoding of enemy aerial operations. Palazzino Sapienti survived two enemy bombs which were dropped in the vicinity. Yet tragedy still struck this place when two children, who were attending school in this building after the Valletta school was hit, found their way down a spiral staircase which led to the city’s undergrounds and got lost there. No one ever found them and these stairs have been blocked ever since.”

    Chapel with reliquary of St John the Baptist (Photo - Fiona Vella)Today, this building is also proud to possess three saint reliquaries: a first degree bone fragment from the Order’s Patron Saint St. John the Baptist, and two third degree relics in the form of a throne chair on which St. John Paul II sat during one of his Papal visits to Italy, and a hand signed dedication by Sister Mother Theresa of Calcutta who was also a member of the Order.

    “Besides housing the Seat of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, Knight Hospitaller, Palazzino Sapienti has now opened its doors to the public who might be interested to visit it. Moreover lectures regarding various subjects are organized inside one of its rooms wherein we are also giving the opportunity to university students who would like to present talks about their studies or thesis.”

    Certainly, an invitation to such a prestigious, architectural, and historical gem, should not be missed.

    (This article was published in ‘Focus Valletta’ Suppliment issued with The Times of Malta dated 30 September 2015)

    2015.09.30 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • Mad-daqq tal-banda

    Sa mill-ibgħad snin tal-eżistenza tiegħu, il-bniedem kien affaxxinat bil-kapaċità tiegħu li joħloq ħoss, liema abbiltà eventwalment evolviet fil-mużika. Maż-żmien, ġew żviluppati konsiderevolment anki l-istrumenti mużikali, sakemm illum, teżisti għażla vasta ta’ tipi differenti.

    Firxa minn dawn l-istrumenti varji huma użati mill-baned tagħna li llum saru jiffurmaw parti mill-wirt kulturali tagħna. Infatti, ir-ritratti tal-bandisti Maltin saru sinomini mal-esebizzjonijiet fotografiċi li jkunu relatati mat-tradizzjonijiet u l-kultura lokali.

    Hekk kif issa beda l-istaġun tal-festi, tħajjart nesplora kemmxejn id-dinja tal-banda u tal-bandisti. Kif stennejt, ħarġu dettalji u rakkonti tassew interessanti.

    Il-festa tar-raħal isservi bħala xrara

    Alexander Vella mal-kumplament tal-banda (Ritratt - Zejtun Band Club)Il-folla numeruża kienet qed tifraħ u ċċapċap hekk kif l-istatwa tal-patruna tfaċċat glorjuża fil-bieb tal-parroċċa taż-Żejtun. Għadd ta’ bnadar kbar u kkuluriti kienu qed iżejjnu l-bjut tad-djar u tal-każini tal-madwar, iperpru sbieħ fis-sema kaħlana. It-tiżjin tat-triqat kompla jgħani din l-atmosfera ferriħija tal-festa li kienet qed tiġi ċċelebbrata. Iżda bla dubju, dan l-ambjent allegru kien jonqoslu ħafna mill-briju li kieku ma kienx għall-mużika sabiħa tal-banda.

    Kien waqt mument distint bħal dan, lura f’Novembru tal-1973, meta Alexander Vella u ħuħ Raymond, flimkien ma’ grupp ta’ ħbieb oħra, iddeċidew li jibdew jagħmlu parti minn dan l-ispettaklu billi jingħaqdu maż-Żejtun Band Club. Alexander, li kellu 15 il-sena dak iż-żmien, jiftakar li missieru ħa gost ferm b’din l-aħbar, l-aktar minħabba li hu stess kien ilu membru f’din is-soċjetà għal bosta snin. Madanakollu, huwa ma naqasx milli jwissi lil uliedu li jekk tassew riedu jirnexxu f’dan il-qasam, huma kellhom jibdew mill-ewwel jieħdu l-affarijiet bis-serjetà u jintefgħu jistudjaw.

    Opportunità għal min xtaq jitgħallem idoqq

    Ma kienx diffiċli biex tiġi aċċettat bħala membru fiż-Żejtun Band Club peress li l-għan prinċipali ta’ din is-Soċjetà li twaqqfet fl-1933, minn dejjem kien li jagħti l-opportunità lil kull min xtaq jitgħallem idoqq xi strument tal-banda. Infatti, l-istudenti kienu jiġu mgħallma bla ħlas minn għalliema u maestros professjonali, u hekk kif kienu jaqbżu l-aspett teoretiku, is-Soċjetà kienet saħansitra tislifhom strument sabiex idoqqu bih. B’dan il-mod, is-Soċjetà kienet tispera li l-quddiem għad tħajjar lil dawn l-individwi biex jingħaqdu magħha bħala mużiċisti tal-banda, ħalli b’hekk din tkompli ssaħħaħ ir-reputazzjoni tagħha b’membri validi.

    Ridt tkun tassew determinat biex tibqa’

    Il-Banda Żejtun waqt il-Programm Mużikali Annwali 2013 (Ritratt - Zejtun Band Club)Ċertament, sa mill-ewwel lezzjoni, Vella ntebaħ li din ma kienetx se tkun biċċa xogħol faċli.

    “Ridt tkun tassew determinat li tingħaqad mal-banda biex tibqa’ għaddej bl-istudju, l-aktar għaliex qabel jagħtuk l-istrument li mingħalik kont se tibda ddoqq, kien jeħtieġlek titgħallem bl-amment in-noti tal-mużika,” stqarr Vella.

    “Qatt qabel ma kont tgħallimt il-mużika u għalkemm kieku ried, missieri seta’ jħarriġni, huwa rriffjuta li jagħmel dan. Minflok insista li noqgħod attent waqt il-lezzjoni u li nisma’ sew x’kellu jgħidli l-għalliem. Niftakar li darbtejn biss azzardajt nistaqsih xi ħaġa wara li ma fhimtx x’għamilna fil-lezzjoni imma fiż-żewġ okkażżjonijiet, huwa ċanfarni u wissieni biex ma naħlix il-ħin tal-għalliem tiegħi. Wara dakinhar, qatt ma ppruvajt nistaqsih xi ħaġa oħra u kont nara li nifhem sew dak li jsir fil-klassi.”

    Il-bużillis kien li din l-attitudni ddixxiplinata kienet teżisti anki fil-klassi

    “L-għalliem tagħna, Edgar Lowell, kien maestro mill-aqwa imma kien bniedem tassew strett. Kien jippretendi li l-istudenti jattendu regolarment għall-lezzjonijiet u li jsegwuhom b’attenzjoni kbira. Ma ninsa qatt meta fl-ewwel lezzjoni, hu fetaħ idejh beraħ quddiemna u hekk kif beda jipponta lejn subgħajh, qalilna li Alla kien tana ħames swaba’ b’erbgħa spazji bejniethom sabiex niftakru dejjem li kien hemm disgħa noti mużikali bażiċi.”

    Ridt tuża l-istint

    “Minn dakinhar konna mistennija naħdmu iebes u nimxu ‘l quddiem mingħajr ma jkollna għalfejn nistaqsu wisq għall-għajnuna. Kellna nidraw nużaw l-istint tagħna u widnejna biex nifhmu l-ħsejjes u r-ritmi mużikali korretti. Żball wieħed waqt il-lezzjoni kien ikun biżżejjed biex l-għalliem jaqbdek u jibgħatek id-dar bla kliem u bla sliem ħalli tmur tistudja mill-ġdid id-dar. Dak iż-żmien, it-tifħir ma kienx jeżisti u kont tirrealizza biss li kont sejjer tajjeb meta l-għalliem kien jagħtik titgħallem in-noti li jmiss. Dak kollox!”

    Wara erbgħa snin taħriġ, Vella beda jdoqq maż-Żejtun Band Club u ma damx ma beda jservi wkoll ma’ baned oħra. Illum, fl-età ta’ 53 sena, huwa għandu esperjenza ta’ 37 sena ma’ din il-banda u kapaċi jdoqq diversi strumenti. Bi gratitudni lejn din is-Soċjetà li tagħtu tant, fl-2012 hu flimkien ma’ martu Jane, rregalaw sett ta’ bandalori tal-bellus meħjutin bir-rakkmu tad-deheb, bħala tifkira tal-involviment tiegħu magħha, waqt iċ-ċelebrazzjoni tat-80 anniversarju mit-twaqqif tagħha.

    Bidla fil-kultura

    Isaac Scicluna u Alexander Vella (Ritratt - Fiona Vella)Maż-żmien dan l-atteġġjament inbidel kompletament, hekk kif stajt nifhem meta tkellimt ma’ Isaac Scicluna; tifel ta’ 11 il-sena li hu l-iżgħar bandist ta’ din is-soċjetà.

    Fatt kurjuż huwa li Scicluna tħajjar jissieħeb maż-Żejtun Band Club eżatt bl-istess mod kif ġralu Vella; jiġifieri, waqt il-festa ta’ Santa Katarina tal-2011. Bħal Vella, hu wkoll kellu xi membri tal-familja li kienu jdoqqu, fosthom lil missieru, lil nannuħ u lil bużnannuħ li kollha kienu bandisti ferventi. L-istess bħal sieħbu akbar minnu, Scicluna ħassu pjuttost konfuż meta fl-età ta’ 8 snin daħal għall-ewwel darba biex jitgħallem ma’ din is-Soċjetà u sab ruħu affaċċjat bin-noti tat-teorija flok bl-istrument li xtaq!

    Iżda t-tixbiħ ma’ Vella s’hawn jieqaf peress li bil-bidla fil-kultura, li fil-preżent aktar tikkunsidra li tgħin milli li żżomm dixxiplina iebsa, huwa jsib għajnuna kbira kemm mill-ġenituri tiegħu u kif ukoll mill-għalliem meta jkollu bżonn l-assistenza tagħhom.

    “Fl-ewwel lezzjoni ntroduċewni man-noti tal-mużika,” qalli Scicluna. “Ftit ftit bdejt nitgħallem isimhom, it-tip u l-valur tagħhom. Imbagħad ngħatajt sett noti mużikali u ġejt mitlub nikkupjahom u nistudjahom. Missieri għeni nsib it-triq sakemm ġejt fuq saqajja u stajt inkompli naħdem waħdi. Fir-realtà, anki jekk issib tant sapport, jiddependi ħafna mill-ambizzjoni tiegħek sabiex tirnexxi għax aktar ma jgħaddi ż-żmien, il-lezzjonijiet kull ma jmur jitqalu. Meta tkun għadek student l-iskola, jeħtieġlek ukoll titgħallem tqassam ħinek sewwa ħalli tlaħħaq mal-istudju tal-iskola u xorta ssib ħin x’tiddedika għall-banda.”

    “Peress li jiena xellugi, kelli nderri lili nnifsi biex nitgħallem inżomm ir-ritmu b’saqajja l-leminija u ngħodd in-noti b’idejja l-leminija sabiex inkompli mal-bqija tal-grupp. Wara xi żmien nistudja, intlabt ukoll nibda nkanta n-noti ħalli b’hekk widnejja jintunaw ruħhom għall-mużika bi preparazzjoni għall-istrument li kont se ndoqq.”

    Filwaqt li Vella dam aktar minn tliet snin jistudja t-teorija, Scicluna kien meqjus pront biex jitgħallem l-istrument f’nofs dak il-perjodu. Min-naħa l-oħra, mentri Vella ġie rrakkommandat idoqq is-saksafon peress li kien twil imma minflok għażel il-klarinett bħal dak li kien idoqq missieru, Scicluna li xtaq idoqq is-saksafon, kellu joqgħod għall-klarin peress li subgħajh għadhom wisq qosra għall-istrument l-ieħor.

    L-iżgħar bandist

    Isaac Scicluna idoqq l-ewwel darba mal-Banda Żejtun fil-programm Mużikali Annwali 2013 (Ritratt - Zejtun Band Club)Sadanittant, is-sena 2013 kienet waħda sinifikanti ferm għal Scicluna u l-familja tiegħu, meta hu ġie ntrodott bħala l-iżgħar bandist taż-Żejtun Band Club. Fatt interessanti huwa illi din iċ-ċelebrazzjoni kienet pjuttost insolita peress li s-soltu, bandist ġdid jiddaħħal fil-banda biss waqt iċ-ċelebrazzjonijiet tal-Ġimgħa l-Kbira. Iżda, minħabba l-mewt għall-għarrieda tal-arċipriet taż-Żejtun, Dun Eric Overend, bosta mill-attivitajiet kellhom jiġu posposti u b’hekk Scicluna ngħata l-opportunità li jdoqq għall-ewwel darba waqt il-Programm Mużikali Annwali tal-2013.

    Nibqa’ ndoqq sal-aħħar

    Illum, kemm Vella u Scicluna, huma ħerqana biex ikomplu jagħtu s-servizz tagħhom f’din il-banda u għalkemm hemm baħar jaqsam bejn l-età ta’ dawn iż-żewġ individwi, it-tnejn sostnew li xtaqu jkomplu jdoqqu sakemm Alla jibqa’ jagħtihom is-saħħa. Għalissa, Scicluna daqq biss maż-Żejtun Band Club iżda xorta waħda, hu diġà kellu ċ-ċans jieħu sehem f’funzjonijiet importanti bħal meta l-banda daqqet fil-funeral tal-eks-ministru, Wistin Abela.

    Ir-rwol tal-banda

    “Ir-rwol tal-banda hu li tferraħ in-nies bil-mużika tagħha,” qalli Vella. “Madanakollu, bħal f’kollox, anki din għandha l-lati diffiċli tagħha. Ngħidu aħna, għalkemm jiena nħobb nisma’ ħafna l-marċi funebri illi l-banda tagħna ddoqq waqt l-attivitajiet tal-Ġimgħa l-Kbira, meta nsib ruħi qiegħed nakkumpanja funeral bid-daqq tiegħi, inħossni emozzjonat. Minn dejjem kont hekk, imma din is-sensazzjoni kompliet tiżdied wara li kelli ndoqq waqt il-funeral ta’ missieri u hemm ħassejt l-uġiegħ u n-niket li kapaċi jiġi espress permezz tal-istrumenti differenti. Dakinhar, deherli li l-ħoss tagħhom kien jixbaħ il-bikja tas-soċjetà li kienet għadha kif tilfet lil wieħed mill-membri tagħha.”

    Anki t-tfajjel Scicluna qabel ma dan.

    “Jien ukoll inħossni daqsxejn skomdu meta jkolli ndoqq waqt funeral. Imma fl-istess ħin, jien konxju li bil-mużika tiegħi nkun qed nuri rispett lil dak l-individwu li jkun ħalliena. Xorta waħda nħares dejjem il-quddiem biex jiġi ż-żmien tal-festi meta nkunu nistgħu nferrħu n-nies bid-daqq tal-istrumenti tagħna.”

    (Dan l-artiklu ġie ppubblikat fis-sensiela MINN RITRATT (14 il-Parti) fit-Torċa tal-21 ta’ Ġunju 2015)

    2015.06.21 / no responses / Category: Torca - Features & Articles

  • Il-majjistra ta’ dari

    Kien ritratt li deher dan l-aħħar fuq fuljett li ħareġ Wirt iż-Żejtun li qanqal it-tnissil ta’ dan l-artiklu. Kien juri kmajra għera għajr għal sodda dejqa tal-metall u xi aċċessorji oħra sempliċi. Skoprejt li fil-passat, din kienet tintuża bħala lwog għat-twelid tat-trabi. Bħala mara, tregħixt, u ħsibijieti dlonk ġrew fuq dawk l-imsejkna li ma kellhom l-ebda għażla ħlief li jintasbu f’dan il-post biex hemm jesperjenzaw wieħed mill-aktar mumenti diffiċli ta’ ħajjithom. Dlonk ħassejt il-bżonn li nkun naf aktar dwar dawn l-ommijiet u l-majjistri li kienu jassistuhom. Kien għalhekk li ngħaqadt mal-grupp imdaqqas ta’ parteċipanti li attendew fil-Juventutis Domus, iż-Żejtun, għall-preżentazzjoni tar-riċerka li wettqet Janice Caruana rigward xogħol il-majjistra bejn is-snin 1900 u l-1990.

    Każ ta’ emerġenza jwassal għal riċerka

    “Bħala ners li naħdem fid-Dipartiment tal-Emerġenza, waqt li darba minnhom kont xogħol f’ambulanza, sibt ruħi qed nassisti mara biex twelled lit-tarbija tagħha. Din l-esperjenza nisslet f’moħħi diversi mistoqsijiet dwar x’kien isir fil-passat waqt mumenti bħal dawn, fejn il-majjistri kellhom jimprovizzaw skont is-sitwazzjoni u l-ambjent li jsibu ruħhom fih, billi jagħmlu użu mill-għerf u l-kapaċità li kellhom aktar milli billi jserrħu fuq l-għodda tagħhom,” stqarret Janice Caruana.

    Dawn il-ħsibijiet ħeġġewha biex tibda tagħmel riċerka għall-interess tagħha personali. Madanakollu, hi tant daħlet fil-profond ta’ dan it-tiftix, li spiċċat biex sabet ruħha għal għonq it-triq ta’ vjaġġ interessanti ta’ skoperta li ħadha lura lejn il-perjodu li jkopri s-snin bejn l-1900 u l-1990.

    “Id-dokumentazzjoni u l-informazzjoni rigward il-majjistri u t-twelid fid-djar f’dik l-epoka huma skarsi ħafna. Infatti, ma ssib l-ebda dettalji ta’ x’kien isir fil-kamra tal-ħlas waqt it-twelid ta’ tarbija f’dawk is-snin,” spjegat Janice.

     “Kien għalhekk li ddeċidejt li nibda nesplora l-perċezzjonijiet tal-ommijiet u tal-majjistri dwar il-ħlas li kien isir fid-djar bejn dan il-perjodu. L-għan prinċipali tiegħi kien li nsir naf aħjar x’kien ir-rwol tal-majjistra matul it-tqala, waqt il-ħlas, u kif ukoll wara t-twelid. Dan xtaqt nagħmlu billi nfittex l-istejjer u l-esperjenzi personali tan-nies li għaddew minn dawn l-esperjenzi waqt dan iż-żmien partikolari.”

    L-istħarriġ

    B’kollox, Janice intervistat 24 omm (23 minn Malta u waħda minn Għawdex) li bejniethom welldu 95 tarbija fid-djar tagħhom. Kollha kienu miżżewġa għax dari kien tabù li mara jkollha tarbija jekk ma tkunx ħadet l-istat tagħha. Fost dan it-twelid kien hemm: par tewmin, żewġ ħlasijiet mingħajr assistenza, tliet korrimenti, tliet itrabi li twieldu mejtin, u każ fejn mietet l-omm. L-età medja tan-nisa intervistati kienet ta’ 78, fejn l-iżgħar kellha 60 sena u l-akbar 99 sena.

    Għal dan l-istħarriġ, hi tkellmet ukoll ma’ erbgħa nisa li fi żmienhom kienu jaħdmu bħala majjistri, filwaqt li ltaqgħet ukoll ma’ xi qraba ta’ tliet majjistri oħra li llum m’għadhomx magħna.

    Kwalifiki meħtieġa biex issir majjistra

    “Qabel l-1959, il-kwalifiki meħtieġa biex issir majjistra kienu li mara tkun taf tikteb u taqra bl-Ingliż u l-Malti, ikollha għarfien bażiku fis-somom,sentejn apprendistat is-Central Hospital,tkun assistiet mhux inqas minn 40 twelid, tilħaq il-kriterji kollha tal-medical board tal-gvern ta’ dak iż-żmien, tgħaddi mill-eżamijiet u jkollha diploma ta’ ners u majjistra, tħallas il-miżati, u tkun ta’ karattru u morali tajba,” għarrfitna Janice.

    Ġużeppa Bonnici – majjistra

    Guzeppa Bonnici (Ritratt - Janice Cassar)Din il-majjistra kienet miż-Żejtun u kienet tagħti s-servizzi tagħha Ħal-Għaxaq, iż-Żejtun u Marsaxlokk. Temmet il-kors tagħha fl-1934 u l-aħħar twelid li assistiet kien fl-1960.

    “Ġrajja partikolari li seħħet waqt ix-xogħol tagħha kien meta hi tilfet it-tarbija tagħha biex taqdi lil ħaddieħor. Kellha 7 xhur tqala u talbuha tassisti twelid ġo dar. Kien żmien it-Tieni Gwerra Dinjija u f’dak il-ħin, kienu neżlin il-bombi. Dan ma qatax qalb Ġużeppa imma d-destin ried li hekk kif tirfes fuq l-għatba tal-bieb tad-dar tal-klijenta tagħha, taqa’ bomba fil-viċin u tisplodi. Ir-raġel tal-mara ġera lejn il-majjistra biex jipproteġiha mill-blast iżda kien tard wisq. Madanakollu, Ġużeppa kompliet taħdem u ħelset lill-omm. Waqt dawn il-mumenti, hija ntebħet li ma kinetx qed tħoss lit-tarbija tagħha aktar. Fil-fatt, hekk kif lestiet minn xogħolha u marret tiċċekkja dwar il-qagħda tat-tarbija tagħha, ikkonfermat li kienet tilfitha.”

    Maria Dolores Sapiano – majjistra

    Maria Dolores Sapiano (Ritratt - Janice Cassar)Din il-majjistra Żejtunija kienet tagħti s-servizzi tagħha fiż-Żejtun. Temmet il-kors tagħha fl-1934 u l-aħħar twelid li assistiet kien fl-1960. Fi żmien it-Tieni Gwerra Dinjija, assistiet in-nisa refuġjati mill-Kottonera li kienu marru jsibu kenn fil-bini tal-Juventutis Domus.

    Binha jiftakarha ssemmi li f’dak iż-żmien kienet tesperjenza mumenti fejn “waħda tgħajjat minn naħa u waħda tgħajjat minn oħra”.

    “Kienet ammirevoli kif din il-majjistra, mingħajr ma taf xejn dwar l-istorja tat-tqala ta’ dawn in-nisa, kienet kapaċi tibqa’ għaddejja fuq xogħolha, u tassistihom bla problemi.

    Maria Camilleri – majjistra

    Kienet miż-Żejtun. Temmet il-kors tagħha fl-1941 u l-aħħar twelid li assistiet kien fl-1979. Assistiet madwar 8000 twelid madwar Malta kollha. Irnexxielha tkopri dan ix-xogħol kollu minħabba li fl-aħħar tal-karriera tagħha, kienet tgħallmet issuq il-karozza.

    Maria Camilleri (Ritratt - Janice Cassar)“Rakkont partikolari waqt ix-xogħol tagħha jgħid illi darba minnhom, Maria ġiet rikoverata l-isptar u hekk kif intbagħtet lura d-dar, it-tabib irrakkommandalha li tistrieħ għal xi ġranet. Iżda x-xogħol tagħha m’għandux waqfien u żewġha ma damx ma sema’ l-bieb tad-dar iħabbat. Kien mar raġel jitlob l-għajnuna ta’ Maria minħabba li martu kienet waslet biex twelled. Żewġ Maria beda jipprova jfehmu li martu ma setgħetx toħroġ imma hi semgħetu, ħennet għall-omm, libset, u qamet biex tmur. B’kundizzjoni waħda – li titla’ timtedd fuq is-sodda biswit l-omm, sakemm din tasal biex twelled. U hekk ġara.”

    Is-sabiħ fil-ħajja, speċjalment fil-gżejjer tagħna, fejn kulħadd jaf lil kulħadd, huwa li spiss ġrajja twassal għal oħra u b’hekk tibqa’ tiskopri affarijiet ġodda. Hekk seħħ fil-każ ta’ din il-majjistra peress li wara din id-diskussjoni, resaq lejja ċertu Joe Seychell sabiex jinfurmani li kien missieru Frans li kien għallem il-karozza lil Maria.

    “Dak iż-żmien kienet meqjusa bħala xi ħaġa mhux wisq xierqa li mara titla’ ma’ raġel f’karozza. Imma Maria kienet taf lil missier missieri u allura s-sitwazzjoni nbidlet. Missieri kien sempliċiment dilettant tal-karozzi u xogħolu ma kienx li jgħallem. Infatti, wara li l-majjistra tħarrġet ma’ missieri, biex tmur għat-test tal-liċenzja, kellha titla’ ma’ wieħed magħruf bħala ‘Il-Lakkwati’ li kellu skola tas-sewqan. Meta għaddiet, Maria kienet fost l-ewwel nisa fiż-Żejtun li kellhom il-liċenzja tal-karozza,” qalli Joe.

    “Hekk kif illum smajthom isemmu lil din il-majjistra, il-memorja tiegħi xegħlet bit-tifkiriet minħabba li niftakar lil Maria tiġi għand nannuwi, Karmenu Abela miż-Żejtun, li kellu ħanut ċkejken f’numru 38, Triq l-Ispirtu s-Santu, iż-Żejtun, fejn kien jaħdem bħala mastrudaxxa. Xogħolu kien jinvolvi t-tfassil ta’ biċċiet ta’ għamara u s-siġġijiet tal-knejjes li kienu jinbiegħu bir-radam. Kien għamel xi żmien ukoll jaħdem it-twiebet tal-adulti imma jien l-uniku twiebet li niftakar, għall-ħabta tas-snin ħamsin, kienu dawk bojod, tat-tfal. Mhux darba u tnejn li ħajt minnhom tal-ħanut kien ikun kollu miżgħud b’dawn it-twiebet stivati fuq xulxin peress li f’dak iż-żmien, kienu jmutu bosta trabi,” kompla jirrakkuntali.

    “Ġieli nzertajt inkun ħdejn nannuwi meta kienet tiġi Maria titolbu tebut minn dawn. “Ħa neħodlok tebut għax mietet tarbija jaħasra,” kienet tgħidlu. “Ħudu u mbagħad nirranġaw,” kien jgħidilha. Għax għandek tkun taf li fost id-dmirijiet tagħha, Maria kienet ukoll tkeffen lit-tarbija sabiex tevita aktar tbatija minn fuq il-ġenituri li jkunu tilfuha. Niftakar drabi meta kont preżenti għal xi quddiesa tal-funeral ta’ xi tarbija u dawk li kienu jifilħu jħallsu, kienu jordnaw li t-tebut tat-tarbija tagħhom jinġarr b’karru abjad biż-żwiemel. Oħrajn li ma kienux jippermettu dan is-servizz, kienu minflok iqabbdu lil wieħed magħruf bħala Xifu biex iġorr it-tebut. Dan kien jorbot ċinturin miegħu u jimxi bit-tebut f’idejh sal-Parroċċa taż-Żejtun.”

    Il-majjistri msemmija hawn fuq m’għadhomx magħna. Imma Janice rnexxielha tiltaqa’ ma’ erbgħa majjistri li ħadmu matul il-perjodu magħżul għar-riċerka, li tawha ħafna informazzjoni utli u interessanti.

    Serafina Delia: Temmet il-kors fl-1942. Ħadmet bħala majjistra fi sptar barra minn Malta u anki fl-isptar St Luke’s. Serviet in-naħa t’isfel ta’ Malta u f’Għawdex.

    Frances Cini: Majjistra Għawdxija. Temmet il-kors fl-1946. B’kollox assistiet 1000 twelid.

    Raffaella Farrugia: Temmet il-kors fl-1959. Esperjenza vasta fl-isptar St Luke’s u anki barra minn Malta. B’kollox assistiet madwar 1000 twelid. Meta kienet taħdem l-Ingilterra, kienet iddur bir-rota min-naħa għall-oħra tassisti nisa differenti.

    May Pecorella: Temmet il-kors fl-1944. Esperjenza vastaf’diversi sptarijiet. Assistiet aktar minn 6000 twelid. Kienet taħdem madwar Malta kollha imma l-aktar il-Ħamrun u Tas-Sliema. Hi qalet li kienet tikkollabora ħafna mal-majjistra Ġużeppa Bonnici taż-Żejtun.

    X’kont issib fil-basket tal-majjistra

    Il-basket tal-majjistra (Ritratt provdut minn Janice Cassar)Janice kellha x-xorti li tifli mill-qrib żewġ basktijiet ta’ majjistri: wieħed tas-snin tletin u l-ieħor tas-snin erbgħin. Dan tal-aħħar kien għadu mimli bl-għodda u b’kollox kien jiżen madwar 5 kilos.

    “Immaġina lill-majjistri għaddejjin il-ġurnata kollha b’dat-toqol f’idejhom!” irrimarkat.

    “L-għodda li sibt kienu jinkludu: ingwanti, fardal, pinard (strument biex tisma’ l-qalb tat-tarbija), lubrikant, miżien, artery forceps, imqassijiet, siringi, pelvimeter (biex tkejjel il-qadd), inċirata għas-saqqu, stetoscope, delivery pack, ħajt tal-punti, u labar ta’ qisien varji.Kien hemm ukoll: kontenituri tal-istainless steel, disinfettant, suction tube (biex ikunu jistgħu jbattlu l-istonku tat-tarbija), reġistri tat-twelid, pinna, levattiv (biex tnaddaf l-imsaren minn ġewwa), ċinturini (kienu jintrabtu mas-sodda biex l-omm tagħmel forza magħhom waqt li tkun qed twelled), garżi u tajjar.”

    Il-gass biex inaqqas l-uġiegħ kien projbit mill-Knisja!

    L-ghodda tal-majjistra  (Ritratt provdut minn Janice Cassar)F’dan il-basket, Janice sabet ukoll xi mediċini, fosthom dawk għal kontra l-uġiegħ inkluż gass imħallat mal-ossiġnu.

    “Dan kien jintuża l-aktar mill-majjistri li kienu jaħdmu mal-MMDNA għax dawk ta’ qabel ma kienx ikollhom dan il-gass għad-dispożizzjoni tagħhom. Fatt interessanti huwa li dan il-gass li seta’ jtaffi l-uġiegħ lin-nisa waqt il-ħlas, għamel żmien ipprojbit mill-Knisja. Infatti, waqt ir-riċerka tiegħi, xi nisa stqarru li kienu ppreferew li jibqgħu jwelldu d-dar u jġarrbu t-tbatija li hemm bżonn minħabba li kienu jibżgħu li jagħmlu dnub jekk imorru l-isptar u jkunu offruti dan il-gass.”

    Nota: Illum koprejt biss xi informazzjoni u ġrajjiet dwar il-majjistri. Il-Ħadd li ġej, dan l-artiklu jkompli jistħarreġ il-perspettiva u r-rakkonti tan-nisa tqal ta’ dari.

     (Dan l-artiklu ġie ppubblikat fis-sensiela MINN RITRATT (10 parti) fit-Torċa tal-24 ta’ Mejju 2015)

    2015.05.24 / 2 responses / Category: Torca - Features & Articles

  • A medal for silver

    Joseph Aquilina (Photo - Anton Aquilina).jpgAquilina at work (1) (Photo - Anton Aquilina).jpg

    Aquilina's oil lamp - a gift to the Queen (Photo - Department of Information).JPGA silver sugar-basin produced by Aquilina (Photo - Joseph Aquilina).JPG

    Within his small workshop in Zejtun, 68 year old silversmith Joseph Aquilina, can still do wonders with precious metals. Having worked as a silversmith from age 14, he has gained so much mastery in this trade that one of his creations was donated to Queen Elizabeth II during the celebrations of Malta’s Independence in 1964. Nowadays, his expertise is particularly focused on the restoration of antique objects which adorn our churches.

    Aquilina learnt this trade from his father Joseph who was originally from Cospicua. Before World War II, Cospicua was renowned for some of the most skillfull silversmiths who eventually had to move to other areas in Malta when this zone became a target to heavy attacks and bombardments.

    From early childhood, Aquilina was very interested in his father’s work and he spent hours observing him working silver items in his shop at St Mary Square in Zejtun. At age 12, he used to rush at the shop immediately after school in order to join silver beads together to produce rosaries for his father’s clients.

    Aquilina knew that he was hooked to this trade but he never dreamt that at age 14, he would be obliged to choose between attending school and becoming a silversmith! It all happened when one day, a social service inspector called at their shop and found him doing some work. It was useless to insist that the boy was only helping his father because the inspector maintained that if the boy wanted to stay in the shop, he had to register for employment within 15 days. And that was the end of his schooldays.

    “School meant nothing to me at that time and I thought that it was a great opportunity to start doing what I was really passionate about. However, when in later years I had to manage my business and was faced with several difficulties due to my brief education, I realized that leaving school at such an early age was definitely a huge mistake,” admitted Aquilina.

    His father was greatly disciplined in his trade and he demanded the same diligence from his son. Above all, he wanted to pass to him all the knowledge that he had inherited from past generations. Yet this was no easy task since the silversmith’s trade expands vastly and covers areas which include work in silver, gold, filigree and the setting of diamonds.

    “Nowadays, most silversmiths choose to specialize in just one of these sectors, but when I was learning the trade, one had to learn to deal with all these areas in order to become a professional. It took long years until you were regarded to be competent enough to open your own business. That was why it was necessary to start at a very young age in this trade and to take matters very seriously.”
    Interestingly, Aquilina succeeded to attain his father’s complete trust by disobeying him.

    “My father expected utter attention during work, both because he wanted the final product to be impeccable, and also because the slightest mistake could be very costly, especially when we were using gold. He put so much pressure upon me that at first, I felt terrified of him and I did not dare to do anything which he did not ask for.”

    Yet one day, Aquilina felt confident enough to try his luck by operating the soldering equipment which his father had adamantly prohibited him to use. Indeed, whilst his father went to church to attend a Lent sermon, Aquilina asked his mother to give him her gold wedding ring in order to cut it in half and reconstruct it again. His mother accepted without a second thought and Aquilina hurried to the workshop, broke the ring in two, switched on the gas, prepared the soldering equipment and trembling with excitement, he quickly joined the two parts together. He did such an excellent job that his mother could not identify any signs that her ring had been broken, and when she told her husband about this and he inspected the ring, a bright smile lit on his face. His son had finally made it!

    From then on, Aquilina had his father’s complete respect and he started to produce his own creations for their clients. He had learnt this trade in the traditional way where everything was done by hand, and to keep in line with this method, he decided to focus on the antique style. This stratagem worked perfectly with those connoisseurs who appreciated refined local craftsmanship.

    “I am proud to say that many of my works can be found among the collections of several local and foreign distinguished individuals. Most of my creations consisted of antique Maltese style coffee sets which included only three items: a coffee pot, a sugar-basin and a milk jug, since tea was not popular back then.”

    Some of Aquilina’s works have often been selected to be given as gifts to foreign individuals.

    “I made a particular silver sugar-basin for a group of Drydocks’ workers who wanted to give it to their British Admiral when he ended his job in Malta. Yet surely, the most popular item that I produced, was the 14 inch oil lamp which the Government of Malta ordered directly from me during the period of the 1970s and 1980s in order to consign it to the foreign delegations who visited our country.”

    Meanwhile, even though throughout the years, there were many machines available which could ease the difficulty of the job and hurry the flow of work, Aquilina always refused to use them.

    “That is the only way of keeping the profession’s prestige and the value of your creations,” Aquilina insisted. “When this type of work is done by machines, the product will loose all its significance because nothing can replace the creative fabrication of the human hand. A handmade product is unique because one can rarely create an object exactly like another. Contrarily, the very precision of objects which are executed by machines will simply turn them into ordinary copies.”

    In order to design and work his particular creations, at times Aquilina had to manufacture his own tools. Yet apart from the ingeniousness required in order to assemble these devices, it was fascinating to know the stories behind the origin of some of the material.

    “Look at these heavy hammers and feel how heavy they are,” he told me with a mischievous look as he brought them near. “I bet that no one would ever guess what they are made of until I tell them myself!”

    Certainly, I did not have the slightest idea.

    “These were some of the huge bolts that formed part of the ‘Angel Gabriel’; the Greek tanker which in 1969 got shipwrecked near the area of the ex-Jerma Palace Hotel in Marsascala. I obtained them when the ship was being broken down into pieces in order to clear the coast.”

    Another curious fact about this trade is that whenever a new silversmith is authorized to start his/her business, he/she is given a personal stamp with which to mark each object that they make. This stamp will be unique and it cannot be transferred to another person. Therefore, each silversmith’s work can always be recognized, no matter how much time elapses.

    In order to explain better, Aquilina referred to an old and rare book ‘The Goldsmiths of Malta and their Marks’ (1972) which was published by Chev Victor Fredrick Denaro; a pioneer in the study of ancient silver in Malta. In this book, one finds significant information about the ancient trade of silversmiths which goes back to the period of the Knights of St John. Meanwhile, this publication includes also all the local silversmiths’ stamps together with their relevant details; starting from the Knights period up to 1972.

    “This book is very precious to me particularly because it helps me to identify the silversmiths of the antique objects which I work on. This will also determine the period of the objects’ manufacture with more precision, and thereby I can understand better which materials and which procedures were involved in its making,” explained Aquilina.

    The restoration of antique metal objects requires high expertise and attention since one small mistake could ruin them completely. Indeed, in these last years Aquilina was responsible for the restoration of various treasured items which include: the restoration of the silver crown of the icon of the Madonna of Carafa that is located within the Co-Cathedral of St John in Valletta, the restoration of the silver leaves that form part of the decoration of the relic of St John the Baptist which is situated in the Museum of the same Co-Cathedral, and in the restoration of the sword of the titular statue of St Catherine in the Parish of Zejtun.

    (This article was published in the ‘Art, Antiques and Restoration’ Supplement of The Times of Malta dated 12th November 2014)

    2014.11.12 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • Isn’t it time to solve some of St Gregory’s mysteries?

    Figura 1. Il-parrocca l-antika ddedikata lil Santa Katarina, llum maghrufa bhala Ta' San Girgor, fiz-Zejtun..JPGFigura 2. L-iskrizzjoni li tinsab fil-parrocca l-antika taz-Zejtun li tiddeskrivi l-attakk li sehh fl-1614..JPG

    Figura 8. John M Debono biswit l-ghadam li nstab fil-passaggi (Ritratt - Times of Malta).JPGFigura 10. Grezzju Vella qed juri l-post minn fejn dahal ghall-passaggi sigrieti..JPG

    Figura 9. L-inizzjali u d-data li gew imnaqqxa fuq gebla gewwa l-passaggi sigrieti.JPGFigura 14. Sezzjoni mill-armarju li bhalissa l-oggetti misjuba huma mizmuma fih..JPG

    The old parish of St Catherine in Żejtun, popularly known as St Gregory’s, is entrenched with deep-rooted mysteries which up to date remain unsolved.

    Some of these dilemmas have been discussed during the second national symposium which was organized by NGO Wirt iż-Żejtun, right in this church, particularly since it is related to the theme that was being commemorated and discussed – the 400th anniversary from the Turkish raid of 1614 on Żejtun and other areas in Malta.

    The eight speakers who participated in this national symposium come from various fields of study and therefore each of them presented interesting and significant relative information from different perspectives.

    Among the matters treated, one finds the old inscription which for many years was believed to represent a narrative of what took place on that eventful day of the 6th July 1614, when 60 Ottoman galleys set anchor at St Thomas’ Bay and the port of Marsascala, and from there, 6000 Turkish soldiers attacked Żejtun and the surrounding areas. According to this inscription, the Turks pillaged the villages, and the churches and chapels which they came upon, until they were finally reached by Maltese soldiers and the cavalry, and had to retreat back to their ships. Some Maltese were injured but none died, whilst some Turks were killed and others were captured as slaves. However, when referring to some local archives, and also to those who were written by Ottoman authors, one will find details which do not necessarily concur. So what is the real story?

    Other curious issues relate to the 1969 discovery of three secret passages within the old church of St Gregory, wherein a number of human bones were also found. Even the discovery itself poses several questions on the true story of their revelation. Indeed, when the passages were located in 1969, right in the beginning of the third corridor, some engravings bearing initials and the date 1909 were noticed, thereby suggesting that these corridors had already been discovered before. Rumours say that after the last discovery, the parish priest had searched among the village elders who had those initials until he traced a certain Carmelo Zahra, known as ‘ir-Rangu’, who confessed that he had entered into these passages when he was a young boy together with some other individuals. He claimed that they had seen skeletons dressed as soldiers in these passages and that they had some weapons and flags with them. Moreover, he said that some people from this group removed these objects and took them away, and threatened the others in order not to mention anything. Indeed, many had been surprised at the frugal objects that were found with the bones in 1969. Could Zahra have been telling the truth?

    The remains that were collected during the last discovery included a wooden shoe sole with a high heel, a small gilted wooden cross of Byzantine design, odd bits of a gilted wooden frame (perhaps an icon), three coins: two bronze with the cross of the Order, the other gold, but very worn out that it cannot be deciphered, pieces of pottery of the 16-17th century, fragments of animal bones, and a part of a chain mail armour vest. Presently these are stored in one of the rooms within the church and it seems clear, both from their state of preservation and from the display box in which they stand, that no one has bothered to look at them for whole long years. In fact, very few individuals knew about their existence. It is a pity that these objects are hidden away from researchers and from the public. Don’t they deserve to be conserved and studied and later on displayed appropriately?

    Likewise, there are various versions of how and who came upon the opening to the secret passages. One of these claims that this person was none other than Ġann Mari Debono, the sacristan of the church, as published in the Times of Malta dated 15th April 1969. However in 2011, Grezzju Vella talked to journalist Fiona Vella and recounted a slightly different story wherein he declared that he had exposed the opening and entered first in the secret passages.

    Certainly, the human remains have also led to another mystery since to date no one knows how and why they were found in these secret passages. A ballad written by Walter Zahra soon after the discovery of 1969 imagined these people to have been the victims of an Ottoman attack after they had gone up to hide in the secret passages and were found by the enemy. Yet by time, this invented story transformed itself into a legend and many villagers believed that this was the truth. However, in 1978, Seshadri Ramaswamy and Joseph Leslie studied these bones and presented a report on their paleopathological studies. They concluded that these bones had been buried in some other place since they had observed that some of the vertebrae had a plug of soil in the vertebral canal. Hence, according to this theory, during a particular period, the secret passages in St Gregory’s church might have been used as an ossuary. Many have asked what sense did it make to carry the bones up to these passages when they could have been stored elsewhere. Yet many more demand why a carbon dating examination has not yet been performed on these bones in order to date these remains and end some of these rumours?

    In the coming months, the information that was delivered during the presentations of this national symposium will be published by Wirt iż-Żejtun in the book ‘The Turkish Raid of 1614′. Presently, one may enjoy a pre-publication offer on this book by ordering it through the NGO’s website www.wirtizzejtun.com

    (This feature was published in The Sunday Times of Malta dated 24th August 2014)

    2014.08.24 / no responses / Category: Torca - Features & Articles