Let them eat baguette

baguette_akkuzaA Happy New Year to all J’accuse readers and diehards. This blog starts its heavy trek towards celebrating ten years of blogging after an unforced hiatus. No, that is not a word stolen from Varist’s vocabulary. I return well rested from a visit to the islands that are fast becoming the second home with a wealth of newly absorbed information about the daily travails of the Maltese citizen.

The general outlook on Malta seems to be fair. My partner likes to think of Maltese as hobbits because, as she says, “You think of food first and foremost, wherever you go.” In a way it is true. Back from a trip abroad? Visiting a new city? Our first enquiries and experiments are culinary. Veni, Mangi, Judici. Our trips are coloured and defined by food. Panem et circences does take on a new meaning where the Maltese are concerened because we are a foody people.

“Kemm kilt pastizzi ja hanzir?” It is hard to speak collectively about taste in food. There is the eternal battle between quality and abundance. Somewhere along the lines there is a dividing line (or lines) that might set aside a different set of classes from Joseph’s Mittilklass. Food in all its simplicity might be venerated for the simple purpose of gratification – fenkata tajba or a simple but spot-on meal at Rita’s at Ghar Lapsi. It might take on a whole new fifty shades of implications of perceived class like when we sell a recipe book as being the one “miktub mir-ragel tal-President”.

The quest for honest to god simple good food is now complicated with the invasion of the little italians. Sicilians, Apulians, Neapolitans and Tuscans all giving a thumbs down to Renzi’s dream and scuttling their euros to Joseph’s Malta. So long as he does not get the bright idea to hike up VAT on drink as they did in the Duchy this year (up to 17% from 3% – a pint now costs 5.40 euro) they will keep coming. Is your divine tagliata di manzo con rucola parmigiano simply a culinary venture or your tiny participation in a money laundering venture set up by the sons and relatives of the camorra, mafia, ‘ndrangheta or sacra corona? Does it taste the same once you get to know that?

And what of that burgeoning empire of Hugo’s? Surely those millions cannot all come from selling a delicious platter of sushi or a well-aimed shot at making a digestible pad thai? Is it the jet-set factor? Does it pay to be seen eating at Hugo’s tapas/oriental and now middle east or burger?

Cook at home? You can shop at Lidl’s now that More has bitten the bullet of the fast money laundered buck. Nobody need know the origin of your faux foie gras once you’ve unpacked it out of the box. As for the idea of plenty I was overwhelmed when I was told that I had 24 litres of water for free since I had spent the right amount at the exquisitely stocked GS supermarket in Naxxar. Then there are charities trying to set up funds to bring fountains to remote African villages or stoves to Guatemalan denizens. It’s all so confusing.

But back to class and food. Muscat’s dream of creating a new mittilkless has hit the metaphorical brick wall when it comes to AirMalta. The people who are so used to measuring their travelling experience by the food that they eat (and the more it seems to be “free” the better) have been told that henceforth they are to be handed only baguette and water on all Air Malta flights. For baguette read a tiny bread roll that would not satisfy even the most Mittilkless of desires.

The point is not really the food on board the flights (the longest of which is around the four hour mark) but the principle of telling the people of the bountiful plate that they will have to make do with the snacklet in order to save those “ghasafar tac-comb”. There does not seem to have been a shift in ticket prices. No lower fares to reflect the lower (food) fare on board. The government obsessed with class and class aspirations, the one that makes a meal of free lunches on the taxpayers account has told the people that “they can eat baguette”.

Deep down it has little to do with the economics of saving a faltering national airline. It has much to do with the hunger of the aspirant mittelklass and their aspirations for inflight microwaved chicken or lasagne.

To some people it might have just been an amusing snack on board a quaint airline. To the emancipated wave of mittelmaltin that Joseph inspired it meant the world.

Tenderly by Xarabank

tenderly_akkuzaKelli ngħaddi siegħa ċ-Ċirkewwa waqt l-aħħar mawra tiegħi f’Malta. Kien waqt dawk is-siegħat kiefra ta’ wara nofsinhar fejn id-dell isir iktar prezzjuz miż-żejt u fejn kull taħrika ta’ ġismek tkun kawża ta’ gelgul ta’ għaraq ibelġen ma’ tul is-sinsla ta’ darek. Ipparkjajt fejn it-Terminal, kont qed nistenna’ ‘l xi ħadd biex niġbru minn fuq il-vapur. Kelli stennija. Tfajt lenti quddiem is-sigarett u qabad waħdu. Ħa naraw ftit.

Mill-parkeġġ stajt nara u nosserva ir-ritmu alternanti taċ-Ċirkewwa nhar ta’ Ġimgħa. Jinġemgħu n-nies għat-traġitt li jmiss u tiżdied magħhom it-tensjoni u l-kaos. Karozzi fuq xulxin, nies mexjin f’nofs it-triq mingħajr ħsieb għat-traffiku, u xemx. Ħafna sħana u nervi. Dak li suppost qed jidderieġi il-karozzi fir-ringieli ta’ stennija għal fuq il-vapur ilha li qabżitlu. Għalxejn il-biċċa ma għonqu biex tilqa’ il-galluni ta’ likwidu inixxu minn moħħu. Qabżitlu, u bir-raġun.

Ilħaqt rajt ukoll in-nies jinġemgħu fuq l-istand tax-xarabank biex jistennew dik li jmiss. Daż-żmien m’għadux żmien il-45. Valletta-Ċirkewwa via kull raħal li setgħu ideffsu. Le issa hemm diretti mill-Belt, mill-Ajruport, minn Tas-Sliema u iktar. Frott l-Arriva u l-ippjanar ġdid tar-rotot. Imma l-Arriva m’għadhomx hemm. Keċċewhom. Għamlulhom ħajjithom infern u ma setgħux ħlief iparpru.

In-nies jinġemgħu fuq l-istand. Parti mit-Terminal ġdid fjamant dan. X-xemx tispara diretta fuqhom. L-ebda dell ma jwennes. L-istand għandu taparsi saqaf tal-ħġieġ li ovvjament ikun inħareġ tender u rebħu xi perċimes li ipprovda naqra ta’ saqaf trasparenti babaw – trasparenti x’ċuċ hu t-tender. Insomma żgur ma hux xempju ta’ arkitettura prattika u dan jixhduħ il-mijiet ta’ passiġġieri li jispiċċaw jinqlew jistennew il-misħuta Xarabank filwaqt li jgħidu rota rużarju bit-tama li l-erkondixin jaħdem.

N-nies jistennew fuq l-istejġ "fid-dell".
In-nies jistennew fuq l-istejġ “fid-dell”.

 

Iżda laqtuni l-iktar ix-xarabankijiet. Ma kienx hemm waħda bħal l-oħra. Addio l-uniformi ta’ l-Arriva. Ismijiet taż garaxxijiet differenti u numri imwaħħlin ta’ kafkaf bil-kartun. Naħseb għoddejt seba’ kumpaniji differenti tal-kowċis li ipprovdew xarabank għas-servizz pubbliku. Kien hemm minnhom li kont tisma’ s-sħana tidgħi weħidha minn ġewwa qalb is-sedili miksija drapp oħxon u pattern tal-leopard. Basta bil-purtieri imdendla biex taparsi jilqgħu ix-xemx.

Dak il-ħin kien ovvja x’ġara iktar minn qatt qabel. Ta’ Tagħna Lkoll kienu telgħu bl-għajta tar-riforma. L-ewwel qażżu ‘l Alla u oħtu jeqirdu dwar is-servizz li suppost kien tan-nejk u kif telgħu qabdu qabda mat-tedeski sakemm parpru ‘l hemm. Imbagħad biex taparsi “salvaw” is-sistema qabbdu xeba’ karozzi privati u garaxxijiet biex jaħdmu fuq ir-rotot. Sabiħa din. Is-sussidju tal-gvern li qabel kien imur għand kumpanija li għamlet l-għalmu tagħha biex tlaħħaq mal-idjosinkraziji ta’ pajjiż miġnun issa tqassam bħaċ-ċejċa lil numru ta’ kumpaniji privati biex taparsi isoddu it-toqba.

Customer care u ngħid. Kullħadd mgħaffeġġ, vidjos ta’ xufiera li jiġi f’idejhom l-isteering, korteżija li splodiet barra t-twieqi u t-temperatura dejjem tiela. Imma l-ġaħan ferħan għax ir-rivoluzzjoni soċjalista saret għal ġieħ il-poplu. Servizz tagħna lkoll li bih paxxa erba’ prieċem tal-garaxxijiet li ħelsu mix-xarabankijiet li kellhom fuq żaqqhom u qed idawru sold bis-sussidji tal-poplu. Mela żikk. L-aqwa li meta jmurlek id-dawl jidhirlek il-Ministru jitfantas fuq xi ex gratia payment li lanqas tiswa rota ta’ karrellu tal-lidl. U meta jmurlek id-dawl għal erba’ u għoxrin siegħa ftakar li tort ta’ Gooonzi u boiler number 7.

Ara biss taħseb li qed jitnejku bik f’wiċċek u jħalluk tinqela’ fix-xemx ġewwa ċ-Ċirkewwa tistenna x-xarabank sura li donnha ma hi se tasal qatt.

Case Closed

F**k “tu quoque, Muscat has resorted to an all new tactic straight out of the immense book of playground logic. The idea of claiming that whatever bad his party in government was doing had already been done by the nationalist party in government was beginning to run thin. So just before “talk to the hand ‘coz the face ain’t listening” and “sticks and stones won’t break my bones” he has taken up another of the playground greats: “I’m not playing”. This, mind you, from a man who sits as the Prime Minister of a supposèd democratic republic.

The latest hissy fit comes in the context of RefaloGate. Interviewed by the Times Muscat stated categorically that as far as he was concerned the case was closed.  Muscat is obviously labouring under the illusion that quod Muscat dixit veritatis habet rigorem – anything that he says is automatically true or right because he says it. So he fobs off the journalist de tour by telling him (1) Refalo acted in accordance with Gozo Channel policy, (2) therefore for Joseph Muscat the case is closed.

Thankfully the Times does not stop there. It does point out that “Speaking to Times of Malta on condition of anonymity, various Gozo Channel employees denied such a policy existed. In practice, it always used to send one of its ferries relieved from the shuttle service empty to dock for the night at Mġarr.

Somehow the contrasting versions, the foot shuffling and the inability of Anton Refalo to give a clear answer to any question make me more inclined to believe the anonymous Gozo Channel employees. As for Muscat, his latest tactic reminds me of the kid at school who brought the ball for footie during the break. The moment his side was losing or the moment he contested a hot decision he would pick the ball place it under his arms and walk off huffing and puffing. “The game is over”.

Sadly for Muscat this is not a playground and politics is not about his personal football. The case is far from closed, it remains an open sore that will continue to fester and remind the people that “Taghna Lkoll” was nothing but words…. small ideas for small people.

Taxi Taxi

How many more times will we see taxis speed through the streets of Paceville as though their life depended on rounding the next corner like a crazy Le Mans driver? I  went out for dinner with the family in our home urban conglomerate yesterday and walking back home past Burger King in the direction of Wembley (Saint George’s Road) at least three white taxis sped past us without any concern for pedestrians.

In every case, without fail, the taxi driver would have one hand on the wheel and another on his phone – deeply engaged in conversation. Hands free? Why? All the talk about the PN’s strong fist with all things transport and yet the Taxi Drivers Inc (the white taxis) still rule the land in Paceville. The area opposite Burger King is their territory. Double, triple, parking and the walls of the former Enemalta building used as a latrine.

Cowboys of the road and harassers of tourists. That is all they are. Will someone -administration, police or whatever – be strong enough to get some order with these energumens? I doubt it. Venture in any city abroad and taxis stick to their designated places. If you need a taxi, you walk to the taxi stand. The taxi does not plonk itself in the middle of the most vibrant part of the area only to zoom away at turbo speed in what should be a maximum 15 km/h zone.

Hope? My guess is that the taxi drivers are probably mostly part time canvassers for some politician or other. Given the trend in that department it would hardly be surprising.

In this country we don’t solve problems. We nurture them.

The Ferry Connection

The last few visits to Malta have included the use of the extremely convenient Sliema-Valletta ferry service. Even in the dastardly heat of August, the short trip across the harbour and (admittedly) arduous uphill walk to the Republic street is an overall pleasant affair.

When Transport Malta calls for tenders for harbour ferry services though it is not holidaymakers like myself and tourists that are the primary concern but rather the creation of a viable and practical alternative to the heavily congested road traffic. Even if we were to have had a near perfect transition to all that was promised by Emanuel Delia’s Arriva the use of water transport as an alternative was always going to be a useful complementary solution.

It’s good to see some forward thinking being applied – such as the free Valletta Lift use for all ferry ticket holders (always an added incentive). The condition of a maximum of 30 mins between each ferry trip is also important to ensure a constant flow – ferries with skeleton provision tend to be impractical for the consumer.

I’m not too sure about the “toilet facilities” requirement for what is after all less than a 15 minutes trip. Recently the Gozo Channel company that operates a 25 minute trip was quoted in the Times as saying that it did not feel the need to provide such Emergency services as defibrillators on short trips and that anyway there was no obligation. Surely available public toilets at each end of the Ferry service should suffice.

On the whole I would use the Venice Vaporettos (see picture) as a good standard reference point and would add a few suggestions of my own:

  • Sliema, Marsamxett and Inner Dockyard are a good start. A (maybe summer) route linking Portomaso – Exiles – The Tower – Tigne – Sliema Ferry might be an option.
  • Venice has many floating “ferry stops”. The Inner Harbour stops could be served by these – it might be a bit harder in the exposed areas for the summer route (see what happened to Sliema Pitch addition this year).
  • Ticketing system. Just in case the idea even floated in your mind: forget discriminating between residents and non-residents. Just use season tickets the 10€ weekly pass is a good start.
  • I am sure you thought of it but just in case, ferry users need to get to the ferry point. Is there going to be a similar deal with Arriva for a combo bus/ferry ticket? It’s evident there will be no car park + ferry ticket because Sliema parking is what it is.

What about you? Do you have any other suggestions for the new system? Do you care?

Arriva vs The People

You can change all the bus systems that you like. One fact remains. No matter what the new system there is always one factor that is a constant. The Maltese. Apologies for the blogging lull. Summer. Wedding. Work. That’s what’s keeping us away. Now go explain this to Joseph Muscat and Manwel Delia.