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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Malta 2020

When I was a high school student living in Western Australia, circa 2006, there existed a ‘Save the Children’ second-hand bookshop just around the corner from where I worked. I used to frequent this bookshop often, and it was a great source of books to my then young collection. During one particular visit, an elderly couple were browsing the titles: “This was a fabulous book. Did you read this John?” John took the book from his wife, turned it over to read the back cover, and on completion, whilst placing it back on the shelf, agreed that it was a good read and that he enjoyed it. Once they had moved on, I pounced on the title - a hefty softcover, with slight tears around the edges and thick creases in its spine.

Years later when sorting through some boxes I had left in storage in Western Australia (having moved back to Canberra in 2009 to attend university), I came across the book and recalled the conversation between the husband and wife, immediately packed it in my bag. I don’t exactly remember when I finally got around to reading the book, Kappillian of Malta by Nicholas Monstarrat, but a part of me believes it was while living in Kaleen, so between 2013-16.

What I do remember is being completely captivated by Monstarrat's work; agreeing with John and his wife. The book begins with a traveller (I had always assumed Monsarrat himself but given its a work of fiction I am not certain) visiting the smaller island of Gozo, where he intercepts a procession in the streets. The traveller makes enquires with the locals and learns that it is the funeral of Father Salvador, a much loved and respected priest. The book goes on to tell the story of Father Salvador, a descendant of one of Malta’s original noble families, and his efforts during the war, where he conducted Mass and housed the displaced people of Malta within the Catacombs. For those who are unaware, Malta was one of the most intensively bombed areas during the WWII, due to its strategically important location in the Mediterranean Sea, and then, a British colony and Royal Navy base (In fact, ‘The Siege of Malta’ which lasted for two years between June 1940 and November 1942, saw the German and Italian Air Forces conduct a total of 3,000 bombing raids, dropping 6,700 tons of bombs on the Grand Harbour area alone.)

Within the book, Father Salvador provides a series of six sermons during such raids, telling the story of Malta: the Neolithic man and the daring Phoenicians; St. Paul shipwrecked on Malta; the knights of St John (and their epic battle with the Turks); Napoleon; Lord Nelson; and Captain Ball, eventually the Islands first British Governor. It is a compelling read, that tells the history of Malta, within a historical account of another defining moment in Malta’s history, all the while reading like a novel. It leaves one feeling as if they know Malta; one review I have since read captured it perfectly: “readers will come away feeling as if they've walked every inch of two of the three Maltese islands; as if they know the rocks and shoals of the Grand Harbor of Valletta” (“Nooilforpacifists”. Review of The Kappillan of Malta [online]. 2015.

Since reading the book I have recommended it to countless friends, handing over the worn softcover from person to person. Each time being reminded of the great tales of Maltese history, and the vivid images that have stuck in my head of the stunning Mediterranean islands. Fast forward to an evening mid last year, and while enjoying a beverage with a dear friend, I made mention of the desire to go somewhere 'exotic' as part of my (yearlong) thirtieth birthday celebrations. Naturally, Malta was an agreed location. So, this August I will be spending two weeks in Valetta and plan to immerse myself in the vast history, rich culture and, as of this morning, local politics.

I do often wonder what ever happened to John and his wife, and what other books they enjoyed.

Sunday, January 5, 2020


Entering a new decade earlier this week, I couldn’t help but ponder what would become the defining trends, fads and social movements of the 2010s. In no way comprehensive or researched, the following items came to mind:
  • The awful trend of food being served on boards, slate or on any inappropriate surface, which doesn't capture the juices, crumbs or contain the food. During a trip to Singapore, I once ordered a latte in a chocolate coated cone: an impractical experience to say the least.
  • Smashed avo; unaffordable house prices.
  • The influence and infiltration of social media on political elections and governance.
  • Social media used as a vehicle for protests and social justice: #metoo, #blacklivesmatter, Occupy Wall Street, School Strike for Climate, Extinction Rebellion, etc. 
  • Seracha, kewpie mayo and yuzu.
  • Mylks. No longer is a coffee, just a coffee. In fact, I did a shift as a favour to a good friend at Ultimo once and had to contend with seven types of milks: full, skim, macadamia, almond, soy, coconut and rice.
  • IKEA. 
  • Krypro currency. (Is that still a thing?)
  • Brioche buns. 
  • Hipsters: indoor plants, the male hair bun, beards, coffee (see previous point on mylks), vegans, cold brew, coconut water, kombucha, farmers markets, etc.
  • Linen: clothes, bed sheets, tea towels, napkins, ties, etc. 
  • Minimalism. Meditation. Mindfulness.
  • The rise of “influences” and standard folk reaching celebrityhood through streaming services and social media.
  • Gay rights, including marriage equality. 
  • Fidget spinners. 
  • Royal Commissions.
  • The revival of austerity-era fashion; the ‘preppy’ look.
  • Craft beers. I still find it amusing, however, that rebranded VB won the best beer at the 2014 Sydney Craft Beer Festival.
  • The advancement of HIV medication, including PREP, which has eliminated a previously lived fear about HIV and AIDS, whilst also allowing those with the virus to live healthy lives.
  • Hybrid pastries: croughnut, chuffin, dangel, sfogembouchatelle, dookie, etc. 
  • Cement and wood; the return and rise of Scandinavian design. 
  • Tote bags. 
  • Diversity of food and the infiltration of food trucks.
  • Streaming services.
  • Colouring in books, for adults.