It’s 9am on a humid and scorching July morning. Salvu fires up the espresso machine at his temporary residence, a pretty guesthouse by the sea. He is still tired from the jet lag but eager to go out and rekindle his fire for Gozo; his Gozo. It’s been 15 years since his last visit to the island he calls home.
Salvu lived a great part of his life as an expatriate in Sunshine, 20 kilometres away from Melbourne, working the fields and chasing a dream: making enough money to retire, go back to his native country and spend the rest of his life in the ‘peaceful’ village of Marsalforn. Little does Salvu know that, nowadays, describing Marsalforn as peaceful is undoubtedly a gross overstatement.
Walking out into a Gozitan baking sun, Salvu ventures into the streets of Marsalforn. It doesn’t take long for the harsh reality to descend upon the retired farmer and fundamentally alter his nostalgic projection of the village he once knew as a child.
The pretty colourful town houses that used to grace Marsalforn’s winding streets are now a distant, hazy memory. Their place has been taken over by towering grey concrete blocks, sometimes of disproportionate, almost ridicule heights.
Even Aunt Polly’s old petit house where Salvu used to play ‘bixkla’ in its’ characteristic ‘parapet’ has been demolished to make space for a six-floor block of apartments of dubious living capacity.
In a swift motion of the head, Salvu turns around in a complete circle, barely recognising the surroundings and truly incredulous of the drastic changes Marsalforn has been subjected to. For him, there is absolutely no aesthetic value in the village’s ‘new’ architecture, just a pragmatic calculation of a developer to erect as many apartments as possible on a single piece of land.
The clutter of the buildings quickly and inexorably suffocates Salvu’s enthusiasm. He heads disappointedly to the seafront promenade. Once, this place was a carefree playground for kids but, to Salvu’s dismay, this too has been excessively cluttered and over-commercialised.
The new norm that we are dangerously being get used to will inevitably kill the goose that lays the golden eggs– Jason Grech
In an instant realisation, Salvu finally reckons that the beautiful canvas of an idyllic fishermen’s village he once knew has been compromised by the utterly dark shades of man’s greed.
It is undeniable that our country is constantly being usurped of its natural environment, its ‘living space’ being constantly pecked into.
The boom of the construction industry, though prolific in the short term, is venom for our future, just like the over-commercialisation of key touristic areas like Marsalforn.
The new norm, that we are dangerously being get used to, will inevitably kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, risking to render the Maltese islands uncompetitive vis-à-vis more pristine (and cheaper) holiday destinations, the sort of Sicily, Sardinia, the Greek and Balearic islands.
A drastic change in mentality is overdue. New ad hoc reforms are needed to protect our touristic gems from excessive development and over-commercialisation. The current pandemic with all its chaos and uncertainty may also provide an unlikely opportunity.
Hopefully, when the worst is over and people return to the new normal (not sure what that will be), the tourism industry may also be subjected to a sort of grand reset. It may be high time to rethink our future as a country.
As for Salvu, he too had to rethink his future. He did it in a drastic fashion. Just like Ulysses, the mythical Greek hero who initially considered spending the rest of his days in the arms of his enchanting Calypso, just a few kilometres east of Marsalforn, he also changed his mind and is now back in Sunshine, Australia.
Salvu says it is much quieter there and he is happy…
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