There’s not much left to write on Dwejra, and there’s nothing left to stand or sit on: a sad fact which immediately brings me to my point. The tragic loss of our beloved arch was widely reported, both locally and abroad; and yet there was another tragedy, one that could have been easily prevented but on which nobody seems to have had any thoughts to spare, submerged as it was in this sea of sorrow and meme-fuelled comedy.

The iconic Azure Window was known to everyone, but so was the fact that people had absolute disregard for the ban on walking across the arch and, by extension, for its well-being.

The reaction to the incident does not bode well for the future, and, in a way, this is the real tragedy: some blamed the government, while some others shrugged off the incident, saying nothing could have been done to prevent it.

This kind of thinking about what happened at Dwejra is symptomatic of the lazy and irresponsible mind. The point is that something we took for granted is now gone forever. It may well be true that nothing could have been done to preserve it, but it is just as true that we did everything possible to destroy it.

While I realise I may have exaggerated slightly for poetic effect, I am sure most readers get the gist. Those who retort that the actual trespassing, that is to say the irresponsible walking on the arch – a fineable offence – did not contribute to what happened, miss the point.

If people are willing to disregard rules and laws in place not simply for the common good, but for their very own, if they are willing to put their own life in danger, then how can they be expected to respect the environment or their cultural heritage? If they are so willing to ignore the risks posed to their own life, then certainly the finer points of the importance of preserving heritage are lost on them as well.

Seen in this light, the argument of the indifferent ones – those claiming that the actual stampede of selfie hunters did not matter – collapses. This is more so given the fact that most trespassers were tourists – if they don’t care about their own self (in order to ‘capture’ it on their smartphones), imagine how much they care about a structure they may never get to visit again. The thrill of the moment trumps the safety of their life, let alone the wellbeing of the landscape.

On my last visit, a good number of people were perched on top of the arch and no one bat an eyelid. Elsewhere in Europe, disobeying local laws and customs is met with stern disapproval and reproachful glances, if not outright voiceful protests.

Our ‘anything goes’ culture bans this corrective behaviour, and this is a permanent order we all willingly abide by. Enforcement is expected to be carried out solely and entirely by the authorities. Indeed, San Lawrenz council had recently complained about a lack of resources hindering proper monitoring of the area and enforcement of the ban.

The reality is, however, that the resources were and are always there: we are the resources. The Maltese populace is hardly existentialist though, and responsibility is shifted so eagerly and masterfully that it has become a veritable art form.

A number of proposals on what to do next were offered both by the government and by overzealous pundits. Our reluctance to intervene at the scene of the crime does not seem to stop us from showing off our armchair expertise, but this is where fiction comes into play by offering an imaginative yet more realistic outlook.

Maltese things are Maltese for a reason, and we should strive to preserve them and their Malteseness

Seeing how I favour allegorical tales over science fiction, I would rather believe that the window collapsed of its own volition. After seeing and experiencing first hand our obvious contempt for discipline and the environment, it sacrificed itself for the greater good: a hara-kiri of epic proportions, a geological messiah submerged for our sins. Very Japanese, and very Christian, but nevertheless a saner interpretation than many have to offer.

This way, the collapse of the arch could be seen as a window of opportunity for us to finally get things in order and stop the ongoing collapse of our country’s heritage, and social and cultural fabric. Many are the areas where our efforts can ensure its sacrifice was not in vain.

Take the townhouses scattered around the island: marvellous ambassadors of British architecture being indiscriminately demolished to make way for ‘development’. Some fine examples, enriching the architectural heritage of the island, are especially threatened in Sliema, and their destruction is effectively pursued without a second thought. The very fact that their existence is threatened is already alarmingly surprising: their protection should be taken for granted as much as, if not more, than the Azure Window’s existence was.

We all know about this problem, yet we all remain indifferent and complacent to it.

What about the few remaining cinemas and old theatres? Buildings the like of which are commonly cherished abroad, where cinema is considered an important cultural interface and art cinemas – usually housed in historic theatres – thrive. In Malta, alas, they usually end up facing the same fate: either abandoned and forgotten, or, worse, brought down to build yet another needless mall or block of flats.

When are we going to stop neglecting these gems and ensure they never collapse?

If, on the other hand, we are so keen on development, why then do we have a problem with nature’s own recent development in Gozo?

Let us also not forget that it is not merely material objects that need protection: traditions, customs and ideas, despite being abstract, also face very real threats to their existence. And while their conceptual and non-concrete nature makes their influence on our daily lives subtle, it is nevertheless ubiquitous and pervasive.

After all, why was this limestone arch so beloved by Maltese and tourists alike? I am sure it had to do with the fact that people saw something in it beyond the rock. The window at Dwejra encompassed the beauty of Malta in its simple yet striking contrast of limestone yellow against a background of deep blue sea: a barren rock in the middle of fertile waters. In other words, Malta.

We may not realise it, but we are usually attracted to things like statues, paintings and natural landscapes because they represent the very essence of what we love. They stand for something else. The arch was aesthetically beautiful in itself, but most of its aesthetical appeal was philosophical.

The same can be said of other things on our island. The houses, the wooden balconies, the village core with narrow streets and alleyways leading to a central church are more than just quaint objects of interest: they signify the character of the community and they encapsulate the Maltese way of life.

The smell of your neighbour’s freshly baked contents tightly packed in an oven tray held firmly and proudly by colourful kitchen mitts and dish towels as the Sunday lunch is carried back home from the baker created an appeal that went beyond scents. It is an appeal which, sadly, is also lost as tradition slowly collapses, gradually eroded by progress and capitalism.

Maltese things are Maltese for a reason, and we should strive to preserve them and their Malteseness, not emulate other cities in a desperate attempt to catch-up to something we never were and, inevitably, never will be. Not only is this a recipe for disaster, it is also ironic that our ‘goods’ are advertised on magazines and in cookie-cutter video clips, and then ignored and walked all over back home.

As we have all seen, once gone, some things are gone forever. The absence of that window should be a constant re­minder of this sad truth to us all.

There’s not much else I could write on Dwejra, and there’s nothing left to stand or sit on, but there is a lot to learn from it.

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