Sometime last year, Lou Bondi packed a pair of stretchy braces and lots of tubes of hair gel in his suitcase and set off on a little trip to Paris. The Prime Minister had invited him to the French capital to meet the world-famous architect Renzo Piano.
When answering a parliamentary question, the Prime Minister was forced to admit that Bondi's fellow invitees included Where's Everybody cameraman Walter Ahar, Martin Galea, up to recently the president of heritage NGO Din l-Art Ħelwa, and a journalist from this newspaper.
I won't comment upon the latter's presence because it has not resulted in any attempt to push the Prime Minister's agenda down people's throats and the belittling of objectors. The pages of this newspaper have provided an open forum for the exchange of views about the Piano project, with no dismissal of culture-lovers as money-draining dreamers.
Did Bondi adopt the same approach? After watching last Monday's edition of Bondiplus, I came away with the impression that the programme was not so much a discussion about the plans for the Opera House as a desperate plug for Lawrence Gonzi's fait accomplit.
Maybe it's just me, but I couldn't help feeling Bondi was extremely irritated by anything other than total acceptance of the City Gate project. He seemed to be acting on the assumption that the only critical voices were coming from the arty-farty crowd who want to subject the rest of us to melodramatic operas performed in a Barry-style venue.
Despite this tedious stereotyping by government propagandists, it's clear that this description is inaccurate. There are many people who love the arts and who would like nothing better than to see the rehabilitation of the entrance to Valletta. They appreciate Piano's fantastic and creative vision for the site, but they also have certain reservations about the project.
Fr Peter Serracino Inglott has expressed these reservations eloquently enough - they relate to the impracticality of having a roofless performing space when we have a surfeit of open air venues for similar events. Then there's the issue of sound-proofing, weather ex-tremes and maintenance costs to consider.
Any reference to these issues were whisked away by an increasingly irritated Bondi, who kept asking why we shouldn't adapt the Mediterranean Conference Centre (MCC) for the purposes of having an acoustically superior all-weather performance venue. Never mind that this will require the great amount of funds that the government says we do not have to spend on a roof for the theatre.
If the Bondiplus programme was intended to offer a forum for further debate on the subject, it has failed in its objective. What it has confirmed is the Prime Minister's strange definition of consultation with the public (basically ignoring it) and the way in which the MCC carrot is being dangled in front of the public, to deviate attention from the objections being made to the current project.
During the course of the programme, Bondi took a break from his huffing and puffing and plugging of the MCC, to show a clip of him interviewing Piano. Presumably, this was filmed while he was in Paris. From this short clip the impression Piano gives is that of a gracious and humble man. It was refreshing to see such humility displayed by a man of great creative genius.
At one point, Piano made a distinction between what he called "heavy intelligence" displayed by people who are set in their ways and who absolutely refuse to make any deviation from their original plans, and "light intelligence" which is displayed by people who are creative, who accept changes and take up suggestions.
Although Piano does not concur with the view of an architect having to be an "obedient" professional, he said that in the architectural field one has to be sensitive to people's wishes as, if anything is done incorrectly, it will remain that way for a very long time. He also added that sometimes the discussion on a project becomes interesting when it gets irritating as that shows that people feel strongly enough about it. I couldn't help contrasting this attitude with that of others who just want to steamroller through despite dissenting opinions.
In this respect, I dug up a quote I had scribbled down from a book by Amanda Foreman. She had written, "The problems of his early reign were not so much the consequences of bad intent or of a poor education but the result of a flawed character. He believed too much in the nobility of his own purpose, while too quickly discounting the motives of others. He despised most politicians, including those who worked for him. It was this stubborn patriotic certainty that he alone cared for the country's best interests that led him into perpetual conflict with his ministers."
Foreman was writing about mad King George III, but the same description could easily apply to the present scenario.
Another question that springs to mind when considering the people invited to the Paris trip, is why there were only a few hand-picked guests and not a broader press call. After the trip, both Bondi and Martin Galea's Din l-Art Ħelwa are pushing the project.
If the presentation was so successful, wouldn't the Prime Minister's invitation to other sections of the media have had an equally positive effect?
Or were the invitations restricted only to those the Prime Minister perceives as being friendly and who would promote his agenda?
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