Sculptor Paul Vella Critien, the man behind the Luqa column. Photo: Matthew MirabelliSculptor Paul Vella Critien, the man behind the Luqa column. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

A tiger mauled a toddler last Sunday, scarring him permanently. The accident happened at an illegal zoo in Luqa. Quick, quick, everyone gather together, men-group-huddle: what topic shall we throw at people out there so they stop talking about wild animals in cages and hospitalised toddlers and Ċaqnu and rife illegalities?

Hmm. Erm. Umm. Hmm. Ta da! Idea! How about that thing in Luqa, not far away from Montekristo illegal zoo, said someone. Yes, that thing that caused a stir on BBC, CNN and even the Vatican – people just love talking about it.

And so it was that MP Silvio Schembri quickly scribbled a parliamentary question asking for the removal of the Luqa ‘phallic’ monument on the roundabout next to Lidl.

He made a heartfelt plea, begging the Prime Minister to see to it that the “so-called monument” is removed as soon as possible because: a) it had been imposed on the locality by the former government; b) it had no link with Luqa; c) it was a subject of ridicule; and d) it was not covered by a Mepa permit (ahem, neither is the illegal zoo).

He forgot e that we are all putting our life in peril every morning because we have to shut our eyes tight as we’re stuck in the traffic jam drive by that roundabout lest we are interminably exposed to the scandalous vision.

But I am happy to report that it’s okay to peek between fingers, because every day a new humongous tree and another bushy bush are planted on that roundabout, gradually hiding the controversial monument out of sight. Gone is the lawn around the ceramic art that allowed it to be the focal point. No, the roundabout is now a microcosm of a jungle and Ċaqnu’s “friendly” tiger would be much more at home on this roundabout than in its sad pen further down the round.

So will it/won’t it be moved? We all waited with abated breath the parliamentary answer last week… only to be told that “information was being gathered”.

Next year the Colonna Mediterranea, the proper name of the centrepiece of the Luqa roundabout, will celebrate its 10th anniversary. In a decade it has survived the wrath of the Neo-Catechumenal Movement who on the day of Pope Benedict’s visit, attempted to hide it with a huge banner; it has survived a crusade by Luqa mayor John Schembri who did not see it fit for the most Catholic country in the world; it was called “a giant Pope-worrying penis” by the Metro; it was labelled “Malta’s equivalent to the Tower of Pisa and the Eiffel Tower” by Vodafone; and it has survived a vandalism attack which left it headless. Really, if nothing this Colonna is a symbol of, well, it is resilience.

Every day a new humongous tree and another bushy bush are planted on that roundabout, gradually hiding the controversial monument out of sight

I pity any art in the middle of the decorating roundabouts, but in its defence, artistically this Colonna is a complex piece of ceramic engineering that involves specialised balancing and intricate interlocking.

And aside from that, it has done what art should do: get us out of our comfort zone. Can you imagine if in its place we had a monument of say, Mikelanġ Sapiano the clockmaker who lived in the 19th century? Now I have a soft spot for Sapiano, because at a time when electricity had still to be invented, he made an alarm clock which, when it rang, produced a spark and lit a candle to show the time. How clever is that? However, we all know the drill: we would have got yet another bronze monument of a man sitting on an armchair his index finger pressing under his chin, waiting for a clock-related muse to strike.

Instead we got a tapered column, which sculptor Paul Vella Critien, the man behind this work of art, describes as “a composition of vibrant colours on a column verso l’alto – they represent the bellezza of our island”. He has repeatedly said that when he created that sculpture, he never had in mind “a pene” as he is “not one to make sculptures of that kind...”

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it’s a phallic symbol, my point is this: have you noticed that it’s always the men who are up in arms about this monument? It’s not like Maltese men are shy about their equipment. We live on an island where when you’re having a conversation with a man, the chances are that every other minute, his hand will go down to his crotch and proceed to arrange his, um, package. I don’t want to say it really, but could it be that in this macho land of ours, our men are feeling threatened by an, erm, giant endowment?

We now await the Prime Minister’s decision on the matter, but I think the Luqa monument is no longer a saga. Barely anyone registered the fresh attempt to have it removed last week.

It could be because since 2013, we are now a much more liberal society, but it could also be that we’re at the point where we want the real and proper illegalities to go – starting with the zoo.
Twitter: @KrisChetcuti