One thing that hasn’t been said to me for a long time, but that I heard rather too often in my schooldays, is ‘m’għandekx kwiet f’ġismek’. (The last word would sometimes be replaced with an unprintable one.) The best equivalent in English I can think of is ‘ants in pants’. A Dutch friend tells me that a flea in the ear does the job just as well – if rather confusingly, given the English meaning of that one.
What my teachers (bless them) meant was that I was fidgety and talkative. While not exactly a compliment, it’s something grown-ups tell children half-jokingly – even if they secretly want to strangle them. That’s also because we sort of expect children to produce more energy than they can consume.
The expression is somewhat less benign when applied to adults. While restlessness can be an attractive caption to pin to an entrepreneur or maybe an artist, it usually isn’t for the rest of us. Indeed, it can mean that someone is quite unable to apply themself to anything for any length of time. Not a good thing if you’re trying to finish a book or stay married, for example.
Which brings me to ‘carbon footprint’. As a term that has suffered much inflation, it is now applied to things as disparate as concrete and the Chinese economy. It’s also heavily quantified and made to seem very technical indeed. Easy to forget, then, that it’s ultimately a metaphor that uses a body part to talk about big things like our relationship with the planet.
Rather like ants in pants, in fact. I don’t think the similarity is incidental. Religion and architecture, among other things, teach us that a lot hinges on what we do with our bodies. Yoga and the half-starved bodies of certain Indian traditions are perhaps the best-known examples, but the truth is that Eastern religions have no monopoly on shaved heads or places where bodies are silent.
My topic is really the Central Link project, of course. It strikes me that there is no one easy solution to the very real need for expanded road infrastructure, certainly not when there are so many of us wanting to do so many things all over the place all the time. If there is a solution at all, perhaps part of it is away from the roads entirely and closer to our bodies.
It strikes me that there is no one easy solution to the very real need for expanded road infrastructure
I do not aspire to tell people how to live their lives, nor do I think that what follows is some kind of environmental panacea. It’s intended simply as a small reflection on one side of things.
Every Monday, and like everyone else I’m sure, I’m asked what I did over the weekend. The right answer is that I did lots of stuff, and that that stuff included going to lots of places. The wrong one is that I stayed at home with a book, or that I went for a stroll and sat in the shade outside the chapel near my house for a while. School got it all wrong: to have kwiet f’ġismek is to be boring.
Let’s just say that ‘weekend break’ doesn’t mean taking a break from going places and doing out-of-the-ordinary things, but rather the opposite. The ultimate weekend break is two nights and two hundred shopping bags in London. Or maybe New York, if you’re so moneyed.
I find it fascinating that the word ‘holiday’ has come to mean travel. Every so often we’re told that it’s terrible that such-and-such percentage of people cannot afford to take a holiday at least once a year. That is to say, they can’t afford to charter a boat or travel to London, maybe even to splash out in Gozo for a week. They could afford to sit under a tree and talk or read a book, but that doesn’t count.
I know people for whom the idea of a summer evening is to sit outside the front door with a glass of cold lemonade and chat. Nostalgia and quaint and all that perhaps, but it’s safe to say they won’t be making huge demands on the road infrastructure. Besides, the carbon footprint of a moved chair and a glass of lemonade must be next to zero.
I don’t think it’s particularly wise to sit around twiddling your thumbs and counting the days to the tunnel of light. Nor am I saying there’s anything the matter with wanting to travel and drive and shop and do whatever else. My point is that restfulness has been made to seem odd – a pathology, almost. Restlessness is the normal and the only acceptable state of things.
The proverbial elephant is consumption, of course. If everyone took up the kwiet f’ġismek theme and sat outside their doorstep drinking lemonade, the economy would collapse. Restaurants would be out of business, airlines bankrupt, and pleasure boats beached. The roads would be eerily quiet and trees free to take over the tarmac unchallenged. Which is why restfulness and stasis are the ultimate sins against a whole way of life.
As you read this, people are tied to trees in Attard. There is more symbolism to that than meets the eye.
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