Look, it’s Christmastime. Harping on nothing but the negative is bad for the liver, and even warriors stop for tea. Without diminishing for one iota the gravity of the situation we find ourselves in, here are some things I liked this year:

The Tritons’ call

I consider myself an ex-pat Belti (a Pawlin actually, thank you very much), and I just love the way Pjazza Tritoni has been rejuvenated. As you walk at dusk up the Biskuttin, the tree-lined walkway in front of the Phoenicia, the fountain is a delightful play of water-and-bronze curves, shimmering in yellow, white and blue. From that perspective the squat brown gabbani, like so many shipwrecked containers, are mercifully just a peripheral glitch. The tritons invite you forward, and you respectfully skirt their powerful tails (or is it they who graciously swish aside?), allowing you to feast on Piano’s soaring entrance to Valletta.

Tat-tank tal-gass

It used to be a nightmare to drive through the Kappara roundabout; now it is a pleasure (but I’ll be driving, not cycling). The nimble elegance of the flyover catches my eye every time. The previous generation of flyovers along the Santa Venera road-and-tunnel system now look like clunky geriatrics, ageing weightlifters next to a parallel bars gymnast. The Kappara flyover was needed; it does not impinge needlessly or thoughtlessly on the surrounding space, and the traffic management whilst it was being built was satisfactory. It was apparently done on time and on budget, and it did not produce an under-pass black spot. Let’s hope the Marsa mega-system will follow suit.

Amadeus

One of the diamonds among this year’s cultural dross was the staging of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus at the Manuel. Thomas Camilleri was completely credible as the terminally immature genius Mozart. Manuel Cauchi’s Salieri was something else. He infused the part with his inimitable gravitas. Salieri’s diabolical act of ven­geance against his God that was to devour him unto senile madness was portrayed with dry humour and restrained old-world charm, making the increasing bursts of envy and self-loathing all the more terrible. Maltese theatregoers do not dole out standing ovations easily, but this was well-deserved. Cauchi’s art has matured like fine wine, and long may we enjoy it.

Our ABZ Minister for the Environment may be alphabetically challenged, but hats off for the introduction of the separate collection of organic waste

Bishop Fr Joe

One of the 2018 highlights for the Church in Malta was the episcopal ordination of Fr Joe Galea Curmi. His serene presence and timely statements have not disappointed. As Archbishop Scicluna takes on additional responsibilities, Bishop Galea Curmi is set to have an increasing role in how the Church interprets its relevance in Malta today. Hopefully we will have less talk of basilicas, Porsches and monsignors, and more of being with and for the new poor.

Education news

Education has had a mixed bag of deve­lopments in 2018. The EU data reminded us yet again that our State schools are still short-changing our children. September saw the legislative debacle of first submitting and then – after widespread outrage – withdrawing the proposed Education bills. As if Minister Bartolo did not have enough on his plate, the MUT filled it with pastizzi. Because now, apparently, it is no longer within teachers’ remit to ensure that their students avoid junk food. But there was some good news as well. The free transport scheme for all students has made a noticeable difference on morning traffic. And a 25 per cent reduction in authorised school absences over five years is really great news – congrats to all the hard-working teachers and psycho-social service staff that made it happen.

Sorting it out

Our ABZ Minister for the Environment may be alphabetically challenged, but hats off for the introduction of the separate collection of organic waste. Its launch was rubbish (sorry, couldn’t help that) but now that things have sorted themselves out in our quintessentially Maltese way, it is making a real difference. I honestly never realised how much left-over food, peels and bones we generated each day.

Pen still mighty

In a year where press freedom was under attack worldwide as never before, it is good to remember how the media can be a force for good. A few days ago the BBC ran the story of a Yemeni mother who had been trying to enter the US to see her dying toddler, but her visa waiver request from Trump’s travel ban had been languishing for one agonising year. The day after the BBC aired the story, the visa was granted.

Hope eternal

A new year beckons. Manwel, I have not yet given up all hope for Malta. After all, when even hardened scroungers like Neville Gafà are moved to give voluntary service to the Office for Poverty Management (a.k.a. the OPM) how can you not have faith in human nature? And the best way to replenish said faith is to sit back and laugh your belly off at the Comedy Knights.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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