This morning, in my sleepy trawl of Facebook, I came across another brief clip of City Gate being demolished. History in the making, I thought. We can now record, with our mobile devices, the institutionalised passing of icons. Except this death is supposed to mean a rebirth. And in this death, together with infrastructure, architecture and economics, there is also art, some film in the making, recording what was, and is no more.
Like most people of my generation, I abhorred the old City Gate. Like most, on the days I have to get into Valletta, I try and dodge the army of teenagers waving their clipboards, trying to get me to betray my mobile service provider for its rival – and gaze to my right. To the steel and cement and now the stone cladding, to the men with hard hats. I think – someone must be recording how we feel, as a young nation, about the destruction of a cultural symbol of our past and the birth of new ones for future generations.
For a moment, I try and blank out that what is being built is primarily for our political representatives, for the regime, for the men in suits who crave power. This new parliament is merely a fresh facade, a veneer on the old. Behind its walls, the system will go on just as it always has, hidden away from whatever devices we use to watch and record the Phoenix-like rise of the new parliament. The brand new functional offices and chamber won’t sweep away the cultural baggage that people of my generation have to deal with – a perennial mistrust of representation. Whatever comfort the high percentage turnout at national elections brings to our political elite, a review of a particular chapter of Jon Mitchell’s book is a sanguine reminder of where we place them in our order of things.
I try and ignore the fact that I will never again, in my lifetime, see the exposed bastion walls of St James Cavalier, like I can, right now. I try and ignore the Opera House, decapitated, but promised a future under starlight. I try and blank out the flats to my left. And I keep walking, suspending judgement. Soon, I think, the structures will take shape. The bridge will take form. The fortress will feel fortress-like again. We will have institutionalised another break with the past. We will have another symbol for our future. We will move on to what’s next.
And yet, I wonder. Whether till I die, I will have to be selective about what I can look at openly, critically, in Malta – and what I have to blank out to be able to get through the day. What to applaud and marvel at, in the name of progress – and what to shrug at, because that is the way it is always going to be.
Our culture is as stubborn as the structures we are erecting at City Gate. No amount of physical destruction can wipe out where we came from, any more than a veneer of architectural change and progress in the name of development can mask what really needs to be changed. I am starting to understand, late, that there is much in this young country’s history that still needs to be absorbed before the new shiny iPad generation can really be entrusted to break with the past.
I suspect that it will take more than the men with the hard hats to take my island to the place I long for it to be. More than a couple of thousand Facebook ‘likes’ on another sublime propaganda site.
Like everyone of my generation, I am running out of time to do anything about it.
Still and clip from Bettina Hutschek’s documentary “City Gate – a diary of demolition“