It was a summer’s afternoon. I must have been around six years old. I was on the balcony watching life unfolding on our street in Rabat, Gozo, where I grew up.
The Solera soft drink truck was there making home deliveries; the guy with his donkey selling paraffin; the goat herder with some two dozen goats, selling goats’ milk door to door, the milk ringing as it struck the tin cup. Goats pellets littering the street
People milling, talking in the street. Maria, Cikka’s sister, wearing the Ghonnella and setting off somewhere important. Kids playing in the street. People gossiping with their neighbours.
And of course my favorite street fixture, Cikka’s father, sitting there on the pavement in his traditional waist coat, with rolled-up trouser legs, cap and sandles, his chin resting on his walking stick, and his enormous bad-tempered billy goat sitting there at his side like some pet dog. This billy goat, to my six-year-old eyes, was enormous as it stood at around two metres when on its hind legs. Its horns seemed to go on forever.
Well on this particular day, the billy goat was one mightily annoyed cantankerous goat who managed to get away from his old master and went off chasing everything and everyone that got in its way.
I still remember laughing as I saw goats scattering all over the street, herdsman chasing them, the Solera deliveryman scurrying up into his truck, the paraffin vendor torn between controlling his frightened donkey and staying out of the goat’s way. People and children were scurrying to safety, jumping over walls, slamming doors shut and, all the while, there was the old man chasing his billy goat waving his walking stick over his head. Even now as I write and remember the scene I cannot but smile at the event.
But this type of Malta with these little vignettes of everyday life is slowly disappearing in front of our eyes. So, it is often quite a surprise to me when I’m driving around the island to have to stop for a few minutes as a goat herder moves his goats and sheep from one pasture to another. The tourist divers I am driving around are equally surprised.
When we come across scenes like this that are reminiscent of bygone eras, we’ve a chance to stop and contemplate a time when life was so much simpler, and when our expectations maybe were more about the quality of everyday life and not on what we can gain materially.
Some of our Malta of old still seems to be around: the helpful neighbours that always know your routine and will knock on your door to see that you are OK if you don’t make an appearance.
Summer nights, when neighbours share their pavements, or each others doorsteps talking over the day’s events, or their worries away late into the night.
Guza shouting, for Pietru to get back inside. That blessed shouting.
Yet, even this seems to be on its way out. Younger generations are heading back to the old village cores, but are not interested in sharing their lives with their neighbours.
I once read or was told that the tradition of keeping the key in the lock or the ‘anti-porta’ open is something still being practiced by some of the older, more trusting, generations. Younger ones are busy barricading themselves in their houses.
It would be interesting to see if there is any truth to this.
Phil Goldacre says
Exactly the same as when you’re driving around a group of us “tourist divers”, you write in a way that brings alive the atmosphere of time and place and really helps people to see that of which, otherwise, they’d have been completely unaware.
Please keep it up and write more for us. Those of us who love Malta will be enthralled to learn more about their favourite place and those who still have to discover the islands will be inspired to come and find out what it’s all about.
Personally, I just love reading your stuff. Eventually, I strongly suspect, it will come together to make a great book.