Manoeuvering Maltese roads is bad enough. Our driving skills come close to those of our Italian and Arab neighbours. But what’s even worse is being stuck in a Maltese rush hour jam near Valletta in the vicinity of a karozzin.
Yesterday morning the juxtaposition of old and new rankled. A karozzin driver gabbling into an iPhone, yanking the lead on the horse with his free hand, creates a domino effect of crazy manoeuvres by irate cars with dents, their occupants half-gawping, half running over the entrepreneur and his beast.
I have yet to meet a local who has owned up to having been in a karozzin when sober. In Malta, karozzin drivers’ street cred is almost at a par with our ‘allegedly’ rude bus drivers. It’s a reputation that has been built over some fifty years’ of tourism. Go to Valletta, Mdina, or Rabat, in Gozo, and you will find some naive tourist trying to negotiate a way out of being almost press-ganged into ‘having a ride with the cabbie’ or a ‘tour round the harbour’ or whatever comes out of the cabbies’ mouths. Poet-laureates these guys aren’t. They’re safeguarded as a component of Malta’s tourism, and yet they’re often seen hassling tourists or anyone with fair hair; their horses generally look world weary; and their ‘guiding capabilities’ leave much to be desired from the snippets you hear as they trundle by.
I don’t want to stereotype and tar them all with the same brush. I know every country has its ‘tourism’ artefacts, its ‘living souvenirs’. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing quaint about the karozzin. Vienna has its Fiakr – open horse-drawn carriages – that are polished to the hilt and driven by well-turned out men in uniform. A totally different experience, if costly (but our equivalent can be too). Fiakr can pass being described as ‘romantic’; a word that hardly trips off the tongue in relation to Malta’s karozzin, although I know many wedding organisers do add karozzin to the list of bride and groom transport.
So what makes tourists jump into a karozzin in Malta, get fleeced, and then return home to flood Flickr with their pictures?
Or have I got this all wrong?
Photo: courtesy of Kevin Archaeo