Sunday, July 15, 2007

Old memories - new Malta

As I was brought up on the islands of Malta, I have fond untarnished memories of the place. Sometimes the urge to conserve these memories conflicts with the changes I see on my visits. It is unfair of me (and perhaps ever so slightly pretentious) to want to preserve the Malta of my youth when the inhabitants demand change.

At Valletta G-House we do host guests who have known the old Malta, whose recollections are soon to be reconciled with today's reality. My ingeniuity at attempting to prepare them for this finds they do not have such expectations. As it happens, they are astounded by the many beautiful things that have remained the same. Perhaps it helps that they are staying in a city protected by its World Heritage status.

James Jackson has lived in Malta during the 60s. He talks about Malta's metamorphosis in last week's The Daily Telegraph (UK):

"Somehow, the spirit of the island survived, the century changed, and inexpensive air travel ensured the lagered-up and clinically obese could reach every other inch of our threatened planet. Malta was faced with a pressing challenge: to reinvent and rebrand itself or die. It chose the former.

Visit Valletta, that baroque gem of a capital perched above one of the greatest natural harbours on earth, today, and you will find a manic pedestrianisation and congestion-charge programme under way. Gone are the tawdry shops and fly-blown cafés; vanished are the derelict wharves and vacant warehouses.
In their place is a harbour promenade lined with bars and restaurants able to mix with the salubrious best. There are super-yachts in the marina (Roman Abramovich's vessel has been here) while the rich and famous are snapping up holiday bolt-holes on the neighbouring island of Gozo; international artistes, from Sting and Elton John to José Carreras and Andrea Bocelli, are content to fly in and perform."

"Restaurants, too, are participating in the Malta makeover, with their horizons broadening and menus becoming increasingly adventurous. Popular with bright young things is Da Pippo in Valletta's Melita Street, a trattoria that serves a blend of Italian, Sicilian and Maltese food. A little more formal, and favoured by the movers and shakers, is Rubino - with its well-stocked cellar - in Old Bakery Street. But Fusion 4 in St John's Cavalier Street is the place for dinner. Set into the 400-year-old city bastions of Valletta, and offering local and international dishes, it symbolises the new scope and ambition in the island's kitchens.

Nowhere is change more apparent than in Valletta's bars. The minimalist 222, just opened in the city walls, will doubtless act as a catalyst for similar venues catering to a cosmopolitan crowd. Walk down Strait Street - once the capital's red-light district - and nightlife is plainly thriving. Popular among the cognoscenti are Trabuxu - which occasionally hosts live bands and art events - and the larger and cooler Labyrinth. If not exactly swinging, the capital is definitely beginning to sway."

The film "Malta Story" - a trip down memory lane for lots

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