Some time ago, in Sicily I noticed a funny thing happening when a funeral cortege passed by. Some of the male onlookers touched themselves - a superstitious habit that I have not noticed elsewhere. Not a thing of elegance, I'm sure. The Times of Malta has recently reported the entrepreneurial idea of a local businessman who is reintroducing the beautifully poised and dignified carriages of the past to the Maltese islands.
Horse-drawn carriage hearses were last seen on our streets some 40 years ago but an undertaker has dug up his collection and is breathing new life into them, following public demand. Louis Borg's resurrection of the horse-drawn hearses comes in the wake of the liberalisation of the motorised market, which led him to diversify, giving him the edge over double the competitors he had before.
Now he is bringing back from the dead his first-class carriage (tal-kewba), which was used by "rich Sliema residents"; the prima and sekonda, which are for lower levels of society respectively, but equally elaborate to the fresh eye; and the white version for babies and single women.
The set comprises the priest's carriage, which would also transport the altar boy dressed as he would have back then and carrying the large cross, sticking out of the window as tradition would have it.