Important Churches in Valletta

Valletta, Malta’s capital city, is a real testament to Malta’s Catholic faith. Built by the Order of the Knights of Saint John, which was a Catholic Military Order, the city became the capital one year after its construction was completed, that is, in 1571. A jewel of historic architecture, Valletta boasts more than 25 churches and chapels, most of which were originally first built during the 16th and 17th centuries, and which contain innumerable and priceless works of art.

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First and foremost among these, one must surely mention Saint John’s Co-Cathedral. Found in Saint John Square and built in the 1570s, this co-cathedral is a distinct architectural treasure designed by the famed Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar, and decorated internally by the well-known Italian Baroque artist Mattia Preti. Although its intricately ornate interior is Baroque in style, the co-cathedral’s exterior is of the Mannerist style. It contains nine rich chapels, as well as notable works of art attributed to such painters as Caravaggio, as well as a number of medieval artifacts and tapestries. The floor is covered with inlaid marble tombstones, commemorating the more illustrious knights of the Order of Saint John, as well as a number of Grand Masters.

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The Church of Our Lady of the Victories, situated in South Street, is not just the oldest Church in Valletta, but actually the first building to be completed in the city. Built to commemorate the victory of the Maltese and the Knights of the Order over the Ottoman invaders in the Great Siege of 1565, it was chosen by the Knights as their Parish Church at the time.

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When one looks at Valletta’s imposing silhouette, one of the most visible features is surely the large round dome belonging to the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Originally dedicated to Our Lady of the Annunciation, this church was given to the order of the Carmelites in the 17th century, after which it received its present patronage. The original structure was seriously damaged during the Second World War, leading to the facade being re-designed.

Although almost all churches in Valletta are Roman Catholic, one cannot fail to mention Saint Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, to be found in Independence Square. This Anglican Cathedral, commissioned in the 19th century, is one of three such Cathedrals within the Anglican Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe. Its 60 meter-long steeple is a landmark in Valletta, and it is predominantly neo-classical in style.

This article of mine was published on LivinginMalta.com – to read the rest of it, go here.

Ghana – Traditional Maltese Folksong

Għana is generally sung by two or more singers called għannejja, who seat themselves at two opposite ends of the stage, retorting answers to each other in rhyme, usually without any planning or meditation. Għanneja vie with each other during this kind of singing, which involves satire and puns, often dealing with the faults of character of singers themselves, or of the characters or situations they are singing about. The singing involves musical accompaniment by one or more guitarists. The lead guitarist is called ‘il-Prim’. Between each stanza of għana, the lead guitarist plays il-prejjem, in which he or she shows their skills at guitar playing.

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The tunes are somewhat wild and meandering, but they also involve a certain kind of romantic beauty and harmony. As the singing starts, the audience tries to follow all the words being sung closely. Clarity of expression in the performance is expected out of every għannej. Moreover, the audience also expects singing to include the correct rhyming and a theme which is maintained throughout the song.

There are various types of għana. The ‘spirtu pront’, which is the most popular type, consists of short stanzas, normally sung by a group of two or more singers. This type of folk singing takes place in the form of a duel. This generally involves two styles of singing. The first one is called ‘the hitting back’. Four singers are involved; the first singer sings with the third person, while the second singer sings with the fourth one. The second style is known as the ‘impromptu reply’, and is normally done between two singers. While the first singer starts on his first two lines, the second singer continues the rest of the stanza, creating an interlocking melody. It is normal practice for the singer who finishes the last two verses to start the next stanza. This is called ‘għana maqsuma’, or ‘għana bil-qasma’, which means broken or shared singing. The spirtu pront and the għana bil-qasma require a great deal of quick thinking as well as the ability to rhyme. Singing usually lasts for an hour and comes to an end with a ‘kadenza’, which has two or more stanzas.

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Another type of għana is the għana tal-fatt. This consists of a long and elaborate narrative in verse form. It is called ‘tal-fatt’ because its theme usually deals with a particular deed, event or legend. The theme most dealt with is the lives of well-known local personalities or a sensational or tragic event. Sometimes, it also deals with a humorous topic, but the most popular theme is the gruesome details of a murder or crime.

Today, Għana singers are prestigious, since it takes skill and a considerable talent to be able to do so well. In Malta, għana and traditional folksongs are sung at festivals, fairs and tourist centers, as well as cultural events. Each June, the Malta Arts Council organizes a two-day music festival centered on Għana called the ‘Għanafest’.

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To read the full article, please go to http://livinginmalta.com/entertainment/ghana/

Susan Waitt’s Night Gallery – Halloween Interview

My first personal meeting with American artist Susan Waitt occurred some years ago at a private spiritually-themed event and reception, taking place in a certain ex-bordello in Valletta. Her colourful, vibrant outlook and curiosity immediately struck a chord. A Scorpio, the Connecticut-born artist worked as an illustrator for a Disney studio in Massachusetts, hosted her own American TV talk show and was an artistic director and writer for Liquorish TV, to name but a few of her achievements.

On the other hand, her gothic, surreal artwork seems to spell quite a different character; more dark, more mysterious, but still very intriguing. Waitt’s perception seems to filter and reproduce vagrant metaphysical ideas of succubi and the supernatural; sinister presences which may as well hide within each and every one of us, or even behind the closed door around the corner.

What prompted you to come to live in Malta?

Originally, I came here to co-organise an international conference on the consciousness of the Megalithic Temple builders, and somehow, I never left. I’ve lived in Malta for nine years.

From Disney artwork to the grotesque: How did one category of art evolve into the other?

The concept of the grotesque in art and literature speaks to something profoundly basic about human nature, and the nature of existence itself. In fact, Disney perfected for a general audience the interplay of paradoxical opposites such as fear and laughter, aggression and playfulness, and the merging of bizarre, carnivalesque atmospheres with rational and logical realities. Think of all the terrifying moments in Bambi, Peter Pan, and Snow White to name just a few animated feature films. My art evolved from this quite naturally, in that I felt like it was part of the whole circle of life, since the spectrum of experience was all there in Disney already.

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Of course, I was always drawn to Bosch, Goya, Fuseli, Moreau, Dali and many other artists who portrayed what was dark, subterranean and wrapped in ineffable mystery. Now, having grown older and somewhat wearier of the world, it often appears to me that there are also precious gifts within the darkness of the human mind – depth, profundity, nuance and complexity. Intense contrasts of light and dark add a sense of drama and therefore a sense of awe. Awe is a key aspect of the experience of the sublime.

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Is there a particular unifying theme within the exhibition?

I deliberately used Victorian Spiritualism and mediumistic séances together as a unifying trope or motif, because I felt it represented the collective desire of humanity to probe the unspeakable enigma at the centre of existence.

What is your method of creation?

For many years I painted in acrylics only, especially for large-scale mural projects. Now with my studio work, I usually first execute an unfinished acrylic under-painting, usually on a toned background and then finish in oils. When I was working as a commercial book illustrator for Disney and Fisher Price, I was constrained to lay out book galleys meticulously. That required sketching and sometimes re-sketching scenes and finishing with inks, water colours and airbrush. In recent years, I started executing artworks with the same absolute freedom and energy that I had usually reserved for my free-time sketching and doodling. I’m producing art directly onto the canvas now.

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This article/interview appeared on EVE Magazine on 22.10.2016 – Please follow the link to read the rest of it: http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/10/22/susan-waitts-night-gallery-the-uncanny-the-sublime/

Reality vs Fake Airs- Why Write?

I’m not the kind of girl who likes to boast. I don’t play the passive-aggressive card. I don’t like playing the victim in order to get pats on the back. I don’t like putting myself down in public, in order to receive commiserating compliments. I got past all that immature stuff at approximately the age of 15.

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It does not mean that I am emotionless or that I don’t have feelings. On the contrary, it means that I only share what I find worth sharing. Moreover, I only share it with a limited number of people I am close to, and definitely not with social media at large. I’m not that desperate yet.

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Perhaps it could be that I don’t have the unmitigated urge to display all my insecurities and naggy rages because I have, I admit, always been kind of an introvert. Yes, I communicate and share my experiences through writing, but still I  pay attention to get only as personal as I’m comfortable with. Especially if I’m writing something which, I know, many people are going to read. How many intimate sentimental poems have I written? How many embittered and angry short stories, reflecting my moods and my past, have I penned? How many irritated rants about my disgust and dissatisfaction with the human condition at large have I scribbled? No one knows the answer to this question except myself. Mainly because no one has read them – or if they did, it was only one or two people at the most. This is because, when my heart bleeds and my fingernails gauge half-moons of frustration on my palms, I write – I cannot help it – it is the way I vent what I feel and the way I tick. However, just because I write something, actually showing it to someone is something else entirely. 

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I write for myself. I write because I cannot stop. I write because it helps me come to term with reality – ironic as that sounds.

Whether something is floating on a current of social media out there or not, is irrelevant.

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I guess it all depends on whether you prioritize yourself as an individual most, or whether you are more focused on how you appear to others. For me, my internal personal life has always been more important than the way others perceive me, how ‘popular’ I am or what a ‘good’ impression others have of me. In the end, I prefer having some friends who care for me for who I really am, than many acquaintances who might hang out with me for any fake ‘persona’ I might project. At least I know that those who love me, love me. In all my silly, eccentric, weird singularity.

Quoting one of (in my opinion) the greatest fantasy writers of all time:

“My immagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world and exiles me from it.”
Ursula K. Le Guin

The Secret Sin of Writing

It is a truth universally acknowledged that what sells, and GOOD WRITING are two very different things. It is also a fact that most artistic geniuses, which are freely viewed as such today, were nobodies when they were alive, and in fact many of them were unbelievably poor and wretched.

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Not all of them of course, Charles Dickens, being a carismatic charmer, made more money out of his public readings, which advertised his own writing skills, than from his journalistic writings. Mozart, who was a child-prodigy, wowed the nobility with his precociousness, and Lord Byron was also well-known not only for his boyish Casanova-like behavior, but also for his poetry and grace. These however are just flukes, and not the norm at all.

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What sells is what magazines and newspapers look for. What sells is the thing most Editors really consider when reading a draft for the first time. Shakespeare was a struggling playwright in his time – one of the many trying to gain the attention of the nobility to earn a living. The same could be said for Marlowe, Blake and many other such artistic geniuses. They tried to find a balance between pleasing the masses and being true to their art. One wonders what great artistic treasures they could have produced, had they not been constrained by the need to earn money through the use of their talent.

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I need money. Doesn’t everyone? Now more than ever, I need money. This is the point in my life where I think, I will need money most. That is why I totally understand how and why a writer, a musician, an artist, sometimes has to prostitute his or her talent. It does not mean I like it. Hopefully, it will not always be so. I will always need money of course, but I dream of a time in future, when I will be comfortable enough to at least relegate my office hours to work, and then afterwards be free to write whatever I want, for the sole pleasure of writing it, and not for any other ulterior motives.

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Of course, if others like reading what I write, and I make a gazzillion euros out of it, I won’t complain either ;p

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2014 Good Movies – What have I missed?

This morning I had the idea of looking around youtube trailers for good 2014 movies, to check up if I had missed watching any. While I was at it, I also viewed a couple of trailers for good movies coming out in 2015, and made a very short (for now) list. Here goes:

2014 – To Watch

1. Mr Turner – Released Oct 2014 – Biographical drama about the life of the notorious landscape painter J.M.W Turner

2. Effie Gray – Released Oct 2014 – Biographical drama about the life of art critic John Turner’s wife and their strange relationship. Also about the Pre-Raphaelite artistic movement.

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3. Wish I was Here – Released July 2014 – I don’t usually like comedies, but I’m curious since Zach Braff (‘Scrubs’) is not only the main character but also the writer, producer and director.

Any other movies you think might be worth watching? I love horror, psychological thrillers, historical dramas and anything to do with fairytales. Not the ‘Frozen’ kind, but the ‘Into the Woods’ and ‘Maleficent’ kind.

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2015 – To Watch

1. Pan – Release July 2015 – Yes another Peter Pan remake, so what? ;p

2. Ex Machina – – Released April 2015 – An experiment which makes one reflect on the actual origins of life. Sounds interesting.

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3. Unfriended – Released April 2015 – Psychological horror – How powerful are social media?

4. The DUFF – Released February 2015 – Yet another movie about the school ugly duckling who turns into a swan. Yes these things do happen, because I was such a case, so I have a soft spot for these kind of movies. So there ;p

Again, any other movies you might want to suggest are more than welcome.

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