In Love with the 80s

If you had the choice of re-living your childhood and teenage years, and could choose the particular decade during which to enjoy them… would you? And which decade would you choose?

Baccombed wild hair, puffy tulle skirts, pink scrunchies, men wearing heavy make-up, others stroking screeching guitars as though they were lovers, skintight leather trousers, shoulder-padded blazers, bubblegum and legwarmers. No it’s not a drag-queen’s parade – it’s the 80s!

Ever since I can remember, I have always been in love with the 80s. The movies, the video games, the music, the pop-culture, the anime, the clothes (especially the Madonna phase)…. Taking into account that I was born in the mid-80s, and therefore don’t remember a thing about actually living during this decade, since I was a toddler at the time, this kind of retro-nostalgia might not be understandable to others. After all, why yearn for slower services, archaic I.T, and vanilla sitcoms right? Still, when I look at the ingenious convoluted plots of 80s movies, as opposed to the boring recurring tropes featuring semi-nude women, sex scenes, car chases and gratuitous violence… without a shred of innovation or creativity, presented to viewers today, it is no wonder I end up re-watching old 80s, and sometimes 90s films over and over again.

And what to say about the music? David Bowie, Queen, Siouxie and the Banshees, Black Sabbath, Def Leppard, Madonna, Guns n Roses, Van Halen, AC/DC, Twisted Sister, Whitesnake, Kiss, Scorpions, Eurythmics… need I go on? Who do we have now? Justin Bieber? Miley Cyrus? Kanye West? Oh please…

I don’t doubt that there are great and talented artists out there. But does today’s entertainment culture give them prominence as it should? I’ll leave you to answer that yourselves shall I?

Two days ago, I finished reading Cline’s amazing book ‘Ready Player One’. And it was a blast. The movie? I liked it and watched it twice… before I had actually read the novel. Now? Let’s say I think I’ll be considering the movie and the novel as two separate entities, rather than one. Yes, the movie does derive from the book, BUT apart from holding to the mostly-right cliche that ‘The book is always better than the movie’, I have to say that the characters, plot-lines, adventures and contents of the movie vs book itself are vastly different. And yes, the book is much better. Especially if you are a sucker for the 80s like me. And a movie-geek. And love video games. And are an otaku. And a geek. And a nerd.

I think you’ve realized by now that even though I finished reading the book more than 48 hours ago, I am still MASSIVELY HYPED UP about it.

Time to listen to some good 80s music and re-watch ‘Back to the Future’ or ‘Bladerunner’!

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Black Water – Music EP Review

Giving voice to what most of us think and feel, singer and artist Chellcy Reitsma, at 42, is surely wiser than most. Born in California and now living in Malta, Chellcy’s easy smile and vibrant persona belie a passionate spirit which needs to be heard.

This need for communication is perfectly expressed through her strong deep voice, which, backed by the haunting sound of the harmonica keening a sad lullaby, forms the backbone of her latest EP Black Water, released by Railway Studios last October.

Chellcy Reitsma. Photo: Federico Peltretti

Chellcy Reitsma. Photo: Federico Peltretti

Containing four tracks, including the song which lends the EP its name, as well as an original poem the artist wrote herself, this EP is one of an escalating set of steps in the singer’s career, which began when she was very young.

Ascribing her love to music and dance to her family’s influence, Chellcy first stared out as a visual artist and a dancer, and only later evolved as a singer, releasing Blue her first single, in 2016. A mixture of jazz and blues, Blue, gave way to her second single The Three of Us released by Beehive Studios a year later.

Chellcy is currently producing and managing artistic, cultural and educational events and projects. Black Water was released as a single last June and, as the singer herself describes, its main themes of personal empowerment, strength and determination pervade throughout all the tracks which make up the EP itself.

Can you describe your past career as an artist? 

In the past I devoted my entire life to visual ars and dancing. When it comes to visual arts, I took large mural commissions both in California and in Chicago, sold my paintings and drawings to collectors and held large exhibitions at fine galleries in northern and central California and Chicago.

I am still active in my artistic career, even more so now that I had to retire from dancing due to health reasons. I started focusing on dancing as a career in 2004 in Chicago and opened a dance company called Fringe Benefits directly after graduating.

This focused on contemporary dance fused with Egyptian dance styles, folkloric styles, Spanish and flamenco fusions of all three genres, and Samba. I toured around Europe and North America teaching dance and choreography, and performing dances both solo and with bands at dance conferences, festivals, cultural events, and educational events.

I opened a second branch of my dance company in Malta in 2008. In 2012, I closed my company in Chicago when I relocated full-time to Malta as it became too cumbersome to manage both, and in 2016, my assistant took over the dance company in Malta since I had to retire from dancing due to physical injuries.

Why did you relocate to Malta? 

I first started coming here intermittently as of December 2005 as a dance instructor and performer. Then I decided to move here because I fell in love with Malta, and started the long migration process in 2009. In 2011 I met the man who is now my husband, who is Maltese, and whom I married in 2013. 

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on a music project with composer Tom Borg from the band Hunting Cain, as well as developing a large visual art exhibition with Finnish artist Merja Brinon, which will be showing at Spazu Kreattiv in 2019 in Malta and in 2020 in Spain and Finland.

I will be travelling to Finland later in the year to work with Brinon in developing our artistic collaborations, concepts, and location scouting.

The track Black Water seems to paint the image of someone looking at the past. Is there a hidden message?

The EP and the song itself were inspired by my move from Chicago to Malta – letting go of the past and moving on from relationships that ended. There is a lot of sadness in these songs, but also hope and resolution. The whole EP is about moving forward, taking control of your life and overcoming your fears.

Note: This interview was done by me and officially published on The Sunday Times of Malta on the 6th of January 2019

The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart

“ I love you crookedly because my heart’s been unhinged from birth. The doctors gave me strict instructions not to fall in love: my fragile clockwork heart would never survive. But when you gave me a dose of love so powerful – far beyond my wildest dreams – that I felt able to confront anything for you, I decided to put my life in your hands.” 
― Mathias Malzieu, La Mécanique du cœur

‘The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart’, a metaphorical, sweet, and disturbing little book translated into English from French, is a Tim Burtonesque fable of the rarest kind. I purchased the book at the well-known historical bookshop Shakespeare and Co in Paris. Attracted by Benjamin Lacombe’s art on the cover (check some of it out here) I couldn’t not give it a go, and boy am I happy that I did!

Our story begins on a cold dark wintry night (of course it does), when an unkown woman gives birth to a very pale baby, delivered by ‘Dr Madeline’ also known as ‘the witch’ in a gothic house set on top of King Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. Because yes, this dark gothic tale is set in 19th century Scotland (and we even bump into Jack the Ripper at one point)! The baby is sickly, his heart is weak, and our steampunkish doctor decides to link the hardly-beating heart with a cuckoo-clock set right into the boy’s chest.

Three rules must always be kept:
1. Never touch the hands of the heart-clock
2. Keep your temper under control
3 Whatever else you do, never ever fall in love

Needless to say that during the course of his life, Jack breaks all three rules.

By the way, did I mention there is also an animated version of the book? And it is AMAZING. Yes, this is what happens when the author, Mathias Malzieu, is the leading singer of a French rock band – Dionysus. They created the music for the animated movie themselves of course. You can find some clips on Youtube (both in the original French version and translated to English). 

Oh yes, this book was a real discovery. Thank you Paris. Thank you Shakespeare and Co. Thank you Benjamin Lacombe. And most of all thank you so much Mathias Malzieu!

P.S If you loved Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s ‘The Little Prince’, this book is right up your street.

Personal rating – 5 on 5 Stars!

Making Noise

The day before yesterday was the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. I spent most of the day seeing, and then ignoring, related posts of people remembering where they were that day, what they were doing, who they lost. It has become a yearly thing now. I said I was ignoring the posts after a while, not due to a sense of annoyance or to diminish people’s grief – the thing is that so many countries experienced so many such tragedies over time, that highlighting only one of them starts to feel kind of obnoxious after a while.

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Let me explain – yes 9/11 was monstrous. It was mostly monstrous not because people died (though that was awful of course) but because it was a willful act of hate and destruction, aimed at one country, but resonating throughout humanity. Unfortunately, throughout human history, there have been many others like it, such as the Holocaust, the repeated terrorist attacks in France, the terrorist attacks in the UK, in Brussels, and in many other places, many of which left people dead and injured, not just physically, but also emotionally and physically. They left whole countries scarred, a whole people in fear and loathing for their fellow man. 

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All of these events were serious and should not be forgotten. Ever. And yet, it seems like no matter how many atrocities take place, no matter how much humanity is shown the cruel face of its darkest side, no matter how many times we stumble, we get up again, brush our knees from the dust and the blood, and move on again towards the light. Or we try to anyways.

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Thing is, sometimes it seems to me as though the 9/11 tragedy is given much more prominence than all the others. Why? Is it more important? Is that because it happened in the US? Because it was the sign of something which the other tragedies lack? Because we felt it more? Or is it… because the US simply made more of a fuss about it? I say this in a good way, because such tragedies SHOULD be made a fuss of. No, we should not remain silent and take it. We should not forget or let ‘bygones be bygones’. So, why are some tragedies less talked about than others?

In this world, no one stands up and listens to you unless you make yourself heard. No one will take their time to pay attention to you unless you attract their attention and tell them that you have something important to communicate. No one will take notice, if you don’t make noise, if you don’t scream, yell, cry, shriek, and make a ruckus. No one will give something importance, if you yourself don’t show that it is important to you.

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And so, yes, write, talk, scream, make a fuss, throw a tantrum. Some things are worth making a scene about.

Malta – The Tarxien Temples

Although cremation in Malta is still illegal at present, Malta’s oldest crematorium came into existence long before the Maltese Planning Authority itself. This was way back in 2,500 BC, when the Tarxien Temples, situated in the South Eastern region of Malta, were converted from a megalithic temple into a crematorium cemetery, in the early Bronze Age.

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The Tarxien Temple archaeological complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the oldest temples in the Maltese Islands, dating back approximately to 3600BC. Following the discovery of the Tarxien Hypogeum in 1913 situated only 400 meters away, it was only natural for a particular farmer in the same area to feel curious after constantly striking large boulders while ploughing his fields only a year later. He therefore contacted the director of the National Museum, who started to work on the first dig of the site, and the center of the temple compound was discovered.

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The Tarxien Temples consist of a complex of four different megalithic structures built between 3600 and 2500 BC. The oldest of the structures is located at the easternmost end of the site and is smaller than the others. Nearby, also facing the eastern side, is another temple with well-cut slab walls and ‘oracle-holes’. The temple on the southern side, which is the second oldest within the complex, is the one with the most extensive decorations, sporting relief art and spiral patterns as well as the lower part of the colossal statue of a skirted figure which surely portrayed what is known as ‘The Maltese Fat Lady’, the goddess of fertility worshipped in Neolithic times. What is known as the Central Temple, which was probably the last to be built, was constructed with a unique six-apse plan and contains evidence of arched roofing. The main altar is decorate with spiral designs and it is where animals were sacrificed to the goddess of fertility, as proven by the remains of animal horns and bones, as well as a flint knife, found underneath the altar by archaeologists. A flat slab embossed with animal drawings was also found.

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During the later Bronze Age, the people became more warlike, and perhaps it was in relation to this that the southern temple was reconstructed into a cremation cemetery. Almost 2000 years afterwards, by the end of the Roman Period, the area became mostly fields.

The discovery of the temple complex at Tarxien did much to solidify Malta’s national identity as well as its historical and cultural heritage. In 2012, an elevated walkway was constructed with the scope of facilitating those visitors who wanted to admire this pre-historic site. In 2015, in a bid to preserve the stones of the temple from being further eroded due to the onset of time and inclement weather, a protective tent arching over the complex was completed, and the visitor’s center was also refurbished.

The Tarxien Temple is visited by around 100,000 people each year. Opening hours are from 9.00am to 17.00 from Monday to Sunday, with the last admission being at 16.30.

More information can be found here – http://heritagemalta.org/book-buy/admission-fees/

This article was written by me and originally published on the online magazine LivingInMalta. Click here to view the original.

On Writing

There is a difference between writing facts and writing fiction. When you write facts, you write about things you have seen, experienced and felt. When you write fiction, you write about things you have invented, or imagined. On the other hand when you write imagined facts as though they were truths… well that’s either lying or you’re just copying and pasting other real writers’ stuff! lol

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This is basically the difference between being a writer, and being a mere ‘content filler’. 

I’ve had a number of offers, both locally and pertaining to online media, where either betting companies, or news-rags, just needed someone to fill-in some pages, either with adverts full of pre-determined phrases and compliments towards their products, or where the job consisted of just researching stuff online and putting it forward in another format. And I rejected them all. I’m not an automated content filler. I LOVE writing as a way of expression and a way to share my experiences and the things and places I love. So, no, I will never reduce writing and my capabilities to doing a mere job which any machine can do.

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Brandon Sanderson, when explaining the difference between a writer and a content-filler, gives the metaphor of the difference between a cook and a chef. The cook just wants to do a job, he follows a recipe to the detail, mechanically, always the same, and produces a cheese burger. The chef on the other hand, wants to express himself, he wants to create, he wants to change and evolve. He doesn’t mindlessly pour four ingredients into a mixing bowl to produce food, he wants to pour himself into something which others will love, and which will change them in turn. And that is the difference between a content filler and a writer.

A content filler is there only for the money. He doesn’t create anything. He copies and pastes. That’s easy.

A writer is writing because he not only enjoys it for its own sake, but because he NEEDS to write, in order to feel complete. Each time he writes, his emotions and experiences pour onto the page and fill it with character and color. This leaves part of him into everything he writes and creates. It is not easy, but it is fulfilling, interesting and wonderful.

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Each time someone asks me if I’m interested in a job as a content filler either using my own blog (this one) or their own magazine/website, I admit that I pause, and I admit that this is because of the pay. Let’s face it, who doesn’t need money? But the thing is, I have a good career and a good wage, and I never wrote for the money itself (though yes I do get paid), but mostly I write because I love it and I write only about things which interest me. So that is my priority, and each time I receive one of these offers, THIS is why I pause and ask myself, am I going to write this review/article because I will enjoy doing so, or just for the money? And this is what I suggest writers – those who love to write and do it to express themselves, to do.

Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t sell your art, because even if you say you are going to do it ‘once’, you will end up doing it again and again and in the end have no time to write what you really want.

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Write what you feel. Write about where you go, what you see, and about what happens to you. Write about your hobbies, your passions, your life. Don’t write fictions as though they were fact just because you are paid to – because yes readers DO notice the difference between those articles/stories which communicate real passion and real experiences, as opposed to the arid ones which just repeat already coined phrases ad infinitum.

It’s not easy, but in the end, it all boils down to your priorities. And to whether you are a real writer or not of course! 🙂 

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The Mediterranean Island of Gozo – A Real Haven!!

Gozo (‘Għawdex’), which is the second largest island in the Maltese archipelago, is a perfect holiday destination all year round. Although Gozo is found only a few miles away from its sister island of Malta, it is quite a distinctive island, having its own geographical treasures, its own monuments, its own history, and even its own identity.

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Gozo is more rural and unspoilt than Malta, in fact it is well-known for its rolling green hills, beautiful countryside and resplendent sandy beaches. The pace of life in Gozo is more tranquil and peaceful compared to the more modernized Malta. Most of the land is still virgin, which means that one can appreciate a number of picturesque views, especially during the winter season when the fields are cultivated. Here, one can even find some old traditions which are no longer found on Malta. Gozo in fact has its own spate of religious traditional festas, its own unique crafts and artisan products, as well as being famous for its yearly Carnival celebrations and local cuisine. If you want a taste of this, you must surely try out some Gozitan cheeselets (ġbejniet).

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As of early 2014, the island of Gozo hosted a population of around 37,300 people. Gozo has a rich history and one can find a huge number of historical places, ranging from Neolithic to modern times, on this small island. One can hardly fail to mention the megalithic Ġgantija Temples, which, after the Temples of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, are the oldest man-made temples in the world.

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Another important spiritual structure is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu, otherwise known as the Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary, first built in 1545 and then restored in 1730. This Catholic Sanctuary, located in the village of Għarb, is well-known to hold the prayers, vows, and votive offerings given by those who maintain to have been miraculously helped after praying to the Virgin of Ta’ Pinu. This church is in fact linked with many miraculous healings.

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Apart from its deeply spiritual heritage, Gozo also holds some of the Mediterranean’s most breathtaking natural wonders. There’s a number of pristine sandy beaches like Xlendi Bay, Marsalforn Bay, as well as Ramla Bay, just off Xagħra, which according to mythology, is believed to have been the site of the nymph Calypso’s abode. Gozo in fact, is theorized to be the mystic island of Ogygia, which featured prominently in Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ as the island where Ulysses was held captive for seven years. Near the beach, one can also visit the so-called Calypso Cave, high up on the cliffs.

Gozo is also home to a large number of medieval coastal towers built by the Order of the Knights of Saint John, like Isopu Tower in Nadur and Xlendi Tower in Xlendi, as well as innumerable tiny churches and chapels which are gems of medieval and baroque architecture. Traditional architecture can also be admired by going to Victoria (ir-Rabat), Gozo’s capital city, and taking a look at the historical buildings, niches, balconies, aqueducts and churches, not to mention the Medieval Citadel, iċ-Ċittadella, which is a unique small fortified town situated on the promontory of Victoria.

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It is easy to arrive in Gozo, one simply has to take the ferry-boat from Ċirkewwa on the north-west side of Malta. The crossing takes approximately 25 minutes and is quite enjoyable. Truly a destination not to miss!

This article was written by me and published on LivinInMalta.com. To view the original article, please go here.

At the Malta International Airport

As I tip the taxi driver and heave my hand luggage to the sidewalk, I look up at the square blocky building that is the Malta International Airport. It is not a large building, and yet, its clean lines and practical structure points towards its functional and efficient intent.

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As I walk beyond the sliding doors, I am greeted by a number of compact shops; a bookshop, a small cafeteria, a pharmacy, and even a bank branch. All offering purchases and services which might be useful to the unwary traveler. I am aware that liquids cannot be taken beyond the checking-in point and upstairs, however since there are even more fully-equipped stores on the higher level of the complex, which the traveler has to traverse in order to wait for his airplane at the appropriate gate, I am not at all worried. I know that all my needs will be amply met.

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Malta International Airport, situated in the town of Luqa, is the only working airport within the Islands of Malta. It is usually referred to as ‘Luqa Airport’, and is located around 5km away from the capital city of Valletta.

Although the first civil airfields in Malta were constructed at Ta’ Qali and Ħal Far, these were severely damaged during the Second World War. The first airfield terminal in Luqa was financed by the British government (since at the time Malta was under British governance) in 1956. Later, in 1987, the Maltese government started constructing a new air terminal, as well as managing a total refurbishment of the Airport. Arrivals and Departures Lounges, as well as a VIP area, were added, as well as new upgraded facilities which included air conditioning, computerized check-in desks, retail outlets and a larger duty-free area. The completed present airport became fully operational in 1992.

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Over the last twenty-five years, passenger numbers have been continually on the increase, not only due to shifts in trends, globalization and the entry of Malta into the European Union, but also due to the introduction of a number of new routes served by low-cost airlines, such as Ryanair and Easyjet, apart from the service of Airmalta, which is Malta’s official airline, and which has been operating since 1973.

Malta International Airport has, throughout the years, featured again and again as one of the top deserving air-terminals in Europe. In recent years, facilities catering for people with reduced mobility and other kinds of disadvantages have also been updated. This airport caters for ten different passenger airlines, which include Lufthansa, Wizz Air, Turkish Airlines, Alitalia and Emirates. A number of direct airport buses operated by Malta Public Transport are easily available throughout the islands. More information relating to these can be found at https://www.publictransport.com.mt/

Apart from being a dynamic and vibrant center of activity, the Malta International Airport is also used as a cultural hub, since its premises are commonly also used to host temporary exhibitions related to a number of art-related projects, featuring paintings, sculptures, and even media-related projects done by various artists. This not only creates an opportunity for artists to showcase their talent, but also introduces newly arrived tourists to Maltese art.

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In April 2017, the Malta Airport Foundation added a dash of color to the journey of those travelers who passed through the Malta International Airport, by creating an exhibition featuring twenty local pieces of art. Over the next few months, further exhibitions will adorn the airport, ranging from graphic design, to photography and paintings featuring iconic spots around the Islands of Malta, as well as slices of everyday life in Maltese towns and villages.

This article was written by me and published on the online magazine LivingInMalta. To access the original, please go here.

The Treasures of Antwerp Square

If you think about it, the Flemish mush have been very neat people. I say this because when I was in Belgium, each of the major Flemish medieval cities was structured in the same way. Be it Ghent, Bruges, Brussels or Antwerp – each of these cities, built during the middle ages, sprawls around one large main square which is surrounded on all four sides by important buildings built in a gothic architectural style. Each square in each city has a Town Hall, where decisions about the city were taken by the Town Major, important meetings took place, and where people even got married (and still do actually). There is also always at least one cathedral, usually sporting a very tall tower with a magnificently crafted large clock at the top.

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This is the Town Hall, or City Hall in Antwerp, also called the Stadhuis. It stands on the western side of Market Square and was built in the 16th century. Its facade is richly ornamented and quite impressive, decorated with various well-crafted statues. Unfortunately, we couldn’t actually get inside the Standhuis because there was a private wedding taking place, and access was, of course, prohibited unless you were invited. So, we turned right around… to be confronted by the majestic Cathedral of Our Lady on the other side of the square.

 

Hauntingly gothic on the outside and beautifully baroque on the inside. I can never have enough of visiting Gothic Cathedrals! And no, I am not Catholic, it’s the art and architecture itself that I love. Those people invested everything they had in their cathedrals, it was the place where they went to dream and hope for a better tomorrow. In a world of misery, pain, and poverty, peasants had nothing else beautiful to look at. Imagine, even today, when we have all our geegaws, out plasma screens and hi-tech computers, when we all know how to read and write and are able to amuse ourselves, even NOW we are awed by these amazing gothic structures… now imagine people who have absolutely nothing – how THEY must have felt when entering a place of such incredible breathtaking beauty!

Anyways, hehe yes I love art and I love architecture.

 

Moving on, the Cathedral is full of paintings done by Rubens, the artist whose house I had visited just before (see previous post). And just look at that stained glass!

 

Oh and by the way, did I mention all those other historic medieval houses around the square? Today, most of them are restaurants and pubs, but they still contain their original magic. Imagine having a drink in a 600 year old bar!

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In conclusion – 10 points to Antwerp Square!!

Antwerp – Visiting Ruben’s House

The first place we visited while in Antwerp was the Rubenshuis or ‘Ruben’s House’. I am, of course, referring to the well-known Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, who is considered to be the most influential artist of the Flemish Baroque tradition. Rubens lived in this house during the early 17th century. He actually designed the house himself, in the Italian Renaissance style.

The layout of the Rubenshuis consists of the house proper, the artist’s studio, an interior courtyard, and a baroque garden (personally, this was my favorite part of the house).

The house today is a museum containing many of Rubens original works (even his famous self-portrait, which is astounding), as well as many artworks done by his contemporaries. 

I do not draw – I wish I had this talent, but I really don’t. However I love art and I appreciate the great talent and dedication owned by the truly great artists. In this respect, Ruben’s House left me in a truly awe-induced state. The paintings, the sculpture, the beautiful period furniture – they transported me back to another time, when artists, philosophers and people of all types met in this amazing place to talk, debate and to create works which would continue to amaze and inspire us long after they were gone.

Truly Rubens, I salute you!!