We think we are special, that we have a divine right to do the opposite of what other, adult countries do. That we’ll thrive despite flying in the face of all that’s obvious.
We really aren’t. We are exactly the same as every other place on this planet. We are surrounded by countries that clearly made some things work. Countries that balance tourism with sustainability, industry with quality of life, the needs of commercial enterprises with those of residents. While making good money, because that’s important. And we do their exact opposite.
All we need to do is take a look at which neighbours in the Med found the right formula. We are not talking perfect governance here, no-one has cracked that. What we are after is a working solution that despite its flaws keeps society mostly happy and poverty mostly at bay. Find it, and emulate it.
But no. Like the annoying teenager who thinks they know it all, we ignore all sensible evidence and insist on doing it our way. Floating merrily towards disaster.
Okay, here’s where this is coming from. A few weeks ago I was swimming in clear blue waters, the shoreline a kaleidoscope of colorful umbrellas that beach-goers put up themselves, where they liked. Without the need to pay a cent for the privilege of sheltering from the sun.
Boats were moored a good distance away from the swimming zone and none were blaring out bad remixes of bad songs. No jet skis broke our peaceful swim. Location – Sicily, Isole Egadi. Just like Comino but (granted) bigger, cleaner and quieter. Guess what. Tourists appeared to be loving every minute despite the fact that there wasn’t a single pineapple cocktail in sight.
A few weeks before this, I was having a drink bang in the centre of a different tourist town in a different country. All the bars had outdoor seating, very similar to the setup in Valletta. That’s were the kinship ended. There was no dirt, or the stink of too many people squeezed too tightly together. Music wafted at decent decibels without disturbing residents. There was easy chit chat with no need to shout over the din.
Location: Bordeaux, centre, 10PM: cocktails being sold like the world’s ending tomorrow (which it probably is at this rate), outdoor bar areas packed and everyone chatting animatedly. Occasionally, some brave soul gets up to do a little shimmy right there, in the street, emboldened by Spritzes that aren’t 50% ice. Because guess what, there’s music and a good vibe, despite the fact that it’s not shattering anyone’s eardrums. Or stopping residents from watching a movie at home.
Bordeaux is not even an exception. Milan, 9pm, Navigli area: I’m not going to bother with another poetic description. The scene is pretty much the same as Bordeaux. And it’s the same in Rome, London and all the other so-called entertainment capitals.
But not in Malta, because we are special. Because if we don’t fill our sandy beaches with rental umbrellas and Eurothrash music we are killing tourism. And if we don’t turn Valletta into another sad Paceville we are robbing bar owners of a living.
Bullshit. To all those who claim this crap is necessary for industry to thrive. This isn’t industry, but plain greed mixed with a good dollop of bad taste.
And bullshit to those who insist that Valletta /St Julian’s residents who don’t like it should move out, because this is normal in a city. Any flight to any other country proves otherwise.
The only possible exception is the Ramblas in Barcelona, which I suppose is why it’s so popular with Maltese tourists. And even there, Catalonia’s Urban Planning Commission has seen the light and a massive project is underway for space to be reclaimed by residents and tourism become sustainable. Not even the Red Light district in Amsterdam has party music blaring out of every outlet, like Valletta does.
So no, chucking out the greedy umbrella boys in Għadira and allowing Valletta residents to sleep won’t lead to starving families.
So here’s everything that’s wrong with Malta. We think we’re special. That we can ignore good reason and hard evidence and do it our way. We can. But it won’t be long before the rest of the world cottons on and the only tourists we are left with are the 16 year olds here for the 10 Euro shot trays. Good luck making a living from those.