Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 8

Tales from the Land of Serenity’ came into being shortly after the horrific assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta on 16th October 2017. A well-known investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown up by a car bomb, minutes away from her home in Bidnija. The title of these stories derives from words spoken by the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, a few days after her murder: ‘When the MEPs visit Malta, they will do so with a sense of serenity…’

On the island of Serenity where the streets have no name, in the water of this Malta where the cows go bong and the monkeys all say boo, a celebration was getting underway with a lavish feast being prepared and no expenses spared, no matter where the coffers came from, whether on this shore or off. Impressive banners were being hung out to dry on every balcony, with skeletons in every dusty cupboard being aired.

 
For ever since the humble citizens of this land of sweet serenity had timidly taken their first taste of that forbidden fruit, their thirsty appetite for knowledge was left unquenched as they shovelled apricots and bananas and tinned pomegranate down their parched throats, not to mention apples which had never fallen far from the one remaining tree in Malta which, despite belonging to their neighbours, didn’t deter anyone from scavenging the benefits of Mother Nature’s womb.

 
Nature, like knowledge, is sacrosanct on the island of serenity, and the ivory towers of tranquility would never throw away their key.

 
There were sounds of jubilation as the rumours began to surface. There were tiny ripples of handclaps which crescendoed into mass applause. This, yes, this, on the isle of peace and justice, this, yes, this is what we’ve been hoping for.

 
The academics, tripping over the swathes of black cloth of their moth-bitten gowns, ventured into the town to check if the news they’d heard was true. Unused to the harsh sunlight and the vexing vision of what, to their learned minds, could only be construed as uneducated people engaging in the activities of labour they’d merely read about in books, the intellectuals veritably felt like fish deprived of water, uncontextualised, deconstructed and discarded to the wolves.

 
Shielding their eyes from a social realm they’d carefully scrutinised in published papers, indecipherable with the hieorglyphics of hyphens and obscure new-fangled terms, they picked up their gowns and scuttled hurriedly back through the hollow hallways of scholastic tomes and yellowing manuscripts, retained for posterity because you never know when something that should have been thrown out years ago might suddenly come in handy.

 
The protectors of knowledge, of astute critical thinking, the defenders of rigour, objectivity and ground-breaking theoretical breakthroughs backed up by empirical research whereby no-one’s hands got dirty were perturbed as they gathered together in their dimly-lit senate but, after several hours of failing to reach a consensus due to digressions into discursive alleyways that always lead to nowhere, the Rector finally and falteringly rose to his feet.

 
The rattle in his throat echoed round the hallowed chamber and was heard by all those present, save for those whose heads had rolled back and their eyes were closed in sleep.
‘Our leaders,’ he rasped, coughing phlegm into a parchment that he plucked from a shelf. ‘Our leaders,’ he continued, brushing dust off from his gown. ‘Our leaders,’ he said, and repetition made him stronger, ‘are plotting and scheming to infiltrate our noble ranks.’
‘My job is being threatened,’ he shouted, realising in that instant just how shaky was his ground.

 
In the middle of the night in the Land of Serenity, the greatest minds in Malta were beginning to question their previous compliance and trembled at the possibility that those who they’d made in their very own likeness, those entrusted with passing the beacon of enlightenment from one generation to the next – nay, the pampered spoonfed students themselves – might meekly accept the newly established order as long as their stipends were unaffected and their high grades guaranteed.

 
‘Our leaders want to undermine OUR powers?’ the academics gasped as the gravity of the situation finally sank in.

 
One man, sometimes regarded as the black sheep in the coterie, turned his mind towards the dissidents, horrified at his own inability to take rational control of his thoughts. He gazed out of the window into the darkness before relapsing back into the critical mass in which his safety, he was certain, was assured.

 

Some of these stories have been made into podcasts. They are read and produced by Pia Zammit and are available on manueldelia.com

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Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 7

Paradise Papers

Tales from the Land of Serenity’ came into being shortly after the horrific assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta on 16th October 2017. A well-known investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown up by a car bomb, minutes away from her home in Bidnija. The title of these stories derives from words spoken by the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, a few days after her murder: ‘When the MEPs visit Malta, they will do so with a sense of serenity…’

All hell broke loose in the never-never land of somewhere else, a land which has no place on this terrain of tranquility, a land which dares cast doubt on this serenity. A land which cruelly and maliciously levies dangerous accusations and deigns to use the cherished concept of paradise as it does so, an ideal to which the Land of Serenity sued for copyright amidst its multitude of libel cases, the majority of these filed against a journalist, a woman blown up by a car bomb three weeks ago today.

 
The Land of Serenity does not take kindly to criticism, aware that such attacks are based on spite and jealousy. And who wouldn’t be envious of this Mediterranean jewel, described, so recently and eloquently, as ‘one of the world’s most secretive corporate havens’, a place where people can truly ‘live the dream, enjoying the benefits of society without being subject to any of its constraints’?

 
The festas and the fireworks ignite the evening sky and the humble beneficiaries of this paradise right here, right here on earth, are proud as they parade the streets in freshly laundered clothes. The Land of Serenity will always be a paradise. The Land of Serenity will always live up to its name.

 

Those who meddle in the affairs of this smoothly-running country, who stick their noses into places where they know they shouldn’t go, will be chased away by broomsticks in defiance of their insolence, their lack of decent loyalty to this utopian ideal.

 
Oh, in this haven of confidence, this haven of security, why, why, cried the white-clad servants, must people point at us in shame? Our economy is booming, our churches are brimming, our leaders are loving and our utility bills are low!

 
Why, why, oh why, cried the white-clad humble servants, must our paradise-in-the-making be unpicked by the hateful few?

 
Meanwhile, in the ominous never-never land of somewhere else, dark clouds were gathering yet the flashing lights of torches were forever shining through. The voices, from the self-same chambers vilified for disseminating lies, untruths, ‘fake news’, were rising in steady and persistent and unshakeable harmony. Pilatus Bank, Azerbaijan, Panama offshore vaults and untaxed treasure troves of pearls which might yet, in the Land of Serenity, be tossed in the way of swine.

 
The white-clad citizens wiped the muck from their hands once they had grovelled in the dirt and were grateful for the ending of another peaceful day. The far-off never-never land of somewhere else could never touch them as they counted each and every rosary bead and then knelt down to pray, absolved by their refusal to believe untruths around them, forgiven for their natural human hatred towards those who would undo them, towards all those evil wrongdoers whose only purpose was to harm.

 
The God of Serenity brought comfort in their hour of need, reassuring them that hating their perceived enemies was entirely justifiable under the circumstances. Lies would be obliterated just like the bearers of bad news.

 

Some of these stories have been made into podcasts. They are read and produced by Pia Zammit and are available on manueldelia.com

Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 6

malta protests 2017

Tales from the Land of Serenity’ came into being shortly after the horrific assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta on 16th October 2017. A well-known investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown up by a car bomb, minutes away from her home in Bidnija. The title of these stories derives from words spoken by the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, a few days after her murder: ‘When the MEPs visit Malta, they will do so with a sense of serenity…’

Sunday night settles in cosily, bringing to a close another uneventful weekend in this sweet Land of Serenity. Only a minor incident occurred on the even tinier and more serene – if that were possible – sister island of Gozo. A construction truck, plodding along with its daily motto of ‘Build! Build! Build!’, was so overladen with drills and scaffolding and other decorative items which add such an exquisite touch to the environment that the road beneath it quite gave way! Luckily, a passing crane which fortuitously just happened to be in the vicinity came to its rescue, ensuring that the vociferous construction work so enamoured in this land of serenity will not be halted and the mechanical soundtrack of this island will forever sing in tune.

 
Lest we forget, more news emerged in the small print of the widely read Government Gazette, stipulating that 2 out of the 4 members of the highly sensitive Monitoring Board for Detained Persons (or prisoners for the likes of me and you) have intimate political connections with the governing party in Serenity – not that being on the state payroll of the Minister for Police restricts your ability to ensure that government policy isn’t breaching the human rights of those prisoners so detained.

 
On the subject of crime, the citizens of Serenity and their leaders were deeply appalled to learn that a Prince no less and one once decorated with the Companion of Honour and the National Order of Merit – nay, the highest award bestowed on barrani by the Land of Serenity – had been thrown into a cell for committing corruption in his homeland of Saudi Arabia, a country renowned for its freedom of speech and liberal laws.

 
But hark! – there are signs of fever as the white-washed people of Serenity begin to kneel hungrily at the altar of their gods, genuflecting in a rabid orgy at the foot of that almighty washing machine spinning promises in the sky.

 

‘We worship you! We worship you!’ they murmur, repeatedly, devotedly, certain that their servitude will place diamonds in their chains.

 
‘Forgive me father, brother, godfather,’ they screamed, ‘for we have sinned!’ And this purgatorial howl of national confession caused not a tremor in the parliamentary walls.

 
‘We worship you, we idolise you, we adore your craven ways. We bow down, prostrate, we humble ourselves before you, proud to be your citizens, made in your own image.’

 
Meanwhile, a huddled group of dissidents, ousted from their serene community for making a mountain out of a molehill about the assassination of a journalist in broad daylight in their midst, stood outside the Police Headquarters where the very silent Police Commissioner lives, and hurled dangerous projectiles in the shape of paper planes. Grave concerns were expressed about the noise of this protest by residents who quite rightly wanted to maintain Serenity’s status as a country of silence, give or take the occasional interruption from a massive car bomb, exploding somewhere far away in the distant countryside.

Tales from the Land of Serenity have been made into podcasts, read and produced by Pia Zammit. They are published on manueldelia.com

Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 6

Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 5

Bay leaf

Tales from the Land of Serenity’ came into being shortly after the horrific assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta on 16th October 2017. A well-known investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown up by a car bomb, minutes away from her home in Bidnija. The title of these stories derives from words spoken by the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, a few days after her murder: ‘When the MEPs visit Malta, they will do so with a sense of serenity…’

 

A cloak of solemnity shrouded the placid Land of Serenity. Flags were reverentially lowered to half-mast on top of buildings which shielded their secrets far away from prying eyes.

 
A journalist, who merely asked that these secrets be shared amongst the gentle citizens of Serenity, was being laid to rest and a National Day of Mourning was hastily ushered in by the dignitaries and law-makers who humbly accepted they were not welcome guests at the funeral.

 
Not to be outdone and remaining respectful of the family’s wishes, they put their time to more productive use. Adamant to keep the shores of Serenity pollution-free, an Immigration Appeals Board was drawn up, its members appointed with due care and attention to skills, experience and qualifications.

 
Being such a tight-knit little community, it was by simple chance that 4 of those selected happened to be family – the sacred paradigm of the virtuous Christian values on which this land was built. Likewise, such trifling matters as domestic violence are, in this land of Serenity, understood for what they are: mere blips on the horizon of sweet marital bliss.

 
After much deliberation and judicious thought, the new appointees to the Tribunal are announced in the small print of the widely read Government Gazette. Two women with personal relationships to government ministers accept the seriousness of their role with admirable dignity. The son of a judge being investigated by the assassinated journalist also steps forward modestly. And, just to add to this coincidental list of honours, out pops the son of Serenity’s very first Financial Services Arbiter who himself was once the Chairman of the BOV, a bank he was then expected to impartially investigate on behalf of 2,300 investors who lost their money in the same bank’s La Valette Property Fund.

 
Everybody knew his role would not be compromised by his previous allegiance to his former employer just as the white-clad citizens of Serenity would, when they stumbled across the news, be happy in the knowledge that the newly appointed Immigration Appeals Board would go about their business with integrity.

 
Meanwhile, the body of a journalist who was brutally and callously assassinated in broad daylight by a car bomb was laid to rest.

Tales from the Land of Serenity have been made into podcasts, read and produced by Pia Zammit. They are published on manueldelia.com

Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 5

Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 4

Msida crane

Tales from the Land of Serenity’ came into being shortly after the horrific assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta on 16th October 2017. A well-known investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown up by a car bomb, minutes away from her home in Bidnija. The title of these stories derives from words spoken by the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, a few days after her murder: ‘When the MEPs visit Malta, they will do so with a sense of serenity…’

 

On this peaceful sleepy island of Serenity, the people go about their business quietly and dutifully, reassured by constant news from up high that their precious and respected land is safe to work in, both for the citizens and for the journalists who are busy regaling the events of the day, and that the rule of law is indeed and always being upheld.

 

On the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, the Media Chiefs from the surrounding wider world of Never-Never Land demand a full investigation into the state of media independence in Serenity. Surprisingly, they are taken aback by the extent of media ownership by political parties in such a tiny little state and one so warmly embraced by the arms of Europe.

 

Meanwhile, Serenity’s very own Corruption Commission lies idle, bravely manned by one single stalwart guardian who, like the last and loyal customer in some abandoned laundrette, ensures that the citizens of this country will look decent, and that each and every garment will come out whiter than white in the wash.

 

In confusion, the white-clad citizens gasp to discover that an act of vandalism has occurred – and all while they were sleeping! On an archaeologically sensitive site beneath which lies their heritage, marauders have attacked the construction implements which were innocent bystanders to the planned development of a commerical showroom with five maisonettes, seven apartments, four penthouses and eighteen basement garages.

 

But all hope is never lost as Serenity’s parliamentary secretary for Animal Welfare – himself, and understandably, a hunter – decrees that hunting and trapping hours will joyfully be extended, affording more time for animals to be slaughtered in the wonderful natural environment of Majjistral Park.

 

Back in the land of legality, the mischievous daughters of a former EU Commissioner from Serenity find themselves in court, confronting heinous allegations of fraud, money laundering, misappropriation of funds, making false declarations to a public authority and the use of said documents, as well as the assumption of no less than seven false identities. It causes quite a stir!

 

But the Land of Serenity maintains its sense of calm as the curtains close and the people pull the covers over their eyes, lulled into a delicious sense of security by the crane which watches steadfastly over them as they sleep.

 

Tales from the Land of Serenity have been made into podcasts, read and produced by Pia Zammit. They are published on manueldelia.com

Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 4

 

Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 3

law court valletta

Tales from the Land of Serenity’ came into being shortly after the horrific assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta on 16th October 2017. A well-known investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown up by a car bomb, minutes away from her home in Bidnija. The title of these stories derives from words spoken by the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, a few days after her murder: ‘When the MEPs visit Malta, they will do so with a sense of serenity’…

 

Still rubbing the sleep from their eyes, the good people of Malta were shaken by rumbles of an early morning storm which threatened to engulf the island in one fell swoop. Grey clouds whispered ‘omertá, omertá’ as they huddled together like a blanket to protect the sky.

 

Meanwhile Fort Delimara began to tremble as, deprived of funds to maintain its ancient structure as a defence against the pirates of the sea, it passively accepted its fate – to be swept away by the waves and join the watery grave of the Azure Window. Nothing to be done now. Nothing to be done.

 
At the seat of Justice in the historic stronghold of Valletta, the announcement came that on Friday the 3rd of November, the day of the funeral for the journalist assassinated by a car bomb in Malta, the land of serenity, that on this day the law courts would close early, the flag would be lowered to half mast, and a black sash would be attached to the main door. A mark of respect for a woman who exposed the corrupt workings of the Maltese legal system and had over 40 libel cases filed against her, many by politicians, at the time of her murder.

 
Wandering minstrels and musicians were shocked into silence as their peaceful plans to stage a concert in honour of the murdered journalist were disrupted by threats that their day-time jobs would be removed. This intimidation emanated from within a government bound by the same all-econompassing legal structure which had so recently vowed to respect the very same woman as they.

 
The final rumbles of the storm lifted the sounds of music into the air, attempting to restore that much needed sense of serenity as evening fell and darkness descended once more…

 

Tales from the Land of Serenity have been made into podcasts, read and produced by Pia Zammit. They are published on manueldelia.com

Tales from the Land of Serenity Part 3

The Artist’s Way

the artist's way

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way has had a profound influence on the subsequent course of my life. It’s a magical book and it worked – and still works – its magic on me.  Subtitled ‘A Spiritual Path to Creativity’, it’s a practical, playful and creative guide to unlocking and unleashing your creativity, and the tools which Cameron provides are tools for life. They’re a gift. All you need to do is open them and go.

Back in 2001, I was living in Glasgow and working in Edinburgh, a commute made additionally difficult because I was a single mother and my daughter was still young. I was teaching theatre in a university in Edinburgh and the job was deeply unsatisfying. Having performed and directed before, I felt I had become that frustrated creative who resents teaching people because she just wants to make work herself. I felt trapped and I felt blocked. I felt frustrated and resentful.

In Christmas 2001, my friend and neighbour, a film editor called Kristina Hetherington, gave me what turned out to be the best present of my life: Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I should mention that since then, Kristina has worked on award-winning films, such as Yasmin and Summer, and has herself received a BAFTA as an editor on the film, Mo.

When I first started reading The Artist’s Way, I was a little sceptical about her reference to God but picked up on one of the provided definitions: Good Orderly Direction. I dilligently wrote 3 pages every morning – Morning Pages as Cameron calls them – 3 pages of free writing without self-censorship. You can write about your dreams, your feelings, your complaints, your discomfort, your…anything that comes into your head as you write. I bought colourful stickers and used crayons, and I collaged and sketched images of where I was now and where I so desperately wanted to be. The pictures I drew were of the me I was then: a single mother; an alcoholic surrounded by writing and books and theatre; a functioning alcoholic but an alcoholic nonetheless.

The pictures I drew of the me who I wanted to be were much happier. I was singing and acting and drawing and surrounded by beautiful, life-affirming objects and visions. I was in the full flow of my desired creativity. And what did I want to be? I wanted to be a freelance artist but could see no way of fulfilling my dreams in a country where despite my extremely good wage, the money gets spent on the bills, on the train fare, the council tax, school trips, etc etc etc. The idea of working freelance in Scotland seemed an impossibility.

One day, I went on an Artist’s Date. You do this on your own and the aim is to play and have fun. I went to Arran, taking a train and then a ferry to reach the island. While I was there, it began to rain – that kind of vertical rain which doesn’t stop and from which, that day, I had absolutely no excape. I got completely and indisputably soaking wet. And I also felt alive – more alive than alive. I was soaking wet and I was happy.

In June 2002, I directed a multimedia version of Genet’s The Maids. Shortly after, I organised a collaborative theatre project with practitioners from Bulgaria and Macedonia. In 2004, I revisited a novel, Vandalism, which I’d written in pen and ink several years before. In July that same year, I went to New York to visit a man who had been a central influence on the writing of that book. When I returned, it was to the news that my daughter had decided to live with her father in West Wales and she wasn’t coming back.

I felt sick, shocked and bereft. Utterly bereft.

After the grieving period and time off work, I decided to do all the things I’d felt unable to do while my daughter was there beside me in my world. I set up a theatre company. I received an e-mail from a man who was very interested but couldn’t make it to the initial meeting so we met up later in my university office. His name was Toni Attard and he came from Malta.

In the summer of 2005, Toni got funding which enabld me to go to Malta for the very first time. I worked as a performer on a devised theatre collaboration with Maltese and Scottish performers.

Most of All

Immediately, Malta struck me as a creative and vibrant island, with theatricality oozing out of its pores. I kept going back and I kept going back and – with some major life changes in between – I moved there in January 2008.

I’m still here, nearly 10 years on. I work as a freelance artist whose main financial source of stability comes through teaching English as a foreign language, a job tailor-made for me. No day is ever the same and I meet a fascinating range of people from all over the world on a daily basis. It relies on my creative and intellectual skills, and brings in my capacities as a performer.

I also work as a performer and have performed in plays such as Attempts on Her Life by Martin Crimp, The Sex Comedies by Iain Heggie, The Last Seduction of Almighty God by Howard Barker. I’ve worked on an Edward Bond production and had the unforgettable opportunity to meet the playwright in person. I’ve done some bits of directing work, including David Greig’s version of The Bacchae and Tender Napalm by Philip Ridley.

I’ve also, and perhaps most importantly, published 2 novels since I moved to Malta. The first is a book called Duende which I self-published as a second edition in 2014. It’s set in Spain in the years leading up to the Spanish Civil War and incorporates all the things that have fascinated me throughout my life: art, literature, philosophy, politics and Federico García Lorca, a writer whose work I fell in love with many years ago.

The second book is called Vandalism, which I referred to earlier. A novel which travelled me for so much of my life was picked up by a Maltese publisher and hit the Maltese bookshops in 2015. The following year, it went on sale at Waterstones Byres Rd Glasgow, a bookshop whose location is the setting for Vandalism– the West End of Glasgow where I grew up.

In 2016, Vandalism was shortlisted for Best Novel by the National Book Council Malta and in June this year, I was invited to do an Author’s Evening at Waterstones. This event was a homecoming of an incredible kind. Amongst the audience were people from different parts of my life, both past and present, and the fact that the book was published in Malta and yet now also being sold in Glasgow created a bridge between my two homes, one connected by my writing. I couldn’t ask for more. I really couldn’t ask for more. Waterstones Author Evening 1

Synchronicity has played a major part in my creative journey to date, something which deserves a blog post all of its own. And synchronicity is a word which Julia Cameron uses a lot, referring to the act of writing as a spiritual practice in which connections spring forth from the wider universe and are interwoven with our work. As we create and surrender to this process, we tap into forces far beyond and above us.

I gave a copy of The Artist’s Way to a very good friend of mine just before I left Glasgow for Malta. She’d got sober in 2004 and in 2009, 2 years after I’d given her the book, she told me that The Artist’s Way was The Twelve Steps of AA. It took me another 5 years to understand what she was talking about. In 2014, I stopped drinking, too, and discovered in working the AA 12 step programme that the spiritual path of creativity and recovery are two and the same. Ultimately, a spiritual path is a spiritual path whatever the motivation for embarking on this journey.

While I’ve always been fiercely creative, my creativity liked to dance on the dark side, turning to drugs and alcohol in the hope of perceiving deeper truths. Utter despair and defeat took me to the doors of AA. Terrified that a life without alcohol would somehow diminish my creativity, I discovered that the ideas which had resonated with me so strongly in The Artist’s Way were being given the fresh air I had craved for when I first engaged with the book. And, although I’m not a religious person, the words ‘knock and the door shall be opened on to thee’ carry a real significance for me now. I used to feel I was banging on the door of life, always fighting my corner and defending my cause. The notion of surrender isn’t something that comes easily to me but what I have found, and on a daily basis, is that when I let go and stop resisting, the doors somehow open in the most unexpected of ways. As Julia Cameron says, ‘Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise.’vandalism-and-murakami