‘My 43-year-old husband just died of a rare disease’ BATTLING A CONDITION WITH NO CURE Raisin funds foR moRe ReseaRch
ACADEMIC IRONMAN Balancing exertion on the brain by gruelling physical activity
EXPATS ON THE ISLAND WHY MOVE TO MALTA AND HOW IT HAS CHANGED
Welcoming an autumn wardrobe HELLO TO MORE SUBDUED HUES
14 PrivateEye rare and deadly How a father’s mystery fatal disease changed a family’s life 20 EyeWitness home… away from home Why five women moved here and how things have changed 32 ArtyFacts heavy metal lady Inspired by Malta and created in Malmö
9 EditorsNote 10 MailShot 37 WomanKind the IT girl Dame Stephanie Shirley 56 ThinkPink health, beauty, fashion, events & things 64 TravelOgue island hopping & shopping To Siclia Outlet Village in style 68 TableTalk a seasonal salad Halloumi and goat cheese with these leaves 70 ThinkPink food 73 Pink@TheParty 79 WomenOnWheels body & soul Mazda CX-3 81 SnapShot hitting the high notes Francesca Aquilina
FASHION 43 ShowStopper autumn awakening Dressing up to fall
HEALTH & BEAUTY 59 OnForm for a woman to be an ironman Triathlon training throughout her studies
COVER Photography Bernard Polidano ∫ Styling Marisa Grima [marisagrima.com] ∫ Hair Priscilla Mifsud from Screen Professional Hair Salon, Zebbug ∫ Make-up Natasha Polidano, using MAC Cosmetics ∫ Model Sunshine @ Supernova MM, wearing jacket, €39.99; trousers, €29.99, both Orsay.
6 ∫ Pink September 2018
Recently, and as a result of my frank, warts-and-all reports on quality of life here, I have been at the receiving end of the go-back-to-your-country version for natives, whose country this actually is, and who, therefore, do not have much choice. In other words, my complaints have been received by: ‘Why don’t you leave?’ Some people have actually expressed surprise that I am still around – in the place I was born and grew up; where I have family; where I have a job and a home and a network of friends. The comment has come from foreigners and locals alike. It’s heartening to see that some expats have embraced Malta to the extent that they are touchy about complaints. Usually, it’s the sort of comment that is directed at them when they dare to criticise, but the tables are turning. While at times hypocritical, I have found the reversed patriotism also endearing… And yes, I get that when someone is disgruntled, and mentions the cause when asked, the natural reaction is to be somewhat impatient and tell them to get a life i.e. to do something to ﬁx their problem, which, in this
case, would mean uprooting yourself and starting a new life chapter in the middle of your own, when you should be relatively settled, have most things in place and on autopilot, and have lost some of the sense of adventure that a relocation may require. I understand the idea that if you don’t like it, you should leave it. Basically, no one is forcing you to stay, so why not just pack up and go… instead of going on about it?! But it’s not that simple, I have argued. And more than anything, why the hell should I? This is my home. And I have every right to stay here. Except that it should be up to standard – and it’s that mediocrity that should actually change. Questioning why I am still in Malta is the same as asking a victim of domestic violence matter-offactly why she hasn’t left the marital home, her abuser and all that she has built to start from scratch and go and live elsewhere. It is like telling the battered wife that if she doesn’t like it, it is she who should walk out… of her home, away from her belongings and her life as she knows it. The abuse is here to stay! And while this is, indeed, often the case, it is not exactly acceptable. The way I see it, and in an ideal world, it’s the perpetrator who should be made to go; who should be uprooted and displaced; who should go back to his proverbial country! Mine, in this case, needs to clean up its act. But the persistent attitude of those who think it’s a bed of roses is to tell others to: ‘Shut up or…’ There is an attempt to make people feel boring and negative if they dare to protest too much, and
now we’re even getting to the goback-to-your-country stage in our topsy-turvy world. This minute and yet divided island, where for many, things couldn’t be better, and for others, they couldn’t be worse, with the rest burying their head in the sand and refusing to decide where the grass is greener, has, nonetheless, attracted people from all over the world. And often we feel the need to question and understand why. So, in the EyeWitness section of this issue, on page 20, we gather some friends from around the world – lovely ladies, with interesting stories and life journeys, who have made Malta their home – to recount what brought them over, how they have seen it change and the joys and pains of living here. In ArtyFacts on page 32, we also meet an artist who lives between the metaphorical antipodes of Sweden and Malta and has managed to marry the Scandinavian way of life with our own, with a bit of tree climbing thrown in for good measure – whenever she can actually ﬁnd a tree – to ease the transition. Unsurprisingly, despite their attraction to charming Malta and the pride and sense of privilege at having been welcomed with open arms, the sticking points for all are environmental issues and a general nostalgia for the past, traditions and heritage. Maybe, we could take a leaf out of their genuine concerns, which can never be boxed up and painted as politically motivated. Unlike as has happened to me on occasion, I won’t be asking them to get up and leave.
September 9, 2018 ∫ Pink is a monthly magazine ∫ Issue 167 ∫ Executive editor Fiona Galea Debono ∫ Publisher Allied Newspapers Ltd ∫ Printing Progress Press Ltd ∫ Production Allied Newspapers Ltd ∫ Contributors Adriana Bishop, Maria Cachia, Tezara Eve Camilleri, Kristina Chetcuti, Mary Galea Debono, Marisa Grima, Samira Jamil, Priscilla Mifsud, Natasha Polidano, Daniela Said, Rachel Zammit Cutajar ∫ Design Manuel Schembri ∫ Photography Jonathan Borg, Amanda Ksu, Matthew Mirabelli, Bernard Polidano, Chris Sant Fournier, Majda Toumi ∫ Advertising sales Veronica Grech Sant [2276 4333; firstname.lastname@example.org].
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Pink September 2018 ∫ 9
THE LETTER THAT TICKLED Pı BORN-AGAIN PERSONS As my wife handed me Pink magazine this Sunday to browse through the articles, my eyes focused on the titles The Road to Salalah and Born Again [OnForm, July 2018]. After reading the articles, my memory got me to recall the life of a local doctor’s son some years back; he had experienced the loss of his kidneys and had to travel abroad to get a transplant. Born Again brought tears to my eyes, having known ﬁrst-hand the hardships and the great sacriﬁces these patients have to face and the worries of their families, which truly affected their everyday life. Pink magazine makes us aware of such brave people in our midst, who through their diﬃcult times are a great example to us not to give up and ﬁght back with perseverance any mishap that befalls us. Who can ever tell what awaits us during our life’s journey; except through Pink, which both myself and my wife reach out to read. I encourage all to support the LifeCycle Challenge, undertaken by a group of volunteers, who test their own stamina and are a tool for awareness of these born-again persons, living through it all in our midst. Be generous, as Pink magazine is, so that we all show solidarity to such a worthy cause. JOSEPH M. MUSCAT, FROM GZIRA
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A SENSITIVE TOPIC Change is Coming [InFocus, July 2018] touched me in many ways. It was well written and thought provoking and dealt with a sensitive – almost taboo – subject in a kind and professional manner. Mental health patients and their issues are not a taboo to be locked away and not discussed. They are there to be dealt with in the best way possible, with love and kindness for the patient and the family involved. Understanding not misunderstanding is what is called for here. Mental health is an illness just like any other. Just because it cannot be seen, like a broken leg, it does not make it any less real. I was heartbroken to read that patients suffering in this way do not have visitors, ﬂowers, or get-well cards. Mental health can strike from the highest to the lowest in our society; it can strike down family, friends and neighbours; even royalty. Please show compassion. I’m sure the nurses mentioned do the most amazing job for their patients. I’m so glad that there are people like this working in the community and helping others. Thank you Mount Carmel Hospital and the Maltese Association of Psychiatry for doing what you do and for being who you are. Many blessings. CLARE LIGHTFOOT, VIA E-MAIL
A NEW LOYAL READER Dear editor and team, lately, I had to spend a few days in hospital and a friend of mine suggested that she brings over some back issues of her favourite magazine, Pink, to pass the time. I started going through them and I can say that the days, which were so boring, turned into days enjoying the magazine. The EditorsNote is written in perfect English; the stories are very interesting, intriguing and with inspiring endings. They encouraged me and helped me to deal with my future following the operation. In this issue though [April, 2018], I loved ShowStopper. How stylish and helpful the many tips and ideas are! The recipes are also fantastic, and I can’t wait to go back home and start cooking [my pride and joy]. Ira Losco looks amazing in the WomenOnWheels feature. She becomes sexier and more beautiful as times passes by. By the way, I will be a loyal reader of each and every issue from now on, and I must admit that they are like wine – the more time passes, the better they become! LORRAINE GALEA, FROM ZABBAR
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10 ∫ Pink September 2018
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RARE AND DEADLY A seizure fit on Christmas Eve four years ago was the start of a young man’s long battle against a disease doctors still don’t know much about and for which there is no cure. His widow bravely recounts to ADRIANA BISHOP how the rare illness changed their whole family’s life and how she now would like to raise funds for more research into this degenerative and fatal condition.
t’s the day after Father’s Day. I am sitting at the kitchen table of the Borg* family. James* is struggling with his Maltese homework and is clearly far more interested in what we grown-ups are talking about. Little Ellie* cannot sit still. Her mother Martha* has promised us ice cream with fresh, home-grown peaches, which the girl assures me is a delicious combination. She plays with my hair and climbs onto my lap, giggling and wriggling as I tickle her. The ice cream and peaches are, indeed, scrumptious, and for a precious moment, I feel privileged to be part of a serene moment of typical family life in the Borg household. But there is something missing. This picture of serenity hides more pain and grief than these two children should
14 ∫ Pink September 2018
have had to experience at such a young age. My presence today is all the more poignant as James and Ellie have just marked their ﬁrst Father’s Day without their dad John*, and I am at their house speciﬁcally to talk about him, the young, loving man who died of a rare disease barely two months earlier. Ice creams polished off, I take out my notebook to start the interview. James pushes his unﬁnished homework to one side and moves closer to me. He’s eager to talk. Ellie slides off my lap, whispers in her mother’s ear, asking for permission to watch television, and runs off upstairs. She will not return to speak to me. I cannot help but feel that she is running away not from me but from the topic I was about to broach. And who could blame her.
Father’s Day cards prepared by the children at school show cute drawings of a family of four. Mum, Dad, James and Ellie. “The teachers asked the children if they still wanted to make a Father’s Day card for their father. They both said yes, of course, and we placed them in front of his photograph in the hallway,” Martha says. Emotions are still raw, but I am struck by Martha and James’s eagerness to talk about John. In fact, I am here at Martha’s invitation as she wants to raise awareness and consequently funds for research into the disease that aﬄicted her husband. John is only one of four people in Malta to have inherited Mitochondrial Encephalomyopathy, Lactic Acidosis and Stroke-like episodes [Melas], a disease so rare that research into the
PRIVATEEYE causes are still ongoing. First identiﬁed in 1984, Melas is a condition that affects many of the body’s systems, particularly the brain and nervous system and muscles. There is currently no cure. The disease is progressive and fatal. Symptoms generally manifest themselves in childhood, but they can appear at any age. Early symptoms may include muscle weakness and pain, recurrent headaches, loss of appetite, vomiting and seizures. Most affected individuals experience stroke-like episodes beginning before age 40. Melas can result from mutations in one of several genes in the DNA of cellular structures called mitochondria, which convert the energy from food into a form that cells can use. The condition is inherited maternally and can affect both males and females, although there are rare cases when the disorder occurs in people with no family history of Melas and results from a new mutation in a mitochondrial gene. John was 43 when he died. He was the ﬁrst and only one in his family to have contracted this deadly disease. He had been battling Melas for four years and spent the last six months of his life in intensive care. The harrowing ordeal affected not just John, but his entire family. With admirable calm and courage, Martha describes how John went from a healthy young man to a wreck practically overnight. “He was 38 when it happened,” recalls Martha. “The previous summer, he had suddenly started losing weight. It was Christmas Eve, 2013. He started seeing ﬂashes before his eyes. The doctor said there was nothing wrong with his eyes, but it could be something to do with the brain. An appointment with a neurologist was set for December 26. That evening, we went out for dinner, and when we returned home, just after he had parked the car, he suddenly started having a seizure. He fell on the ground, unconscious. I immediately called an ambulance. He continued to have ﬁts all the way to the hospital. The paramedics tried their best to keep him calm, but the ﬁts
wouldn’t stop. He was put into an induced coma. It was so strange walking into intensive care on Christmas Day. I thought I was in a dream.” At that stage, doctors couldn’t pinpoint exactly what disease was aﬄicting John. He stayed in hospital for 10 days. This was soon followed by a second stay lasting six weeks during which doctors treated him for what they thought was a virus. After a two-month stint at home, he was back in hospital for another week or so. This pattern would continue over the following months as his condition deteriorated and his symptoms became even stranger.
pipes up James excitedly after listening to his mother talk about John for a while. “He used to build tower blocks with us at nannu’s house and he once built us a castle. He used to tell us stories from this big book, but I think he actually used to make them up. And he always knew where the egg cups were hidden,” he reﬂects seriously as he surveys the array of happily mismatched cups in which we have just eaten our ice cream. All windows at home had to be covered with sun ﬁlters and shades to keep daylight to a minimum, and John would wear heavy wraparound sunglasses to protect his ailing eyes.
“IT WAS SO STRANGE WALKING INTO INTENSIVE CARE ON CHRISTMAS DAY. I THOUGHT I WAS IN A DREAM” “This condition is so rare. It manifests itself in different mutations and John’s type was even stranger. It is a very cruel disease,” Martha points out. Looking back, she believes that the ﬁrst inkling of the disease manifested itself two years prior to that Christmas Eve incident when a routine blood test revealed that the creatinine in John’s blood was too high, indicating possible kidney malfunction. A biopsy was carried out, but it proved inconclusive. As a side effect of the disease, John became very sensitive to light. No ophthalmic surgeon could correct the damage, but homeopathy treatment helped somewhat. He used a Rife machine, attaching electrical pads to his hands and feet, which produced electrical impulses. Developed by American scientist Royal Raymond Rife in the 1920s, the machine produces low-energy waves. Rife believed that each disease has its own electromagnetic frequency, and ﬁnding that and producing an impulse of the same frequency would kill or disable diseased cells. While the Rife machine has not been scientiﬁcally proven, John reported some improvement in his eyesight after using it. “Daddy used to do puppet shows for us with the pads on his hands,”
He continued working for a while and leading as normal a life as possible, but the disease would soon take a turn for the worse. Compromises had to be made as John battled the various symptoms of the degenerative disease. “The effect on his eyesight meant that he couldn’t drive anymore and that was a major blow for him. It took away a lot of his freedom and made him feel dependent on other people, mostly me,” continues Martha. “We wanted to take him to Germany for treatment on his optic nerve, but it was too risky because he was still having seizures, so he couldn’t go,” she adds. His condition came to a head last October. “He was dying. Doctors managed to save him then, but he never recovered that much. Each time the disease struck, it took part of his brain. He spent the last six months of his life in intensive care. It was terrible,” says Martha quietly. This was how the children spent their last six months with their father. “Sometimes I didn’t want to go and see him,” confesses James. “Daddy would want to touch my face and I let him do it. I was not scared of him, but Ellie was.” Martha admits that John’s disease was draining on all the family and Pink September 2018 ∫ 15
they all suffered. The worst thing was that she felt helpless. “The biggest tragedy was that he knew what was happening. I once touched his face and he started to cry. He developed depression during his time in intensive care. In the end, the doctors couldn’t do anything more. It brought me face to face with the limitations of medicine. I saw this man, who used to be so vain, now reduced to being in a nappy. He became totally dependent. What dignity is left? “They were a tough four years for me too,” Martha adds. “I used to drive him to doctors’ appointments and then visit him in hospital daily. I used to ask the nurses to come with me because I was scared sometimes. This disease left me alone with two young children. It became hard for everyone. It left me without any form of motivation.” James brings me the Father’s Day cards he and his sister had made and shows them to me proudly. “I would have given him this card. He would have loved it. Instead, I put it in front of his photo,” he tells me with heartbreaking innocence. * Names have been changed to protect the persons’ identities.
16 ∫ Pink September 2018
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH Martha was determined that John’s death would not mean the end of Melas. She arranged for donations collected during John’s funeral to be sent to the Research Innovation and Development Trust [RIDT] of the University of Malta to be used for further research into this rare disease. This is being conducted by Joanna Vella at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the University of Malta, with the academic supervision of Prof. Walther Parson from the Medical University of Innsbruck and Prof. Alex Felice and Prof. Joseph Borg from the University of Malta. Ms Vella is conducting part of her doctoral research in undiagnosed mitochondrial disorders and John was one of the participants in her study. The project is spread over six years and is funded by the Malta Government Scholarship Scheme. The genomic analysis formed part of a larger collaborative project, supported by the EU’s largest health research infrastructure [BBMRI-ERIC], speciﬁcally the BBMRI Large Population Cohort [BBMRI-LPC]. A total of 13 patients, half of them children or teenagers, participated in the study, but only four of them had Melas. Two relatives of two of the patients were also included.
“In most of the cases, especially in the paediatric patients, a muscle biopsy was sent abroad for analysis. There is a speciﬁc mutation that causes Melas,” explains Ms Vella. Researchers are still reviewing the genomic data, but so far, the analysis revealed that out of the 13 patients, only three had the “causative variants that ﬁt the clinical picture”. Ms Vella adds that conﬁrmatory analysis by another laboratory method still has to be done in order to establish which gene was found. For the other 10 cases, further testing is required and Ms Vella is currently in the process of collecting blood samples to study the gene expression. However, it is not straightforward research. “It seems that it could be more complex,” concedes Ms Vella. “The patients’ symptoms could be caused by more than one gene in their genome. None of the patients have the same severity of symptoms. At the moment, treatment focuses purely on controlling the symptoms and lessening their severity, but there is no speciﬁc treatment. There is no cure. “We don’t know the underlying pathology and genetics of these mitochondrial disorders. We need to understand what is going on at the protein level. We are still investigating the causes,” she adds, but the research may help to ﬁnd new cures. While the National Alliance for Rare Diseases Support – Malta has been formed as a support community for patients and their families, Ms Vella points out that a national registry for rare diseases, which would beneﬁt researchers and also patients, is still being set up. “A national registry is an important tool for research, especially in a small country like Malta where there could be just a few or even just one case of a particular rare disease. It is important for patients to be able to have more knowledge of their condition if there are other cases worldwide, both for a possible diagnosis and to follow any new therapies or treatments,” she explains. Started in the early 1990s with a collection of samples from all Maltese children who had been screened for rare blood disorders, the Malta BioBank, BBMIR.mt, is now training health professionals such as family doctors, nurses and pharmacists on how to
diagnose or look out for rare diseases as they are the ﬁrst point of contact with patients before they are referred to specialists. “We are organising a seminar on September 13 for community healthcare professionals, together with the National Alliance for Rare Diseases Support, to increase knowledge about the Malta BioBank, the kind of software tools that were developed for clinicians to aid in making a diagnosis and what rare diseases diagnostic tests and research are conducted at Mater Dei Hospital and at the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics at the University of Malta,” Ms Vella says, adding that there is a need for genetic counsellors to be present when patients receive their diagnosis. The Malta BioBank is an important research tool that has already contributed to studies on diseases such as Thalassemia, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, Parkinson’s and kidney disorders. It continues to provide an essential service for biomedical research. RIDT chief executive oﬃcer Wilfred Kenely welcomed the donations from John’s funeral as an alternative way to create awareness and support medical research. “This is the second time that the RIDT has received funds directly from funeral donations. There is a lot of very interesting medical research happening at the University of Malta, and this is one way to promote it and draw support for it. “My main objective as CEO of the RIDT is to channel a portion of all philanthropic donations towards research, and to create new donation channels. That way, we will be channeling funds towards ﬁnding solutions to our challenges. “The amounts received through this initiative will be transferred to the account managed by the team that is conducting research in mitochondrial disorders and other rare diseases,” Mr Kenely says. “One major expense in this research is the procurement of consumables, mainly chemicals required to conduct the studies. Some of these cost hundreds [if not thousands] of euro per shot due to the high cost of the chemical kits utilised in the laboratories. “If we manage to raise enough funds, we can then start thinking of ﬁnancing a master’s or PhD scholarship, which is also a way to build more human resources capacity in our research teams. “The RIDT has managed to fund a number of PhD and MSc scholarships in other areas of research such as cancer, ALS and ophthalmology, thanks to the generosity of the Maltese community,” Mr Kenely adds.
Find out more about the Research Innovation and Development Trust at http://researchtrustmalta.eu Donations can be made online, or via SMS on 50618168 for €4.66; 50618987 for €6.99; and 50619286 for €11.65; via bank transfer [UNIVERSITY RES INNOVA AND DEV TR Central Bank of Malta MT37MALT011000040360EURCPE50001 MALTMTMT]; or with a cheque to RIDT, University of Malta, Valletta Campus, St Paul’s Street, Valletta. For more information about the National Alliance for Rare Diseases – Malta check out http://rarediseasesmalta.com For more information about the Malta BioBank and how to participate in research projects visit www.um.edu.mt/biobank Meet Joanna Vella and her team at the Health and Rare Disease Area of European Researchers’ Night, Science in the City, on September 28 in Valletta, where she will be demonstrating how samples are obtained for scientiﬁc research.
EYEWITNESS Five women, five mixed nationalities, one home: Rebecca Hall, Prabjit Patel, Nahed Shubar, Samira Jamil and Majda Toumi. Photography: Jonathan Borg
HOME… AWAY FROM HOME
Samira Jamil reminisces about Malta’s past, often yearning for the island of her childhood – a sentiment she admits is more prevalent nowadays. She shares her own story of moving here, settling down and experiencing change, as well as those of four other foreign female friends, who have made Malta their home. The common denominator is their love for the island, warts and all, with the destruction of the environment being the biggest blot on an otherwise relatively clean bill of health.
y ties with Malta go back a long time. My Libyan father and English mother spent many a memorable holiday on the island in the 1960s. Being a stone’s throw away from Tripoli, it was a great summer destination and the island’s charm and people’s friendliness and warmth left a lasting impression on us all. As a child, some of my fondest memories were the summers spent on the Santa Maria Estate in Mellieha and the carefree afternoons at Ghadira Bay. The powerful aroma of the wild thyme, the juicy ﬁgs by the wayside, the brightly painted Leyland boneshakers and the mandatory stop at the Belle View bakery to pick up pastizzi en route to the beach 20 ∫ Pink September 2018
still conjure up fond memories of the Malta of my childhood. Malta became home and not merely a summer destination in 1979 when we left Libya in pursuit of secondary education and to escape Gaddaﬁ’s oppression. Further moves were on the cards to the UK and the US, however, ties with the island were never severed. Following a stint in New York, Malta beckoned again, and in 1995, my husband and I eagerly packed the contents of our tiny midtown Manhattan apartment and quit the rat race for a more relaxed Mediterranean lifestyle. We have been here ever since. Our children were born and bred here, and although they are both based in the
UK now, Malta is still very much home and they visit regularly. Raising a family in a place where we have found peace of mind and quality of life, a place steeped in history and rich in culture, has reinforced our fondness for the island. Over the years, I have witnessed Malta evolve. It has progressed in leaps and bounds, especially since becoming an EU member state, reaping the beneﬁts of membership. Education and healthcare are of a high standard, affordable and accessible. But sadly, the island has also regressed. To say that it has become overbuilt, congested and polluted is, indeed, an understatement. Life too has taken on a much faster pace, with a high value
EYEWITNESS why did you move to malta?
My husband was working in Libya at the time and I was in Greece with our daughter; Malta was the perfect meeting point in the middle. from the time you moved here, how has the island evolved? I believe Malta
Photography: Majda Toumi
placed on materialism and, by extension, greed at all costs. From time to time, we are shaken by an assassination, or a bombing, and with each incident, more of the island’s lustre becomes tarnished. I often ﬁnd myself yearning for the Malta of my childhood and this sentiment has become even more prevalent nowadays. I am fortunate enough to live in a village core, where the true architectural beauty of Malta has thankfully been preserved. I’m
“I do not consIder myself a ‘BARRANIJA’ and feel PrIvIleged that my famIly and I have been welcomed wIth oPen arms Into the tIghtknIt communIty of our adoPted vIllage” surrounded by rows of elegant townhouses, lovingly maintained by their owners, narrow alleyways oozing with charm and uniqueness, where children still play outdoors in the security of their ‘sqaq’, while elderly neighbours sit on rickety wooden chairs that have withstood the test of time, no doubt reminiscing about the past, the church bells chiming in the background as though in agreement. This is home. I do not consider myself a ‘barranija’ and feel privileged that my family and I have been welcomed with open arms into the tightknit community of our adopted village. It has also allowed me to hone in on my conversational Maltese. I believe this has made me appear less of an ‘ingliza’ and more of a local, albeit one with an exotic name. I am well aware of the stigma there is locally towards Arabs, but this has never been an issue whatsoever. On the contrary, there is much curiosity and interest in our culture, customs and, of course, cuisine too. Since moving back, I have crossed paths and formed friendships with many interesting people. Malta has become such a cosmopolitan hub and I am constantly amazed by the variety of nationalities making it their home. Please meet four women from different backgrounds and on different life courses. But the common denominator is their love for Malta, warts and all.
has become a much more supportive and empowering environment for female entrepreneurs. In recent years, I have become involved with SHE Malta, a network for women in business, which has been a wonderful support system in helping me as a photographer. what diﬃculties, if any, have you encountered? I miss my
family and friends. what do you love about living here? Malta is an incredibly
friendly and accepting place. I have been welcomed into the community and have a wonderful and varied social circle from all over the world, not to mention the 300 plus days of sun, which is a crucial factor.
MAJDA TOUMI is a Greek-Libyan national, who has travelled extensively and been exposed to many cultures. She is an architect by profession and has gained experience working for construction companies and the oil sector alongside helping with the family business. Majda has also lived in Japan, Germany, Canada and Greece and moved to Malta with her AustralianItalian husband in 2014. Motherhood has given her the opportunity to nurture her passion for photography. It’s ironic that we both lived in Tripoli during a certain time, yet we did not know each other, and it was only at an event in Malta two years ago that we bumped into each other and our friendship ﬂourished. Our yearning for the good old days in Tripoli would invariably be the main topic of discussion, as well as our deep nostalgia for the sights, sounds and tastes of Tripoli.
what do you miss most about living away from your country? Food, of course! My
mother’s authentic Greek and Libyan cooking, with fresh ingredients and a unique blend of spices and ﬂavours… In what ways does your country differ most? I come from a mixed background,
and since Malta is an architectural melting pot of Mediterranean history, site of ancient structures, homes with courtyards and aloe vera fences, I feel very much at home here. how ‘maltese’ do you feel, or do you still see yourself as a ‘foreigner’ after all these years? If so, to what do you attribute this status? Although Maltese
and English are oﬃcial languages, immigration, tourism and student communities have also contributed to Malta’s extremely broad cultural horizons, creating an interesting combination of Pink September 2018 ∫ 21
photography: Amanda Hsu
“During the settling-in phase of my experience in malta, i have to aDmit i founD the Daytime fireworks took some getting useD to. i founD it scary at first, but now, i’ve come to expect it anD even enjoy it” many nationalities, who can blend in nicely without having to adopt, or change. So, I’m just me. how do people react when you criticise anything? I
don’t really like to criticise. Instead, I try to compliment when I can, and people seem to appreciate that. if there’s one thing you would like to change here, what would it be? I wish to see the iconic old buses
return and, I would like to see the identity of traditional Maltese buildings maintained. I have a great appreciation for authentic structures due to my architectural background. what would you say are the joys and pains of living here? One of my biggest joys is the ability to speak
English so freely. Communication is such a vital aspect of everyday life and I feel grateful that this is so easy. During the settling-in phase of my experience in Malta, I have to admit I found the daytime ﬁreworks took some getting used to. I found it scary at ﬁrst, but now, I’ve come to expect it and even enjoy it. if you had to leave malta, what would you miss most? The laid-back island lifestyle. Describe malta in one word. Home. 22 ∫ Pink September 2018
REBECCA HALL is a Canadian ﬂautist, who has lived in Malta since 1996. She holds the position of Principal Flute of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra and lectures on music at the university. Rebecca lives here with her Maltese husband and two children. I was fortunate to have her teach my daughter the ﬂute, instilling in her a real affection for the instrument. Rebecca’s style of teaching was engaging, fun and motivating. Her sense of humour and wit, and her Canadian accent, peppered with the odd Maltese word, make her an endearing person. why did you move to malta?
I had a trial with what was then the Manoel Theatre Orchestra in September 1995. My boyfriend of the time [now husband of more than 20 years] is Maltese and it was a choice between me moving here, or him moving to Canada. The sunshine won out! from the time you moved here, how has the island evolved? Malta
is much busier, more cosmopolitan
and certainly more eﬃcient. It has, however, lost some of its quirky individuality along the way. what diﬃculties, if any, have you encountered? The language is
not easy, of course. Also, being a punctual person, I do ﬁnd the ‘time ﬂexibility’ somewhat frustrating. what do you love about living here? I am a history buff, so
Malta is ideal for me. The culture, proximity to other parts of Europe for travel and the sheer beauty of the place make it an ideal base. The drive along the ring road of Valletta makes my heart leap every time. what do you miss most about living away from your country?
Strange to say, I miss snow, cold, fog, trees and the smell of nature after rains. For my children, I miss them having had the opportunity to run through sprinklers on wet grass, build snowmen, jump in piles of leaves etc… And my large
family, of course. Then again, how many Canadian children can play tennis, or go to the beach on Christmas Eve? in what ways does your country differ most? Canada is the second largest
country in the world and one of the most multicultural.
Photography: Majda Toumi
how ‘Maltese’ do you feel, or do you still see yourself as a ‘foreigner’ after all these years? if so, to what do you attribute this status? I will never be
considered truly Maltese. But I am proud of Malta and what the country has accomplished in so many ﬁelds. I can often surprise people when I hear them discussing me in Maltese [because they think I am foreign] and then watch their faces when I start a conversation in their language. It makes me laugh every time!
“Less cars, More trees and, PLease, Less PoLitics in everything!” how do people react when you criticise anything? After half my life here, I no longer
hear: “If you do not like it, go back to your own country!” I do ﬁnd it upsetting, however, to hear such things. Often it comes from the same people who have half their relatives in Toronto! if there’s one thing you would like to change here, what would it be? Less cars, more trees
and, please, less politics in everything! What would you say are the joys and pains of living here? As much as I love snow, not
shovelling is a blessing! A pain is, of course, the traﬃc. if you had to leave Malta, what would you miss most? Mostly I would miss the people,
the culture and the random kindness that come from a small place in which one gets to know the community. My neighbours often bring freshly picked fruit and just leave boxes on the doorstep. These are not ‘big country’ gestures. Also, a really good ftira, pastizzi, ﬁgs straight off the tree and vine fresh tomatoes… and walking onto the stage of the Manoel Theatre – one of the most beautiful places in the world… describe Malta in one word. I can never use just one word for anything! May I use two? Treasure trove…
PRABJIT PATEL is a British-Indian mother of three, freelance writer and editor of the blog www.absolutelyprabulous.com, where she writes candidly about marriage, motherhood, Malta and [as she puts it] “anything else I can get away with”. Prabs, who describes herself as “a nomad at heart”, lived in Paris and London before moving to Malta in 2005. The ﬁrst time I came across her was through her blog post called ‘Dear Malta, you’re breaking my heart’ and I have been hooked ever since. I admire Prabs for her eloquence, humour, straight-talking nature and lack of inhibitions in stating her opinion. She has such a way with words and calls a spade a spade. One day, I just might follow her example and start my own blogette. Why did you move to Malta? Work.
My husband had a great opportunity, so we packed up our lovely apartment in Harrow and moved to the sun with a then 14-month-old. From the time you moved here, how has the island evolved? On a positive
note, I’m absolutely loving Valletta’s facelift and new vibes, as well as the modernisation of the airport [although I miss the ‘cosy’ security hall, which has been replaced by one almost as intimidating as Heathrow’s]. The
restaurant scene seems to be doing well, with the rise of ambitious entrepreneurs/chefs trying to make a difference. The shopping scene is what it is on a small island, but it’s deﬁnitely improved, and at least more online stores are delivering to Malta. The state of the roads has come a long way [RIP Palm Trees roundabout… I’ll never forget you]. On a negative note, endless construction, which seems to go unregulated and apparently involves destroying beautiful historical architecture and replacing it with buildings that are incongruent with neighbouring property, is a heartbreaker. What diﬃculties, if any, have you encountered? There were many things that blindsided me when we ﬁrst arrived, but which I am now so used to that I only notice if a newcomer points them out.
Things I need no help noticing are the chasm between the sexes, the chauvinistic behaviour of many sections of the male population and the prevailing old-fashioned processes and mentality regarding oﬃcial paperwork/application forms and legal situations. I don’t think I’d be that aware of it if I’d been born here and had never left; but it’s really striking to Pink September 2018 ∫ 23
EYEWITNESS three-hour traﬃc jams, or a long train journey. Not bankrupting myself on train fares, or parking fees, every time I leave the house is also good, and I love being able to go out for drinks with friends and still come back with change from €30! It’s also good to know that the metaphorical phrase ‘the storm never lasts forever and the sun will come out’ can be applied literally in Malta. Even the rainiest, windiest morning usually gives way to sunshine in the afternoon. The fact that despite an initially serious, quite surly manner, the average Maltese person will give you the shirt off their back and do everything they can to help you if you’re in trouble is another plus. And despite people’s frequent disregard for rules, I do love how Malta isn’t a police state like the UK, with laws and ﬁnes for every little thing. I guess you can’t have it all. In what ways does your country differ most? Physically and aesthetically, obvious
differences are the greenery, wide open spaces, well-regulated property market, modern architecture in conformity with
“THERE WERE MANY THINGS THAT BLINDSIDED ME WHEN WE FIRST ARRIVED, BUT WHICH I AM NOW SO USED TO THAT I ONLY NOTICE IF A NEWCOMER POINTS THEM OUT” someone who grew up in the UK. Translation: back home I could go to a DIY store and ask questions about power tools/plumbing tips etc… without being asked why my husband/father/brother couldn’t do it for me. I could go and register my child for something without being told I had to come back with the father. I could have a conversation with a male counterpart without being patronised. The other diﬃculty is trying to understand the psychology of the people who park their cars so badly, nowhere near the lines, so that nobody else can park theirs. [Yes, 12 years in Malta and I’m still the person who gets out of her car to check she’s parked properly so that she doesn’t deprive someone else of a space.]
surrounding areas, the [thankfully potholefree] road network and skylines that are generally unhampered by cranes and construction sites. Then there is the enormously diverse population with differing looks, unique fashion styles, ethnicities, cultural heritage, political beliefs, lifestyles and so on [conformity and convention are not the holy grail and it’s not a crime to be anti-establishment]. The sheer depth and scale of available careers in the UK obviously can’t compare to those in Malta. I have to say here that my mantra [which has helped me stay in Malta so long] is that once you stop looking at what it doesn’t have and start focusing on what it does have, life gets instantly better. There are always positives.
What do you love about living here? I
What do you miss most about your country? Apart from the things in the
love how close everything is, which makes it easy [yes, despite the increased traﬃc] to get everywhere. It’s uncomplicated making social plans, or going out for the day, as there is no arduous route planning,
previous answer, I’d have to say I miss the enormous amount of things that can be done in the UK: visiting stunning historical sites; staying in quaint country accommodations; the great city that is
24 ∫ Pink September 2018
London; hole-in-the-wall gastro/country pubs, laws against noise pollution; and obviously family and friends. How ‘Maltese’ do you feel, or do you still see yourself as a ‘foreigner’ after all these years? If so, to what do you attribute this status? I actually ﬁnd
myself using Maltese terms [qalbi, illalu, uwejja and mela are some of the best words ever invented], and my intonation becomes rather Maltese with certain people. Obviously, a lot has rubbed off on me. However, it is impossible to be – or should I say be allowed to feel – Maltese in a country where the term ‘foreigner’ is an everyday word and perfectly acceptable. [I thought I’d unintentionally travelled back to the 1970s when I ﬁrst heard that here. There’s probably a law against using that word in Britain!] I was at my local shop the other day and cracked a joke about how Maltese I’d become. The shop assistant looked at me very seriously and said I could marry a Maltese person, speak Maltese ﬂuently and live in Malta for the rest of my life, but I would never be considered Maltese as I wasn’t born here and don’t have Maltese parents. Enough said. How do people react when you criticise anything? Well, I think everyone living in
Malta knows the answer to this! Having travelled to/lived in other countries and having written different pieces about this rock – including ‘Dear Malta’ that exploded across social media – I can honestly say I’ve never met a nationality so ﬁercely defensive of their country [and that’s coming from someone who’s spent a lot of time in France and the US]. It’s possible that this behaviour is typical of any small island, and therefore, not unique to Malta. And I must point out that I receive many encouraging, mature, eloquent responses from locals that show people really do see where/how/why Malta needs to change. However, that article was a tidal shift for me [and many of my readers] as it revealed a level of resentment and animosity towards non-Maltese residents that was totally disheartening. Remarks I have heard in person, or seen on social media, are often to the point of being irrational and self-sabotaging. That can’t be healthy, or positive, surely? I just hope we reach a point where the constructive observations and attempts by well-meaning individuals/organisations [who are trying
to improve what needs improving with nothing but Malta’s best interests at heart] are received in a calm, open-minded and appreciative manner, instead of automatically being taken as an insult. Sadly, many seem to be stuck at the stage of petulantly criticising the home country of anyone who dares to comment on Malta, in the bizarre belief that this is patriotism. To be honest, this is a huge topic, so it’s hard to cover it all succinctly here.
Photography: Majda Toumi
If there’s one thing you would like to change here, what would it be? Oh
heavens, as somebody who wants the best for her adoptive country [i.e. not a negative moaner who thinks Maltabashing is a sport], it’s hard to choose one. I’ll go with the environmental problem. Holding your breath because the vehicle in front is spewing black fumes, swerving to avoid a large item that has fallen off an uncovered truck carrying waste, struggling to ﬁnd a clean pleasant spot on the beach, or go for a walk without being greeted by wide-scale litter, the sight of bin bags spilling out onto the pavement… How can this be happening in an EU country? It is changing with the clean-up campaigns and the in-school initiatives, but we have a long way to go, especially given how some of the clean-up projects have been received. What would you say are the joys and pains of living here? Apart from the above, over
300 days of sun and the bikini/ﬂip-ﬂop lifestyle ﬁve months of the year aren’t that bad! I’ll go with peoples’ driving and parking habits as one of the pains. It is a huge problem that I feel is simply not acknowledged and taken seriously enough by the relevant bodies/authorities. Apparently, by June 2017, Malta had reached the same road fatality rate as it did for the whole of 2016. Recently, I couldn’t get my youngest to a birthday party because three of the routes I tried were blocked by car accidents. I’ve no idea how many near misses I’ve had at the hands of other drivers. I’ll stop now, but I could go on… If you had to leave Malta, what would you miss most? The white crusty bread [in fact,
I might have to stay just because of that…] Oﬃcially, it’s the best bread ever. I said so. Describe Malta in one word. Seriously? One?! If I were playing safe, I’d go with ‘dusty’. If not, it’s a toss-up between ‘divided’ and ‘insular’. You choose. 26 ∫ Pink September 2018
NAHED SHUBAR is from Libya and lives here with her Sri Lankan husband and four children. The daughter of a diplomat, she spent most of her childhood in the Maldives and has travelled to most corners of the world. She is a human resources specialist and advisor to Libyan banks as well as being a board member. Nahed is embarking on a new venture in Malta; a shop selling organic and natural food, herbal remedies and natural handmade beauty products, free from artiﬁcial ﬂavours and chemicals, including a selection of teas grown in estates close to Sri Lankan rain forests. Why and when did you move to Malta? In mid-2014, Tripoli went
through ﬁerce ﬁghting between militias that led the government to move oﬃce to the east. Being an employee of Libya Telecom, I had to move to Malta in December 2014. I was forced to ﬂee Libya as battles between militias continued in Tripoli and progressed even further by taking over most government entities and ministries. The closure of English schools too compelled us to take a decision for our kids’ schooling.
despite the fact that my favourite memories of Malta are those of my childhood in the company of a loving Maltese family, who have been friends of mine for over ﬁve decades, the journeys on the colourful buses to Bugibba, and swims at Manoel Island, I am very impressed by the eﬃciency in the utilisation of resources to bring about this level of development, infrastructure and value-added services today. Although I can’t help ﬁnding myself more inclined to old Maltese culture, the new diversiﬁed community has certainly added its charm to the island. What diﬃculties, if any, have you encountered? A move like the one I
made with my family was never going to be free of challenges. However, they were not major enough to affect my personal life. I had some of the ﬁnest friends, who happened to be Maltese and facilitated a smooth and happy transition. There were times when I was overwhelmed by their proactive help and assistance. What do you love about living here?
From the time you moved here, how has the island evolved? Although the
way Malta has evolved over the past four years is impressive enough, I often lean nostalgically more towards the island of the late 1970s and mid-1990s. However,
Safety is what I love most about Malta, in addition to the warm nature of its citizens, a sound education for my kids and the serene lifestyle. I was fortunate to have met some wonderful people who I know are friends for life.
EYEWITNESS “MALTA IS BEAUTIFUL AND UNIQUE AS IT IS. IT SHOULD NOT LOSE ITS CHARM TO MODERN STRUCTURES” to be back as part of my family. I then found myself, yet again, making a home elsewhere. So that is what I miss. In what ways does your country differ most? Where culture is concerned, we
share many similarities, but it will have to be the fact that you can plan your life in peace and tranquillity, whereas in a war-torn country, you live by the minute in anticipation of the worst that destiny may bring along. How ‘Maltese’ do you feel, or do you still see yourself as a ‘foreigner’ after all these years? If so, to what do you attribute this status? Integration is key. As long as
What do you miss most about living away from your country? I spent most
of my life out of Libya, and returned after almost 30 years, but despite this long absence, I had adopted a sense of belonging, combined with the desire to serve my country as a faithful citizen and
we are able to be part of society and live through its values, respect one another and strive to objectively contribute to the well-being of the country, being Maltese would be easier felt than said.
anything speciﬁc to Malta, which is understandable, but I have not personally faced any negative reactions. Constructive criticism is always welcomed by many and I generally like to highlight the positives before I go on to the negatives. If there’s one thing you would like to change here, what would it be? The
new high-rise buildings. Malta is beautiful and unique as it is. It should not lose its charm to modern structures. What would you say are the joys and pains of living here? The joys are the
quality of life [the beach, food, and feeling of festivities throughout year, with more in summer], the friendliness and people’s willingness to help. Pains would relate to missing home and family. If you had to leave Malta, what would you miss most? The charm of the island,
How do people react when you criticise anything? I see some people are quite
its friendly people and the feeling of peace.
uncomfortable when challenged about
Describe Malta in one word. Inimitable.
HEAVY METAL LADY When she’s not climbing trees – if she happens to chance upon one – artist Marie Louise Kold is lugging massive sheets of metal, sometimes five times her size, and moulding them into art. KRISTINA CHETCUTI delves into her life, which is divided between the figurative antipodes of Malmö and Msida.
32 ∫ Pink September 2018
arie Louise Kold has an incredible lightness of being. She is one of those rare people with an aura of ‘everything-will-be-okay-I-shall-upliftyou’; the sort who pleasantly ﬂoat around the room with their spirit of joie de vivre. Still, the last thing you would imagine her doing is lugging huge heavy metal sheets sometimes ﬁve times her size. Upon her touch, these clunky copper, bronze and brass sheets take the shape of impressive art; art which has been exhibited in Sweden, Denmark, Greece, the US and Malta among other countries, and is in private collections all over the world, including in the Swedish Royal Court. Marie Louise, 44, is Danish-Swedish, but most of her creations are inspired in Malta. This is where she does the thinking work, where her heart and mind connect and visualise what she wants to do; it is where she does the research. Then she goes to her studio in Sweden, gets out her industrial tools, puts on her goggles and starts making them real. She spends about a third of her year in Malta. Why Malta, you may be wondering.
Well, it featured in the equation because of love. But more about that later. Before, a quick explainer of the Scandinavian background. Marie Louise was born in Denmark, but when she turned nine, because of their family business, her family moved to Sweden – an eight-hour commute away from their home. They were meant to be away for two years. “But that was 35 years ago,” says Marie Louise. The move was a culture shock for her. “I know you think all Scandinavian countries are the same, but they’re so not!” Then she made her decision to become an artist. Although it was not really a decision; it was more something she “absolutely” had to do. She quotes the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. “In his book Letters to a Young Poet, he says: ‘I can’t not do this’ and that is exactly how I’ve always felt. I’d scrub toilets if I had to… if that would be the only means for me to do art,” she says. Marie Louise chose to specialise in metal because it’s not a static material. “Metal is all the time changing, so it challenges me constantly to explore.
Of course the downside is that it is heavy and expensive and my artworks have to be original every time. And I can’t plan it 100 per cent – so that can be a bit tough on a Scandinavian. It always feels like I have one foot on safe land and the other’s really wobbly. But then, when I succeed, I fall in love with the material all over again.” The road to recognition was not always smooth. There were times when she almost packed it in. But her strong will and friends kept her going. One of these long-time friends was an established illustrator from Malta, Ġorġ Mallia, whom she had met at a conference when she was only 19 and kept corresponding with as artist-penfriends. After nearly two decades, their platonic friendship became something else: they fell in love. “I fell in love with Ġorġ before I fell in love with Malta and the vibrant artistic community here,” she says. They got married last summer, and for the last seven years, their lives are divided between the ﬁgurative antipodes of Malmö and Msida. “I see Malta through Ġorġ’s eyes and he sees Sweden through mine. We’re both Pink September 2018 ∫ 33
“I SEE MALTA THROUGH ĠORĠ’S EYES AND HE SEES SWEDEN THROUGH MINE. WE’RE BOTH TRYING TO LEARN EACH OTHER’S LANGUAGE. WE HELP SEE EACH OTHER’S COUNTRY IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT. WE ARE NOT TOURISTS – WE GET TO SEE THE GOOD AND THE BAD”
trying to learn each other’s language. We help see each other’s country in a different light. We are not tourists – we get to see the good and the bad.” It took her some getting used to. Scandinavians and the Mediterraneans are diametrically opposite in their priorities and philosophy. “I don’t drive in Malta. I’d be rear-ended at every traﬃc light. I’m Scandinavian; we stop at every stop sign and we are brainwashed to stop when the light is amber at traﬃc lights,” she quips. She laughs when pushed to highlight other contrasts. If there is something that she is critical of, it’s that the minute a foreigner says something, people pounce and pipe up with: ‘Who is she to criticise?’ “The thing is that if you throw a wrapper in the street, it’s not just affecting you and your country, but the whole planet,” Marie Louise says. “And that goes for other things such as freedom of speech, or this horrible sense of entitlement,” she adds. She speaks about the things she feels strongly about – those “punches in the gut” – through her art. Is her art political then? “When Arundhati Roy was asked if her book was political, she told the journalist that she absorbs politics and then sweats it out. Art has to come from the gut; it has to make the journey. There has to be an eagerness to help and make things better for society,” she says. 34 ∫ Pink September 2018
“I am all the time asking myself: what can I do as an artist?” Last spring, her exhibition Ex Libris, which saw books and metal turn into an aesthetic fusion at the Bibliotheca in Valletta, was a runaway success. What’s next? Marie Louise is now working on an international project related to freedom of speech. “And I feel it’s my most important work so far.”
SO HOW DOES SHE CARRY THOSE HEAVY METAL SHEETS? “You can do a lot based on willpower alone. The body is made up of 72 per cent water and the rest is pure will. But with will alone, you can’t move metal sheets. I don’t work out in gyms – you’ll never find me on a treadmill. I like the problem-solving kind of action, which is why, when I’m in Sweden, I do indoor boulder climbing. I can climb up to four-and-a-half metres with no rope. When in Malta, I go for very long walks. I’ve walked all the way from Bahrija to Wied iz-Zurrieq and all around the coastline of Malta, in fact. Ġorġ jokes that I’m crazy – he never joins but supports it in spirit. On these walks, I realise there are still spots of unspoilt Maltese nature – just a kilometre or two away from a town, and it feels like you’re on a different planet. Of course, en route, give me a tree and I climb it.”
MARIE ON HER INSPIRING GRANDPARENTS “My paternal grandfather had a small printing business company, and my father worked with him, so that meant that up till the age of nine, we lived next door to our grandparents. My grandma, Anna, used to take me to museums when I was as young as three. She was a true artist at heart. She did ceramics, poetry and she would experiment and explore things and paint. There were no strict rules in my life; just constant creative freedom and lots of climbing of trees. It was a very happy childhood and moving away from her to go to Sweden was heartbreaking. “My maternal grandfather, Albert, was a MacGyver. Just to give you an idea, he was in the Resistance during World War II. My grandma had a side wagon linked to her bike with a false bottom and they would distribute the newspapers of the Resistance. And my grandfather would go out at night to sabotage Nazi tanks, but when not fighting, he’d be fixing everything. That’s a trait I definitely take from him. “My kind of art has to be very hands-on and mechanical; I can’t really Google ‘how to make a metal book sculpture’; I have to channel the inner MacGyver in me.”
THE IT GIRL Dame Stephanie Shirley may have made it on to The Sunday Times Rich List in the UK, but MARY GALEA DEBONO finds that success is never attained in a vacuum, and to assess it properly, one must always look at the context. Stephanie’s life had never been a bed of roses. Without resilience, persistence, courage and faith in herself she could never have achieved what she did.
n 1988, the name of Dame Stephanie Shirley appeared on The Sunday Times Rich List. She had made her millions as founder/member of FI Group, which had been ﬂoated on the Stock Exchange two years earlier. Stephanie was justiﬁably proud of this achievement. Not because it made her wealthy – money had never meant much to her and it did not change her lifestyle – but because it was the realisation of a dream that she had dared to dream. And how could she not feel satisfaction when she remembered the point from where she had set out in 1962. “I had £6 of capital, a dining
room table, a telephone [with a party line shared with a neighbour…] and one other mad idea: those who worked for me would all be women, employed on a freelance basis and working from home,” she says in her book Let IT Go.
school, she found work at the Post Oﬃce research station, where her employers were prepared to arrange her hours of work to allow her to further her studies. She signed up for a bachelor’s degree and later for a master’s. In her job, she got to know two of the senior oﬃcials who had worked at Bletchley Park during World War II, deciphering enemy information. One of them was interested in the development of computers, then in their infancy. Stephanie was fascinated by this new ‘mathematical machine’, and in 1954, rather than using her leave to go on holiday, she spent her days working without pay on a new computer to learn the basics. Intrigued, passionate and convinced of the potential of this developing invention, she also did some research of her own on the feasibility of speech recognition by computer and became a member of the British Computer Society. But there was one aspect of her work that disheartened, or rather angered Stephanie; it was the attitude of the senior members of staff, who all seemed determined to keep her in her place and play down her abilities simply because she was a woman. Frustrated when she suspected that her boss refused to endorse her application for the post of assistant experimental oﬃcer because of gender, she applied just the same, only to ﬁnd out that the board in charge of selecting candidates “disapproved on principle of women holding managerial posts”. In 1959, Stephanie married Derek Shirley, who also worked at the Post Oﬃce. But as two married people working in the same establishment was frowned upon in those days, she resigned – it was ‘naturally’ the woman who was expected to leave. She soon found another job with a company
“AS TWO MARRIED PEOPLE WORKING IN THE SAME ESTABLISHMENT WAS FROWNED UPON IN THOSE DAYS, SHE RESIGNED – IT WAS ‘NATURALLY’ THE WOMAN WHO WAS EXPECTED TO LEAVE” At school, Stephanie had always loved mathematics, but it was not, in the 1950s, a subject girls were encouraged to study. After leaving
called Computer Developments and started working in its software section. Here too, she began to feel sidelined. One day, during a meeting, Pink September 2018 ∫ 37
WOMANKIND she ventured to offer her opinion about a subject that was not strictly technical when the male employees quickly put an end to her suggestion, reminding her that the problem was outside her remit. It was this attitude that ﬁnally made her decide to take the step that she had been contemplating for some time. In those days, companies did not buy software, but Stephanie felt that there was great potential in computer programming and she set out to prove it. “I felt that I needed to succeed not just for my own beneﬁt but in order to prove a point on behalf of women generally.” She got her ﬁrst project, and in 1964, she registered her company – Freelance Programmers Limited – and work trickled in. In the meantime, she got pregnant,
working – a ﬁrst version of ﬂexi-time before the term ﬂexi-working was coined – although, ironically, when the Sex Discrimination Act became law, it worked against this idea. Remote management was an innovative idea; as were others – proﬁt-sharing by giving a bonus to the employees; the donation of one per cent of pre-tax proﬁt to charitable institutions and the formulation of a mission statement. But success is never attained in a vacuum, and
Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley, founder of an early IT firm that employed mainly women in 1960s Britain, tells stories from her astonishing life at TED2015.
“ALL HER EMPLOYEES WERE BY DESIGN WOMEN BECAUSE STEPHANIE’S AVOWED INTENT WAS TO OFFER OPPORTUNITIES TO WOMEN WITH CHILDREN TO CONTINUE WORKING – A FIRST VERSION OF FLEXI-TIME BEFORE THE TERM FLEXI-WORKING WAS COINED” and for three months after the birth of her son Giles in 1964, she stopped working. The story of how this one-woman enterprise became FI Group, six times oversubscribed when ﬂoated on the Stock Exchange and capitalised at £121.5m, is told by herself in her autobiography. She half-jokingly outlines the ﬁrst steps she took to establish herself – she ordered “smart notepaper” with the words ‘freelance programmers’ printed on them; she removed the words ‘Moss Cottage’ from her address to avoid sending the wrong signal to anyone interested in using her services; she hired a local woman to do some secretarial work to give a more professional picture to her enterprise; and on Derek’s suggestion, she started signing her letters ‘Steve Shirley’ to outwit gender prejudice. When her secretary’s baby and her own started crying, she camouﬂaged the sound by a recording of someone busily typing away. An article in The Guardian about ‘Computer Women’, mentioning Steve Shirley speciﬁcally, gave her the required boost – prospective clients and women programmers, who had retired from work when they got married, showed interest. All her employees were by design women because Stephanie’s avowed intent was to offer opportunities to women with children to continue
to assess it properly, one must always look at the context in which it is achieved. Stephanie’s life had never been a bed of roses. Without resilience, persistence, courage and faith in herself she could never have achieved what she did. Eight years before World War II, when Stephanie was ﬁve, she was deposited with her elder sister Renate – but without her precious rag doll, which she had lost on the way – on the platform of Liverpool Station, there to meet for the ﬁrst time Ruby and Guy Smith, who were to become their foster parents. They had ended up there courtesy of the Refugee Children’s Movement, which was responsible for ﬁnding foster families for 10,000 German Jewish kids. Stephanie’s father was a German Jew judge from Dortmund, who had been forced to abandon his career. The family moved through several countries and ﬁnally settled in Vienna. It was from there that Stephanie’s journey to a new beginning, organised by Kindertransport, had started. Later, both parents managed to arrive in England, but the father was interned as an enemy alien in Australia until 1941 and thereafter remained the distant father that he had always been. Her mother found a job in the West Midlands and Renate, who had never settled happily
with her foster parents, joined her as it was also close to her school. Stephanie continued to live happily with her ‘aunt and uncle’ to whom she remained ever grateful. She attended St Paul’s Convent, where, she says, “the nuns who taught us were lovely: gentle and tolerant, not forcing their religion on us but instead quietly promoting such fundamental values as honesty and compassion”. Although in her adult life Stephanie appreciated the decision her parents had taken because, as it turned out, it meant her survival, the feeling of separation and abandonment had scarred her. When she started working in London, she felt like an exile in a place where she did not belong, and she confesses that in this period, she lacked self-esteem, felt devalued and was haunted by survivor guilt. Personal relationships failed and her attempt to live with her mother, who had moved to London, did not work out because there was continual tension between them. She suffered from bouts of depression and had to seek medical help. Having surmounted this hurdle, little did she suspect that destiny had a more devastating experience in store for her. Her son Giles was, as she described him, a good and beautiful baby, but when he was eight months old, Stephanie and Derek started noticing that his Pink September 2018 ∫ 39
WOMANKIND development had somehow been arrested. They visited doctors and specialists who diagnosed him with a severe form of autism. After reading hundreds of books about autism, she began to accept what the doctors had predicted – that the condition of her precious son was irreversible. It aggravated further when he developed epilepsy and during his seizures became very violent. Giles was physically very strong and he would, during his bad moments, attack his mother physically. Derek, who was devastated whenever he saw his son in one of his ﬁts, decided to give up his career to dedicate himself to him. Stephanie too started suffering from panic attacks and succumbed to a “full-scale nervous breakdown” – a situation that was doubly painful for her as she was convinced that it would be interpreted as her inability as a woman to cope with a demanding job. When he was hospitalised, she spent the nights in the mothers’ unit and went to work in the morning. But as his condition deteriorated further,
“WHEN SHE STARTED WORKING IN LONDON, SHE FELT LIKE AN EXILE IN A PLACE WHERE SHE DID NOT BELONG, AND SHE CONFESSES THAT IN THIS PERIOD, SHE LACKED SELF-ESTEEM, FELT DEVALUED AND WAS HAUNTED BY SURVIVOR GUILT” it became clear that he needed constant supervision by a full-time carer, and that between sedation and institutionalisation, the latter was the better option. She had to continue working to provide the necessary funds. Eventually, they found a good home for him, but Giles died in his sleep in 1998 after one of his seizures; he was 35. Stephanie’s interest in autism did not die with her son. She set up the Shirley Foundation, and after visiting Boston School in the US, where she was impressed by the calm, good behaviour of the autistic pupils, she decided to set up a similar institution with her own money. Prior’s Court grew rapidly and was an immediate success. Stephanie considers it her proudest achievement. She also founded the Autism Research Centre. Although Stephanie continued to occupy a seat on the board of the
company as founder-member, as the years went by, she became painfully aware that she was no longer indispensable to its management and she was being slowly edged out. She dedicated more and more of her time to public roles, “activities”, she believed, “that could be as rewarding as proﬁtdriven ones”. For her work in this ﬁeld, she received many honours. She was appointed the UK’s ﬁrst Ambassador of Philanthropy and awarded the OBE in 1980. Stephanie had felt proud when her name ﬁrst appeared on the list of the richest women. But she felt a “warmer glow of pride” when it was dropped ﬁve years later. “Neither impulse was unselﬁsh,” she candidly admits. “It was merely a question of one form of pleasure being richer than the other.”
SHOWSTOPPER Jacket, €79.99; trousers, €59.99; T-shirt, €15.99, all Mango ∫ shoes, stylist’s own.
Photography Bernard Polidano Styling Marisa Grima [marisagrima.com] Hair Priscilla Mifsud from Screen Professional Hair Salon, Zebbug Make-up Natasha Polidano, using MAC Cosmetics Model Sunshine @ Supernova MM
Autumn awakening BRING OUT THE MUTED GREYS AND BLUES TO MARK THE END OF SUMMER AND RISE UP TO FALL.
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SHOWSTOPPER Dress, €155; bag, €90, both Karen Millen ∫ shoes, stylist’s own.
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SHOWSTOPPER Dress, €62; bag, €34.90, both Oasis ∫ shoes, stylist’s own.
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SHOWSTOPPER Dress, €49.99; scarf, €12.99, both Noos.
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SHOWSTOPPER Dress, €59.99; bag, €35.99, both Mango.
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SHOWSTOPPER Dress, €140, Marks & Spencer.
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SHOWSTOPPER Dress, €104, Oasis.
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SHOWSTOPPER Jacket, €35.99, Noos ∫ skirt, €62, Oasis ∫ shoes, stylist’s own.
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WHEN GETTING BACK TO SCHOOL BECOMES FUN! O’hea Opticians helps you choose your new specs. There’s a model to suit every face, stage of life and state of mind… and you can get it right.
MICHAELA, the aspiring architect, went for a black Ray-Ban frame, with interesting soft curve edges. JULIA, who is starting a medical course at the University of Malta, wanted a more mature look. We chose a black frame with a slight cat-eye finish, a touch of gold at the tip and a gold nose bridge. This frame is by Web eyewear. FRANNY is forever smiling in her Ray-Ban aviators. She loves them! And we love them too! CARLA is a dancer in the making. We chose a Diesel frame in lovely autumn colours for her.
TOM, the football fanatic, looks great in these Etnia Barcelona specs, a brand that is high in quality, art and culture.
TRISTAN, the lawyer to be, looks great in these vintage-style specs by dsquared2. THOMAS is studying to become a physiotherapist. He’s sporting a great relaxed look in our favourite model by Etnia Barcelona, Brera.
Beneﬁt from O’hea Opticians’ back-to-school offer for a 20 per cent discount on specs plus lenses. Terms and conditions apply.
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THINKPI HEALH, BEAU, FASHION, EVENS & HINS
formulated to be healthful, eﬃcacious and pure. By choosing from the Viridian Nutrition range, you are one step closer to your goal of 100 per cent wellness. The range is available at all Brown’s outlets. Call on 2142 2999; or visit www.brownspharmacy.eu and Facebook page BrownsPharma.
4 HOLY GRAIL OF HYDRATING MISTS The cult-favourite hydrating mist from M·A·C Cosmetics, Prep+Prime Fix+, gives skin an instant boost of hydration with a lightweight prolonging formula that helps your complexion look refreshed while setting make-up. This holy grail of hydrating mists can be used with other products in nearendless ways – to sheer out foundation, intensify colour, extend the wear of make-up, or moisturise and soothe tired skin. Fix+ is available in four refreshing scents, including rose, lavender, coconut and the original soothing herbal aroma, as well as three new ﬁnishes: Goldlite, Pinklite and matte. Get your ﬁx at M·A·C Cosmetics, Tigné Street, Sliema; Zachary Street, Valletta, and Debenhams, The Point. Check out Instagram: @maccosmeticsmalta.
Where to go in the last month of summer, how to get there… looking good and on time! 5
5 BUILDING BRIDGES THROUGH MUSIC
1 THE SAFEST SUV The Volvo XC40 is a compact, sleek and chic family SUV. It’s comfortable and raised driving position gives decent visibility when driving on the Maltese roads. The Swedish manufacturer has announced that the XC40 is the safest vehicle in its segment. In fact, it has won the Car of the Year awards this year. The Volvo XC40 looks like a miniature version of its older big brother, the XC60; just trendier and less serious. Built on an allnew architecture and housing an interior that prioritises utility and liveability, the XC40 undoubtedly has what it takes to be a class leader. Through this model, Volvo are capturing downsizers and young buyers alike, wowing them with fun looks and trendy upmarket Scandinavian brand vibes. Visit the GasanZammit showroom in Mriehel to test drive the Volvo XC40. 56 ∫ Pink September 2018
2 TIMEPIECES THAT TRANSFORM MOMENTS It is with an effortless demeanour and fullyﬂedged expertise that Italian fashion house Armani created its accessories line, Armani Exchange. Transcending the captivating essence of high fashion from its ready-towear collections, this range beholds timepieces that will transform every moment. This watch is ﬁtted with a rose-gold-toned bracelet and a matching case, while three sub-dials and a date window ensure you never miss a date. It is now available from Sun Lab at Arkadia in Gozo and Bay Street, The Point, The Plaza, Paola, Qormi and Valletta, or VIP in Sliema and Valletta.
3 ETHICAL VITAMINS WITH AN ORGANIC HEART The Viridian Nutrition range of 200+ award-winning products includes vitamins, minerals, herbs, nutritional oils, speciality supplements, tinctures and balms all
Mewga Muzika is an interactive musical work curated by the Portuguese group Ondamarela. The concept is grounded on cooperation and collaborative work, over several preparative sessions with the participant communities. Based on a sustained research process, it proposes the composition of original music pieces on the speciﬁcs of the various communities involved, which worked intensively with Mro Tim Steiner to form a big orchestra that shall produce a unique concert. The idea is to involve professional orchestra musicians, amateur musicians and musical communities from the most different and eclectic musical backgrounds. Rooted in cooperation and collaboration, people of all ages and musical backgrounds have taken part in intensive workshops to create a big community orchestra. The concert by Valletta 2018, being held today, September 9, will take place at the Mdina Ditch at 7pm.
6 INNOVATION IN GOZO DESIGN Re/MARK/ABLE, a new way to experience contemporary applied craft, inﬂuenced by nature, land and sea, architecture, nostalgia, storytelling and everyday life, is being held at Cittadella Culture Centre, Victoria, Gozo, until September 29. Showcasing the work of some of Gozo’s ‘new artisans’, all members of the group Makers Mark, and their making processes, the project has three distinct but related elements taking over the main galleries of the centre: an exhibition, an installation and a work space. Organised by Makers Mark and curated by Jayne Giordanella, it aims to showcase how innovation and creativity in design and making are alive and vibrant on Gozo, featuring decorative, functional and wearable collections from nine Gozo artisans exploring their individually chosen themes in the media of wood, precious and non-precious metals, mixed media, ceramic, jewellery, glass and mosaic. The project is endorsed by V18 and supported by the Gozo Ministry and Cittadella Culture Centre; it is sponsored by Ta’ Mena, Lord Chambray and Cordina Steelworks. It is open daily from 9am to 5pm, and admission is free.
FOR A WOMAN TO BE AN IRONMAN Imagine being able to swim just under 4km at a stretch, or completing an 180km bike ride, or a full marathon at 42km. Now imagine doing all of these back to back, without a break in between. This is what Claire Azzopardi Lane achieved this summer, completing her first Ironman in Austria. She talks to RACHEL ZAMMIT CUTAJAR about how the exertion the academic puts on her mind needs to be balanced by physical activity. Triathlon training throughout her PhD actually helped her studies and she wants to show how the two don’t have to compete.
alking into Claire’s oﬃce at the University of Malta, she seems to be your average academic, until your eye falls upon the surfaces of her storage cabinets. Trophies clamour for space and medals hang from every possible protrusion. She catches me looking and giggles. “These are just the ones that don’t ﬁt at home,” she says. “At this rate, I’m going to have to get some more space.” In fact, Claire is not your average academic. She strongly believes that the exertion she puts on her mind needs to be balanced by physical activity. When I ask what prompted her to apply for such an extreme test of endurance, she replies: “My PhD needed a little bit of balance. I turned 40 last year, and with that, I promised myself I would complete an Ironman.”
“FRIENDS ENCOURAGE YOU TO JOIN THEM FOR A RUN, OR FOR A BIKE RIDE, AND BEFORE YOU KNOW IT, YOU’RE DOING YOUR FIRST TRIATHLON” Claire didn’t just rush into this without knowing what was coming. She is a seasoned triathlete, though a somewhat accidental one. She started swimming for exercise as a result of a back injury in her late 20s and made a few friends in the world of exercise. “Friends encourage you to join them for a run, or for a bike ride, and before you know it, you’re doing your ﬁrst triathlon.” In the local triathlon scene, there are a number of events that occur throughout the year: a series of sprints, which include a 750m swim, a 20km bike ride and a 5k run; Olympic distance races, which are double the distance of the sprints, organised by the Malta Triathlon Federation; and one middle distance race, known as Ocean Lava, which includes a 1.8km swim, a 40km bike ride and a 10km run, held in May every year. Claire’s training started in November of last year and she took part in this year’s Ocean Lava in order to prepare for the upcoming Ironman. “As hard as your training is, you can never really simulate race day unless you are actually competing, so Ocean Lava was really important for me. However, when race day arrived, the weather was against us. We started off battling waves about a storey high, which is quite daunting when you Pink September 2018 ∫ 59
ONFORM are almost 2km away from the shore. Once we got back onto land, we then had to ﬁght against gale force winds and driving rain, which made keeping the bike upright a struggle. “What makes a triathlon such an incredible sport is the overwhelming sense of achievement you feel after crossing that ﬁnish line. Whether you’re in ﬁrst place, or last, you know that you have achieved something that most people feel is impossible. With Ocean Lava, I’m glad I managed to brave the elements to ﬁnish the race. I feel like it gave me invaluable experience for the race to come.” Claire is not the ﬁrst woman to take part in an Ironman abroad. In fact, she was one of four Maltese women, including Elaine Fenech, Felicienne Mercieca and Isabelle Caruana, in Austria this July. However, she is the ﬁrst Maltese female athlete to be coached by a woman. Claire was looking for a coach that would understand her
“Building up stamina to complete a 180km bike ride means a lot of time spent on the road and this frightened the life out of me. I have a few friends who have been run over and some even killed by cycling in Malta. “Drivers get annoyed at cyclists when they’re not in the cycle lane, but what they don’t understand is that, like the roads they have to navigate, the cycle lanes are often full of gravel and potholes we also need to avoid. Trees jutting out into the cycle lanes mean we sometimes have to drift outwards into the road.” Although traﬃc laws say that drivers should give cyclists clearance of 1.5m, few respect this law. When this happens with a large vehicle, the tyres create a suction that pulls the bike even closer to the moving vehicle. Claire had a close call on the Xemxija Hill where a Hop-On HopOff bus came too close to her bike, causing it to shake, and she almost lost control. “As soon as I regained
“RESEARCH HAS SHOWN THAT THE GENDER GAP DECREASES SIGNIFICANTLY IN ENDURANCE SPORTS. WHILE FEMALE SPRINTERS ARE FAR FROM THEIR MALE COUNTERPARTS, WHEN THE DISTANCES INCREASE, THE WOMEN ARE CATCHING UP, WITH MANY COMING WITHIN THE TOP 10 IN ULTRA MARATHONS OF 100 MILES” needs and found everything she was looking for in Michelle Vella Wood. Having picked a coach who also has a doctorate, the two joke about which is harder to achieve, an Ironman, or a PhD. For Claire, it is deﬁnitely the physical aspect, while Michelle, ﬁve times Ironman, says the PhD was harder. “Michelle is really incredible. She did one Ironman just a few months after she had a baby. She has a really strong mental game. Nothing fazes her.” The challenge of endurance sports is not only physical, but also mental. Once your mind starts to question why you’re doing something, it is very diﬃcult to push further. On the other hand, if you are conﬁdent you can achieve something, it is very likely that you will. For Claire, overcoming fears was part of the training and her biggest hurdle was the Maltese roads. 60 ∫ Pink September 2018
balance and control, I had to get off the bike and I cried. It was a very scary experience.” She compares the experience of cycling in Malta to Austria. “Drivers there have a lot more respect for cyclists, which makes you feel a whole lot safer. They understand that you also have a right to be on the road. Safety, both on the road and in the water, is a top priority in international races and we can learn a lot from them.” This year, Ironman saw a contingent of approximately 15 Maltese in Austria. Popular for its incredible scenery, Claire says the timing of this race works well for locals. Taking place at the beginning of July means that training for the race starts in autumn of the year before and goes on through the winter, ideal for athletes avoiding heat exhaustion from training through the hottest of the summer months.
So what exactly does training for an Ironman involve? Claire gets up at 4am to start her day with a two- to three-hour session every morning before she gets herself to work to start a full day of lectures. “I always walk into my ﬁrst lecture with wet hair and sometimes even goggle marks still on my face. By the end of the day, I often have to hold onto the desk to keep myself upright.” If you think this is a tough day, then the weekend comes around. Saturday is race simulation day, so this includes a swim, bike ride and a run. Claire starts her training at 6am and ﬁnishes somewhere around 3pm, after which she often just collapses into bed, sunburnt and exhausted. “There is not a lot outside of training you can do while training for an Ironman. Getting through my work responsibilities and training is about all my body could take. There were plenty of weekends when I’d go to bed while it was still sunny outside. Sitting on the sofa to watch a movie was a waste of time as I’d fall asleep in an instant. Better to be in bed!” The following day, Sunday, is what Claire and other triathletes call a brick session because this is what your legs feel
like during training. It includes a long bike ride and a short run. To add to the week of running, cycling and swimming, Claire also does two gym sessions a week for strengthening and one yoga session a week for stretching, though she says she could do with more yoga. “There really is no time for anything else; no going out with friends, no eating out. However, there are athletes who somehow manage to do this with their families. I have no idea how they cope.” Nutrition is another key element in preparation. Getting enough calories in to support this amount of exercise is paramount and food needs to be healthy to boot. “I come to work with a cooler full of food I’ve prepped the night before. Though this seems like an extra job that adds an extra hour-and-a-half to the end of my day, it is a really important part of getting into shape.” When Claire returned home, a male colleague congratulated her on completing this gruelling race, saying it was “a great achievement for a woman”. Claire feels this is an incredibly sexist and also ill-informed comment to have made. Research has shown that the gender gap decreases signiﬁcantly in endurance sports. While female sprinters are far from their male counterparts, when the distances increase, the women are catching up, with many coming within the top 10 in ultra marathons of 100 miles. After such an achievement, the next obvious question is will there be more of these kinds of races? Claire smiles and admits that this is somewhat of an addiction and is sure to return sometime soon. She is on forced rest for the moment, tending to a knee injury she sustained during the ﬁnal leg of the race while running. She is also taking a break from the harsh effect of the sun that she was exposed to throughout the winter, however she plans to get back to training over the next few weeks. Working in the Department of Disability Studies, Claire was thrilled to see some disabled athletes complete Ironman. Aside from an athlete with a double amputation racing with prosthetic limbs, there was a blind man who completed the swim and run on a tether with a guide and the cycle on a tandem bike. Her dream is to return to Ironman as a guide. “I did the University of Malta ring
road races a few years ago as a guide to Michael Debattista, a blind colleague. In Malta, there is very little participation in sports by people with disabilities. Though there are some that take part in other sports, this is especially true for triathlon. “It’s great to see persons with disability not holding back and achieving in the world of sports. I would love to play a larger role in the support system that would see more people with disabilities joining in sporting activities.” The fact that Claire has managed to get through such punishing preparation while still getting through her work responsibilities is inspirational and she hopes that this will encourage students to follow in her footsteps. “At the university, I feel like we are missing a sports culture. Though we have a sports department and students that follow those courses, the majority are not really interested in sport and the students alone are not to blame. There is a heavy bias towards academia, with little understanding from lecturers when training and competition clash with lectures and exams. “Students use studying as an excuse to stay away from sport, but I believe that the two can work side by side. I continued my triathlon training throughout my PhD and I believe that this helped my studies rather than hindered them as it gave me the opportunity to de-stress. “The university has a student athlete programme, where we offer support to students who are also pursuing a career in sports. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. The programme attempts to form better communication with athletic students to try and get timetables to work better for the athlete. “For example, if the athlete knows there are going to be important competitions around exam week, we could liaise with admin to have the exam timetables work around the competition. We have very few athletes at the university and we would like to encourage them as much as possible to pursue their passions while also getting an education.” Though Claire started out doing some exercise to treat a back injury, sport has truly become a central part of her life. Like many people in the growing triathlon scene in Malta, she is inspirational in both her achievements and her support for other athletes. Pink September 2018 ∫ 61
SHAPING A FUTURE OUT OF DANCE A number of students from the Academy of Dance Arts have this summer travelled to Europe’s most prestigious ballet schools to further their dance education. This is the story of a few young dancers, who, through hard work and dedication, are turning a dream into reality.
lla Spiteri, Julia Gauci, Giulia Guillaumier, Mattea Gabarretta, Faye Balzan, Mattea Bianchi, Alexia Ellul and Katrina Portelli have this summer attended or will soon attend intensive programmes at Paris Opera, Royal Ballet School in London, English National Ballet School, Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, Matilde Coral Dance School, Seville, and Maria del Mar Moreno, Escuela de Baile Flamenco, Jerez, Spain. Each of these programmes lasted one or two weeks and included full days in the studios, starting very early in the day with classes running till late in the evening. Throughout these programmes, students join several classes a day, led by the world’s best dance tutors. They are guided on how to prepare for class and are taught new techniques and various dance styles. More importantly, they prepare a showcase at the end of the course, exposing themselves to the world of performance. This helps them build their conﬁdence and prepares them for a career in dance. Preparing for these programmes required several days of work by both the students and their teachers at the Academy. Students submitted a portfolio, which included photos and videos of them performing exercises and various dance positions. The portfolio is scrutinised by a panel of judges, and students must be selected
from among thousands of other applications from all over the world. At the same time, students must also keep up with their academic studies and their school exams. Indeed, some of them have sat for their O levels and A levels earlier this year. Ella Spiteri, one of the Academy of Dance Arts’ senior students, has this year been selected from among thousands of dancers to participate in both the summer courses of the Paris Opera and the Royal Ballet School, London. These were both very intensive two-week courses. For her summer intensive course, Ella has beneﬁtted from the National Fund for Excellence – Professional Development Grant, a fund administered by Arts Council Malta. She has now been selected to attend a full-time education in dance at the Munich International Ballet School. At only 16 years, Ella will be joining the best students from around the world. She will be
spending the next year in Munich in full-time training. She aims to fulﬁl her lifelong dream of joining an international dance company.
“SHE HAS NOW BEEN SELECTED TO ATTEND A FULL-TIME EDUCATION IN DANCE AT THE MUNICH INTERNATIONAL BALLET SCHOOL. AT ONLY 16 YEARS, ELLA WILL BE JOINING THE BEST STUDENTS FROM AROUND THE WORLD”
Martha Visanich will start the second year of a three-year, full-time programme at Bodyworks in Cambridge, where she is completing a diploma level 6 in the Performing Arts. Gaghel Dingli was recently selected to attend Trinity Laban Conservatoire for Music and Dance, London, where she will be doing the foundation course and progressing to the Bachelor of Arts in Contemporary Dance. Another senior student, Nicole Grech Flores, returned only a few months ago from a whole year spent in full-time training at KS Dance in the UK, which is run by the well-respected and renowned ballet teacher Kate Simmons. Nicole has joined the faculty of teachers at the Academy and is now teaching junior students both ballet and Spanish dance. “We are very proud of our students, who, year after year, are selected from among thousands of other students from all over the world to join the most prestigious schools in Europe either for the summer programmes, or for full-time training,” said Rowena Grech, Principal at the Academy of Dance Arts. “Together with their parents, we guide our students along their preferred path in dance whether they are interested in making a career in performance by giving them exposure in shows and dances both locally and abroad, or in teaching by giving them opportunities within the Academy’s faculty of teachers, or if they are dancing for recreation. “In a number of cases, we help by supporting them ﬁnancially. In fact, over the past few years, the Academy has given out several bursaries to its own students.” For more information about the courses offered by the Academy of Dance Arts, visit www.dancearts.com.mt; or call on 2142 1632.
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ISLAND HOPPING & SHOPPING Events executive at Times of Malta, DANIELA SAID, visits Sicilia Outlet Village in VIP style. Her step-by-step account of the overwhelming five-star whirlwind trip, just a stone’s throw away, shows it’s a no-brainer shopping holiday, which everyone should put on their itinerary. You don’t necessarily have to arrive by helicopter… but it’s an option too!
journey never starts from the proverbial point A to end, sadly, at point B. After point B has been reached, there are always memories that linger after the last ice cube has melted and the suntan has paled away. And the same goes for point A – a journey starts way before that; from the glossy photo that kick-starts the planning to the jumping-on-the-suitcase to try and convince it to perform some magic and grant access to a couple of extra clothes. My last trip to Sicily started with the you’ve-got-mail ping and then proceeded to the airport, where I met the rest of the guests and Charlene Le Gall, who on behalf of Sicilia Outlet Village, organised a tailormade trip to the neighbouring island that 64 ∫ Pink September 2018
would offer a taste of ﬁrst-class travel… and retail therapy par excellence. On quick arrival at Catania airport, the VIP treatment started from the VOI Grand Hotel Atlantis Bay in Taormina, clinging to the town’s stocky yet dramatic cliffs. This ﬁvestar hotel is perched on rocks, descending all the way to the romantically named Bay of the Sirens. All rooms and terraces overlook the pretty little beach, with the pool seemingly suspended between sky and sea. The hotel also offers a splendid dining area, where guests can enjoy breakfast by the sea with the kind of views that add extra bubbles to your glass of Prosecco at breakfast. And the Prosecco doesn’t come on its own – rather, it is accompanied by a fullyloaded spread of enough carbs and protein to
fuel a tour of the town, where a guide expertly shared some of Taormina’s mystical attractions. Following an hour-long tour, we were hosted at the trendy Daiquiri Cocktail Lounge Bar, located in one of the most beautiful and colourful stairways of Taormina, for an aperitivo – true cocktail culture in pure Italian style. The bar bites were to die for and the cocktails delicious. Indeed, it was a very happy hour. A gastronomic reality check was next on the agenda and dinner was offered at the Metropole Neo Bistrot, hosted by Giuseppe Puglisi, the Sicilia Outlet Village director of marketing and his team, where a gourmet dinner was enjoyed… and palates boosted with dining delectations and spectacular views.
“FROM PINKO TO PRADA, AND LOTS MORE IN BETWEEN, THE CHOICE WAS ENDLESS” This is where Instagrammable food, ambience, décor and service all come together. The menu included regional specialties and iconic, mouthwatering dishes – the type you simply need to sample no matter how many and how varied. Several surprises lay in store, but probably the most adrenaline-pumping point was being whisked off to Sicilia Outlet Village in a German Airbus helicopter the next day. Although it was a ﬁrst for the group, everyone was literally on a high with excitement. There we were, gliding above and around Isola Bella and smoking Etna, with everything shimmering and ﬂickering beneath. I survived my ﬁrst helicopter ride with a smile, landing at Sicilia Outlet Village helipad in true VIP style, where the centre manager Cesare Greco and his team welcomed us with open arms… and more… Prosecco. Set against the backdrop of wild terrain, the Sicilia Outlet Village is a 30,000-square-
metre oasis, packed with over 140 shops of various luxury brands that are not available back home. They also include kids’ clothing, sports shops and more affordable shopping. Restaurants, cafés, a play area, free parking and Wi-Fi complement the property, while the extra services of a personal shopper and a concierge are also available on demand. Armed with a Sicilia Outlet Village personalised gold card, we were told to go forth and shop – and who can disobey that instruction? From Pinko to Prada, and lots more in between, the choice was endless. Technology may have somewhat changed the shopping scene, but it still remains all about the experience and interaction on site. Having everything under one roof – or rather, in one whole shopping village – is another plus, and navigating the area is a simple and easy exercise. Then, of course, there are the discounts and exclusive offers, which is, after all, what an outlet village is all about. This is the place to bag a bargain on that coveted branded item without breaking the bank. If, to top it all off, you get a farewell aperitivo reception, complete with another Prosecco, or three, after having shopped until you dropped, you cannot really ask for a more ﬁtting send-off. We deposited our many purchases from a successful shopping spree and took a breather to take it all in. The Sicilia Outlet Village is not just about shopping; it’s a lifestyle experience. Pack it into a weekend break for an allround holiday with a difference. It’s close enough to keep it short and sweet; and far enough to turn it into a whole new travel experience. For some tips on how it should pan out, see above… And if you decide to do this now, you’re just in time for the launch of the winter collections and a wonderful new wardrobe. Pink September 2018 ∫ 65
INGREDIENTS Serves 4 For the pesto A handful of coriander leaves, thicker stalks removed A handful of parsley leaves, thicker stalks removed 2 tbsp grated sharp cheese, or nutritional yeast 3 tbsp good-quality olive oil 50g pine kernels [reserve some for garnish] For the salad 12 carrots, peeled and cut in half 2 portobello mushrooms 1 courgette, sliced lengthwise Salad leaves A few cherry tomatoes, chopped in half 1 halloumi cheese, cut lengthwise 1 2-inch piece goat cheese Small bunch of seedless grapes, or about 20, chopped in half 1 pomegranate 150g dried barley For the dressing 1 tbsp carob syrup 1 tbsp orange juice 1 tbsp oil Freshly grated salt and pepper
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A SEASONAL SALAD MARIA CACHIA tosses together halloumi and goat cheese with her leaves, and finishes off her salad with a carob syrup dressing. METHOD Preheat the oven to 180°C. Chop the Portobello mushrooms lengthwise and mix with the carrots. Drizzle a little olive oil, mix gently and place on a roasting try. Roast for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through. Slice the courgette lengthwise and reserve raw for the salad. For the pesto, place the coriander and parsley leaves in a food processor. Add the oil, cheese or yeast and process for a minute. Add the pine kernels and process until the mixture is smooth. Add a little more olive oil if the mixture is too thick. Cook the barley as per packet instructions. It should be al dente. Once drained from any cooking water and while still hot, place it in a bowl together with the pesto. Blend the
mixture until the barley is evenly coated with pesto. Refrigerate until use. For the dressing, blend the carob syrup, orange juice and olive oil. Season with freshly ground salt and pepper. For the halloumi, place a pan on a very hot ﬂame. Once it is heated through, place the slices of halloumi on it. No oil is needed if using a non-stick pan. Turn after 30 seconds on each side. Halloumi just needs to be warm and should be softer to eat when heated. To assemble the salad, place the salad leaves, carrots, mushrooms, courgette and cherry tomatoes in a large bowl. Pour over a tablespoon of the dressing and gently blend. Assemble the salad onto a serving plate. Add the halloumi and sliced goat cheese. Sprinkle some of the barley, grapes, pomegranate seeds and pine kernels. Drizzle any remaining dressing.
GOING HEALTHY HAS NEVER BEEN EASIER…
SIMPLE SALADS This easy, vegetarian, gluten-free starter, brought to you by Borges, can be prepped in 30 minutes. Tasty as it is, it won’t take that long to eat though!
INGREDIENTS Serves 4 300g quinoa 600g water 50g walnuts 50g Borges pitted olives 100g rocket A pinch of salt For the honey vinaigrette 100ml Borges olive oil 1tsp mustard 1tbsp honey
METHOD Wash the quinoa well: cover with water and strain in a sieve. Put the quinoa and water in a saucepan and add a little salt. Heat over a medium heat, and when it comes to the boil, cover and turn the heat down to the
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NUMBER ONE ORGANIC BRAND minimum. Leave it to cook for about 15 minutes, then turn off the heat and let it rest a few minutes more without stirring. To make the vinaigrette, mix all the ingredients together and drizzle over the quinoa. Cut the olives into small cubes, chop up the walnuts and add to the quinoa. Finish off with the rocket. TIPS • It’s very important to wash quinoa several times to help get rid of its slightly bitter taste. • For best results when cooking, use twice as much water as quinoa and cook over a low heat. • Quinoa is an ancient seed from the Andes, packed with nutrients, which makes it a superfood! And since it contains no gluten, it can be eaten by people who are coeliac and gluten intolerant. • Don't fret about how to serve this versatile cereal: simply use quinoa whenever you would use couscous or rice to add colour and texture to your dishes.
They’ve been farming since 1961, when the Mead family first bought its farm in Somerset, South West of England, and have been milking cows there ever since. They believe in organic farming not only because it produces healthier and more sustainable food for everyone, but also because it’s better for the whole world. Today, Yeo Valley is the largest familyowned dairy business in the UK, with 1,200 acres of farmland and 420 award-winning British Friesian cows. Supporting family farms is at the heart of everything it does, which includes buying all its extra British milk from other farmer co-operatives. This is the UK’s number one organic brand.
DELICIOUS AND NUTRITIOUS Kids need a variety of nutritious foods and regular exercise to stay healthy. Staying healthy is also essential for your child’s happiness. Yogikids is designed for children from one year of age, and that is why special care has been taken in developing a nutritious product. Pascual Yogikids Yoghurt Banana With Strawberry Flavour is a delicious health snack for your growing child; a good source of calcium, which promotes the growth and development of bones and teeth. It is also high in vitamin A & D, which help strengthen the immune system. Pascual products are delicious and nutritious. They may be either chilled, or stored at room temperature, and can be taken anywhere, which makes them an ideal solution for snacks and lunch breaks.
PINK@THEPARTY The Cassar Family celebrate a lifetime of sumptuous success. Photography Rene Rossignaud
BARRACUDA’S 40TH ANNIVERSARY The well-known, family-run establishment, Barracuda Restaurant, recently celebrated another milestone in its successful story – its 40th anniversary. Even after 40 years, the Barracuda Restaurant remains a local and tourist favourite thanks to its unique position in a lovingly restored 18th-century villa, perched over Balluta Bay, as well as its chic and trendy ambience and consistently evolving food and wine menu. Having also recently introduced a new and extensive revamped menu, featuring some classics and a number of new creations with a modern twist by its executive chef, as well as a new cocktail bar with an incredibly unique cocktail menu, the Barracuda promises to continue to delight and surprise the restaurant’s regulars and new patrons alike. “As one of the longest established restaurants on the island, we feel humbled and privileged that we are able to continue to do what we love to do. We sincerely thank all our patrons, employees and suppliers,” said owner Walter Cassar. “The Barracuda has always been about authentic food, a lovely ambience, good wine and great company. We hope that it will continue to be so for many years to come.” www.barracudarestaurant.com
Team Corinthia Caterers
Team JUGS Malta
CORINTHIA CATERERS AND JUGS MALTA’S SECRET GARDEN EXPERIENCE THE VILLA’S COMING HOME PARTY The Villa, the 19th-century gem of Le Méridien St Julian’s Hotel & Spa, pulled all the stops for its comeback celebration, with sparkling cocktails whipped up by Nori bartenders, and tempting bites prepared by Taro’s kitchen brigade. Alex Incorvaja [pictured], Le Méridien general manager, thanked all those present and said this was part of his team’s journey to becoming Malta Marriott Hotel & Spa in summer 2019, following a multimillion euro refurbishment and conversion. “Boasting views of the tranquil Balluta Bay, the restoration of The Villa, together with the move of Taro and the creation of Nori, is an extremely important milestone for the hotel and patrons seeking authentic and innovative cuisine within the area,” Mr Incorvaja said.
JUGS Malta, together with Corinthia Caterers, recently treated their guests to a magical evening at the Limestone Heritage in Siggiewi, which was transformed into a secret garden for the occasion – a celebration of delicious food and refreshing cocktails. Corinthia Caterers pulled out all the stops to ensure their guests at the Secret Garden Experience got to savour their great cuisine, cocktails and service, all trademarks of their new outside-catering brand. When they welcomed Island Caterers into their family, they married two of the finest reputations in hospitality. Together as Corinthia Caterers, they enjoy a flawless reputation and decades of experience. The Secret Garden event was testimony to this. The concept was inspired by the beauty of the gardens in summer. JUGS Malta, one of the leading team-building and corporate events companies, transformed the venue, providing guests with a feast for the eyes from the moment they arrived to pockets of surprise and detail in every area of the garden. www.corinthiacaterers.com
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PINK@THEPARTY THE PHOENICIA OPENS ITS GATES FOR A GARDEN PARTY The Phoenicia recently welcomed over 100 guests at the beautiful and historic Gazebo, a section of the hotel’s 7.5 acres of gardens, for a summer evening filled with food, drinks and fun! Guests were treated to a specially prepared garden menu, designed by The Phoenicia’s executive chef, Daniel Debattista, that included an array of fresh tomatoes from the hotel’s very own kitchen garden, a mozzarella bar, honey station, cannoli station and refreshing cocktails made from fresh garden ingredients. The Phoenicia’s general manager Charles Azzopardi said “the garden party was an opportunity to enjoy our beautiful gardens, which are usually reserved for use by guests, and to experience a garden-themed menu with elements coming from our kitchen garden, delicious food and drink, good conversation and cooling summer breezes.” www.campbellgrayhotels.com/the-phoenicia-malta/; www.facebook.com/phoeniciahotel
WELCOME TO LIL’VILLE The idea is to truly nurture the early stages of a child’s development carefully, and that is why Lil’Ville in Mosta is a technology-free childcare centre. Step inside this small-scale village for children to learn how they can develop, grow and benefit from its unique concept.
otwithstanding all the improvements and progress made, it is no secret that the world we live in today is not the one we grew up in. While we could say life has become less strenuous, with everything we need at our ﬁngertips, we wanted to do things a bit differently at Lil’Ville and decided to pause, take a step back and go back to our roots. We’re stripping down technology from day-to-day activities and guiding children through their early development stages, focusing more on character formation and interpersonal skills. Everyone’s priority at Lil’Ville is centred around creating a nurturing and soothing environment for your child, treating them with the same importance, affection and care that you, as their parents, would. We want to make sure that we’re guaranteeing your peace of mind when you drop off your children at Lil’Ville, which is why our fully qualiﬁed team of child carers will all be easily contactable, so you’re free to check up on your child at any time. We also recognise and value the fact that you as a parent need to follow closely your child’s progress, especially when you’re not around, which is why we’ve created the Lil’Ville Journal. This personalised communication report will be sent every month, detailing all the 76 ∫ Pink September 2018
“WE’RE STRIPPING DOWN TECHNOLOGY FROM DAY-TO-DAY ACTIVITIES AND GUIDING CHILDREN THROUGH THEIR EARLY DEVELOPMENT STAGES, FOCUSING MORE ON CHARACTER FORMATION AND INTERPERSONAL SKILLS” updates and progress your child would have made in the past weeks, so you’re never missing out even on the smallest achievements. We want children to be stimulated by the environment they’re in, enticing them to explore and respond to new sensory triggers, whether they’re textures, actions, shapes and many others. That is why we’ve built our childcare centre to resemble a village, with all the different points of interest you would normally ﬁnd in your usual small town – just on a smaller scale! From an art
gallery to a theatre, restaurant and post oﬃce, we’ve created a new exciting environment for children to develop their early skills and have tons of fun doing so. We want to nurture these early stages of a child’s development carefully, and that is why Lil’Ville was created as a technology-free childcare centre. The focus at the school is to accompany children in developing their personal, social and emotional intelligence without the aid, need, or dependency on any technology.
THE FOUR PILLARS OF LIL’VILLE PEACE OF MIND Our fully qualiﬁed team of child carers will treat your child with the same level of attention, affection and importance as you would, so you can put your mind at rest that they’re well taken care of. HAPPY KIDS Our little village, with all its exciting spots and attractions, is sure to get your little ones excited and eager to come back, explore and learn more each and every day. SAFETY FIRST We’ve custom designed our layout and all our furniture up to the highest safety standards, making sure every nook and cranny has been child proofed and certiﬁed safe. TECHNOLOGY FREE We strongly believe that the ﬁrst years of a child should be focused on developing crucial soft skills needed to communicate and interact in any environment. That is why Lil’Ville is a technology-free childcare centre.
Lil’Ville is a brand-new childcare brand, with its ﬁrst childcare village in Mosta. The Lil’Ville concept has been created by Christabelle Borg, founded by V&C Investments and managed by Louise Borg, who is qualiﬁed in childcare management.
Lil’Ville is holding an open day on October 13 and 14 from 10am to 4pm. For general enquiries, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org www.lilvillechildcare.com
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BODY&SOUL The Mazda CX-3 comes highly recommended by TV personality TEZARA EVE CAMILLERI, who gets all the answers to her questions about this car as soon as she sits behind the wheel and takes off.
guess it’s only natural to form some kind of friendship with the sales reps of a company when you’re popping in and out of a showroom every few months to review another car. And the ones over at Gasan Zammit Motors in Mriehel are always so friendly and helpful and ready to answer any questions I may have [and, of course, I always have many]. I sat down to have a chat with Damien, my go-to guy, who gives me all the information I need to write a well-informed review. But this time, when I asked my usual series of questions, including what makes this car so special and what makes it stand out from the others, Damien simply replied: “Drive it! Then talk to me.” And so, off I went… I test drove the Mazda CX-3 2.0 litre Petrol with full extras in Soul Red, which, by the way, is also available in 1.5 litre Diesel. I feel it is a crossover between a
‘normal’ car and an SUV, although some reviews have actually called it a small SUV. It’s got keyless entry with push-button start and quite a chunk of the interior is covered in leather, which really does give it that sleek feel. It also comes with a TFT 7-inch screen with HMI commander, and also rear parking sensors with a rear view camera; an excellent feature to help when parking [tried and tested, of course].
too; very modern and futuristic. Extra safety features include lane departure warning and smart city brake. Let’s face it, you’ve deﬁnitely got peace of mind when it comes to Japanese cars; we’ve all heard this before. My parents had a Mazda for 25 years before it started to give them trouble and they eventually had to give it up. I kept telling myself how well-priced it is for a car that has everything you need.
“LET’S FACE IT, YOU’VE DEFINITELY GOT PEACE OF MIND WHEN IT COMES TO JAPANESE CARS; WE’VE ALL HEARD THIS BEFORE” I was very happy to discover the inbuilt DAB plus digital radio when I was ﬁddling with the knobs to set my preferred radio station [take a wild guess which it is] and a Bose sound system with seven speakers! How’s that for being properly sound equipped?! I was very impressed by the head-up display feature
The only drawback, I felt, was the size of the boot; I expected it to be slightly larger in size. But this car is deﬁnitely good value for money and has great road presence. So if you’re after a stylish car that won’t break the bank, I highly recommend the Mazda CX-3. Pink September 2018 ∫ 79
HITTING THE HIGH NOTES Soprano Francesca Aquilina has been performing since childhood and chose to specialise in classical singing when she reached her teens. She has spent the last eight weeks in the Dutch countryside, rehearsing for a role in Opera Spanga’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida, which will be performed locally this month. It’s been a great experience, but she is also looking forward to returning for the last few weeks of summer – and a busy autumn beyond.
rancesca Aquilina is known for her beautiful voice. From roles in musical theatre to a career in opera, she has been on stage since she was just a little girl, and now works internationally as a soprano, while also teaching singing to students in Malta. “I would describe myself as very easygoing, but also opinionated,” Francesca smiles. “Being in this career has exposed me to people from all walks of life and from all over the world, and this ignited my interest in travel and immersing myself in different cultures.” Beyond her busy career, Francesca also considers herself to be a foodie, and she is never happier than when tasting new things [as long as they are meat-free]. “When not performing, I am usually found cuddling my dog Molly and my partner Chris, with a big mug of coffee in my hands,” she says.
What was your journey to becoming a singer? I actually started out as an actor, not a singer. I was very lucky to come from a theatrical family. My grandfather, Paul Xuereb, is a wellknown Maltese actor, while my mum, Lorraine Aquilina, set up the School of Performing Arts many years ago and has guided me throughout my career. My singing teacher, soprano Gillian Zammit, had encouraged my mum to send me to singing lessons when I was 10, and I haven’t left her side since. My earliest memory is of playing an orphan boy in a production of Oliver at the Mediterranean Conference Centre when I was eight. I remember thinking: “Yeah, this is what I like doing!” I have been involved in the theatre ever since. What has been the highlight of your career so far? Probably working with the Welsh National Opera and touring a
brand-new production with them called My Perfect World, wherein I played one of the lead roles. When you look back, what has been your favourite role to date? That would have to be Adina in Elisir d’Amore because she is feisty and spirited, but so ﬂawed and vulnerable. It was also the most challenging to sing stamina-wise, as she leads the entire opera. The morning after every show, I felt as though I had been run over by a truck! But the satisfaction of singing that music and bringing her story to life was thrilling. You’ll soon be taking on the role of the High Priestess in Aida, first in the Netherlands, and then at Pjazza Teatru Rjal locally. How does it feel to be working with an international company on this show? The company is great, and the production is interesting and detailed. It is a modern production, but also beautiful, and it allows the performers to really sing and bring out the beauty of Verdi’s music. I feel very honoured to have been asked to form part of this company and to be working with singers of such high calibre. The rehearsals for the show are being held in Spanga in Friesland, and I will have been in the Netherlands for nearly eight weeks before bringing the show to Malta. It is always fascinating to be in a different country and to spend a good amount of time, not just travelling, but actually living… You really get to know the way they work and the expectations they have of you, which makes you grow – not just as a musician and performer, but also as an individual. That said, it is a long time to be away from home! I always get jealous of the cast who go back to their families on their free days here. However, it is a great excuse for me to explore the country. Pink September 2018 ∫ 81
SNAPSHOT You’ve been working on opera for a number of years now. How has the scene changed in Malta since you got started? I think the music scene in Malta is going from strength to strength. Since I moved back home from the UK a few years ago, the amount of work and – more importantly – the quality of work, keeps increasing. Theatregoers are inundated with choices throughout the year and so many high-quality festivals have been established. This also means that we are able to attract international musicians, who not only perform for us and with us, but also teach us and help keep our standards high.
“I RARELY LISTEN TO CLASSICAL MUSIC FOR PLEASURE” children’s opera and continue rehearsing with the early music group I form part of, the Monteverdi Project. We have some exciting concerts coming up, including one in the Baroque Festival. I have just been sent some beautiful music that I have been learning in between rehearsals. I am looking forward to really getting stuck into it and performing it in a few months.
What’s something people never assumed about you? Although I have a very conﬁdent personality, on ﬁrst meeting people, I get very shy and self-conscious. And I rarely listen to classical music for pleasure.
What are you most looking forward to this autumn? I am excited to be back home. Although it was nice to have a break from teaching to be able to fully focus on the opera, I have really missed seeing my students. I am very passionate about teaching and making the next generation as excited about music as I was at their age. I am also, hopefully, taking a children’s choir of 30 children to Japan to sing at a festival, so that will deﬁnitely be one of the highlights of next year. I know I have put in the work as a singer, which now allows me to take opportunities as they come, and which I couldn’t be more grateful for. I hope that my love of baroque music will continue to grow and develop, and I hope to continue doing more in this area. Since my real exposure to it only a few years ago, I have felt it has allowed me an intense sense of communication and set off something that has been very powerful, which I hope to continue developing.
What’s next for you and what are you most excited about at the moment? Back to Malta, I will start rehearsing for a new
Watch Francesca Aquilina in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Aida at Pjazza Teatru Rjal on September13 and 15. For tickets, visit www.showshappening.com
We imagine opera to be a very glamourous career – is it? I think it must be one of the least glamorous careers out there! Sure, the costumes on stage are [sometimes] beautiful and intricate, and we love to get dressed up for the after-parties and receptions, but the glamour stops there. We spend months in rehearsals and training, and spend most of the year being so worried about losing our voices that any free time is spent resting. I have been missing out on social occasions since I was a kid! We are our own instrument, after all.