Posted: June 1, 2022
Malta is an amazing place. It has had continuous civilization since 5,900 BC and has been occupied by the Romans, Greeks, The Knights of St. John, Sicily, France, and in recent times by the British from the early 19th century until 1964. During WWII the Germans desperately tried to occupy it and while they failed then, they have certainly succeeded now. There are people from all over the world who have chosen to live here. Some are wealthy, some are not, but a lot of people who are here have chosen this place with many other options available.
I travel in a fairly narrow circle of friends, acquaintances and neighbours. This is partially because I arrived at the beginning of Covid and did not have history here when people could roam about freely. But that exaggerates the role Covid has played in limiting my exposure. I am like a lot of people with my little routines and rituals and comfort zone and other than the occasional exception I largely stick to my own space and encounter the same people I usually do in a day.
So I was a bit surprised to be invited to a full-on post-Covid party at the home of a very significant designer. These are not the circles I travel in. It happened because this woman had come to visit En Plein Air a few months ago to see the yachts propulsion and electrical systems and design features. Now for those who don’t read my posts regularly you should go back to a post on Dec 14, 2016 EN PLEIN AIR: LIFE WITH AMY & JUSTIN – DJANGO BISOUS to understand the significance of this old wooden boats propulsion system and its crazy design that has secret compartments.
This woman had come to her design life by way of studying engineering, and then industrial design before pursuing more artistic design. She had heard from a mutual friend about how special my old boat is and wanted to see it for herself so we had set up a visit. Then this week a little card arrived in the mail thanking me for the tour and inviting me to see the restoration she had completed of her rather magnificent home.
I pulled out my best jeans for the outing, and most fashionable jacket, fully aware that the age of the later might exceed the age of some of the other guests. I was correct. Most looked like they had just stepped out of fashion magazines, and had not been fed in months, but I was happy to be there and see her amazing home.
It was also nice to drink some wines other than Spanish. Now don’t get me wrong, Malcomb supplies my wine for free and I like the choices for the most part but he does like his Spanish wines and I, on occasion prefer some French, or new world from Australia or New Zealand, so the opportunity to sample (what a polite word for guzzle) some exquisite vintages was welcomed.
For privacy reasons all guests were asked to not photograph the house so my descriptions here will have to suffice. It was a typical large but non- descript house viewed from the small unmemorable lane it was on. The frontage had several different facades as if it was several attached buildings but once inside it was clear it had been done as a magnificent home with an unpretentious exterior, consisting of what looked like several different properties. It was square in shape wrapping around a central courtyard for its four floors. Each of those floors had extensive open areas overlooking the courtyard below and the top floor other than the façade at the front of the building overlooked the nearby rooftops and the ocean further on. While a guest I was not an honoured guest so when one of that variety was given a tour of the place I followed along like a dog on its walk. Without the tour it would have been impossible to know the magnitude of the work she had undertaken as it was all so sympathetic to the design and finishes of what I assume was a version of the house from about the late 1800’s. After the tour I wandered around a bit on my own enjoying the views, and the wine.
A short distance from the bar was a doorway that framed a new room our host had done to show off her collection of vintage handbags and luggage. All the big designer labels were represented on the walls, and they were for the most part the quintessential styles associated with each one. Along the floor were vintage luggage pieces by Louis Vuitton presented both for their own attributes but also to serve as plinths for other handbags.
Standing in that portico looking at the bags and enjoying my various wines over the evening I would overhear the various responses to the room – both the objects sitting on mahogany floating shelves and the painted walls behind.
The walls captured a lot of attention. “Pantone 287 – I love it” was one comment from a graphic artist, who was then corrected by another person with “Benjamin Moore 2046-50 Scuba Green”, and topped off by a very young consumer of such things with “Tiffany Blue”. Ah yes, I understood now. They were all speaking their own language or jargon. It was all English but none of it related other than reference to the same colour.
When I was young, I often thought that people who knew all these words were smart. As I have aged, I have realized that every field has its terminology, jargon, lexicon. Sometimes these words exist just to abbreviate a bigger concept, notion or process so they are like a short form but other times their use is a method to insulate them from the outside world as an exclusivity tool.
In some places it is common for people discussing a sensitive topic to slide into a language they share that is not commonly used by others in a restaurant for example. I know a few snippets of several languages and have heard some pretty scary things from guests on the cruise ships believing no one would understand their comments. This application of technical, or specialty terminology is a like a variation on that.
So whether its artists talking negative space, architects talking compression & release, oncologists talking remission, or lawyers referencing a pari pasu arrangement, you need to evaluate why the terms are being used – as a good abbreviated or short-form way to describe, or whether the purpose is to exclude the outsider hearing the terms.
This business of inclusion and exclusion flowing from secret terms or language fascinates me. I have a buddy who worked in the investment world for decades and liked to really play with this. When new members of the team would pull out their recently minted vocabulary from MBA school, stringing together multiple bits of MBA speak he would sometimes start into a dialogue with a colleague, so these young graduates would over hear, and the little patter was filled with financial gibberish just to mess with them. His little nonsense speak would always begin plausibly enough but after a few sentences be so absurd everyone would be in on the joke. As a humorous learning tool it usually worked without invoking too much humiliation.
There is a little lad who I encounter every few days who lives with his parents just a few slips over on a fairly modest liveaboard they have been restoring all during the pandemic while living in it. His name is Nico. He was born before the pandemic and is about three years old at this point, so much of his early learning has been influenced by the pandemic. It has been a long time since I have been around such little creatures and it is amazing to watch the evolution of all aspects of his life including his speech. His dad is from England and his mom’s heritage is Columbian so the mysteries of learning to communicate for him has both Spanish and English dimensions. Just as he has gone from barely walking to now riding a scooter in seemingly no time at all, his language skills and vocabulary have also gone on an exponential curve. It must be something to start to unpack all these hidden terms for the first time. Of course, he has discovered the power of NO, but seems like a good kid who is not going into a couple of decades of the terrible twos.
But these days when I think just as I am awestruck by the positive power of this learning children go through on the flip side of that, it is a reminder of the shame of what was done to so many indigenous children in Canada in Residential schools. Their language was taken away, and they were not even allowed to use their own names. There have been few things in history that have affected me as much as this. Perhaps it is because it happened as recently as in my own time. Perhaps it is because it was my government and the churches of my country that did these things. It is one of those things that we can never make right, or truly correct.
But if we are to move forward at all it is important that all the little Nico’s of the world need to learn that some words are racially charged, sexually exploitive or disrespectful of one group or another. As I think about it, the dictionary of current words in use that should not be used is as extensive as the correct ones. Perhaps the world Nico will inhabit as he ages will be better.
The wine was really flowing that night and as I would lean there in the portico overlooking the bag room, as other guests would come along to look at the display, I took to sizing them up and guessing which descriptor of the blue walls they would respond to, and which designer bags they would identify. I was usually wrong, but had some interesting conversations and expanded my little bank of friends. And at quite a late hour I found myself walking home, having made the wise decision to not operate a bicycle after such an evening.
p.s. I have been really quite busy with giving cooking classes lately and was in a bit of a scramble to get this post done. As a result I did not put in any pictures of Malta but will be updating this post over the next week with some.