Valletta has a character and a personality. Like all cities, towns and villages, it has a life of its own. It has its own psychology – a profile of pretended elegance, yet spontaneous, eccentric and sometimes tending to be arrogant and rude. It has had throughout its history a character that swerves and twists around its various neighbourhoods reflecting the spirit of its citizens and its visitors. Some areas of the City are pompous, others are modest. Most are decadent and fraying on the sides.
Sadly, Valletta is being force fed to go against the spirit of improvisation and natural evolution. The numerous cafés, restaurants with outside tables in both the main and narrow streets, outside loud music , boutique hotels and studio flats do not necessarily mean that Valletta is taking a new life. I know that my opinion goes against the grain but my reasoning is simple – this is an imposition on the city by people who do not understand the city or live in it. It is artificially made-up and goes against the spirit of its citizens.
The character of any city is primarily a reflection of the lives and aspirations of its citizens as well as of those who work there or regularly visit it. It is a collage of central streets and neighbourhoods in the periphery, of lawyers and office personnel, public officers, shop owners and attendants. This is what made Valletta over the centuries. Activity revolves around the central piazzas and the main parallel streets where people stop to chatter and make up stories and resonate rumours that are than taken for fact and reproduced enthusiastically through social media. Another life lies in the residential neighbourhoods in the margin. We have heard politicians say what they would like Valletta to be. But what are its citizens saying?
A Valletta of staged art and entertainment with packaged and commercially motivated cultural activities will draw the curious visitors like tourists visiting a Disneyland which remains remote to people’s heart and soul. None of these curious visitors will ever engage in its natural culture and lifestyle. Valletta will only be revived if we encourage it to do so on its own… encouraging the families who live there not to leave the city, encourage the independent shops to remain open, persuade young families with children to settle there, and decide to locate a section of our university to return to the city. A living city does not mean that it has to be awake all the day… the city has to sleep at night and recover from the strain of the visitors that come to it during daylight. A genuine renaissance of Valletta will reflect the purity of its character and a discovery of its true nature through a painful soul-searching and identification of its destiny. Once the dim lights of the isolated restaurant was a source of attraction and so was life around the Manoel Theatre in the evenings on theatre nights. This contrasted so sharply with the noise and activity in the morning around the open and closed market, the Court building and the unpretentious cafes. Valletta will rebel against all things that are high headedly imposed and that make it feel superficial and ridiculous. We should give it ample space to cherish its spontaneity.
Joseph FX Zahra