In search of times gone by – Memories of Marsalforn

Everything changes, nothing changes at all...

Marsalforn
Photo by Jason Grech

Marsalforn holds a very special place in my heart.  When I am here and look around me, I don’t merely see faces, places and objects; instead I glimpse something more profound, memories of a childhood gone by, remnants of an old, hushed village, now lost in time.

In a nostalgic effort to recall the good old days, I close my eyes and try to picture the Marsalforn of our youth.  With the power of imagination, today’s noisy speedboats are silenced, the menacing concrete blocks of apartments fade into oblivion, and the diverse foreign-speaking crowds disperse.  What my mind evokes instead, is an old local fisherman gently strolling the horizon aboard his colourful “luzzu”, smiling families gathered around in their “parapetti” feasting on Nanna’s freshly-made “ħobż biż-żejt”, and barefooted children cheerfully chasing a ball on the vast uncluttered promenade.

Marsalforn has changed drastically during the last decade, still desperately clinging to what is left of its previously untouched beauty, in a constant struggle between future and past.  The sea-side village seems to be a sort of amplified reflection of the construction frenzy that subjected Malta and its people to a dire transformation in lifestyle, particularly in the reduction of environmental “living space”.  New blocks of apartments rising steadily, grey towers of concrete bricks casting an ever-growing shadow on the bay, seemingly threatening to devour it.  For the first-time visitor, the multitude of facades overlooking the village streets seems so uncoordinated, lacking symmetry and devoid of aesthetic harmony, that he may sense a sort of uniformity in eccentricity as he walks by.  

Sometimes I can’t help but wonder how we reached this point?  Does it make sense to sustain a policy of gross over-development in such key tourist areas, and to facilitate the buy-to-rent industry in an already crowded tiny village?  Does it stand to reason that a prime tourist destination risks being substantially downgraded to a hub of social cases and tenants in search of lower rents?  Should we, in the name of “progress”, usurp our main bays, village centres and landmarks of their soul, their character and their raison d’etre?

Whilst gazing at another beautiful sunset in Marsalforn, I ask myself a final question, “Are we still in time to save Marsalforn, and the other gems of Gozo from over-development?”  Upon my contemplation, my mind absorbed in finding the trajectory and way forward, I hear something from the other side of the port; it is a vaguely familiar accumulation of voices, firm in nature and verging on the aggressive in tone.  Instantly I smile when I reckon it’s unmistakable source; from time immemorial, the old ladies of Marsalforn gather up in the evenings at one of the docks of the port to play some rounds of “tombla”, occasionally laughing, frequently gossiping, forever arguing and shouting, in a seemingly perpetual state of commotion!   

In Marsalforn, everything changes but some things never change at all…  Maybe we are still in time to save our village, after all…