WHAT HAVE THE MALTESE EVER DONE FOR US?
According to the Good Country Index, Malta is one of the world’s top 30 countries that contribute to the general good of the human race. We’re at position no. 23 to be exact, and that’s out of 125 countries surveyed for their global contribution to others in seven areas: science and technology, culture, international peace and security, world order, planet and climate, prosperity and equality, and health and well being.
Well, we know how we are. Half of the people who read the headline on Wednesday morning probably burst out laughing and made one of those dismissive sounds we love to make (we have many to choose from), then loudly belittled the article and quoted one of our many shortcomings to anyone in earshot.
The other half peed themselves with happiness and promptly shared the article on social media, hailing our greatness, kindness and generosity as a nation of much talent and a big heart when we hear of people in need.
The truth lies, of course, somewhere in between. This is a great group of islands to live on, especially if you’re native to it and are lucky enough to have a network of family and friends to support you. On the other hand, we lag behind other more advanced countries in various things that range from basic manners to matters of efficiency and even common sense.
With this in mind, and with tongue firmly in cheek, I've put together a list of globally significant contributions I think our country has given this green earth. No doubt I've left some people or things that you may consider significant out – or you may feel that something I included has no place on the list. In some cases you may find yourself jumping the gun and taking something seriously before realising you should be taking it with a smile and a pinch of salt.
Whatever the case, feel free to add your comments below. I and the rest of the SWAG team look forward to them.
1. Fine Arts
Tenors Joseph Calleja and Oreste Kirkop. Composer Nicolo Isouard. Huge numbers of uber-talented classical musicians such as Carmine Lauri and Brian Schembri. Actor Joseph Calleia who nearly became The Godfather. Architect Richard England. A place for artists Caravaggio and Mattia Preti to produce their finest works. The list is long.
And what do we get in return? Renzo Piano’s doodlings for a roofless performing space he probably turned out on a napkin during his lunch hour…
2. Food & Drink
The pastizz, Cisk lager, Kinnie and Twistees. Foster Clark supplies half the world but Maltesers and the American drink called Malta are nothing to do with us, while the jury’s still out on Bajtra Liquer.
3. Flora & Fauna
There are certain types of lizard, beetle and shrub that can only be found in Malta. Then there are the Maltese goat, the Black Maltese Chicken and the Maltese cow, which are probably only known to agricultural experts, unless you take into consideration this episode of The A-Team. The same can be said of the Maltese potato, tomato and tuna, eaten by Dutch, Brits and Japanese in droves, without them actually knowing (or caring) where they came from.
Maltese cat is a name given to a cat whose fur is either completely, or primarily, grey or blue and is of indeterminate breed. Wikipedia states that many cats with such colouration are supposedly present on our islands, which may have given rise to the use of the adjective in this context. Apparently they’ve even started calling a type of blueish-tinged tiger ‘Maltese’.
There are also Malta-produced dogs that have made world headlines – such as the time an American millionairess left her entire fortune to a Maltese Dog a few years ago. Eva Longoria is one of several celebrities who has carried one around in her handbag.
Malta Dog, on the other hand, was WW2 British slang for something entirely different…
4. Lead & Gunpowder
If recent newspaper reports quoting expert studies are to be believed, then our plentiful fireworks are introducing unhealthy chemicals into the foodchain. And since we a) export some foods and b) we live on one planet, surely some of this stuff is being generously shared with our neighbours. We musn't forget all the lead our friendly neighbourhood hunters shoot off all over the place either...
On a brighter note, some of our enthusiasts have won signifcant international prizes for their firework creations in competitions.
Joseph Gatt is a half-Maltese actor who has played an android stationed on the bridge of the USS Enterprise in the most recent film in the Star Trek series. The creator of Star Wars’ R2D2, Tony Dyson, lives in Gozo, while George Lucas named a planet in that universe after Comino. The island, not the short-lived locally produced car.
Sorry, he actually called it Kamino... but it's pronounced Comino okay?
6. Free Love
By now, the number of foreign people who lost their virginity or found true love in Malta must run into the millions. St George’s beach in St Julian’s and the Blue Lagoon have a lot to answer for. It’s said that Britain's Prince Charles was conceived here, specifically on Comino in the 1940s, when then Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip lived here for a while. Perhaps the Police should produce a safety video about that.
7. A nurturing haven for foreign talent
Musicians David Bowie, James Blunt, Andy Partridge of XTC and Robert Palmer; music producer Mike Hedges; authors and journalists Christopher and Peter Hitchens, Nicholas Monsarrat, Anthony Burgess (of A Clockwork Orange fame), Thomas Pynchon, Tom Bradby, Revel Barker and AJ Quinnell; comedian Billy Connelly; actors David Niven and Rupert Everett (he told interviewer Gianni Zammit that he was brought up here, during an MTV Awards press conference), and, er, footballers Javier Zanetti and Gary Neville have all lived here or made important visits which left them inspired: some of them positively and some not so positvely. The poet Lord Byron for example, is rumoured to have been given treatment for gonorrhea here. Quite a memory to take with you.
Although she never visted, famous children's author Enid Blyton's first husband did and ended up dying here. The British artist Jason Monet moved to Malta and married a local in the 1960s, while legendary boozer Oliver Reed liked it so much he drank himself to death here.
Popular British showmen of the 70s such as Paul Daniels, Robin Askwith, Albert Moses and Frankie Howerd lived here for a period while Rolf Harris spent some time running a local nightclub. But that last one is probably nothing to be proud of.
8. Myths, International Affairs & World Peace
The realms of fantasy and mythology aren't safe from us either. Malta could have been Atlantis and Gozo could have been home to Homer’s Calypso. Slightly more real is the fact that famous undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau's ship was once a Gozo ferry boat.
We gave Napoleon a nice palazzo to rest in for a week or so in 1798, while we hosted the greatest-ever Briton and hero of WW2 Winston Churchill six times. Not to upset those who feel culturally Italian, I will also mention the fact that we gave refuge to the Italian patriot and founder of a united Italy Giuseppe Garibaldi for two days in 1864. And speaking of refuge, we all know the Bible story about St Paul's shipwreck, but not so many know of how Cypriot leader Archbishop Makarios was given refuge here during the Cyprus conflict of 1974. A former British Air Force pilot told me actor Edward Woodward was also on one of those evacuation flights.
George Bush Sr and Mikhail Gorbachev ended the Cold War with a handshake here in 1989, while 40 years earlier Generals Patton, Montgomery and (future US President) Eisenhower oversaw the rehearsal for D-Day, the invasion of Sicily from tunnels underneath Valletta. And no WW2 history book worth its salt fails to include a chapter about the Malta Convoys and the heroic defence of the island against the overwhelming odds of fascism and nazism.
Thousands of soldiers were shipped here for hospital treatment during WW1, and that conflict also saw the incarceration as a POW here of future German Navy chief and successor to Adolf Hiltler (for a week) Karl Donitz.
The Great Siege of 1565 is a major event in the history of the Mediterranean that arguably helped stop the expansion of the Ottoman Empire westward, while you could say the presence of eight groups of European aristocrats plus the Maltese all together in one place, when Malta was run by the Knights of St John, was a sort of primitive dry run for today’s EU. Of course, the Knights' eight-pointed cross, also known as the Amalfi cross, has become known around the world as the Maltese Cross, but it's important to note that it didn't originate here and is therefore still used in various parts of the world without any reference to Malta itself: see the Italian naval ensign and the St John's Ambulance groups for example.
Canada’s top WW2 fighter pilot ace George Beurling made his name in our skies, which were also the scene what was probably the world’s first ever military aircraft hijack during WW2, a true boys' own Commando comic style adventure. Malta inspired a few of those as well by the way.
Maltese pirate turned respected naval officer, Juan Azopardo, went on to found the Argentinian Navy in the early 1800s. While the investigator who actually brought down fraudster Jordan Belfort (The Wolf of Wall Street) supposedly had Maltese parentage.
Gibraltar’s first minister is called Peter Caruana, we have a Cardinal in the Vatican, while films about London gangsters such as The Krays and Sexy Beast allude to our not-so-proud legacy of exporting criminals in the early and middle parts of the last century.
Finally, Joseph Malta was the United States Army hangman who carried out the Nuremberg executions of 10 former top leaders of the Third Reich on October 16, 1946. "It was a pleasure doing it," he noted. No idea if he was Maltese though.
9. Health and Humanitarian Work
The number of Maltese missionaries and volunteers who make a difference by rendering assistance - both physical and religious - to needy people all over the world is significant. Likewise Maltese soldiers have contributed to peace and rescue missions and anti-piracy patrols in various parts of the world - including off Maltese shores practically every week. And I'm not just talking about the AFM.
In the field of health, we’ve produced countless top doctors and surgeons who work all over the place, particularly in the UK. Many of them have contributed significantly to advances in medical science. Former President Censu Tabone worked for the UN in Iraq and found a cure for certain eye diseases, while Dr René G. Favaloro, who had Maltese ancestors, reshaped the face of cardiac surgery as we know it. We've also given the world Edward De Bono.
10. Popular Culture
Gozo, probably unwillingly, gave its name to a Spanish adult magazine. The proof is here, but click this only if you're over 18 and have an open mind.
From Maltese-Australian Nicky Bomba and Joe Camilleri of the Black Sorrows, to Australian Idol Natalie Gauci, Tenishia and Marc Storace of Krokus to Dee Galdes-Fearon of Baby D and Galaxy (Remember the 80s tune Dancing Tight?), Sister 2 Sister, 3 of a Kind, The Rhythm Masters, Fenech-Soler and South Central, we’ve musically rocked various parts of the world at some point or another. Some of our Eurovision stars have a following abroad, including Fabrizio Faniello who was a star in Romania for a brief period. And then there’s Kevin Borg’s seduction of the Swedes a few years ago. They love us so much their two of their citizens formed a band called Malta… in 1970.
Britney Spears and Bryan Adams supposedly have some Maltese blood, while Texas' Sharleen Spiteri definitely has a little. We also like to think that Lady Gaga’s popularity went stratospheric after she appeared at the first Isle of MTV concert in Malta, being little known up till that point.
Temple Studios, set in idyllic Mistra Bay, has hosted numerous superstars of the hard rock sphere for recording sessions over the years, no doubt helping them to produce their finest work, while a part-Maltese model with a prominent Maltese cross tattoo appeared in two videos to songs by American rock supergroup Chickenfoot. Malta has also been a background for various international music videos from such diverse artists as Dali's Car (made up of Mick Karn of Japan and Peter Murphy of Bauhaus) and Katy Perry.
We’ve exported various footballers, football trainers, shooters, waterpolo players, snooker stars, an ice-hockey player, a Maltese-Australian boxer and a more-Scottish-than-Maltese champion cyclist (who was also convicted of doping). Tony Pulis is a famous personality in English football as is Jamie Carragher who has some Maltese ancestry. Of course, various Aussie footballers also have that distinction. Possibly the best known among them was tough (or nasty, depending on your perspective) guy Kevin Muscat.
In Italy the popular graphic novel series Corto Maltese is all about a Valletta-born adventurer. There is also a crime writer called Andrea Camilleri, but unlike 70s Italian sex comedy superstar Edwige Fenech, his Maltese origins are non-existent.
Baron Michael Scicluna wowed America’s millions of wrestling fans in the 60s and 70s, while we’ve also provided mirth for Australian TV thanks to Shaun Micallef, and wives for Hollywood stars Bruce Willis and Matthew Marsden.
Jon Cassar and Mario Philip Azzopardi went abroad and directed massive TV shows like 24 and Stargate, but Mario Kassar has no connection to us. As we all know, the islands have been a base for blockbusters such as Gladiator, Troy and World War Z, as well as turkeys such as Raise the Titanic. “It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic,” the film’s chief financier had said after it sank at the box office.
The Jew of Malta is a famous classic play, while The Maltese Falcon is a famous classic film – that eventually also provided a plot for an episode of Leverage and Riptide. So we've sort of been responsible for some classic literature as well.
Television has needed to come here to film anything from The Saint to The Sweeney, and Game of Thrones, The New Mission Impossible and Remington Steele (Pierce Brosnan in Maltese Steele) – but, ironically, California stood in for Malta in an episode of Marvel’s Agents of Shield last year.
And finally, Michael Maltese wrote hundreds of episodes of Merrie Melodies and other cartoons, such as Bugs Bunny, The Road Runner and The Flinstones. A man with the same name released an italo disco record in 1984. I have no idea if they were actually Maltese.
That’s all folks! I look forward to your comments.
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