J’accuse: Monumental


This article appears in today’s edition of The Malta Independent on Sunday.

La Sagrada Familia (profaned)
When Antoni Gaudì was awarded the title of architect in Barcelona , the school director Elies Rogent is reputed to have said: “Qui sap si hem donat el diploma a un boig o a un geni: el temps ens ho dirà”. If, like mine, your Catalan is somewhat rusty you might like to know that what Rogent said translates as: “Who knows if we have given this diploma to a nut or to a genius. Time will tell.” That was Gaudì he was talking about, the very same architect who would go on to give us such beauties as Casa Batlló and Casa Millà.

Above all, Gaudì would design and commence work on the monumental Sagrada Familia – a work of epic proportions, breathtaking conception and immortal destiny. Gaudì met his end when he was run over by a tram but work on the most beautiful edifice I have visited continues to this day – over one hundred years after Gaudì finished work on the crypt. Now I have been to quite a few churches around Europe – from the colourful churches in Vilnius to the sober churches in Luxembourg, from the functional churches in France to the medieaval celebrations of faith in England – and they never cease to fascinate me. The unfinished work conceived by Gaudì will forever remain imprinted in my mind as something heavenly – the symbolism and the majesty of it all.

It’s a question of taste I admit… and function. Everyone (and I mean everyone) has their preconceived idea of what a church should look like and what kind of building best suits the function of a place of prayer. Gaudì had his own idea. The idea carries on to this day. The building of the Sagrada Familia is not funded by the government – most of the funding is now obtained from visiting paying tourists. In the long run, Rogent got his answer – less of the nut, more of the genius.

The Sagrada Familia was in the news this week. As work approaches a conclusion 125 years after it began, “an influential group of Spanish intellectuals is loudly proclaiming the efforts to finish the cathedral a disaster and that the work should have stopped when Gaudi met his death in 1926.” (The Times, UK).The intellectuals are up in arms because they believe, inter alia, that the architects commissioned to fill the gaps betrayed the original ideas of Gaudi. The Sagrada Familia thus no longer has the sole timbre of it’s father. Heavy words are being bandied around… “they have profaned his works”. The architect for the divine becomes a divinity himself as the flames of controversy show no sign of abating.

La Serenissima (flooded)

In the end the scirocco saved it by changing direction. The scirocco is an ill wind for Venice because with the scirocco come the floods and this year they came in abundance. This was the city’s worst flooding for 22 years and the fourth highest level since 1872.

By now many of you will have seen the amazing images of a flooded St. Mark’s square and of the dutch guy aquaplaning along it. Venice too has been waiting for a long time for a controversial yet what is deemed by some to be essential project. The MOSE (Moses) project involves the installation of 78 plates that can be raised from the sea floor and act as a barrier to protect the fragile city from flooding.

There are opponents to that project too. The greens believe that the plates would unsettle the delicate eco-system of the Laguna di Venezia. They may be right but the truth is that one of the most beautiful cities in the world risks becoming the modern day Atlantis. Money is still being raised for the project that should come into operation by 2012 – hopefully by then Venice will not have vanished beneath the waves.

La Valletta (il secondo, secondo Piano)

Plans and projects are never bereft of controversy – even more so in the age of supposed democracy where projects are no longer for gentlemen by gentlemen but for the people and (apparently) by the people. It is no longer the prerogative of the melodramatic ruler to set fire to certain quarters of the city and play the fiddle why they burn in the hope that the new plans and edifices will help the plebs forget that irritating smell of embers and charred remains.

There are no longer any hapless bakers who kick start a fire that obliterates most of the city as is that allows the construction of a magnificent opus between one plague and another. Nor for that matter are there any military exigences of the kind that allowed Haussmann to remove unwanted pleb buildings from the landscape and regale Paris (and the world) with magnificent boulevards.

The City Gate and Opera House projects presented me with quite a conundrum. To begin with I had to battle with the little elves in my head that egged me to “take sides”. You have to “agree” or “disagree” with someone don’t you? There’s the armada of conservatives who want to preserve the Opera house as it was (60 years ago mind you), there’s those who disagree about the use of the new building (opera vs art gallery vs parliament), there’s the whole ruckus kicked up because they “dared” contact a foreign architect…. it’s a long list. There’s ancillary issues like whether the terminus should be shrunk down and whether Piano’s style befits the city for gentlemen.

There’s arguments that were visited and revisited eighteen years ago and there are others that are being recycled. They’re interesting, really. Most of them are. They say alot about what we think of ourselves.

My mind rushes further though. My first real worry is about the inspiration behind all of this. You see monumental developments in other countries happen on great occasions. An Arc de Triomphe here, a Colosseum there, a Tour Eiffel here, an Atomium there and so on and so forth. An international science exposition, centenary celebrations, the Olympics. We must be the first country to actually not have a reason for this kind of investment except for the “it’s about time we built the buildings destroyed DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR”.

La Patria (si bella)
It’s not that the reason is not good enough. It’s not that I swallow this whole “alienation” rubbish regarding the timing of the introduction of the plans. It’s not that I am that concerned that this kind of project was discussed over coffee in a Paris café. No. I am just worried that the whole business is kicking off on a bad foot if you forgive the mixed metaphor. This kind of development must be one steeped in pride, yes. It must be one that shows the intention of this culture-rich country to put itself back on the map of respectable protectors of world heritage.

It has absolutely nothing to do with the patriotic zeal with which Dr Gonzi expects each and every one of us to look at the project. This is not an Albert Speer or the Foro Italico. This call for a nationalistic view on the enterprise did worry me that the “alienation” crowd might be right after all but we cannot afford to take the risk that they are wrong either.

This is my other dilemma you see. On the one hand I can understand all the busibodies who write in on comment forums naysaying this or that part of the project. It’s NIMBYISM on a national scale. On the other I don the cap of ignorant pleb myself and have to avow that my architectural expertise is non-existent. Of course I can always express a personal opinion like for example: “Please not another Richard England Hole and Column Job”. It’s personal. It’s an opinion. How that should transform to bullying the government into choosing this or that architect is anybodies guess.

Along the same lines I have a very personal opinion that the newly built structure should not house the parliament but rather should be a flexible centre for the arts as well as a museum of modern art. I believe that a new parliament should be housed in a safer place somewhere along the bastions – preferably with a huge window onto the outside so MP’s will be reminded that they legislate for the world outside and not for themselves.

It’s a tough one this. On the one hand I am grateful that something will be done about those two ugly scars – City Gate and the ruins. On the other hand I am not too convinced by this general euphoria that this is a decision for the public (nor am I convinced by the strutting noises by some supporters of the government of the day). At best I can concur that Signor Piano is an internationally acclaimed choice and that he will come up with something that befits the City of Gentlemen… ad maiorem popoli commoditatem.

La Farsa (the one about the data protection)

The monumental blunder by Paul Borg Olivier, secretary general of the party that is fast convincing itself of its divine right to govern forever, has assumed incredible proportions now that PBO has suddenly outlined his line of defence. Let us start with a few general points. No – Jason Micallef and Joseph Muscat are not guilty of misappropriation. Too much management talk with his OPM friends may have led PBO to forget his law class but the fact that he pressed “send” on the keyboard and that his email landed on Jason’s lap thanks to his negligence goes a long way towards absolving Jason from any crime under article 293 of the code.

Secondly, yes, it was the PL’s duty to bring this blatant bulldozering of citizen rights to our attention. Thirdly, no, no amount of pointing fingers at Labour’s crimes and misdemeanours will serve to deflect the attention from the fact that the PN was conniving with government employees to create a database of information that was not willfully submitted for that whatever purpose the PN had in mind. I caught a glimpse of tonight’s Xarabank (streaming helps us expats keep up) and was glad to see my claims on the blog earlier proven right.

They will stand up and sling mud at each other, the PLPN will. Not only that, we also had someone interpreting the Data Protection Act in such a manner as best befits the parties. I loved the quote of “the parties are necessary players in the election so it is only fitting that they are allowed to manipulate Data during that time”. My paraphrasing of course.

We just don’t get it do we? The joke is on us. They will fight out the latest scandal but deep down they both know that after the smoke of the latest battle is cleared they will both have retreated to their respective trenches and you will still have MP’s tabling lists of people who were on flights operated by a company (and asserting their political allegiance) and secretary general’s conniving with their implants in the various ministries. The truth – they don’t care! They will continue not to care so long as our choice is between black and white… so long as our choice is either/or…

Think of the database with your name on it. Think of all the notes about your political allegiance and colour. Think of all info that the PLPN feel entitled to compile in the name of obtaining that seat of power. Think of it all the next time you are told that a vote for a third party is a wasted vote. Whose turn will it be to laugh then..? Your first opportunity to do this thinking might come sooner than you think.

La Traviata (the fallen one)

Twelve years ago Venice’s La Fenice opera house burnt to the ground. Two electricians were found guilty of starting the fire after their company was facing heavy fines for delays on repair work. The theatre was rebuilt by 2003 at the cost of close to €90 million. We’ve been waiting for our phoenix to rise from the ashes of a war long past. Let’s hope the job will be worth the while.

Jacques has been wondering about PLPN and data protection on https://jaccuse.wordpress.com. Have you ever sent an email to the wrong person by mistake?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s