J’accuse: All Hail this Festive Season

threewisemen

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

The boughs of holly have begun to wilt, the flashing lights on the Christmas tree have begun to irritate even the most jovial of spirits and the egg nog has begun to go sour… in other words the festive season is almost over. The festive season is dead, long live the festive season. The jeans are a couple of sizes too small, the shirt buttons won’t come together and the darn belly that you worked so hard to get rid of last year (seems like yesterday you were running the treadmill like Forrest Gump on ecstasy) is back with a vengeance.
There’s a hiccup too many while the festive stardust settles around our feet before being vacuumed off to oblivion and the onset of sobriety and routine hits us like an oncoming xarabank …reality bites once again. You may still be overdosing on the Alka Seltzer or on the Rennie tablets (both copyrights reserved) but, whether you like it or not, the moment the party poppers burst and you yelled Happy New Year the partying was virtually over and it was only a matter of minutes before you were plonked at your workdesk staring at your computer screen wondering whether it was all just a dream.
We do get an extra bit of reprieve this time round seeing how the two mid-week festivals of bacchanalia are followed with weekends of distension. Distension as in moments of gobsmacked relaxation while lying in purely vegetative couch-potato state staring at our newly acquired gimmicks, games and gizmos and wondering how all that fat could have accumulated. This is the last Sunday. The Final Reprieve before we dive into the usual workmode that will take us on and on until the first real holidays some time around Easter. 
Time 
As a child I remember mulling and wondering about how short the time was between the celebration of the birth of Christ and the reminder of his painful crucifixion – so long as it meant that holidays and days off school were in order it did not matter so much. In fact we owe it to a certain guy called Dionysius Exiguus for having Christmas Day and New Years Day so close to each other. This man whom we shall call Dennis the Short (which is what his name means anyway) was commissioned by Pope John I to begin a chronology and he did so by working his way forward from the foundation of Rome (ab urbe condita – AUC). 
It was Dennis the Short who reckoned that Jesus’ birth was on December 25th near the end of 753 (AUC). He then restarted time just a few days later on January 1, 754 AUC  – not Christ’s birth, but the Feast of the Circumcision on his eighth day of life, and also not coincidentally, New Year’s Day in Roman and Latin Christian calendars. So you see, Anno Domini does not really get calculated from the birth of Jesus but rather from the date of the rather painful operation. That’s something to think about next time you write the letters AD next to the date…. which of course you do at every opportunity. 
In any case, thanks to Dennis the Short’s calculations and assumptions we have just celebrated the start of the year 2009. I shall not be pedantic and speculate whether this is the 2009th or 2008th year of calculation since I am sure you have better things to read about and I am also positive I would get lost in the calculus.
MMIX 
Is how you would write this year down in latin numbers. It’s quite straightforward really – two M’s, one for each millennium and then an “IX” which by the latin standards of the numeric representation means one short of ten i.e. nine. 2009 is the year in which Slovakia became the 16th member of the Eurozone. Slovak Prime Minister Fico withdrew 100 euros from a cash machine in the Parliament building on the stroke of midnight. Unlike Prime Minister Gonzi in Malta last year, Fico’s withdrawal occurred without any embarassing hitches. Slovakia follows Slovenia as the second former communist country to join the Eurozone. 
As Slovakia was joining the euro, the neighbouring Czech republic took over the rotating presidency of the European Union. Notably, Czech president Vaclav Klaus had dismissed this event as being “unimportant” and this had raised mixed feelings among EU circles regarding the Czech presidency dring what is considered to be such a crucial moment of EU development. The Czechs will have a lot on their plate as the media will continue to plug the need of reviving the European project. Let’s not forget that there are elections for the European Parliament at the end of this semester.
Miles and miles away a not so former communist republic celebrated fifty years from the glorious revolution led by Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. The Cuban people have inherited a mixed heritage. Their education and health care are at very high levels but economically the nation is in tatters. To add insult to injury Cuba has had to survive the devastation of two hurricanes over the last year. A frail Fidel Castro has passed on the reigns of power to his brother Raul. Raul has brought Cuba closer to its South American neighbours and still flirts with a newly ambitious Russian state. I visited Cuba nearly two years ago and can say that it is very unfair to measure the reality of this island with the metre of our civilization and its perks and habits. Which is not to say that the sons of El Che and Fidel would not do with a bit more change. 

Money

We’ve all seen the strange photos this Christmas. It surely was impressive seeing the Valletta streets laden with hailstones. You get down to Malta for a bit of the milder weather and to get a break from the inches of snow that drown your car and delay the commuting to work and what do you get? Hailstones in Republic street that’s what. If you were to listen to the shopowners you’d believe that there were more hailstones than shoppers doing the rounds. It has been the Christmas of austerity – at least if you listen to the vendors and sellers of wares on the streets. The restaurateurs seem to be of the same opinion – we are spending less and less as the credit crunch hit home.

Well. Either that or we have become wise when it comes to spending the odd euro or two. It seems that more and more Maltese are warming to the idea of shopping online and beating the ridiculous import mark-ups. Clothes-, cd-, dvd- and video game lovers all got to enjoy the lucky dip thanks to the free postage offers over the Christmas period. Those retailers who enjoyed their moments of relative monopoly in the past have had their comeuppance finally and nobody would be seen getting ripped off buying a high priced dvd series from your local retailer. Finally. Now we will see whether the consumer is really king.

One field in which the consumer does not really have much say is the provision of internet bandwidth. At the end of the day if one or other of the suppliers of internet has some technical hitch we are all relegated onto the primitive waysides of the information highway. I have noticed that internet speed is relatively slow in SmartMalta and would not like to have to depend on this sort of service for anything longer than a short holiday. Same goes for phone calls and phone costs. Back in Luxembourg we have joined most of mainland Europe where calls from landlines are practically free – I even have a new package when I can call free 24/7 to all of Europe. Will we catch up on that too or will we depend on Skype for a little longer?

Guns

They’ve been waved in our face for some time now. Probably the most topical issue during the holiday season apart from the unexpected surge in the number of immigrants landing must have been the shootings that occurred. We all love a controversial topic and before you knew it we had the Abolitionist vs Libertarian discussion all over again. It is strange how we still have cowboy style arguments in this country of ours but then again all it takes is a wait in a queue at your local take away to realise that there are all sorts of people out there…little wonder that some of them still like their guns.

Bang Bang. They don’t stop. They do not respect the Christmas ceasefire… even if it were for a simple Hannukah celebration. The Israelis have been pounding the Gaza strip with missiles for a week now. This is in retaliation for the Hammas inspired missiles that were shot into Israeli villages. The battles are as old as the books of the believers. Our generations will be cursed like many before them to witness more of the struggles and the strife. I tend to agree with the criticism that our government has received from some quarters – where did all this empathy with the Middle Eastern Question begin? What makes it more important than any other? Sometimes I wonder whether we have hung on to the De Marco complex for a bit too long.

Parking

Throughout my three week stay in Malta this time round I noticed that I tend to use pay-per-use car parks more often than I would before I left the country. Force of habit I guess. You cannot help but compare car parks and their efficiency. Being a Paceville resident I have pumped quite a few euros into the Portomaso ticket machines and I must let my little rant loose at whoever is responsible for the design and running of the car park in question. Can someone please explain what was the big deal of having all the levels doubled by naming them “Upper” and “Lower”? Worse still why are the parking areas not lettered throughout from A to Z instead of having one whole floor with one letter? And…. where oh where is the exit?

Normal car parks (and believe me I have seen quite a few) have numbered parking slots, lettered rows and coloured levels. Portomaso car park is designed to confuse and baffle and to make you spend at least fifteen minutes looking for your car. Also why do we find it so difficult in this country to put up proper signage?

The Mater Dei complex was a breath of fresh air in these logistical nightmares. Anything from parking your car to finding the room for visiting your next of kin becomes a piece of cake given the proper signs and directions. It really is not that hard and makes the payment for the service all the more worthwhile. 

Airports and Flights

This is the last of a trilogy of articles written on the island during my Christmas holidays. Tomorrow I will be on a plane flying back to Luxembourg. Connections are just as atrocious as ever. I will fly to Luxembourg via Munich and Saarbrucken. In case you were wondering the Munich to Luxembourg flight is around one hour. Saarbrucken is a little useless stop on the way designed to frustrate travellers like myself eager to get to their warm centrally heated home away from the cold, hail and snow outside.

It’s been a great stay, I’ve eaten some fantastic food (Al Mare in Valletta stands out as a particular favourite) and I’ve really slacked on the blogging while relaxing. It’s back to the old routine… just as predicted… Happy New Year everyone!

Jacques is back blogging on https://jaccuse.wordpress.com. Don’t forget to add a visit to j’accuse for this year’s office routine.

2 responses to “J’accuse: All Hail this Festive Season

  1. Hi Jaks!
    The “boughs of holly have begun to wilt” but you are still one of our favourites!
    Sambo at Watersbroken
    http://watersbroken.wordpress.com

  2. castilleditor

    a new blog for the new year:

    http://thetajmsofcastille.wordpress.com/

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