“They had come to the desolation that lay before Mordor: the lasting monument to the dark labour of its slaves that should endure when all their purposes were made void; a land defiled, diseased beyond all healing – unless the Great Sea should enter in and wash it with oblivion. ‘I feel sick,’ said Sam.” – J.R.R. Tolkien.
I have been an expatriate for almost two decades now. I am aware, with every year that goes by, that the Malta I left in 2004 exists less and less. COVID-19 has made sure that it’s been almost two years since my last visit to the island and that period of absence almost got extended due to the new rules, but luckily I live in an efficient country and we could move my wife’s second jab in time to make it.
For as long as I lived in Malta, I took pride in my Gozitan roots. I may have been brought up commuting between the crazy world of Paceville and the idyll that was Marsalforn, but I had no doubts about where I really hailed from. From the moment I could join the hordes of sun-burnt kids running through the streets of the harbour village, Marsalforn became our kingdom of never-ending opportunities.
It was a kingdom that ranged from the salt pans of Xwejni to the west all the way to the natural treasure trove of Għar Qawqla to the east and followed the winding valley that led to the port from Victoria. The multiple hillocks to climb (from Salvatur to Yellow Rock), the waters to conquer (from the breakwater to the pebbled beach), the Menqa area, the “tennis courts” and Dun Marianu’s church, the “car park” and its bumping cars, and then there was The Valley.
The road from Victoria to Marsalforn, once you left the corner of the church of the Franciscan Capuchins, was a lazy winding road leading through fields and rubble walls with distant views of the hills of Xagħra and Żebbug. The road rises and falls gently with tiny curves and practically carries you to the welcome point just up the road from Marsalforn’s entrance – for many years it was decorated with a flowery sign to welcome visitors.
The road practically carries you to Marsalforn – legend has it that Gozitan drivers would shift their car into free from the start and let the momentum push it lethargically almost to destination without using a drop of fuel. It was, and probably still is, possible because the road is short and can be covered in under three minutes and is rarely plagued by traffic problems.
Yet. This week we found out that the Planning Board has approved an application to disproportionately widen the Victoria-Marsalforn Road as well as the building of a new road that will pass through agricultural land in the zone known as tal-Belliegħa (the Sports Complex area).
Robert Abela recently mentioned the environment as being the pillar of his party’s future plans for the nation. With this project, 10,693 square metres of ODZ agricultural land will be destroyed, as will hundreds of protected trees and plants, and Marsalforn’s marvellous valley will be annihilated.
I cannot begin to describe the stupor and anger I felt when I read the news. Marsalforn’s Valley does not only host the lazy winding road I described but also a fantastic natural treasure of dammed waters, abundant greenery and fields. Instead of declaring the whole valley a protected area of natural beauty, our ‘progress’-obsessed administration persists in the perverted plundering of our environment at the supposed service of the automobile.
Organisations such as Moviment Graffitti (who I thank for their vigilance) maintain a quixotic level of activism, but the sense of resignation cannot but grow with every decision that cuts straight into the heart and lungs of our nation. No number of objections and reason seems to be able to hold down the wave of irrational destruction.
The legion of “prosit ministru” joins the contractors who benefit from these useless works to drown out any objection in a tsunami of “lemons and 40,000”.
This week a prominent figure from the Marsalforn community passed away. Joseph Spiteri was a visionary in the family that runs Ta’ Mena Estates, Gozo’s first agritourism. Situated in Marsalforn Valley, Ta’ Mena includes a fruit garden, an olive grove with about 1,500 olive trees, an orange grove, and over ten hectares of vineyards. You might have stopped halfway to Marsalforn at Ta’ Mena’s shop and purchased some of their products.
People like the late Spiteri had a vision of enhancing the beauty of Marsalforn Valley and all it offers while acting as its custodians. They are the antithesis of this generation of politicians and their enabling public who are intent on destroying and carpeting what little is left of our Gozo.
This story is the story of my valley. I write it in the hope that popular action and anger will stop this madness. It may already be too late.