L: Between Melange and Uff

David Lowenthal begins his classic The Past Is a Foreign Country (1985) by reminding us that nostalgic memories tend to strike out or diminish the significance of the past’s more unpleasant moments. Older people in Malta will happily reminisce about their childhood during World War II or the years of poverty that followed. A saying in the Maltese language captures this anomalous sentiment: “Kemm konna aħjar meta konna agħar” (We were so much better when we were worse off). More than mere nostalgia or melancholy, melangia is a sadness about something that never existed. This malaise is not so much based on a desire to return to past times but captures a sense of loss that arises whenever we think about a utopian state of society that will never happen. Our imagination helps us to overcome the wretchedness of present realities by falsifying or exoticizing the past and by projecting ourselves into a science-fiction-like future Malta. This sense of craving revolves around a loss that is irreplaceable (childhood), a loss that never occurred (nostalgic feelings for a lost Atlantis in Malta’s past), or a loss that will never occur in a projected future (like an architectural master plan that seeks to transform parts of Malta into a Miami-like environment). On the scale between melangia and the feeling of “uff, this is too much”, it is difficult to gauge when imagination takes over reality.

Manual about Maltese Shih Tzu or Malshi, and guidebook.

John Paul Azzopardi, Study. Detail from D. Mylius, Opus Medico-Chymicum, 2014. Rabbit bone, 73 × 50 × 56 cm. Courtesy the artist.
This sculpture made mainly of rabbit bone explores and reinterprets a seventeenth-century alchemical work. Within this fragile sculpture, the architectural relationship that oscillates back and forth from the simple and the complex to the living and the dead connects space and form, creating an existential structure of interwoven silence.

Ex-voto painting showing cannibal scene during failed slave capture in central Africa. Madonna tal-Ħerba sanctuary, Malta.
Photo: Daniel Cilia.

Polychrome “Malta” scene carved and painted on limestone by a German prisoner of war, 1946. National War Museum, Valletta. Courtesy Heritage Malta.
Photo: Alexandra Pace.