Chiemsee in the south of Germany provided Veronica Stivala with a suitable mix of countryside and architectural attractions, from a palace built in the style of Versailles to an island that is home to a Benedictine nunnery and another island named after, well, cabbages.Read More
Got your running shoes on? Good! Maltese transplant Veronica Stivala takes us on a jog through her new neighbourhood and introduces us to a slice of Bavarian cultureRead More
With some 1,500 medieval buildings, the picturesque southeast German city of Regensburg is home to the largest Middle Ages town north of the Alps. Veronica Stivala explored its gothic architecture and picturesque river banks, and savoured its delectable food.Read More
You can make this pie using ricotta or your very own home-made gbejniet (pronounced j-(as in 'jug')-beyniet . You can read more about how to make them here. It's very easy and absolutely delicious.Read More
Gbejniet are one of Malta's typical foods. They are small cheeses and you can either buy them fresh, where they are a little blander in taste, or dried, with a more robust taste and a harder texture.Read More
I will admit, leaving my friends and family in Malta to come back to Germany was perhaps a bit more difficult this time round. I've been living in Munich for two years now and while I have made some wonderful friends here and I really do love the countryside I can access so easily, leaving family and friends who have known me since I was young was tough. I still also struggle with the language and it upsets me to have to think twice about, for instance, asking about a gym membership and I keep putting it off (oh what a good excuse for those New Year's resolutions...).
But by the time I had unpacked a few interesting things had happened. As soon as I had sat on the plane, I picked up the latest issue of the inflight magazine to find one of my articles published in it. I always take pride in seeing my work in print and always want to point out to the crew or someone on the plane, "hey, I wrote this" (though I never do). At home I was opening my three-week-old mail and found a Christmas card signed by five people at a publishing house I work for. It really touched me and I felt appreciated, even welcomed in a country I sometimes feel very alien in. And I looked back, to the magazine article, and the Christmas card, and thought how well timed they were. These were little signs that coming back would be a good thing. That there were people who appreciated me and my work.
This may sound obvious but to me it wasn't and I think that to many of us it isn't. We have a propensity to focus on the negative and not give the positive things the attention and worth they deserve. One culprit for having aggravated this is social media. Everybody seems to be either always having a better time than us - whether they really are is another matter entirely - or everything is terrible in the world. But the effects this has on us don't differ and we are often left feeling like we're leading a life inferior to others or feeling down because the world is in such a terrible state. I am by no means saying everything is fine, but I do agree our view may be distorted sometimes. We know social media has this effect on us and indeed it's almost old news, but that hasn't reduced the time we spend on social media - we spent 135 minutes a day on social media on average - nor the negative effects it can have on us.
Our interaction with social media is on the rise (we spent 126 daily minutes on social media in 2016) and I don't think the solution is quitting social media, but rather how we interact with it. You see, I have lost track of the number of times I decided to reduce my time on social media. I cannot ever quit - even though I wish I could - because I need it for my job. But even reducing time is difficult. I have spoken to countless friends who have said the same thing, some even going off it for a while, many returning after a while.
So this is why I am sharing two photos of my Christmas card and my magazine article, not because I want to show off, but because I want to encourage us to find the positive things in our lives at a time when it is more difficult than ever to do so:
The reasons we try to quit is because we are aware that social media paints an unreal portrait of the fantastic lives we all seem to be living and even of the news. We've known this for years, but now it is official that social media is bad for our health. Facebook itself has admitted that social media can harm mental health.
I was inspired by an article I read by India Knight on the subject. Reading a foul detail pertaining to a court case or seeing a picture of something terrible can ruin our day, she says. And none of us is immune. Essentially what she says is that there is something we can do about it by being careful who we follow. Knight is talking specifically about news, but the same logic can easily be applied to everything posted on social media.
If negative posts are upsetting you, unfollow the source. Follow people and organisations who post things you like and make you feel good. And cats, of course. Always cats. The same applies the other way round. Do think about what you are posting. This is the reason I want to write. I want my writing to make people happy, to teach something perhaps, or just make an interesting read.
So what made you happy today?
This page was left blank for a very long time; weeks I dare say. The reason? Fear of offending, fear of coming off as judgemental, condescending perhaps. Ironically, this is the very topic I wanted to approach: Malta’s reviewing culture and how we are afraid to be entirely honest in our critiques. The situation is definitely improving but we are not quite there yet. In an attempt to ‘be the change you want to see’, here are my views and suggestions for a way forward.
Where are the good writers?
There is a dearth of good writers in Malta. As an editor myself I struggle to find good writers. While being able to write well is a talent, it is also a skill that can be taught and while there are a number of courses, are they sating the dearth enough? The University of Malta offers a number of writing courses, and the Arts Council Malta, in collaboration with the Department of English, recently organised a mini course on writing critical theatre reviews. It also has plans to develop a postgraduate certificate course on the subject. These courses are still in their infancy so perhaps, and hopefully, it is just a matter of time till there will be a pool of good writers.
It is also important to note that writing well is not enough. A piece of fiction, an academic paper, a news article writing a magazine feature, or, yes, a review, are essentially different genres of writing. Of course, these formats can be taught, and often overlap, but there are currently not enough trained writers for these various formats.
Perhaps also, to some degree, these writers are not on the radar. Does Malta need a database of writers where writers can promote themselves, and editors find them?
Malta finds itself in a very interesting situation where, officially, we are a bilingual country, whose inhabitants speak Maltese and English. The truth of the matter is that very few of us are truly bilingual and veer towards one of the two languages, or, worse still, have mastery in neither. Where are the reviews in Maltese? There was recently a suggestion to shift from teaching English as a foreign language. This was met, rightly so, with furore by academics and educators. But this is a topic that deserves separate special attention.
Of money and copyright
Admittedly and unfortunately, being a writer is not a lucrative business so this definitely contributes in some way. Being a full-time writer is close to impossible and the majority of writers in Malta do this part time. For the 10 plus years I have been working as a freelance writer, my payment has remained the same, sometimes even going down. I would like to say that surely, if we were to see everything in terms of pecuniary gain there would be no music composed, scripts written or paintings painted.
But the idea that services, especially those in the arts, should be done for free or close to free needs to change, fast. Is it possible that those who commission the writing don’t know that writing involves research, often transport time and costs, then transcribing, further editing, and admin time and subsequently costs for the writer? While I know there are good writers out there who are still doing a great job even though it does not pay, the truth of the matter is that, as the saying goes, if you pay peanuts, you’ll get monkeys. If the commissioning bodies don’t want to pay, they will not get quality. It is sad that many publications do not seem to attribute importance to quality of the content. Does anyone then really read these half-copy and paste jobs, half incoherent pieces of writing?
To add insult to injury, there are cases, and I speak from personal experience, where the writer is not even paid after having done the job, and being promised payment. Or, finding their work translated, published in other magazines, without ever having been asked or reimbursed accordingly.
Get a lawyer, stand up and name and shame, I hear you say. Malta is small and, here we go again, everyone knows everyone, and will doing so blacklist you from future work? I would like to say not. I would like even more to say that we need a writers union where writers will be protected. If the profession is respected and treated like one only then can we move forward, and have (more) good writers, and good content.
The write platform
Be it in English or Maltese, there are very few platforms on which reviews are or can be published. Encore, the magazine I edit is a quarterly, and not conducive to reviews, which need to be out as quickly as possible. Some local newspapers do publish reviews, and some good ones at that (here’s to you Maxine Brimmer and Teodor Reljic), but ever dwindling newspaper budgets are surely limiting their output – why, for instance, have some film ‘reviews’ become a synopsis with ratings taken from sites like rotten tomatoes? Why would I pay for content that is available for free online anyway? It’s a vicious circle – budgets are dwindling and publications are doing their utmost to reduce costs – but often at the detriment of content. But if content is not up to scratch, then why pay for it? Online is the solution, I hear you say. That’s where the content should be. Yes, please – we need more sites like the anonymous birdbootbeat.wordpress.com, with more frequent posts, and bar the anonymous perhaps?
Need for distance
Another very real issue is Malta’s size. With a population of some 450,000 the arts community is understandably miniscule. Directors, producers, actors and critics not only know each other well, having gone to school together, been taught by one or the other, be related to each other, but, very often, are one and the same person. The problem arises when it comes to being able to take a step back and be honestly critical about a production. Having possibly worked together in a previous show, or knowing that you want to audition for the next production, being brutally honest quite understandably is not on the cards.
The solution? Time is perhaps one as this means more people will be trained to do the job in the future. It also means that those trained but who kept back because they themselves were too closely involved in the arts scene and did not want to step on anyone’s toes, will reach a stage where they are not contemplating an audition and will be in a more distanced position to give the honest feedback that is due.
What is also needed is most definitely a culture change and this is linked to education. Being constructively honest about why a show did not work does not mean putting the show down, but effectively it is offering a view on how it could have been done better. Supporting the industry and protecting its writers is also very much needed, and imperative if we are to have a healthy, good quality writing culture.
This article originally featured on InterArtive
The reason for writing this post is because I want to it to serve as encouragement for more to travel, to travel to China.Read More
Luminescent magenta trees at the botanical gardens, pink-lit gravestones, shrouded by blue trees and stone archways accentuated by green, yellow, blue and red lighting; the city of Munich donned festive attire last Saturday for a special night. Blessed with perfect warm weather during the day, the setting sun served as an apt prelude to a cool autumn evening, on the Long Night of Museums (Die Lange Nacht Der Münchner Museen).
From architecture, to music, clubs, shopping, fitness and this time museums, The Long Night of… series in Munich have proved a popular outing among locals and tourists alike. The set-up is simple – you buy a €15 ticket which gives you access to a plethora of museums open specially from 19:00 to 02:00 as well as a shuttle bus service to all participating venues.
With some 90 museums, galleries and churches to choose from, it was naturally impossible to visit them all. I chose a few venues from the Inner City and East list – the events are conveniently grouped geographically. These were my highlights:
Behind the scenes with Gisela Stein… Deutsches Theatermuseum
Situated just off the Hoffgarten, by Odeonsplatz I discovered this museum I had previously not known of. A small, but quaint building, this museum had on display an enveloping exhibition of the radical German actress Gisela Stein. In addition to large paper montages of the actress, the exhibition had projected footage of the actress, a strong, relentless woman, who among other remarkable achievements, went back to the stage soon after a car accident that almost completely destroyed her body and left her with permanent damage.
Improvised opera… Nationalmuseum
From the tale of the Seduction of Thomas to an unassuming hedgehog, and alluring yoga sessions, the talented singers of La Triviata played to a packed audience at the National Museum – we had to sit on the floor there were so many people. Accompanied by an equally gifted pianist, the singers presented a flawless made-up show, much to the delight of the audience, who were so keen, they often shouted out suggestions before the full explanation had been delivered.
Black balloons and vaulting ceilings… St Lukas Church
As I walked along the geometrically red and blue patterned tiles of St Lukas, I was met with a visually arresting scene of black balloons apparently floating at various intervals up the vaulting ceiling of this, the largest Protestant church in Munich. Behind them, stood an enormous white balloon-like structure. While I admit I initially struggled with the point of the exhibition, after speaking to the Taiwanese body-artist artist Wang Te-Yu, I was left with food for thought, which is surely a sign of worthwhile art. Tied by pieces of hair to a stone, the balloons were let up every half an hour for 11 days. A part of the exhibition himself, Te-Yu explained that the exhibition sat side by side the church, where prayers were offered up to the heavens, just like balloons were floated up from hair, the part where the prayers ‘leave’ our bodies. The balloons, of course, eventually came down and the artist would send up new ones. A metaphor for our need to continually send our hopes to a higher level? Or perhaps it was just something beautiful. I probably would never have visited this church had it not been for Die Lange Nacht der Münchner Museen and Wang Te’Yu’s installation.
My tips on everything you need to know and do before a trip to China.
Although my husband and I returned from our three-week trip to China with a wanderlust to return so strong that we practically started looking up flights the day we returned, we were in a completely different frame of mind before we left. Indeed we were even considering booking a guided tour, so afraid were we that we would be completely lost in this new land. But a good amount of research and talking to friends who had been to and lived in China proved a vital source of information that led us to going it alone and probably having more fun that had we been at the mercy of time limits and group instructions. So, I’d like to share some of the most important tips we collected before and during our trip.
Before you go
1. When to travel
April and May, and September and October are great times to visit, though be aware of and try to avoid the first week of October, or Golden Week, the semi-annual seven-day holiday when the whole nation travels on holiday and popular destinations get incredibly busy.
2. You’ll need to plan your route
Visitors to China need a visa and to get one you will need to present your travel and booking confirmations. Also make sure you plan in advance as your visa is not issued immediately. Mine took a week. You can find details about your visa on the website of your local embassy.
3. Check your vaccinations
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the following vaccinations for travellers to China: Adult diphtheria and tetanus (ADT); Hepatitis A; Hepatitis B; Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR); Typhoid; Varicella; Influenza; Japanese B encephalitis; Pneumonia; Rabies; Tuberculosis. Double check with your GP to see what you need, depending on where exactly you will be travelling and leave enough time to receive multiple shots and to recover from possible side effects.
4. Stay in hostels
While admittedly you will not receive the luxury you would in a hotel, hostels are a great way to meet people as well as really experience authentic life in The People’s Republic of China. In Beijing, for instance, we stayed in a hostel in a hutong. Hutongs are narrow streets commonly associated with northern Chinese cities and which really give you an insight into the everyday, definitely not luxurious, life here.
Once you're in China
5. Allot time for travel
While China is technically one country, it is so large it feels more like a continent and you will often need to take planes or many-hours-long trains to get to your destination. Travelling is also tiring so give yourself time to relax and recuperate from travel time rather than packing things very closely together. The same goes for day plans. Rather than trying to see five sites in one day, pick one or two things to do. The Forbidden City, for instance is huge and in addition to queuing time, it requires time to be appreciated. A good idea is to visit Tiananmen Square first (watch the flag-raising ceremony at sunrise) and then head to the Forbidden City, whose entrance is nearby.
6. Buy a local sim card
We saved a lot of money on taxis as we could look up routes home, use a translating app (very useful) or to our destination when we got lost after having bought a sim card from the airport. You can also then use WeChat to order a taxi (when public transport is no longer running or you are far away from a station, for instance). The only snag was that we found it difficult to top up since we didn’t have a Chinese credit card and were saved by an employee at one of our hostels who transferred us money via one of her apps.
7. Install WeChat
This is the China equivalent of Whatsapp/Facebook chat. We found it incredibly useful to connect with locals and talk to services. Everyone uses the app so we found ourselves chatting with the taxi company who told us exactly when to go out and wait for the driver since it was raining. If you have a Chinese credit card you can also use the app to pay for services. Very handy.
8. Get a VPN
In China, sites like Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, Google and all its sister sites like Gmail, Google docs, etc, are blocked. Whether, like me, you’re a freelancer, or simply want to stay in touch, look something up (I never quite get the results I need outside Google), a VPN is vital. I tried a number but found ExpressVPN to work best. It works on Windows, Mac, Android and iOS and even unblocks other popular online services like Netflix, Facebook, YouTube, HBO and Tinder. You can find our more and get the VPN here.
9. Have fun!
Despite the most meticulous planning, you will still make mistakes and get lost. But that’s part of the adventure. China is a very safe place and even if you don’t speak the language, gestures and translation apps will get you a long way if you need help or directions.
10. Anything else?
If you live in China or have been there and would like to share some tips, do post them in the comments section.