And the livin’ is easy
Self-proclaimed Maltese ambassadors to Gozo sing its praises, explaining why they flee their busy lives to seek refuge in the sister island, justifying their addiction and why they could pack up and relocate at the drop of a hat.
Joe Mifsud, lawyer and TVAM co-presenter, has been trying to escape to Gozo whenever time and work schedules permit for the past five years – not as much as he would love to, though. His nest is in Għajnsielem, “our little hideaway and a dream come true for both of us”.
When and why did you fall in love with Homer’s island? The panoramic views and the countryside are just amazing. I was still a journalist at the time and I was reading communications. I used to go to Gozo every Thursday for a day. I guess that is when it all started... But we decided to set up our nest in Għajnsielem when Bishop Mario Grech was appointed. We have a very friendly relationship with him; he is the one we really trust and admire.
Do you get withdrawal symptoms if you do not go for a while? I must admit I do, especially when stress takes over and I do not realise. That’s when my wife Maria remarks: “Gozo is calling Joe!” It is her way of telling me: “For God’s sake stop!” She is very diplomatic.
What is the most marked difference between where you live in Malta and Gozo?
Naxxar is in the centre, too busy and noisy sometimes, while Għajnsielem, the first stop as you get off the ferry, represents tranquillity although there is still life, especially on summer evenings in the cool breeze. And it’s so close to Malta and Comino.
What don’t you like about life in Malta? We’re becoming too busy and nervous; driving is becoming a nightmare and people have lost their manners and respect. Sometimes I feel they are on the verge of exploding and it really concerns me.
What would you miss out on in Malta to be in Gozo? Well, if Maria and I have planned a weekend in advance, we make sure nothing comes in the way to postpone it. We have missed weddings, functions and receptions. However, nowadays, we tend to plan and be more organised to be able to handle everything and feel peaceful and happy...
What’s the worst situation you have braved to be there? Bad weather last March – it was terrible, with Maria crying and promising she would not come with me again. We were in a storm on the ferry. It was at that moment that we realised the hardships of winter for the Gozitans.
How does your state of mind change once you cross the channel? I feel calmer and achieve total peace of mind. And yes, I wear my super-comfy clothes!
An image that springs to mind when you think of yourself in Gozo... Il-Kantra in Xlendi – I feel it is unique.
What’s your typical day like? I wake up at a decent time and not at 5 a.m. I have a proper healthy breakfast on our terrace, and go for the groceries and the papers. I spend the day reading and enjoy a nice dinner, or BBQ. During Radju Lauretana’s schedules, I do my weekly radio programme, analysing the news. (This professional channel led by Lelio Spiteri is just amazing, considering the the size of the population.)
I also try to keep active in the community, attending religious functions, led by our archpriest Fr Frankie Bajada, and lending a hand to the Għajnsielem local council. Last year, four mayors from Palestine visited and we signed a cooperation agreement between Bethlehem and Għajnsielem.
Your favourite hangout... There are loads! But my favourites must be Ta’ Passi, where the Għajnsielem community organises Bethlehem f’Għajnsielem – 20 tumuli of land, where the scenery, animals and nature can be enjoyed; the San Ġużepp band club, where I meet different people and have long chats mostly about football and traditions; and Rexy Restaurant, where, thanks to the owner Joe, I have learned to produce his homemade and exquisite ravioli, a must in Għajnsielem and highly recommended.
Gozo’s best kept secret [no more]... According to statistics, more people visit Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary and its surroundings yearly than Ġgantija. I am supporting the project to upgrade the area. The enthusiasm and initiative of Fr Gerald Buħaġiar is just contagious.
One thing that worries you about Gozo and something you would change... Rivalry.
Would you move there permanently? Yes.
What do you think of the proposed tunnel linking the islands? I am for a permanent link between them, be it a tunnel, or a bridge. The general feeling seems to be in favour of the connection between the two islands.
Andrew Borg-Cardona, lawyer and columnist, goes to Gozo as close to every weekend as possible and has been doing so since he bought a flat in Xagħra about five years ago. It feels like “forever”...
When and why did you fall in love with Homer’s island? When – about 45 years ago. As to why, that’s a tough one – I suppose it’s partly the relaxed lifestyle; partly the nostalgia factor from when I was a kid here; partly the countryside. And the relaxed lifestyle. And there’s much less traffic and parking is easier. Did I mention the relaxed lifestyle?
Do you get withdrawal symptoms if you do not go for a while? We haven’t really had time to figure this one out since we’re in Gozo virtually every weekend, though given that my wife Celia and I head up north as soon as we can on Friday and sometimes even Thursday if work schedules allow it, I suppose the answer would be yes.
What is the most marked difference between where you live in Malta and Gozo? Day and night, really: in Malta, we live in a pretty large, old house; in Gozo in a pretty small, new(ish) flat.
What don’t you like about life in Malta? It’s not really that I don’t like life in Malta; it’s that I prefer life in Gozo. Truth be told, I suspect that if we spent more time than we already do in Gozo, we might start to get a hankering for Malta’s fast, metropolitan life, with its scintillating nightlife, explosive theatre scene and vibrant general excitement (said he with his tongue firmly in his cheek). But Malta tends to be associated with work and the hassle of getting into Valletta and trying to park. Do the math.
What would you miss out on in Malta to be in Gozo? Quite a bit, frankly, but there is a ferry every 45 minutes to an hour, so there’s nothing we just have to be at that we haven’t been at simply because it was a Gozo weekend. Now, if you’d asked me if I prefer getting into a suit on a Sunday at lunchtime in June, strangling myself into a tie and schlepping off to a wedding reception instead of being in Gozo, I’d be hard-pressed to answer. And if you believe that, I’d like to sell you this rather nice steel tower in Paris, going cheap to a good home.
What’s the worst situation you have braved to be there? The weather has, on occasion, been a bit on the rough side, but my attitude is that if the captain and crew think they can do it, they’re not insane, so we can cross with them. One day soon after Christmas, I had crossed to go to a family thing and coming back was quite a rollercoaster, but it wasn’t a hair-raising ride.
How does your state of mind change once you cross the channel? I call it going into decompression mode. In fact, it starts about the time we get to Mellieha. And yes, that’s even now, with the road works going on. Maybe it’s because we’re used to them, but the whinging and whining I’ve been reading every time someone, who comes to Gozo once a year, gets caught behind a truck for a few minutes is really a bit OTT.
An image that springs to mind when you think of yourself in Gozo... Oh, it’s a really exciting image: sitting on the terrace with my feet on the railing, the radio on All Rock DAB, a good book and – if I am allowed to say this in the Nanny State – a small cigar. And sometimes a glass of something that cheers, if it’s the evening.
What’s your typical day like? Again, amazingly exciting: morning generally as per above, without the whisky, and maybe a leisurely stroll, with coffees and other refreshments at regular intervals. Lunch, either lightly at home, or out, “afternoon at leisure”, as the package-tour itineraries put it (having a nap, in other words), and then out for a meal in the evening, or vegging out at home. All of this with friends if any are up here, or not if they’re not.
Your favourite hangout... There’s no single one and my friends in the restaurant trade would be offended if I single one out. It depends on the mood and the weather too: if I want a pizza, it’s one thing; if a fuller meal, it’s another and so on. Check out back issues of my Beck column and you’ll get an idea what I mean.
Gozo’s best kept secret [no more]... If you’re talking about natural beauty, the old cave/temple arrangement that you come across if you walk out from Sarraflu, keeping the cliffs on your left. You come to a point where you’re looking over Dwejra as if from a helicopter. It’s an amazing place.
One thing that worries you about Gozo and something you would change... If I said the over-building in the valleys, would I be far wrong? If I could wave a magic wand, I’d bring the towns and villages back closer to their original confines, away from the valleys.
Only in Gozo... Only in Gozo does a tradesman come in on a Saturday to finish off your shower cubicle, do the job and, because you’re on the phone when he’s ready to go, give you a wave and make the “later, don’t worry” gesture in response to your “wait I need to pay you” gesture. And then you have to go to him, because he knows you’re not going anywhere.
And only in Gozo, on the other hand, will someone who has clearly never been out of San Lawrenz in his 80-odd years tell you he can’t tell you which the road to Dwejra is because he’s not from there. It happened to me about 30 years ago. I know the way now.
Would you move there permanently? The way we live now, it feels a bit like we’re permanently in two locations already, so I suppose if I were forced to answer on pain of death, I’d say I’d spend more time here, but have a place in Malta – reverse the proportion, maybe?
What do you think of the proposed tunnel linking the islands? I used to think it would be the death of Gozo, but now I realise this is a bit of a selfish point of view. Anyway, making Gozo even more accessible might not be such a bad thing: when you have to do the trip every day, or when you go to Malta for a concert and have to hang around Ċirkewwa for an hour or more in the dead of night, you get that. I hope the decision makers adopt the careful-what-you-wish-for style of inquiry and make sure all relevant factors are chucked into the mix before breaking ground irrevocably.