Wednesday, December 22, 2004

I don’t believe it…

There are times when I feel like Victor Meldrew, the hero of the comedy series "One foot in the grave", whose famous catch phrase is, "I don't believe it…". This is definitely one of those times.

The proximate cause of my ire is an article in the Times of Malta proudly (one assumes) announcing the award of €146,000 in EU grants for a "cultural project" on cart ruts. Cart ruts, for chrissake! I don’t believe it!

Led by Malta's Museum of Archaeology, this project, called: "The Significance of Cart Ruts in Ancient Landscapes", aims, in the leaden Eurospeak of these dire lame-brains (how quickly they learn), "to bring cultural heritage into the public domain and address the role of culture in the socio-economic development of a country."

The actual project "involves the documentation and correlation of cart ruts in the Maltese Islands and Spain and includes the development of documentation techniques, the evaluation of sites, seminars on the resulting information, a publication and a travelling exhibition," all directed towards promoting "good practices in sustainable conservation, integrated heritage management and networking between stakeholders at a local and pan-European level."


What is more, Malta is also involved in other cultural projects with EU grants under the so-called Culture 2000 programme. The University of Malta is a co-organiser of a project led by the Perugia local council in Italy which consists of a study of the artistic value of the Order of the Knight Templars. This project was granted €149,000 and is being conducted together with French, Spanish and Italian organisations.

Heritage Malta is participating in a project called Outstep involving its Italian, German and Greek counterparts. The project involves the cultural enhancement of historic buildings through the interaction between historic research and contemporary artworks. The EU has granted €66,000 towards this project.

And so it goes on. The University of Malta is also the co-organiser of another cultural project called Lucas, which "aims at safeguarding and highlighting the sacred woods in Europe." This project is being undertaken together with the local council of Spoleto in Italy and the French organisation Ecole D'Architecture de Toulouse.

Culture 2000 is the Commission's cultural programme and supports annual as well as multi-annual cooperation projects, “thus encouraging and promoting the establishment of European cultural networks. In 2004, 209 annual projects have been selected to a total of about €18.5 million, as well as 24 multi-annual cooperation projects (focusing on the visual arts, performing arts, cultural heritage, books and reading) to a total of about €13.5 million.

Actually – if I may be so bold as to use such an expression – this is a bloody disgrace. As far as Malta goes, it is a scandalous waste of money and resource.

The island of Malta has an unrivalled historical heritage, not least the magnificent forts of St Elmo and San Angelo, guarding the Grand Harbour of Valletta. And they are rotting away under your eyes.

St Elmo is only partially open to the public and many parts are unsafe, while San Angelo is closed up and barred. I only got in to have a look at it by bribing a workman who was helping setting up a firework display. With breathtaking vistas and the sheer staggering scale of the fortress, with the knowledge of its history, the visit was unforgettable. Yet, as I say, these priceless monuments are rotting away, empty and uncared for.

Only a few miles away is the Island of Gozo and dominating the capital Victoria is the castle, of the same name. It has been superbly and sensitively restored, and is fully open to the public, with a splendid roof top restaurant from which one can survey the whole island – it does a roaring trade.

The Valletta forts could do likewise, but there are more ghosts there than people promenading on their splendid walls. And the EU fritters money away on cart ruts. It really is an absolute, utter disgrace. But then, what do you expect.

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