As I wander around this great planet of ours, I am fascinated by the various architectural styles we individuals choose for our homes. Not only are they extremely diverse, they also tell us something about the culture and ambiance of the region. I could spend a little time talking about our own California style, but I’d probably not say anything you haven’t said yourself. So, instead, let me select a spot in my travels which I found somewhat unique.
The people of Malta have a balcony fetish! Before I go too deeply into this unique observation, let me refresh your knowledge about Malta. We start with Italy. As we all know Italy is shaped a bit like a big boot. Down near the toe sits the island of Sicily which is often compared to a soccer ball that the leg of Italy is driving into a net. I assume that the Italians’ interest in soccer comes from their geographic manifestations, although I doubt Sicily likes being booted around by its neighbor.
Now that you have these objects firmly fixed in your mind, I need you to go south in the Mediterranean and you will find a couple of other little islands – Malta and Gozo. I suppose if you have a vivid imagination you could think of them as divots picked up by the Italian boot as it sends Sicily off. But, in any event, that’s where Malta sits.
Now Malta is a very proud nation. It has a history of monoliths which predates Stonehenge and boasts of being included in many of the empires that thrived in the millenniums before and after the birth of Christ.
The island is even mentioned in the Biblical book of Acts when John was shipwrecked on his way to Rome. In fact, he had a major influence on the island by baptizing a little gang which eventually grew until it covered the island. But, I’m straying away from balconies, and that’s what this is all about.
Almost all of the buildings in Malta have balconies. They are not huge balconies, actually they are quite small. My brief investigation indicates they are only about three feet wide and in most cases take in just the equivalent of the one room they front. But, they have a great deal of character. For example, some are totally enclosed which defeats the purpose of a balcony. The Maltese love to express their individuality by painting their balconies in various hues ranging from bright to subdued. The color also is important. They love either green or blue but avoid orange and red balconies. Some years ago inexpensive aluminum balconies were introduced but a speedily-enacted law made them illegal, and the wood and iron one prevailed. One finds adornments on most of these exterior porches, such as chairs and colorful flower pots.
Within the last year the Maltese Housing Authority spent about one hundred thousand dollars on balcony renovations. Some criticism was directed at the Housing Authority for this use of its limited funds. But the Minister of Housing, who incidentally is a lady, said “it is not always easy to repair or replace balconies, but they are part of the Maltese heritage and we must preserve them.” She is also lobbying to combine the Housing Authority and the Planning Authority to pool their resources in dealing with balconies. It was a bit strange that I never saw anyone sitting on or in these enclosures. Perhaps the time of year is important.
The island of Malta is a beautiful place. The weather is pleasant, the people are prosperous, and appear quite happy. The entire ambience is of one of pleasure and contentment. I’m going to start a referendum in California demanding more balconies. Who knows? It may be the answer to all of our problems. Down with patios and back yard entertainment areas. Let’s start putting our barbeques on balconies. It may help to regenerate the housing market.