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Noise’s grip
Clare Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul
09 April 2024
published in Issue Five

On Malta, noise is the norm.

At age eight or so, we used to sit at our desks and learn long lists of idioms. Idioms like « silence is golden » and « our lips are sealed » are not just idioms or songs by The Tremeloes and The Go-Go’s. They are golden nuggets of truth to which we cling in order to make sense of the world. « Face the music »: not in fact related to music, but it resonates very well on our small island (Malta), packed as it is with sounds (not of the pleasant kind), noises (at times the most unbearable ones) and music (as loud as it can be). There’s nowhere to escape. Noise is the norm, not the exception.

Construction work sprouts from every nook and cranny in each and every town or village. The morning rush hour starts at 6am and persists until 9.30am. The second wave commences at about 3pm and carries on till at least 7pm. Honking and hooting, shouting and swearing, singing and whistling. Lord Byron is commonly said to have referred to the Malta of two hundred years ago as « an island of yells, bells and smells ». The bells are straightforward. « The religion of Malta », as declared in Article 2 of The Constitution of Malta (written in 1964), « is the Roman Catholic Apostolic Religion ». So: 365 churches with around six hundred church bells. Yells? Aside from the aforementioned audible yelling, there’s visual loudness too: most of our holy headquarters scream with over-the-top decor and commotion, over-imposing statues and larger-thanlife paintings. And smells? Mostly exhaust fumes and burning rubber tires.

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The attribution to Byron may be anecdotal. The first instance found by the authors is in David Niven’s memoir of 1971, The Moon’s a Balloon.