There’s a saying in Italian that loosely translates to ‘everything you leave is lost’ – ogni lasciata e persa. Determined to keep the number of regrets I have in life to a bearable minimum, I’m a big fan. Walking through early-morning Birgu at the weekend, we decided to take the high road rather than stroll by the water. We came around a corner and while I was busy checking out the decal on the bonnet of a parked car, my friends had spotted another niche with part of a Maltese festival statues procession display sitting on the ground beside it. Two chaps walked up. We got chatting and they invited us in to see their workshop.
Back in August a couple of years ago, the island was beset by a freak storm. It was two days before 10 August, the Festa of St Lawrence, and all the festival statues were out in place. The storm wreaked havoc and the statues were damaged. Noel, a printer by trade, is now voluntarily restoring them to their former glory and his work is quite something.
I never gave much thought to how they managed to capture folds in the clothing so accurately but now know that they use burlap. They use everything from paper maché to chalk to fibreglass to make their effigies, mixing the colours to remain as true as possible to the originals and then coating with linseed oil to reflect the natural light. The festivals are quite the spectacle and were this one not at the height of the summer, I might be tempted to drop by.
Noel learned his trade from a local master and today spends his free time at the workshop. Once a church on the waterfront, the place, with all its festival statues, still has a latent holiness going on. What a lovely place to work. And to think, had we been just a minute later, the boys would have passed through the gate and locked it. We’d wouldn’t have had the chance to chat and the invitation inside wouldn’t have been issued. What a difference a minute can make.