This article first appeared on Malta Today
There was a sort of poetic irony in the fact that Mother Nature decided to send us a message on Women’s Day. The Azure Window is no more. It collapsed as a result of the gale force winds and rough seas over the last few days.
When I saw the first photo, my initial reaction was that someone had photoshopped it, and that it was some kind of prank. It seemed hard to believe that where before we had a window, naturally formed in the rocks through thousands of years by the elements, there was now…nothing.
It reminded me of those David Copperfield stunts where he makes the Eiffel Tower “disappear”. Or like something out of the X-files…cue the mysterious, spooky music.
As we say in Maltese, baħħ (nothingness). Just like that, the place we had always taken for granted as a backdrop to our selfies in Gozo and where people persisted in climbing despite warnings and being threatened with fines, was no more. Well, actually, it was not just like that. Geologists have been warning of this for many years, as the erosion of the rocks gathered pace and the cracks and fissures grew deeper. It was only a matter of time before it would cave in and it is just sheer luck that someone was not foolishly on top of it at the time.
But the way it was obliterated, as if it had never existed, was still very startling. After the initial shock, the reactions varied from genuine sadness and a sense of profound melancholy, to those who saw an opportunity to take the piss using quintessentially Maltese sarcasm and black humour with a variety of wisecracks and memes. In fact, I noticed a difference in the way the Maltese living abroad reacted when compared to us, with the former simply unable to understand how people could be so cynical and flippant at the disappearance of a natural heritage site.
However, I think the reason so many turned it into a joke is because the systematic way in which our country is being gobbled up in the name of “progress” and “prosperity” by unscrupulous developers (aided and abetted by equally unscrupulous politicians) has made us all look around helplessly in despair. And of course, close on the heels of despair, often comes an urge to erupt into hysterical laughter. It is almost like when you start giggling uncontrollably at a funeral, or when you visit a loved one on their deathbed and the person in the next bed emits an unpleasant odour while passing wind. The horror of the moment is so difficult for your brain to accept that you grasp at any absurdity, any alienation, to help you cope with it.
The fact that the Azure Window is no more is symbolic of so many things that are happening right now to our environment . We were warned (and yet we thought it would not happen just yet). We were told to appreciate it (and yet we arrogantly assumed it would be around forever). Like a woman who tries to hold back the ravages of time, but who one day wakes up and realizes that no amount of Botox or facelifts can conceal her true age, the cracks in the Azure Window finally could take the battering of the sea and the wind no longer.
I read several comments saying that ”something should have been done” but this was nature simply taking its course. I’m not really sure what people were proposing, some ugly steel and concrete structure around it to “preserve” it and thereby ruin its natural beauty? What would have been the point of that? Some sites are meant to be wild and savage and not meddled with by the human hand, and this was one of them. It was formed by nature and nature took it away.
All this reminded me of a commercial which was popular in the US in the 1970s. Mother Nature is given margarine to taste instead of real butter, upon which she says the famous tagline “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” while throwing her hands wide open and causing a thunder storm. No, we cannot keep trying to fool Mother Nature, because as the Azure Window showed us, we are all going to perish, whether we are dirt poor or mega rich. Whether we struggle to get by and live in social housing, or whether we are obscenely wealthy, owning one third of the island through crafty, Machiavellian development deals.
One day there will be nothing left but the elements still bashing against this Rock, covered with ugly concrete buildings and perhaps a blade or two of grass trying desperately to grow.