Correspondence in the local Maltese press regularly treats the reader to heated polemics about the most adequate fashion in which to translate particularly problematic items of new vocabulary. This emphasis is unfortunate, insofar as it serves to needlessly exaggerate the inadequacies of the Maltese language. It is, in fact, a pity that more attention is not paid to those aspects of the national tongue that are so nuanced and exclusive as to present a point of pride. Perhaps the best representative of this select vocabulary is the word “miskin” as when used to describe a pathetic person.
To be exact, this particular meaning of the word is not solely limited to Maltese. Predictably, it contains same shades of significance in Arabic, from which language the word is derived. Less intuitively, the dialectal Sicilian usage of “meschino” (as distinct from the purely Italian word, meaning petty*) also carries the same effect. In all instances, however, the term conveys an understanding a pathos-laden condescension that the English “wretch” does not satisfactorily capture.
In wanting to illuminate the puzzled learner of Maltese though, one could do much worse than direct the enquirer to Roamer’s most recent column. In truth, almost any of this person’s columns would be useful in this respect, but wanting to establish a hierarchy of miskin-ness, it is as well to start from the top. Meanwhile, for connoisseurs of world cinema, the most useful analogue would be the itinerant, hopelessly benevolent and ultimately doomed priest hero of Luis Buñuel’s sadistic masterpiece Nazarin. Indeed, beneath all his Panglossian incoherence is a pitiable core of tragic simple-mindedness.
From his opening sally, Roamer pleads for compassionate mercy in the face of his own inanity:
"(a bit of a roam around if you will forgive the dreadful pun; plenty of other sources for Budget observations and comments)"
It is frankly inconceivable that this pun, which is barely a pun anyway, has only now come to its author’s attention. Indeed, it always seemed more likely that the very pen name was itself an improbably ironic inversion of the column’s indefatigably parochial worldview. As it is, the joke itself is piteous to a degree that only Maltese is able to properly express.
Sure enough, the article proper begins with a stunned awe that lends more than a hint to the startled attitude one might expect of a rabbit caught in headlights. For some unfortunate species, this experience can constitute a transient moment of sensory displacement; for Roamer and his ilk, it is a permanent state of being.
"Ever since God sent the earth spinning on its axis the only person who will be able to stop it spinning will be God. Meanwhile, we must watch in some amazement, at least, and with some degree of horror, or amusement at what is going on around us."
Sure enough, he soon comes to his insular senses after this initially galactic survey. In the course of roaming around the world’s hotspots, which are apparently ordered in importance in direct proportion to their distance from Roamer himself. About Iran, he notes worriedly:
"Nearer than is good for us, Iran continues on its course, a course it denies, to create a nuclear bomb."
Not too close for little skirmishes though:
"Proxy wars may be a better bet until such time as proxy outruns its meaning."
More reassuring for Malta is the ongoing crisis in East Asia, as Roamer explains in this bizarre sentence:
"Further than is bad for us, North Korea's declaration that it carried out a nuclear test, set a tiger among the Bambis in Asia and China the lion-hearted."
From the safety of his bomb-proofed bunker, Roamer does feel emboldened enough to launch the odd fusillade at the real villains of our time. Like his equally humourless British counterpart, Simon Heffer, Roamer presumes that referring to informal politicians in formal terms makes for a devastating putdown. And “Bill” Clinton is spared nothing in this verbal IED:
"William denies the charges [that he did little about the Al-Qaeda threat] even if he could only show, as signs of his determination to come to grips with Al-Qaeda, a few missile attacks lobbed into Afghanistan that served no purpose whatsoever except to give America's enemies heart - this after the destruction of American embassies in East Africa and an attack on an American warship. And we saw him earlier this month, his jaw set and resolute, his eyes glinting as he finger-wagged a reporter this dodgy dodger who dodged the draft and became the commander-in-chief of the forces of the United States."
And with an unwieldy pedagogic lurch forward, he projects his roving beady eye to South America. One eye on his trusty Atlas Four and his fingers flicking through a 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, he courses his pioneering path forward and, largely, downwards:
"To the south of the United States lies Brazil and next to it, Venezuela. They are both in the news for a number of reasons. Brazil, which is 4,000 km by 4,300 km and a country of extreme wealth and extreme poverty"
But there is nothing more comforting after almost 2,000 words of roaming (and rambling) around the globe than to return to the homely bosom of Christian issues, namely the decline of the institution of marriage and humanity’s general descent into a moral swamp of Godless iniquity. And after that, a quick anecdote about the time that actor Robert Morley gave an entire speech with his flies undone.
* To be exact, “meschino” did mean “miskin” in its archaic form, although this now remains a largely regional variation.