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what happens in Brussels ... according to Guze Stagno

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Monday, 14 October 2013

what happens in Brussels ... according to Guze Stagno

This is not a review.

And this is not a Magrittian statement on the lines of "c'est n'est pas une pipe."

This is just an attempt at illustrating an experience ... the experience of reading What happens in Brussels stays in Brussels, the latest offering by Maltese author Guze Stagno.

Let me start with the premise that hadn't I had to go to work or stop to eat / sleep / shower over the three days it took me to read it, I would have probably gone through it in three hours.  One day, while doing some reading on the bus-stop on my way to work at 6am, I even caught the wrong bus.  Hadn't I lifted my head just to stretch my neck in time, I'd have ended up at the airport instead of Valletta.

Yes, the book is like a drug.  Much like Stagno's own Ramon u z-Zerbinotti a couple of years back.  I wish I could say the same about Inbid ta' kuljum and Xemx wisq sabiha. I know I read the latter but can't remember it (note to self: re-read it asap) while Inbid remains in my memory as a pinching rendition of the civil service I'm actually part of when I'm not blogging.

Back to What happens in Brussels stays in Brussels.

Anyone who has had the (mis)fortune of heading to Brussels for work will have inevitably come across one of the MEP canvasser / supporter groups en route to the European capital for an orientation tour, if that's what it actually is.  I've never been on such tours, but boy have I met these groups.  Upon reading the first pages, I started mentally going through all my flights to / from Brussels over the last eight years. Through Stagno's writings which, as is oft done, are comparable to the narrations we're familiar with on the Fantozzi films, as well as my personal experiences, I could recognise il-Bebeto, il-Commando, il-Pied u nofs and il-Junker, Terry and Marija Pija. I could see them in all their finery: the men in their suits customarily reserved for weddings / funerals / court appearances ... the women with their freshly dyed mahogany / auburn short hair (so typical of Maltese women of a certain age - those with a 'young at heart' attitude would have highlights done, which on short hair, always made me think of it as some bloodied leopard print), their "sjuts" and matching hand-bags and shoes, and of course their freshly applied nail extensions, complete with bejewelled nail-art which render them completely helpless given as they wouldn't be used to having dolled up nails.

Stagno also provides the reader with a glimpse of the Maltese community in Brussels ... the ones who have transplanted themselves there for work.  I must confess that I tend to be a bit of a snob whenever I'm in Brussels and actively seek to avoid meeting anyone I know/worked with.  Not that I wouldn't want to.  It's more a case of using my work trip as a means of escape from the island routine. I guess, it's the same form of escapism which somehow possessed these individuals in seeking to work abroad. I suppose I fear I wouldn't necessarily get that escape if I hang around my fellow countrymen whenever I'm there.

When you're in my line of work, moreover, reading a book like What happens in Brussels... can be a bit of an uncomfortable experience.  As entertaining as it is, I found myself wondering - at times, exclaiming out loudly to myself - whether the various characters in the novel are whom I would think they are.  Assuming that the author is familiar with the same nucleus of Maltese abroad I'm familiar with, I shudder to think my suppositions are correct.  I'm not sure if everyone would be comfortable with the notion of having a 'fictional' character based on them.

Certainly something that I thoroughly enjoyed was the very visual descriptions which Stagno is by now renowned for.  One of my favourite quotes is his description of the MEP's attire:
Charlo kien neża l-kappott u anki l-ingravata u preżentament kien qiegħed bil-qmis biss: wahda minn dawk il-qomos Naracamicie li x'aktarx jilbsu 1) dawk li 'jħossuha' daqsxejn; jew 2) iċ-chavs Mediterranji; jew inkella 3) it-tnejn f'daqqa.  Din ta' Charlo kellha l-għonq vagament Edwardjan, il-pulzieri bojod ukoll u l-bqija lewn il-qar'aħmar.  Fuq il-pulzier ix-xellugi, bħal Gianni Agnelli: biċċa t'arloġġ tad-deheb daqs taġen tal-World Marketing li anki min-naha l-oħra tar-ristorant Gustav seta' jara x'ħin sar.
I could almost have been on the same dining table as Gustav I could see this so clearly.  Possibly, also, because I have come across one too many "chavs Mediterranji" to picture this so well.

Without revealing much to those who haven't read it as yet, I will come clean in saying that I was somewhat let down by the book's ending.  At one point Gustav, the main character, gave me hope.  A sense of hope that I personally experienced when I moved abroad.  I thought he would have made the run for it.  But the ending, as disappointing as I may have found it a few days ago when I turned the last page, I realise now, is the most realistic ending I should have expected.

Buy What happens in Brussels stays in Brussels  by Guze Stagno here

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