Olives grow again on Malta

Updated 15 October 2012
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Olives grow again on Malta

A green-fingered ex-jeweler with a mission to revive Malta’s olive oil production practically from scratch, Sam Cremona munches on a tiny black “Bidni” olive and shows it off to visitors.
The olive, which has a distinctive pointed and curved stone, is an indigenous species packed with anti-oxidants that has been around for at least 2,000 years but had nearly become extinct before Cremona began his quest.
“We lost the sense of it,” said Cremona, who has acquired the deep tan of an outdoors laborer, as he prepared for this year’s olive harvest on his farm some 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the Maltese capital Valletta. “A lot of people thought that the Maltese olives would never produce good olive oil, because the oil was bitter,” the 62-year-old said.
“Today we realize the bitterness is one of the best qualities that it has.”
Olive growing once flourished on this Mediterranean island under the Phoenicians and the Romans but it was rooted out when its Arab rulers pushed for cotton production and then its British overlords encouraged sheep rearing.
The depopulation of Malta also helped the decline of olive farming.
Many olive trees were torn out from the craggy Mediterranean landscape that seems ideal for olives — and replaced with orange and almond trees. Cremona and his wife Mattie started the revival when they decided to plant olive trees around their large home in Wardija for household consumption.
“When we had half a ton of olives, we said let’s have them pressed but there was no olive press in Malta,” Mattie Cremona said. They bought the machinery and set up a small press and friends and acquaintances flocked to them. “We realized there was really a need and a love for it,” said Mattie, who has written three books on local recipes and history.
Mattie said that Maltese olive oil is “extremely low in acidity” compared to others because of the type of soil and climate and also because the oil is pressed shortly after the olives are picked because the island is so small.
“It’s a quick transportation and a quick press,” she said.
Sam said the work which started out as a hobby had become back-breaking: “I hoped for a more sedentary, quieter life but this is going to kill me!“
In between two cargoes of olives being sent off for pressing, Cremona welcomed a group of German tourists here to see his organic plantation.
“I knew olive oil only from Italy, Greece and Spain but not from Malta. But I think it’s very interesting. I think his work is very respectable!” said Ingeborg Minck, a 69-year-old tourist from Darmstadt in Germany. Tour guide Dagmar Pallmar, 56, said: “Olive oil is a kind of secret. It is in its infancy but Sammy is putting all his heart in it.”
Cremona’s ambition is to revive production of the “Bidni” olive — a word that means “hunchback” in Malta because of the shape of its stone — to produce exclusive mono-variety olive oil that he believes would have global appeal.
Wood from the native Maltese species was found in carbonized form in the nearby temples of Skorba dating back to between 3,600 and 2,500 BC.
Cremona has called his project PRIMO — Project for the Revival of the Indigenous Maltese Olive — and uses cuttings from trees that are more than 2,000 years old and grafts onto other trees to spread the species.
“The last five years, we’ve been grafting over a thousand trees, sometimes 2,000 trees a year. The aim is to have 10,000 of these trees and in this project I give these trees to people who are ready to put 50 or more,” he said.
Around 40 producers have taken part in PRIMO and 5,000 trees have been planted. Within the next two years, Cremona said he was hoping for European certification for “Bidni” olive oil which would make it more marketable.
Cremona said research from Valletta University and from an agronomy institute in Bari in southern Italy had highlighted the qualities of “Bidni.” He said olive fruit flies — a common pest — were not able to penetrate Bidni olives to lay their eggs “because they are full of antioxidants.”
“Bidni” olive oil could also boost the immune system and relieve high blood pressure, Cremona said.
The mission is not over for Cremona, who in 2010 also found some trees on the island that produced white olives that turn slightly pink as they mature.
Surprised, he did some research and found references in Renaissance texts to the “Pearls of Malta” offered by its rulers to European monarchs as gifts.
This year he is planning to grow 100 white olive trees and he hopes their sweet-tasting oil will become another staple for global foodies.


Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who played Hitler, dies at 77

Swiss actor Bruno Ganz who gave a masterful performance as Adolf Hitler in "Downfall" has died. (Supplied)
Updated 32 min 47 sec ago
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Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who played Hitler, dies at 77

  • Hitler is a figure that German-speaking actors have historically been reluctant to take on and the Zurich-born Ganz conceded that being Swiss provided a necessary buffer

GENEVA: Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor who gave masterful performances as Adolf Hitler in “Downfall” and an angel seeking mortality in divided Berlin, died Saturday aged 77, his agent said.
Ganz, who was suffering from cancer, died “in the early hours of the morning” at his home in Zurich, the agent said.
Considered one of the greatest German-speaking actors in the post-World War II era, Ganz had a distinguished career on screen and stage before his 2004 appearance in “Downfall,” which unfolds over the final, suffocating days inside Hitler’s underground bunker.
For many critics, his nuanced portrayal of the fascist tyrant that veers between explosive and somber was unparallelled.
Hitler is a figure that German-speaking actors have historically been reluctant to take on and the Zurich-born Ganz conceded that being Swiss provided a necessary buffer.
Ganz won acclaim, and some criticism, for a performance shaped by historical records that showed a complex Hitler — at once unhinged and quivering as he berated his defeated generals, but who later displayed tenderness toward a frightened aide.
Ganz told The Arts Desk that he was amused by those who chastised him for “humanizing” the Nazi leader instead of portraying a caricature of evil.
People “need an intact icon of the evil itself,” he said. “I don’t know what evil itself is.”
When asked if he approached the part with the mindset that Hitler was, in the end, a human being, Ganz said: “Of course he is. What else should he be?“

Before the Oscar-nominated “Downfall,” which vaulted Ganz into new levels of global fame, he had already been acknowledged as one of the most important German-language actors.
In 1996 he was given the Iffland-Ring, a jewel officially owned by the Austrian state but held successively by the most significant performer in German theater of the time.
His fame was based on theatrical performances such as a landmark starring role in Goethe’s “Faust.”
He played the part in a 21-hour production mounted by director Peter Stein that ran at the beginning of the century.
On screen, his most prominent role before “Downfall” was in “Wings of Desire“(1987), in which he starred as the angel Damiel who eavesdrops on ordinary, melancholy moments around pre-unification Berlin. The original title was “The Sky Above Berlin.”
Dieter Kosslick, director of the Berlin film festival which holds its awards night late Saturday, called Ganz “one of the greatest and most versatile actors,” who made “international film history.
Ganz also starred in American films such as “The Boys From Brazil” about Nazi war criminals starring Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier, a remake of “The Manchurian Candidate” and “The Reader” starring Kate Winslett.
His latest films saw Ganz play Sigmund Freud in “The Tobacconist” and included a role in “The House That Jack Built” by Lars von Trier which revolves around a serial killer.

Ganz’s family, mostly blue collar workers in Zurich, were baffled by his decision to quit school and pursue acting, the German news outlet Deutsche Welle (DW) reported on the actor’s 75th birthday.
He got by as a bookseller and a paramedic before moving to Germany in the early 1960s hoping to make it as a performer, according to DW.
He worked in some of Germany’s most prestigious theaters before breakthroughs in film that culminated with his depiction of the country’s most reviled leader.
He told The Arts Desk that to distance himself from the part after a day of shooting he had to “construct a wall or iron curtain” in his mind. “I don’t want to spend my evenings at the hotel with Mr. Hitler at my side.”
He later told the Berliner Morgenpost paper that the role haunted him for years.
But it may well have carved out his permanent place in film history.
The New Yorker magazine’s film critic David Denby called the performance “a staggering revelation of craft.”
“Ganz’s work (as Hitler) is not just astounding, it is actually rather moving,” Denby wrote in 2005.