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.


After shedding Daesh, Mosul embraces makeovers

An Iraqi woman gets a lip injection at an aesthetic clinic in the northern city of Mosul on November 19, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 19 December 2018
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After shedding Daesh, Mosul embraces makeovers

  • Mosul, and Iraq more broadly, have been shaken by waves of conflict since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and paved the way for a sectarian war
  • The city’s medical services were hit hard by Daesh’s three-year reign and the months-long battle to oust it

MOSUL, Iraq: For three years, Mosul’s women were covered in black from head to toe and its men had to keep their beards long. Salons were shut, and plastic surgery considered a crime.
But more than a year after the Daesh group’s ouster, the Iraqi city is flaunting its more fabulous side.
Need to zap away a scar or a burn? Cover up a bald spot with implants? Whiten teeth for a dazzling smile? Mosul’s plastic surgeons and beauticians are at your service.
Raji Najib, a Syrian living in Mosul, recently made use of the city’s aesthetic offerings.
The 40-year-old had long been self-conscious of his bald spots, until his Iraqi friends told him what had worked for them — hair implants at a new clinic in their hometown.
“They told me the equipment was modern, the nurses competent and the prices good,” Najib said.
In Mosul, the average hair implant procedure costs around $800, including the follow-up after the operation.
Nearly 90 kilometers (50 miles) to the east in Iraq’s Irbil, or even further north in Turkey, the same operation costs at least $1,200.
Plasma injections to prevent hair loss cost around $63 in Mosul, but at least $20 more in Irbil.
In addition to the difference in price, Najib would have had to put up money and time for travel.
“Going to a clinic in Mosul is much easier, as I don’t have time to travel outside Mosul,” he told AFP.

Decades ago, only one department in Mosul’s hospitals offered plastic surgery, and only to those who had a severe accident or were trying to eliminate a physical handicap from birth.
Mosul, and Iraq more broadly, have been shaken by waves of conflict since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and paved the way for a sectarian war.
Religious hard-liners forced women to cover up or stay at home, and extremists in particular targeted hairdressers, many of whom closed their shops in fear.
Another shock came in 2014 when the Daesh group swept across much of Iraq’s north, with the militants making Mosul their de facto capital.
The religious police of Daesh enforced ultra-strict rules on dress for all residents, making sure women showed no skin and men wore ankle-length capris and long beards, with no moustache.
The city has since gotten a makeover.
Five beauty clinics have opened since Mosul was recaptured last summer by Iraqi security forces, and they can hardly keep up with the flow of customers, most of them men.
Muhannad Kazem told AFP he was the first to relaunch his city’s beauty business with his clinic, Razan, which offers teeth whitening services and other dental care.
His secret? “The employees came from Lebanon, and the treatments and machines were imported,” said Kazem, 40.

The city’s medical services were hit hard by Daesh’s three-year reign and the months-long battle to oust it.
The available hospital beds in Mosul dropped from 3,657 before 2014 to just 1,622 last year, according to the local human rights commission.
But the city is rebuilding, and one new commercial center houses the Diamond Dental Clinic in the bottom floor, with the Shahrazad beauty center upstairs.
A poster at the entrance advertises what’s on offer: injections of botox and other fillers, slimming surgeries, dermatological operations, and more.
Inside the glossy interior are men and women alike, an unthinkable sight under the iron-fisted rule of Daesh.
A female employee carefully injected serums to prevent hair loss into the scalp of a woman gritting her teeth, one of the dozen customers streaming in per day.
Beautician Alia Adnan said the physical and mental impact of the militants on people in Mosul has been long-lasting.
“They have hair or skin problems because of the stress and the pollution that Mosul’s residents were exposed to, both under Daesh and during the clashes,” she told AFP.