A man of in­fi­nite va­ri­ety

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE - Mbenoit@in­de­pen­dent.com.mt

Pro­fes­sor Richard Eng­land is the great chameleon. His books, like his ar­chi­tec­ture, po­etry, paint­ings, draw­ings, writ­ings and pho­tos are works of art. He is a per­fec­tion­ist and his el­e­gance per­me­ates his thoughts, words and ac­tions.

His lat­est book Cham­bers of Mem­ory: roam­ing the man­sions of Mnemosyne was launched re­cently at San An­ton Palace in the pres­ence of our Pres­i­dent, Dr Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, friends and fam­ily.

A few days be­fore the launch the Pres­i­dent of Italy had nom­i­nated Prof. Eng­land Com­menda­tore Dell’Or­dine Della Stella D’Italia, an hon­our, richly de­served, which was be­stowed by H.E. the Ital­ian am­bas­sador Mario Sam­martino at a cer­e­mony at the am­bas­sador’s res­i­dence in Ta’Xbiex.

The pre­sen­ter that evening at San An­ton Palace was Ar­lette Pisani, lu­cid and grace­ful in her in­tro­duc­tions.

There were three guest speak­ers: Prof. Yas­min Shar­iff, Dr S ha Özkan and Prof. Con­rad Thake.

Prof. Shar­iff, ar­chi­tect and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist touched on the fam­ily as­pect of the book which gave her speech a per­sonal touch.

Pro­fes­sor Özkan, a Turk­ish Ar­chi­tect, Ur­ban Plan­ner, His­to­rian, Au­thor and The­o­rist and at present Chair­man of the World Ar­chi­tec­ture Com­mu­nity, re­lated how he had first met Richard back in June 1986 in Geneva at the Aga Khan Awards for Ar­chi­tec­ture of­fice in Pregny. He quoted from Daniel Libe­skind’s let­ter to wish Prof. Eng­land Happy Birth­day: “A great ar­chi­tect – Bril­liant Artist – Out­stand­ing Thinker – Beau­ti­ful Hu­man Be­ing...”. The hand­writ­ten let­ter is in­cluded in the book like sev­eral oth­ers. Prof. Libe­skind is a well-known ar­chi­tect, artist and set de­signer.

Prof.Özkan also con­trib­uted a piece to the book. Let me quote him: “In this first meet­ing he im­pressed me very much with his warm charisma and many val­ues that I shared with him in sev­eral as­pects of arts, ar­chi­tec­ture, and life.”

Prof. Thake spoke next. Let me quote briefly from his speech (he also wrote the in­tro­duc­tion to Cham­bers of Mem­ory): “His eru­dite knowl­edge of var­i­ous lit­er­ary texts is com­ple­mented with his life-long pas­sion for the opera, in par­tic­u­lar for the tenor voice, an in­ter­est fur­ther ce­mented by his friend­ship with the Mal­tese tenor Joseph Calleja. Richard is quintessen­tially a hu­man­ist, a modern day uomo-uni­ver­sale in the Re­nais­sance tra­di­tion em­brac­ing a wide spec­trum of in­ter­ests and artis­tic pur­suits. How­ever, it should be stressed that to him th­ese en­deav­ours do not have rigid bound­aries, they are in­trin­si­cally fluid and per­me­able, all en­rich­ing in their own way. Still, in spite of his wide range of in­ter­ests, he con­sid­ers him­self to be first and fore­most an ar­chi­tect.

Af­ter Prof. Thake’s speech we had a mu­si­cal in­ter­lude. Mezzo so­prano Claire Massa ac­com­pa­nied by Harpist Ja­cob Portelli sang a beau­ti­ful Ave Maria, com­posed by Prof. Eng­land’s son, Marc who is not only a com­poser but an ex­cel­lent artist in his own right. He painted his fa­ther’s por­trait which forms the cover of the book while his sis­ter San­d­rina also painted a por­trait of her fa­ther which is in the in­ner pages.

The au­thor then stood at the podium and gave an ex­cel­lent speech. I have heard Prof. Eng­land speak on sev­eral oc­ca­sions and his speeches are al­ways thought­ful, con­cise, beau­ti­fully de­liv­ered whether in English or Mal­tese. They are eru­dite too and in­vari­ably with some hu­mour thrown in.

Prof. Eng­land thanked all those in­volved in the book launch, in­clud­ing those friends who came from abroad for the oc­ca­sion. Apart from Prof. Shar­iff and Prof. Özkan, Prof. Amedeo Schi­attarella, Prof. Kamel Ma­hadin and Prof. Mar­cello Se­sito also trav­elled to Malta for the oc­ca­sion ac­com­pa­nied by their wives.

Prof. Eng­land re­lated to his au­di­ence how Cham­bers came to be. He was urged by his wife Myr­iam and son Marc that he should doc­u­ment his rec­ol­lec­tions “as they po­litely put it ‘be­fore your mem­ory be­comes fum­bled, blurred and un­re­li­able.’ So “af­ter ar­du­ous labour and end­less drafts and ver­sions, here it is...480 pages hov­er­ing be­tween lu­cid­ity and blurred opac­ity.” Prof. Eng­land said he was de­ter­mined to avoid the usual for­mula of au­to­bi­ogra­phies: “nar­cis­sist, self-cen­tred, con­ceited and self-prais­ing... not in my style, since au­to­bi­og­ra­phy is usu­ally more auto-fic­tion and self-in­dul­gent.” So in­stead he fo­cussed on rem­i­nis­cences and a se­lec­tion of his favourite things, places, ex­pe­ri­ences, mu­sic, lit­er­ary and art works, po­etry “and of course opera and tenors for which my fam­ily of­ten point out that I suf­fer from a dis­ease called ‘tenori­tis.’”

Her Ex­cel­lency the Pres­i­dent of Malta gave the con­clud­ing ad­dress. She is al­ways warm, al­ways nat­u­ral and al­ways speaks sense.

A re­cep­tion fol­lowed dur­ing which Prof. Eng­land signed copies of his book for en­thu­si­as­tic guests.

A browse through Cham­bers of Mem­ory tells me that many of the sub­jects in the book are il­lus­trated with the au­thor’s draw­ings. The book also con­tains rec­ol­lec­tions of in­di­vid­u­als who have carved spe­cial niches in the au­thor’s life, ei­ther as friends or as teach­ers and men­tors. “There is one pos­i­tive as­pect of rec­ol­lec­tion, in mem­ory one is al­ways younger, for mem­ory moves in the op­po­site di­rec­tion of time, which of course, at my age, is all very com­fort­ing.” Prof. Eng­land cel­e­brated his 81st birth­day re­cently.

The book also con­tains, not un­ex­pect­edly, an el­e­ment of hu­mour – car­i­ca­tures and a num­ber of anec­dotes “hop­ing that th­ese may help the reader di­gest the rest of the text.”

Gor­don Pisani and his team at Kite, the pub­lish­ers of Cham­bers of Mem­ory, de­serve a great deal of praise for giv­ing us such an at­trac­tive work. It has ev­ery­thing: beau­ti­ful texts, illustrations, po­etry, trib­utes, travel. It is an easy book to read as in spite of its length there is no need to read it from cover to cover. One can dip into it and still find it very en­joy­able. It has depth and hu­mour and there is much to learn from it. I hope to have an­other oc­ca­sion to write about it in more de­tail. In the mean­time get your own copy. It is cer­tainly a book worth hav­ing and a con­ver­sa­tion piece in it­self.

The Pres­i­dent of Malta, Prof. Eng­land and Ms Rosette Fenech

The cover painted by Prof. En­gand’s son Marc

Ja­cob Portelli on the harp and mezzo-so­prano Claire Massa

Prof. Con­rad Thake: ‘He has also served as an in­spi­ra­tional fa­ther­fig­ure to a younger gen­er­a­tion of ar­chi­tects’

Prof. Yas­min Shar­iff: ‘Richard Eng­land is a much revered lo­cal ar­chi­tect’

Prof Suha Ozkan: ‘I have al­ways re­spected and cher­ished Richard’s friend­ship’

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