The stories of my life on a little island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea ... and my occasional adventures beyond these shores.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

2016: A year of turmoil

The general consensus on social media seems to be that 2016 was a particularly bad year. I am not sure where the negative vibe is coming from and whether it is even true. But it is there and the negativity seems to have stuck around long enough for almost everyone I know to be glad that it's over. From my perspective, it wasn't all bad (it never is). But it had many ugly moments which may have come too close on the heels of each other to offer any respite.

Perhaps what we will remember most about 2016 are the senseless acts of terrorism in Europe and beyond that made us all realise, once again, just how vulnerable we are.  Brussels, Nice, Berlin, Istanbul, Burkina Faso - the list goes on and the death toll continues to rise. It feels as if nowhere is safe. Yet we refuse to be beaten and continue to live our lives as normally as  this crazy world will allow - always hoping that something will change.

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As if the threats of terrorism were not enough, 2016 saw one of the biggest refugee crises in modern history as the atrocities in Syria continued unabated and thousands were displaced from their homes. This human tragedy continues to unfold - while many Europeans look on with mixed feelings as they wonder whether, from a practical and cultural perspective, Europe can continue to take in these homeless thousands.

June brought with it the unexpected and unwelcome decision of the British electorate to leave the EU. Due to Malta's close historical ties with the UK, many of us here felt as if an arm or leg had been severed from the collective whole. How the whole Brexit misadventure will end remains to be seen but an EU without the UK somehow feels like a Spring without flowers: still beautiful but with an essential element missing. Soon, borders will exist where they haven't existed in years and we will have to get used to the new status quo.

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But perhaps the event that gained the most air-time and caused the most controversy was the US Presidential election. I won't pass too many comments but I will say that I disliked both candidates and felt that a country like America, boasting millions of citizens, could surely have come up with two better candidates than the final two that ended up running for the highest office in the land. In my opinion, both of them lacked the necessary characteristics that singles out great leaders. Both candidates seemed to be run-of the-mill with the added 'bonus' of  hurling insults at each other. I thought these were traits only exhibited by hot-headed Mediterranean politicians - but apparently not. Thankfully, I did not have to choose between either of them. So I'll say what I always do in such situations - thank goodness for royalty.

During 2016 we lost a number of celebrities, as we do every year, yet for some reason, it felt as if we lost some of the best last year: David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Leonard Cohen. I grew up listening to the music of  George  Michael and was a late, but fervent, convert to Cohen's poetical outpourings that were so much more than songs. David Bowie was, of course, the man of a hundred different faces and musical styles. I wasn't an avid fan but he always seemed to be somewhere on the periphery of my world, until he was gone. Prince was widely acknowledged as a musical genius but I never quite got into his particular musical groove. There were others that departed, both famous and infamous: Mohamed Ali, Zsa Zsa  Gabor, Fidel Castro, Nancy Reagan, Elie Wiesel, Gene Wilder,  Harper Lee, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds …

On a personal level, the past year was not an easy one but it did teach me a thing or two. The main lesson learnt was  that, career-wise, you do not always get what you think you deserve. At the time it was a bitter pill to swallow but the whole episode left me with the strange feeling that a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I don't know what the future holds. In the past few years I've survived merger after merger and acquisition after acquisition. The company I now work for is the biggest producer of generic medicines in the world, with a total work-force of over 50 000 employees. So I am just one of the thousands who make the  huge wheel turn. They used to say that the sun never sets on the British Empire.  I guess you can say the same about the company I work for.

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The most positive aspect about 2016 was that I got to travel - alone (to Budapest) and with my family (to Normandy, Paris and Somerset). I had never been to any of these places, except Paris, and it was an enriching experience to discover them. Perhaps I was most pleasantly surprised by Budapest as I did not expect it to be quite as grand as it was in person. But that should not have come as a surprise since Hungary was an integral part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the wide boulevards and sumptuous architecture of Budapest are reminiscent of the imperial majesty of Vienna. Paris, of course, is Paris: there's none other quite like it and although all we had time for was one brief evening, and a rainy one at that, we were not disappointed. Normandy was as far removed from the airs and graces of Paris as a peasant is from a princess but its charms were of the completely wholesome type: deserted beaches, wild cliff-sides, huge swathes of countryside, old castles, cemeteries with row upon row of silent crosses, and heart-wrenching stories of heroes who will never be forgotten.

Normandy

And then there was Somerset, Britain's 'summer country', with its quaint pastel villages, lush countryside, sleepy sea-side towns and famous historical locations such as Wells, Bath and Glastonbury. I will forever remember eating cherries by the crate-load and having cream-tea on the sunny lawn of an old, old farm-house, surrounded by flowers and chirping birds while the sun shone merrily but kindly.

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So there it is - 2016 from my perspective. It wasn't all roses but we managed to survive it and emerged, rather bruised and buffeted, into a new year. Let's hope it's kinder to us all.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Looking back, Stepping forward

I've realised, that at this time, when one year gently slips into another, I find myself reminiscing about the ghosts of bygone new year's eves. The memories come to me, in no particular order, an intangible collage of snapshots and a jumble of half-forgotten whispers that pour out of some forgotten fragment of my mind. Or is it our soul that remembers? I know not.

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But I do know, that amidst the memories of parties and mayhem, of spumante and pink champagne fizzing out of hastily uncorked bottles as my friends and I sang (or tried to) Auld Lang Syne, while balloons floated gently over our heads and we popped Baci chocolate (not sure why, but we did) into our mouths, there are the equally memorable quiet moments. Moments of intense clarity, that stand out, proud and tall, like solitary fir-trees on a barren, snowy expanse. Moments of silence on the shores of the Mississippi river in the non-descript town of La Grange (MO), where the only sound my husband and I could hear was the gentle lapping of the water of that mighty river, as a feeling of all-pervading peace quieted our hearts. Or the year we drove to the chapel at the edge of the cliffs, in an equally non-descript hamlet, this time in Malta, and listened to a mighty gale usher in the new year. Years when all we wanted, all we needed, was candle-light and mulled wine and the closeness o family - the perfect ending to any year.

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But it doesn't end there, on the eve; dawn signals the start of something new, offering fresh hope and endless possibilities. This year is spiraling out of our reach and we stand with one foot in the shadows and the other in the light. We will soon turn our calendars to a new month and a new year, literally taking a symbolic leap of faith into the unknown. Perhaps it is the most courageous thing that we do each year as, unthinking and unknowing, we step forward into a new adventure.

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This will be my last entry for 2016. I would like to wish all my readers and their families a wonderful 2017.

Location: Ghar Lapsi, December 2014

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

So, this is Christmas

Or is it?

There are barely any gifts under our tree, I haven't baked a single cookie and the weather remains as warm as spring.  I procrastinated and procrastinated, because at the back of my mind, there's always enough time to get everything done. Then last week I fractured a toe so, even if I wanted to, I cannot do anything fast. Gifts I've ordered online are not showing up (is it just my impression that snail mail seems to get slower every year?), one set of lights on our Christmas tree stopped working after (of course, when else?) we had got all the decorations up and I just get this feeling of chaos surrounding me.

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But it doesn't have to feel like this. It shouldn't feel like this. Because Christmas is not about anything material. Or about lights and parties and food. Christmas is about an inner sense of peace, serenity and joy. The fact that it has become something of a nightmare is because we've got our priorities in a twist. Worse than that, we seem to be going through life with our eyes wide shut, mostly indifferent to the thousands of homeless and displaced people. And I know that sometimes we have to shut things out, for our own sanity and peace of mind. I do it nearly all the time. But maybe at this time of year we should just remember how lucky we are instead of stressing about the little things. How lucky that we have so much when so many thousands have so little. It may seem to be impossible that we can do anything about their plight. But, believe me, there are ways by which we can make a difference to others, without having to leave the comfort of our homes or go too much out of our way. Christmas Day 001 (46)

So today I want to introduce you to dear friends of ours, Ben and Eve. We first met  this lovely couple in 2012 during a baseball game (where else would you meet Americans in Malta?). They lived here with their three children and did missionary work amongst the  refugees that made it to our shores in rickety boats. They are probably one of the most giving couples we have ever met. The fact that our sons were very close in age just helped cement the friendship more quickly. in 2013, they went on to have a fourth child - Liliana Joy - who was born with a very rare genetic disorder. Undaunted, Ben and Eve continued their work while extending their friendship to as many people as they came in contact with. We had some fun times: roof-top barbecues, birthday parties (Eve always came up with the most original ideas), cozy talks around a crackling fire during cold winter evenings. We felt we had made friends for life.

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Then, in October 2015, Liliana died peacefully in her sleep. While we knew she was now in a much better place, we were devastated for her parents and her siblings. Within three weeks, the family made the decision to move back to the US. We were sad to see them go but life is what it is. Change is constant. We keep in touch as best we can via Facebook and e-mail. Which is how we know that Ben and Eve are still extending their big heart out to those that are hurting, to those that need all the love they can get. Their own grief and loss just seemed to make them more in-tune with those who were hurting more or were more vulnerable than them. Last summer, Ben and a friend recorded video footage of a people group living in Northern Iraq called the Yazidis. The Yazidis have been persecuted since the 18th and 19th centuries and, more recently, by Al-Qaida and ISIS. In October 2016, Ben and Eve founded the Peace Lily Foundation, a non-profit organization which aims to raise awareness of, and support for, those in need of a restoration of hope, peace, prosperity and innocence. And they have a dream. Their dream is to buy weather-proof tents for 47 Yazidi families who have nothing in this world, let alone presents under a Christmas tree or cookies baking in the oven. So, if any one of you can help, I ask you to donate to this worthy cause. You don't even have to leave your home. Each tent costs $300 but any amount will do. You may donate here. To learn more about the Peace  Lily Foundation go here or to the official  Facebook page here.

Individually, we are one drop. Together we are an ocean. Ryunosuke Satoro

Peace Lily Foundation

 

Just for the record, Ben and Eve did not ask me to write this or to share their dream. They do not even know that I did. I just felt compelled to do it. And if any of you want to share this post or spread the word about the Peace Lily Foundation, please feel free to do so.

Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world. Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5; Yerushalmi Talmud 4:9, Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 37a.

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

On giving thanks

There is a lot that is bad about this world. There are days when it takes a super-human effort just to crawl out of bed and face the day. There are moments when the constant barrage of information we are bombarded with feels overwhelming to the point of suffocation. It's so easy to become prisoners of our own success, drowning our senses in the incessant noise of a world that seems to be doing its best to implode. That's when it's time to step back and take a moment to reflect on all the things we should be thankful for. Today I have taken a good look around me and I know that I am thankful first and foremost for my family, who are there for me in the good times and the bad times.  I am thankful for green fields and wild flowers. For the sea and  puffy, grey clouds. I am thankful for books and for the people who write them. For Beethoven and Cohen; for poets and dreamers. Thankful for friends and memories. For giggles and laughter. I am thankful for freedom and for moments of unbearable lightness of being. For stardust and moonlight. Thankful for just being me, with all my quirks and endless contradictions.

Thankful. Just thankful.

 

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Wishing you all a happy, if belated,  Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Loree Loves - A list for November

Loree Loves will be a monthly list of things/ books/ blogs/ Instagram accounts or anything else which gets my radar buzzing. My intention was to start sharing these lists last January - but we all know how quickly new years' resolutions end up on the trash heap of history. Then I thought I should wait till next January to give this a go but ended up deciding that there's nothing like the present. So here's the first installment (and fingers crossed that there will be many more).

Burgundy

…the colour not the wine (I prefer white wine). It seems to be a popular colour for the coming season and all the stores here have racks of clothes in this colour. It also happens to be one of my personal favourites, especially if it has a strong undertone of red. Here are some burgundy items that I found online that I absolutely love:November favourites

From top left to bottom: 1. Dress with embroidered flowers via SheIn; 2. Chloe lace-up ankle boots via Net-A-Porter; 3. Velvet dress via SheIn; 4. Felted mittens by Aurelia Felt Studio on Etsy; 5. MAC Lipstick Power Driven; 6. Silk scarf by The Chic Artisan on Etsy

 

Poldark

If you're not watching this BBC period drama you're missing out  on some good entertainment. Now into Season 2, we were all rooting for Ross Poldark until his actions in episode 8 made us all realise that he's no saint. Which is just as well, I suppose, as saintly men do not make for very interesting leading characters. And even if we can't quite forgive Ross just yet,  the gorgeous scenery of Cornwall and the brilliant acting more than make up for our hero's indiscretions. If you aren't watching this series, I strongly suggest that you start now. Season 1 trailer here and season 2 here.

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Travel Tall

I first ran across Eric Giuliani on Instagram and became fascinated by his story: feeling stifled by corporate life he studied photography, writing and film-making for a year, saving as much money as he could in the process to realise his dream - to travel the world without using air travel. It was a huge dream but he did it, is still doing it and, in the process, has enriched his life with experiences that most of us can only imagine. You may find Eric on Instagram here, on Facebook here or on his website here. Truly this is one man who has become an inspiration for many and while we may not all be in a position to sell our belongings and just take off into the unknown, we can all pursue our dreams and our passions in our own way. It only takes that first small step.

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The Little Card Boutique

This husband and wife team from Melbourne lovingly create beautiful hand-made cards and other gifts such as bookmarks, Christmas ornaments and notebooks. Personalised gifts are available on request. The Little Card Boutique is a perfect place to shop for a card for that special person in your life, especially with Christmas  just round the corner. You may find The Little Card Boutique on Instagram here, on Etsy here and on Facebook here.

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The beach in autumn

It is no secret to any of you that I have a special love affair with the sea and autumn just have to be one of the best seasons to capture its ever-changing moods. So whether it looks like this

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or like this

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it will always intrigue and fascinate me and I will always answer its secret call.

 

Hiking

A recent thunderstorm or two and a veritable gale finally broke the heat and it's the perfect time to get our hiking boots out of the cupboard and hit the trails. We take the road less travelled, only occasionally coming across like-minded individuals, and explore areas of this little island that most people who live here all their lives never get to see - amazing but true. And I have to admit that even though I thought I had seen it all, there are times when I am stunned by the diversity of the landscape and the plethora of wild flowers that seem to spring from every nook and crevice. Strange as it may sound, our hikes have taken us to places we had never been to before.

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Thanskgiving

I have to admit that it took me some time to get used to this holiday (which is not a holiday here). My husband and I would get into some, erm, heated discussions about the menu. For the first few years he insisted on sweet potatoes, turkey and pumpkin pie. I hated all of t hem. As the years passed, we've come to a compromise. The sweet potatoes have stayed (and I must admit that they are not that bad) but turkey has been struck off the menu. As has the pumpkin pie - although we do try to incorporate pumpkin in some form or other since it is synonymous with Thanksgiving. It has become an almost unspoken tradition not to cook the same thing twice. Which means that just about now we both start looking for new recipes and discussing meal plans. I generally search for a dessert recipe first. Last year's Glazed Cranberry Lemon Cake was a big hit.

This year I am torn between Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting and Pecan Pie  Muffins (or are muffins breakfast fare?) that I can serve with this Whipped Cinnamon Pumpkin Butter.

 

Pentatonix's version of Hallelujah

If you have not yet acquainted yourselves with this a capella quintet, I urge you to do so immediately. Their rendition of Leonard Cohen's classic hit Hallelujah is perhaps the most beautiful I have ever heard (and, believe me, I have heard quite a few).

 

Pentatonix have recently released their Christmas album A Pentatonix Christmas and although Hallelujah is not what I would describe as a typical Christmas song, I am definitely not complaining. A Pentatonix Christmas may be purchased here or on Amazon here.

 

Valentina Poudre

This is currently my favourite go-to perfume. This powdery fragrance has subtle hints of vanilla, iris, tuberose and sandalwood. Valentina Poudre is the creation of perfumer Aurelien  Guichard. It has been described as an Oriental floral fragrance. While during the summer months it may smell a bit overwhelming due to its strong earthy undertones, I find it perfect for this time of year.

Valentina Poudre Valentino for women

Valentina Poudre by Valentino is available for purchase here.

Please tell me whether you have enjoyed the first edition of Loree Loves. I hope I will be able to keep this up and that it will be a monthly feature on my blog.

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