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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.