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

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The lost art of letter writing

I was rummaging through one of my rarely-used craft drawers the other day and came across an old, dog-eared cardboard file. I smiled as I lifted it out of the drawer because I had not forgotten what was in it: notepaper. But it wasn't just any notepaper. Back when I was in school, it was the 'in' thing to do to buy a pad of decorated notepaper and then exchange sheets with friends. Some designs, like Holly Hobbie and Betsey Clark, were especially coveted and what was even more special about these notepapers is that we actually used them. To write letters. To real people. Isn't it amazing how things change? Apart from Christmas cards and the occasional 'thank you' card, I cannot remember the last time I wrote a letter to anyone. It is sad that we are constantly in contact via social media but not really connected.

Maybe it was fate or simply just one of those coincidences, but shortly after I discovered my old notepaper I stumbled across two wonderful blogs dedicated to snail-mail: Naomi Loves by Naomi Bulger and Letters of Note by Shaun Usher. Naomi Bulger, the author of Naomi Loves, creates the prettiest  mail art and sends it to anyone who stops by her blog and requests a letter. Her husband recently gifted her 1000 vintage postcards and she has pledged to send one to any reader who would like to receive one. I thought it was a splendid idea and signed up to The Thousand Postcard Project.

Just a couple of weeks after discovering Naomi Loves, I somehow ended up on Letters of Note where author Shaun Usher is collecting and reproducing letters written by prominent people from the 16th century to the present day. I have to admit that I was immediately hooked. The beautiful sentiments expressed in some of these letters made me wish that people are still writing to each other in such an eloquent and, often heartfelt, way. I am sharing extracts from some of my favourites (and there were so many beautiful ones that it was really, really hard to narrow them down to so few) with you.

 

From Roald Dahl to a seven-year old fan who sent him a painting of one of her dreams contained in a bottle:

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From Johnny Cash to his beloved June:

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From Ludwig van Beethoven to a woman known only as his Immortal Beloved:

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From Henry Miller to Anais Nin shortly after the start of their affair in 1932:

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From Leonard Cohen to his  muse Marianne Ihlen who was dying of leukemia, written just a few months before his own death:

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What do you think? Now I will admit that we don't all have the gift of flowery prose and some of us will cringe at the thought of expressing ourselves so openly and with so much passion, but don't you wish we could, at least, revive the art of letter writing?

So I wanted to ask whether any of you would be interested in receiving a letter or a note or even just a postcard from me. I would be extremely happy to send out some snail-mail and would be delighted if you would reciprocate. So I am channeling Naomi and also Jeanne (from Collage of Life) and taking the plunge. If you would like to receive anything from me, drop me an email (technology does have its uses) at: stories(dot)scribbles(at)gmail(dot)com

Let's see whether we can slowly bring back this beautiful form of communication that has existed for hundreds of years and that, in just a couple of decades, has almost completely died out.

 

If you feel inclined to find a pan-pal, here are some useful links:

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Off the beaten trail: Gnejna Bay to Lippija Tower

Gnejna Bay is one of our favourite places to go for a swim in summer and to hike during the cooler months. Up on the ridge overlooking this sandy bay is Ta' Lippija Tower. Ta' Lippija Tower is the first of several towers built by  Grand Master Lascaris in the 17th century to serve as watch-towers in the less-protected areas of the island. On a sunny but breezy day in February we decided to take the short hike from the bay to the tower.  It's an uphill climb but it's worth the extra effort and what's even better is that we were by ourselves, except for a very few like-minded individuals. So it was a peaceful walk and the only sound that broke the silence was bird-song - not a bad accompaniment at all.

Ta Lippija (17)

It's during walks like these that we get to make small discoveries: like tiny wild-flowers and lichen-covered rocks. Such little things, so easy to miss - fleeting beauty, here today and gone tomorrow. There's no other way to make them last except by pointing a camera lens at them and capturing  their images forever.

Ta Lippija (1)

Ta Lippija (23)

It takes about an hour to walk from street-level up to the tower at a leisurely pace. It took us a bit longer since we were so preoccupied with taking photos. The path slopes gently, except for the last few metres which are a bit more taxing - but nothing that an able-bodied person cannot master. In this area of Malta the geological layer known as blue clay is quite predominant. Blue clay erodes easily when wet and this accounts for the almost extra-terrestrial landscape of some parts of Gnejna Bay. In reality, it's nothing overly spectacular, but it does create some striking photo opportunities. The contrast of blue clay deposits against the golden limestone is especially prominent when viewed from above; and once you crest the ridge and stand beneath the tower, you are rewarded with a view that is quite unique, especially since the blue clay deposits on the island are quite rare.

Ta Lippija (63)

Ta Lippija (65)

By it's very nature blue clay is not very fertile and in most cases it is totally devoid of any vegetation but in other areas, hardy grasses such as Esparto grass, and flowering species such as Asphodel and Seaside Squill do manage to thrive. It has become something of a hobby of mine to photograph wild flowering plants and then try to find out a little bit about them. All this has made me realise, that in spite of its small size, Malta is home to an amazing array of wild-flowers that are stunningly beautiful.

Asphodel

Like all the coastal towers, Ta' Lippija tower commands a view that stretches for miles, which, of course, is the reason why it was built. This tower, which is about 11 metres high, has a square plan and two floors topped by a flat roof. Each floor has a single room and the upper floor was accessed by a wooden, or rope, ladder. Originally the tower was known as Torre del Migiarro. I've made the trek up to the tower another time, back in 1995, when my friends and I decided it would be the perfect way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. At that time we found the tower in an advanced state of disrepair: part of the roof had caved in and the whole edifice showed signs of structural damage. In 2003, Ta' Lippija Tower was repaired and restored and now looks much the same as it did when it was constructed in 1637.

Ta Lippija (38)

Ta Lippija (41)

Ta Lippija (62)

This walk combined three of my favourite things: nature, the sea and a little bit of history. It is the first installment in the "Off the Beaten Trail" series that I hope you will enjoy. As promised earlier this year, I would like to share more of this little island with you without throwing out too many facts and making it sound like some sort of lesson. I hope that, in some small measure, I have succeeded.

Ta Lippija (36)Ta Lippija (47)Ta Lippija (56)Ta Lippija (59)

Location: Gnejna  Bay and Lippija Tower, February 2016

A small note on the pronunciation of Maltese words (which can be a bit tricky). Gnejna sounds like Jineynah and Lippija like Lippiyah).

Related links:

Thursday, 9 March 2017

She

She is as wild as the wind and as  free as the eagles that soar high over mountain-tops. Her love is as deep and unfathomable as the boundless ocean. She walks with her feet planted firmly on earth and her head in the clouds. She breathes stardust and her smile is as radiant as the light of the sun. Her hands have nurtured the young, tended the sick and buried the dead. She has cried rivers of tears and her sorrow has pierced the hardest of hearts. She has faith and strength to move mountains and is fearfully and wonderfully made. Her laughter brings happiness to those she loves. She is maiden, mother and crone. Her wisdom transcends generations. She was, is and will be - till the end of time. She carries the pain of a thousand Eves and the joy of a thousand more. She is imperfectly perfect, indestructible as a diamond yet as delicate as a blossom.
She is Woman.

Blossom


On a different note …

Gone But Not Forgotten


My plan was to publish the above short post in honour of Woman's Day. But Malta suffered a mini-catastrophe yesterday when a storm destroyed one of its most iconic natural creations - the Azure Window.

The Azure Window

This arch rose from the depths of the sea to a height of  almost 100 feet. Nobody knew for sure when the arch was formed. Some geologists are estimating that it was around 500 years old. But yesterday morning, after hundreds of years of standing tall and proud and battling countless storms, it succumbed to the elements and collapsed into the sea after a massive gale hit the island. For  the past few years everyone had been expecting the top part of the arch to cave in and fall into the sea, leaving the stack (pillar) behind - as commonly happens with these types of arches. But in the case of the Azure Window, it was the pillar that had eroded to the point that it could no longer support the massive weight resting on it. And the rest, as they say, is now history. I think that the whole nation was a bit saddened by its loss, mainly because nearly everyone has a photo with the Azure Window as a backdrop or a memory of some sort associated with it; and like all familiar things, their loss, though inevitable, is sometimes harder to accept.

The loss of the Azure Window made it to the international media with reports about its collapse in The Telegraph, The Mirror, BBC News, The Washington Post, The New York  Times and many, many others. I did my own little tribute here.

Many feel as if nature has dealt us a collective blow. But I think it was more of a case that what nature had given it has now taken away. The Azure Window has vanished from sight and what remains of it lies at the bottom of the Mediterranean sea, from where it once rose. Perhaps the sea has only claimed back something that was birthed from its watery womb and, maybe for this particular window, it was time to return - this time to its watery grave. So farewell legend, I was lucky to have known you.

Dwejra, Gozo


Related links:

Monday, 27 February 2017

Famous sculptures from antiquity to the Renaissance that I love

Any time we travel, we always make sure that, apart from seeing the sights and trying out the local food, we also get to visit a few museums that will enrich us culturally. I consider myself lucky that I have seen all these famous sculptures in person. Although beauty is always in the eyes of the beholder, I think that you will all agree that the sculptures I will be sharing with you are formidable works of art that have ensured that their creators will remain immortalised forever.

David by Michelangelo at the Galleria dell' Accademia (Florence)

David was created between 1501 and 1504 by a young Michelangelo. It depicts the Biblical hero David and was intended to be positioned along the roof-line of Florence's world-famous duomo the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. However, once the statue was finished, the city authorities realised that raising the 6-ton sculpture to the roof of the cathedral was going to be a close-to-impossible feat. Instead, David was placed in Piazza della Signoria next to the entrance to Palazzo Vecchio - the town-hall. David remained there until 1873 when the sculpture was removed to the Galleria dell'Accademia to protect it from the elements. A replica now stands in its place. Michelangelo seems to have captured David right at the moment when he has taken his decision to face Goliath and what we see depicted here is not bravery as much as a steely determination to see this thing through. Here is a sculpture that embodies youth, vigour and invincibility.

David (Galleria del Accademia, Florence)

 

The Winged  Victory of Samothrace (sculptor unknown) at the Louvre (Paris)

This Greek statue from the 2nd century BC depicts the goddess Nike (the Greek goddess of Victory) and was probably created to honour a sea battle. Despite the fact that parts of it, including its head, are missing, it is still a sculpture of mesmerising beauty. The flow of the goddess's robes, the triumphant stance, the overall feeling of fluidity and movement create the impression that what we have before our eyes is not a marble statue but a living being that is somehow frozen in time. I think that if I had to choose an absolute favourite from this list it would be this ethereal creation from antiquity.

Winged Victory of Samothrace (Louvre Museum, Paris)

 

The Dying Gaul (sculptor unknown) at the Capitoline Museum (Rome)

This statue is thought to be a Roman copy of a Greek original and, as the title suggests, depicts a dying man. There is no sense of movement or any type of urgency in this sculpture. On the contrary, I got the feeling that there is a poignant pause: that we are catching a glimpse of the everlasting moment between life and death. The man depicted there before you knows that his time is nigh. You can almost sense his resignation, his acceptance of his fate: the winner takes it all; the loser … well he gets to darken the earth with his life's blood.

The Dying Gaul (Capitoline  Museums, Rome)

 

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss by Antonio Canova at the  Louvre (Paris)

This masterpiece of Neo-Classical sculpture was created by Antonio Canova in 1787. It shows Cupid waking his beloved Psyche from her death-like sleep by gently pricking her with one of his arrows and kissing her. Canova expertly captures the sensuous moment between the lovers, imbuing the marble figures with life.

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss (Louvre Museum, Paris)

 

The Colossus of Constantine (sculptor unknown) at the Capitoline Museum (Rome)

This massive statue that was sculpted some time between the 3rd and 4th century AD depicts the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. Judging by the size of the still-intact pieces (the head, legs and arms) this colossal, seated statue was probably around 12 metres high. This sculpture screams power and haughtiness, both reflected in the unyielding eyes of the emperor. Here is a man whose word was law and who held the power of life or death over hundreds of thousands. It's no wonder that even in it's fragmented form I felt intimidated by the unwavering stare of the first Christian emperor.

The Colossus of Constantine (Capitoline Museums, Rome)

 

The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna in Piazza della Signoria (Florence)

The three figures that make up this dynamic sculpture are carved out of a single block of marble. They give the impression of writhing movement that starts by the woman's outstretched arms, continues in the body of the young Roman from whom she is desperately trying to flee, and ends in the raised arm of the dominated male figure at the base of the sculpture.  The twisted, intertwined bodies draw the eyes upwards, creating a composition that seems to change depending on the angle it is viewed from. The sinuous nature of this sculpture creates the impression that the three figures are locked in a strange, morbid dance from which they cannot escape.  The Rape of the Sabine Women is truly a remarkable sculpture from the late Renaissance and its creator, Giambologna, is considered to be amongst the greatest sculptors the world has ever known. Somehow, just by looking at this masterpiece, I was able to feel the woman's fear and torment, the harshness of her abductor and the desperation of the husband or father who is overpowered and unable to aid the horrified woman. I could sense their struggle but I could do nothing to help.

The Rape of the Sabine Women (Piazza della Signoria, Florence)

 

Venus de Milo by Alexandros of Antioch at the Louvre (Paris)

This is one of the most famous sculptures from ancient Greece that was created some time between 130-100 BC. It is thought to depict Aphrodite, or Venus, goddess of love and beauty and, although the statue is incomplete, there is no denying the grace and beauty of the female form. The missing arms and the covered lower limbs create a stream-lined silhouette that is, strangely, more visually and aesthetically pleasing. It now almost seems as if the arms were an afterthought and that, with them, the sculpture would look cumbersome and, perhaps, just a little bit ungainly. It is imperfectly perfect, an enigma that continues to allure us thousands of years after is creation.

Venus de Milo (Louvre Museum, Paris)

 

The Pieta' by Michelangelo at St Peter's Basilica (Vatican City)

This sculpture is the only work of art that Michelangelo ever signed. It was created some time between 1498 and 1499. It depicts the dead Christ on his mother's lap. It seems to be the final moment between Mother and Son before He is taken away for burial. I am sure that thousands, probably millions, have gazed at this sculpture and I am sure that every person has taken away something different with them. While I could detect the Mother's sorrow and felt her heart-breaking agony as she gazed on the lifeless body of her Son, I also got the impression that Mary's outstretched arm and the almost altar-like shape of the lower part of her body are presenting the dead body of Jesus as a sacrifice. It is almost as if she is telling us that she is giving him to the world with no conditions or strings attached.

The Pieta' (St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City)

I hope you have enjoyed my take on some of the most beautiful sculptures that exist. There are other famous sculptures that I love but I decided to focus only on those that I have experienced for myself. Naturally I am curious to know whether there are any that I have mentioned that you also count amongst your favourites. Please do tell and include any others that I have failed to mention.

 

Related links:

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

A blog at the crossroads

Dear readers, I feel that this blog is at an impasse. As I have probably already mentioned, I started this blog without putting much thought into it. After a few months, I made the (I now feel) mistaken decision to start another blog dedicated solely to Malta. The problem is that I now do not have the time to update both. Ironically, while I make most effort on this blog, Snapshots of an Island (my other blog), which I haven't updated since June, gets much more traffic (300 - 400 hits a day compared to around 50 hits on this blog). The reason for this is because there is more factual information on my other blog as opposed to my day-dreaming and musing on this blog. So what is the solution?

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I have been doing some research on how to make my blog more interesting (read that as 'more interesting to Google search engines'). There is a lot of advice out there, some of which I am not tech-savvy enough to understand. But there was one piece of advice (apart from hundreds of articles about SEO (search engine optimisation) and algorithms) that was repeated ad nauseum: Google loves it if we talk about current events. Ah, and there's the rub, as the most famous English bard put it. I am not quite ready to do that. It's not that I completely ignore all that going on around me. It's that here, on this blog, I want to get away from the corruption and the sleaze; from the whole ugly mess out there. Most days, when I watch the news, both local and international, I get so emotionally distraught that all I want to do is dig a deep hole and lie in it until it's all over - if it ever will be.

So it seems that I will ignore the advice and do what feels right for me. My blog isn't about a business or about putting myself out there to make a living off of it. It's just a place where I make my own rules and where I can stick my tongue out at Google and write about what I want. I was toying with the idea of starting a new blog but that seemed  too drastic and it felt like a  pity to abandon all that I had  built up (albeit, it's not much). However, some changes are necessary. I will definitely be going for a different look: a new font, new background, simpler layout. I will definitely be sharing more about Malta on this blog (including some factual posts that I promise won't be too heavy on the history) and also write more articles about the places we have visited on our travels. I feel that I have not done most them justice as there is still so much more I can dig up from my travel journals that is bound to be of interest to those that take the time to stop and read. Another plan is to interview readers of this blog and also authors (if they accept) of blogs that I read and find very interesting or informative. We will see how it goes. Please bear with me if you land on my page and it's in shambles. I will try to keep the changes in the background but I am sure I am bound to make a few errors in the process.

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None of these proposed changes will happen overnight but I hope that, by the end of this year, I will have a more defined style and a much more clear indication of the direction that I want this blog to go on. I know that a lot of my readers have been asking themselves whether what they have to say is relevant. I want to reassure them that, yes, it is relevant. As long as people stop by to read, it is relevant. As long as what you have to say,  or the photos that you share, brightens someone's day, then it is relevant. It is, perhaps, just a  matter of making some changes because if there is one thing that I have learned in  life, it is that change is constant and we just need to adapt while remaining true to ourselves. And although I know that I've talked about making changes a number of times but never got round to it, this time I am determined to see them through. All I ask is that you stay with me on what  may be a bumpy ride -at least for a little while. And I hope you won't mind me mixing things up a little bit.

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Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Loree Loves - A list for January

I missed my list for December - there were too many things going on. The month sped by before I had time to blink twice. And it looks like I am only just going to squeeze this month's list in. I definitely need to plan these lists a bit better.

Bowls

I have this thing for bowls. I can never have enough of them - as long as they're round. Because round bowls easily stack into one another and it's so easy to pile them higher and higher: as high as a wobbly, leaning tower of bowls will go without topping over. I don't really mind what colour they are. I adore pastels, bright colours and white bowls. I keep my eyes peeled for solid colours and patterns, vintage bowls, ceramic bowls, bamboo bowls, wooden bowls. My favourite type are the ones that have been turned on a pottery-wheel and hand-painted with love and dedication. Wooden bowls are a close second. Both Etsy and Anthroplogie are good online sites to hunt for bowls.

Januray favourites

Main picture: Handmade pasta bowls by Blue Sky Pottery CO on Etsy;  top to bottom: Old  Havana cereal Bowl on Anthropologie; Wooden bowls by Oniroteo on Etsy; Speckled turquoise bowls by GXDesigns on Etsy; Wing & Petal bowl by August Wren on Anthropologie; left to right: Sissinghurst Castle cereal bowl on Anthropologie; Swirled Symmetry bowl on Anthropologie; Francophile Serving bowl by Nathalie Lete on Anthropologie.

However, if you happen to be in Venice and want to purchase some lovely ceramics, there is a pretty little store in Santa Croce called La Margherita that  has an amazing selection of hand-painted pottery, including bowls, of course.

 

 

Leonard Cohen

When Leonard Cohen died last November, I had started to write my own little tribute to him. But I never found the time to finish it; so I never published it. I suppose it is ironical that it was the animated character Shrek who introduced me to Leonard Cohen, when Rufus Wainright's version of 'Hallelujah' was used in the movie. I'd heard the song before but this time, I couldn't get it out of my head. So I went online and Googled it. I found out that it was a Leonard Cohen original and that Wainright's version was just one of many covers of this beautiful song that I could listen to over and over. But this is hardly the only piece of music that Cohen gave the world. In my case, 'Hallelujah' was just the door that got me exploring the other wonderful compositions of this talented man. Songs like 'Dance Me to the End of Love', 'A Thousand Kisses Deep', 'So Long Marianne' and so many more that have immortalised him forever. This little paragraph that I have just written really doesn't do justice to the man. Just one month before he died, David Remnick published an article in The New Yorker entitled Leonard Cohen Makes It Darker. Read it if you have time. It is quite long but it provides a great insight into the man behind the music.

 

The Prisoner of Heaven

'The Prisoner of Heaven' is the third published book in The Cemetery of Forgotten books series by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, but the second in chronological order. The first book, 'The Shadow of the Wind' is a page-turner. I couldn't stop reading it until I'd finished it. But whereas 'The Shadow of the Wind' had every loose end tied up by the final page, 'The Prisoner of Heaven' left you with a feeling that more is yet to come. Apparently it will, in a fourth installment that will be published in Spain later this year. The English version will be available in 2018.

A prequel to 'The Shadow of the Wind' called 'The Angel's Game' already exists and I meant to read it before 'Prisoner of Heaven' but I got the order mixed up. Not that it matters because, according to the author, the sequence in which the books are read is irrelevant as each one is a novel in and of itself. It looks like I have another two books to add to my reading list.

The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series takes us to post-civil war Barcelona. It is a Barcelona very different to the one we know today. In Zafon's novels, Barcelona is a dark, gothic place. A city of secrets and tragedies, where mysteries seem to leap out at our unsuspecting protagonist, Daniel Sempere, a book seller's son, from the very pages of a book that he  loves and cherishes. Daniel's best friend and side-kick, Fermin Romero de Torres is one of those unforgettable characters in literature. He provides moments of levity in what is , essentially, a dark tale and makes the book come to life.

 

BB Cream

BB, which stands for blemish balm or beauty balm, creams really should be a must-have in every woman's make-up routine. They have been popular in Asia for  many years but made their debut in Europe in 2011. Since then, they have become a favourite beauty product with many women - including myself. According to Vogue UK, 'they should provide moisturisation, SPF protection and sheer coverage alongside soothing and healing properties - preventing the need for numerous separate products'. I find them an excellent, every-day alternative to foundation because the majority are tinted and they really help to even-out skin tone. I am currently using Revlon Photoready BB Cream. It does tend to leave the skin looking a bit dewy, so it shouldn't be used by women with oily skin and it doesn't work miracles, but it does hide minor imperfections and, if you can get away with it, it is a fast alternative to foundation especially during morning rush-hour. If you're after something more than sheer coverage, then BB creams are not for you.

Revlon Photoready BB Cream Skin Perfector, Light Medium, 1.0 Fl Oz

 

SerenissimaFacades

I just stumbled across this Instagram account a few days ago. SerenisssimaFacades is all about the best facades in Venice. Venetian facades popping up in my feed sounds like a win-win situation to me.

image

 

It goes without saying that seeing all the photos of this ephemeral city makes me long to return. I've heard people say that Venice is boring and that one visit is enough to last a life-time. I, on the other hand, can never get enough of its decaying charms. Undoubtedly, it is time for another visit.  The trick is to fit it into my schedule.

P.S none of the links presented here are sponsored or affiliate links.

Wednesday, 18 January 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.

29032016 Point du Hoc and Arromanches (9)

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.

29032016 Point du Hoc and Arromanches (91)

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.

England_July 20161England_July 20162

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.

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