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

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.

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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.

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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, 29 December 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, 13 December 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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