Saturday, March 28, 2009

Work, the only Georgian taxi driver in Madrid, Armstrong crashed in Spain, the week I began to tweet with fervour and Earth Hour 2009.

Twitter is catching on in Spain. Have you tried it?

Hiya again

I’m writing today Saturday instead of Sunday as we will be travelling tomorrow to Extremadura for a week, that is my men (Eladio and my Father) and I for a well deserved break. There will be more about that on location.

The week has been very ordinary with not much to report. I had lunch with Juan on Tuesday when it took me 1.5h to get to work!!! Thank God I don’t have to go in early every day. Working from home is the best professional experience I have ever had and just wish it was more widespread. It would certainly decrease the amount of workplace bullying that is around.

On the subject of work, today we went out as a family for lunch to celebrate Oli’s renewed contract at RTVE. Her contract has been extended for another 6 months, so still a precarious situation but great for work experience.

Funnily enough I also went to a farewell dinner for a colleague who will not be renewing his contract with his workplace, Ono. A group of journalists and communications managers organised a dinner for him. And so on Thursday I found myself at a dinner for 20 or so communications people from the sector at the Cuban Centre in Spain, of all places, which actually turned out to be a grand place for a medium sized soirée like ours. It was a great night and it was good to meet some of my counterparts from other operators too.
My counterpart from Vodafone, Pepe, and myself at the dinner on Thursday. You can see more photos here.

The experience of that night was made even more intense by the journey back home. The taxi driver, Misha, an ex wrestler, told me he was from Tbilisi and according to him, the only Georgian taxi driver in Madrid. You don’t get much more exotic than that and we ended up telling each other our life stories and getting lost in the process. He told me something I knew but had forgotten; that Stalin was a Georgian! When I asked him about the relations between the Russians and his compatriots he told me it was the Russians who hated them and that Georgians don’t hate anyone. He spoke good Spanish and we both had a laugh at how Spaniards, who cannot pronounce the “sh”, call him “Misa” which means a religious “mass” and call me “Masa” which means the physical “mass”. It was great to meet you Misha!

Who didn’t laugh this week in Spain will have been the seven times winner of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong. As some of you are aware I knew him from my Motorola days when he was a young rider. He has returned to cycling, three years after retirement and could well win his eighth Tour de France. When he announced his return I wrote a short post which you can read here. His crash this week in the Tour of Castilla León could well jeopardise that return. It seems his collar bone was fractured into many parts. Only time will tell.
Lance in the ambulance after crashing. The photo was taken by my friend Rafa Gómez.
What I did find funny to read was the hullabaloo caused by his mere presence at the race start on Monday. Last year there was one TV and maybe 15 journalists. Apparently this year, those numbers were increased enormously just because of Lance being there. He was, of course, as has become a custom now, accompanied by an entourage of body guards. I can imagine what all that meant to the small sleepy town of Paredes de Navas where the race started.
The small town of Paredes de Nava in Palencia.
And it’s thanks to Lance that I have now taken on tweeting which is the verb for using Twitter. Twitter is a social network which has been around for quite some time. I have used it sporadically, far preferring Facebook but this week became curious about it when I read about Lance’s updates on Twitter. So I began to follow him and since then am using Twitter quite often (you will find me here). The good thing (or maybe not so good) is that what you update on Twitter automatically updates Facebook. So you see I really am a connected person in all senses. To top it all I at long last have corporate e-mail which has completely satiated my email addiction. Yes, I am an addict of social networks, my blog, my mobile phone and email. I suppose they are the perfect tools for a PR person like me.

Other things that happened this week were coffee with my out of friend work Elena yesterday. Also we bumped into my friend and neighbour Fátima this morning whilst shopping and so took the opportunity to have a drink together and catch up on each other’s news. It was good to share the “patatas bravas” and Rueda white wine at our local bar.

I must also mention that I got a phone call from Jesus. No, not Jesus Christ, as some of my English friends might think, but my dear friend and ex colleague from my Motorola days. Yes those were the days of great friendships and cycling of course. Jesús will well remember Lance Armstrong or probably more the pacharáns we would drink in the Tour of the Basque Country. Jesús now lives in Miami and it’s a bit far to go for drinks. So Facebook has to suffice along with the odd phone call like this week. If you read this on Sunday Jesús, this is to tell you I really miss you but then you know that already.

And now I must finishe as it is nearly time for switching off the light as at 20.30 it will be the "Earth Hour" which seems to be a worldwide initiative to save power and protest against the harm being done to the environment. Lights will go off all over the world from 20.30 to 21.30. Also tonight the clocks go forward and tomorrow we will have one extra hour of daylight. I love it when the days get longer and lighter.
The image of the poster of Earth Hour 2009

And that’s it for this week. The week coming up promises to be full of new experiences, discovering Cáceres and Badajoz in Extremadura.

Cheers till next time


Sunday, March 22, 2009

It’s Spring again

Daffodils, the epitome of Spring

Yes it’s Spring again, the flowers are out and the weather is behaving astonishingly well. Funnily enough today is World Water Day but there hasn’t been a sign of it here for quite a while. I just hope the weather holds until our trip next Sunday to Extremadura and then I won’t mind if it rains of course.
World Water day image
It certainly held out this long bank holiday weekend which was a holiday, thanks to St. Joseph, a very important Saint in Spain. St. Joseph or San José is also the patron saint of all Fathers, thus Thursday 19th March was and is also Father’s Day. In the past nearly all boys born on that day were called José or José something. So, of course, it was my brother-in-law, José Antonio’s birthday too. In the past we used to celebrate it together but somehow the tradition has died and I, for one, miss it.

The week leading up to the holiday was short and sweet with not much to report. Who did have something to report though was my daughter Olivia. The famous Irish hispanist, Ian Gibson was at RTVE for an interview about his new book, Lorca y el Mundo Gay (Lorca and the Gay World). He is possibly the world’s greatest authority on Spain’s famous poet Federico García Lorca. I read his books when I studied Spanish at Nottingham University and Lorca, like most English students of Spanish was my favourite author too. Olivia also interviewed him for the website and here is the result. I must say I got quite excited about that. Part of the interview took part on the phone while he was having dinner but apparently he was charming and attentive throughout.
Ian Gibson, forever fascinated with Federico García Lorca.
And on the subject of interviews, Oli herself was on the radio on RNE on Friday evening to talk about the content of the RTVE website. Unfortunately we didn’t get to hear it as she warned us a bit late and we were at the cinema!

The girls went away on Friday, Suzy to Astorga and Oli to Guadalajara. So we were left rather alone and have had a quiet Father’s day holiday.

On Friday we went to see the much awaited new film from Pedro Almodovar, Abrazos Rotos (broken hugs) with Penelope Cruz who has become his icon actress, having starred in 4 of his films so far. Was it good? Well I never used to like Almodovar until Volver and then I saw some of his other films and have become quite a fan. Yes it was technically a great film but perhaps the story is not really up my street. I am never very fond of films that are about making a film. Said that, I would still highly recommend it.
Penelope Cruz, Pedro Almodovar's icon actress
Who didn’t go the cinema this weekend was my dear sister-in-law Yoli, Eladio’s youngest brother, Isidro’s wife. Yoli had an operation on Wednesday to remove her thyroid gland which had developed a benign tumour the size of a mandarin and was visible even from the outside. Everything went well but the operation was long and poor Yoli has yet to get her voice back properly. I wish her a speedy recovery from these pages.

And on the subject of health, thanks to my sister-in-law Dolores, Zena was received this week by her brother-in-law, Patxi who is an eye specialist. He cannot cure her cancer, but at least he was able to relieve the suffering caused by a huge cyst on her eye. The eye was visibly better when I saw her yesterday. Thanks Dolores!!

This week coming up will be quite busy but I have a lot to look forward to as next Sunday, my men and I will be going to Extremadura to visit Cáceres, Guadalupe and Mérida. We will finalise our stay at a lovely place called La Hospedería Convento de la Parra in a remote village in the province of Badajoz where we have splashed out and booked one of the suites. I can't wait. Whoopeeee!

Meanwhile cheers to you all and have a great week,


Sunday, March 15, 2009

“Todo va bien”, everything is fine and the wrong places at the wrong times.

Blossom in our garden, the first sure sign of Spring.
Hi again

Another week has passed and it’s a sunny Sunday in March. I am sitting at my pc wondering what to write. I just commented that to Eladio and he suggests I tell you “todo va bien” (everything is fine) so I decided that would be the title of this week’s post.

He is actually right that everything is fine. I cannot complain. We are the lucky ones. Not so lucky is my Ukranian cleaning lady, Zena, who has cancer. She is my only worry and I have been wracking my brains how to help her. It’s amazing to see how she still comes to clean even when she is having chemotherapy and it makes me feel terrible. I so understand the fate of immigrants from the story of my Mother’s family. Luck in life very much depends on where and when you were born. I was obviously born in the right place at the right time and Zena was not.

Talking about places, Paula and Miguel, my niece and nephew are in Cuba this week, although they won’t see each other. They will however both see Rosi, Eladio’s distant cousin who visited us recently and who was also born in a challenging place, like Zena. Paula is there with student friends to celebrate their mid way degree studies (a very Spanish habit called crossing the Ecuador) and Miguel went yesterday for a short holiday with some friends who found a cheap ticket.

Funnily enough now 4 members of Eladio’s family have crossed the Atlantic to Cuba in America as Spaniards call Latin America. It’s interesting to observe how the Anglo speaking world means North America when they say America whereas the Spanish speaking world mean Latin America. I suppose the origin of this Spanish habit comes from when they discovered America.
Paula, Rosi and her daughter Maria Carla on the right this week in Havana.
Meanwhile, Juan, Miguel’s brother is trying to make his fortune in London. Juan is a very enterprising chap and his first job was doing a video for his sister’s flatmate who is the marketing manager for a publishing group. The video shows how older people are catching on to internet. I think it’s great. He’s now got to do one on an ex Russian republic whose name doesn’t even ring a bell. I’m sure he’ll make a great job of it. Meanwhile enjoy the video which was probably shot in Hyde Park.

This week in Spain has been marked by the good weather but it was also the 5th anniversary of the 11th March train bombings which cast a shadow on the week in general. It was also a week when the peace in Ulster was threatened by new attacks by splinter groups of the IRA. The victims of these attacks were also in the wrong places at the wrong times.

On the home front and as the title suggests, life went on as normal and we enjoyed the good weather with walks with Norah whenever we could.
Norah and Suzy ready for the walk, look at the lovely blossom on our drive
Suzy has been sunbathing most afternoons and would text me to join her and Norah by the pool. Often I would find Norah lying on the sun bed and Suzy sitting on the floor. Norah is definitely living in the right place and is a very spoiled puppy.
Suzy and Norah sunbathing this week. Look who's on the sun bed!
Oli has been busier than any of us this week and on Friday proudly attended her first press conference. It was the presentation of Pedro Almodovar’s new film “Abrazos rotos” which was preceded by the press premiere. I later read that it was the most numerous cinema press conference ever held with 300 journalists attending. There was great interest in the new film, of course, but equal interest in seeing Penelope Cruz for the first time in public after winning the Oscar. Here is Oli’s chronicle (in Spanish) which at one stage was on the front page of RTVE. I am looking forward to seeing the film when it is launched to the public next weekend.
Penelope Cruz, Pedro Almodóvar and Blanca Portillo at the press conference for his new film "Abrazos Rotos" this week.
This week I further corresponded with my distant Lieven cousin, Tanya, in New Zealand. She sent me photos of herself and family and it is uncanny to see the similarity in looks, the blonde hair and wide faces, wow!

The weekend has been quiet and marked by the good weather too. Thus we got out some of the garden furniture and had our first barbecue of the season on a lovingly laid table in the garden in front of the kitchen which is really our summer dining room.
Eladio grilling the chorizos etc for the first barbecue of the season with Norah placidly enjoying the sun nearby.
Tonight we are going out with our friends Roberto and Mari Carmen who, no doubt, will have lots to tell us about their trip to Turkey.

And that’s about it for this week. As you can see everything was fine, “todo bien”. Let’s hope this week coming up will be just as good.

Cheers for the moment,


Sunday, March 08, 2009

An uneventful week, news from a distant relative in New Zealand, discovering Boadilla and a weekend without my laptop.

The Palace of Boadilla.
Hi again

Well we are now at the end of the first week of March and luckily the good weather made an entry this weekend. The week was freezing with blustery winds and we thought the winter would never end. However things brightened and this weekend has been lovely.

As I said in the title, the week has been uneventful in that nothing special happened. I had lunch one day with my best friends Julio and Fátima to belatedly celebrate my birthday. Thanks guys for the lovely necklace and ear rings, as well as the good gossip together. I do miss working with you!!

I’m not quite sure which day it was but early in the week I got an email out of the blue from an unknown distant cousin in New Zealand! Julio thought that was quite fascinating and once again encouraged me to write a book (I will my dear but probably when I retire). I must write back to Tanya. She found me on the Lieven page of Wikipedia where I had left a comment asking for the authors to get in touch with me as I wanted to find out more about my Mother’s Russian aristocratic family, the Lievens. Apparently Tanya’s grandfather, a Lieven Prince, left Russia in 1917 and escaped to Australia. I must find out which Lieven he is and how he was related to my Mother’s Father. I have yet to write back so more on that in a later post. I supposed it is quite fascinating to discover you have a cousin in the antipodes whose descendents also went into exile thanks to the Bolshevik revolution. So actually my week was not quite as uneventful as my title promises.

The highlight of this week for me was my visit to the Spanish Ministry of the Interior. I went there on Wednesday morning for the presentation of the new campaign for prepaid card users to be identified. The presentation was made by the Minister himself, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba , a politician who has been in and out of government posts since Felipe Gonzalez’s days in the mid 80’s. He’s a true survivor and whether you like him or not, a very clever man. It was interesting to see him live and the best part, at least for the journalist in me, was when the media asked him questions on issues other than the new campaign, such as his views on the election results in the Basque Country or the problems of immigrants coming illegally into Spain on make shift boats via the Canary Islands. His answers were very “political” in that he didn’t seem to answer any but just played with words which sounded clever. He would not take the bait on the Basque question for example.
Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the Minister of the Interior.
And, yes this week we have local elections in Galicia and in the Basque Country. The latter had a very surprising result as the socialists won enough votes to govern there, although they will be needing the support of their arch enemies, the right wing Partido Popular. They have ousted the pro independent party, “PNV” who have been in power for decades and who are suspected of supporting the Basque terrorist movement, ETA. So change has come to the Basque Country and has brought much hope with it for many people.

The weekend too has been uneventful but full of activity. We have been living in or around Boadilla del Monte, a small country town on the outskirts of Madrid, for 20 years now. We knew of its famous forest or wood but had hardly ever walked there. Suzy and I decided to go for a walk there during the week and so I returned with Eladio on Friday and Saturday, so lovely did I find the walks. I say walks, rather than walk, as there are many paths and we have now got lost twice.
The Boadilla forest - El Bosque de Boadilla, what a magical place.
To get there we parked near the Palace which is Boadilla’s main landmark. It is a beautiful building built in the 18th century by the Spanish architect Ventura Rodríguez for Philip V’s son, the Infante Don Luis. Unfortunately today it has gone to seed and needs serious renovation. What has been renovated though is the esplanade in front of it which we discovered too was nearly finished. We also discovered a new restaurant right in front of the Palace to which Eladio and I went on Friday night and I must say it was good and a nice change from La Vaca Argentina or La Alpargateria. It hasn't got a website yet as it only opened a week or so ago and is called El Palacio Restaurante Asador. So, yes, we have sort of rediscovered Boadilla this weekend.

I have had more time to do so perhaps because I have been without my laptop this weekend. Unfortunately it developed a nasty virus on Thursday and is in the “sick bay” at work. Leaving it behind on Friday was like leaving my baby behind. I somehow don’t know how to live without it or without internet. Right now I am writing from Eladio’s computer, so I’m not quite without Internet.

My other baby, of course, is Nora. Nora got her third vaccination on Saturday and since then is no longer living in the kitchen. I think we are all thankful for that, including her as she now has the whole garden to play in. Of course, as the weather was better she is thoroughly enjoying her new adventure. Spring is definitely on its way to judge too by the blossom on the trees.

Talking about blossom, we went to see the new German film by Dorris Dorrie, Cherry Blossoms. It’s a story of a long married couple whose children have grown up and moved away. They seem to have no time for their parents in their busy lives. When Trudi dies, her husband Rudi visits their son in Japan, the country she always wanted to go to. Here he witnesses the cherry blossom festival and the film ends with a pilgrimage to the snow topped Mount Fuji. The film is about love, time and death but somehow doesn’t convince me although parts of it are very moving.
A scene from the film Cherry Blossoms
And that’s about it for this week really, except to mention that I have now fully booked our Summer holiday to Yorkshire in July including the flights, the hotels and the car. We will be staying in Haworth and Robin Hood’s Bay and hopefully will be joined by Amanda and Andy. No doubt we will be visiting our favourite haunts such as Ilkley, Harrogate, Bolton Abbey, the Yorkshire Dales and of course the Yorkshire coast around Whitby. We will of course be visiting our old house and our neighbours as well as my Mother’s grave which I know will be hard for my Father specially. On the bright side I am really looking forward to the cliff walk between Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby amongst other things. So now we have something lovely to look forward to.

Cheers till next week.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Hollywood connection, a very social week, in love with Norah, Primo won a car and a course on DTV for the elderly.

Norah in her bed and surrounded by her toys, all bitten to pieces of course.
Hi again

I left off last Sunday when we were going out to dinner with Roberto and Mari Carmen. Funnily enough we went to a restaurant called “Hollywood” which is where I got the title for this week’s post. The day afterwards they were going on holiday to Turkey with Roberto’s brother and wife. Luckily for them, they were not flying via Amsterdam as this week a Turkish Airlines plane crashed at Schipol airport upon landing and 9 people were killed.
The Turkish Airlines crash
The “Hollywood connection” also refers to this year’s Oscar Academy Awards which took place last Sunday just as we were having dinner with Roberto and Mari Carmen at a restaurant of the same name.

I would have loved to have been in the real Hollywood to see Penelope Cruz take the first ever Oscar for a Spanish actress, albeit the “supporting actress” category and for a film and role I am not enamoured with, Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona.

She was great in her speech when she mentioned her humble origins, the town of Alcobendas, which coincidentally is where the Yoigo offices are. She was also great when she spoke in Spanish and offered to share her Oscar with those who were watching her and felt a part of it. She was quintessentially Latin and emotional and I love her for that.
Penelope and her Oscar for best supporting actress. Well done!
Equally great or emotional, and don't forget she's British, was Kate Winslet who could hardly believe she had won the best actress award for her role in The Reader. I loved her speech about rehearsing in the bathroom from the age of 8 with a bottle of shampoo and when she asked her Father to whistle in the audience so she knew where he was!
Kate Winslet giving her speech after being awarded this year's Oscar for best actress
The biggest winner of the night however was Slumdog Millionaire which got 8 Oscars including best film and best director. Funnily enough I had managed to see it the Friday before and agree it was a great film but am not sure it deserved so many awards.
The cast and crew from Slumdog Millionaire receiving the Oscar for the best motion picture.
And on Monday I returned to Hollywood, not in California I am afraid, but in Majadahonda. It was for a girly lunch with Ana, Jill, Fátima and Zenaida. Some of us were late, Zenaida and Jill because they went to the “wrong Hollywood”. Ana had to leave early and Jill was in a conference call for part of the lunch so all in all it was not really relaxed. It was not relaxed but it was happy as we were partly celebrating Ana’s new pregnancy. She is into her 6th month and is expecting a baby boy who will be called Tomy after his Father. Incidentally it was Tomy’s birthday this week, so double congratulations go to him from these pages.

I was out and about a lot this week and had lunch too with Pieter at the luxurious golf club in La Moraleja and also with three journalist friends, Miguel Angel, Chema and Aitor. I took them to Sua in Madrid which was not as good as last time. I also had coffee with Elena, my friend and ex colleague who is also my neighbour. And on my way to coffee with Elena I bumped into Edu and Graciela and was pleased to hear that they were also expecting. This must be the time of year I thought to my self.

I am not expecting as such but have my own baby and am totally in love. With whom you will ask? Well with Norah our beagle puppy which turned 3 months this week. She has added so much to our lives since she came, not lest having to clear and clean the kitchen every morning, afternoon and night. But she’s worth it.

We took her for her first walk on Monday and she took to it like a dog to a lead, excuse the pun and she loves her “walkies”. We are lucky in that she walks well and doesn’t pull at her lead or get too waylaid smelling nasty looking objects on the way.

What she likes best is to be on a lap or in our arms, as you can see from this typical breakfast scene I snapped when no one was aware this week.
The breakfast scene with Norah on Suzy's lap which is where she likes to be.
This weekend brought with it more film watching and dinners. On Friday Eladio and I went to see the Curious case of Benjamin Button. We were a bit put off by the trailer but the film turned out to be magnificent if a bit long. It’s based on a story by Scott Fitzgerald about a man who is born in his eighties and ages backwards. Brad Pitt does a great performance. The terrible thing is that when he is 80 he meets a girl, Lucy, who is probably 5 or 6. Eventually they fall in love but time is against them. It is she who nurses him to death when she is nearly 80 and he is a baby. I was quite amazed that the American film academy only gave this film minor awards.
A scene from The curious case of Benjamin Button
Afterwards it was so late that we could only go down the escalator from the cinema to our all time restaurant, La Alpargateria who were reserving table number 7 for us even though we were over an hour late.

The rest of the weekend was taken up with walks with Norah, family lunches and dinner at Mood on Saturday night. When we came back from Mood last night there was an email from Adela, Eladio’s oldest sister, to tell us Primo had won a car in a draw with his local paper, El Diario de León. As he says in the article he has been buying the newspaper for the last 20 years, so this is sweet compensation. He was given the car, a Citroën C1, yesterday in León. You can read about that here too. We look forward to celebrating his lucky win when we next go to León.
Primo and the new red Citroën car he won in a newspaper draw.
This weekend I have also been planning a trip to Yorkshire in the summer. We plan, my two men and I, to stay in Haworth, the home of the Brontë sisters and Robin Hood’s bay, that picturesque smugglers’ village, at the end of July. Hopefully we will meet up with Amanda and Andy and Jill and Simon and all walk down memory lane together. After all this is where we all spent our formative years and my Father being the boys’ teacher must have had something to do with their upbringing too.
Robin Hood's Bay, a picturesque fishing village famous for smuggling on the Yorkshire coast.
And that’s it for this week, except for one last thing. I saw this video posted by a friend on Facebook and wanted to share it with you as it’s so funny. It’s supposed to be a guide for elderly people in the United States on how to switch from analogue to DTV. So, as the Americans would say, Enjoy.

Cheers till next week,