Thursday, June 04, 2009

North Korea explodes an atomic bomb, another plane crash, a lesson in French literature, I went to La Rioja and many other things

The River Oja in Ezcaray which gives its name to the region La Rioja.
Hi again and late again. I’m sorry.

A lot has happened since I last wrote as you will guess from the headline. Barcelona beat Manchester and won the Champions League. They did a hat trick by winning the Spanish cup and league also. Madrid is not too happy, so unhappy, in fact, it now has a new Chairman in one Florentino Pérez. That is big news in Spain.

On the international front, North Korea, one of the last communist bastions in the world together with Cuba, exploded their atomic bomb whilst the whole world looked on with only verbal protests which got nowhere.
The Korean missile the world had to put up with.
Swine flu continues and the world is hastily trying to get a vaccine. Meanwhile that most elite school in England, Eton College was shut down after 32 cases of the illness were detected.
Eton College, England's most famous and prestigious boarding school.
The worst news of all came from Brasil when an Air France aircraft disappeared over the Atlantic with 228 people on board whilst flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris this week. I hate stories of air crashes as they always make me remember our own personal tragedy. In May 1971 when I was 14 my Father’s sister, Gloria, her husband Derek and their children, my cousins, Jacqueline aged 12, Michael aged 9 and Anthony aged 7 perished in a big air tragedy. They were going on holiday to the former Yugoslavia and the plane crashed on landing. Being good English citizens they heeded the air hostess’ instructions to remain seated with their seat belts on. The only person to survive did not obey those instructions. I wonder still today whether they would still be alive if they had not been so obedient. It’s a lesson I have learned as I always take my seat belt off as soon as I land.

On a lighter note or maybe not so light, dear Susan Boyle did not win. She needs no introductions but if you have been away or on a desert island for the last month or so, I’ll explain. She is one of the most visited people on You Tube. This ungainly 47 year old Scottish spinster who sings like an angel was discovered on the programme, Britain’s got talent. In the end she came second but in most people’s opinion, including mine, she should have won and in fact all the bets were on her to win. Follow this link to see if you agree. The whole thing was probably too much for the poor woman who was whisked away after the show and is now recovering in a London clinic with emotional exhaustion. She apparently cried for 24 hours after the show. Not fair, not fair. So who did win? Apparently a modern dance group called Diversity who is absolutely not my style.
Poor Susan Boyle as she leaves the final of Britan's got talent after coming second
On the home front, we had dinner with Pedro and Ludi, Pedro of Spanish cycling fame and former winner of the Tour of France. We went to the Filo restaurant on José Abascal where we enjoyed each other’s company and had a great dinner too.

Maybe you are wondering what the lesson in French literature was all about. It’s quite simple. Oli had to do a piece on the Madrid book fair and this year the highlighted country was France. Eladio and I helped Olivia in her research and we discovered two things: France does not have an equivalent to Shakespeare or Cervantes, in that it does not seem to have one giant who shadows all the others. Names like Moliere, Voltaire, Proust, Balzac, Victor Hugo, Jean-Paul Sartre come to mind, all of them great but in a different league perhaps. I wonder if you agree. And secondly we learned that France is the country with most Nobel prizes for literature. It has 16 and boasts the first and last prize in this category which I thought was very illustrative of this country’s prowess in the field. For the record England and the US have 11 respectively, Germany some 9 and Spain just 5. Remember who they were?
The French author Le Clezio, the Nobel Laureate in Literature for 2008
The Madrid book fair was on this week. It's highly publicised yet Spaniards are not great readers
I’ve been shopping too. You probably imagine me madly spending money on clothes. Alas no I’m afraid. A lot of my shopping these days is on internet. It’s so easy to spend there. So what have I bought? Some more Emma Bridgewater pottery to increase my collection, some books (“Clara’s war” by Clara Kramer, another Holocaust survivor, “I was Winston Churchill’s private secretary” by Phyllis Moir), some music (Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli) and finally a camera, well not just a camera, but the new top of the range Canon Ixus 990. It arrived yesterday and I am delighted with it. But you had a camera didn’t you? You will probably ask. Yes I did but it kept being borrowed by the family and was somewhat worse for ware. They will be “borrowing” it permanently now.
One of my purchases from, the book "Clara's war"
My new Canon Ixus 990
The most interesting thing that I did since I last wrote, however, was going to La Rioja. I imagine the name needs no introductions as Spanish Rioja wine takes its name from this wonderful region in the north of Spain which borders with the Burgos, Navarra provinces as well as the Basque Country.

Did I go to buy wine? Well yes partly, of course but actually I went for work purposes. Lucky wasn’t I? I went on a site inspection trip which sounds very important. It was too as I have to organise the Yoigo summer party for over 130 people there at the end of this month and there’s not much time to go. As a seasoned party and event organiser I’m not too worried. It’s funny to think I’ve been organising them since the age of 15 when I used to invite people to our old house in Heaton Grove to what would probably be known now as alcohol binges or botellones here in Spain.

Eladio came along with me for the company, moral support and all those things that come in handy such as his driving. So we mixed work with pleasure and travelled last Saturday to Haro, the centre of some of the very best Rioja wine brands such as Muga, Cune, La Rioja Alta, etc. The girls from the agency joined me on Monday and we spent two days scouring the region for right places and hotels. It took some doing but I think we have come up trumps. All we have to do now is put into practise the programme we have in theory.

Some of the highlights of our trip were staying at a lovely little place called Señorio de Briñas in Briñas, a small and delightful village by the river Ebro, the walk from there to Haro over a Roman bridge, the visit to the Cune winery in Haro, tapas at Atamauri (the best tapas in Haro according to my trusted Michelin guide), the visit to the small family Bodega/winery in Briñas, Heredad Bañas Bezares (what a find!), exploring medieval Casalarreina with its lovely Monastery (Monasterio de la Piedad) as well as lunch at Casa Fuerte in Zarratón.

Me outside the Señorio de Briñas hostal
Eladio enjoying tapas at Atamauri in Haro - great wine and food but very disappointing town
We also learned a lot about wine and how to taste it. The three main things are colour, smell and taste. We soon put this knowledge into practice and were tilting the glass, moving it around, using our nose and finally enjoying the tast in our mouths.
Eladio tasting wine and learning about colour, smell and taste at the Cune winery
Of all the things we did and saw, nothing could beat the last night in the pretty town of Ezcaray by the river Oja (Río Oja = Rioja of course). We stayed at a modest little hotel, The Echaurren which has one of the best restaurants in the region and not at all expensive at 19 euros a head. The place has been given some fame thanks to its illustrious guest, Julio Iglesias who apparently is a frequent visitor.

The village is pretty with lovely squares and well kept houses but what we loved best was the walkway by the River Oja, with splendid grass paths and peaceful lush views.
Me on the walk by the River Oja in Ezcaray.
Ezcaray is not famous for its wine and in fact there are no bodegas there. Rather it is famous for mohair blankets. Loewe, that luxury Spanish firm, sells them probably for a fortune. We bought some lovely colourful ones which the cats will probably sit on but they will always remind us of our visit to Ezcaray, not surprisingly one of the most visited towns in La Rioja.
Eladio and the mohair blankets we bought in Ezcaray.
You can see some more photos of the trip here on Facebook.

And that’s it for this week, or rather for this week and a half or more. Before I finish I must mention it was Miguel’s birthday (happy birthday again dear nephew) and that my niece Laura has started a blog which you can read here.


1 comment:

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