Sunday, January 31, 2010

Finally an iPhone, the holocaust remembered, Olivia in Israel, a bit about religion, retirement at 67 and more.

Memorial ceremony last week at Auschwitz to mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the most famous and terrible of all Nazi death camps. A replica Arbeit Mach Frei sign was put up to replace the original which was stolen recently. We all know what those sad and ironic German words mean: Work makes you free. Well it didn't make the poor Jewish and other prisoners free ever.
Hi again

Well here I am on yet another Sunday writing my blog. Sometimes it’s not easy to be consistent and I often have to force myself to sit down and write. Today is one of those days, plus I’ve got a headache which never helps. Two things keep me motivated to write; one, no way can I give up now if I have been writing for over 4 years weekly and, two, I sort of hope that one day my grandchildren, if I have them and I trust I will, may want to read it, to find out about their family and past and also to read about these times. Who knows?

And on that pensive thought, I begin this week’s post. As I write, my Father is upstairs enjoying a cup of tea in the kitchen and reading the second of the Millennium books, “the girl who played with fire” (Eladio is now beginning the last of the trio). Eladio is checking our two fire places to see how well the smoke goes up the chimney which I have been nagging him to do since we saw one at our friends’ house last night. We have lived her now since 2006 and have never used them, mostly because Eladio is worried about sullying the walls with the smoke. His verdict as I write is that the smoke goes up beautifully. So I am now looking forward to sitting and reading by the fire one day. Suzy is studying hard for a big exam tomorrow on Food Technology. I wish her a lot of luck. She only has 2 subjects to pass to finish her very complicated degree so tomorrow is important.

The week has not been anything special, quite normal I would say for us at least. So what have I been up to that is worth recording?

The week started well with a meeting on Monday to present my PR report for 2009. I think we did an awful lot of good things that helped the Yoigo brand. That was one of the only two days I went into the office physically. Yeah, I know, I’m so lucky to be able to work from home but also much more productive. My work life balance is perfect of course but don’t get me wrong, my superiors get their pound of flesh from the work I do for the job. Another plus for them is that I never switch off, practically never.

On Monday I got some good news from my nephew Juan who has landed a trainee job with Burson Marsteller, the number one PR agency in the world. I worked closely with BR for many years whilst at Motorola and know that it is the best school for learning the skill and climbing up the PR ladder. Good luck Juan, you deserve it.

Tuesday was the second day I went into the office, this time for the weekly development meeting; not that interesting for me, but nice to see colleagues I don’t often see. Tuesday was also the day I invited my team from our PR Agency Ketchum to our annual beginning of the year lunch. It’s mostly to thank them for the good work done the year before and to start the new year with a bit of a bang to get us motivated. Thanks Blanca, Ludi, Gustavo, Carlos and Isabel, you are a good team and I couldn’t my job in the same way without you. We had lunch by the way at La Máquina in La Moraleja, great place with excellent food.

Wednesday 27th January was a normal day for me but not for Apple. It was the day they chose to unveil the iPad, what Steve Jobs, their CEO, described as their most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device. They didn’t need to do an advertising campaign as they are masters at PR and had all the newspapers in the world writing about it for free. So what is the iPad? Difficult to describe but it’s a bit like a big iPhone without the phone and wonderful for surfing the web, listening to music, reading books or watching films. It measures nearly 10 inches and the starting price is 499 US$. I want one, of course.
Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO, who proudly unveiled their latest "toy" the iPad last week.
On Wednesday 27th January I also decided that whilst the world was gushing about the iPad, it was about time I had an iPhone which has actually been in the market for 2 years but is still the most desirable phone around. Most people know me as the “cell phone queen” (not really true) but of course if I worked for Nokia I couldn’t use one. The added difficulty is that the device is linked, at least in Spain, to a line with the incumbent operator Movistar. Non sim locked versions exist but are very expensive. So how did I get one? Easy actually and I should have thought of it before. I ordered one with Movistar which is the operator I have for my private number. I just had to sign up for 18 months permanence and a minimum consumption of 25 euros per month and voilá the price was only 124 euros. I picked it up at the Spanish department store, El Corté Inglés on Thursday. A girl in the queue looked a bit surprised and warned me that I might have difficulties setting it up (because of my age presumably!). Little did she know who she was talking to? I found the episode slightly amusing but also annoying to think she thought I was too old for an iPhone.
An iPhone, still the most desirable mobile phone in the market.
So do I like it? You bet. The surfing experience is fabulous. It has some downs but the ups are so good that they compensate. The downs are the Bluetooth which only works in cars I think, the camera is only 3 mega pixels and some things you simply can’t do. On the up side the applications are fast and the surfing experience especially with social networks has no precedent with any other mobile phone I have ever used. I think everyone should have one it’s so good. Plus the look and feel is plain lovely.
The first photo taken with my iPhone. The quality is nothing special as the camera only has 3 mega pixels. I thought you might be interested to see it though as it's my desk at home where I spend so much time at my pc.
Wednesday was the day Apple chose to launch their new product. They probably didn’t realise it was also the Holocaust Memorial Day. I didn’t either and there I was on the very same day beginning to read the book called The last seven months of Anna Frank, the symbol for me and for most people of the suffering of the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis. Spurred on by the death of Miep Gies who died recently I had ordered this book, her own memoirs as well as the BBC TV series about Anna Frank and my Amazon package arrived that day which was quite a coincidence I thought.

Events took place, as they do every year, at Auschwitz and elsewhere to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp. Every year fewer and fewer survivors attend as they got older and die. Soon there will be none left which is why it is so important that we never forget what happened. Photos like this are a testimony to that. I find it difficult to understand people who negate the fact. It was truly horrible but it happened and that should never be denied.
More than a million people died at Auschwitz
Wednesday was also memorable for us at least because of the showing on TV of the first of a two part series on Adolfo Suárez, the first democratically elected president in Spain after the death of Franco and who will go down in history for his remarkable role in the transition period from dictatorship to democracy in the late 70’s.
Adolfo Suárez, Spain's first democratically elected President after decades of dictatorship under Franco. Suárez will go down in history for the major role he played in the transition from dictatorship to democracy. Sadly today he doesn't remember the part he played as he suffers from alzheimer.
Thursday was perhaps my busiest day and most interesting day of the week. It started with a meeting in town with a gentleman called Ronnie who actually heads up Inq Mobile for Europe from his London base. It was great to talk to a Brit who’s been in the sector for about the same amount of time as me. Ronnie, it was a pleasure.

After that I had a meeting with our advertising agency, El Laboratorio, one of the most creative I have ever known. The idea was to get as much information from them as possible on the creation and development of the Yoigo cartoon dolls they use in our advertising to do a PR pitch on the story. The dolls are actually hand-made out of paper to start off with a bit like Wallace and Gromit are made first with plasticine and they are an intrinsic part of our brand.
Some of the Yoigo cartoon dolls we use in advertising, they are an intrinsic part of the brand.
As I was in town I took the opportunity to have lunch with Oli and it was nice to have some quality time together. We talked about all sorts of things, including my own Mother, her Grandmother and after we parted I received a lovely message telling me she thought she had reached the stage of her youth when she began to love her parents again!!!!! Halleluya is all I can say.

On Friday Eladio took Oli to the airport as she was flying to Israel for 10 days with her school friend Begoña to see another school friend, Miad, of Iranian origin, who is working for the Bahai World Centre in Haifa. The messages we have received so far transmit a very happy Oli. Like me, like her Grandfather, travelling is obviously in her blood. I am dying to see some photographs.

Eladio and I are now definitely on for a trip to Israel and Jordan in September and we have been looking at maps to understand the local geography as well as local travel agents’ websites to see what’s on offer and what to visit. The more we think about it the more we want to go.

Our motive is purely cultural, not at all religious although we both have, of course Eladio much more than me, a very strong background in religion. Both my grandfathers were priests (one Anglican and the other Russian Orthodox), two of my mother’s sisters were Russian Orthodox nuns (Olga in Sophia Bulgaria and Dara in New York), I was baptised in the Russian Orthodox church, I went to a Catholic school, I went to an Anglican church during some of my teenage years and it is in this religion that I was confirmed. Religion was actually one of the A’ levels I studied and then I went and married a Catholic priest. I mean that is one hell of a religious background right? We, however, are not religious at all. So do I believe in God? That’s a big question and I don’t even know the answer myself.

The weekend has been quiet too, I have been reading my new books, doing domestic chores (not the ironing or the cleaning thank goodness as dear Zena, our Ukranian home help does that), such as cooking and going for walks with Norah.

The highlight of the weekend was dinner at Juana and Oscar’s yesterday. They were colleagues at Nokia and while I was there, went to live in Mexico where their two children, Santi and Patricia were born. They came back to Spain in the summer. Fátima and Julio were also invited and as it was a sort of housewarming dinner party, I bought them a kitchen gadget I have always found very useful, an electric knife. Their new flat is a true home that Juana has worked at with great love but also a lot of dexterity since they moved in. It’s lovely, one of the nicest things being the fire place, hence my nagging at Eladio to light fires in our home.
Juana and Julio at the dinner at Juana and Oscar's place last night.
On the international news front, stories from Haiti still hit the newspapers but this topic is no longer front page news. A few more people have been rescued which seems impossible after such a long time. The earth there still trembles and I read that there have been more than 50 quakes since the first one, although of a lesser scale. I have also read that 75% of the capital, Port au Prince needs to be rebuilt and awful stories of prisoners and mentally handicapped people wandering around the rubble. Imagine.

One piece of local news was not good for me this week; the proposal by the Spanish socialist government to prolong retirement to the age of 67. That would hit me badly. I worked it out today that I would have worked 42 years by then as I started work in 1982 aged 25. That’s a lot of years worked. I will be 53 next month, on the 8th of February and I cannot imagine myself going on for another 14 years. I hope the measure does not prosper but it might. Right now there are 4 million people unemployed in Spain which is nearly 20% of the population, one of the highest rates in Europe. It seems to me if older people go on working so long young people will have less of an opportunity of finding a job. It’s a sort of catch 22 situation. On the other hand retirement at 65 came into effect some 100 years ago when the life span was shorter and pensions were needed for fewer years than they are now. Maybe that has to be addressed so that there is enough money for us all when we retire.

And on that dismal note, I finish this week’s blog post. I hope you all have a great week.

Cheers till next week

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dreaming of travelling, more on Haiti, the end of La Señora, the Queen of suspense, and other news.

The final reconciliation of Angel and Victoria in the last episode of La Señora on Monday was thwarted by the script writers with their unexpected tragic ending.

Hello again and another week of January has passed. The year is starting slowly and the weather, grey and dull and rainy, certainly does not help raise ones energy level or morale. December was so busy compared and I am getting a little bored and looking forward to action.

Action, of course, comes from travelling, our favourite activity. The world map I ordered from arrived to replace the one Oli took to work. I also bought a new map of Europe and this is what one corner of our kitchen looks like; a sort of Geography class where we can dream of travelling by looking at all the possible destinations.
The maps on our wall in the kitchen with which we all travel in our dreams.
My trips coming up are to Barcelona on 14th February for the Mobile World Congress. The girls will be joining me which has now become a tradition. As soon as I get back I will be off to Brussels with Eladio for the reunion with Sandra and Adele, fellow students and house mates at Nottingham University. Then in March we have New York to look forward to. Oli, by the way, will be visiting the Holy Land next week with her ex school friend Begoña. They will be staying part of the time with Miad who they both went to school with and who now works in Haifa. We too will very possibly be visiting the Holy Land, though in September, a quiet month for me. We are definitely an itchy feet family, as my Father described my brother George when we were young. It’s quite obvious the girls have inherited them from me and their Grandfather.

Unfortunately poor Grandpa, my dear Father, can only dream of travelling at the moment as now his feet won’t let him. Recently they have been giving him problems and his mobility is rather hampered. We suspect the operation on his toe may not have been a complete success and the joint that was supposed to have been cured seems not to be. He frightened us this last week when one morning he was not in the kitchen early as is his custom. Of course that got me extremely worried so when I knocked on his door I was relieved to see him sitting in his chair. But he couldn’t get up and spent that day in his room and we feared a rapid decline in his well being. Slowly though he is moving again and right now I can hear German military marching music coming from his room, a sure sign he is feeling better physically and mentally. We will, however, make an appointment to see a specialist. It’s easy to say “what can you expect at the age of nearly 91?” but he has always been healthy and walking is a way of life for him. He has always been a great traveller and it is my hope he will get better soon and we will include him in our plans for travelling somewhere he likes this year as we do every year.

Where we will not be going is to Haiti I’m afraid. The situation after 13 days is only just beginning to stabilise but aid took too long to get through. Right now the US forces have more or less taken over the running of the country if that’s what you can call it. Latest estimates are that over 100.000 people have died. Hiati was further hit this last week as another earthquake (6.0) caused more destruction. On the bright side they are still rescuing people from under the rubble. So far 132 people have been rescued and every day there is a story of another miracle. I can’t understand how they could have survived and the newspapers do not explain. They must have had water nearby. This last week a 7 year old boy called Kiki became world famous as he stretched out his arms as if in victory but actually to be handed to his sobbing Mother, from the rubble he had laid under for 8 days. His smile is contagious and a smile of victory.
Kiki, the 7 year old boy who survived after 8 days under the rubble from the Haitian earthquake. He holds out his arms in victory or in joy to to be handed to his sobbing Mother. A true miracle.
Haiti, already one of the poorest countries in the world will have to be reconstructed. Funnily enough Olivia went yesterday to the Spanish International Tourism Fair (Fitur) and surprisingly came across a small stand promoting travel to Haiti. And promoting travel was the Haitian ambassador in Spain herself so Oli took the chance to interview Madame Yollete Azor-Charles, a charming lady and passionate about her country. This is the interview. It transpires that Madame Yollete, just hours before the earthquake, was in the middle of a meeting about how to improve buildings in Haiti to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes. She is now on a mission to convince the authorities that the country's capital, Port au Prince, should be reconstructed elsewhere. Let’s hope people’s enthusiasm and solidarity for the Haiti cause lasts long enough for that to happen. I am on your side Madame Yollete.
The Haitian ambassador in Madrid who Olivia interviewed at the Fitur exhibition on Saturday.
But maybe I should start at the beginning of the week if I want to reach the part in my headline about La Señora, or rather the end of La Señora as last Monday night was the last episode. La Señora for you people not living in Spain is Spain’s best drama series I have ever seen in all the years I have lived here. It is set in the north of Spain in Asturias and begins in 1920. Above all I love the scenes on the cliffs where most of the secret amorous encounters take place. One day I swear I will visit the place which I think is called Cuerres near Ribadasella in Asturias in the north of Spain. As I wrote before in my blog, it has all the the ingredients I love, romance, history, marvellous scenery and clothes of the era, superb characters and an impossible romance between the beautiful Señora (lady) Victoria and a working class boy, Angel who is forced into the priesthood to avoid any relationship with her.
The beautiful cliffs in Cuerres, Asturias, where Angel and Victoria always met. One day I will go there.
On the rebound she marries the Marqués (Gonzalo) who is the evil protagonist of the series but whose Achilles heel is his absolute love for her. Both Victoria and Angel suffer throughout the series and only in the last episode do they finally get together something all the spectators were hoping for. In the end it is discovered that the Marqués had killed her Father and that he was an imposter and even a bigamist. Angel finally leaves the church and with the coast clear he and Victoria had a future to live for. Unfortunately the script writers of the series spoiled it all by killing Victoria off to the wrath of most of the spectators including myself. On the website forum there is huge criticism of the ending, the main feeling being that we have to suffer enough in real life to have bear an ending like this. I totally agree. The funny thing is the series is going to continue (but not until the end of the year:-)) but I cannot imagine it without the beautiful, generous, independent, courageous and loving Victoria.
Why did La Señora have to die? The scene where Angel carries Victoria, already dead, and her family and servants come running to her.
You can see more photos from the last episode here.

Monday with the tragic end of La Señora was a wash out. Tuesday brought with it the annual Nokia Spain press lunch. As you know I worked for Nokia for 6 years in Spain and was their Corporate Communications Manager. I left in very unfair circumstances, something which hit me hard at the time and has left a wound which will probably never really cure, although the job I have today is even better. I get invited because I am a mobile phone operator communications manager. I was attending for the 4th time and went with mixed feelings as I do every year. It took place at a rather dismal location called Teatro Quinto on the outskirts of Madrid and was a simple affair, very different to the unique events I used to create for the media in Nokia.

Work wise the week was quiet, too quiet really and I have spent more time than necessary working on closing my PR report for Yoigo for 2009. I would far rather already be working on my 2010 plan. Thus I had time to go the dentist twice. I probably wrote that on the night of the snow and on our way to Julio’s dinner, my crown fell out. Tuesday was my 3rd visit, this time to measure my teeth for a new crown (hate that part as it always makes me feel sick) but it was aborted as I was made to wait more than an hour. Thus I went back on Friday and thankfully the measurement part is now over. I think I have 2 more visits which all seems a lot for just one tooth. I also had time to go to the hairdresser, something most women love but which I hate, nearly as much as the dentist. However it was time to hide the roots (oh yes when you are in your 40's onwards you have roots in your hair which is the grey or white area you have to dye every now and again unless you don’t mind showing yourself to the world with your natural greying hair. I do not). So why do I hate it you might ask? Basically because I find it a waste of time, one of those tasks you have to do, like filling the car tank but which I don’t particularly enjoy. Plus I don’t really like anyone else touching my hair. Hopefully the hairdo will now last me a couple of months. What I have retained is the cut; short at the back and longer at the front.

Friday was my most active day. I met my friend Elena for churros (very fattening sort of delicious fritter cum donut). It was my up day so shouldn’t have mattered however lately I am not losing as much weight as I should. I know that’s because I ‘m eating too much on both the up days and down days. That will have to stop. Elena needed some cheering up in her job hunting but it’s not easy. I wish her lots of luck but mostly a positive attitude and a will to enjoy her time despite not having a job. But that’s easier said than done.

On Friday too I had a girly lunch with Suzy and Oli and we went to Ars Vivendi in nearby Majadahonda. It’s a nice cosy little place with excellent Italian food. Friday was certainly a day for food as in the evening Eladio and I went out for dinner too. We went to Mood where we spent the last of this month’s restaurant vouchers that are a job perk. We got back home in town to see the second half of film we have watched over and over again through the years called “Los Santos Inocentes” - (the holy innocents) about rural Spain in the 70’s and the domination of the landed gentry over the peasants who worked for them. It is a masterpiece directed by Mario Camus and based on the book with the same name by one of Spain’s best living writers, Miguel Delibes.
Los Santos Inocentes, one of my all time favourite Spanish films.
This week was also the week I discovered a new writer and now want to read anything by her I can get my hands on. A chance remark from a friend in Facebook about a book called “Daddy’s little girl” by Mary Higgins Clark had me order it on As I read it and praised the author in my Facebook status another friend commented, “ah yes, the Queen of suspense”. And indeed she is. Her books are basic “who dunnits” but superbly written and keep you hooked from the first page to the last and are thus hugely entertaining. Since then I have ordered more and the other day read my second book by her called “Where are the children” which I highly recommend. I am now well into my third called “A stranger is watching you”. And because I have become hooked on her books, this very morning I ordered another 4 or 5. It's not exactly high brow but I am like my Mother and can enjoy both.

And now I must leave you to carry on reading “A stranger is watching you” and enjoy the rest of this Sunday which is fast coming to an end.

I hope you all have a great week. Me too, I very much hope.

Till next time

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The week Haiti was devastated by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, a personal implication and other news.

A ray of hope in the midst of the catastrophe, 2 year old Redjeson Hausteen Claude being lifted out of the rubble by the Spanish fireman and rescuer Felix del Amo on his first mission abroad.
Hello again,

My blog last week was all about the snow, but whilst we were enjoying it on Monday, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake almost devastated the impoverished and poorest country in the American continent, the small French speaking nation of Haiti located together with the Dominican Republic on what is known as the “Spanish Island” in the Caribbean. Haiti has suddenly become the country the whole worlds’ eyes are on as happens only when countries like this suffer natural catastrophes. The United Nations has already said it is the worst tragedy they have ever had to face. The UN itself, or rather the MINUSTAH (the UN Mission for stabilisation in Haiti) lost many members of its mission when its own building was also destroyed.
The building of the UN mission in Haiti which was totally destroyed by the earthquake last Monday.
It is difficult to calculate the destruction and the exact death toll in a country whose population can only be guessed at (some 10 million) as there are no registers for the living or the dead. Statistics of the dead fluctuate between 40.000 and 150.000 and buildings destroyed appear to be one in every three. In a country which has a history of natural disasters and where over 70% live below the poverty line with less than 2 euros per day, Monday’s earthquake seems especially unfair.

Aid is taking its time to help the desperate and sometimes violent population as there is a total lack of coordination and a scarcity of petrol to transport the aid and chaos reigns at the airport of Port au Prince, Haiti’s capital and the border with the Dominican Republic.

And here I am writing this Sunday afternoon 5 days after the quake and feeling totally involved. You will ask why. For more than one reason is the answer. Of course events like this, and I specially remember the Tsunami on Boxing Day in 2004, always have an impact on me. But when we remembered that Carolina, our neighbour of many years at our last house, was living in Haiti, we suddenly felt involved. Carolina works in Haiti for the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and is married to Luis Eduardo, a Venezuelan, who works for the UN Mission there too. They have 2 little girls called Carlota and Ximena aged 3 and 1 year old.
Luis Eduardo holding Carlota and Carolina holding Ximena just as they stepped off the Spanish repatriation flight from Haiti. They were lucky to survive the earthquake.
We were very happy to hear they had survived and when Olivia who, as you know, works for heard this, she immediately got in touch with the family to cover their story. Carolina’s parents Dulcinea and Eduardo and their son and daughter Eduardo and Graciela collaborated from the start and Olivia even went with them to meet Carolina and her family off the repatriation flight organised by the Spanish Government yesterday, a very emotional moment. Tears come to my eyes just by looking at the photos and my heart goes out to Dulcinea and Eduardo who have literally gone through hell as they did not get news of their daughter and family’s survival for 48 hours. Finally she was able to send them a text message which said: “we are all ok, terrible catastrophe, kisses”. Imagine!
Carolina reunited with her family. The joy and emotion on the faces of Carolina and her Father Eduardo are so vivid as is the relief on the face of Dulcinea, Carolinas Mother as she holds her grandchild tight as they all came off the plane which repatriated them from Haiti. This family were our neighbours for nearly 20 years in our last house. Our hearts go out to them and we are so relieved that Carolina, her husband Luis Eduardo and little girls Carlota and Ximena survived the catastrophe.

You can read the article Oli wrote here (in Spanish). In short Luis Eduardo was lucky to survive as in the moment of the earthquake he was not in the UN building but of course lost many of his colleagues. Carolina was at work when it happened and miraculously was able to get out unscathed physically but emotionally very shocked. Their little girls too survived although Ximena has refused to eat since.

Luis Eduardo who appeared yesterday on Informe Semanal (the top Spanish news programme of the week) together with some of Carolina’s colleagues as she was in no state to take part, told viewers he flew to Spain to bring back his wife and children but that within a week he would be returning to Haiti as “there is a lot of work to be done”. A very special man transcends here. Oli also organised their appearance on the programme and has been totally involved in their story and in this infernal disaster.

For my part I have contributed just a bit by communicating and coordinating with the Spanish Red Cross my company Yoigo’s efforts to do our bit. The first measure taken was to offer free calls for all our customers to any number in Haiti. Of course we are aware that most lines will probably be down so we took another step by setting up an SMS premium number for our customers to send messages. If they send the letters CR to the number 5280 we will donate the cost of every message (1.04 euros incl VAT) to the Spanish Red Cross for aid in Haiti. In fact I have spent the better part of this weekend on this project and feel happy to have done so. As it’s the weekend I have only been able to post this on Facebook and Twitter but tomorrow Monday we will publish it further.

There have, however, been a few rays of sunshine in this disaster. After the 72 hour mark it is very difficult for anyone to survive under the rubble without water. One case, the rescue of the 2 year old boy, Redjeson Hausteen Claude, made the headlines round the world with the photo of the Spanish fireman Félix del Amo, on his first mission abroad, lifting him out to hand him over to his Mother. The face of the little boy tells more than a thousand words and I bet Félix del Amo will keep this moment forever in his heart. Félix, I would have done anything to be you at that moment. I take my hat off to you and the other rescuers. This is the picture that illustrates my blog this week and I chose it because I would prefer to have this image in my retina to remember the Haitian disaster than any other and there are many horrific ones.
A miracle and ray of hope in the Haitain disaster - the 2 year old boy, Redjeson Hausteen Claude, being handed to his Mother just after being rescued by the Spanish fireman Félix del Amo and his colleagues.
Andrea Loi, a Chilean worker for the UN in Haiti, was not so lucky. Andrea was a friend of a friend of mine, Paola and we have been thinking about her all week. As I write now I heard her body has just been found. She must have been a colleague of Luis Eduardo. How terrible.

Writing anything after this seems banal. But actually there are 2 pieces of news this week that also had an emotional impact on me and they are to do with the 2nd world war, a topic which forever fascinates me as I think you already know and they are certainly not banal.

Miep Gies did not live to hear about the earthquake as she died aged 100 on the same day, last Monday 12th January. You probably know she was Otto Frank’s secretary and the person who kept the Frank family and friends fed and cared for during their terrible time in hiding in Amsterdam. Miep Gies, a wonderful woman, was actually the person to pick up Anna Frank’s diary when they were caught and she gave it to Anna’s Father after she died. Miep Gies wrote her own memoirs in a book called Anne Frank Remembered which is well worth reading. Published in 1947, the Diary of Anne Frank became the best-selling non-fiction book in the world for reasons we can all understand. I mourn Miep Gies’ death of course as I have always admired her courage.
Miep Gies, the Dutch lady who cared for the Franks and their friends during their hide away during the 2nd world war, and who became the guardian of Anne Franks diary died on Monday 12th January, the same day as the Haitian earthquake, aged 100.

Another survivor of the Nazis and there are not many left, was Helen Lewis, who died just 3 days after Miep Gies on 15th January aged 93.
Helen Lewis, the dancer whose talent delivered her from almost certain death at a Nazi concentration camp died last week aged 93.

I read Helen’s amazing story in her book called “A time to speak” which I also highly recommend.
She was a dancer whose talent actually delivered her from almost certain death at Auschwitz. May she rest in peace and I say that from the bottom of my heart.

Now it’s time for a piece of good news in this blog post, something to cheer it up. So what better than a sports victory? You probably know I am sports’ enthusiast too so was very happy to hear that the bi world car rally champion, Carlos Sainz, has just won the Dakar Race and is the first Spaniard to do so. That is a great feat and another great sports victory for Spain. I’m happy for him and for this country of course.
The Spanish hero, Carlos Sainz, the first Spaniard to win the Dakar car race.
This week which for me has been dominated by the Haitian disaster otherwise went past in quite a routine way. I lost a crown in my mouth so will now be visiting the dentist to complete treatment for a new one. I ordered some more Emma Bridgewater pottery to increase my ever growing collection. Here you can see a couple of photos of what it looks like now. Actually I broke one of the mugs I just received and promptly ordered more. I am getting addicted. As a lot of EB fans say, “there is nothing nicer to eat off” and in part I agree.

My Emma Bridgewater collection as it looks now after the arrival of my new order. Lovely to eat off.
So what else did I do this week? I went into the office for a couple of meetings and work wise the beginning of this year seems to be a bit slow. I had lunch with my Events Agency team, Quinta Esencia at a new place in town called Castellana DF, thanks Bea, Cris, Gloria and Nuria. I also had lunch with my Press Tracking agency (thanks Víctor and Pedro) at one of my favourites near home, in Boadilla, called El Convento and with Suzy at El Buey. And yesterday Eladio and I had a nice quiet dinner at La Vaca Argentina. So, yeah, a lot of eating; ah but I’ve been careful and kept to my Up and Down diet which is working slowly but surely.

Finally and on another gastronomic note, I received this month's wine from my wine Club. I belong to Spain’s biggest one which is called Vino Selección and the wine I got this week is lovely. It’s called Idrias and is from the Somontano region, great. Every month there is a different collection of wine to order if you want.

And that is it for this week. Let’s hope that from now till next Sunday aid begins to get through and Haiti starts to emerge slowly from the worst catastrophe it has ever experienced and which has made such an emotional impact on me.

Until next week

Monday, January 11, 2010

Diana was born, Kings’ day, a lot of snow and an adventurous dinner at Julio’s.

Our walk in the snow this morning, what a joy.

Hi again

As I begin to write my weekly post this Sunday afternoon in January it is snowing quite heavily outside. We are having a very cold spell with extremely low temperatures for Spain all over the country (-15ºc in Burgos for example) and it was even snowing today in Seville, something nearly unheard of. The cold spell has affected most of Europe and I know for one of people snow bound in the UK this last week where chaos reigned with cancelled flights and closed schools.
A great satellite photo of Great Britain snowed under, or as the Daily Telegraph wrote one day: Great Britain in a deep freeze.
Who will not have noticed the snow will be my newest grand niece, Diana. Diana was born on Monday 4th January to Ana, the wife of Roberto, the son of Adela who is Eladio’s sister. She came into this cold world at the beginning of a new decade in a peaceful and uncomplicated way. Her parents are delighted with her as is everybody around her.
Baby Diana born last Monday 4th Jan.
We sent the proud new parents a gift for the new born baby in the form of a baby hamper, my favourite present for babies from a website called Don Faldón. I judge that very subjectively as I know I would have loved to receive something like that when my girls were born, much more than flowers and plants that only die in the end.
Proud parents, Roberto and Ana, with their newly born baby girl Diana posing by the baby hamper we had sent them to celebrate her birth.
My girls, together with Gaby, Suzy’s boyfriend, are actually on their way back from León from visiting Diana and the family this weekend (see their photos here). In fact they should be walking in the door any minute.

The girl cousins around Ana and Diana this weekend.
And they did walk in and it was snowing and time for our walk and so we braved the weather as you can see here.
Eladio and Norah ready for our walk yesterday just as the snow began.
Very soon everything was covered and cars were having difficulties going up the road and Eladio was threatening not to go out tonight to Julio’s annual dinner (more about that later). I loved the silence the snow brought and the crunchy noise you hear as you step on fresh new powdery snow. It was like that in the fields and we were the only ones on the walk. You had to be careful not to step on puddles which had snow on them as the ice was brittle.

Now I am back and writing again before we leave (or try to leave) for Julio’s annual dinner, something we always look forward to. Let me start before though at the beginning of the week.

On Monday, the day Diana was born, I went into the office mainly because my remote corporate email vpn had expired. It was nice to see colleagues and gauge the atmosphere at work. That day I also went shopping with Suzy and ended up buying 2 coats (pink and and black and white) in the sales which were oh so cheap I went back for another one the next day (white).

On Tuesday, my up day (oh yes I’m still doing up and down days, hahaha) we went out to dinner with Roberto and MariCarmen, to celebrate MariCarmen’s birthday to De Brasa y Puchero in Boadilla.

Wednesday was the 3 Kings’ day (Epiphany) and officially the last day of Christmas in Spain (see previous years' entries on the subject here). Most Spaniards give their presents on that day and the 5th of January, the night before is the biggest sales day of the year. It certainly was in the case of Yoigo where we made record sales. Of course we celebrate Father Christmas so none of us were expecting very much that day. As it turned out, the Kings had left presents for us at Gaby’s house (Suzy’s boyfriend) and at José Antonio and Dolores house too for which we were very grateful.

The day began with breakfast all together where we ate the traditional roscón which you can see here. We bought 2, one with cream for lunch and one for breakfast without cream which we always toast. We got them from a superb bakery called Viena Capellanes thanks to vouchers we get at work. So thanks once again Yoigo for feeding the family, hahaha.
The typical "roscón" cake which is eaten by the ton in Spain on the 3 Kings' day.
As is tradition in this house on the Kings’ day, Eladio’s brother, José Antonio and his family are always invited for lunch. This year we had the pleasure of the company of José Antonio, Dolores and Juan as you can see here in the photo of them round the lunch table. We had a very English meal actually, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings.
The traditional 3 Kings' day family dinner with José Antonio, Dolores and Juan.
The next day, Thursday, the weather was infernal and bad enough to thwart our daily walk. We did, however, brave it to go shopping as we had to get a few more presents to give out at Julio’s dinner.

On Friday morning I did something terrible and forgot my date with Elena for coffee nearby. Thankfully she didn’t seem to mind that much and we have rescheduled it to the end of this month. Sorry Elena, how forgetful of me!!! I was making “cocido” for the family that morning and was so immersed I never looked at my diary. Here by the way is the result.

My cocido - Cocido madrileño is a very Spanish dish from the Madrid area which consists of different sorts of meats and bones and chorizos with chickpeas, potatoes and vegetables. The stock is used to make a wonderful soup with noodles which is served as a first course. It is the speciality of this household by the way.
In the afternoon we went to the cinema, not before visiting Leroy Merlin to get Eladio’s Christmas toy from my Father, a badly needed leaf blower which you can see him using here and which is going to come very much in handy in our huge garden.

Eladio and his new toy, a leaf blower.
We went to see a Spanish film called Celda 211 (celda means a prison cell) and was about a prison mutiny. It was quite violent as I had predicted but had a fantastic plot. Afterwards we went, of course, to have dinner to our favourite restaurant, La Alpagatería, where we dined at our favourite table, number 7. I do like tradition, don’t I?

Friday, actually, was also the day Spain took over the European Union Presidency, a big day for Spain as you can read here.

On Saturday, when the girls had gone to León, we had visitors for afternoon tea. Suzy’s friend, Rocio’s parents, Esmeralda and Juan came to see us to get advice for their trip to India in March. We hadn’t seen them since the girls were at school and it was nice to catch up and chat about India for 2 or 3 hours. You will remember that is was with Rocío the girls visited India in October.

And that brings me to Sunday, now yesterday as I have broken off to write this blog post several times now. Sunday of course was the day of the snow and the annual dinner at Julio’s house with Fátima, our best friend who lives nearby and who worked with me both at Motorola and Nokia.

As I said at the beginning of the post, it had begun to snow and Eladio was worried about us driving to Madrid. However nothing was going to stop me or the girls cancelling the dinner. After all it is a once a year event and means a lot to us all. So we ventured out very cautiously and slowly. It took us 1.5h to get to Julio’s house but we made it!!! It was mainly thanks to our wonderful car, a Volvo XC90 which is not only a 4WD but has a magic “W” button which we reckon stands for “winter”. Suzy drove there and Oli drove back. You are great drivers girls!!!

Dinner as usual was fantastic, the food being provided by Julio and Fátima, including the traditional roscón with cream which we all adore. Credit also goes to Fátima’s mother for making 2 delicious tortillas. Thanks Gloria.
The annual dinner at Julio's this year, a bit of an adventure to get to but well worth the effort.
And this morning we woke up to the heaviest snow fall we have seen in the last 10 years and certainly the heaviest at our new house. The first thing I did of course was to rush outside with Norah and take photos to remember the day before it melted.

You can see the whole selection of the photos of the snow at our house and also of our walk in the snow with the girls and Norah here on Facebook.

The snow, however, did not melt and is still here. In fact we are trapped at home, the only way out being with the Volvo which actually Oli has just taken to go to work this afternoon. Eladio’s Open University classes have been cancelled this afternoon the same as all schools and Universities in the area. This is a big day for Spanish weather, quite extraordinary.

It was so extraordinary, the four of us decided to go for a walk in the snow with Norah which turned out to be pure magic as you can see in the photo illustrating this post and in the photos in the link above as well as this video I have uploaded to You Tube. and in another one where Eladio and Suzy have a snow fight, haha. Good watching!

And on that magical note, I leave you until next week.

Hope you all have a great one. Cheers till then

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Happy New Year, the family is growing and love at first sight.

Me and my wonderful husband on New Year's Eve this year.
Hi again, my first post of the New Year. I have just realised that I have more than 30.000 readers, that’s a lot of readers for a private blog and I wish them all a very happy new year. 2009 was a wonderful year for me and hopefully 2010 will be just as good. I would not dare to ask for better. For starters Eladio and I will be going to Brussels in February for a reunion with my Nottingham University friends, Sandra and Adele and then in March there is our much awaited trip to New York to look forward to. Hopefully there we will meet up there with my cousin André, our long lost friends Rosa and Angel and of course Javier and Ana. Yeah it’s gonna be good as the Americans say:-)

What was also good was the run up to the New Year. The week after Christmas was quiet and we spent our time looking after Eladio’s Mother who tends to need a lot more company than my very independent Father. To fill her time we gave her knitting to do and she knitted us all woolly socks and a scarf for Suzy. We also took her out, with my Father of course. Once we went to Zielo, the new shopping centre in Pozuelo which she loved. We all spent money here, at the bookshop (a gold mine in cheap English books), at the perfume shop (yes, “Lola” by Marc Jacobs for Fátima for Christmas) and also at the superb super market, Sánchez Romero.
Lola by Marc Jacobs, my favourite perfume at the moment.
Soon her stay with us came to an end and on Saturday 31st we set off, just the 3 of us to León for New Year’s Eve and of course to take Eladio’s Mother home. Olivia had to work and Suzy stayed behind probably out of solidarity, I don’t know. It was the perfect excuse for my 90 year old Father to stay behind too as I think late night rowdy and multitudinous dinners are something that tire him out. They tire us out too as you will hear later.

It rained all the way, as it had done all week but of course that didn’t deter us from stopping at the Palacio de Bornos in Rueda for a coffee and, of course, a plate of delicious ham. Unfortunately I couldn’t have the lovely Rueda white wine owing to a stubborn headache. From Rueda we drove straight to León and to Pili and Andres’ house where we to have lunch. We were greeted outside by Andrés and Mario and their adorable dalmation puppy, Trebol and it was love at first sight. Trebol has brought much joy to the family and seems to have united them even more. They are all in love with it and treat it as a new born baby and as a new member of the family. I don’t think they can envisage life without Trebol and I can quite understand.
Me and Trebol, love at first sight.
The afternoon was spent at Eladio’s other sister, Adela’s house where his Mother lives. However before we left (it’s only across the road), I helped Andrés create a Facebook profile which I hope he will be using regularly. One by one we all arrived at Adela’s to be together but also to celebrate her son Roberto’s 38th birthday. Roberto is the oldest of the nieces and nephews and is fact about to be a Father. Here is a picture of Ana, his wife, on 31st December very much pregnant as she was actually due yesterday. We are waiting for news of the birth of their daughter Diana which will make the whole family very happy.
Ana, Roberto'w wife, due to deliver Diana any day now.
Alvaro, Alejandro’s son also came to visit with his “wife” Bea and their adorable one year old Liam who had us all, the women at least, enchanted as you can see in the photo. Bea is also pregnant and expecting a little girl in February so the family is really growing. Here, by the way, is a video I took to capture Liam's visit.
All the women in the family crowded round Liam the first great grand child
The afternoon ended and we all left to get ready for the dinner but before some of us went on a quick walk to work up an appetite and get rid of the lethargy created by sitting down all afternoon in a crowded atmosphere.

Dinner was to take place at Amancio, somewhere we have been many times over the years. The food is great but maybe the place itself could do with some renovation.
The outside of the Amancio restaurant in León where we had dinner on New Year's Eve, nothing special but the food is superb
This year we were only 19 people. Marta and Fernando, Suzy and Oli and Alvaro were missing and Roberto and Ana too, although they came for coffee afterwards. As usual I contributed to the celebration with lots of funny hats I had acquired at the Christmas market in the Plaza Mayor and with crackers as well as a raffle at the end of the dinner of all sorts of bits and bobs I had accumulated over the year, well in fact over 2 years as last year we were in India. This all seemed to be much appreciated as I was given a standing ovation at the end of the dinner.
The family at the New Year's Eve dinner this year.
Of course after dinner the younger generation went off for more celebrations and we “oldies” went back to Pili and Andres’ place where most of us sunk into the sofas and sat watching the stupid programmes on the TV that seem to saturate all stations at this time of year. We didn’t get to bed till past 3. Very kindly Pili and Andrés had lent us their bedroom so we should have got a good night’s sleep. In the end I woke up feeling like something the cat had brought in (and I had hardly drunk the night before I promise) and Eladio had symptoms of the beginning of a cold. We both spent most of the day feeling awful and the journey back was difficult for us both. I think the older you get the worse for wear you feel when you do not respect your normal routine.

We were very well hosted and Andrés took me out for a coffee to the superb cafeteria they have beneath their flat, Flecha and where we bought some cakes for my Father who always says that’s where the best cakes are made in Spain. Andrés also took me for a long walk along the river Bernesga near their house whilst Eladio watched the Vienna New Year Concert which, of course, my Father was also watching at home.

Pili put on a splendid lunch again and we were 13 round the table on New Year’s Day. Adela contributed with some lovely local fare called “botillo” which is known as “llosco” in Montrondo. We were all so full. I have been trying to do my “up and down” diet despite the Christmas period and it has proven tough. It will be much easier when all the eating is over.

It’s nice to be home again. Christmas is nearly over but not quite as Wednesday 6th January is Kings’ day and we will be having another special meal. We will be joined by José Antonio and Dolores making it even more special.

And as I come to the end of this first blog post of the year, I must send birthday greetings to our friend Mari Carmen whose birthday it is today. We will be celebrating with her and her husband Roberto on Tuesday at yet another dinner.
Meanwhile have a great week and a fantastic year 2010.

PS you can see the rest of the New Year's Eve photos in León here on Facebook.