Friday, March 26, 2010

The days before our trip, the joys of flying in 2010 and the obstacle race to get on board our flight destination JFK.

Eladio and I happy on the plane to New York despite our troubles at Madrid Barajas airport.

Here I am midweek writing my blog. I’m not at home this time, but on board the AA Iberia run flight 6523 destination New York (some 5.700 km and 8 hours to go) as you can see in the picture illustrating this post. I want to recap and continue where I left off last Sunday so that I can start with a clean slate when I report live from the big apple. How exciting!

The week has been short and mostly taken up with preparations for our big trip, the biggest since India in December 2008. I did however get some work in and went in a few times, once for a cancelled meeting and once for a planning meeting for our up and coming Yoigo employee and partner summer party which could well be in Ibiza, Europe’s clubbing capital. Wednesday saw me at an extremely boring sector annual conference organised by the APD. At least there were some familiar faces (e.g. my best Nokia Siemens friend and ex colleague, Julio Navío) and it was a chance to be with the telecoms media, bless them. As usual the Yoigo presentation was the most popular because of the bits of spice put in it by my transgressor boss who always gets away with murder and whilst bearing a Cheshire cat smile on his face. Bless him too.

One of the nicest moments of the week was unexpectedly receiving a giant chocolate Easter egg from my events agency QuintaEsencia. Thanks girls. It looks too good to eat as you will agree from the photo below but it might well serve as our Easter day egg to be eaten when Adele and Bernard come to stay with us.
The lovely chocolate Easter egg I received out of the blue this week from the girls at QuintaEsencia.
For the moment it has joined my sweet corner on my Grandparents’ “toy boy” (an old fashioned word for chest of drawers and what we have always called that particular piece of furniture in our family) on the landing.
Our sweet corner on the "tall boy" at home.
We were to be leaving the family for over a week, so dinner out with the girls was very much in order on Wednesday night. We took them to Lisboa Antiga in Majadahonda, the same place we went to with Roberto and Maricarmen last Friday. We repeated the salmorejo (sort of thick gazpacho) and bacalhau a`braz (egg, cod and potato scrambled egg is the best translation I can think of) washed down again with vinho verde, that delicious sparkling and fresh white Portuguese wine. Ah and the chocolate mousse desert is out of this world. It was good to have some quality time with “the girls” as they are known at home, specially by my Father. Oli, unfortunately was a little unwell with faringitis. I suspect her non-stop travels from Isreal to Sicily to Portugal together and last weekend’s excursion to Chinchon with a big group of friends and another weekend of intensive smoking and drinking will have had a lot do with it. Well she’s young and will get over it.
My father, of course, is another story. We don’t like leaving him behind, especially after his fall last week. I am very grateful to my friend Elena who yesterday brought us the perfect alarm system for him and which is now up and working. Suzy will take care of him, I know and next week whilst we are still in the US and the girls go to Santa Pola, Zena, our Ukranian cleaning lady will come and sleep at home for the first time. Luckily too he will have the BBC for company as finally the aerial company have got the satellite tv to work or at least I hope they have.

But mostly this short week was taken up with preparations for our big trip to New York, the so called money capital of the world where opulence is the norm whilst our last big trip was to the far less developed country of India. Believe it or not I have never been to New York. I have been to Chicago several times and once to Arizona when I worked with Motorola. I have also been to Los Angeles (thanks to Nokia) but have never made it to the Big Apple, unless you count a few hours at JFK airport on my way back from Mexico City in the late 70’s. The time spent at JFK deserves a chapter in my promised book as it was where I met one of my Mother’s sisters, Dara who was a nun in New York for the first and last time in my life. I witnessed that day the meeting of the two sisters who hadn’t seen each other since the end of the second world war. They parted as young girls and met again as old ladies. There were no mobile phones, email or Facebook in those days and travelling was much more expensive. So yes New York has been on my agenda ever since. I booked the trip in November and finally the time to travel came and we are on our way.

I had asked my friends on Facebook to send me recommendations and wow did I get a huge response. I have copied and pasted all the names and places they recommend and put them together in a word document which starts with 3 pages from Juana who I think is in love with the city. I know I’m going to love it and this may well be the first of many visits. So thanks guys and girls for your response. I will take up as many as I can but only have 7 days so no way will I be able to fit them all in so leave the rest for next time. Our expectations are high and we will be seeing for the first time names that sound so familiar; the Empire State Building, the Rockerfeller Centre, Central Park, Broadway, 5th Avenue, Brooklyn, the Hudson River, Macy’s and Blooomingdales department stores although I gather the stores to shop have new names now such as Abercrombie and Fitch. Of course we shall visit the MOMA and the Metropolitan and if there is time the Guggenheim. I have been told I will shop until I drop (that is if Eladio lets me) and that we shall also walk until we drop but can hail yellow cabs (yes the ones you see in the films) that are not expensive. The walks apparently will be to visit Soho and Noho and the meatpacking district and Greenwich village and Tribeca and Chelsea which all sound so English but must be different. So yes expectations are high but I would also love to see the Bronx and even the no go areas as I did once in Chicago. We’ll see if that’s possible.

So yesterday was spent on last minute preparations including trying to print our boarding cards which turned out to be mission impossible even for the help line of I had the whole morning today to pack and remember all the little things such as umbrellas, a book, phone,. pc, iPhone and camera chargers (oh why aren’t they universal). I had a message from my friend Javier García (the one who works for Telefónica in New York and whom we visited in the summer at their village in Salamanca) to say they would meet us off the plane which is soooooo nice and something I am very unused to. My cousin Andre won’t be in New York in the end and Hopefully we will be seeing Angel and Rosa (my friends and neighbours from our beginnings in Spain who went to live there in the early 80) which will be great as there is so much to catch up on. Dying to see you guys.

Suzy drove us with plenty of time and we arrived at 14.30 to catch the 17.00 flight and were looking forward to lunch at the airport and some nice duty free shopping (my favourite).. However none of that was to be and we had problems until we finally got on board this plane. For some mysterious reason the check in desk were unable to check in Eladio due some mix up in their system I think. We were then told he couldn’t fly as his passport was the old fashioned type and would require a stamped visa by the US Embassy. The next piece of news was that yes it was suitable but the number of his passport on the new Visa Waiver US travel authorisation (ESTA) should have been his Spanish ID number and not his passport. This is rubbish as each document has a different number. Somehow they sorted that out but we were then told we probably would not be able to travel due to overbooking. I couldn’t quite believe the incompetence and Kafka experience we were experiencing and which had no proper explanation. I was nearly in tears and time was passing and I imagined ourselves grounded, not a very nice thought. Then suddenly we were told we were to fly but would have separate seats. I had booked these tickets in November and could not believe we were to be subject to such treatment and the possibility of not flying.

Finally with our boarding passes in our hands, no food in our stomachs and feeling as if we had passed some sort of examination and should be grateful for being allowed to fly, we made our way to security to get through our next obstacle and here the queues were gigantic. The joys of flying were certainly over after 11th September and with the increasing security measures which have people queuing up, taking most of their belongings off and feeling like criminals suspects. If you go through the x-ray and there is no beep you feel relieved. If it does beep your heart too begins to beep and the whole process is most disagreeable.

We then had to hurry to the furthest part of the airport (Gate U) which takes 22 minutes by train. Here w went through what turned out to be the first passport control. Once through that we had to run to reach our gate and catch our plane.. Our obstacle race however didn’t finish there. There was another passport control (understandable as were flying to the US?) and there the emigration staff divided us into 2 groups, those with a green stamp on their boarding card could proceed to the plane. Those without the green stamp had to go through yet another security check which to me looked like a check over at a police station but for all to see. Luckily we had a green stamp and didn’t have to go through this humiliating procedure.

Certainly flying today is not what it used to be.. Luckily on board we were able to change seats and are now sitting together and happily looking forward to our trip, but not I stress to immigration in New York. The nicest thing is that our friends Javier and Ana will be there to meet us.

But more about that in my next post which I will hopefully be writing from our hotel, Park Central New York Hotel in midtown Manhattan.

Till then
An important PS is to welcome Noa into the world, Noa, the daughter of Alvaro and granddaughter of Eladio’s brother Alejandro was born this week in León. Welcome Noa to the family.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring is here, more success for Spanish sport, people in our lives, my regional tour continues, preparations for New York and a dreadful mistake.

The first spring flowers in our garden this year, just this small bunch of daffodils, one of my favourite flowers.
Hi again,

The week has been hectic and full and I concentrated most of my energy on trips to Palma de Mallorca and Seville as part of the regional tour started last week in Valencia. The objective was to show a face at the Yoigo shop training courses and to meet the local press and tell them the Yoigo story with a local slant. But more about that later.

The good thing about this weekend is that spring is finally with us. Temperatures are going up and there is blossom and just a few spring flowers in our garden such as the lovely daffodils illustrating this week’s missal. Hopefully the cold will go away soon but I’m not sure about the rain as it is still with us even as I write now.

I left off in my last blog post when the girls arrived from Lisbon. From what little I have heard they had a whale of a time. I mean what 7 close friends of their age wouldn’t? There have been outrageous comments and photographs in Facebook on some of the activities and I prefer not to ask what went on. Here though is one of the more serious ones of my two girls together.
Oli and Suzy in Lisbon recently.
The day they arrived home, last Sunday, was another good day in the history of Spanish sport. Spain is becoming an important sporting power with wins in many disciplines. Fernando Alonso, the two times world champion of Formula 1, won the first race of the season in Bahrein, driving for Ferrari and thus set hopes high for winning this season’s championship after a three year dry run.
Fernado Alonso who won the first Formula 1 race of the season in Bahrein last week for his new team Ferrari.
The other Spaniard to bring success to sport on Sunday was the cyclist and two times winner of the Tour de France, Alberto Contador, who won the prestigious Paris Nice race in an all Spanish podium. It was his second win there, the last time being in 2007. I wonder if that is a prelude to him winning his third Tour de France this summer. Cross your fingers. I will.
A happy Alex Contador, the rider from Pinto in Madrid who won this year's Paris Nice cycling race.
There have been plenty of people in our lives this week. A neighbour, a young girl called Sandra, has been coming round to have chats in English with Suzy in preparation for an oral exam which I hope went well. It was good to meet a new neighbour as we hardly know anyone in our neighbourhood (urbanización in Spanish which has no proper translation).

Gloria, Fátima’s beloved niece, reappeared, in my life at least, after many years. I haven’t seen her since she was a child and then Fátima sent me a video of her in a TV programme about foreigners in Warsaw of all places and she has turned into a beautiful young woman. She is on an Erasmus scholarship there. I immediately added her as my friend on Facebook of course and it seems she is having a wild time in Poland. The next stage of her Erasmus is in Seattle. Aren’t University students lucky these days?

I also spent time with Elena, my out of work neighbour, with whom I enjoyed a coffee with “churros” (very fattening, sort of fritters which are delicious) over a nice long chat yesterday at a cafe down the road.

Tony Llompart also reappeared in my life after many years in Palma this week. He was a successful distributor in my years in Motorola and I saw him last at a cycling race there called The Challenge of Mallorca in the late 90’s. I will never forget how one whole Spanish cycling team bought phones with a discount from his company including the likes of Alex Zulle thanks to me. Amazingly today Tony has 8 Yoigo shops in the Balearic Islands and apparently many other businesses both there and abroad, including hotels in Latin America. He has done very well for himself.
Alex Zulle the Swiss rider who was in the ONCE cycling team.
This now brings me to my trip on Tuesday to Palma, the capital of Mallorca which is the biggest island in the archipelago called the Balearic Islands. I got up at 06.30 (heavens!) to catch the 09.45 hour long flight with my boss. We were to have a press meeting by the port, on the Paseo Marítimo at a great café called Cappuccino (not very original right?). The day was sunny and being by the sea just didn’t seem the right combination for work. Only 2 journalists turned up which rather surprised me. But then it transpired there had been some political financial scandal regarding the embezzlement of public funding by the local government which was obviously of much more interest to the local press than anything we could tell them.

We were soon able to make our way three or four buildings down the road to the Hotel Bellver on the sea front where the Yoigo shop keeper training course was going on. The shops on the way looked very enticing, great colourful beach wraps and other local handicraft but I didn’t get a look in unfortunately. It was at the course where I met Tony Llompart and most of his staff. After our chat to the group and a question and answer session we had lunch with all the people and afterwards had a group photo taken. At lunch Tony and I spent the time reminiscing about the past in the telecoms sector in Spain and remembering some of the key people and events. It was great to see him again. He had remarried (he is my age approx) and his newly-wed, an extremely young and beautiful ballet dancer Cuban wife was at the course too. You did choose well Tony.
The group photo of the Palma de Mallorca Yoigo point of sale course last week. Tony Llompart is the guy in black on the far left. I think you can pick me out wearing pink I'm sure. Tony's new wife, the young Cuban girl, is on my right.
On our way home at the airport I of course bought what most travellers buy there, the famous “ensaimada”, a sweet pastry delicacy which is a must when visiting Mallorca. I bought 2 small boxes and we have been enjoying it at home for breakfast until today.
Ensaimadas from Mallorca, delicious local sweet pastry.
No sooner was I home in the late evening, than I was off again the next morning and this time up even earlier at 05.30 and on my way to the airport to catch the 08.45 to Seville for the last of my regional visits. Seville is one of my favourite cities in Spain. It embodies the quintessence of Spain and being Spanish, at least in the eyes of people from abroad and has a certain magic about it. Above all it is beautiful, the streets are lined with orange trees, it is usually sunny and warm and many of the buildings are works of historical art like the Giralda (the cathedral bell tower) La Maestranza (the oldest bull ring in Spain) or the famous Hotel Alfonso XIII where one day I would like to stay. The people have impossible accents where they eat half of every word. They are, however, extremely hospitable. So, yes, it was nice to go to Seville.

As I am very outgoing, when I am in the mood I chat to taxi drivers and try to talk about things relevant to the area I am in and in Seville there were 2 topics to mention. The first was the loss the night before of the Seville Football Club to the Moscow CSK team in the Champion League quarter final. So I gave my commiserations and was later astonished to bump into the actual Moscow coach, Leonid Slutsky at the EME Catedral Hotel where our media meeting was to take place. When I was told who he was I plucked up courage and said in haltering Russian; “well done” (ochen xorocho). I think he was most surprised.

The second topic was bull fighting. There is a move in Spain to possibly abolish it which, of course, in the south in Andalucía and specially Seville, is unthinkable as it is a way of life. So I tried out the thought on my Sevillian taxi driver. He snorted that it was impossible and there were more important things for the authorities to think about than abolishing this historical Spanish tradition. I, of course, said no more.

It took more than 40 minutes to reach our destination in the heart of the old town, driving through many narrow streets but we were well on time and so I took the opportunity to stretch my legs and enjoy the sunshine and take a few snaps of my surroundings before the media arrived. As we were right by the Giralda I was in a lucky place for photography. Here is the result which you can see in this photo album on Facebook.
Me by the Giralda (the famous Cathedral bell tower) in Seville this week.
Only two journalists came, once again, but we got quality with Clara from El Correo de Andalucia and Eli from El Diario de Sevilla. The interviews took place on the terrace of the EME hotel (great place by the way) which has superb views of the Giralda and the Seville skyline. It was a moment which made me realise how lucky I am to have the job I have.
Clara and Eli, the journalists who interviewed my boss this week in Seville.
From the EME hotel we made our way to the Yoigo shop training course at the NH Viapol hotel. There were 2 groups of 20 people from shops in the area including Extremadura. There were many young people and there was great enthusiasm within the groups. They were happy to meet us from the HQ and we were equally happy to meet the people who sell our products on the high street and to answer their questions, queries and doubts.
The group photo of the Yoigo point of sale course attendants this week in Seville.
When I eventually got home on Thursday night after 2 days of intensive travelling and meeting people and sticking to strict time schedules I flopped to bed with a pretty bad headache which remained with me throughout the next day. Before that though I went to see my Father who was already in his room to say goodnight and ask how his day had been and also tell him about mine. I was very sad to hear that that morning he had fallen in his room and was unable to let Eladio know. When he didn’t go down to breakfast Eladio went to see him and found him lying on the floor where he had been for at least an hour. It was nothing serious and he hadn’t hurt himself. The problem is he is not so steady on his feet anymore. We are investigating into an alarm product for him to be able to press and alert us as well as possibly getting someone to live in permanently. This May he will be 91. On the bright side he is very alert, enjoys his reading and listening to music and of course his food and specially Spanish wine.

Thursday was spent organising my work. But I also got time to go the gym for my second swim and spa session of the week (how I love that) as well as our walk. I came home to a package I had ordered from which contained the Shoah 9 hour documentary film about the holocaust made by the French director Claude Lanzmann in 1985. It had been recommended to us by Adele and Sandie and also I had listened to an interview with Claude Lanzmann recently on the radio. We have yet to sit down and watch and digest even more information about the Nazi horrors to the Jewish race, a subject that will forever fascinate me.
Shoah the famous 9 hour documentary on the horrors of the holocaust with interviews with both survivors and torturers by Claude Lanzmann which I have yet to see.
On Thursday I also tried out my new mobile phone, this time a Samsung Galaxy GT-1750 which is an Android (Google) phone and has to replace my old and faltering Nokia N95. It is taking me some time getting used to like all new phones. What I have noticed that is great is that the battery has lasted 3 days so far without recharging, something unthinkable with Nokia phones. I have it in white which I prefer to black (why do they make so many black phones? For men I imagine!) and it is extremely light. Of course I still have my iPhone for my private line and would advocate iPhones for all mobile phone users. It is simply the best period.

Friday was a holiday in Spain to celebrate Father’s day and of course all people with names related to Joseph. So all Josés and Josefas and Pepes and Pepas were probably celebrating their birthdays yesterday. Certainly Eladio’s brother, José Antonio, was with his family in Montrondo. Felicidades José Antonio. At home there is no tradition for Father’s or Mother’s day, possibly because I was not brought up to celebrate them in England by my unusual and academic parents. All my other friends did of course. We went out to dinner not to celebrate St. Joseph's day but to enjoy a meal out with our friends Roberto and Mari Carmen. On a mission to go to different places, this week I booked a table at a Portuguese restaurant called Lisboa Antiga in Majadahonda, possibly influenced by the girls’ trip to Lisbon last week and my love of Portugal from my student days there. We had been before but not for a long time and were very happy with the choice. One Portuguese dish I love is called Bacalhau à braz and they do it perfectly there. Boy will we be going back. It’s highly recommendable with its discreet Portuguese decor, quiet atmosphere and background nostalgic Fado music.

Yesterday, Saturday, was a down day (yes I am still on the up and down diet and losing weight very slowly but still losing it) and I spent part of the morning making my family tree on Genes Reunited which I got on to via Friends Reunited. I got most of the information from my Father whose memory on dates and places of birth and marriage and death of his family members is amazing. It’s a pity you can’t see it as information can only be accessed via messages to other tree owners. It was a very interesting exercise.

Also interesting was the film we watched last night, The secret of their eyes (El secreto de sus ojos), the Argentinian film by Juan José Campanella starring Ricardo Darín and Soledad Villamil that was awarded the Oscar for the best foreign film recently. It’s highly recommendable and has an extremely surprising end.
The film, The secret of their eyes which won this year's best foreign film at the Oscars recently.
Next week Eladio and I will be going to New York for a short holiday as I am sure I have mentioned in my blog before. It is a first for both us and of course New York is a must on anyone’s desired holiday destination list. I have had very little time to plan anything but have invested in the Lonely Planet Guide and got some recommendations from friends. I have been printing our electronic tickets and hotel reservation as well as applying for a travel authorisation from the US Department of Homeland Security as advised to me by my ticket provider, Expedia in an email recently. I imagine this is just the start of the security procedures to enter the US which have always been strict and imposing. I can understand the rules but what I don’t like is how they are applied and the attitude of the immigration staff that have the right to refuse you entry if they don’t like the colour of your shirt or the colour of your eyes. I am certainly looking forward to our trip but not to going through immigration especially at JFK airport.

Amongst the recommendations my friend Juana sent me was the purchase online of the New York pass. I had a quick look at the web site and very soon was convinced it was worth buying. With the pass you avoid the queues (lines in American English:-)) and it includes access to about 55 of the main attractions in the city including the Statue of Liberty, the MOMA museum and many other well known places which I will be seeing for the first time. But more about that of course in my next blog posts which I will probably write from the Big Apple itself.

Now I come to the end of this week’s entry and to the last item in my headline, “a dreadful mistake” which you are probably wondering what it means. On Tuesday last when I was returning from Palma, in a town near Paris a group of Spanish Basque ETA terrorists were attempting to steal cars from a garage. They were interrupted by French policemen (gendarmes) who tried to stop them. In the exchange of fire started by the terrorists, the Gendarme Jean Serge Nerin, aged 52 and father of four children was fatally wounded. He is the first French policeman to die at the hands of ETA. One terrorist was caught and the others got away.

The terrible mistake occurred when the French authorities released a video of the supposed terrorists shopping at a supermarket near where the attack happened. The photo and video was on the front pages of newspapers all over the world.
The supposed ETA terrorists who turned out to be Catalan firemen in France this week.
However, the men in the photo were not the terrorists but Spanish firemen doing innocent shopping for a leisure trip they were planning. They went through 5 hours of interrogation by the French police and were only released yesterday. I read today that a retired French policeman had reported them because of their age and group number and because they spoke Spanish. That was a dreadful mistake and my heart goes out to those innocent men who must have gone through hell. The search continues for the terrorists who escaped.

The only good thing to come out of the event is the increased collaboration between the French and Spanish authorities to eliminate ETA. I look forward to that day.

Meanwhile I have to get on with mundane things this Sunday, the first day of spring. Thankfully it is an up day and lunch will be more exciting than yesterday's plate of vegetables. What am I preparing then you may want to know? Today I will be making roast chicken legs with a honey sauce, umm delicious.

Hope you all have a great day today and week ahead of you.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

A new work room, biscuits, great women and women’s day, a trip to Valencia, remembering the 11th March, goodbye Miguel Delibes and the girls in Lisbon

Our new work room after the change this weekend.
Good morning all,

Here I am another Sunday writing to you from my laptop at home. The difference from other Sundays is that today the sun is finally shining and Mother Nature seems to have left us in peace this week and we are even seeing the first signs of Spring although one month later than usual. Also I am writing to you from a new desk and sitting on a new chair. Yes, our new furniture came and our work room/study or IT room as my Father calls it looks so much better as you can see from the photo illustrating this post. Below is a photo of how it looked before. The improvement is very visible, the only hitch being that the Ikea men only brought one table and one chair. Now that is sloppy isn’t it? That’s the downside of Ikea I’m afraid. Hopefully they will be delivered this week.
What our work area looked like before the change.
I’m sure you’re wondering why “biscuits” is the next item in my headline this week. I’m not a great biscuit eater but my Father is. However I do like a gourmet biscuit. McVities digestives or Maria biscuits are not for me. I thought I ought to include an item on them as on Sunday when we had dinner with our travelling and restaurant going friends Roberto and MariCarmen, we gave them a delightful box of delicious Belgian biscuits we had brought back from Brussels. Yes the Belgian certainly know how to make them better than the British, or so I thought until my friend Belén from work gave me the most beautiful box as a present when I went into to the office on Tuesday. Belén who I think is beginning to know me and my tastes gave me the most original biscuits I have ever seen. She bought them in John Lewis in London and the tin box contains biscuits in the shape of London’s most famous symbols such as a double decker bus, the London Eye, Big Ben, etc. I don’t think I will ever eat them but will certainly copy the idea at work and maybe make some Yoigo cartoon doll shaped ones for one of my next occasions. Thank you Belén.
The superb London symbol shaped biscuits Belén brought me from John Lewis. How could I possibly eat them?
My next topic is women. A pretty big one eh? But this week has been important for women. On Monday a woman director was the first woman to get the prize for best director at the Oscars. And it went to Kathryn Bigelow for her film The Hurt Locker about the war in Iraq which also got the prize for best picture. She was in direct competition with her ex husband James Cameron whose film the highly acclaimed Avatar was expected to win. Avatar was a first for Hollywood in that it was entirely computer made, something the Jury were probably not happy with. I cannot judge as I haven’t seen either but I am happy a woman won the prize.
The Hurt Locker which won best picture and best director at this year's Academy Awards.
Kathryn Bigelow won the prize the night before International Women’s Day which was on Monday. We have much to thank the suffragettes Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters who, at least in England, fought for women’s votes, emancipation and a more visible role in society. The fight is still going on today as equality is not what it should be nearly 100 years later.
Emmeline Pankhurst, the first suffragette to whom we owe many thanks for the emancipation of women.
Recently my friend Sandie from Brussels sent me an extract from a school girls’ text book on sex education in the early 60’s in the UK and which was in the hands of my generation. It made quite an impact on me when I read it and to quote my dear friend Anne (another great woman and who was 40 this week – happy birthday darling!!!) “we should be grateful to all those women who burned their bras in the 60’s”. If you haven’t seen it enjoy the read here:
An extract from a sex education text book for school girls in the early 60's in the UK. Astonishing!
Another great woman and I think I mentioned her before is Sandie’s mother Magda. She is now my friend on Facebook and at 84 is the oldest Facebook friend I have. A Hungarian Jew, she survived the war and the Nazis by being hidden by a gentile family in Budapest, something not all her family had the luxury of as many of them perished in Auschwitz. After the war Magda made her way to India, to Bombay where she had family and there she met Sandra’s father, an Italian who set up a textile company. They retired to England and Magda lives today in Badger’s Croft and lives life to the full as only someone can who once nearly lost it. I admire you Magda.

From women I move on to my trip this week to Valencia. Most people going this week will be going to see the Fallas, an annual festival to celebrate St. Joseph in the most original way possible. They build enormous “fallas” or sculptures made of paper mache and wood which they subsequently burn only keeping the best each year.
The fallas are works of art and each year there is a theme, often satirical on which they are based.
An example of a "falla" from Valencia. They will be burning them in this week's festival.
I went for work reasons with my boss for a media encounter and to show our face at a course for Yoigo shop owners or workers. We are doing a regional tour and next week will be going to Palma de Mallorca and to Seville. The media lunch at Ximo Saez was very staid compared to the course which took place at the Hotel NH Las Artes (NH hotels in Spain are very good quality). We stood in front of some 80 people firing questions at us. For them it was the first time they were in contact with anyone from the company and they needed to get some things off their chest. For me it was exhilarating and only wish we could have spent more time with them. Here is a photo of our encounter.
The group photo at the course in Valencia for Yoigo point of sale people. Great fun!
Valencia is the region, as I told the course attendants, where I learned Spanish many years ago in order to be able to communicate with my first boyfriend, José Francisco, a young medical student from a small village called Tarbena. The story of that relationship will one day be told in the book I mean to write about the women in my mother’s family. The story itself, with hindrance from José Francisco’s valium taking village mother clad in black could well take up 2 chapters. She was so against our relationship she did everything in her means to stop it including intervening my letters with the help of the local postman. On Tuesday I landed at a very modern and sleek airport but I well remember the small aerodrome it was in the 70’s and taking a taxi over 100km from Valencia which cost around 1000 pesetas at the time, a mere 6 euros today. Times have changed in Valencia, I wonder whether they have in Tarbena. Maybe one day I will go back ...

The evening I returned from Valencia my globetrotting daughter Olivia was returning from Sicily. That same evening Real Madrid lost to Olympic de Lyon and thus failed to survive the first knockout round of the Champions League for the sixth season in a row. Lyon will have another opportunity to progress beyond the quarter-finals for the first time while Madrid will be spectators for the final at their home ground on 22 May which was why Wednesday’s match was so important for them.

The next day, 11th March was no ordinary day. It was the anniversary of the Madrid train bombs in 2004, the terrorist act with the biggest death toll in Spain's history. The same as 11th September everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when that happened as I do of course. I was with my wonderful friend Anne and other Nokia team colleagues in Segovia having breakfast. We found out when her Mother in Finland who had seen the news on television, rang to see if she was alright. A shiver goes down my spine as I write that and remember the events that day which had us glued to the television. That week I went to one of the only political demonstrations I have ever been to and it left a mark on me. There were activities in remembrance and many people left flowers at the stations where the bombs blew up the trains and killed innocent people.
In memory of the Madrid train bombs on 11th March 2004. People left flowers at the stations where the bombs killed innocent people.
Life goes on of course and on the same day my girls went off to Lisbon with some of Susana’s school friends; to note: Rocío (the girls they went to India with), Pilar, Estefania, Carolina and Copi. They were going to see one of Rocio’s cousins who is there on an Erasmus scholarship. I haven’t heard much but gather they are having a grand time. Lisbon is a fantastic old European city by the Atlantic sea and has a lot going for it. When I was learning Portuguese at University I went various times as I did when I worked for Motorola and was in charge of media relations in Portugal. I love the old cobbled squares like Rossio with their old fashioned cafés selling the famous Belem cakes and the narrow and incredibly steep streets leading to the Castelo Sâo Jorge or the Torre de Belem by the sea and of course the 25th April suspension bridge named after the Carnation Revolution in 1974, places I’m sure my daughters will equally love today.
The famous Rossio square in Lisbon
Whilst they were away, a giant of Spanish modern literature, Miguel Delibes, passed away aged 89 in his beloved home town of Valladolid, where the best Castilian is supposed to be spoken in Spain. I read some of his works at University such as Cinco Horas con Mario which at the time I found a bit heavy going. I remember him most for being the author of Los Santos Inocentes brought to the cinema by Mario Camus and a film I could watch over and over again. Set in the early 70’s it is a portrayal of the difference between the landed gentry and the peasants who serve them who behave and are treated like sub humans. It is well worth watching.
Miguel Delibes, a giant of modern Spanish literature who passed away this week aged 89 in his beloved home town of Valladolid. R.I.P.
Another book by him, in fact his first and which won the literary prize Nadal in 1947, “La sombre del ciprés es alargada”, was also made into a film and it was played on television the day he died and of course we watched it. It is a tender story about a young boy, Pedro, who is orphaned and goes to live with a humane but pessimistic teacher and this family and how he is influenced in life both by the teacher and another orphan boy who dies in his arms but leaves him the legacy of his love of the sea. Yes Miguel Delibes was a great author. In his acceptance speech in 1994 of Spain’s greatest literature prize, Cervantes, he told the audience how his literary characters lived inside him and how he felt an autobiographical part of them. He was a very humane man like Pedro and well loved in Valladolid and all over Spain but is lesser known abroad.

The weekend has been quiet without the girls as one day it will be always like that because soon they will be flying the nest. Not yet though. Eladio has just gone to get them from the airport and today we will be having Sunday lunch together. So what did we do this weekend? Apart from clearing out our desks and the room in general to accommodate the new furniture, we went for our usual walks and last night we went to a new restaurant for dinner. We went to Micue in Majadahonda nearby. I read good reviews, especially of the owner and chef, Miguel Angel Oliveira García, an up and coming chef who has worked with the likes of Juan Mari Arzak, considered to be one of the masters of the new Basque cuisine. So what did we think? It was good and the food was above excellent. There is a “but” though which I have to mention. I made the reservation in the morning and when we were on our walk I received a highly unusual phone call from the restaurant to confirm the reservation and to insist we arrived on time as the restaurant was going to be full. So we arrived on time and then discovered that 5 of the 11 tables were still empty when we left. Also they tried to sell us the special “degustación” menu which I would have chosen but was told that it was only on offer if both of us chose it which we didn’t. So I’m not sure we will be going again.

And so my friends I have come to the end of this week’s blog entry which I hope you enjoy. I must mention just one more thing before I finish. This week Yoigo is competing on a web site called Silicon News in a survey to find the best place to work and we are up against the likes of Google and Tuenti. If you have the time you can vote here and help us to win, although you will see we are doing very well so far. I can assure you and I’m sure you know that Yoigo is certainly the best place to work, mainly in my case, because you can work from home and there are not many places in Spain where you can do that with yet.

And on that note I wish you all a great week. Mine will be busy as I’ll be continuing our regional trip to Palma and to Seville and the following week we will be going to New York. How exciting!

Cheers my friends

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Mother Nature continues her cruelty, a new month new activities and a red sofa from the Calle Montera.

Devastation caused in Andalucía (the south of Spain) by the Xinthia storm last week.
Hi again

We are now into March but the weather hasn’t noticed it’s soon spring and has been pretty awful again. Yes, Mother Nature continues her cruel capriciousness and it has been raining all week here. I read today it hasn’t rained as much in Spain for 50 years! Well that’s a lot of years. If last week we had an explosive cyclogenesis warning this week we got a storm, called Xynthia, which blew into France early last Sunday with hurricane-force winds (up to 166 kilometers per hour) that flooded ports, destroyed homes and left 1 million households without electricity. It also battered Belgium, Portugal, Spain and parts of Germany and played havoc with train and air travel throughout the continent. The death toll in France was at least 50 people, imagine. We have also had snow this weekend although nothing like the snow we had in January.

It spoiled our walks and we had to wear wellington boots and walk on the street rather than over the fields but luckily we at least were not affected like the people in the south of Spain who suffered terrible floods.

A new month brought with it new activities. On Monday after going to the dentist for a terrible filling (oh how I hate the dentist) I decided to take a look at the gym nearby where I had actually parked my car. Spurred on a bit by the outing with Sandra to her lovely gym, The David Lloyd leisure centre, I thought I’d take a look and see whether it was worth becoming a member of the Hispaocio Centre in Villaviciosa the town where I live near Madrid. I wasn’t so much interested in the body building machines as in the spa. It had a great Olympic size pool but more importantly a good Jacuzzi and big sauna and Turkish bath. There was a discount if you were registered with the town hall so at 40 odd euros a month I thought it was worth joining. I sent a message to Suzy who was on her way back from Cádiz where she had been for the weekend, to see if she was interested and she was thrilled but unlike me more interested in the exercise machines. So there you have us now signed up with the local gym. I have been twice and each time done a good 20 lengths and then pampered myself in the spa area. So now I don’t just go for an hour’s fast walk every day I also go swimming which means exercise is becoming an important part of my life. This new exercise added to my Up and Down diet is making me feel pretty much on top of the world; it must be all those endorphins the exercise produces.
My new gym (and Suzy's), Hispaocio in Villaviciosa. The last time I went to a gym it was to lose weight before I got married. So let's see how long the excitement lasts. Meanwhile I am enjoying the swimming and the spa.
My other new activity this new month is also thanks to my dear friend Sandra (you have always been a positive influence in my life my dear and thanks) and it was going along to the local Toastmaster's club. It is “a nonprofit club that aims to develop public speaking and leadership skills in a friendly and supportive environment. Yes, indeed, we can learn and improve these skills by practicing them, and, of course, also have a laugh and some fun along the way” to quote the description on their website. I took Fátima along with me, mostly to get her out of the house and meet new people and have some fun together. So what did we think? Mixed feelings really. I would have liked to see more English speaking members but there seemed to be more Spaniards eager to practice their English. I will go back a couple more times before taking the plunge and becoming a member. Fátima doesn’t really want to go back but Suzy says she’ll join me which could be fun for the two of us. Fátima and I treated each other to dinner afterwards and as we were near the Gran Vía, made a beeline for Le Pain Quotidien at number 46 which my friend liked as much as I do.

On the Toastmasters website I read about a shop that sells English food in Madrid called The Food Hall that also sells online. No sooner had I read about it I made an order which arrived the very next day. So now I am stocked with hot cross buns for Good Friday, pitta bread, hummous, more Typhoo decaf tea, J cloths, Andrex loo paper (too thick to go on a Spanish loo paper holder!) pork pies and Cornish pasties and Turkish delight for my Father as well as sugar free polo mints and penguin chocolate biscuits. Now I won’t have to stock up from the small English supermarkets in Alicante. That was a great discovery.

A new month also brought with it the desire for a bit of renovation at home. Eladio and I spend hours at our desks in our “study” which my Father calls the “IT room” and it is the only room we haven’t bothered much with décor wise and it has far too many "white elephants" in it we have to get rid of. So we are now on a mission to revamp and modernize it. Our first step was to scour the internet for 2 matching desks and a red sofa. Meanwhile we visited Ikea and there, unsurprisingly, we found just what we wanted: a modern thick glass table called Galant, some great red chairs as well as some very practical bookshelves (Billy). We didn’t find the sofa we wanted, a corduroy red sofa which is no longer in stock. However we found a second hand one later on internet for half the price and on Saturday morning Eladio and I went to Madrid to get it. We bought it from a Polish girl who lives in the Calle Montera, right next to the Puerta del Sol, famous for its brothels which had us worried about the sofa’s origin. She turned out to own a language school and seemed very bonafide with a small baby in her arms. The sofa looked fine and so we loaded it into our car with the help of her friend. After washing and ironing all the cover it looks great as you can see in the photo below. Hopefully next week we will have the tables and the bookcases and the room will be like new.
This is the red sofa we got from the calle Montera in Madrid on Saturday and which now sits proudly in our study awaiting the other furniture which will hopefully revamp the whole room.
The rest of the time we have been pretty cooped up at home because of the weather and enjoying the new insert in the fireplace. Oli, my globetrotting daughter is away in Sicily with friends and won’t be back till next Wednesday. And then on the Thursday she will be going with Suzy and other friends to Lisbon for a long weekend. Suzy who is much more domestic then Oli, has been going to the gym with me and also doing a lot of socializing after her exams. She is turning into an excellent little cook as you can see here in the photo of the cake she made to take to her friend Elena’s housewarming party this week. She used a recipe for a Victorian Sponge cake which comes from a very old cookery book I brought from my parents house and which I used to make cakes myself as a child. It's a book I treasure.
Suzy's chocolate cake made from the Victorian Sponge cake recipe from the family Trex recipe book
We have taken to watching films in the evening with the fire on. Of note we watched the BBC series The Diary of Anna Frank which left me a little displeased. I read the reviews on the website which were all very positive. The characterization of Anna Frank was too cantankerous and she was portrayed as a bolshy teenager who did not get on with anyone except her Father. She may well have been a difficult teenager but what I missed were some of the remarkable insights in that diary and less emphasis on her intolerance of those around her.
An image from the BBC series The diary of Anne Frank which left me somewhat displeased.
Last night we watched a very moving film called “Return to Hansala” about the plight of Moroccans trying to get into Spain illegally on make shift boats and dying in the attempt. This film is not only about how many die on the shores of the Spanish coast but about returning their bodies to their families and tells the true story of how Leila takes her 19 year old brother Rashid home to Hansala in a van driven by Martin a Spanish funeral parlour owner. In Spain we read every day about this plight but the film brought the tragedy closer to me and made me realise what a difficult life these people and their families have. Of course if you come from a remote village with no running water or electricity and no future, you too would pay the cost and risk your life to take a plastic boat and try and enter Spain illegally. I have always been very sensitive to the needs of immigrants and find it so unfair that movement between countries is not freer. Take America, the biggest example of growth by immigration in the world. It is the grandsons and granddaughters of the immigrants of the beginning of the last century who now close the doors on people like Leila or Rashid. That does not make sense to me. If you haven’t seen it, it’s an eye opener on the problem of Moroccan immigration into Spain.
A scene from the film Return to Hansala about the plight of Moroccan immigrants many of whom lose their lives trying to enter Spain illegally on make-shift boats. The story, a true one, focuses on the difficulty of returning them to Morocco.
Of note this week I must also mention that on Monday I had lunch with Julio and Fátima at De María on Majadahonda for a late celebration of my birthday. I am always very punctual as most of you will know but that is not Fátima’s trait and Julio always has to wait for her. They turned up nearly an hour late but were forgiven when the present (my current favourite perfume, Lola by Marc Jacobs) ended up being the 100ml bottle rather than the smaller 50ml one, hahaha. As usual we enjoyed each other’s company and vowed to do it more often. I was told I always cheer them up which was nice to hear.
Julio and Fátima giving me my birthday present at our lunch on Monday.
On the birthday note, I must mention too that today is my Mother-in-Law, Ernestina’s 88th (2 fat ladies in Bingo jargon but don’t laugh because she is not fat!). Eladio was so worried he would forget to ring her that he rang her so early she was still in bed. His brother José Antonio (famous for forgetfulness in the family) however, did not have to worry about remembering as his sister Adela rang him to remind him. José Antonio then rang Eladio to remind him which was a bit of redundancy and made me laugh.

And on that note I leave you until next week. I do hope the sun shines this week coming up and that it’s a good one for us all.

Cheers till then/Masha