Sunday, April 18, 2010

The week a volcano in Iceland brought air travel to a halt, an Irishman called Colm O’Gorman, a notorious Russian called Zherebkov, Xhristos Voskresi, dinner at home with friends and a very wet walk.

The volcano from Iceland which has caused the air traffic chaos
Hello this cold and blustery Sunday morning in April,

At school I remember learning the months of the calendar and each one had a phrase about the weather. Unfortunately I can only remember two of them: March winds and April showers. Well this week we have had both wind and showers and during yesterday’s walk Eladio and I got drenched. We left the house whilst it was sunny although there were some dark clouds threatening rain. I wore my anorak and Eladio only his jumper and no umbrella. When we got to the end of the first half of the walk that was when the cloud above us began to open until it burst and let out all the water it contained upon us, followed by thunder and lightning. We shared my coat which at least kept our necks dry but that was about the only part of our bodies which did not get soaking wet. We had to go across the fields to avoid walking near the trees and huddled together made our way home the best we could. At home a hot bath and shower were in order and soon we were dry and warm and laughing about our experience.

People across Europe at different airports are not laughing about their experience I am sure. This was the week the Icelandic volcano with the unpronounceable name of Eyjafjallajökull erupted and amazingly its clouds of volcanic ash are spreading across Europe with no signs of stopping and have brought air travel nearly to a halt. The reason? Apparently volcanic ash can cause aircraft engines to fail and mar visibility for pilots.

As I write air traffic has been halted because of the volcanic dust for the last 4 days and yesterday’s newspapers reported that this had affected or stranded more than 5 million people in Europe.
Airport departure boards include the words "cancelled" all over Europe.
People are looking for alternative transport to flying which is now only possible in the south of Europe. There are stories of people taking taxis from London to Barcelona at a cost of thousands of euros. I have a friend, Johan who is now driving from Madrid to Copenhagen. I have another friend, Marianne, who is setting up her office at the Novotel Hotel in Munich unable to fly to her home country Finland or to her work place in Dubai. Taxis are making a big business out of the chaos and international events will be cancelled in the coming days. There are more stories of the region’s leaders in difficulty too, like the German Chancellor Angela Merkel taking 60 hours to reach Berlin from San Francisco.  Her plane was diverted to Portugal where she spent the night from where she flew the next day to Rome and from Rome she went by bus and car to Berlin!!!  Today the world’s leaders cannot travel to the funeral in Krakow for the late President Lerch Kaczynksi and his wife who were among 96 people killed in a plane crash in Russia last week.
The funeral in Krakow today for the President of Poland and his wife who died amongst 96 people in Russia last week and to which the world's dignatories could not get to because of the halt in air traffic.
The crisis is unprecedented and brings many repercussions a lot of which will be financial. BA has laid off its whole fleet of more than 200 aircraft at a loss of 15 million euros a day. The insurance companies wash their hands off the issue claiming they only insure damage of the aircraft and no damage has been caused. And what about the people who are stranded and cannot afford taxis for thousands of euros or cannot buy a train ticket as they are sold out or cannot be found because of the rail strike for instance in France or the many human dramas behind this crisis? This is an issue I imagine governments will have to handle and in the UK for example I read today that a historian has organised a “Dunkirk Flotilla” to rescue stranded Britons. Oh how the British know how to rise to the occasion. I just hope governments in Europe do too. To quote a friend of a friend on Facebook: “Now would be a good time to reflect on how to keep everything running with less travelling and change the way we do things” I like that reflection from Minna.

Meanwhile at home I am counting my blessings that our travels were well before the volcanic ash and that we won’t be travelling for a while by plane. Oli travelled by plane yesterday and probably caught one of the very few available but then she was going to Alicante out of the route of the volcanic ash to join Suzy and their friend Juli at our pad in Santa Pola. Just for the record the flight cost her 30 euros taxes included! We shall all be going next weekend, the 5 of us I mean. The girls will be attending a hen party for their friend Merce who lives in Yecla and we shall be visiting Jackie, a friend very much from the past but now recovered on Facebook, that great reuniter of people.

And it’s at home where we have been most of the week and where life has been pretty quiet. I made it to the gym twice for my 25 length swim rewarded by a splash in the jacuzzi and 10 minutes in the sauna afterwards. Otherwise my only excursions have been to the office or food shopping. Mostly, as usual, I have been working from home and there is news on that front too as finally my new desk from Ikea came and now our work space is complete as you can see in the picture below.
Finally my desk from Ikea arrived (right of Eladio's and furthest from the window) and now our new work space is complete.
Food shopping was more important this week than others as we were expecting guests on Friday night. Gerardo and his wife Vicky and his sister Irene and husband Tomas were coming for dinner and everything had to be perfect. We hadn’t had a dinner party for a long time and I spent the best part of the week organising it in my mind. The main objective was to make lovely food that could be prepared beforehand and heated up or eaten cold rather than complicated cooking up to the last minute whilst your guests are arriving which makes me very nervous. So what did I make? Salmorejo for starters (cold gazpacho like soup but thicker and decorated with chopped Spanish ham and egg) and chicken korma (Indian curry) with naans (flat bread). Desert was a fruit salad of strawberries, blackberries and billberries with vanilla ice cream. Judging by the empty plates I think our friends loved it all.
The dinner party at home on Friday, from left to right: Eladio, Gerardo, Vicky, Tomas, Irene and myself
It was great to see them again. As I have written in many earlier posts, I was Gerardo and Irene’s English teacher and lived with their family during my year in Spain in the late 70’s whilst studying Spanish at Nottingham University. Many years passed and we lost contact but thankfully we are now in touch on a regular basis and make a point of having dinner together at least once every two months. Our next date will be at Quënco at the end of May, the restaurant where we had our wedding and which means so much to us all.

This week has been marked by the forces of nature but for me it has also been marked by 2 men who have entered my life unexpectedly. On Wednesday I came back from my walk to find an email from Olivia asking for help with a translation. It was a text from a documentary on the about child sex abuse in Ireland, a subject that has always been close to my heart, maybe because I went to a Catholic school run by Irish nuns or maybe just because I sympathise with the victims. I am a sucker for what is called “mis lit” (misery literature) a prime example for me being Angela’s Ashes. And in the translation I did for Olivia I learned about a heroic Irishman called Colm O’Gorman. He himself was a victim of child sex abuse by the priest in his village when he was a 12 year old altar boy.
Colm O'Gorman, a victim of sexual abuse in Ireland and now head of Amnisty Internation, an exceptional man.
Colm suffered for two and a half years at the hands of this priest. The feeling of guilt, remorse and impotence marked his life and the experience made him feel lost and a misfit in society for nearly 20 years. Colm was finally able to escape from this nightmare existence and he reported the priest who then committed suicide. Afterwards he wrote a book relating his experience and it was through doing so that he was able to rebuild his life. He founded the One in Four Association which is dedicated to victims of sexual abuse in Ireland. Today he continues to fight against abuse from his position of Director of Amnisty International Ireland and to condemn the Catholic Church for covering up these cases throughout the years. I have now ordered his book, Beyond Belief, on and then went on to order more books of the same subject matter.

This investigation led me to a site called Butterflies and Wheels where the victim Marie-Therese O'Loughlin tells of life at St. Vincent’s Industrial school, run by the cruel Sisters of Mercy otherwise known as Goldenbridge and which she calls the secret rosary bead factory.

I was appalled at what I learned yesterday of not just sexual but physical and emotional abuse, of systematic neglect and cruelty to the most vulnerable and which seems to have been widespread in institutions run by the religious orders or in parish churches in Ireland for over a hundred years. The inflictors were priests, nuns and workers in the institutions. I ask myself why and how this was allowed to go on in a catholic country like Ireland? Is it because the priests and nuns themselves were so repressed they needed to take it out on defenseless children? This is a question the Pope may be asking himself today as he addresses abuse victims in Malta. I am sure Colm O’Gorman will be anxious to hear him apologize to them. Meanwhile Colm O’Gorman will be answering questions tomorrow in a digital encounter on I have sent mine in and it is to ask him how this could have happened in such a religious country as Ireland. I don’t think though that even he will have the answer.
The Pope in Malta today to meet with victims of sexual abuse.  Just how could the church have ignored and covered up so many cases of child sex abuse at the hands of its supposed  men of God for so many years???
From Colm O’Gorman I move on to Sergeevich Zherebkov, a notorious Russian or so it seems. Why on earth would I have anything to do with him and who is he anyway you will be probably ask? My Mother’s ex colleague, Richard Davies, from Leeds University has asked me for help in finding out when this gentleman died in Spain for an academic project he is working on. That is the connection, he apparently died in Spain.

This is the information Richard gave me: "I wonder whether you might be able to advise me how to find details of the death in Spain of a rather notorious Russian? His name was Iurii Sergeevich Zherebkov (b 1908) and he was the German-appointed head of the Russian community in Paris during WWII. After a period of imprisonment after the war, he found refuge in Franco's Spain. The daughter of Nikolay Andreyev, whom your parents knew in Cambridge, met him in the 1970s and last heard from him in 1980, when he was living at Alcantara 38, Madrid 28006 under the name of Wolkow. It is possible he moved from there and died near Malaga. I have no sense at all of the Spanish system of registration of deaths, or of anything similar organised by the Russian Orthodox Church in Spain, and am at a bit of a loss to know where to start looking. So any pointers would be very welcome".

I had been putting off helping Richard for months as I just didn’t know where to start. He suggested the civil register of course or the Russian Church in Spain, neither of which I am familiar with. As he pressured me for help, I involved Eladio and getting nowhere with the civil register (no online service and not enough information to ask for a death certificate) we finally reached Father Kordochkin of the Russian Church in Madrid. I spoke to him on Friday and he has promised to help via old Russians who live in Madrid and may have known Zherebkov or Wolkow and I am sure he will consult the church records.

Wow the Russian Church in Madrid! Talking to Father Kordochkin certainly stirred the Russian Orthodox blood in me and memories of icons and incense and candles and Church Slavonic singing at Easter with my Mother and Aunty Masha returned with nostalgia. When Father Kordochkin returned my call he greeted me by saying Xhristos Voskresi (Christ has risen) to which I haltingly replied the same. I remember those words being repeatedly sung during the Russian Orthodox Easter services and to hear those words again tugged at my heartstrings and reminded me of my Russian roots. Maybe I will visit the Russian church here now.
A typical Russian Orthodox church, the religion I was brought up in.  There are no churches more beautiful in the world than these.
Other things happened this week too such as an earthquake in China, but too remote to tug at the world’s heartstrings after so many other tragedies. It coincided with the Icelandic Volcano the repercussions of which affected the western world to a much greater extent and news of the earthquake has been relegated to the back pages of the world’s newspapers.
The earthquake in a remote region of China this week which the world largely ignored
And with that news my blog post for this week has come to an end. Now all I have to do is edit the text, upload the content, include the website links and of course include the photographs, all of which will take me at least another hour. Gosh my blog does require some effort but then anything worth doing always does. After that we will be going for a walk, this time armed with umbrellas and proper attire in case it rains again. Later we will be going out to dinner as today is an up day (hurray) and also look forward to the girls returning from Alicante later tonight.

Meanwhile I hope you all have a good week. I certainly intend to do so.


1 comment:

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