Monday, August 23, 2010

Picking your own fruit, visitors from Yorkshire, a trip to Salamanca, our 27th wedding anniversary and all together again.

Eladio and I on our 27th wedding anniversary in Peñacaballera

Hi again this last week in August,

I hope you are all fine. This week has been hectic but thoroughly enjoyable and I have lots to tell you.

Oli was back from Aranda de Duero on Monday where she had been sent to cover a music festival by You can see some of her videos here. I think she did a great job but you must judge for yourselves.

The highlight of the beginning of the week was the picking of a basket full of delicious greengages from a tree in the back garden. It was the biggest crop in all our time at this house and I enjoyed the activity immensely.

This year's greengage crop. Not many but they were delicious.

There is something enriching, romantic and bucolic about picking your own fruit. Just because you know it is yours enhances the taste.

Eladio picking the greengages.  A lovely moment.
On Tuesday we were expecting visitors from Yorkshire. Kathryn Lindley (now Cobrey) from my Kappa class at St. Joseph’s school in Bradford had found me some time ago on Facebook and we have been corresponding. She is a teacher, lives in Keighley, has 4 grown up boys and is now married to Phil, a teacher of Spanish we were to discover. So when she told me she and Phil were travelling in France and Spain this month, I immediately invited them to come and stay. They said they would arrive on Tuesday at “five-ish”. Most people get totally lost when they come to our house even with a sat nav. However Phil and Kathryn who are seasoned travellers but use a map instead were here on the dot and did not have to ring us to find out how to get here. I still don’t know how they did it.

Kathryn and I had probably last seen each other in the mid 70’s, nearly 40 years ago. She is looking good and we had lots to talk about to catch up on so much time, which meant we nattered for the 3 day duration of their stay which we thoroughly enjoyed. My father was “tickled pink” to have visitors from Yorkshire where he lived from the mid sixties until 5 years ago. He of course was a teacher as was Eladio so we all had a lot in common.

We had endless cups of tea together, went on walks, had lovely meals (thanks Olga), swam and sunbathed, read and drank pacharán in the evenings accompanied always by dear Norah who was a complete hit with our guests, especially Phil. We also laughed nonstop together especially when Norah was playing with her new noisy toy; a boxing kangaroo!

Norah and the noisy boxing kangaroo which she loves so much.
One of the meals was fish and chips, very fitting for the occasion you would probably say but actually they were made by Olga who is Argentinian so there is some extra merit there. The household for those 3 days was a little like the United Nations. We were joined at times by Oli and her friend Juli, or should I say our friend Juli, who is Colombian. This delighted Phil who had learned his Spanish there when he taught at the Anglo Colombian school in Bogotá some years ago.

Oli and our Colombian friend Juli.
On the Wednesday Phil and Kathryn went into town to discover the delights of Madrid and that same evening we took them out to dinner to a Basque place which is very popular with our foreign guests; La Txitxarrería. There was also time for some girly shopping and I took Kathy to a little boutique I frequent nearby and we both came home armed with bags of summer fashion garments and big smiles on our faces.

Dinner with Phil and Kathryn at La Txitxarrería in Pozuelo.

Their visit was short but intense and unfortunately soon over. On Friday they were moving on to La Rioja at our suggestion and we said our goodbyes that morning now firm friends. You can see the full album of photos of their visit here. Eladio and I were going to visit friends at a village in Salamanca called Peñacaballera. Our friends are Javier and Ana and their family who we visited in New York in March. This was our second visit to Peñacaballera and you can read about our first one last year in this post.

Peñacaballera is a small village near Béjar and the Sierra de Francia mountain range and about a 2 hour drive from home through the province of Avila. We were there in time for lunch and were welcomed by Javier, Ana and their beautiful younger daughters Cristina and María. Ignacio was away in Murcia and Laura would be back later that night from a short holiday in nearby Portugal.

Javier with his delightful daughters Cristina (in white) and María.  No wonder he looks so proud.

It was good to be back in peaceful and rural Peñacaballera, to see Javier and Ana and of course their friends, Jorge, María and their family as well as many visitors and friends some of whom we had met last year and some of whom were new to us. There were so many people it was difficult to remember names and to know who was related to whom. I gave up in the end.

In the evening we went to the nearby picturesque village of Hervas (in the province of Cáceres in Extremadura) to visit the old Jewish quarter and to have dinner at a wonderful little place called Nardi. The meat there was out of this world we’ll have to go back one day.

A pretty street in the Jewish quarter of the picturesque village of Hervás in Cáceres Extremadura.

On Saturday we explored the village which that day was to witness a wedding, quite a coincidence as it was our own wedding anniversary.

A wedding in Peñacaballera on the day of our own anniversary.  I hope they will be as happy.

Fancy, 27 years together and life couldn’t be better. A happy marriage is something of a lottery in life but you also have to work at it. However the secret behind its success comes from mutual respect and admiration which cannot exist if there is no love. Yes, these are our ingredients and they are still going strong after so many years. We have yet to celebrate but Javier bought some nice cakes for us to have after the superb paella prepared by Nacho for lunch by the swimming pool that day for no less than 24 people!

Big paella lunch in Peñacaballera, lovely.

We enjoyed our time with our hosts, going for walks, having nice meals, long siestas and even longer conversations. We had differences of opinion on how to bring up children. You can guess who was the liberal one of course and I naturally sided with the younger generation on the time to come home in the evening (or should I say early morning). Javier and I vied for points on Foursquare and we all laughed when I became the Foursquare mayor of the village. Not for long I imagine!

Javier and Ana's house in Peñacaballera

Very soon it was Sunday morning and Eladio and I decided not to overstay our welcome and take the opportunity to visit the nearby Peña de Francia, the highest point in the Sierra de Francia mountain range as well as the medieval cathedral town, Ciudad Rodrigo on the border of Portugal and also in the province of Salamanca.

We had a great day, despite the intense heat. Last year we had visited some places in Salamanca with our friends Andy and Amanda but didn’t get to Peña de Francia. It is just beneath 1.800 metres high and has awesome views. The road leading up is some feat of engineering and at times I couldn’t look out it was so scary. The mountain top is also a sanctuary and there is a statue of a virgin which is much venerated there by pilgrims. In fact there is even a monastery there but we saw very few monks.

At the Peña de Francia with its spectacular views.

From the Peña de Francia we made our way down the steep and winding road and on to Ciudad Rodrigo some 50km away. We had both last been there some 30 years ago when we went camping in Spain, Portugal and Morocco just after we met in the summer of 1980. It was a trip we have always both considered our honeymoon as we were so in love. In fact when we married we were as poor as church mice and could never afford one so we have always thought of it as our honeymoon.

And yesterday we were once again in Ciudad Rodrigo, a superb cathedral town next to Portugal with many medieval monuments and churches and with a city wall which you can still walk around. We made a beeline for the Parador for lunch, something we could not have done 30 years ago of course. Later in the intense heat we explored the nearly empty town. It is never advisable to visit any town in Spain in August in the early afternoon and we should have known better. Even in the heat though Ciudad Rodrigo is a jewel of a town to visit and we will be back but this time will probably not wait another 30 years!

In the gardens of the Parador at Ciudad Rodrigo.
We drove home through Salamanca and Avila remembering the time spent last year with Andy and Amanda and were home in the early evening. Norah and my Father were there to greet us but so was Suzy whom we hadn’t seen since she went to Ibiza. Dinner together, albeit cereal and milk, was a treat. Just as we went to bed Olivia came in to say hello after her weekend trip back from Malaga. Thus we were all together again for the first time in two weeks. Today, Monday, was the first time we were together too for a family lunch. It was prepared by Olga who is proving to be such a great cook she is upsetting my down days. This week we will be all together until of course we get on the road again and that will be to Santander on Saturday.
Oli at the Feria de Málaga this weekend.  Isn't she beautiful?
Before that happens though, I have a few preparations to make for our participation in the annual telecoms conference there where everyone who is anyone in the Spanish telecoms sector goes. But more about that in my next post.

Cheers till then
PS you can see the full set of photos of our trip to Peñacaballera, Peña de Francia and Ciudad Rodrigo here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Recovered, Santa Pola, another trip down memory lane, the story of Frank and Julia, Gandía and home again.


At the top of the Coll de Rates mountain pass with wonderful views.
Hello my friends,
Today is Sunday August 15th, a bank holiday in Spain which will go unnoticed as it is a weekend and once again it is time to write my blog.  It is also Independence Day in India so happy Independence day to all Indians reading this entry and there are many of you, or so Google blog statistics tell me.
This week has been great.  On Monday Suzy was back from Montrondo and we had a nice dinner together.  However it wasn’t until the next day that we had a full house with both girls for lunch.
Dinner at home with Suzy last Sunday when she came back from Montrondo.
On Tuesday I went to the doctor with my huge bandage and a bit worried I would be prescribed more time with my foot up and immobile.  However I was in for a pleasant surprise.  My ankle was better and the doctor removed the bandage.  Ouch that hurt, as it was stuck to my skin and he did a sort of peeling exercise leaving nasty marks on my leg.  He prescribed an ankle support and told me I could walk but to take heed of how my foot felt.   The good news was that he said I could go to the beach and that the sand and sea would help me recover. Wow I was so happy to be up and about again. I hobbled for the next few days but now I am walking almost normally.
The first thing I did with my newly recovered mobility was to go out with Suzy for a cup of coffee; a normal thing to do for anyone who is mobile but something special for me after nearly 2 weeks stuck at home.  Eladio and I decided then to go off to Santa Pola the next day and be back after Olga left on Saturday so’s not to leave my Father on his own overnight.  The girls went away on Thursday, Suzy to Ibiza with her school friends to stay at Erika’s place there and Oli to cover the Sonorama music festival in Aranda de Duero in Burgos for her website
Suzy on the beach with Erika this week in Ibiza.
Once again we decided not to take any food or shop in Santa Pola and to eat out even for breakfast so’s to make a real holiday of our 4 day escapade to the coast.  We had all sorts of plans to meet up with friends in the area; thus our stay was filled with social activity.  Another upside was that there was little cleaning to do as we had been recently and left the apartment spick and span. 
On the way out we stopped for lunch at one of our favourite places, the Parador in Albacete where we were served a lovely cool gazpacho to offset the tremendous heat outside which was nearing 40ºc. 
Making a toast to my recovery and our short holiday at lunch   in the Parador of Albacete on our way to Santa Pola.
As soon as we had unpacked and set up my pc (and answered my mails, of course) we set off for the beach where we had our first swim of the season and boy was it nice.  The water was clean and the sea as calm as a lake.   We tried my ankle out for a short walk.  It didn’t feel too bad but not yet good enough for the full beach walk.
I had booked a table for dinner at María Picola in the evening, that lovely restaurant on the road from Santa Pola to Elche.  We were welcomed back and enjoyed what we always have there, a superb arroz a banda.
A happy dinner together at María Picola on the first night of our holiday.
The mornings during our stay were always the same, as we are true creatures of habit.  We would have an early breakfast at El Paripé, a bar across the way with superb views of the bay of Alicante.  We would then go for the papers and return to the flat.  Eladio would read them from front to back whilst I worked and facebooked of course.

The view of the bay of Alicante from our breakfast bar, El Paripé in Gran Alacant.  It's also one of the views from our flat.
On Wednesday we had arranged to go and see our long time friends, Benito and Loli who were our neighbours in Saconia in Madrid where we first “lived in sin” before we got married in the early 80s.  They have an apartment on the beach in El Verger near Denia.
Loli and Benito by their apartment block in El Verger near Denia
We went for lunch to a local place called Casa Ramón for a great “fideua” (sort of paella but made with pasta) washed down by what is called “tinto de verano”, similar to sangria.  The afternoon was spent almost entirely at an ice cream parlour called La Jijonenca overlooking the Denia beach.  Here we talked about our old days and caught up on each other’s news.  We have promised to repeat the experience and next time Benito and Loli will be visiting us in Santa Pola.
Lunch with Loli and Benito at Casa Ramón in Denia.
We had planned to return home via a real memory lane for both of us.  We were to take the mountain road from El Verger, via Orba and Parcent and climb up the Coll de Rates mountain pass to visit Tárbena, Bolulla and Callosa before heading back to Santa Pola via Polop, La Nucia, Benidorm and Alicante.
The mountain road which means so much to me and which leads to Coll de Rates, Tárbena, Bolulla and Callosa
Tárbena, Bolulla and Callosa (Callosa de Ensarriá or D’en Sarrià in Valenciano) were the 3 main villages of my “Callosa days”, the time when I first came to Spain with my parents and which, if you don’t know the story,  you can read about here. The drive was like a venture into the past and the views from the roads as heavenly and magical as always.  I love the view of the little village of Parcent driving up to the Coll de Rates mountain pass which is some 700m high.  That doesn’t sound very much but then sea level in Spain is  measured from Alicante nearby so it is of course extremely high up.  The views from Coll de Rates are breathtaking and never cease to amaze me.  I had been here many times before but probably not in the last 20 or 30 years so it was very special to be there again.
Eladio at the top of the Coll de Rates mountain pass with breathtaking views on both sides.
Our next stop was Tárbena, a tiny little medieval village that nestles in these dry and rocky mountains and by almond trees which grow on terraced land and which are or used to be the main stipend for the village.  I hadn’t been back to Tárbena since the late 70’s and this visit was my real trip down memory lane because it was here I fell in love when I was 18 with a local boy who was studying to be a doctor and the reason I learned  Spanish. I had to visit the place, at least one more time in my life ,and didn’t feel good about taking Eladio with me but I think he understood.  The village was in fiestas and the main square felt much smaller to me than I had remembered it.  We walked through it and towards the house where the boy lived, in Plaza Santa Ana.  It looked closed up.  I didn’t want to meet anyone, just to see where it all began and remember my youth.
The little village of Tárbena which brings back so many memories of my youth.
From there we drove to Bolulla, the tiny village further down the valley where my famous Aunty Masha had bought a ruined house for a song in the early 70’s.  I love Bolulla and understand why so many English people have bought houses there (thanks to my Aunt of course).  We walked into the only bar that was open and came across a group of them who immediately wanted to know who we were.  Everywhere we went I told people I was La Señora María’s niece.  They all knew of course who she was and some of them remembered me.  I have so many memories of Bolulla from our many summers spent there and in Callosa in the 70’s and 80’s and in a way consider it to be my village.
Bolulla, my village in Spain.  I carry this image in my heart.
We walked down one of the prettiest streets there and spoke to 3 old ladies (Rosario, Jimena and non Castillian Spanish speaking Vicenta) for some time, remembering the past and talking about the people I knew; Esperanza, la Señora Elvira, Molina, Pepe the taxi driver and of course my beloved Sra. Julia and Frank (Francisco) Vácquer. 
With 3 old ladies in Bolulla talking about the past.  Vicenta in black, Jimena in blue and Rosario the hairdresser in orange.
Frank was the mayor of Bolulla when we first went there and I remember spending the first nights at his house  as Aunty Masha’s place was in no condition to sleep in (there was even a donkey in the main room when she bought it!).  Frank had lived in Brooklyn and had a wonderful New York accent with limited vocabulary.  But he was our ambassador and we loved him.  He was married to Serafina who spoke French and was what was called a “pied noir” for having lived and worked in  Algeria.  Serafina was always ill and had to be looked after by Frank.  Funnily enough she outlived him.  There is a saying in Spanish:  “mujer enferma, mujer eterna” which means “an ill woman lives forever”.  Señora Julia, a sweet old lady with white hair who must have been a beauty in her youth, lived opposite my Aunt and was our other reference in the village.  We learned later, with great secrecy, that Frank and Julia had been sweethearts when they were young but their love had not been allowed to prosper. I never knew why but suspect they were still in love when I met them.  Frank would speak with reverence whenever he mentioned Julia.  In the late 80’s something terrible happened.  Julia was in a car with her daughter and her grandson, a boy I had given English classes to.  He was driving and the car had an accident and skidded off one of those treacherous mountain roads I love so much.  They fell to their death, 3 generations in one go.  It was a tragedy for the village and I suspect especially for dear Frank Vácquer.  Frank died a few years ago, but there will always be a place for him in my heart and in my memories.

Dear Frank (Francisco) Vacquer's house at the main entrance of Bolulla. 
From Bolulla we drove to Callosa, the village where my Mother bought our house, but it was too late and dark to visit this time.  Soon we were back in our flat in Gran Alacant in Santa Pola and the trip down memory lane was now just another memory.
Thursday we spent at Gran Alacant and went to the local market there to buy Eladio some more summer shorts.  He seems to ruin all of them with bleach or paint stains so was in need of some new ones.  He was a bit of an unwilling customer but I managed to cajole him into buying 3 pairs.
Buying shorts for Eladio at the local market in Gran Alacant.  The unwilling customer!
In the afternoon we went to the beach again for another bathe and walk, this time the long one.  Most people go  to the beach in the morning but we always like to go when the heat is over and when most of the people have gone.  We are funny aren't we?

On our beach at Santa Pola, it's actually the Arenales beach.
In the evening we went to Darby’s Chippy for some amazing fish and chips.  It’s a very tacky thing to do but when you have lived away from the UK for so long, fish and chips is something, I, at least crave for.  The owner, a character from Scotland, greeted us warmly and thanked me especially for the mention of his chip shop in my blog!  He must have read the entry about it.  I was bowled over!  The portions we got were enormous and I think it was in lieu of a thank you for my positive write up which you can read here if you are interested. I’m also reproducing the photo of the chip shop owner if you haven’t seen it before.

Darby's fish and chip shop in Gran Alacant, great little find and the only one in the vicinity
Friday was our last day at home as we were leaving on Saturday.  The weather took a turn for the worse as it always does in the middle of August, except that we never seem to remember.  I was going to spend the afternoon by the pool overlooking the sea but it began to rain.  The temperature dropped and of course we hadn’t brought any warm clothing, not even a jumper and certainly no umbrella.  That evening we were due at Jacky and John’s for dinner.  Jacky, a childhood friend and actually my best friend, Amanda’s neighbour in Bradford, now lives with her family in a small village in Murcia on the border of the province of Alicante, in a hamlet called Collado de los Gabrieles.  We drove through an enormous thunder storm with lightening and as we left the apartment I thought guns were being fired.  Thunder storms in this area are always terribly fierce.  Maybe that’s because of the proximity to the sea.
Dinner with Jacky and John and their son Rafi, was great.  It was nice to speak English all evening and John’s curry was superb.  We could have chatted all night but it was dark and we had a long journey home so we left at Cinderella time, at around midnight with promises of going out to dinner together the next time we came. 

Dinner at Jacky and John's was one of the highlights of our trip.
Soon it was our last day, not that our holiday was very long, just 5 days.  We were going to  Gandía to have lunch with Irene and Tomas and their family before making our way home to Madrid.  Irene who is now the proud mother of 4, is the daughter of the González-Gálvez family with whom I lived in 1978 during the year I spent in Madrid as a teacher as part of my 3rd year studies at Nottingham University.  We have kept in contact every since but  more so since the Father, Gerardo, died.  Irene and her husband Tomas have been spending their summers in Gandia on the coast of Valencia since they were children and it was here they fell in love when they were teenagers.  This was the first time I was to see them here and I loved the flat and the location which is right on the beach front. 
With Irene González at their flat in Gandía. 
Tomas who is obviously a good chef, had prepared a great local rice dish called “arros a forn” which is rice cooked in the oven with many ingredients.  It tasted delicious, as good as it looked.

Great oven baked rice dish made by Tomas and called "arros a forn".
It was a delight to be with the whole family as on other occasions we had not been joined by their older kids, Paula and Tomás, just the little ones, Celia and Nacho and I was actually meeting Paula for the first time.   It was funny to see Irene with her 17 year old look a-like daughter Paula, as for me Irene is still the little girl I tried to teach English to, albeit unsuccessfully because of the terrible tricks she used to play on me. But time of course has passed, over 30 years.  
Lunch yesterday with Irene, Tomás and family in Gandía.
We left in the early evening as we had a 4 hour drive ahead of us and were anxious to get home as soon as possible because my Father was alone at home.  We were greeted by a very excited Norah who hates to be alone.  My Father was also happy to see us.  I had brought him a huge bag of all sorts of English chocolates which I had bought at Quicksave, the English shop across the way from our apartment which I am sure won’t last him very long.  I don't know if you know but even at 91 he is still a bit of a chocolate monster!  So it's quite obvious where I got my sweet tooth from then isn't it? 
And now we are home again with another trip for our memories.  You can see the full set of photos  here and a specfic album of our visit to Irene and Tomas in Gandía here.
But we are not home for long. This week we may be going to Peñacaballera to see friends.  At the end of August we will be going to Santander for a big telecoms conference and then in September we shall be off to Israel and Jordan.  October heralds more trips, one to Stockholm for a communications’ get together and a weekend in Barcelona.  Meanwhile we look forward to the visit of Katheryn and Phil who will be visiting us this Tuesday.  It will be nice to have some British visitors, especially for my Father.  Kathryn and I were at school together so her visit will be another trip down memory lane.
That’s it for this week.  Hope you have a good one.
Cheers Masha

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Stuck at home, Suzy in Montrondo, curry in Bradford, Michelle Obama in Marbella and the week Olga came to stay.

Happy go lucky Suzy in Montrondo this week.

Hi again

It’s been 11 days since I fell and injured my ankle.  I was prescribed 10 days of complete immobility which I’m afraid I haven’t stuck to and tomorrow I have a doctor’s appointment to see how it’s faring.  I have been stuck at home for 11 days, apart from last week’s day trip to Montrondo and I am feeling rather fed up with the situation and extremely bored.   If my ankle is better we will probably go to Santa Pola for a few days and if it isn’t I will just have to stay put.  Keep your fingers crossed.

So how am I spending the time you probably wonder?  Thank God for internet, my mobile phones, newspapers, television and for Mary Higgins Clark.  I have read 3 of her easy to read who-dunnits this week.  That was after finishing the entertaining and interesting book called Notes from a Small Island by the sometimes funny travel writer Bill Bryson.  He had been recommended to me by Tim at the course in Barcelona.  The book tells of his trip around England after having lived there for 20 years to analyse just what he loves so much about the country.  The book promises to be funny and it is but only in parts.  In any case I loved it as he describes places I know so well. 

He visits Bradford where I lived in West Yorkshire, that dark, ugly, industrial town with an enormous percentage of Asians and he describes it like this:  “Bradford’s role in life is to make every place else in the world look better in comparison, and it does this very well.  I couldn’t have put it better myself.  Bradford’s saving grace is its curry house and here I totally agree with Bill Bryson.  I first tried curry at the Kashmir, or the Kash as we used to call it, in the early 70’s.  It is located next to the city morgue which we used to joke about.  At the time it was the only curry house in town.  There was no cutlery and you had to eat with chapatti bread and on offer there was korma, madras and vindaloo, the latter being the very strongest which my brother George would  order every time.  I remember we always needed a huge jug of water to accompany our wonderful but very hot meal.

The Kashmir curry house in Bradford which I used to frequent.

But I am transgressing.  Where was I?  Talking about how I have my spent my time with my foot up at home.  Ah and thank God for friends too.  I received a visit from dear  Elena on Tuesday.  Also Fátima has been a constant companion, coming to see me most afternoons and having dinner with us.  Today she is driving to Marbella for her annual holiday so I will miss her.

Fátima's visits cheered me up enormously this week.

Whilst I am stuck at home, Suzy stayed on in Montrondo and has been having the time of her life with her cousins Laura, Alicia, Paula and Sara and of course their friends.  They will have been turning night into day as always, will have enjoyed meals made by Pili, Adela and Yoli, will have walked to Murias and back most days, spent the siestas by the “Sagrado” (the sacred land by the church), will have gone to the bar in Senra in the evenings and had endless botellones (bottle parties) with JM and his crowd at the “salon” in the village.  Tonight Suzy will be back but not for long as on Thursday she will be flying off to Ibiza for a holiday with her school friends.  They will be staying at Erika’s summer house there.  Oh to be young again and fully mobile.

Suzy with her I love Montrondo t-shirt and Trébol walking to Murias
The week was brightened up too, first by a lovely get well card from Sandeep which arrived on Monday.  It was custom made and I just loved the words:  “get bem soon Masha” and picture of a bandaged foot.  The “bem” word comes from the Portuguese/Brazilian expression “tudo bem” (all ok) which Olivia has introduced us all to since she returned from Brazil.  Thanks Sandeep for cheering me up. 

Sandeep's original get well card very much appreciated.

 And then quite unexpectedly a big parcel arrived from abroad.  Eladio thought it was more Emma Bridgewater pottery but no I hadn’t ordered anything.  It was a parcel from dearest Sandeep and Sumit containing amazing chocolates which they must have ordered at this website.  They are delicious and certainly made my day. Thanks again boys.  You are the best.

The wonderful parcel of chocolates I received from our Indian friends Sandeep and Sumit, it was nearly worth injuring my ankle just to get these.  Thanks boys. They are delicious.
Meanwhile the US first lady, Michelle Obama, her daughter Sasha and some 40-60 friends were having a superb holiday in Marbella.  It’s supposed to be a private visit but has involved security of presidential level, a huge entourage, some 100 cars, 60 rooms at the palatial Hotel Villa Padierna in Benahavis (starting price here is over 300 euros a night) and of course huge expectation.  For Spain her visit has enhanced the image of Marbella which used to be jet setter’s paradise but had slumped because of so many financial scandals.  However in the US the visit has been much criticised because of its cost whilst most Americans are having to fasten their belts in the financial crisis.  The visit included shopping in Marbella where Michelle Obama bought 2 white dresses for herself and her daughter at a little boutique called Blanc de Nile.  They cost 84 euros which was paid by visa by a blonde lady in the group.  I thought that was an interesting piece of information.  I

The luxurious Villa Padierna near Marbella where Michelle Obama and her entourage stayed. Supposedly the most luxurious hotel in Spain.   No wonder her visit has been criticised.

The visit also included dinner at Restaurante Buenaventura in the old town of Marbella, a trip to Granada, including the ice cream parlour Los Italianos, the cathedral, a 7pm dinner at the Parador in Granada and of course the world famous Alhambra, followed, of course by a gypsy flamenco show.   I can only begin to imagine the publicity these places have gained thanks to the visit.

America's first lady shopping in Marbella.  Her visit has caused a lot of expectation and some criticism but it has also done a lot of good to Spanish tourism.

Instead of adapting to Spanish time tables of afternoon siestas and late dinners, the group have imposed American hours on the visit and have of course suffered from the heat with some of them fainting whilst visiting monuments at 3 in the afternoon which had to be opened specially for them.  I wonder why their advisors didn’t take such things into account?  45m2 of beach in Estepona had to be cordoned off for them to use privately, with everyone of course gawking at them; something virtually unheard of in Spain.  It is not easy for a first lady to go on holiday but if she wants to go to a beach, wouldn’t it much easier to go to one where less security is needed?  Yesterday they visited Ronda and today they will be having lunch with the King and Queen of Spain in Palma de Mallorca. 

And all that was happening whilst I was at home with my leg up.  On the upside this week, our new home help, Olga came to stay.  She started on Monday which was great, as she could cook and clean whilst I was immobile.  Olga who is from Argentina, is 35 years old and has lived in Spain for 3 years working as a domestic help.  She seems to be a good cook and has a very cheery disposition.  We may have found a jewel.  I hope so.   If we have, she may turn us into the lord and lady of the manor as suddenly we will be freed of all those daily domestic tasks which take up so much time.  We have been asking ourselves what we shall be doing instead and I don’t yet have the answer.  It’s a very strange feeling having someone else doing the cooking in your house and waiting to be called for a meal.  It’s even stranger getting up from the meal and not having to clear anything away.  It makes me feel slightly guilty. Eladio, on the other hand, says he could get used to it forever.  Only time will tell.  Meanwhile we are very happy to have Olga living with us. Norah is too as they have both hit it off very well indeed and that’s a very good sign. 

I am now at the end of this week’s blog post.  Oli is away too for the weekend with friends in Gandia on the Valencian coast which means that I am alone at home with just my 2 men.  I always prefer the girls to be here as they add so much life to the house.  Luckily they will both be back tonight.

On that note, I leave you for this week. Have a good one and keep your fingers crossed my ankle is better.

Cheers for now

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Out of action, bullfighting, the Montrondo annual family gathering, Once Upon a Time in India, queues for the iPhone 4 and other things.

Me on cruthces, not a good combination.
Hi my friends

Here I am writing this week’s blog post from my bed, my new living headquarters since I fell last Wednesday and injured my ankle.  I have all the things I need around me to continue my new stationery  life; my 2 mobile phones, my pc (the centre of my life), my books, the new 42” screen television, a pile of dvds (mostly the Bollywood ones Sandeep and Sumit had brought me)  and most important of all the air conditioning.

So what happened you will ask, if you haven’t already found out from my Facebook?  The week started out fine.  I was pretty busy work wise and went in on Tuesday for meetings.  Wednesday was the fatal day which started off with a visit to the dentist to replace my broken crown.  Before I went home I wanted to visit the pet shop to get a special collar for Norah.  There I bumped into Eladio and my Father and we had a nice cup of coffee together. I should have gone straight home afterwards but decided to drop in quickly to Caprabo (a local supermarket) to buy some boxes of up market Kleenex tissues that you can only get there.  And that was my downfall so to speak.  The boxes were too high for me to reach so I climbed onto the bottom shelf to get them from there.  I lost my balance, slipped and fell backwards, twisting my ankle and hitting my head.  I had to shout to get someone to come to the rescue.  People were very helpful and they sat me on a chair for a while.  Nothing hurt so I said I was fine and would be on my way.  I hobbled to the cash desk and it was then I realised I just couldn’t walk and that the pressure on my left foot made me see the stars.  Of course I rang Eladio (who else?) and he soon came with Suzy who took my car home whilst he drove me to the local hospital, Clínica Montepríncipe. 

I had to be taken in on a wheel chair but was quickly attended to and x-rays taken of my ankle and my head.  I was certain it was going to be a small sprain but unfortunately it turned out to be a bit more serious.  The internal malleolus bone had come away from the tendon.  It was not fractured or displaced but if I moved it was in danger of becoming so.  The doctor put an enormous pressure bandage round both the ankle and my leg and said he hadn’t put it in plaster because of the heat, thank goodness.  He prescribed 10 days of immobilisation with my foot up and a further 3 or 4 weeks of moving as little as possible.

The pressure bandage on my leg.  The doctor told me to remove the nail varnish but as my friends on FB think it's sexy I have decided not to heed the doctor's words.

As I listened to his words incredulously, I suddenly realised what they all meant: my holiday in Montrondo and Santa Pola would now have to be cancelled, no more daily walks or swimming.  How was I going to wash, have meals, or do the simplest things?  I also had an important meeting at the office on the Friday which I could not cancel and worst of all how was I going to bear the immobilisation being such an active person.

My Facebook friends cheered me up enormously.  Eladio brought me some crutches which I found very difficult to use but at least I could hobble with them to the table for meals and I devised a way of going up and down the stairs.  It was Suzy’s idea to do so on my behind and I must say it works perfectly.  Unfortunately I wasn't so good on the crutches as I fell off them on Thursday morning and had to go back to the hospital because of the huge bump I got on my head because of the fall.  Thank goodness it wasn't serious but since the fall I have been reluctant to use the crutches!

I took the opportunity to rest and watched some films, including a 1954 British war film called Purple Rain with my favourite actor, Gregory Peck.  Watching him I thought he was perhaps the handsomest man to ever walk on this earth.  When I wrote that on Facebook, I got a comment from a friend saying what about Paul Newman to which I replied I like my men dark, like Gregory Peck and of course my husband. 

Sumit and Sandeep had brought us lots of Bollywood films and had highly recommended one called Lagaan, Once Upon a Time in India, a 4 hour epic film to quote them.  And it was great, a spectacle of colour and music with a great plot.  The main story is how some poor villagers have to play English officers at cricket and that if they win they will be released of paying the Lagaan tax for 3 years.  I loved it but if we had known at least the rudiments of cricket we would have understood more.  Of course I know all the terms: batting and bowling, inns, runs, a century, wicket, etc from having being brought up in England but that’s about where my knowledge ends. 

Wonderful 4 hour epic Bollywood film
 I have also been watching a lot of television, mostly the news programmes.  The biggest piece of news in Spain this week has been the abolition of bullfighting in Catalonia on the grounds that it is cruel and outdated.  Critics in Madrid and elsewhere claim the ban has little to do with animal rights and more to do with asserting political independence from Spain's capital.   Be that as it may, I personally think that bullfighting is terribly cruel.  I see it as a similar sort of spectacle to the Roman gladiators which is just not admissible in these times.  This is a big issue in Spain as many people make their living from bullfighting and banning it for example in Andalucía where people live and breathe the sport seems impossible today.  However the Catalans, as the Canary people before them, have paved the way for an eventual end to this stupid cruelty which fewer and fewer Spaniards relate to and which has become more of a tourist attraction. 

Bullfigthing was banned in Catalonia this week.  Hopefully this will be the beginning of the end of this cruel spectacle.

This was the week the new and much acclaimed iPhone 4 was launched in the Spanish market.  The launch comes after the “antennagate” issue where there have been complaints about the reception and coverage of the device.  Amazingly enough Steve Jobbs (Apple’s CEO) admitted to the failure and has offered customers free plastic cases which he says should put an end to the issue.  Apple is so popular, consumers still want the device despite the problem and this week when it was launched on the Spanish market there were apparently huge queues of people anxious to buy Apple’s latest little miracle device.  I was a little skeptical about the queues and you will wonder why.  When I worked with Nokia I did the PR in Spain when their famous games phone, the NGage.  We created a lot of hype around its launch and one of the things we did was to hire a queue.  That was when I found out how these things work.  The agency we hired the queue from admitted they also hired out queues to the Spanish department store, El Corte Inglés on their first sales day in January.  So now you understand why I was skeptical about the queues reported for the iPhone 4 launch in Spain this week. 

Don't always believe launch queues as they are often hired as a marketing gimmick.

Apart from watching the TV, I was also blessed with the visit of my dear friend Fátima and lots of phone calls and messages from my many friends and contacts which I much appreciate. My life suddenly turned upside down and plans went out of the window.  However as I am very positive cheerful sort of person I refused to get depressed and decided to just get on with life as best I could.  I also decided to join the Friday meeting which actually will be held tomorrow, Monday, on the phone.  Santa Pola of course was cancelled but Montrondo was another issue.  It was the annual family gathering on Saturday and I just had to be there. Eladio suggested going and returning in the day and that’s what we did. 

So off we went yesterday, Eladio, my Father, Oli and I.  Suzy had gone on Friday.  My accident also affected dear Norah who we had planned to take but now as we were only going for one day we didn’t want to subject her to 8 hours in the car (4 there and 4 back).  Oli and I sat in the back and I helped her get up to date with her new N97 which I had already sussed out.  I was also listening to Spotify on my newly restored iPhone and I mentioned to Oli that a car trip just wouldn’t be the same with our mobile phones which can be used like toys when you are bored. 

My injured ankle did not stop us visiting El Palacio de Bornos in Rueda for a plate of ham and fresh white local wine.  Here is a picture to illustrate the event which is always a pleasure and has become something of a tradition on our trips to León.  We also took the opportunity to stock up with some nice Valbuena magnum bottle wines for the family lunch and which tasted just great.  I learned later that Valbuena is Vega Sicilia’s second wine.

We stopped off at Palacio de Bornos in Rueda for ham and wine on our way to Montrondo, as we always do.
After a stop off at Murias to pay for the rooms we had cancelled at my Father’s hostal, the lovely Holandés Errante, we arrived in Montrondo at around 13h.  The older generation were all at mass to celebrate Santa Marta, the patron saint of the village, but all the young people were in the corral (the central part of the house and grounds) and we got a great welcome, especially me because of my bandaged leg.  Soon the older generation were back and hellos and welcomes and kisses and hugs were in order and which can take some time when 26 people or so get together.  My Father, the oldest person there at 91 was made very welcome too.  Between us all we represented all the ages as the youngest was Noa, Alvaro’s baby daughter, who was born in March.

Olivia with baby Noa this weekend in Montrondo.
Lunch had been lovingly prepared by my sister-in-law, Pili, Dolores, Adela and Yoli in the renovated old stables which we call “la cuadra” and the menu was the same as every year: cold cuts (jamón and cecina mostly), potato salad, and a whole roasted lamb which had been baked in a local bread oven (delicious!) with salad, all accompanied by our Valbuena wine.  Desert was Adela’s typical Montrondo cake made of biscuits, chocolate, butter and crushed almonds and which is a sort of desert bomb we all eat just once a year. 

Before lunch, though, I had a surprise for everyone.  I had brought Hawaiian paper outfits for the occasion, each containing a skirt, some fun sunglasses and the typical coloured garlands.  The corral was mayhem for a while and filled with laughter and colour as you can see from this short video.  As I was unable to move I couldn’t take many photos, but here is a good one of the 4 of us in Hawaiian dress to remember the occasion.

The 4 of us in Hawaiian dress at the annual gathering in Montrondo on Saturday.
After such a copious lunch everyone had a siesta and I lay on a sun bed in the corral with my foot up unable to negotiate the steep steps to our bedroom.  We left at about 8 pm and were home just past midnight.  The drive was long and difficult for all of us after such an intense day.  In the end I was glad we came home because I would not have been comfortable in Montrondo.  It was good at least though that we were there for wonderful annual family event.  You can see some more photos of the day here on Facebook.

And now I’ve come to the end of the week, to the end of this week’s blog post.  Today Sunday, on our own, has been very quiet.  I have hardly moved out of my room although I can definitely hobble around a bit better now.  One nice interruption was when Eladio came up with darling Norah for her fortnightly bathe in our Jacuzzi bath (without the Jacuzzi hahaha).  She is now all soft and clean again.  Hopefully next time we go to Montrondo she will be able to come with us.

Dear Norah just before her bath this morning.
And that’s it for this week my friends.  I hope you enjoy this post and cheers till next week.