Sunday, June 26, 2011

Summer is here, remembering Aunty Gloria, Raoul Wallenberg, “righteous among nations” and going to see Elsa.

Not so little Elsa aged 1.5 months.  She's coming to live with us in July

Hello again this very hot Sunday afternoon
Summer officially arrived this week and as you know, the 21st June is the first day of the summer, or the solstice, and is the longest day of the year.  Wimbledon is in full swing and palgued by rain whilst we are in the middle of a heat wave and the days are long and stifling.  I get up early and enjoy the cool of the morning.  The afternoons are the worst and when the sun is just a bit less hot, we go and sit in the shade on the grass by the pool and read our books.  This week Eladio took his first bathe.  Olivia and I, on the other hand are bathing every day. We then have dinner earlier at just after eight and only then, as the sun is going down, can we dare out on our walk. Norah now comes with us as she is a lot better and needs the exercise.  When we come back it is still light at around 10.30.  We then return to the pool, me to cool off again with a short swim and Eladio to dangle his legs in the water. We then go to our room where we have previously set the air conditioning to cool it before we arrive and watch the television on our huge screen until we fall asleep.  That is the way we combat the heat; there is no other way.
The week has been busy after our trip to Brussels.  I have been occupied with preparations for this year’s Yoigo summer party.  It was going to be in Ibiza but now is in Madrid.  I have, however, not abandoned the Ibiza theme as we will all be going dressed in white and will set up our own “Pacha” discotheque. 
This year's Yoigo Summer Party logo
On Tuesday, the day of the solstice I was terribly busy but had to set aside time for my routine gynecologist appointment.  The good news is that I now have a clean slate and so does Suzy.  I have to take these things seriously as my Mother died of breast cancer.  There is a lot of cancer in my family but if I’m lucky I will have inherited more of my Father’s genes.  At 92 he is in a perfect state of health and mind with none of those awful afflictions which often strike the elderly.  He is giving Russian lessons to Manolo (Fátima’s brother and the person who is giving us Elsa, the Labrador puppy) and seems to enjoy them thoroughly.  My Father always was a good and vocational teacher and I’m happy to see his knowledge being put to use once again.
Wednesday was my busiest day, part of it to be dedicated to a film being made by the Association of Spanish Communications Directors (Dircom) about a day in the life of 5 communications directors, including myself.  I had breakfast reading an interview with Cinco Días (a Spanish business daily) which I had organized and which had taken place on Monday in the office.   Publications of interviews are the highlight of my job really but you never know which way they will go. Inés, a journalist I knew well in my Nokia days, did a great job understanding Yoigo’s role in the so-called “price war” in Spain.  You can read it here.
Soon the Video crew arrived at my home ready to film the stereotype of a day in the life of a Spanish communications director (get up early, say goodbye to small children, hit the traffic, arrive at the office, talk to their secretary about the day’s meetings, meetings, arrive home late at night, say goodnight to children, etc, etc) only to realize that my days are quite the opposite as I mostly work at home, do not have small children, nor a secretary and organize my own time and that above all I do not distinguish between my personal and my professional life.  I look forward to the finished product which will be shown at the up and coming annual convention.  I will not be attending unfortunately as I would love to see my counterparts’ reactions to my very different sort of day to theirs.  The crew filmed me reading the papers and talking on the phone in the kitchen, in the garden with Norah, working at my desk in our study, showing them my books and talking to Oli by the pool where she was working and finally pretending to have to run off to a late night meeting after an urgent phone call.  Unfortunately when they were filming that part I realized Eladio had taken my car.  I tried to ring him but he had left his phone at home. 
Even worse, I really did have to run off to the office after the filming for a meeting with the sales department about social media and had no car.  Thankfully Suzy drove me to the nearby shopping centre where Eladio and my Father were doing the weekly shopping.  After a short telling off, I grabbed my car from Eladio and rushed to the office.  Thankfully I wasn’t late as I hate not being on time.  Punctuality is a trait in me I have cultivated over the years.
On Wednesday night I went to do the tasting for the dinner and took along Eladio and his brother José Antonio.  They are no great food connoisseurs, so it was up to me to decide what was good, what was bad and what needed changing, as they, of course, thought everything was ok.  In the end I changed absolutely everything and we will have to go back tomorrow night for another evening of tasting – not good for my new Dukan figure.  The location we have chosen is perfect for an Ibizan party. It’s called Las Lagunas de las madres and is a natural park with two lakes, so we will be able to do everything outside.  But more about the party next week when it’s over and I can reveal all the surprise activities being prepared for the occasion.
Las Lagunas de las Madres where our party will be held.  Wonderful place
I just told you I had breakfast with the newspaper Cinco Días, but I did not tell you that Wednesday morning actually started with a few tears.  As I was having my coffee and reading my emails at about 7 in the morning, I saw a comment on my blog.  Amazingly it was in reference to my blog postabout the air crash on the island of Krk, in former Yugoslavia in which my Father’s sister, my beloved Aunty Gloria, and her family all perished.  This is the comment I read which had my hair stand on end. Unfortunately it is anonymous.
"Masha, I found your site whilst looking for some info on the Krk aircrash as my husband's 17 yr old sister was killed on that plane along with the entire family of the friend she went with. I don't know what to say other than the tragedy has never left. At age 18 he had to go out there and make arrangements with an older sister to bring her home. I never knew her but we hope one day to go out and find the memorial to those who died. It was strange reading about it in your blog".
I burst into tears when I read it and that is how Eladio found me when he joined me in the kitchen some minutes later.   I know he understood as he has often caught me shedding tears over the years for Aunty Gloria, Uncle Derek and my dearest cousins Jacqueline, Michael and Antony.  As the person writes above, the tragedy has never left us either.  How could we ever forget something so tragic?  They died on the 23rd May 1971, just over 30 years ago and I will carry them forever in my heart.
Aunty Gloria who perished in that air crash with all her family.  They are forever in my heart.
Thursday and Friday were a bank holiday in Madrid.  Suzy went off to Santa Pola with Juli and they seem to have had a grand time.  They will be on their way home by now. I have asked for pictures but only got one of Suzy on the beach sunning her legs.  Oli will be going there next weekend too and hopefully we will be going sometime in August. It is our little pied-à-terre by the beach where we used to go far more often when we first bought it some 12 years ago.
Suzy sunning her legs at the beach in Santa Pola this weekend.
Even though it was a holiday, I spent most of it working on the up and coming summer party, amongst other things, and even had a meeting with the three sisters who run my events agency (Cristina, Bea and Gloria).  I love offsite informal meetings with them as these are when our brainstorming works best.  I came away happy with our last minute changes to the party.
When my work was finished in the afternoons I would read my book with Eladio by the pool as I told you earlier. My book of the week is once again about the Second World War, a genre that fascinates me as I was brought up on my own parents’ stories of the war. Even as a child I used to have nightmares about Nazi soldiers coming to our house in the middle of the night to arrest us.  I was born in 1957, just 12 years after it finished.  As I read survivors’ stories it saddens me to know that soon there will be no eye witnesses left.  Their great legacy however are the thousands of biographies written by many and which never tire me.  This week I devoured Alex Kershaw’sTo savea people” about the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who saved many jews lives in Hungary in the last year of the war.  Raoul Wallenberg has earned the title of “Righteous among nations” and deservedly so. This is an honorific title used by Israel to describe non-jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis. He saved anything between 20.000 and 100.000 by issuing them protective passes from the Swedish Embassy and placing them in Swedish Embassy property specially bought for this purpose.  When the Russians arrived in 1945, he was deported for questioning and was supposedly killed there in 1947.  The end of his life continues to be a mystery and his parents and family never ceased to try and find him, often with total opposition from the Swedish government who always feared a conflict with Russia.  However Wallenberg lives on as a "Righteous among nations" in the YadVashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem which we visited last year and around the world in many other memorials.  So moved was I by the book that I have since ordered some of the biographies mentioned in Alex Kershaw’s bibliography by some of the Jews that Wallenberg helped to survive.
Raoul Wallenberg, Righteous among nations for having bravely saved so many Jews in Hungary in the war

In the appendix I read a quote by David Ben Gurion, the ex Prime Minister of Israel where he asks why the people of the countries where the Jews were persecuted did not do more to help.  In essence he wonders if they had been English, French, American or Russian whether the world would have acted in the same way.  I ask myself the same question. I think they would have reacted differently, they would have done more but I don’t understand why.  But I do know that Raoul Wallenberg was one of those people who never thought about race, only about the human race when he risked his life to save so many Jews and in the end died for his efforts. 
On a lighter note the weekend has been quiet.  On Saturday I went with Oli to the market in Majadahonda, one of the best in Madrid.  We hadn’t been for a long time and it was busy.  I went looking for Menorcan sandals for Eladio but they only had them for women.  Of course I bought a pair for myself.  I also got a great summer dress for 15 euros which is perfect for these hot summer days.
At the market in Majadahonda on Saturday with Oli

Today, Sunday, Eladio and I went to see Elsa, the Labrador puppy we are acquiring from Manolo and Susana who live by.  Last time we saw her she was 17 days old and still hadn’t opened her eyes.  Today she is just over a month and a half and already weighs over 4 kilos.  It was a delight to see her and her brother Winnie and sister Dalia and of course their black mother Dunia.  We have agreed that Elsa will be coming to live with us on 19th July, the day we get back from our holiday in the UK.  The girls want to organize a welcome party.  I wonder what Norah will have to say about that. You can see the full set of photos of these wonderful puppies here on Facebook.
Cute Elsa. We can't wait for her to join our family in July

The week coming up is going to be terribly busy and I shall hardly have time to think about our holiday to the UK starting next Friday.  Thankfully everything is already planned, flights, train tickets, car hire, holiday cottage, tickets to the Great Yorkshire Show and even school reunion dinners.  This time next week we will be arriving in Yorkshire from a two day stay in London and will be spending two weeks in the Dales.  It will be another trip down memory lane I am much looking forward to.
 Cheers for the moment

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Up at the crack of dawn, Norah unwell and a weekend in Brussels.

Our second reunion in Brussels. Me with my Nottingham University friends Sandra (on the right) and Adele in the middle

Hi again
I am writing from Sandie’s kitchen this rainy Sunday morning in Fort Jaco in Brussels.  I was up at the crack of dawn, at about 6 am, so thought this would be a good time to write this week’s blog post as today we will be travelling and there will be not much time this afternoon or tomorrow.  Everyone else is asleep and breakfast won’t be for another couple of hours.  Nowadays, I always wake up early, at around 6 or 6.30 and enjoy a quiet time by myself in the mornings.  Then of course I go to bed early, at around 10 and fall asleep very quickly.  I have changed so much as I used to do quite the opposite, wake up later and go to bed later.  The change seems to have come since I have been on the Dukan diet or maybe it’s because of my age.  In any case I love getting up early as I have the feeling that the days are longer and I can pack more into them.
The week has been uneventful and quiet until our trip on Thursday to Brussels for our reunion with my Nottingham University friends, Sandra who lives here and Adele who lives in Orleans in France and their partners Jeffer and Bernard.  I, or rather we, have been preoccupied with Norah’s health since last Monday. Norah, our wonderful and naughty beagle dog, was born with a malformation in her spine (the end of one vertebra in her neck (axis) nearly touches the other – excuse the lack of a more scientific explanation). This has given her two episodes of severe neck and back pain twice before and on Monday it was quite evident that she was going through another one as when I got up early in the morning, I found her on her mat unable to get up or move.  She cried when I stroked her and I had to feed her from my hand. We took her to the vet where they gave her an x-ray and all we could see was the malformation we already knew about.  I suppose it must be a bit similar to a slipped disk and is very painful.  All the vet could do was to prescribe anti inflammatory tablets and lots of rest.  Dear little Norah behaved beautifully.  Well of course, she wasn’t her usual self.
Poor Norah was very unwell this week
We have looked after her all week, spoiling her silly.  She didn’t seem to be getting any better, having great difficulty getting on her feet or moving her neck, that we rang the vet again who prescribed her some pain killers.  I wonder why they weren’t prescribed before.  Thankfully whilst we have been in Brussels, I have reports from the girls that she is on the mend, managed to get onto a sofa and even ran after our cat Phoebe once.  We spoiled her with human food vs dog food, so as to feed her the tablets and since then she is very reluctant to go back to her dry “fodder” having got a taste for sausages and slices of ham during her bad back spell.  Luckily she is over the worst part of this latest episode and I look forward to seeing the usual naughty Norah when we go back.
Norah got much better this weekend.  Juli put these sun glasses on the poor thing but she still looks a little forlorn
The week was short in Madrid and very hot, reaching over 30ºc at midday most of the week.  When the weather gets like this we always eat outside, both for lunch and for dinner, in the patio outside our kitchen which is like a private little garden of its own.  I call it our paradise.  Our walk times change too and we go after dinner to avoid the sun which can be scorching until nearly 9 o’clock in the evening.  One day I came back from the office late for lunch this week and observed my wonderful family having a discussion over the table, so I thought I should take a photo of the delightful scene for the records, of these family times, whilst the girls are still living with us.
The family having lunch outside this week in our summer dining room
And so on Thursday, Eladio and I left sunny and hot Madrid to go to cooler and rather wet Brussels.  Our flight was punctual and the only delay was in picking up our luggage at the airport.  Dearest Sandie was there to pick us up and it was great to see her with her new figure which she has recovered thanks to the Dukan Diet.  Jeffer, her partner, had just arrived off a flight from Italy where he had been giving a coaching course, so the timing was perfect for Sandra.  She drove us in her great convertible Saab and amazingly the sun was shining, so she opened it and we drove past the EU area feeling happy to have arrived and looking forward to a fun weekend.  We dropped Jeffer off at his office and were going to go to her house in Fort Jako when we decided to drive to the Atomium, that funny silver balled symbol of Brussels built for the Universal Exposition in the 50’s.  Unfortunately we had to put the roof back on as soon as we approached it as it started to pour down.  It was so bad we couldn’t go out.  Thus we shall have to leave the Atomium for a proper visit another time.  Sandie managed to get me a couple of pictures from the car, just as a hoard of Japanese tourists were coming out of a bus in the pouring rain.

The Atomium, the symbol of Brussels
After unpacking Sandie and I went to her local supermarket, the beautifully stocked and upmarket Delhaize where we picked up easy to cook and serve food for dinner at home, to add to the ham and wine we had brought from Spain.  When Jeffer was back we all went out for a walk to the “forêt” nearby which is beautiful.  Thankfully it had stopped raining by then.  We walked past some magnificent houses, some real “chateaux” on our way there and back and I must say the area of Fort Jaco is very pleasant and upmarket too.
On the walk in the forest in Fort Jaco on the first day.
Adele and Bernard were arriving on Friday at midday which gave us plenty of time in the morning for a bit of shopping in Fort Jako.  Sandie bought 2 dresses and a blouse.  I found everything far too expensive for my clothes budget which is usually spent at Zara, H+M or Cortefiel, my favourite being garments for 12 euros or similar,  so unlike Sandie.  But then Sandie always did live the “high life”, even when we were at Nottingham University together in the 70’s.   She was the only friend who had a car, wore expensive French perfume and wore proper jewelry.  She would go home on holiday to Bombay where her Italian Father and Jewish Hungarian Mother lived and we all thought that she was by far the “poshest” of our group.  I used to think I was exotic, having a Russian Mother of aristocratic origin, but when I met Sandie I knew I had met my match.  But I also knew I had met my soul mate, in that Sandie was probably even more extrovert, outgoing, fun, sociable and adventurous than me.  I remember once waking her up at 4 in the morning, daring her to come with me to the local Indian restaurant, the Purple Elephant for a late dinner and she did.  She used to talk to the waiters in her halting but fluent Hindi and would bring them Indian cigarettes back from Bombay.  She used to walk into the restaurant kitchen as if she owned the place and they loved her.  I love her too.  I actually dared to buy her a 12 euro yellow cardigan from Zara at Madrid airport as one of my presents, the idea being to give her something colourful to wear as she usually wears darker clothes. Sandie is very frank and immediately told me she never wore yellow.  However when she put it on she just had to agree that it suited her and after that kept it on for the whole weekend.  I found it funny that my posh friend didn’t mind wearing a 12 euro garment from Zara like me!
Sandie happy with her fashion shopping purchases in Fort Jaco
Soon we went into Brussels to pick up Adele and Bernard from the train station.  Adele had great news!!  She had become a grandmother as the first of her four boys,   Johaathan’s wife, Salma, a Moroccan born French girl, gave birth to baby Emma the night before they arrived.  Little Emma was born in Dubai, so far away, and with some complications as the umbilical cord was around her neck. She is still in intensive care but is now breathing independently.  Adele will be going to see her next month and I’m sure she cannot wait.  I well remember the first time my Mother saw my first born child, Susana.  She came to see her two or three weeks after she was born and I will never ever forget the emotion of the moment.  Eladio went to pick Mummy up at the airport and I waited at home with Susana.  When my Mother came into our flat at Francisco Silvela, 71 in Madrid, I walked up the corridor to the door, opened it and handed Susana into her arms.  How can I explain what I felt?  I wonder what my Mother felt?  And how will I feel when Susana or Olivia shows me my first grandchild? 

Little Emma, Adele's first grandchild, in intensive care in Dubai.  But she's a fighter and will be ok

We drove to the Avenue Louise, the main thoroughfare in Brussels and went to our favourite café cum bakery chain, Le Pain Quotidien which originates from Belgium and which was first introduced to me on our last visit here.  Here is a photo of us here enjoying the beginning of our time together this weekend over wonderful food, of course.

In Le Pain Quotidien in Ave. Louise with our friends

Afterwards we ambled along the streets looking in some of the shops but then decided that once in Brussels we must just revisit the city’s main attraction, the Grand Place.  I’m sure Sandie must be sick and tired of the place.  She actually mentioned that Jeffer never ever wanted to go back. But as it’s only my third or fourth time and I still find it unique and beautiful.  Here we are together here with our umbrellas holding off the rain.

In le Grand Place with our umbrellas

From here we walked into the magnificent Galeries de St. Hubert to the Galerie de la Reine and then to the Galerie du Roi.  Here I picked up a Spanish newspaper for Eladio whilst the others ambled into antique jewelry shops.  Adele is very lucky as her adoring psychiatrist husband Bernard buys her lots of jewelry, something I wish Eladio would learn from him hahaha.

Eladio in the Galerie du Roi with his Spanish newspaper
Afterwards we drove back to Fort Jaco where we wound down and revived ourselves with a lovely cup of tea before starting on preparations for dinner.  Well actually Adele, Bernard and I went to Delhaize for some more wine and some other stuff whilst Jeffer prepared a magnificent dish of sea bass.  Here is Jeffer (known as “el jefe” when he did the Jacobean way in Spain) with the fish about to put it into the oven.

Jeffer made wonderful sea bass on Friday night
Adele and Bernard had brought some real champagne which we drank to toast the arrival of Emma as well as our great weekend.  Here is a photo of that moment.  Notice the beautifully laid table in the picture too. Whilst we were having the champagne Sandie skyped with her 87 year old Hungarian mother Magda who lives in London, so she sort of joined in the celebrations. 

Making a toast on Friday night with Adele and Bernard's real French champagne
The highlight of the night was the alphonso mangoes Sandie prepared for dinner.  They come from India which of course is how Sandie knows about them.  They are truly the king of mangoes and only grow in April and May.  Apparently Magda buys them by the crate!  Sandie cut the sides off them in the kitchen and I asked if she threw the middle bit away to which she replied that the three of us should suck them by the sink.  So there we were doing as she said and all I could do was have hysterics and remind Adele how similar this was to our bingeing Cadbury’s chocolate cream eggs at Nottingham University.  The “boys” of course could not understand what we were laughing about.  But then how could they?

Wonderful Alphonso mango with ice cream.  Thanks Sandra for introducing us to the king of mangoes from India
Saturday was reserved for a trip to Antwerp but first we had a magnificent breakfast for which Bernard, Sandie and I went out to the high street in Fort Jaco to a wonderful “boulangerie” with queues outside and to the local Pain Quotidien.  Sufficiently loaded with all types of croissants and bread we walked back to Sandie’s luxury flat for an equally luxurious breakfast all together around her very cozy kitchen table.

The wonderful boulangerie round the corner from Sandra's house where we bought our breakfast
At about 10.30, we headed off to Antwerp in two cars, the “girls” in Sandie’s and the “boys” in Jeffer’s.  Antwerp is really very near and is by the Scheldt River, near the Dutch border.  Needless to say it is in the Flemish part of Belgium.  We parked by the old port which was once one of the most important ports in Europe.  Even today the new modern port is apparently the second largest, after Rotterdam, in Europe.  Here we visited the recently opened Mas (museum aan de stroom), a strange modern looking red brick building housing exhibitions and built to tell the story of Antwerp.

The Mas museum in Antwerp, me with Adele. Very windy
You can walk up to the top and there are magnificent views of the city.

Me at the top of the Mas museum in Antwerp overlooking this lovely city
It is covered in hands which are the symbol of the city.  Antwerp (Amberes in Spanish, Antwerpen in Flemish, Anveres in French) actually means “hand and throw” and owes its name to the legend of a giant called Antigoon who menaced the population by demanding a toll from those who crossed the river.  He severed the hands of those who refused and threw them into the river Scheldt.  Eventually the giant was killed by a young hero who cut off the giant’s own hand and flung it into the river.
Afterwards our “tour guide” Jeffer showed us the way to the old town, but first we went through the fascinating but rather disgusting red light district. It is a poorer edition of the ones in Amsterdam and in Hamburg, but still quite large.  I didn’t dare take photos of the women of all sizes and shapes and ages in their windowed cubicles. There were men loitering on the street and I couldn’t tell who were the clients or who were the pimps. 

We walked past places called Pleasure Houses on the fittingly called “Old Man street” and felt slightly relieved as we came to lovely old Flemish streets with the typical Dutch architecture.  Soon we were at Antwerp’s version of the Brussels Grand Place which is called the Grote Markt (Dutch for grand market) where we were to see a statue of the giant’s hand being thrown into the river.  The city thrives on this legend and there was evidence of it everywhere.

The statue of the giant's hand being cut off in the Grote Markt in Antwerp
From here we walked to the Cathedral of Our Lady.  Eladio being a “cathedral expert” remarked it was from the 16th century as if it wasn’t interestingly old enough to visit.  So we skipped that visit and walked out of the old town to the shopping streets and past fascinating houses and restaurants with lots of religious symbols.  We were to have lunch at the De Foyer restaurant inside the Bourla theatre house nearby.  The place was out of this world as were their club sandwiches.
The De Foyer restaurant in the Bourla theatre where we had lunch in Antwerp

Dessert was gourmet ice cream from the “haute couture” of chocolatiers, Pierre Marcolini, Belgian by nationality and Italian of origin, in the street opposite the Bourla.  We could not resist the temptation to buy some of the chocolate too which was mostly polished off later at dinner by Adele and I who are the chocoholics of the group!

With our ice creams we strolled through the delightful botanical gardens and past the houseof Rubens until we reached another gourmet destination, the Goossen’s bakery which Sandie was keen for us to visit.  It is a bread lover’s paradise and seemed to be pretty famous.  Here we queued up for some of the well known raisin bread which we later had for dinner and for this morning’s breakfast.

The lovely old fashioned bakery called Goossens in Antwerp. The bread is so enticing
It began to rain, well it had been raining off and on, so the only thing to do was to shelter in the shops, something which delighted Bernard and bored Eladio.  One shop that didn’t bore anyone was a so-called “sweet and sexy” shop which was quite unique and had us all in stitches!

The shop that made us laugh in Antwerp
We seemed to have spent the whole day walking and at about 5.30 put an end to our day in Antwerp, a town we all fell in love with.  So we drove back to Fort Jaco after 20 minutes of searching for Sandra’s car, where the first thing we did when we got to her flat was put the kettle on of course.  Soon we were preparing our last dinner at Sandra’s home and I must say last night’s dinner was probably the best, not just because of Jeffer’s great pasta and the Spanish ham and wine we had brought or my salad,  but because of the conversation.  It got deep and started off with the story of my roots and on to religion and whether God had created man or whether man had created God (Bernard’s theory).  Here the three men had a heated and lively discussion in a mixture of English, French and Spanish, the three languages we alternated in all weekend.  Here Eladio came into his element as of course you know he is a philosopher.  We girls talked a lot about sex and our marriages, whilst washing up the dishes and preparing the dessert, topics which were of equal interest to us of course hahaha.
We carried on talking and drinking wonderful Márques de Riscal wine and eating Pierre Marcolini chocolates until about one in the morning and it was a great end to a fantastic weekend.  The good thing is that we will be seeing each other again soon as they will be coming to stay in Spain in October and we will be taking them to visit Córdoba (the city of my dreams) and to the Alhambra in Granada.  Thus we all look forward to more deep discussions, laughs and good food in the near future. 

I am now writing here at home as I come to the end of this week’s blog post.  We had to leave Brussels early as our plane was at 12, so were saying goodbye just after ten (four hours after I had got up!) after another great breakfast.  We got off the plane at Barajas airport to be met with over 30ºc, double the temperature of Brussels. It was quite a shock but of course we were expecting it. Olivia came to pick us up (a first for the record) and we were home just before four and happy to see everyone again.  I was especially happy to see Norah nearly recovered.  The girls have had a great weekend here enjoying the sun by the pool with their friends Juli and Rocío. I imagine my Father will be “weathering” the heat as best he can.  We brought him some superb Belgian biscuits as he is the only one in the house who does not have to look after his figure and of course he has a very sweet tooth. 
So now I will hasten to upload what I have written, include the links and upload the photos and publish this, after which I will join the girls by the pool. 

That’s all for this week folks.  I hope you have a great week ahead of you.
Cheers Masha
PS you can see the full collection of my photos of our Brussels trip here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A quiet week, my Mother’s birthday and her connection to the Yusupov family, a Mediterranean garden, time for reading and other stories.

My Mother aged 24 in Sofia Bulgaria in 1944, just before fleeing to Germany from the Russian invasion.  She never saw her father again.
Hello everyone,
I am writing quietly on my own this warm Sunday afternoon by the pool.  We haven’t actually used it yet as the weather has been pretty poor which is unusual for this time of year but who knows, maybe I will today after our walk.  Eladio is sleeping the siesta as is my Father.  The girls are at a party, so it was just the three of us today for a left over barbecue lunch.  The pets are sleeping too.  Joe is a little under the weather but taking him to the vet could be a traumatic experience fo so we shall have to wait and see.  Norah is under the weather too.  The other day we discovered we had been underfeeding her since she was a puppy, only giving her just over a 100 grammes of dog food in the mornings.  We decided to take a look at the packet and it appears she should be fed double that or more.  According to a dog encyclopedia Susana consulted, she should be getting 300.   Of course she always gets extra, by eating the cats’ food whenever she can or the odd bone.  For a beagle she is a little aggressive so I wondered whether that maybe due to her undernourishment.  I started feeding her double three days ago and today she couldn’t finish her bowl and is now looking definitely down, asleep on the mat outside the kitchen instead of here beside me. She was hardly interested in the lamb chop bone I gave her after lunch so we will be watching out to see how she progresses too.

Norah who we have been underfeeding unwittingly, is today a bit under the weather

I am not under the weather, just in need of a bit more action. There are no trips or lovely meals to recount this week I’m afraid.  In fact it’s been quiet, far too quiet.  The highlight in my life this week was my Mother’s birthday.  On 7th June she would have been 91 and probably going quite strong if it hadn’t been for the cancer which struck her for the third and final time when she left us forever on 1st October 1999.  What can I say that I haven’t said here before?  That we miss her of course and will never forget her.  She was, as many of you know larger than life, a most extraordinary woman and well loved by many.  Her life was marked forever by the Bolshevik Revolution of course, being born in the midst of it, when her aristocratic family fled to Rome.  I cannot be completely sure but I think she was born in what had been the Russian Embassy in Rome.  This fact could well have given her citizenship in Europe after the Second World War but she never thought to tell the authorities and thus started life as a refugee in England in the late 40’s.  Mummy, I love you and I miss you, especially on your birthday and on the1st October, two dates I will never ever forget.

My Mother in Cambridge in 1954, just after she married my Father

After writing that last sentence I looked for a photo to illustrate this part of the blog and went to my archive, a file and album I compiled about my Mother some years ago.  I flipped through it and came across the document I was looking for: “The Life of Mrs. Elena Lloyd, Princess Von Lieven, The key details”, written by Richard, Amanda’s first husband in 1993 when he interviewed my Mother in the hope of writing her story.  Unfortunately my Mother did not like the first three chapters and asked him politely not to continue, the reasons too long to go into right now. Here I was able to confirm that my Mother was indeed born in the former Russian Embassy in Rome, that she was christened in the Russian Church there and that her godmother was Princess Zenaida Yusupov, her maternal grandmother’s first cousin (and mother of Prince Felix Yusupov who killed Rasputin!). The Yusupovs were the richest noble family in the Russian court and I well remember visiting their family palace in St. Petersburg when I hosted a press trip whilst working for Nokia a few years ago.   It’s one of the top places to visit in that most Zarist of cities. I could not tell anyone what I thought as I walked through the “museum” or that my grandparents had probably been invited there on numerous occasions.  In my Mother’s family Princess Zenaida Yusupov was known as “Aunt Fairy” and they lived with her for a year in Rome before moving to Bulgaria.  As I looked at her portrait and walked through the palatial rooms the lump in my throat grew and I wondered what life was like for my ancestors and how the Bolshevik Revolution tore all their lives apart.  I was not just another tourist, I was one of them, albeit a poor ancestor, and the feeling was very intense.

Princess Zenaida Yusupov, my Mother's godmother.  They called her "Aunty Fairy"

When my Mother was born in Rome, by then the family had lost everything and were preparing a new life which would take them to Bulgaria.  Years later my Mother asked her Mother what it felt like to be rich.  She replied, “when I was rich I didn’t notice it and when I was poor there was too much to do to notice it”!  And thereby lies a very long story which one day I will write in a biographical manner not as a novel which is what Richard tried to do.  I owe it to my Mother, I owe it to myself and I owe it to my daughters.

My Mother would have loved our Mediterranean garden.  I love it too but this week even more as it is at its best at this time of year, I looked at it more closely than I usually do. 

Our mediterranean garden is at its best at this time of year
We have two peach trees which always seem a luxury to me who was brought up in the cold climate of Great Britain.  They are growing in our Mediterranean garden and soon we will pick them, although quite a few will be lost to the birds.  Meanwhile this is what the peaches look like.
It's so exotic to have peaches growing in your garden.

Eladio planted more hydrangeas last year and now they are in bloom.  They are one of my favourite flowers after roses of course.  Here you can see what they look like in another photo I took of our garden this week.

Eladio's hydrangeas are in full bloom

Being a quiet week, there has been time for reading.  This week I started and finished one of John Grisham’s latest books, TheConfession, which I picked up at Stockholm Arlanda Airport on my last trip.  I loved his first books but began to tire of the American legal jargon but the Confession is riveting and I read most evenings until the end which disappointed me.  I wanted the innocent man to be exonerated before being executed brutally and unfairly at the terrible Texan prison. 

Suzy joined us in our reading by the pool and I like this photograph of her here with Norah sitting on the wicker sofa. She probably won't like it as she's wearing a nightie but she looks so relaxed and Norah does too.

Suzy reading with us and Norah relaxing.

The book I started afterwards is by Isabel Allende, the Chilean novelist and niece of Salvador Allende.  I do not generally read in Spanish, the idea being to read in English to keep my English up.  You may not understand that if you are a native English speaker but as I left England 30 years ago, it is very easy to lose the fluency and hesitate about spelling when you have been away so long. That is partly why I write this blog in English and not in Spanish. I have always loved the film The House of the Spirits, based on her book (the inspiration for Clara came from her mystical grandmother) and the other day I listened to an interview with her on the radio.  That, together with the fact that Olivia was a fan of hers, spurred me on.  I was particularly interested in reading her only biographical book called Paula.  Paula was her daughter who had porphyria and died because of an alleged medical blunder.  Isabel Allende wrote the book whilst at her daughter’s bedside in a hospital in Madrid and in her home in California between 1991 and 1992.  In the book she tells Paula about her family, her origins whilst talking to her, in the hope that she will wake up from the coma.  She never did and I can only imagine that Paula is her most heart rendering book.  As a Mother myself I cannot imagine what she went through.  Probably her writing has saved her from literally going mad.  I think I would go mad if anything like this ever happened to me.
I am reading my first book by Isabel Allende this week: Paula

So yes I read a lot this week.  I don’t have much more to tell you.  Oh yes, I received yet another parcel from Emma Bridgewater, the crockery/pottery we use for breakfast and that Olga keeps breaking.  I bought a new pattern, Hellebore, to add to my collection and this is what it looks like.  Eladio has begged me to order no more so I won’t for another year at least.
Yet another parcel came from Emma Bridgewater this week.  I promise it will be the last at least for a year.

More importantly I went to the dentist for one more final session in the process and treatment that started some 6 months ago.  Since Thursday I can now eat on both sides of my mouth as at last as Dr. Garralda, with a little help from his lawyer daughter Paloma who will be reading this blog, finally put in a new bridge on one side and the crown of the new implant on the other.  My mouth feels strange but now I can smile without being wary of what I look like.  Thank you Dr. Garralda for the great job!

On the news front, you will be following the E-coli outbreak in Germany which was first thought to have been caused by Spanish cucumbers.  Last week the incompetent German authorities confirmed that was not the case and finally they say the deadly infection comes from sprouts or rather bean sprouts, the type you may want to add to salads or eat at Chinese restaurants.  Meanwhile Spanish producers of vegetables have lost hundreds of millions of euros and have had to throw tons away.  I wonder how the German government would have reacted if the outbreak had been in Spain and the Spanish authorities blamed the infection on produce coming from Germany.  A few centuries ago, countries would have gone to war over something like the cucumber crisis.  Good to know though that now we can eat cucumber, tomato and lettuce  and be safe. 

So yes it has been a quiet week.  Things have happened which are too private to recount here and that is frustrating.  But of course you cannot include private things in a public blog.  But I can tell you that we are upset as our best friends are splitting up because you won’t know who they are.   So no more meals out with them or trips.  They are our only close friends in Spain as the others live in Belgium and the UK.  Eladio remarked the other day that at this late stage in life it will be difficult to find a replacement.  We are sad that they are splitting up of course but we are equally sad that we are losing them because, once they are separate, our friendship will just never be the same again.

And on that sad note I leave you.  However I have an action packed week ahead of me with important meetings on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  What I am most looking forward to, is our trip to Brussels on Thursday for a long weekend with Sandie, Jeffer, Adele and Bernard, another wonderful University reunion.  I can’t wait and I know it’s going to rain but I don’t care.  There’ll be plenty of news about it in next week’s edition.

Till then, have a good week,


Sunday, June 05, 2011

A girly week, Oli in London, a change in plans, broken plates, first barbecue of the season, the cucumber crisis grows and other stories.

Today's family barbecue, the first of the season.

Hi everyone,

This week’s blog post promises to be short as my last entry was just a few days ago and not much has happened since then.

Whilst I am writing this Sunday afternoon, there is a classic tennis match going on.  Rafa Nadal is playing Roger Federer in the final of the French Open commonly known as Roland Garros.  If Nadal wins it will be his 6th win of this Gran Slam, equaling tennis legend Bjorn Borg’s record but more importantly he will retain his number one status.  There were fears that Djokovic, the Serbian number two, would win both the title and take the number one spot, but the championship went differently. In the semi-finals Nadal beat Andrew Murray of Scotland and Federer beat Djokovic.  Nadal has not had a great season, but now seems to be back in form.  Right now he is leading by 2 sets but I cannot watch as I find the whole thing far too tense.  Maybe when I end this post we will know.  Right now all I can say is “vamos Rafa”.

Wednesday was not a good day.  I had a headache throughout and also got out of sorts after a botched hair cut at my local hairdresser, basically because Angie who usually cuts it has left.  I walked out fuming but also worried the over- zealous Cuban hairdresser, Andrés, would get into trouble.  I like to have my hair short at the back and longer at the front but in an ascending way.  Andrés wanted to make some minor change at the back of my neck and there must have been some sort of misunderstanding as the end result was not what I wanted.  The girls say I look like a mushroom and I suppose I do.  I will just have to wait now for it to grow and to look for a new hairdresser.  This, my friends, is what it looks like from the back and I am not happy with it.

My botched hair cut

Thursday set the scene for a girly week.  I had lunch with Suzy after which we went for a quick shopping spree to Centro Oeste.  As Oli was away I seemed to spend quite a lot of time with Suzy this week especially as she works from home.  As I told you last week we both have set up office by the swimming pool.  On Friday afternoon we went to have a coffee nearby and as we were doing so a lady came past with some beautiful red roses.  We thought she was selling them but in fact she was giving them out free to promote her newly opened flower shop.  Here is Suzy with the rose she got, looking very summery.

I spent a lot of time with Suzy this week.  One day she will leave and I know I have to enjoy her now
I think I told you last week that Oli was going to London for a small break after her master degree and before the internship with TVE.  She flew with Easy Jet to Gatwick and going out last Tuesday the plane was delayed by over 6 hours.  Returning yesterday was a problem too as, due to the train being delayed at Victoria Station, she missed her 19.30 plane back to Madrid.  Truth to tell she could have caught it as the plane hadn’t left when she got to the check in desk.  It was in the hands of the ground staff of Easy Jet to decide her fate.  Fate was not on her side, though, the reason or excuse being that her luggage was too big for her to carry on board.  She was able to get a seat with the supposedly low cost “Ryan Air” at an extortionate sum of 300 euros one way, Ryan Air being the only airline operating a flight to Madrid after the one she had missed. Now she is home and I have just seen her post in Facebook: “home sweet  home”.  Oli spent her time in London with some of her beloved Erasmus friends who forged their friendship at Falmouth University in 2008.  She stayed with dear Japanese Shino who I hear is being a little exploited working in a sushi bar in London from 8 in the morning till 12 at night. Sandeep, her Indian friend, came from Plymouth to be with them and they were also joined by Rafa who is doing a masters degree in photography in London.  Definitely missing was Sumit, the other Indian friend who is working on a film in Bollywoood (fame for him soon I hope).  Here is a photo of them together I pinched from someone’s Facebook. 

Oli in London this week with her ex Erasmus friends

The highlight of the girly week was lunch with the Nokia girls: Jill, Zenaida, Ana, Susana, Juana and Fátima.  I nearly always arrange these encounters and on Friday we went to La Vaca Argentina in Las Rozas for our reunion lunch.  Only Jill, Zenaida and Fátima still work at Nokia (Nokia Siemens Networks) but of course, much of our conversation centered on the company’s fate at the moment.  Last week Nokia for the first time in years issued a profit warning.  They are being squeezed at the top end by the likes of Apple and Google (Android) and at the bottom by the cheap Chinese brands.  When we all worked there at the beginning of the last decade Nokia was the jewel in the crown of mobile phones.  However Nokia’s downfall should not surprise me at all as I have seen similar movements in the sector happen before.  In any case it still has an impact on me because of my emotional involvement.  It was at times a great company to work for.  Sadly that is no longer true and many people I knew no longer work there. 

The Nokia girls reunion lunch at La Vaca Argentina on Friday

On Friday too I had to make a change in our plans for our trip to England this summer.  We were to spend 7 days in Devon with friends and then go up to Yorkshire with them for a few days.  I got an email from my friend on Friday telling me they could no longer join us and that we won’t be able to stay with them.  Thus I had to rethink our stay in the UK.  I decided to find a holiday cottage in the Yorkshire Dales which wasn’t an easy task as it is a bit late in the day.  Happily though, I came across a nice looking cottage in the small town of Gargrave just outside the ancient market town of Skipton, the so called “gateway to the Dales”.  This is it, it’s called The Arbor and looks quite nice don’t you think?

The cottage I have booked for our holiday in Yorkshire this Summer

I chose the cottage because I liked it, the price was right but also because of the location.  I wanted it to be near all sorts of places we must visit such as Ilkley, Harrogate, Keighley (to see Kath and Phil), Haworth, Bradford (my old home town) York, the Dales themselves of course and maybe even the Lake District. I am so looking forward to this new trip down memory lane, to my childhood haunts but also to get recharged with some Englishness and some “Yorkshireness” too.  It’s funny how I used to hate the area when I lived there as a teenager but now I sort of need to go back.  I am still hoping to organize a school reunion dinner and really must get down to writing to people this week.  Can’t wait to see them all again. 

I have now reached the broken plates part of this post and I’m sure you are wondering what I am talking about.  I refer to my lovely EmmaBridgewater collection of breakfast crockery.  I have been collecting it now for a few years and buy it online here and it is not cheap I can tell you.  It’s something I want to leave to the girls one day but I had been noticing lately that a lot of it was broken or chipped.  The culprit is Olga our live in maid who doesn’t want to own up to it but I must say I was very cross when I counted at least 11 affected pieces and then noticed certain pieces missing.  I had no alternative but to order replacements only to find that some of the patterns have been discontinued.  This last week the parcel arrived including the new pattern, “Blue Hen”.

Some of the Emma Bridgewater crockery I have had to order to replace the broken and chipped pieces

I have been a bit naughty and inspired by the new arrival, promptly made another order including another new pattern to add to my collection.  This one is called Hellebore and you can see it here.  You see my collection includes the same pieces (small mug, big mug, plate, small jug and cereal bowl) but in different patterns (flowers, polka dot, speckled hen, pink hearts, starry skies, auricular). Hopefully it will arrive this coming week.  Olga has been warned well in advance not to break any more of it but I am not very hopeful as she is terribly clumsy.

If the week was a girly week, the weekend, or at least most of today, has been a family day.  In honour of the family and the summer we decided to have the first barbecue of the season.  Whilst the girls and their friend Juli were sunning themselves by the pool, Eladio and I prepared the barbecue which was absolutely splendid as you can see from the photo above.  Here are Eladio and I posing by the fire whilst the meat is cooking.

Eladio and I by the barbecue just before lunch today

There are a few more photos here of the occasion, as you know I love to graphically record the highlights of my life and today was certainly one of those.

We had salad with our barbecue but not cucumber.  Actually we are not great cucumber eaters but as you know its consumption is very much affected in Europe because of the E-colli bacteria found in it which has lead to the death of about 20 people mostly in Germany.  At first the German health authorities pointed at produce imported from Spain and also included lettuce and tomatoes, thus damaging Spanish exports tremendously.  They have now gone back on their word but the damage is done.  It is still not sure how the bacteria got into the produce but the centre of the outbreak seems to be in Hamburg.  Meanwhile the Russian government has banned all import of vegetables from Europe and the USA threatens to do the same.  So the story continues.  One thing we have all been advised to do is to wash our hands more frequently.  I think I am not in danger as I forever wash my hands and do not really eat much cucumber.  Let’s see how this cucumber crisis evolves.  At the moment it is not looking good.

I have just reached the end of this week’s post and have also heard right now that Rafa did win the French Open against his arch rival Roger Federer.  For the record he won the match 7-5 7-6 5-7 6-1.  This is his 6th win which equals Bjorn Borg’s record.  It is also his 10th grand slam but most important of all he is still number one in the world and probably Spain’s best ambassador for sport.  Well done Rafa!
Rafa Nadal who has just won the French Open for the 6th time, probably Spain's best ambassador for sport
On that happy note I leave you until next week.  Hope you all have a good one.

Cheers for now