Sunday, January 08, 2012

Christmas came and went and brought a lot of joy.

The five of us on Kings' day
 Hi everyone,

Last time I wrote it was just before Christmas, in fact the day we put up all the decorations.  And today is 7th January, the end of Christmas and, with a heavy heart, and like most of you, we will have to take them down.  Eladio and I have just done so and I, at least, am left with an empty feeling.  The emptiness, though, will probably go away, when we go out to lunch, the two of us today to Le Pain Quotidien. 

It’s been a good Christmas, as good as it can get and in fact I’ve been so busy enjoying it I kept putting off writing my blog.  But now it can’t wait any longer and I have to record all our activities and there have been many.  

So let me start from the beginning, from where I left off, as always.  It was Monday 19th December, a very busy day for me, I remember.  But it wasn’t just any Monday in December.  It will be remembered for being the day when the world first heard that one of its worst dictators, Kim Jong-iL had died.  The whole of North Korea went into mourning and wept for the cameras.  I suspect that if they didn’t cry in public, they were in fear of being sent to jail in a country which is best known for its stifling and outdated communist regime.  Unfortunately the dictator’s death will not put an end to the anachronism as the dictator’s son will take his place and his countrymen will continue to suffer at the dictatorship’s hands.

Kim Jong-Il, the dictator of North Korea died in December
 I didn’t give a thought to Kim Jong-iL the next day which turned out to be even busier. I had an important meeting at work and then another one at my PR Agency’s office with two rebellious bloggers, after which I had to rush off, this time to another pleasant Christmas lunch.  It was with my ex PR Agency team from Llorente y Cuenca and it was great to exchange news with Susana, Mauricio and Juan at the Indian restaurant Annapurna in Madrid.  They seemed to have matured so much since we first worked together over five years ago when Yoigo was launched in the Spanish market. 

That night Julio and Fátima came to dinner for the first Christmas celebration of the season.  Every year we go to Julio’s house for a traditional dinner, but this year, logistics dictated that it take place at our house.  And a fine time we had, as always, with our exchange of presents and crackers.  This year, I had ordered “party poppers” on one of my new Christmas online sites, and they were a great success, after we figured out how to use them.  Next year I shall order them in bulk!

Dinner with Julio and Fátima

On the Wednesday before Christmas the last of my seasonal work events took place.  It was the Yoigo children’s party and we were to create an outdoor circus.  The girls were to join me as helpers but first we met in town for a quick bit of Christmas shopping and for an unplanned lovely lunch together.  We were in one of Madrid’s most famous shopping streets, Fuencarral and here we happened upon my proverbial favourite, Le Pain Quotidien.  Afterwards and just before we left for Yoigo, we discovered a great little shop called Tiger whose products reminded me of Ikea.  It is apparently a Danish store which sells cheap and original home accessories and thus the resemblance I suppose. 

Soon we had to curtail the girly outing and make our way to Yoigo where preparations were taking place for the original children’s party which was to take place outdoors.  I was afraid of the cold so we ordered an umpteen number of outdoor heaters which in the end were not necessary as it never went below 10ºc.  The party was a huge success and we had even bigger numbers than the year before, with staff taking along up to 6 nieces and nephews!!  I even saw a woman and her child who turned out to be gatecrashers from the neighbouring company Cisco. Here are the photos to prove how much the children enjoyed themselves.  I am now asking myself what on earth we will create for next year’s party!!

The circus we created for the Yoigo children's Christmas party this year

The circus people were amazing but, even more amazing, was Michal Kahn, the English balloon artist who joined us again for the children’s party.  I couldn’t resist having my photo taken with her and it is one I will cherish for a long time.  You can see the whole album of photos of the wonderful circus we created here.

With Michal Khan, the amazing British balloon artist

Whilst the party was in full swing, Spain’s new and right wing Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, announced the names of the people to be included in his cabinet.  On our way back in the car we avidly looked up the news on our mobile phones, and I was immensely happy to see he had appointed his youngest member of staff, Soraya Sanz de Santamaría, as his Vice President.  She has just turned 40 and given birth to her first child and is very well prepared for the job.  I wish them all luck in what is going to be one of the toughest legislations in many years.  One of their first measures has been to put up our income tax, not a very popular decision I am sure.  

The next day was Thursday 22nd December and famous in Spain for being the draw of the Christmas lottery, commonly called “El Gordo” (the fat one).  Eladio didn’t win a penny but Suzy was lucky with a win of 120 euros for a ticket she bought in Alicante.  Oli was busy at work covering the stories of the winners in Madrid and although she didn’t warn me in advance I caught her live on the television at a fish market in Madrid interviewing some of them.  You can see the video clip at minute 13.35h  here.

Oli reporting on the Christmas lottery winners live on TV

On Friday we returned to the little English restaurant in Pozuelo for dinner, La Pérfida Albión.  We were joined, this time, by José Antonio and Dolores who, I think, enjoyed the fish and chips as much as us.  The portions are big but I’m afraid the platter is not as authentic as I would like, although it tastes very good.  It’s just a bit too “gourmet” for me, being a “Yorkshire lass” with good memories of fish and chips at the local chippy or even better at the famous Harry Ramsdens in Guiseley.

Gourmet fish and chips at the English restaurant in Pozuelo

The dates for Christmas and New Years Eve fell at the weekend this year and it felt strange.  That doesn’t go to say they weren’t as enjoyable as ever.  I had been preparing for the important Christmas Eve dinner for weeks and had ordered food and crackers online and made and frozen our traditional “perushki” (little Russian pies) weeks before, as well as the croquettes.  I had also made the potato salad the day before.    So all I had to do on Christmas Eve  was prepare the rest: salmon and prawns with avocado pear with chopped egg and onion and 1000 island sauce, bacon rolls, potato salad, egg mayonnaise canapés, tuna fish vol au vent, green salad, fresh thick green asparagus, foie and the best “pata negra” ham you could imagine. Needless to say, it was all far too much and we ate the delicious left over’s for days to come. 

The table looked a treat as we sat down for the most important meal at Christmas in Spain. 

The table on Christmas Eve

Afterwards we sat with the girls in the lounge looking at photos of this year until we all fell asleep and made our way, happy to our beds, in wait for the next day to come, Christmas day, a day that I look forward to year after year and which never ever disappoints me.  As we closed our bedroom doors, I took out the girls’ stocking presents from the cupboard where they were hidden and placed them in a big Christmas sack Anne once sent me, instead of the traditional woolen stockings made by my Mother for the girls when they were small.  This was because Susana was unable to find hers at the last moment!

Christmas day was the same as every Christmas.  It is exactly the same as when I was a child and we used to spend Christmas at my Grandmother’s house in Ickenham near London.  I have continued the tradition and I suspect my girls will too when they form their own families. First we have a wonderful breakfast together.  Unfortunately this year I didn’t take any photos.  But for the occasion, out comes one of our wedding gifts, the Royal Albert china tea set which is always laid on my favourite M+S fruit and flower patterned table cloth both of which were gifts I treasure from my parents.

Next we go to the lounge where all the presents around the tree are waiting to be unwrapped and we spend nearly two hours opening big and small parcels with Christmas carols in the background.  This year we were joined by both our dogs, Norah and Elsa. On the table there will always be wonderful chocolates, either  Roses, Heroes or Quality Street.  This year it was Heroes, bought by Suzy at Quicksave in Gran Alacant.  We all go ooh and ah and love every minute of it.  I was happy to open my new Samsonite cabin suitcase and matching pc case which will make my trips to Stockholm or Barcelona much more comfortable.  I also got a black Tous watch from Eladio and a wooden suit hanger stand from the girls for my bedroom to hang my clothes out for the next day.  I always put them on the sofa and this will be very useful for this tidy practice of mine.

Eladio and I with Elsa just before opening the presents on Christmas Day

Then everyone disappears and it’s up to me to get on with making the lunch, another traditional meal, the only difference being that instead of turkey we have “pularda”, a sort of fattened hen which we prefer.  To accompany the bird, there must always be sage and onion stuffing, roast potatoes, gravy, brussel sprouts and cranberry sauce. The table looked great and here you can see my Father and Susana patiently waiting for us all to appear and begin the feast.

Grandpa and Suzy waiting for us to join them at the Christmas day lunch table.  Looks nice eh?

What makes the lunch heavy is the Christmas pudding eaten afterwards with traditional sweet white sauce made with brandy, not to mention the endless supply of chocolates and Spanish turrón (a sort of nougat). 

You can see all the photos of our family Christmas here if you want to see some more.

The afternoon is spent sleeping off the lunch and then a brisk walk with the dogs.  Of course dinner is cold leftovers whilst watching a good film on television.

Boxing Day is not a holiday in Spain and both girls had to go to work.  They were to join us later in the evening though for one of our Christmas highlights.   At Olga’s suggestion I had bought tickets for all of us to go to the Strauss Festival New Year concert taking place at the Auditorio Nacional in Madrid (the main music hall). This was to be a huge treat for my Father who is an avid Strauss and Vienna New Year concert fan.  It was also to be his first outing since his operation.  We went in two cars with his wheel chair folded away in ours and as usual, got lost on the way.  We all sat down to listen and watch the concert just as the music started and a bit stressed with the logistics of finding the place and getting the tickets out of the machine which wouldn’t read my credit card.  But soon we were all immersed in the magic of the wonderful music.  Here is a photo of the five of us during the interval.

At the Strauss New Year concert with Grandpa on Boxing Day

It wasn’t until the encore that we were to finally hear the Blue Danube which I had been waiting for throughout, probably Struass’ most famous piece.  Later we were to watch the real concert live on 1st January in León.  That got me thinking that maybe one year we will go. I since looked up how to buy the tickets and you have to register for a draw, so I did.  I will only know in March if we will be lucky enough or not to be able to buy them at the medium level price of over 500 euros each!  Will we go to Vienna for the concert next year?  Watch this space.  Maybe we will.  In any case my Father has now at least seen a smaller version live and I know he thoroughly enjoyed it.  In fact he is now a lot better.  The bedsore on his heel is on the mend and he can now stand up on his own and has even been practicing walking and has been able to do so without being helped.  That is the best news this Christmas for us all.  

The next day, Tuesday 27th December, was another family highlight when we went to dinner to our friends’ house as dictates tradition every Christmas.  We were invited to dinner at Mar and Mariano’s.  When we arrived Mariano had just left to pick up Mar who works for La Vanguardia newspaper in Madrid.  So we were hosted for the first hour, in their absence, by San, their 9 year old adopted Chinese son who has been Suzy’s and is now Oli’s pupil for help with his homework on a nearly daily basis during the school term.   San was the perfect host who, after showing us the album of his adoption and holiday photos to exotic places, suddenly said “don’t you think my parents are taking a bit long?”.  Finally they arrived and we could sit down to dinner served by their delightful non Spanish speaking Filipino maid Cherry.  The dinner was wonderful as usual but our friends had a dilemma.  Mar had just been offered the job as chief communications officer by the newly appointed Spanish Minister of Finance and she was debating whether to take it or not.  The biggest obstacle of course being the sacrifice she would have to make for her family and not being there for San.  Just a few days later they went to Orlando for New Year so I still don’t know whether our friend accepted this must public term of office.  I advised her; to do so as a chance like this was something she could not say no to.  I wonder whether she did.

Dinner at Mar, Mariano and San's

The next day Eladio and I were off to Salamanca to the small village called Peñacaballera near Bejar.  We were going to stay with our friends Javier and Ana and their family for what was supposed to be just a night but they then persuaded us to stay on for another day and we did.  Believe it or not I didn’t take along my pc so only had my mobile phone to rely on.  It was the only time this Christmas I truly disconnected. As soon as we arrived, Javier and his friend Jorge had prepared a table outside with wine and cheese to enjoy before lunch.  It was sunny throughout our stay as it has been all Christmas.  

Drinks in the garden with Javier and Jorge upon arrival in Peñacaballera

After a delicious lunch of homemade cooked stew for which we all needed an hour long siesta, we went off for a walk around the village.  It was a great afternoon for photography and there were plenty of things to catch on my camera, including a magnificent brown cow in one of the fields.

Me captured on camera by Javier, taking a photo of a cow in a field on our walk near the village

We played cards after dinner, where we were joined by Jorge’s wife Maria, and learned a new game, the name of which I only remember begins with “c”.  I love playing cards and Eladio doesn’t so I thoroughly enjoyed the session while he stoically tried to play the best he could.  

The next day, whilst we were having breakfast Jorge came round after a 7 kilometre run to suggest a 10 kilometre walk to a village called Baños de Montemayor which I learned later is famous for its spa. We took up the challenge and had a great morning walking up and down steep slopes and across fields and paths to be rewarded with a cup of coffee in Baños.  By the time we were half way through the walk, it was so sunny our thick coats, scarves and gloves were completely unnecessary.  I took some lovely pictures, but the best of all is the self timer one that Jorge managed to figure out on my camera.  And here we are the five of us posing to capture forever a moment on that marvelous walk.

A moment on our 10 kilometre walk to Baños de Montemayor and back

In the afternoon we lazed around getting to know our friends a bit more with wonderful relaxed conversations.  We are so happy that Javier is now back in Spain from New York and I guess he is too.  Now we will see them much more often.  To celebrate his return Javier and Ana invited us all, and this time Jorge’s candid wife, María joined us, to dinner in the picturesque village of Hervás, famous for its Jewish quarter.  Hervás is actually in the province of Cáceres in the Extramadura region right on the border of Salamanca and some 5 or 10 kilometres away from Peñacaballera, or “Peña” as our friends call it. We went to a charming little place called El Almirez and here we dined like kings.  

The next day we were up early and said our goodbyes. We took Laura and Ignacio, Javier and Ana’s oldest “children” with us as the family were leaving too for Madrid where they would be spending New Year’s Eve.  Thankfully they knew the way better than us and the journey back was made at greater speed than the outbound one. 

You can see all the photos of the New Year concert, dinner at Mar and Mariano’s and our visit to Peñacaballera here.

We were home for lunch and saw our girls later in the afternoon just for a short while before we were to say goodbye again.  They were off to Barcelona by plane that Friday night late, to spend the New Year and a few more days with Laura, their friend from the scouts.  Laura now lives there permanently in a roomy old flat in the Rambla right inside the Boquería Market where I trust they did all their food shopping.  

Suzy took some great pictures of their visit and this is my favourite one.  Here you can see Suzy and Oli jumping on the beach with a rainbow in the background.  It looks like they had a lot of fun.

The girls had a grand time in Barcelona over New Year

The next day was New Year’s Eve and we were off again.  We left my Father at home with Olga.  It was great sacrifice we asked of her to forego her New Year’s Eve but I had offered her to invite a friend along.  I later learned that she had invited three friends and that they had organized a proper party so in the end it didn’t seem too much of a sacrifice. I trust my Father thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

We meanwhile, went off to León, and  took my sister in law, Dolores and our niece and nephew Sara and Juan with us.  As usual we stopped off at Rueda for a glass of delicious white wine and platter of ham and lomo.  Here is a photo of Eladio and I enjoying the moment. 

The obligatory stop at Palacio de Bornos in Rueda on our way to León for NYE

By 1 o’clock we were in León and Andrés, my outgoing and fun loving brother in law, was waiting for me to have a drink in one of the nearby bars before lunch.  I could hardly stomach more food or wine after the stop in Rueda, but obliged the best I could.  Pili had a sumptuous lunch ready for us as she does every year on New Year’s Eve.  Afterwards, yet again, a siesta was in order.  I enjoyed mine on the sofa with Trebol, their adorable Dalmatian who slept on the matching blanket you can see in the photo below.

Trebol, Pili and Andres' adorable dalmatian

Later we all met at Adela’s house, Eladio’s other sister and here we sang happy birthday to her eldest son, Roberto, who had turned 40.  He is the oldest of the cousins who range all the way down to aged 18.  Diana, otherwise known as “pitulines” or “nene”, his two year old daughter, enjoyed blowing out his candles, over and over again as you can see in the  picture below.

"Pitulines" blowing out her Father, Roberto's 40th birthday candles.

Afterwards I joined Pili and Mario, her son, on a last minute shopping expedition.  We were looking for a black bow tie for him to wear with his new suit that night.  The expedition proved fruitless as every shop we visited had run out of them. We did manage, though to get his Kings’ day present, a pair of size 46 (difficult number to find) Panama Jack boots.  That was one pleased Mario I witnessed that evening.  

Soon we were all preparing to get dressed up for the annual family dinner which nearly always takes place at the Amancio Restaurant in the centre of León.  This year we were 20 round the table and it was as good as it gets.  I had taken along party poppers and crackers as well as presents for all and sundry.  I was taken aback when at the end both Eladio and I were presented with gifts from our family and clapped by everyone.  It was a very touching moment. 

New Year's Eve in León was as good as it can get

You can see the rest of the photos I took of the family New Year’s Eve together in this link.

The next day of course was 1st January 2012.  I always have an empty sort of feeling on that day.  Everything is closed, it’s cold and the streets are empty and it takes a while to get used to it being another new year.   After watching the New Year concert at Pili’s house, where we staying, we made our goodbyes at around midday and set off home.  Sara and Juan joined us as they had to work the next day.  We stopped at the Parador in Benavente for a New Year’s lunch and as always Eladio and I enjoyed a dish of chickpeas (garbanzos) from the village of Fuentesauco, also in the province of Zamora.   There is a local expression which we love which says: “el buen garbanzo y el buen ladrón de Fuentesauco son” and means: “good chickpeas and good thieves are from Fuentesauco”.  In Spanish it sounds much better because it rhymes.  I must look google the expression to find out its origin.

Soon we were home to a very quiet house, just occupied by my Father, Olga and the dogs as the girls didn’t come back until Tuesday night after New Year’s Eve.  There is not much to report about last week.  Eladio and I did routine things like washing the dogs (oh what fun), the weekly shopping at Carrefour and of course went on our walks, read and worked.  

Friday 6th January was to be a national holiday, Kings’ day in Spain where the main tradition is to exchange presents, even though it is the last day of Christmas.  We celebrate Father Christmas but there is always a little something for everyone on Kings’ day and a lovely family meal.  Funnily enough the food I prepared couldn’t have been more English: roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings.  We are, after all, an Anglo Spanish family.

So on Thursday I dragged Eladio out to Centro Oeste to get presents for us all.  Suzy was in charge of getting mine as when it comes to presents Eladio lives on cloud cuckoo land and thinks I am in charge of all present giving, including my own, hahahaha. There is nothing in all our years of marriage that will ever change that.

Kings’ day came and on this day it is tradition to make or buy the festive “roscón”, a sort of elongated circle made of buttery sponge which is covered in almonds, sugar and crystallized fruit.  Inside there is always a little present which if it lands on your plate means you are supposed to be in charge of buying the following year’s roscón.  Funnily enough it landed on mine.  I suppose that is fitting as it is nearly always me that buys it anyway. We buy two versions, one with thick whipped cream and one without which I like to toast.  We have been having it for breakfast and as dessert ever since.  The cream version is a great hit with my Father.

The Spanish "roscón" which is always eaten on Kings' Day

Lunch was the best part of the day, as after the amazing roast beef, we opened our presents, just one each. 

Our Kings' Day lunch on 6th January

Juli was with us and made a splendid photographer.  The photo illustrating this blog is of the five kings of this house.  Thanks Juli.  You can see the rest of the photos of King’s Day in this album.

We were in such good spirits that day that the girls and I sang carols for my Father, Eladio and Juli.  I have put them here on You Tube.  Our singing is not wonderful but the moment was very special.
Our festivities didn’t end there as after our siesta and walk Eladio and I had a date at the cinema.  We went to see Meryl Streep play Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.  She was magnificent and I loved every minute of the film.  I would have preferred a biography in chronological order rather than flashbacks of her life when she began to have Alzheimer around the death of her husband, her beloved Dennis Thatcher.  I now look forward to seeing the film in English.

I am almost sure Meryl Streep will win an Oscar for her role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.

After the film Eladio and I went out to dinner and chose De Brasa y Puchero in nearby Boadilla where we ate another copious meal.  If you ever go, do please try the “patatas revolconas” (dish of potatoes impossible to translate the name of).  

And so I am now back from where I began writing yesterday, when Christmas ended in all the houses and Eladio and I put away the decorations.  The day was made less sad, as we went out to lunch to Le Pain Quotidien as I mentioned at the beginning.  My overall favourite dish there is the hummus which has a tang of curry; umm delicious.

Hummus at Le Pain Quotidien in Zielo on Saturday

And now it’s Sunday 8th January and I am waiting for the girls to turn up to the last family lunch for a while.  

Next week will be busy and I have a trip to Stockholm to look forward to on Tuesday.  But more about that in next week’s edition.

Hope you all had a great Christmas and I wish you a wonderful 2012.

All the best/Masha

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'll be in Stockholm too on Tuesday, as in tomorrow. Will you be at Stureplan? If so and you have 5 min to spare text +46706236279. /Mica