Sunday, February 12, 2012

Birthdays in February, a dickens of a week, my new present, the girls in Africa, news that made an impression on me, the best picture of the year and other things

The girls are having a whale of a time in Tanzania.  Suzy with the red hair on the left and Oli on the right in between the two small children in Dar Es Salaam this week.
Hi everyone,

It is Sunday again and here I am writing my weekly post.  The week has been as good as many others with lots of news that made a special impression on me.  In fact it has been a “dickens of a week” as you will read below. But not so much for Spanish sport or its judicial system as you will also see below.

Today would have been my brother, George’s 57th birthday.  His birthday has always been two days after mine, both being dates forever ingrained in my mind.  He too takes up a large space in my memory and my thoughts today, George, the golden talented boy, whose life was spoiled in part by chemicals. 

Remembering my dear brother George who would have been 57 today, 12th February, just 4 days after my own birthday.

That is a phrase I have taken from my Finnish friend Anne who used it to describe the death of Whitney Houston who was found dead yesterday, aged only 48, in a hotel in Beverley Hills. Her most famous song was “I will always love you”.  Well, I will always love George too. George loved music and used to play the piano and guitar and I am sure would also have loved Whitney Houston.

Tragically Whitney Houston, the American Queen of Song was found dead this morning in a hotel in Beverley Hills aged 48

The week has been marked by anniversaries and I’m not referring to George’s and my humble birthdays.  Monday was no less than the Queen of England’s 60th anniversary on the throne, her diamond jubilee which for some strange reason was not celebrated on Monday but will be done so later on this year.  She was just 25 when her coronation took place and has been the only Queen of England I have ever known.  My Mother used to tell me that she joined the celebrations of that fantastic event which took place in 1953, some 4 years before I was born.  She had in fact ascended the throne upon her Father, King George VI's death on 6th February 1952 but the coronation took place later. I can imagine my young Mother, always a royalist, enjoying the event in her newly adopted London aged only a few years more than Her Majesty.

It was the Queen of England's 60th anniversary of her ascent to the throne on Monday 6th February.

I have only ever seen the Queen close up once and I only vaguely remember it.  I think it was in Bradford in the late 60’s or early 70’s when there was a lot less security than there would be today.  I do seem to remember she was wearing her trademark silk scarf to protect her head from the rain, as women used to do in England when I was a child. 

If Monday was a glorious day in English history it was a sad day for Spanish sport when we learned about Tour de France winner Alberto Contador stripped of his 2010 Tour and Giro title and banned for 2 years from the sport.  The very popular cyclist is considering appealing against the two-year ban he was given by the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) for testing positive with clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour de France.  Many people in the cycling world think the sanction is excessive.  After all what was found in his blood was a minuscule amount of the substance which the cyclist claims found its way into his body from a piece of steak he ate.  Whatever the cause, I too, find the sentence excessive.  The neighbours of Spain, the French, however do not think likewise.  Ever envious of so much success in Spanish sport, mostly on their territory, be that the Tour of Franch or the French tennis open, the Gallic TV programme Canal+ produced a humorous sketch insinuating Spain’s sporting success is thanks to drugs and included Nadal, Contador, Gasol and even Casillas in the piece. This has caused a rift in relations between the two countries which only diplomacy will be able to quash. 

Alberto Contador at the press conference this week to talk about his sentence which he says he will fight.

If Monday was the Queen’s 60th anniversary, Tuesday was no less important for English history as it marked the bicentenary of the birth of none less than Charles Dickens, probably England’s best known author after Shakespeare.  Ah so Charles Dickens was an Aquarian like my brother and I?  He is of course famous for his many books, including Oliver Twist, the autobiographical David Copperfield, A tale of two cities, Great Expectations and of course A Christmas Carol, but interestingly his name also crept into the English language in a number of expressions which have lived on after his birth.  Thus I have included the phrase “dickens” of a week in this week’s headline.  Other ways of using the word “dickens” can be found in such phrases as “what the dickens”, “scared the dickens out of me or a “dickens of a time” which I am sure the descendants of the Dickens’ family had when over a 160 of them gathered together on Tuesday to celebrate the event, including his last great granddaughter, Katherine Gray aged 90.

On Tuesday 7th February it was the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens

The day the Dickens family celebrated the illustrious author’s bicentenary, was the day the girls left for their African adventure where they of course will also be having a “dickens of a time”.  They have gone to Tanzania and Zanzibar and will be away for the next two weeks.   Rocío, the friend who is accompanying them, planned their trip down to the last detail and sent me their itinerary just before they left.  Thus we know where they are every day and I, at least, am following their adventure vicariously and even thinking that someday soon we may well follow in their footsteps.  In Tanzania, after a few days in the capital, hot and sticky Dar Es Salaam, they took a 10-12 hour bus trip to Arusha, the safari capital of the country from where they have visited the legendary Serengeti national park, a plain of some 15.000km2.  Here to quote Suzy’s text message yesterday, they saw “so many animals, zebras, giraffes, dears, lions, leopards, wild dogs and lots of elephants”.  They will be there again today.

Suzy will be in her element seeing all the animals.  Olivia I am sure will love them too, but what she will enjoy best will be meeting the locals, getting to know their culture and of course photographing children. 

Olivia doing what she likes most when she travels - meeting the locals in Dar Es Salaam.

Tomorrow they will be going to visit the Ngorongo Crater, which according to its website is a “breathtaking natural wonder”.  Here, apart from the volcanic crater, they will be seeing more amazing African wildlife.  I live for their messages and photos and the more I read about the places they are visiting, the more I want to go too.  Tanzania is home also to the equally legendary Mount Kilimanjaro which I think they will only see from afar.  I have read that you do not need any special equipment to climb the nearly 6000 metres and only have to be reasonably fit.  They will  not have time to climb it as it takes 4 days up and 2 days down, nearly a week and have preferred instead to visit the nearby magical island of Zanzibar.  If we ever go, I would really love to reach the summit of that most famous mountain, the highest in Africa but also wouldn’t miss Zanzibar and its alluring white and unspoiled beaches.  Not less I would love to eat at the restaurant they will be going to where Rocío booked a table, months ago, The Rock.  Just look at this beautiful place.  I think it would be worth making the journey to Zanzibar just to go there. Since writing this we got a phone call this afternoon from the girls direct from the Serengeti national park whilst on their jeep observing the animals.  Olivia was worried when she saw a zebra suffering and drowning in sinking sand with vultures flying above.  Their guide Moses, said not to worry as that was just nature.  I would have been equally upset as Olivia.

The Rock restaurant in Zanzibar where the girls have booked a table for next week.  Looks enticing doesn't it?
Lobster is the main item on the menu, my favourite food!  I promise I will go there one day.

On Tuesday too I received my first birthday present and it certainly sweetened the empty feeling left that day by the girls’ departure.  The present was to myself and it was the long overdue purchase of the Amazon “kindle” ebook reader.  I have long pondered over getting one as I was never sure I wanted to abandon the feeling of a real book in my hands.  So when I saw an offer from Amazon for only 99 euros I clicked and bought it.  That was on Monday and it arrived on Tuesday, living up to Amazon’s fantastic delivery service which is now free!  I got it started immediately with no technical issues at all.  At first I was a little disappointed it wasn’t touch screen or in colour but soon realised that the big advantage was its 30 days of battery life which if it were the latter would be much shorter.  The first book I downloaded was Margaret Thatcher’s autobiography, Path to Power which I am now reading avidly.  The second was Maeve Binchey’s newest book which cost just under 2 euros.  Obviously ebooks are cheaper than the real version which is the other advantage of owning the device.  I have now realised that Amazon will soon be shipping the “kindle fire” a touch screen coloured tablet, so maybe that will be next year’s present.

And finally on Wednesday it was my birthday, supposedly the most important day of my year.  I was celebrating 55 years on this earth, a grand old age. It came and went without much pomp as we were alone at home.  There was no cake or chocolate this year as this week I have returned to the strict Dukan fold to rid myself of the 2 kilo excess of Christmas tide.  There was to be no dinner out that day either, just a simple meal at lunch with Eladio and my Father.  There was, thank goodness, a card signed by all the members of the family.  There were too, presents from the two most important men in my life, in the shape of three more elements to add to my new Samsonite luggage collection.  They will come in useful on the many trips I will be making this year.  There are quite a few of them looming on the horizon, starting with a night at the Almagro Parador with Eladio next week to celebrate St. Valentines.  Then there will be a trip to England for another school reunion towards the end of March, yet another trip to Stockholm for the global communications meeting at the end of March, a communications meeting in “wonderful Copenhagen” in June followed by a long weekend in Orleans, near Paris, with our dear friends Adele and Bernard.  Eladio will be joining me on all of those except for Stockholm.  So you see, the new luggage will be put to use very soon.

If Tuesday was supposedly the most important date of my year, it was a disastrous date in the life of the high profile Judge Baltasar Garzón, who is not a prophet in his land, enjoying more support outside Spain than in.  He was sentenced with a suspension of 11 years in his judiciary career which, as he is already aged 56, virtually means the end of his professional life as Spain’s most illustrious judge.  So what were his crimes you may ask if you haven’t read the story?  You can read about it here in The New York Times in an article entitled "a chilling verdict in Spain" and which tells how he was found guilty of “misapplying the country’s wiretap law” in a case where he was investigating corruption involving bribes allegedly paid to local officials of the now-ruling Popular Party.  For most people on Judge Garzón’s side, the case was more about the judge’s enemies finally getting their way, or rather, getting him out of the way.  In his brilliant career he has made many enemies.  To quote others he often forced the law to win cases or felt above the law in his procedures.  Whatever the case I for one, admire this man who is perhaps most famous for trying to bring the ex dictator, Pinochet of Chile to trial.  That is maybe because I once met him and had the opportunity to talk to him and may well be biased.  It was a few years ago on one of my innumerable trips back from Helsinki when I worked for Nokia.  He was sitting next to me in business class, in those days when I still travelled in style.  I wasn’t sure it was him until my friend and fellow passenger Julio who was sitting on the other side of the aisle and on the same row, asked him “what was a Spanish judge doing in Helsinki”.  He answered that he had been talking in the Finnish parliament.  During the nearly five hour trip home we spoke occasionally whilst I could see that he was correcting the text of his biography.  At the time it was entitled “Judge Garzón, a man in danger of losing his life”.  At the time he was investigating the crimes of the Spanish terrorist organization ETA.  Later it went on to be sold under a different title.  But that his life was in danger was much in evidence to me when we said goodbye.  As the plane came to a stop, he was whisked off and taken into a body guarded car at the steps of the plane and driven off to safety whilst the rest of us waited to descend via the normal procedure.  On Tuesday his career came to an end and I for one, was sorry to read that.  We have yet to see the outcome of two more high profile trials he is the subject of.  One is for wanting to investigate mass killings committed during the bloody Spanish Civil War.  Garzon is accused of abuse of power for trying to investigate the disappearance of those murdered in an alleged breach of an amnesty.  This case once again divides Spain, just like in the Civil War and is a sad reflection on Spain’s judicial system.

A very worried looking Judge Garzón

Thursday seems to be the only day without big news that made an impression on me.  I spent a good part of it at work in quite a high powered business meeting.  I was home late for me but on time to get ready for our evening engagement.  We had a date with our friends Ludi and Pedro and Enrique, their notary friend.  Pedro is Pedro Delgado, a charismatic and famous figure in Spain.  He is an ex cyclist, winner of the Tour of France and today a TV commentator.  He had just come back from shooting an advertisement with BMW in his native Segovia.  As you can imagine we spoke about the two main topics of the Spanish news this week and which I have touched upon above.  Pedro told us he thought Contador’s sentence was far too drastic.  As to talking about Garzón’s sentence, not much was to be gleaned from Enrique who was too diplomatic to air his viewpoint.  I am not a political person but am very aware that those who are on Garzón’s side are generally left wing and those who are not are generally right wing.  So if Enrique had given his opinion he would also very likely have given away what side of politics he is on, something he was probably unwilling to do. That said does not mean I am either right wing or left wing although my family were staunch conservatives.  If anything I am probably somewhere in between.  We had dinner at a new place for me, Las Tortillas de Gabino, famous for its “tortillas” (omelettes).  Also one of its chefs learned his trade at Spain’s most illustrious restaurant El Bulli.  We shall definitely be going back there.

Friday was an uneventful day for us and I just worked quietly from home, going for our usual walk in the afternoon and sticking to my diet after not having sinned at the restaurant the night before.  But it was probably the most eventful day in the life of the Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda.  He won the 2012 World press photo of the year, which is like having taken the best picture of the year.  And what a picture it is.  If you haven’t seen it, here it is, a shot taken by the Spaniard of a Yemeni woman holding an injured man in her arms during violent clashes between anti-government demonstrators in Sanaa.  I suppose it wouldn’t have won any prize in the Middle East as the contrast of the women completely clad in black and a semi naked injured man would probably not be seen as anything special. 

The Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda won this years World Press Photo of the Year with this amazing picture taken in Yemen after the uprisings.

In any case I think it is fantastic but never as fantastic as the shot of the Afghan girl taken by Steven McCurrey for the National Geographic in 1984.  That for me remains to be probably the best photo I have ever seen.  According to Wikipedia the photo has been likened to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.  Yes, it is indeed a work of art.

One of my favourite photos of all times.  Afghan girl (aged just 12) by Steven McCurrey was published in the National Geographic in 1984

The weekend has been very quiet without the girls and we haven’t been out as Olga of course is not here at the weekends. We didn’t go to the cinema either but yesterday, Saturday, I enjoyed immensely Roman Polanski’s 2005 version of Oliver Twist with Ben Kingsely as a superb Fagin.  The story never fails to play its magic on me and it was rather fitting to watch it the week of its author's bicentenary.

Barney Clark played an endearing Oliver Twist in Roman Polanski's film made in 2005

And that brings me to today, Sunday, George’s birthday and the death of the American Queen of song, beautiful Whitney Houston.  What a sad way to end the week.  However next week promises to be great, especially because we will be celebrating St. Valentine’s with a night away in Ciudad Real at the Almagro Parador from where we shall be visiting the famous Tablas de Damiel, a national park far different from the Serengeti.  It is a wetland and nature reserve in a very dry area of Spain and is actually even bigger than its Tanzanian counterpart, measuring over 19.000 km2.  There will be news of course about that visit in next week’s blog post.

Meanwhile I wish you all a great week.


No comments: