Sunday, March 31, 2013

A trip to Montrondo and back, Easter, the clocks went forward, Suzy’s coming home and other stories.

A trek to the snow on the slopes of the mountains above Montrondo
Hi my friends and Happy Easter

That is, Happy Easter to those of you who believe, those of you who don’t and those of you, who, like me, always doubt.  A picture someone posted on Facebook was very to the point as regards Easter and it tells us that it is not about the bunny.  That picture has been in my head ever since I saw it and got me thinking as usual about my own faith.  You probably think I am a believer with all my stories about the new Pope.  Well yes, I wonder too and have done so all my life.  I cannot deny, especially today, that God exists but, unfortunately for me perhaps, I am not one of his faithful and only turn to him at the worst times in my life.  

I agree Easter should not be about the bunny

Let me stop being profound and get back to my usual pragmatic self and tell you about the week.  On Monday I fasted for the first time since my flu and I felt great.  I mean I felt great the next day and a lot lighter.  

On Tuesday Eladio and I set off for Montrondo to spend a few days at Eladio’s beloved village in the mountains in the north of Spain with his family.  We stopped in Rueda in the pouring rain at about midday for the usual glass of wonderful white wine and plate of ham.  Instead of doing so at the Palacio de Bornos, we skipped tradition to try out a new place next door called “La Cuba”.  It was nice enough and sold mostly the same produce as its neighbour but it lacked the charm of Bornos.  Apart from consuming some wine and ham, we stocked up on 3 boxes of Ribera de Duero red wine, chocolate and local biscuits to share with the family in Montrondo.

Our stop at Rueda on our way to Montrondo on Tuesday

Our next stop was for lunch at the Parador in Benavente in the province of Zamora.  Here we always order the soup made of local chickpeas which are grown in the small village of Fuentesauco nearby.  We really are creatures of tradition.

Chickpeas from Fuentesauco at the Parador in Benavente

We arrived in Montrondo at just after 4pm where it was raining as it was to do so during most of our stay and were greeted by José Antonio and Dolores and also my mother-in-law, Ernestina. 

Eladio and his brother José Antonio (in green) happy to be together in Montrondo
While they pottered around the house and surrounding terrain, Dolores and I went for a walk to Murias de Paredes – the nearest village – and back and of course were joined by their mongrel, little Nubah of terrier descent.  

Dolores on the walk to Murias on Tuesday afternoon, wet but nice and fresh

On Wednesday, over breakfast, I was happy to hear that Spain had beaten France in a very decisive qualifying match the night before for the Football World Cup.  You remember I asked you to cross your fingers after Spain drew with Finland?  Well, thanks my friends, if you did because they now lead the group and thus have nearly earned their place to play in Brazil in 2014. It seems unfair to me that the reigning champions do not earn an automatic place in the following championship, but these are the rules of the game.  

When I am in Montrondo and the weather is not good, I like to cook.  It relaxes me and is something to do. I made a huge chicken Korma curry that morning, not a very local dish I know, but very popular with José Antonio and Dolores and ourselves. I’m not so sure Ernestina likes it very much; it must be very strange for her palette, but she never said anything and stoically ate most of her portion.

The chicken korma curry I made in Montrondo on Thursday
The highlight of the day was a funeral in the village.  I had nothing else to do, so decided to join the family and attend the 12.30 mass at the little stone church along with most of the villagers and people who had come from afar to say goodbye to “Maruja”. 

We went to this lady's funeral on Wednesday in Montrondo

Maruja, aged 84 and officially called Tecla was the mother of Lourdes – very well known in Montrondo - and had a big family to judge by what I read on the announcement above of her death which was posted in the village and of course by the turnout. 

A very big turnout at the funeral for such a sparsely populated small village (just 10 people or so live there all year round)

I met and greeted many of the villagers, some I knew and many I didn’t.  Of course Eladio was in his element as he knew nearly everyone.  On Wednesday at the funeral mass I met for the first time a lady called Paz, the mother of the very famous friend of all our children, commonly known as J.M and probably only called by his real name, José Manuel, by his Mother who incidentally looks exactly like her son.

Paz, Ernestina and Dolores at the funeral

After the curry lunch, the men and their mother went off to sleep the siesta.  The sun was shining for once, so Dolores and I took the opportunity for another walk with Nubah to Murias de Paredes.  The official excuse was to fetch some medicine at the chemist but really we needed a walk to work off the heavy but delicious lunch. 

On Maundy Thursday I cooked again.  I made a huge fabada (bean stew) and boeuf stroganoff for the other members of the family who would be joining us in Montrondo for the Easter break.  

Eladio and José Antonio spent the better part of the morning warming up and cleaning the old house for their brothers and sisters.  I thought the picture below of Eladio was very funny - he said "habemus papam" and asked me to take a picture. It's quite obvious why isn't it?

Eladio after lighting the fire in the kitchen in the old house in preparation for the arrival of his brothers and sisters - he said "habemus papam"!!
  At about 11 they all arrived: Adela and Primo, Pili and Andrés and Isidro and Yoli and their daughter, Alicia who is the youngest of all the nieces and nephews and who is also my god daughter.  Trebol, Pili’s beautiful Dalmatian came too and enjoyed freedom with Nubah in and around Montrondo.

Beautiful Trébol in Montrondo

5 of the 6 brothers and sisters were to be together – in descending order: Eladio, José Antonio, Adela, Pili and Isidro.  Only Alejandro, the brother in the middle, was missing, as his Mother pointed out.

With my sisters-in-law in Montrondo - lunch on Thursday at José Antonio and Dolores house

After a short siesta, we all decided to go on a walking trek up into the mountains of Montrondo to find the snow.  We were lucky the weather behaved and although we were all clad in warm clothes, gradually we shed the outer layers as we got warm from the walk.  In fact, unusually for the time of year, it was not at all cold during our stay.

The trek was the real highlight of our stay and we all enjoyed it immensely.  We found the snow after 45 minutes of climbing and the photo illustrating this week’s blog is of us all at the snowiest moment of our trek.  The day before we arrived in Montrondo it had snowed but unfortunately it had disappeared by the time we arrived.  Determined to see some snow this year, the trek on Thursday was my one chance to see some. 

Nubah enjoying the snow on our trek
 At certain points of the walk which is known as La Ruta de las Fuentes de Omaña, you can spy the highest peak called “El Tambarón” which is over 2.100 metres high and impossible to climb when there is snow.  In the photo below it is just behind Eladio and I.  During our 2.5 hour trek I vowed to climb it in the summer.  I wonder if I will.  Maybe, but it is a long trek, some 3hours to reach but of course less to come down. 

Eladio and I on the trek to the snow on Thursday in Montrondo with the El Tambarón Peak behind us

You can see a short video of part of the trek here on You Tube.

On our return we were greeted by Juan (José Antonio and Dolores’ youngest son) and his girlfriend Cristina who had just arrived and later we all had tea or coffee at Adela and Primo’s new and very little but charming house.
Tea and coffee at Adela and Primo's house after our excursion to the snow

Whilst we were on our trek, the new Pontifice, Pope Francis was saying mass at the Casal del Marmo prison outside Rome. Following the tradition of washing the feet of the faithful by his predecessors on the day before Good Friday, he astonished the world by washing the feet of a woman inmate whilst there.  The fact that she was a Muslim was another big break with tradition.  The piety of the moment is of course laudable, but that it was so public, for me, at least, diminishes its humility, but then again if Pope Francis had done so in private, we would never have known.

Pope Francis washing the feet of a Serbian Muslim woman prison inmate on Maundy Thursday
The next day was Good Friday and true to tradition I had brought some hot cross buns.  Amazingly they had been in our deep freeze for a year but were none the worse for wear.  We enjoyed them split in half and toasted at breakfast and I commented to Dolores that I had been brought up on the tradition of only eating them on or after Good Friday, never before.  Funny eh?  The same applies to Easter Eggs so when I received a message from Olivia to ask whether they could start on one of the delicious Hotel Chocolate eggs I had ordered, I replied with a very firm “not until Sunday, Easter Day”. I had left a packet of hot cross buns at home for my Father with strict instructions to Oufa to toast them for my Father on Good Friday

Hot cross buns are a must on Good Friday but not before

Good Friday of course is the day Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and it is the saddest day of the Easter period. In Spain Easter is synonymous with religious processions and although religion is apparently on the decline, the processions are ever important.  Interestingly after having written this paragraph about Easter in Spain I read an article from the New York Times entitled: “Easter gets an exemption from Spanish austerity” about how much is spent on the processions in contrast to the current economic crisis.  Here I also read that only 18% of Spaniards confess to be practicing Catholics, yet as I wrote above, the traditions at Easter continue.  This is the time precious church figures are paraded in the streets by the fervently faithful and the streets are lined with onlookers, many of whom will be amazed tourists.  The weather of course is always a damper and the “cofradías” (brotherhoods) who spend most of the year preparing for the processions hope and pray for good weather.  But it always rains at Easter in my experience, although, luckily for the “cofradías” and spectators, the sun usually makes an appearance at some stage during Easter and only a few processions have to be cancelled.  This year it was the same old story or so we saw on the TV as I haven’t seen a procession for some years now.  I just dug out the picture of the last one we saw.  It was Palm Sunday in Granada in 2008 when we stayed there with my Father on a trip to Gibraltar and Andalucía which you can read about here.

Palm Sunday procession in Granada as seen by us in 2008

On Friday it rained all day, so after the very copious family lunch and long siesta, taken by some, we decided to pack our bags and come home.  When it rains in Montrondo there is not much to do.  Internet works badly and we are not a card or board playing family, so being cooped up becomes a strain. We left at about 6pm and were home before 10.  It was good to see the rain already disappear when we were passing León, an hour away from Montrondo.  It was good too to greet my Father and Oufa on our return and to find my online purchases waiting for me: Decaf Yorkshire tea to last me a year (I always buy in bulk, like the meringue nests hahahaha), the Hotel Chocolate Easter Eggs and my new TV series, Call the Midwife which I am looking forward to watching. 

I look forward to watching series one of Call the Midwife set in East London in 1957 the year I was born
We slept so well in our own bed and it was great to wake up at home.  Yesterday, Saturday, was a quiet day.  I did the food shopping with Oufa in the morning.  Olivia joined us for lunch but not Susana because as you will have seen from this week’s headline, she is moving out of her flat and was very busy.  So I went with Olivia after lunch to see her there for the last time.  She was with Juli, Chati and her Russian friend Emil who we all call “Vladimir”.  Her flat was full of bags and suitcases and boxes because today Sunday she will be moving home.  It will be just for one month though as in May, you probably know, she and Chati will be going to London to seek their fortune.  Believe it or not, all of us spent my time there playing a new addictive mobile phone application version of Trivial called Triviados.  It seems to be taking over my life so I really must start to ration myself.

Suzy's flat full of boxes and bags in the throes of her removal this weekend
I came back home on time for our daily walk.  We left at 7.30pm and I remarked to Eladio that it was still daylight and that at the same time the next day it would be just as light one hour later.  That of course is because the clocks were to go forward last night – Saturday 30th March.  Conscious of that, we put some of the clocks and watches forward before we went to bed and I put the alarm on my iPhone for 8 am this morning.  I wasn’t sure whether I would be woken up at 8 or 9, but these days technology works so well because devices are programmed to change the time automatically.  Thus I was up early and didn’t feel cheated of an hour in the day as I normally would have done.

And today of course is Sunday and Easter day and I have been busy, with my morning divided between writing this week’s post, playing online Triviados mainly with Olivia and of course making the big Easter Day roast chicken for lunch.  It had to be with all the trimmings: sage and onion stuffing, roast potatoes, various types of veg, gravy and never to be forgotten cranberry sauce.  All this was washed down by a wonderful glass of Quercus wine from a magnum bottle given to me at Christmas by Samsung – thank you Samsung.  It was delicious. Also delicious and very filling were the Easter eggs.  Thank goodness tomorrow I will be fasting and again on Thursday.  

There was time this morning too for more online purchases from my favourite online store, Amazon.  Prompted by a promotional mail from them I bought the complete collections of Colditz and Cold Feet.  We used to enjoy Colditz at home as a family in the 70’s, the BBC TV series about the special camp designed by the Nazis to hold high risk and politically important prisoners of war. So I hope it lives up to my memory and expectations.

I look forward to watching Colditz again but am not sure I will enjoy it as much as I did in the 70's.
As to Cold Feet, it was made in the late 90’s and is the wonderfully tragic and comic story of the lives of three very different types of couples in their thirties set in Manchester.  Cold Feet is one of my favourite British TV series and it was introduced to me by my dear friend Anne N whose taste in films and TV series is very akin to my own.

A great British TV series made in the late 90's
Meanwhile Suzy, helped mostly by Emil and Juli, are packing furiously and at some stage they will be arriving here with vanloads of clothes, furniture and kitchen appliances.  All this will join the boxes of Olivia’s discarded clothes in the garage. It will be great to have Suzy back if only for a month and half before she goes.

Suzy in the throes of her removal home with the help of Emil and Juli
 As I come to the end of this week’s story, it is raining furiously again outside and I am wondering when it will stop to be able to go on our walk.  

Meanwhile I hope you have enjoyed reading this week’s story and wish you all a great week ahead.  Mine promises to be busy – lots of work and two days of fasting!

Cheers till next time my friends,

PS You can see the rest of the photos of our stay in Montrondo here on Facebook.

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