Sunday, June 30, 2013

Summer’s here, Oufa is leaving, welcome Fátima, the supermoon, Inda came to visit Norah and Elsa, a trip to a secret destination, a family barbecue and lots of other stories

The "older generation" at the family barbecue gathering yesterday
Hi everyone,

Sorry for missing my post last Sunday but life has been very busy recently. I now have two weeks to report on.  So let me backtrack to tell you all about my life since I last wrote on Sunday 16th June.

The next day Monday, our mother company, TeliaSonera, announced the appointment of a new CEO.  Johan Donnelind, unsurprisingly, is Swedish and has lots of international operator experience.  He will start after the summer, which, for the Nordic people, is when they all literally switch off to enjoy their summer houses, picking berries and mostly the long daylight they have at this time of year.  This all starts with what they call Midsummer, although it is not the middle of the summer.  This is a festivity that celebrates the longest day in the year and is taken very seriously by our Northern European neighbours. 

It was on Monday when our sweet Moroccan home help Oufa announced she is getting married in August and will be leaving us.  I am very happy for her but will miss her enormously.  Her wedding will be in August near Marrakesh where she comes from, after which she will go to Paris to live with her Moroccan groom who runs a grocery shop there with his family.  We will not be bereft of help as her older sister, Fátima, will be replacing her.  It was not until she told us she was leaving that I began to realize just how much she means to me.  Oufa is like a substitute daughter and has run this house with great dedication, love and efficiency.  For me she has become part of the family and when she leaves she will break my heart wherein she will remain forever.  Oufa is one of those people I cannot forget, a bit like our Danish au-pair Pernille with whom we have formed a lifelong relationship. 
Oufa and Susana

Oufa hasn’t replaced Suzy but she has made it easier for me to bear my eldest daugher’s leaving Spain to go and live in London.  It was on Monday too that Suzy left after her surprise visit here.  

On Tuesday it was Olivia’s time to leave, this time for a short holiday in Valencia with her boyfriend Miguel whose nick name is “Titi”. He had prepared a surprise for her, two nights at the luxury 5 star Villa Gadea Hotel in the chic little town Altea on the Costa Blanca.  Funnily enough it was near Altea where Eladio and I fell in love more than 30 years ago.  It was in Altea too that we had our first dinner date together. 
Olivia enjoying the luxury hotel in Altea
It was on Tuesday too that the Spanish national Under 21 football team won the European Championship.  La Rojita (the little red) as the team is known, after the La Roja (the red) official Spanish national football squad, beat Italy, no mean rival and I think have now won the championship some four times. Spain is really currently the best squad in the world, something this nation could never have dreamed of a few years ago, although it is a great football nation, boasting some of the world’s best teams.
The Spanish Under 21 football  team won the European Championship yet again
On Wednesday I had a crucial meeting with my events agency, QuintaEsencia, to go over lots of little details of the up and coming summer party I am organizing for over 200 people.  You cannot begin to imagine the work that goes into preparing it with the added complication of all the flight and hotel arrangements.  

Wednesday saw the Real Madrid basketball team beat Barcelona to win the national league.  There is so much rivalry between the cities that reaches its zenith when the rivalry is about sport. 

Last week was the official start of the summer.  We have had strange weather recently but finally on Friday the sun shone and it has done ever since.  Friday 21st was therefore the longest day of the year, the solstice. We did not celebrate with bonfires or maypoles as this is not a festival I was brought up on. So Eladio and I did our usual and went out for a normal Friday night dinner.  This time we went to La Vaca Argentina where there was a promotion of a free bottle of wine from an area I love in La Ribera del Duero, Arzuaga.

Saturday was the highlight of last week.  José Antonio (Toño) and Dolores and Nuba their mongrel dog came to spend the day.  We enjoyed a great lunch made by Oufa (oh I will miss her cooking), a long afternoon by the pool, followed by our walk with the dogs and a light dinner  For the record all four of us swam in the pool that day, something of a first for Dolores.
Eladio enjoying the pool

Just as they were leaving, we witnessed the appearance of the supermoon which was supposed to be at its brightest in the early hours of Sunday morning.  As you can read here, the “so-called "supermoon" occurs when the moon reaches its closest point to earth, known as a perigee full moon. The effect makes the moon seem 14% bigger and 30% brighter than when it is furthest from the planet”. It was quite a spectacle but difficulty to record well on camera.  This is the best I could do on my iPhone 5.
The supermoon as seen from our  balcony the Saturday before last
On Sunday Olivia was back from Valencia.  She brought her friends Dave and Rocío for lunch and Rocío brought with her, her darling little black Labrador puppy, Inda to meet our dogs Elsa and Norah.  We all doted on little Inda with whom I have fallen totally in love but we weren’t sure how Norah our beagle or Elsa our Labrador would react. The beginnings were not promising but within the hour the three were firm friends.  I am sure they now look forward to India coming to visit again or to stay when Rocío goes on holiday. 
Inda with Norah and Elsa
Susana would have loved to be here that afternoon when the rest of the “manada” (herd) as the girls’ group of friends is called came, but that was not to be.  Suzy meanwhile is having a grand time in London to judge by photos of what seem to me to be endless partying.
Suzy having a great time in London
The next day, Monday, Suzy had an interview for a job which would be good to start with; guess assistant at a top Spanish hotel in London.  She was later told that she would go through to the next round or rather be admitted into the job selection process.  Whatever the outcome, interview experience is very important for her in her job seeking period.

Suzy was much on my mind as I went into the centre of Madrid for a business lunch.  It was hosted by Ametic, the telecommunications sector association, who had invited the communications directors from the main Spanish operators.  We love to get together and were very honoured at this initiative which came from the new CEO of Ametic who has a completely different style to the previous CEO who mostly ignored us.  The purpose of the lunch, held at Loft 39 in Velázquez, was to get to meet us of course, but also to discuss the arrangements of the big conference they organize in Santander at the beginning of September and which is probably the most important item in the sector’s yearly agenda.  We were so busy discussing Santander that I forget to take a picture of the group.  However I do have a souvenir of the lunch, in the photo below.  It is of the “tapa” created by the restaurant chef which won the best tapa of the year award organized by the city of Valladolid.  The “tapa” or morsel of food recreates the local newspaper, El Norte de Castilla and is served on a glass covered plate of newspapers.  It is completely edible and is made of steak tartare, milk ice cream, mustard, honey and goat cheese.  As I don’t like cheese I didn’t try it but I also would have chosen it as the best tapa in the contest just for its originality. My fellow colleagues around the table said it was delicious.
The prize winning tapas at Loft 39
I was the first to leave this long lunch at about 16h and as I stepped outside into the warm sun, I spied a Zara shop and decided to go inside to see if they had a summer coat/long jacket which I had seen Cristina wear earlier that morning at a meeting with my events agency.  We both have a similar slightly classical style and I always love the way she dresses.  Her coat was light blue and the Zara in Velázquez only had it in emerald green.  I tried it on and loved it.  Green is one of my favourite colours and I look forward to wearing it with my flowery green trousers, perhaps in Santander in September as right now it is far too hot to wear anything long sleeved.
My new green linen summer coat from Zara
Whilst I was coming home, Rafa Nadal was playing his opening match at Wimbledon and I was shocked to hear he lost it and was out of the tournament which, despite being on grass, his least favourite surface, he has won twice.  Later in the week his arch rival, the lovely Swiss Roger Federer was knocked out too.  That means this year’s tournament will be one of the most open in years. Who knows this maybe Andy Murray’s chance to win it, with the permission of Djokovic of course?

Tuesday and Wednesday are days I can’t tell you about this week although I would love to.  You see this year’s summer party’s destination is a secret and I went there with Bea and Miguel from QuintaEsencia for some final important details we had to see about to make sure “everything will be alright on the day”.  Next week the secret will be revealed and the 200 or so guests, I hope will be happy to find out where the party will finally take place.

I was home on Wednesday evening, just in time for a balmy evening walk with Eladio and the dogs and dinner with Olivia.  Needless to say, in this weather, all our meals take place outside in the garden in front of the kitchen which I call our “little paradise”.

I came home to a perfectly clean and run home.  Oufa, for who this would be her last week, had brought her older sister Fátima on Monday evening to show her the ropes.  Fátima doesn’t know much Spanish but seems a lovely person and is an excellent cook.  The two of them have been here all week cleaning and cooking and the house, with two people running it, has never looked so good.  I went shopping with them on Thursday evening, as I do every week with Oufa and it saddened me to realize it was the last time I would do so with Oufa.  Here is a photo of the two sisters at Mercadona, our local low cost supermarket.
Oufa (in white) and Fátima at Mercadona on Thursday afternoon
That night there was a football match again between Spain and Italy.  This time it was “La Roja” playing the Italian squad in the semi finals of the Conferederations’ Cup.  I wasn’t really sure what this “cup” was about so friends on Facebook enlightened me.  Apparently it is a sort of world cup hosted by the country where the next World Cup will be played, Brazil and the contestants are the host country, the champions of each continent as well as the current world champion.  As Spain is both the current European and World champion, Italy gets to represent Europe as it was the semi finalist.  I didn’t watch the match which in the end was decided by a penalty shoot out won by Spain. Spain will now play Brazil tonight at midnight European time which in most people’s opinion is the best outcome possible.   Eladio may well watch it. All I want is to be able to go to sleep and wake up to hear that Spain won.  You can tell how enamoured I am of my adopted country can’t you?

Friday was by far the busiest day of the week. However, as I am a highly organized person I had time for everything that day and first things always come first for me.  First that day was watching Olivia live on TVE.  She often gives me the heads up via whatsapp and if I can’t get to a TV set, I can always watch her via streaming on my phone.   At 10.15 she reported from nearby Talavera on a sad story of a Ukranian couple who are so poverty stricken they can no longer feed their children so they decided to leave their two young babies at the reception of the town hall to the amazement of the staff there.  You can see the report here if you fast forward to 10.15 approx.
Oli reporting from Talavera on Friday
She was on again at 13.15 reporting on a home for home exchange story of how an Australian family was staying in a Spanish home in nearby Majadahonda whose members would be staying in the Australian’s home in Melbourne, I think.  Olivia loved the idea and so did I.  It was also one of the few reports where she has used her English, having to double as an interpreter whilst interviewing the Australian family.  You can see the report here if you fast forward to 13.15. 
Oli reporting on the home exchange story on Friday

The website where you can study how this amazing new way of travelling works is called  Eladio and I are now seriously thinking of doing something similar next year.  It sounds a great way of travelling as you save enormous costs by not going to expensive hotels which can often consumer more than 50% of your holiday budget.  Of course the idea has been around for a while and is now really taking off.  

On Friday, in between meetings, I had a lunch appointment with my colleague Juan.  Over a wonderful meal at Aspen, we talked shop of course and our conversation lead to the topic of happiness.  We discussed just how well the employees are treated at work which is not very common under the current circumstances.  My conclusion to him is what I always say; that happiness is about the small things in life, such as having a cup of coffee with a friend in the sunshine.  Sounds simple doesn’t it, but it is only possible if you have a positive attitude towards life.  I’m so glad I have. 

Later that day I had another meeting, but this time it was at home.  Bea and Gloria came to go over the final lists of the attendants to our ambitious and complicated to organize summer party.  It’s amazing how some people haven’t confirmed yet and when I rang some of them, their answer was generally: “well of course I’m coming.  Did I have to confirm?  Oh I’m very sorry I will do now”.  They have no idea of the problems they cause as we have run out of hotel rooms and seats on the plane.  

I remarked to Eladio at dinner that night at Ginos, where we ate far too much pasta, that as usual there will be a bit of chaos at the beginning of the day but experience tells me things will work out fine and only Bea, Cris, Gloria and I will be aware of any mistakes. But more about that next week by which time the summer party will be a thing of the recent past and I will be able to relax, for a little while at least, until my next big project.

If the Saturday before was the highlight of the week, Saturday of this week was even more so.  We were expecting family guests for lunch that day. Pili and Andrés were coming from León and were bringing my Mother-in-law to stay with us for a fortnight.  The excuse was they had to bring a sofa bed for their daughter Paula and her boyfriend Pedro’s new flat in Madrid.  Thus Paula and Pedro joined us too, as did José Antonio, Dolores and their son Juan and his girlfriend Cristina.  We were to be 13 around the table and had organized a barbecue of the finest produce to be found locally. Thank goodness we had both Oufa and Fátima to help and they worked all day long to help make the day a great success. The photo below is of us all enjoying that wonderful meal.
Yesterday's family barbecue gathering
Afterwards we spent the afternoon by the pool in two groups, the “oldies” – ourselves and the younger generation.  The photo illustrating this week’s blogpost is of us “oldies” relaxing after a dip in the early evening when it just began to cool slightly and the one below is of the younger generation.  I have to say that Suzy was sorely missed yesterday.
The younger generation yesterday. 

Everyone left quite late, after which José Antonio, Dolores, Eladio and I and the three dogs went for our walk.  When we came back Oufa and Fátima had laid the table for a supposedly light dinner.  The only difference from last week was that yesterday there was no supermoon.  You can see the rest of the photos of yesterday’s family gathering here.

And today is Sunday and I am at the end of my tale of the last two weeks.  Again I am sitting at the table by the pool whilst everyone else is sleeping off the huge Moroccan couscous meal Fátima made.  Earlier I took them to the station with their luggage.  Thankfully I didn’t have to say goodbye yet to Oufa who will be returning tomorrow to retrieve the rest of her luggage.  That will be hard.  So yeah, goodbye darling Oufa, have a good life, keep in touch.  And, of course welcome Fátima. These two hardworking Muslim women are very religious and in many ways behind the times.  They got a lecture on marriage from Eladio and I this morning when we asked them what a Moroccan wedding was like.  Our underlying message to them was that a woman and man should be equal in marriage and life in order for both of them to be happy.  I would like to believe that they agree.

Not everyone is sleeping. Olivia is packing upstairs as later this afternoon she will be going to Córdoba with a TVE crew.  She will be reporting from there all of next week on a terrible case about a man, José Bretón, who is accused of killing his two small children in revenge for his wife having asked for a divorce.  It is the biggest profile case in Spain for a long time as stories like this are not common here.  Olivia is at her best when reporting on court cases but this will be a hard one as the story is so sad. She asked us at lunch about Medea, the Greek tragedy which is similar to this case but in reverse.  Medea killed her own children to avenge her husband Jason’s betrayal, I think.  But maybe you know better.  We will all be following her on the television – me on my iPhone as I will be away at the secret destination – every day next week.  The temperature in Córdoba, one of the hottest places in Spain, is nearly 40c right now so I hope she chooses cool clothing to wear when she reports from the court in this beautiful Andalusian city, one of my favourites in Spain.  

The rest of today will be like most Sunday afternoons in the summer. We will swim or read and then go for our walk just around sunset to avoid the heat.

I have a big week ahead of me and will need lots of energy to get through it, so the rest this afternoon will do me good.

Cheers until next week my friends,

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