Sunday, November 03, 2013

The most honest city in the world, St. Jude’s storm, sixty million Spanish phones monitored by the NSA, my beloved Yorkshire, the visit of Ziuka and Aunty Valya, Russian food, no hot water or central heating and then no water and other news.

At The Valley of the Fallen near El Escorial with Ziuka and Aunty Valya on Friday
Hi again everyone,

Well it has been a week to remember and I have lots to tell.  So let me start.

On Sunday after writing my blog, Suzy sent me photos of her visit to Little Venice, a place near Paddington with lots of canals.  I had heard of it but have never been, so it may well figure on our agenda when Adela, my sister-in-law, and I go to London at the beginning of December.
Suzy at Little Venice in London last Sunday

It was on Sunday that I read a piece of news that fascinated me.  It was a study made by the Reader’s Digest to find the most honest city in the world.  They had dropped 192 wallets in 16 cities around the world to see how people would react.  Each wallet contained 50 dollars, a telephone number, a family photo, coupons and business cards. I was not surprised to read that Helsinki is the most honest city when 11 out of 12 wallets were returned.  In Mumbai 9 out of 12 were returned, in Budapest and New York 8 out of 12, in Moscow and Amsterdam 7 out of 12, in London and Slovenia 5 out of 12, in Bucharest, Rio and Zurich (!) 4 out of 12, in Prague 3, in Madrid 2 and in Lisbon 1.  So Lisbon is the most dishonest city in the world from this study where only 1 person returned the wallet.  Funnily enough it was a Dutch couple who returned it there.

On Monday Londoners and people in Wales and the South of England woke up in the wake of a very strong storm baptized St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes which was on Monday.  5 people died and a lot of destruction was caused by the winds.  People were left without electricity, public transport was called to a halt and the whole of the country was prepared for much worse.  In the end some called it a storm in a tea cup, but if people were killed because of it, I think it was more than that.  Suzy sent me this photo a friend of hers had seen of a tree falling on a car near where they live.
Some of the damage the storm caused in London on Monday
The news in Spain that day was that 60 million phones had been monitored in just one month by the NSA.  This came after the story of Angela Merkel’s Nokia phone having been bugged by the same organization as had phones of some 35 world leaders.  We are in the midst of the news which has been leaked by the very brave Edward Snowden now in exile in Russia, who worked for the NSA and has since let the world know that the Americans are listening in to the rest of the world.  I was asked by Spanish journalists what an operator’s responsibility in this case is.  We have to safeguard our customer’s conversations and we encrypt the systems, but no system in the world is free of espionage I am afraid.  Most of us suspect all our governments were and are in the know and it is thanks to Snowden that we are all now aware to what extent this practice takes place.  

The news I was most interested in that day though was our own.  Yoigo announced it now has 4G coverage in Barcelona, Alicante and Seville, in addition to Valencia, Málaga and Madrid.  By the end of the year we aim to have 4G coverage in all towns with over 70.000 inhabitants.  A colleague of mine did a speed test that morning in Barcelona and the result was spectacular as you can see in the photo below.
Our 4G network working in Barcelona this week
The family news that day was that I bought Suzy’s air ticket for when she comes home for Christmas.  She will be coming on 22nd December and leaving on the 29th – in time to spend New Year’s Eve in London.  We very much look forward to her being with us as Christmas without her would have been very sad.

Not so long ago I was astonished to read that my beloved Yorkshire had been the winner of this year’s Travel Awards as best place to visit.  Well on Tuesday this week it went up a notch to become one of the top regions in the world. Yorkshire, which is sometimes called God’s own country, was voted the third best region in the world in the Lonely Planet’s 2014 best in travel list.  I was so proud that my beloved Yorkshire had got this recognition.  I am told it has become a “cool” place to visit.  I do hope that doesn’t mean there will be hordes of tourists now at some of my favourite destinations such as Bolton Abbey, the Strid wood, Skipton, the Dales, Harrogate or the moors.  I also hope that doesn’t mean the price of property will go up as I don’t rule out buying a cottage to spend part of our time in some idyllic Dales village one day when we retire. In case you are wondering what the top ten regions are, this is the list: 1) Sikkim, India, 2) The Kimberley, Australia, 3) Yorkshire, UK, 4) Hokuriku, Japan, 5) Texas, USA, 6) Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Zambia, 7) Mallorca, Spain, 8) West Coast, New Zealand, 9) Hunan, China, 10) Ha’apai, Tonga.  I can only imagine villagers from the remote parts of Yorkshire reading the news in the local papers and saying “oh by gum”. In fact I felt like saying it myself when I read it and wondered if it meant there may be a narrowing of the famous north south divide ……
Me by the Strid in Yorkshire on our last visit there in 2011
I didn’t talk about Yorkshire at lunch that day which was with a journalist, Pilar.  But of course we did talk about the NSA listening to the world’s conversations and reading our emails and postings on social media.  We had lunch at a wonderful place, the Casino de Madrid which funnily enough is actually not a casino.

Later I met Gloria and Miguel from my events agency, QuintaEsencia, when we visited the location for a show cooking event I will be holding next week.  The communications team from TeliaSonera Mobility Services, our mother company, will be meeting in Madrid and one of the things we will be doing is learning how to cook Spanish food.  I do hope the evening goes well at Fuentes yBonetillo.

On Wednesday, my second fasting day of the week, there was finally some good news about Spain in the “foreign” press.  The BBC reported that Spain had ended a two year recession with 0.1% growth in the last quarter.  We have also read reports that Bill Gates has invested in Spain recently, so that must be a good sign.  I do hope it at least means the beginning of the end of the recession we are all fed up with.  

I went for an early walk that day, so as to be free to greet our guests.  That day, my cousin Ziuka (born in France of Russian descent but living in England) and her Mother, my Aunty Valya were visiting us.  Ziuka is the daughter of my Mother’s beloved younger brother Nicholas (Dydya Kola to me) and she hadn’t seen my Father since he left England in 2005.  My Father and Aunty Valya are the two surviving spouses of my Mother Elena and her 5 brothers and sisters. I hadn’t seen my Tyatya Valya (Nichola’s wife) who lives in Paris, since 1999 at my Mother’s funeral so this was to be quite a reunion.  They are important to me of course, but you have to understand that as I hardly have any family left apart from my Father, their visit was going to be a big event.
They were driving from Biarritz and would be reaching us in the early evening.  Ziuka’s sat nav played a trick and left her some 12km from here on the wrong street, so off I went in my car and tried to find it with my sat nav which finally I did.  It was lovely to see them and to see how well my 88 year old Russian born Aunt is.  I observed at dinner how she smokes and drinks wine, is very mobile and leads a full life and I thought she is the perfect role model for me!  To me she seems eternal.  We enjoyed a great family dinner and Olivia joined us later which of course brought down the average age around the table. 
Aunty Valya aged 88 smoking and drinking coffe outside the kitchen
On Thursday after sending out a press release on our new prepaid tariffs, I took my cousin and Aunt into Madrid.  Aunty Valya had last been there some 50 or 60 years ago, so I imagined she would see things very differently.  We started our walk around the old city from Gran Via, walked down Preciados and to the Puerta del Sol where I showed them the kilometer 0.
Aunty Valya and Ziuka in the Puerta del Sol on Thursday morning
From the Puerta del Sol we walked to the Plaza Mayor where we sat and enjoyed a drink in the sun and continued talking to catch up on so many years.  From the Plaza Mayor I took them to the Arco de los Cuchilleros and down the steps to the surrounding streets where we walked past Botín, the oldest restaurant in Madrid and to our destination.  We were to have lunch at Casa Paca which I think they enjoyed.  

After lunch, we made our way to Atocha to a Russian shop called "Tienda Bravo" which I had heard existed.  We took a while to find it and were delighted to see it was open although it was not yet 17h, the afternoon opening time.  Here we bought pelmeni (Russian ravioli), Smetana (sour cream) to go with them and other typical Russian products such as halva.  Aunty Valya got a compliment from a Russian girl shopping there who commented her on her beautiful and probably pre revolutionary Russian.  I knew from my Mother that “soviets” apparently do not speak it so well.
Ziuka in the Russian shop in Madrid on Thursday
From Atocha we made our way to Lavapies, a working class district in Madrid where lots of immigrants live.  I was in search of halal meat (muslim) for our live in home help Fátima who worried me because she eats very little protein.  Here at a Bangladeshi shop I stocked up on 1.5kg of mince meat with onion and coriander already mixed in and 10 chicken legs.
The Bangladeshi shop in Lavapies where I bought halal meat for Fátima
Armed with our purchases of Russian and Muslim food, we made our way home.  Here Valya was able to take a little siesta followed by countless cups of tea and Ziuka was able to wind down by playing candy crush. Meanwhile Eladio and I went on our daily walk with the dogs.

After the walk I took Fátima to the doctor as the laboratory had rung the day before to say that in the results of her analysis which I had taken her to do on Tuesday, her hemaglobin was dangerously low. We immediately thought she must be anemic.  The doctor who had the results was very alarmed and nearly sent her to hospital.  That would have been a huge problem as she is not yet legal and does not yet have a health card.  In the end, after much questioning it turned out she is lacking in iron and her low blood count is due to a loss of a lot of blood through her monthlies and a lack of correct eating.  She has now been put on a protein and iron diet with supplements of course and from Thursday evening every meal has to contain protein and iron as well as vegetables and fruit and lots of milk.  I also think a main cause could have been the very damaging effects of Ramadan in August.  Fátima was very upset and I must tell you I feel like her Mother and am looking after her as if she was my daughter.  She admitted to me that her children don’t eat well either, that they don’t drink milk and often eat just pasta and tomato sauce.  I was so alarmed that when we went shopping this week I purchased a suitcase full of food for her to take home, full of the food her children need: milk, eggs, sardines, tuna fish, lentils, fruit and vegetables.  I cannot help the rest of the world but I can at least help her and her family and I intend to do so.  Finally this morning, when she left, there was a slight colour of pink in her normally very yellow skin. I dread to think how many other poor people affected by the crisis must also be suffering from anemia.

Dinner that night was Russian and Spanish food.  I had made “perushki” (little meat pies), followed by croquettes for our visitors which I knew they would appreciate.  I do wish Fátima could have eaten the perushki but part of her problem is that she cannot eat the same meat as ours as it has to be halal. Well now she has halal meat thank goodness.

On Thursday night, after the trip to Madrid, the walk and the doctor episode I was looking forward to a hot shower after dinner.  I got into the shower but only cold water came out.  We then realised that neither the central heating nor the hot water worked.  The problem was that we would have to wait until Monday to get it mended as Friday was a bank holiday and at the weekend the plumber who had apparently put our central heating in order recently for the neat sum of 250 euros, wouldn’t be available until Monday.  So we just had to grit our teeth and wear warm clothes. Thankfully the weather was pretty benign. In fact it was sunny throughout the stay of Ziuka and Aunty Valya.

We enjoyed the sun by the swimming pool in the mornings and here is a picture Eladio took of Ziuka and I on Friday morning enjoying our coffee and Ziuka her cigarette.
Chatting in the sun by the pool with Ziuka
Friday was All Saints’ Day and a holiday in Spain. On Friday Eladio joined us and we took Ziuka and Aunty Valya to visit the Valley of the Fallen (El Valle de los aídos), the monument to fascism that mourns the nationalists (those on the side of Franco) who lost their lives in the Civil War.  The amazing cathedral built into a rock and huge cross above it which is visible for miles, were built by the republican prisoners (the enemies of Franco), many of who died in the attempt.  It was started in 1940 just after the bloody war and finished in 1959.  The photo illustrating this week’s blog post is of me with Ziuka and my Aunt outside the Basílica.  Here Franco is buried and not surprisingly his is a very austere tombstone.  For the records, this was a purely cultural visit as I am no fan of Franco in case you wondered.
At the Valley of the Fallen on Friday morning
After the visit, we made our way to the nearby El Escorial, that pretty little village in the mountains some 60km from Madrid where Philip II built his austere palace more commonly known as the Monastery of El Escorial.  We drove around the huge building before parking and making our way to Charolés where we were to have lunch.  Charolés, the best restaurant in town, did not disappoint and here we enjoyed a wonderful family meal.  

We came home in the early evening to rest and then to do the weekly shopping which I always do with Fátima.  Ziuka and Aunty Valya joined us and I soon realised that the shops were closed as it was a national holiday.  So we decided to have a cup of coffee and I think all four of us enjoyed the outing.  I later realised we were talking a mixture of French, English and Spanish, just as we did throughout their visit.  I could add to that Russian of course.

That evening I made pelmeni for dinner, our overall favourite Russian food.  This is the photo of Ziuka’s plate.  When I posted it on Facebook a Spanish friend commented that I do like funny food.  Little does she know that pelmeni are not funny.  My mother used to make them beautifully and the dish brings back so many wonderful memories.  The first time and only time I went to Russia (St. Petersburg in 2005) that was what I ordered at the restaurant on our first night there.  Today you can buy them frozen at Russian shops and they are nearly as good as my Mother’s.
Delicious Russian pelmeni and smetana (sour cream)
On Saturday morning after another leisurely breakfast with my French/Russian family and after another lovely coffee and chat with Ziuka by the pool, they had to leave.  We all went outside to say goodbye and wave them off in their Peugeot 405 with a British registration plate. I do hope they come to see us again soon.  It was a wonderful visit.  You can see the rest of the photos of their visit here.

They would have loved to have stayed for lunch that day when we had pelmeni again.  But we also had “borsch” (Russian beetroot, meat and vegetable stew).  I had asked Zena, my ex Ukranian cleaner, to make some for us and Fátima and I picked it up at my friend’s house, also called Fátima, where she cleans now.  I paid her handsomely for her job and we all enjoyed the proper Russian meal yesterday.  We were joined by Olivia and Miguel who of course was trying Russian food for the first time in his life. For the record we had my freshly homemade apple crumble afterwards.

And this morning, Sunday, we woke up to no water.  Now we had neither central heating, nor hot nor cold water.  I thought that if Murphy’s law ruled, soon we would have no electricity but thankfully that didn’t happen.  As I commented to Miguel, I could do without all of them so long as internet workedJ Life continued without water and I took Fátima to the bus stop with her huge suitcase of food.  Once there I popped into the local shop and bought 12 litres of water as we had been told we might not have water all day.  Then I bought some churros (Spanish breakfast fritters), porras (a bigger version) and thick chocolate for Oli and Miguel’s breakfast. After all it would be their last but one breakfast with us for three weeks as they are going on holiday tomorrow  to Indonesia. They will be visiting Bali, Java and the Gili islands.  

Later I went with them to their local gym.  They were going to swim but I was going to use the installations for a modest fee of 5 euros to be able to have a luxurious shower and wash my hair.  Lunch today was all together and we all enjoyed Fátima’s homemade pizza.
About to have a shower at the gym in Villaviciosa this morning after our water had been cut off
The water came back at about 5pm after they had mended a burst pipe in the street so we were able to wash up, or rather Eladio was:-)  We have just come back from our walk and I am coming to the end of the tale of this week, which as you will appreciate has been one to remember, because of the wonderful visit of my French/Russian family.
And here I will leave you to go and prepare my Father’s frugal dinner before having our own and watching “Salvados” a great investigative TV programme we try not to miss on Sunday evenings. 

Next week should be memorable too as I am expecting the visit of my communications colleagues from the Baltic and Nordic countries and will be busy with them from Wednesday to Thursday.

So wishing you all a great week, cheers till next time


No comments: