Saturday, January 18, 2014

Olivia in Andorra, The Ballon d’Or, President Hollande’s private affairs, how to make real fish and chips, Suzy in Paris, who is Ibn Sina and other stories.

Suzy went to Paris with Gabor this weekend
Hello everyone,

Here I am writing to you on this wet Saturday morning in January, rather than tomorrow Sunday when I will be travelling to Stockholm. The week has been very quiet but there are still many tales to tell.

It was to be a week without the girls.  Of course Suzy no longer lives with us, so really it was Olivia who was missing.  She went on Sunday to Valencia to join her boyfriend Miguel with whom she would be driving to Andorra the next day with another couple.  They were going there to ski.  We weren’t to hear much from her as roaming from Andorra (a tiny independent state in between Spain and France) is expensive.  However we spoke once and towards the end of the week I got to see some photos.  Here is one I like of her looking the professional skier, at least in my eyes. They will be returning to Valencia today and she will be coming home tomorrow but I won’t see her until next Tuesday when I come back from Stockholm.  Apart from skiing I’m sure she has done quite a lot of duty free shopping as Andorra is a tax haven.
Olivia skiing in Vallnor Andorra this week
Monday was a frustrating day in various ways. It was my fasting day of course which doesn’t always put you in a good mood.  My temper frayed when I had a kafkian type of experience with Smartbox.   I don’t know what you think of these companies that package experiences and sell them in glossy boxes as gifts at department stores.  From the very beginning I suspected that booking your own trip or hotel is probably cheaper and it is.  I won a “La vida es bella” box last year but found it so difficult to use, it expired and I threw it away.  So when I won a Smartbox this Christmas at the office party, I decided to try and use it straight way rather than leaving it to expire.  I tried out their website at the weekend but it kept crashing.  So I waited until Monday morning to ring them.  I must have tried 10 times but never got an answer.  So I went to their twitter and facebook pages and what did I find? Complaints and more complaints.  I did get an answer there and was redirected to an email address.  So I wrote an email with my preferred hotel, only to be told it was fully booked on St Valentines when I wanted to go.  I thus suspected that smartbox probably only have a few, if no vacancies, at most of the more popular establishments at weekends.  I then went on to suspect that their supposed “customer care team” actually only consists of one poor over worked rather surly person called Sara.  She finally rang me after I had posted very strong comments on twitter and facebook.  In the end I managed to get a booking at my 6th choice – as everywhere else was not available.  My conclusion is that these companies’ profits are based on people buying their “experience boxes” and not using them.  In order to do this they make it nearly impossible to make a reservation.  So when you see these glossy boxes at the shops and think of buying one as a gift, please think again.

The news that day was of course this year’s Ballon d’Or award for the best in football.  Lionel Messi has won the best footballer of the year prize for the last 3 or 4 seasons.  His rival Real Madrid’s striker, Cristiano Ronaldo, aka CR7, was expected to win this year’s prize as the Argentinian was injured at the end of the last season.  And indeed he did and cried whilst doing so which goes to show just how important the prize is to these mega sports stars. 
Cristiano Ronaldo shedding a tear or two at the Ballon d'Or awards this week
Messi was the media star of the show though due to his attire; a very unflattering and showy red suit which had twitter on fire the moment he appeared.  In a way I was pleased that a star from Real Madrid won the award as I was bit fed up of Messi’s domination of the Ballon d’Or. 
Lionel Messi in his silly red suit at the Ballon d'Or awards this week
Much more important that day though was the story of Spain’s premiere, Mariano Rajoy’s visit to the White House to meet President Obama which didn’t get a quarter of the media space attributed to the football award.  He didn’t actually meet him until Tuesday.  I had read that Rajoy had been learning English since 2011 in preparation for the visit.  We never got the chance though to see whether he put into practice.  The objective of the Spanish government was to get the blessing of the American administration on the recovery of the Spanish economy.  Even El País, Spain’s left wing newspaper dubbed the visit a success.  These words from Obama put Spain in a very favourable light after so much bad news about the crisis: "The economy had undergone some wrenching difficulties that existed throughout Europe and the eurozone, and I congratulated the prime minister on the progress that's been made in stabilizing the economy, moving into growth, reducing the deficit, and being able to return to the financial markets in a way that reflects sound leadership".  The most important problem however, 25% unemployment, has still to be resolved.
Rajoy and Obama talk economics at the White House this week, through the help of interpreters
But it was another President, Hollande of France, who was the main focus of the news this week, due to his amorous affairs.  François Hollande is the most unpopular socialist French premiere ever and the story of his affairs has only served to make him more so.  It could be argued that in France, as in Spain, most people don’t bat an eyelid at sexual scandals – it is the financial scandals that force politicians to resign. However the “affaire Gayet” as it is known, has now become an “affaire d’état”.  You probably already know he was married to his socialist presidential opponent, Ségolène Royal but was unfaithful to her conducting a secret relationship with Paris Match political journalist Valerie Trierweiler.  When Hollande became President Ms. Treierweiler became “first lady” with an office in the Elysée Palace and a number of personal staff.  Meanwhile, the 41 year old actress Julie Gayet played the same trick she played on Ségolène and the couple has maintained a secret amorous relationship over quite some time now.  They were caught out by the Closer magazine who published photos of Hollande on a motorbike riding to an apartment, apparently linked to the mafia, for his encounters with Gayet.  When Ms. Trierweiler found out she took an overdose and has been in hospital ever since.  On Tuesday Hollande faced the press where he argued that his personal affairs were personal and private.  However when faced with the question of which first lady would accompany him in his upcoming trip to the White House he was stuck for an answer.  Meanwhile I read that Ms. Trierweiler’s greatest concern is having to forego the status of first lady and not accompany him to Washington.  The British press, who love sex scandals, are having a field day with the story as are the opposition party in France.  One Jean-Fraçcois Copé, leader of the UMP (right wing) said the conclusion abroad was that “France is decidedly more gifted at slap and tickle than carrying out economic reform”.  I just loved the reference to “slap and tickle” haha.
François Hollande and his women .  He's 59 and if he wasn't the President of France neither of them would have even looked at him.  Oh for the power of men in high positions.
On Wednesday in between being busy with so many preparations for our participation in this year’s Mobile World Congress, I did the cooking that day.  We had decided on fish and chips and I was determined to make this dish the way it is served in England.  Usually we bread our fish but this time I found a great batter recipe made with beer and also decided to make mushy peas out of some fresh peas I had.  The latter should be made with dry peas but they are difficult to find here.  The recipe for the batter was 400 grs of flour (put in the fridge an hour before), two teaspoons of baking powder, a pinch of salt and 550ml of very cold beer.  You have to mix it just before you are going to deep fry the fish.  The other secret is that the oil must be very hot and not to put in more than 2 fillets of fish in the frying pan at the same time.  This is what my dish of fish and chips looked like made the right way.  My Father, Eladio and Fátima loved it. I ought to add that Fátima who is Muslim cannot consume alcohol but I persuaded her that alcohol that has been heated loses its substance.  I do hope I am right.
I made fish and chips the traditional way this week
Whilst we were having lunch, I gathered from Suzy that she was flat hunting in London.  She will be moving out with Gabor as soon as they find somewhere suitable.  She told me in a conversation the next day that they may well be joined by a Czech colleague from work called Jane who, by the way, has a well behaved black Labrador.  I do hope they find somewhere soon as they can no longer stand living in the ghastly accommodation they share with 12 people in Whitechapel.

The next day, Friday, Suzy and Gabor were off to Paris on the Eurostar train to spend the weekend.  It was his Christmas present to her – how romantic!  Later I heard they missed the train as Suzy had left her passport at the flat but luckily were allowed on the next one.  Suzy was tired as she had only slept a couple of hours that night – coming home late from a work event and getting up at 4 in the morning to catch the train – but ecstatic at being in Paris with Gabor.  She sent us some photos on the family whatsapp and I chose the one of the two of them by the Eiffel Tower to illustrate this week’s post. Here is another; a  “selfie” (yes that word again) they took by the Arch of Triumph. 
Gabor and Suzy in Paris yesterday
Friday was the highlight of this week really.  Food for lunch was good again. Fátima had frozen a Moroccan “pastel” (chicken pastry with almonds) she made at Christmas and we decided to have it yesterday. This is what it looked like. I remarked to Eladio that it’s a bit like a savoury sort of baklava; delicious. 
Fatima's Moroccan pastela chicken and almond pie we had yesterday
Eladio wanted to see the film The Physician so we went to the cinema that night.  I was vaguely interested in what I thought would be a “doctor” type film (I’m a sucker for hospital series) but was put off because it was in medieval times; an era I never really liked.  I couldn’t understand why Eladio would want to watch a film based on a bestselling novel by Noah Gordon.  However he explained that what interested him was the figure of Avicenna, who in the film is the mentor and teacher of the main character Robert Cole.  Neither my Father nor I had ever heard of Avicenna or Ibn Sina, but Fátima our Moroccan home help had.  So through the film and some internet research I have learned who he was.  Ibn Sina was a Muslim philosopher and doctor of the 11th century who was born in Uzbekistan which then belonged to Persia (Iran today).  He is the author of the Canon of Medicine, considered one of the most famous books in medicine.  He finished writing it in 1025 and amazingly it was still in use in the 18th century in Europe. 
I learned who Ibn Sina was this week
Eladio was disappointed at how Ibn Sina was portrayed in the film but actually the film is not about his story but about how a young English boy travels to Persia and pretends to be a Jew and learns medicine under him.  I thought it was fascinating.

Afterwards we had dinner in nearby Pozuelo at another restaurant I had booked via The Fork (El Tenedor) called Gecko Food and Drinks which offered a 30% discount. However when the bill came there was no discount as apparently they only apply it if you have two first courses and two second courses!  I am still looking for the small print on the website!  These days Eladio and I can only share a first and second course.  The older you get the less you eat, even though we both consider ourselves “very happy eaters” hahaha.  I should add that we won’t be going to Gecko again.

And today is Saturday.  There is not much to report.  Eladio bathed the dogs this morning and they look lovely.  I’m not sure they agree though.  They both apparently don’t like their baths but sit there and don’t move throughout so I suspect that they might actually enjoy at least the rubbing soap part. Here is a photo of Elsa our nearly 3 year old golden lab in the middle of her bath.
Elsa having a bath this morning.
I have done the cooking again and, at Eladio’s request, we will be having “cocido madrileño” (a two course dish - soup made with the broth followed by chickpeas, veg and all sorts of meat) for lunch.  Then there will be a short siesta and a long walk with the dogs.
Cocido madrileño, a wonderful winter dish.
Tomorrow is Sunday and I will be off to Stockholm which will take me most of the day as there are no direct flights or only two a week at inconvenient times. I am looking forward to seeing the snow and going for a walk to the little island of Skeppsholmen when I arrive in the early evening.  On Monday we have a long meeting with my fellow communications team members all about our participation at this year’s Mobile World Congress.  You will read all about my trip to Stockholm in next week’s blog post.

Before I sign off, I just want to share with you a picture I found extremely funny of two twins about food. I hope you like it as much as I did.  I think I will keep it in my phone if I ever need cheering up.

On that funny note my friends I wish you a great week ahead,

Cheers till next time,


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