Monday, May 12, 2014

Olivia reporting for TVE1 from Galicia, Suzy on bank holiday in London, getting the pool ready for the summer, visitors from abroad, coca cola in Toledo, remembering Bruce, happy birthday Sam, the plight of 223 Nigerian girls and other stories.

Sunday 12th May 2014
Friends reunited at home in Madrid. With our visitors from abroad
Hi everyone,

I can hardly believe a week has passed and here I am writing again, on Monday like last week as Sunday was too busy to write.  So much has happened, so many preparations and now the events are over and I am feeling a little forlorn; not to mention quite exhausted.  However I continue to be busy and life is good.  I am a very lucky person to be able to write that life is good.  Well it is and I feel blessed.

When I left off last Monday Olivia was in Galicia reporting for TVE where she would be sent all over the province all through the week reporting on different stories.  Suzy meanwhile was enjoying the bank holiday in London.  She was out and about in the city with her new flat mate, an Italian girl called Stefania.  She posted a photo of the two of them which I wanted to share with you here. 
Suzy and her Italian flat mate Stefania out and about in London on Monday, a bank holiday there
Later that day, because of the wonderful weather and fantastic forecast of high 20s for the coming days and weeks, we decided to remove the cover of the swimming pool also for our friends to enjoy when they arrived on Wednesday from France and Belgium.  It was a huge job. My part was helping Eladio remove the very heavy tarpaulin. Then I had to sweep the leaves, dust and dirt that had crept in during the winter and mop all around the edge of the pool. Eladio cleaned the bottom of the pool and this is what it looked like afterwards.
The pool ready for the summer and our visitors
On Tuesday I fasted again, so as to be able to enjoy food when my friends arrived.  Olivia was sent to Lugo that day to do a story on the expense of Holy Communion celebrations in Spain.  They are turning into mini weddings and the average cost seems to be about 2.000 euros.  This is a far cry from the communions we celebrated for our girls when they were 9 as we did them at home and Suzy’s dress was passed down to Olivia.  You can see her live report here.
Olivia in a communion shop in Lugo where she did a report on the cost of the celebration
When I had a moment that day I went to do the food shopping for my friends’ visit.  I also made trifle for them, perhaps England’s most famous dessert and one mostly made for celebrations.
The fruit trifle I made for my visitors
On the work front I was happy that day to read a report on online reputation because the study revealed that Yoigo had the best online reputation of all operators in Spain.  That for me was recognition for years of work on social media where I focus a lot of my PR.
Yoigo has the best online reputation of all operators in Spain according to a new study

On Wednesday I was up at 06.30 as I had lots to do for my friends’ arrival but first I had to get my work of the day out of the way to be free to be with them.  I even had time to head the roses in the garden and put vases of different coloured roses in their bedrooms to welcome them. I left lunch prepared.  We were having a barbecue and Eladio stayed behind to light the fire, etc, whilst I drove to the airport to pick them up.  Thus we missed Olivia live on the TV that morning from Vigo.  However I got a sneak view via streaming on my phone in the car on the way to Barajas (naughty of me). She was reporting on the story of a woman who had an accident whilst driving her grandchildren to school. Fortunately no one was hurt.  You can see the clip here if you fast forward to 13.18h.
Oli reporting on a car accident in Vigo on Wednesday
I had arranged to pick up my friends at Terminal 1 and Sandra and Jeffer had already arrived from Brussels as I drove into the passenger pick up area.  About 20 minutes later Adele and Bernard arrived from Paris.

Adele who is English and Sandra (or Sandie) who is half Hungarian, half Italian, born in India but went to school in the UK, were my best friends at Nottingham University.  They majored in French whilst I majored in Spanish but we got to know each other as they took Spanish as a “subsid”.  Adele and I were in the same hall of residence (Nightingale Hall) in the first year.  I lived with Sandra at Church Avenue in my second year and in my last year I lived with Adele in Beeston Road.  We have remained friends ever since although there was a huge gap in actually seeing each other until we held a reunion in Brussels “chez Sandra” a few years ago.  Now we aim to meet at least once a year.  This time it was to be at our home in Madrid.  Adele is a teacher of English at the University of Orleans and Sandra is a coach, teacher, part time actress and many other things. Their partners Jeffer and Bernard get on well with my husband Eladio and it is great to see a Frenchman, a Spaniard and an American with so much in common. Bernard is a psychiatrist, Jeffer a marketing consultant and of course my husband is a philosopher and ex priest.  Whilst the three of them have profound conversations about life, we three girls chat happily about more profane subjects and we feel like soul mates.  For me, they are like substitute sisters and I only wished they lived nearer and I could see them more often.  I have many friends and acquaintances in Spain but no one like them which is why our once a year reunions are so important.
My dearest friends Sandra (glasses) and Adele (curly hair)
They arrived in time for a wonderful lunch.  They came loaded with presents.  Bernard who is a painter and a great copier of paintings of the great masters had brought a copy of Velazquez’s “menina” which is now gracing our dining room wall.  We also got lovely striped t-shirts from Brittany and lots of Belgian chocolates (yummy).  Jeffer gave all three girls the same scarf, blue with white spots which we all wore over the next three days.  

I had made a programme for the four days, so our friends got free time in the afternoon to chill out by the pool.  Eladio had to go off to his University tutorials and in the late evening when the sun was not bright we all went for a walk with the dogs as we would do every day.  I was very appreciative of the fact that both dogs, Norah our beagle and Elsa our golden lab, were a huge hit with all my friends.  As their “mother” it is important for me that my friends like my dogs just as it is important people to like a mother’s children!
On one of the walks with our friends
Dinner was at home and outside that night owing to the wonderful weather. I had made my famous tuna salad which was supposed not to be a heavy meal after the BBQ but I’m afraid the chocolates were our downfall afterwards.
Our first dinner together
On Thursday the programme for my friends started with a leisurely breakfast outside, although I was up early in order to do my work before we went out.  The first cultural item on the agenda was a trip to Madrid to the house and museum of the Valencian painter Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) and then a walk around the Retiro.  All my friends had seen the Prado several times and also the Thyssen Museum, so we all agreed to go somewhere new and manageable.  I had last visited the Sorolla Museum some 35 years ago, fell in love with it and had never been back until last Thursday.  I think my friends fell in love with it too.  His paintings are so positive and romantic, many of them including his beloved wife Clotilde and children. Many of them are of scenes of his native Valencia, the sea and the Valencian orchard. The paintings are housed in the house they lived in and as they were from Valencia they brought a very Mediterranean theme to the house with orange trees and typical tiles of the area.  The gardens themselves are spectacular.  Here is a photo of us outside by the painter’s bust.
With our friends around the statue of Sorolla at his house and museum in Madrid
It is difficult to say which is my favourite painting but maybe it is this one.
One of my favourite Sorolla paintings
From the Museum we took two taxis to the Retiro and we walked in the lovely ornate park which was lush with green and flowers at this time of year.  We took the proverbial photo by the “estanque” (little lake) with boaters on it and the monument to Alfonso XII (the current Spanish King’s great grandfather) in the background).
With Sandra and Adele (with a hat) at the Retiro park
Then it was time for a little something and my friends chose a very typical Spanish drink in the summer (lemon with crushed ice) called “limón granizado”.  We then walked towards the monument and then through the tree lined avenues until we reached the main entrance by the Plaza de Independencia.  Here we bumped into a group of postmen dressed in yellow and I convinced them to let us take a photo with them.
Fun picture in the street outside the Retiro park with Spanish postmen and women
In actual fact we were in need of a post office for stamps for my friends and some letters we needed to send, so for the first time in my life I entered the main post office in Spain by the Cibeles square, perhaps the best known landmark in Madrid.  Whilst we were at the square we had our photo taken.  It is here by the way that Real Madrid supporters celebrate the team’s victories.
Doing the touristy thing, a photo of us all at Cibeles
We came home to a table laid and a wonderful Moroccan meal of lamb tagin, caramelized prunes and couscous for lunch all made by Fátima our home help.  In the afternoon our routine was very similar except that whilst my friends relaxed, I worked only stopping to take them on our walk later in the evening.  Dinner was once again outside and I should mention we had homemade Eton Mess for dessert made with the giant meringues we had bought at a great pastry shop in the Plaza de Independencia.

On Friday we were to take our friends to Toledo some 70km from Madrid and perhaps one of the most interesting little towns outside the capital and which was once the capital of Spain until Franco decided to move it to Madrid.  Toledo is steeped in Christian, Moorish and Jewish history.  This is where the main Jewish community lived when they were expelled by the Catholic Kings in 1492.  There are only 3 surviving synagogues (none in use) in Spain.  Two are in Toledo and one is in Córdoba.  Toledo is also where El Greco lived and his house is one of the main attractions. 
Beautiful Toledo
We parked by one of the main gates of the partially walled city.  We had gone in two cars, the girls in mine and the “boys” in Eladio’s.  We all got out and when I did, I don’t know how but I tripped and fell on a big stone.  I only remember lying on the ground on the driver’s side of my car and calling for Eladio who couldn’t hear me.  I had hurt my knees, felt very weak and couldn’t get up.  Jeffer came to the rescue and then I think everyone else did as well as some passerby nuns.  I vaguely remember Eladio ringing the ambulance but then I passed out.  I have never fainted in my life.  This was my first time and actually it felt like falling asleep.  I even began to dream.  I then came too and everyone picked me up and sat me on a bench where I felt extremely whoozy wanting to be sick.  I was practically carried to a bathroom in a hotel which was very conveniently right there.  It was called Hostal El Cardenal.  Very soon the ambulance arrived and two nurses attended to me.  I had come round by then and felt much better although rather weak and my knees hurt, especially my right one.  My blood pressure was low but my sugar level was ok, I hadn’t broken anything.  Their prescription was to sit in the shade for half an hour and drink coca cola. My friends wanted me to drink the real stuff but I insisted on having diet coke not to take in too many calories!  I am no coca cola fan but the caffeine in it certainly did the trick and soon I was up and went off to explore the beautiful town in the sun although I did so holding on to Eladio’s arm and taking the stairs very carefully because of the pain in my knee. Unfortunately no one thought to take a photo of me passing out for my blog so there is no graphic souvenir of the incident.  I was so happy I got better soon as my biggest worry was spoiling my friends’ day by being taken to hospital.

Our first destination was El Greco’s house but it proved hard to find so mistaking the Sephardi Museum for his house we visited the Transition Synagoge and its beautiful gardens. Eventually we found Doménikos Theotokópoulos’ (his real name) abode which I was surprised to learn wasn’t actually where he lived.  The person who created the museum there bought it thinking it was his house but it wasn’t and no one knows where he lived.  However the house is beautiful.  Slightly disappointing are the paintings there which are not the more famous ones.  The best ones are in the Prado and other big museums in the world.  When the painter died in the early 17th century  his paintings went out of fashion and he only really became famous at the beginning of the 20th century.  Ah and part of the reason many of the figures are so elongated is that he had some sort of sight problem.
El Greco's house in Toledo
We had planned to come home for lunch but after my fainting incident we were running out of time so we decided to have lunch in Toledo and spied a nice looking place in the main street near the El Greco Museum called El Plácido with a lovely cool interior patio.  It was a lovely building which had once been a convent.  Right across the road was the Santa Tomé church where perhaps one of El Greco’s most famous paintings is housed, the burial of the count of Orgaz.  It is truly marvelous and interesting to note that it includes himself as one of the mourners.
The Burial of the Count of Orgaz in Toledo
We then ambled back through the narrow streets until we reached full circle and were back at the car park, the scene of my fainting, by the Hostal del Cardenal.  Here we decided to end our day in Toledo with a drink to quench our thirst. 

Once home we all gathered by the pool for a cup of tea.  It was Friday evening and Olivia was due home from Galicia.  She would be picking up her boyfriend Miguel in Madrid who was coming from Valencia for the weekend.  I hadn’t seen Olivia since she had left for Valencia and we had gone to Montrondo, so some 10 days without setting my eyes on my beautiful youngest daughter.  They were to join us for another dinner outside which proved to be one of the best.  These days I can’t drink much wine as I get headaches but I got a wonderful new tip from Bernard.  He recommended taking a paracetamol one hour before drinking.  I took the tablet, drank more than I should, got a little tipsy, but you know what? There was no headache that night.  I tried the same trick on Saturday night and it worked too. Thanks Bernard, your tip is very useful.

It was wonderful to have Miguel and Olivia with us.  Miguel being a good photographer he took this lovely photo of us around the table; laden by the way with Fátima’s tortilla, salad and plate of the best ham imaginable.
Dinner on Friday night at home when Olivia joined us
Meanwhile on Friday in London, Suzy, my oldest daughter was meeting up with Gillian H, another University friend of ours.  Gill studied law at Nottingham and lived with Sandie and I at Church Avenue in our second year.  Suzy who is immersed in paperwork to become a registered dietitian in the UK had asked me if I knew a lawyer who could help with part of the process; some signing I think.  I racked my brains to remember if I had a lawyer, doctor or teacher friend in London and remembered Gill.  It was sort of a coincidence that whilst Sandra, Adele and I were in Madrid together, Gillian was in London meeting my grown up daughter Suzy for the first time.  They hit it off I think and I have thanked Gill and we have now agreed to meet up again when I visit Suzy in London.

On Saturday morning my friends had “free time” on the programme, no more excursions, just the choice to lounge by the pool or go out shopping.  Sandra and Jeffer stayed at home and took the opportunity to play table tennis with Eladio whilst Adele, Bernard, Olivia, Miguel and I hopped into the car and made our way to a big shopping centre called Gran Plaza 2.  Here Adele had a field day, especially at Massimo Dutti. I found a lovely white blouse at Zara (Adele bought the same one or I should say I bought the same one as Adele) and some lovely blue and white striped espadrilles.  Just as we were leaving I spied a group of people dressed in Spanish flamenco dress promoting some event and begged them for a photo.  Miguel once again was our photographer.  That was a bit of fun.
A bit of fun at the shopping centre with Adele, Bernard and Olivia on Saturday morning.
We came home to another big lunch together.  The numbers increased as the girls’ friend Copi and her boyfriend also called Miguel joined us.  Fátima had made chicken tagine with spicy rice and saffron potatoes.  This is the photo Sandra took of us all.
Saturday lunch was a big affair
The highlight of Saturday afternoon was during our swim after the walk with the dogs. Jeffer tried to get Elsa our lab to go in the water with him.  However, although she is a lab she shies away from water.  The only thing that would get her in was playing with her tug rope.  That finally got her in and I got some photos like the one below.
Jeffer and Elsa in the pool
Our last dinner was to be out. Our friends wanted to invite us out to dinner and we recommended La Txitxarrería in nearby Pozuelo which offers wonderful Basque food.  I was so pleased our friends loved it.  They all said and I agreed that the meat was divine.  Jeffer summed it up: simple food but of the best possible quality.  Sorry there is no photo of the meal, I think we were having such a good time we forgot.

When we came home I insisted Eladio floodlight the pool so that we could sit outside and have a last drink which actually turned out to be herbal tea.  It was a great last night I must say and we were all very sorry that the next day their visit would come to an end.

On Sunday I was up early to make breakfast for everyone.  Olivia joined me and we decided to go and get some fresh croissants and the most typical celebration type breakfast food you can get in Spain: “chocolate con churros”.  Here is the picture of the man making them if you don’t know what they are (sort of fritters which you dip in thick chocolate).
Making churros for our breakfast on Sunday morning
Breakfast was our last meal together as Adele and Bernard were leaving at midday.  We would have the pleasure of Sandra and Jeffer’s company until the early evening.  Sandra went with us to the airport where we said our goodbyes.  On the way we started talking about dates and places for our next reunion but that’s not fixed yet.  It was sad to see Adele and Bernard go, but we had had a great time. Thanks darling Adele for coming it was great having you both.

For lunch yesterday we were just 5, as Oli and Miguel had gone off to his parent’s house to celebrate his Father’s birthday.  Sandra and I spent the afternoon talking by the pool. We also spoke to Suzy on the phone for a while as well as her Mother.  I’m dying for them to meet up in London and I hope they will soon as Sandie goes there a lot to visit her Mother Magda.  And very soon it was 7pm and time to drive our friends to the airport.  Eladio was to take them so I said my goodbyes outside.  Oh Sandra and Jeffer it was wonderful to have you here too.  Hopefully we’ll meet up in Santa Pola this summer.  Fingers crossed.

So I was left all alone.  Fátima had gone off duty, my Father was reading in his room so it was the perfect time for my walk, this time alone which felt very strange.  Determined to get in another walk, when Eladio returned he came with me again and we took the dogs.  Olivia was home when we got back and we had a late and light dinner the three of us outside together.  The house felt so empty without our wonderful friends.

Whilst I was on my walks Rafa Nadal was playing the Madrid Masters’ final.  One of our distributors had rung me on Friday to invite me to the semifinals but much as I would have loved to have gone I wouldn’t have left my friends alone for all the tea in China. 

Yesterday, Sunday 11th May, was the 11th anniversary of the death of Bruce, my cousin Zuka’s wonderful husband and her daughter Katty’s wonderful father.  What can I say? only that I felt for them yesterday.  Katty posted a lovely photo of herself with him on her wedding day which I want to share with you as a tribute to Bruce and his family.
Bruce with his daughter Katty on her wedding day
Funnily enough I got a message from Zuka yesterday night to tell me she had been in Bradford, had visited our neighbour Sue and that she had also visited my Mother’s grave.  She always calls my Mother “Tante Helene” as they always spoke in French.  Thanks darling Zuka.  You are in my thoughts.  Come and see us soon.

On the bright side today is Katty’s son Sam’s 10th birthday.  Happy birthday special little boy.  You now live in the furthest country from Spain; New Zealand.  We met you a few years ago when your family visited us and we fell in love with you. I hope you remember us.  Hope you have had a great day.
Sam (left) is 10 today.  Next to him his older brother Luc and Ruby their little sister.  
Today is Monday and it is been a bit of an anti-climax after the visit of my dynamic and fun loving friends. I had a lot of work to catch up on in the morning and of course I am fasting.  The weather continues to be great but the swimming pool is empty. 

I have been living in a bubble for the last few days with my friends so haven’t taken much notice of the news.  But there is one piece of news I have been following and which deserves a place in this week’s post.  It is the plight of the 223 Nigerian girls, many of them Christian, who were kidnapped by a monster called Boko Haram in April.  He insists education is bad for them and that they should marry! Today, Monday, he released a video of the poor girls in Muslim dress and praying.  Their fate is in the hands of a monster and the world looks on not quite knowing what to do.  I hate to say it but if these girls were French or American and not Nigerian, the outcry across the world would be far greater.
The story of the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls is a nightmare
The week will be short as Thursday, San Isidro, is a holiday in Madrid.  We shall be off to Montrondo probably to sign a contract with the builder we will be choosing to restore our house there. 

So, my friends, that’s it for this week,

Cheers till next time, Masha
PS Here is the full set of photos of my friends's visit.

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