Sunday, November 09, 2014

Nik Wallenda the tight rope daredevil, to Barcelona and back, the horrors of North Korea, Suzy in Cambridge where it all started, Sunday 9th November; Remembrance Sunday, a pseudo referendum in Catalonia, the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and other stories.

In Badalona on Wednesday night with Grainne

Hi everyone,

Here I am again another Sunday writing my weekly diary.  The week has been busy with lots happening on the home front and in the news.

Last Sunday we came home from a great weekend in Montrondo where the weather behaved perfectly.  Just as we left though the clouds formed and rain began and it poured down on most of the journey home.  There was a lot of traffic because of All Saint’s Day, as many people, like us, had made the journey to their villages to place flowers on the graves of their loved ones. 

Meanwhile in Chicago, often called “the windy city”, a tight rope walker called Nik Wallenda became famous the world over for crossing the city’s sky line with no net to catch him if he fell.  The wire was 454ft long and went from the Marina Tower West, up a 19 degree incline, to the Leo Burnett building on the south side.  Not only did he successfully complete the walk with winds up to 30mph, but he did it again, this time blind fold!  60.000 people watched him live and many more on TV and all through the week his feat has been international news. 
Nik Wallenda, crossing the Chicago skyline blindfolded last Sunday!!

I had never heard of the 35 year old tight rope walker but later read he comes from an Austrian family where the “profession” has been in the family for over 100 years.  Some of them fell and were injured, his grandfather died, but Nik Wallenda, who has done other daredevil crossings over the Grand Canyon, the Niagra Falls and even over shark infested waters, so far has kept his balance.  If you haven't seen the video of his brave feat, here is the link

Monday was my fasting day and I had a headache throughout.  In the evening after our walk, instead of reading which is what I usually do, I decided to cook, the only thing you can do when you have a headache.  I made “perushki” (little Russian pies), “bitki” (Russian hamburgers), lentil stew Spanish style and a cream of vegetable soup.  It was to keep the family fed for a few days and part of it I froze for “rainy days”. Part of it, though, was enjoyed by Eladio, Miguel and Olivia at dinner that night.

On Monday I managed to see a TV report Olivia did on fraudulent electricity bills.  She thought it was a very boring topic but actually it was very informative.
Olivia reporting on customer complaints of electricity bills on TV this weeek

On Tuesday I was up early for a 10 o’clock “breakfast” meeting in Madrid at a fashionable café called “Dray Martina” which I thought was a funny name and should really be written “Dry Martini”.  There must be a story there.  The meeting was very productive and it was a nice sunny morning and I enjoyed being in town.

Wednesday 5th November of course was “bonfire night”, really called “Guy Fawkes’ night” but I was hardly aware of it as since I have l lived in Spain I have never celebrated it here.  But once I realized, memories of my childhood experiences came to me of my Father letting off fireworks in our garden or attending the street bonfires and of home-made toffee or baked potatoes which are, or at least were in my days, some of the traditional food eaten that night. 

It was on Wednesday that I went to Barcelona.  I was up early to catch the 10.30 high speed train which would arrive in the Catalonian capital at 13.15 with just one stop in Zaragoza.  I was going there to look for locations for two events I will be organizing at the beginning of March during the Mobile World Congress; a party and a press conference.  Gloria and Miguel, from my events agency QuintaEsencia, were already there and had scouted some previously selected locations to show me.

On the way I began reading an amazing book I had downloaded on my kindle; the story of Shin Dong-Hyuk who was born inside a terrible prison camp in North Korea and is the only person ever to escape from Camp 14.
What a book!

My interest in the fate of North Koreans began with the book I read recently by the BBC journalist who visited the country pretending to be a teacher.  He gave some insight into the terror state run by the Kim family but he was only able to see what the official tourist guides would let him see, although he does include information from North Koreans who have managed to escape, all of them through China as it is impossible to enter South Korea.  Whilst reading Shin’s story which had me gripped and has had a big impact on me, I read a reference to another defector’s story called The Aquariums of Pyongyang which tells Kang Chol-Hwan’ account of imprisonment in the Yodok concentration camp.  This book got into the hands of President George W. Bush (the father) who later invited Kang to the White House and described the book as “one of the most influential books I read during my presidency”.
The book I am reading now
What really upsets me whilst reading these accounts is that the world looks the other way whilst the Kim absolute dictators (Kim Il-Sung (1948-1994) Kim Jong Il (1994-2011) Kim Jong Un (2011-) rule over their subjects with much more than an iron fist.  The outside world is only worried about their nuclear weapons, South Korea would like to reunite the two countries but is not really keen as it would cost them a lot of money like it did Germany, but just no one seems to care that these Hitler like monsters starve most of their population and hundreds and thousands are banished to concentration camps the Nazis would have been proud of.  Society is built on casts of people depending on how loyal they are to the party and their own family backgrounds.  If someone commits the terrible sin such as watching a South Korean dvd, they will be banished to the camps but also their families. Those who commit the crime are “irredeemables” and get the worst treatment whilst their families are considered “redeemables” and their treatment is only slightly better.  Here they are programmed to become “squealers” and live on a diet of just three types of root vegetable where rice is considered a luxury. Most of them are in the camps for life which is why Shin’s story is utterly amazing.  The world looked the other way during the Second World War whilst the holocaust happened and is again looking the other way whilst innocent people live and eventually die in the gulags of North Korea. 
Grandfather, Father and Son, the frightening Kims of North Korea

Reading Escape from Camp 14 kept me occupied throughout the train journey.  It was sunny when I arrived at the Sants train station.  From there I took a taxi to my hotel and then walked to the restaurant called Windsor where Miguel and Gloria were waiting for me. We had a lovely lunch there on the terrace.  It was sunny and a bit warmer than in Madrid.  In the afternoon we saw many locations and must have walked over 12km but unfortunately none of them seemed suitable.  Thankfully we would have the next morning to look at more.  So, exhausted with all the walking and visiting, I made my way back to my hotel. I passed Mango and decided to have a little look as I had recently been to Mango when I went shopping with Anne my Finnish friend and had seen lots of things I liked. I never used to like this shop or find anything suitable and wondered if something had changed. One of the shop assistants confirmed my suspicions by telling me that the designers were a completely new team.  There and then I indulged in two dresses and a cardigan.  You will not be surprised to see that one of them is a striped jersey dress!
My new dress from Mango
That evening I had a dinner date with Grainne my friend from our Bradford days who lives in Badalona.  She has just moved house and now lives on the sea front with her son Marcel and “baby”, Tommy, her little dog.  It was great to see her as always.  The photo illustrating this post was taken by her whilst we had dinner at “La Bota de Aragón”.  We were the only diners.  Every time I visit Barcelona I try and see Grainne and this time would be no exception.  It is great to catch up on our news and being with her feels like being with the sister I do not have. 
Grainne and the love of her life "Tommy"
I took a taxi back to the city. I was wondering what the locals thought about the so-called illegal referendum and asked my taxi driver whether he was going to vote. I had seen many Catalonian flags in favour of voting which is happening today, 9th November. As it was declared unconstitutional it has been turned into a botched sort of consultation.  My taxi driver said he would as if it was the most normal thing in the world.  I then asked him where he would be voting (something not very clear) and he said in different places from usual elections; like schools.  I didn’t dare reply that actually schools were the usual location for elections.  After that I kept my mouth shut only to congratulate him on Barcelona’s win against Ajax in the Champions League!

On Thursday morning I enjoyed my breakfast in a very quiet dining room but then suddenly a young couple came to sit at the table next to me.  The woman was dressed in a complete cover up burka and I wondered how she was going to go about having her breakfast whilst her uncovered husband tucked in to a plate piled high with food.  In the end she didn’t eat as I suppose she would have been embarrassed trying to lift up the flap over her mouth.  In places like London I’m sure she wouldn’t but you must know that, for now at least, in Spain there are very few women dressed like her.  I was furious at the scene and felt like telling the husband off but of course didn’t dare.  To add to my frustration I couldn’t take a photo either.  No doubt she later had breakfast in her room but that was no consolation for me I’m afraid.

I had a good two hours on Thursday morning to get up to speed on my work, pack and check out on time to meet Gloria and Miguel who had more locations to show me.  This time I liked every one of them and by 13h, we had chosen the two we liked best.  Our train wasn’t until 16.25 so we walked to the Port Vell (old Port) to have lunch at Cal Pinxo which is a favourite of mine in Barcelona.  Here we had lunch outside; amazing for November.
Lunch at Cal Pinxo with Miguel and Gloria

We enjoyed our lunch so much, chatting away that we left a bit late to pick up our luggage from the hotel and be at the station on time.  We caught the 16.25 high speed train (AVE) literally by the skin of our teeth but we caught it; two minutes before it pulled out of the station!  It was a bit of a lesson, so it won’t happen again I promise myself.

On the journey back I finished reading Escape from Camp 14 and started on The Aquariums of Pyongyang and in no time we were at the Atocha train station in Madrid.  It was 18.55 when we pulled in.  The trip back was 2.5h only as the train was direct. I really do love the Spanish “AVE”.

It was on Thursday that Whatsapp (instant messaging service) that so many of us use, myself included, introduced the blue double tick (or check) which now means your message has been read.  Before that there were two types of ticks; one grey one which meant the message had been sent and two grey ones which meant it had been delivered although many people thought the latter meant it had been read. There has been a lot of fuss and criticism about this but I don’t really mind.
Whatsapp introduced the double blue tick on Thursday which is proving unpopular
On Friday I had lots to do, workwise.  I was delighted to hear from Suzy that she was going to Cambridge for the day with her friend David and new friend Riley, a Canadian dietitian she had met when working for Apple. 
Suzy with her friends in Cambridge on Saturday

I reminded her she had once been there when she was a baby with my parents.  You see Cambridge is where it all started. My Father studied German and Scandinavian languages at Selwyn College (a Church of England college – after all he was the son of a clergyman) and it was in Cambridge that he met my Mother, a Russian refugee, at the secret Russian courses for the Armed Forces and possible future spies where they both taught.  They married in Cambridge and bought a house at 291 Milton Road (I didn’t remember the number but my 95 year old Father did!) which is where I was born in 1957.  So I encouraged Suzy to visit the colleges, go punting and see the bikes which are everywhere and to see the town with the eyes of someone whose whole family started there in Cambridge.  I think she did and loved the city although it rained all day.
Suzy in Cambridge

I had a quick lunch that day with my Father and Eladio but had to rush off quickly as I had a 3.30pm meeting in Madrid to visit a spectacular location for a launch event in December.  Then I went to see a new venue called Casa Carolo which is part owned by Bea from my events agency and which will be opening shortly.  I loved it Bea, specially the décor.

On Friday night Eladio and I went out to dinner as we usually do.  This time our choice was La Vaca Argentina in Las Rozas where we were greeted by the staff like old friends.  It was a super dinner to wind off a very busy week.

On Saturday morning at breakfast I was very moved to read a story about a dying woman who was reunited with her horse for the last time at a hospital in Wigan in the north of England.  The whole thing was organized by the hospital’s “bereavement liaison specialist”.  Just to know that hospitals have someone specialized in bereavement is amazing.  I wish they had them here in Spain.  No way would anyone at a hospital here bring you your horse to say goodbye.  There is a lot less respect for a animals.  Not so long ago, the dog “Excalibur” belonging to the Spanish nurse with Ebola, Teresa Romero, was put down without her consent.  So I loved this picture and story which I want to share with you here.
The most touching story of the week

Sheila Marsh, a terminal cancer patient at the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary in Wigan, was granted her last wish by arranging a visit from two of her horses.  The 77 year old woman, hardly able to speak, gently called her favourite horse, Bronwen who came up to her and nuzzled her cheek, his way of giving her a kiss to say goodbye.  Sheila has worked with horses all her life and her last wish was beautifully respected by the hospital staff in Wigan.  That’s a lovely story isn’t it?

And today is Sunday 9th November, not just any Sunday, it is Poppy Day or Remembrance Sunday.  The poppy is a very English thing but I still have one I bought a few years ago sitting on my desk.  My feelings and wishes go out too to all those who fought and fell for the United Kingdom.
The English poppy to celebrate Remembrance Sunday 
Today is also the date of the Catalonian pseudo referendum. So far I don’t know what is happening there; whether the central government has done anything to impede the illegal voting. We shall know more by the end of the day.

Much more interestingly today is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  It was on 9th November 1989 that the wall was broken and finally the East Berliners and East Germans, could walk across to freedom.  On that night Angela Merkel, aged 35, left the GDR for West Berlin and said her life changed forever afterwards.  Of course it did in many ways, but I bet she never thought that night that one day she would be the German Chancellor.
A scene from 25 years ago today when the Berlin Wall finally fell

I have a piece of the 150km wall my parents brought me from Berlin.  It came with a piece of paper authenticating which I have lost.  However I know it comes from that wall of shame and it graces our lounge and reminds me of what communism did to the world every time I look at it.
The piece of the Berlin Wall that my parents brought me just after it fell and which graces our lounge
Today will be quiet as most Sundays are at home.  Soon we will be having a family lunch with my Father, Eladio, Oli and Miguel prepared in advance by Fátima who has now gone home for her days off.  Later I shall join Eladio and the dogs for another walk.  We have a third dog with us at the moment, Nuba who belongs to José Antonio and Dolores who are now in Argentina on holiday.  Here is a great photo of Eladio who I baptized “the dog walker” on one our walks yesterday.
Eladio the dog walker!
Meanwhile my friends, I wish you all a great week ahead,

More from me next week, cheers till then


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