Sunday, November 29, 2015

Leaving the snow in Montrondo, St. Lucia invitation, a visit to Anovo, to Barcelona and back, new clothes, Thanksgiving and the unknown Spanish origin, the craze of Black Friday, Suzy in Bath and other stories.

Sunday 29th November 2015

About to devour this delicious Fideua on Thursday in Barcelona at Cal Pinxo
Hi everyone,

It’s been an extraordinarily busy week.  It started off quietly though.  Last Sunday we woke up to snow in Montrondo. The day before it had snowed on and off but then it must have snowed all night as we woke up to a white Montrondo. 
We woke up to snow on Sunday morning last week in Montrondo
It was Pippa’s first experience with real snow and I’m not sure she liked it.  What I loved apart from the white scenes, was having a cozy breakfast inside our warm house with wonderful views of the snow outside.  Here is Eladio enjoying his breakfast that morning.
Breakfast in Montrondo last Sunday with snow outside.
My idea was to stay and enjoy the snow, go for a walk with Pippa, have lunch and set off for Madrid in the afternoon.  However Eladio foiled my plan.  He and his family always seem to enter into panic mode when snow falls in the village, perhaps remembering being trapped there when they lived there many years ago.  So Eladio hurriedly made preparations to leave despite my protests. I tried to point out that the snow plough would be here soon and that we would have no problem driving.  But it was not to be.  This is what it looked like when we left.
It was snowing hard when we left
The main road was quite clear of snow and just a few miles down the road there was less and less snow.  There was more in Montrondo as it stands at 1.300m high in the mountains.  Pippa wasn’t too keen to leave either.  She now travels “legally” with a proper seat belt fastener on the back seat rather than on my lap.  She is not very keen on travelling and I’m sure she too would have preferred to stay that day in the village.
Pippa travelling legally now
On the bright side we were home for lunch.  I was happy to see my Amazon order of Downton Abbey Season 6 (the last one) had arrived and spent part of the afternoon watching the first episode.  I am very sad there will be no more seasons, my only consolation being that I have yet to see the Christmas special which I can only order after it has been aired in the UK later next month.
Downton Abbey Season 6 arrived in my absence.  Needless to say I devoured all of it in less than a week.
On Monday I was up early.  I had to be in Madrid that morning with my boss for an interview with a new radio station belonging to Forbes which will be launched next week. The interview was taped so there were no nerves and we both enjoyed the session.  The questions were very general; none of them too tricky.
The interview at Forbes Radio
Once back at the office, I went through my pigeon hole.  Normally it is full of junk mail; mostly boring sector magazines, but amongst all the mail there was one envelope which looked interesting from the Swedish Embassy.  It was an invitation for two to the Swedish Ambassador’s private residence to celebrate St. Lucia.  Gosh that meant having to dig out a suit for Eladio; not an easy task as the last time he wore one was probably about 10 years ago. 
The invitation from the Swedish Embassy
St. Lucia is an important Swedish and Nordic Christmas tradition where a beautiful young girl wearing white and a crown of candles on her head together with a cortege, bring the light to the dark days of Christmas singing and offering traditional gingerbread biscuits and other typical products of this festival, one of the most important in the Swedish calendar.  From what I have read about its origins, “St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304AD. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. Lucy means 'light' so this is a very appropriate name”.  St. Lucia takes place on 13th December, although the Embassy celebration will be a few days earlier.I look forward to it and for once I will have Eladio to join me.

Tuesday was a headachy day and I think I didn’t shake it off until I returned from Barcelona later in the week.  That day we had a “Yoigo Morning”, a staff event which I organise where the staff gets an update on how the company is doing and can ask questions.  It is followed by fun  and personal presentations from new employees and then a cocktail party to enjoy and to network.  We had full house and the information shared was of great use to the employees.  Everything went off without a hitch, including the presentation I had put together at the last minute.
The Yoigo Morning on Tuesday
I then dashed off to Anovo.  What’s Anovo you may ask?  Well it’s a phone repair company that we use for most of the models of phones we sell to our customers and one of our strategic partners.  If you saw me in Undercover Boss you may remember my session there, learning how to repair a mobile phone with a young employee called Miguel.  After me, I think he was the star of the show.  So why did I go?  No, not to repair a phone but to get mine repaired.  The screen of my phone broke a while ago and I never seemed to find the time to go to Anovo to get it mended on the spot.  I needed to go in person to make sure all the data remained and that it was not put back to factory settings.  It was very funny going back to Anovo as Masha and a customer, rather than my fictional self in the programme, Melanie the fruit seller from London hahaha.  I got red carpet treatment and the screen of my phone was replaced in a jiffy; a perk of my job I suppose.  Whilst there, I met the people in charge of Yoigo, as well as an old colleague from Motorola, Lubas who I am always happy to see. Then to my joy, Miguel turned up and I threw my arms around him.  You can’t imagine just how close I am to the employees who took part in the programme with me.  Here is a photo of that moment.  It was really nice to be back at Anovo.  Thanks guys for your help.
At Anovo on Tuesday
Whilst all this was happening, on the international scene, I was amazed to find out that the Turkish government had given orders to shoot down a Russian military jet in Turkish airspace according to them.  According to Vladimir Putin it was in Syrian air space.  The Russian plane was given ample warning which it ignored and the plane was downed and the pilots had to parachute themselves out.  I personally think the Turks were wrong to shoot the plane, especially in these times when they should be allies and not enemies, in getting rid of ISIS.  The incident brought the wrath of the Russian President but thankfully it’s not war with Russia or Turkey, more like sanctions and the similar.  Meanwhile in Brussels the lockdown continued, as did the search for the terrorists behind the Paris Attacks.
The Russian fighter jet shot down in Turkish air space
On Wednesday I was up early again. That morning we were to issue a press release on the launch of the Yoigo app, called “Mi Yoigo”.  The app, available on Android and IOS is for customers to manage their use of their tariff and many other things. It comes late but it’s a very well made app and the response that day was positive, thankfully.
Proud of the new Yoigo (Mi Yoigo) app
Whilst it was being launched, I was on my way to Barcelona for a site inspection trip to choose locations for our press conference and party at the Mobile World Congress next February.  I have to confess the best part of all my events, are not the events themselves which I generally do not enjoy, but the sight inspection trips.  Here I am on the train setting up my office (pc, etc), except that I couldn’t work much because despite the avant garde technology of the high speed train, it doesn’t have wifi.  So I was content to continue watching Downton Abbey, albeit with not very good headphones.  It kept me entertained until my arrival at the Sants trains station at about 1.20.
On the high speed train to Barcelona on Wednesday morning
I had lunch with Bea and Miguel from my events agency, QuintaEsencia, at one of the possible locations, “Chapeau” a private club in the heart of the city.  Barcelona was looking good as it always does when the sun is shining. This is the view from my hotel room.
The view of Paseo de Gracia in Barcelona from my hotel room
As I took the photo I reflected that it would be a pity if Cataluña ever separated from Spain, the big issue on the nation’s agenda on the eve of General Elections to be held on 20th December.

It was a great lunch after which we went to see more of the locations on the list.  We loved the first two we saw and which were perfect for our needs; so much so that we spent the whole afternoon brainstorming at Chez Coco the fashionable venue we have chosen for the party and which was used recently by the Barcelona Football Club.  We talked until 7.30 when I had to rush off if I was to be on time for my date with Grainne. 

If you read my blog regularly you will know that Grainne went to school with me and that she is the older sister of one of my best class mates, Brenda.  Like me, she has lived in Spain for more than 30 years.  She is a teacher of English and when I arrived at her home by the sea in Badalona she was in the middle of a conversation lesson with 4 men pupils.  She asked me to join the class which I willingly did and enjoyed talking English slowly to her eager pupils; all of whom had seen me “star” in the Undercover Boss programme!

After the class, Juan Carlos, one of her pupils, drove us and Marcel, Grainne’s son, to a local restaurant where my friend had booked a table, called Ca l’Arqué.  The wife of the owner was one of Grainne’s pupils and the next day her first English lesson would be with her.  In Badalona Catalán is widely spoken and at the restaurant I guessed even more so as I kept having to ask the owner and my hosts to speak Spanish, not to mention get a menu in Spanish.
Dinner with Grainne and Marcel is always a hoot 
It was a wonderful dinner, not just because I liked the restaurant and the food but because I always feel completely at ease with my dearest funny and charismatic friend Grainne and her delightful and loving son Marcel.  I reflected and pointed out to Grainne that I have visited her on perhaps every one of my trips to Barcelona over the years. Yet she has only visited us in Madrid once.  I would love them to come here and also to take them to Montrondo one day.

Soon it was time to leave and we called a local taxi.  I was amazed again when the taxi driver recognised me from the Undercover Boss programme.  He was a huge fan of the series and didn’t stop talking to me about it until we arrived at my hotel.  He was so happy to meet me and it felt like being famous for 5 minutes; not an unpleasant feeling I can tell you.
I slept well that night and in the morning decided upon the luxury of breakfast in bed.
Breakfast in bed - a rare luxury
I spent most of the morning working quietly from my room until it was time to check out.  I decided to walk to my lunch appointment with Bea and Miguel at Cal Pinxo.  My hotel was on Paseo de Gracia, one of Barcelona’s smartest streets which is full of enticing shops.  I could not resist going into Mango, Punto Roma and Zara on my way and when I arrived at the restaurant I was carrying quite a few shopping bags.  I told Bea that I hadn’t bought any clothes for a long time.  And it’s true as my priority for the last year or so has been buying things for the house in Montrondo rather than anything for me, but that morning I was inspired.  I bought two dresses, a black top, a coat and a pair of jeggings.  I just loved this little black dress with a white collar from Zara and think it will be perfect for the Swedish Embassy St. Lucia reception.
The little black dress with a white collar from Zara
I got to Cal Pinxo, one of my favourite places in Barcelona, by the Palau de la Mar and the Port Vell, at around 1. Soon I was joined by Miguel and Bea.  We sat in the sun and ordered a dish we all love called “fideua”.  This is like paella but made with vermicelli.  The photo illustrating this week’s blog is of me and the fideua the moment it was brought to our table. There was so much I took home a doggy bag and we ate it for dinner that night and for lunch the next day.
With Bea at Cal Pinxo
I was home on time for dinner with Eladio and Olivia. Recently I have been so busy I have hardly seen Oli on the TV but was happy to see a photo of her doing a report on babies. She loves doing stories about babies and children. 
Oli doing a report she loved this week
The story was about a baby being massaged by an Indian girl.  How strange right?  Well not when I heard from Olivia that this is an Indian tradition whereby babies are massaged when they are young to strengthen their bodies and do them good in general.  In the report she went to a parlour in Madrid where young Indian girls offered the same service to mothers in Spain. 

Whilst Eladio, Oli and I ate the remains of the “fideua”, in the US and many parts of the world, North Americans were eating turkey and celebrating Thanksgiving.  I have never been to a Thanksgiving dinner but it might be interesting.  What was interesting to read was that according to historians at a University in Florida, the first Thanksgiving dinner did not take place thanks to the English Mayflower Pilgrims as we all thought. No, it was apparently Pedro Menéndez Avilés, the Spanish explorer who celebrated the first Thanksgiving dinner 50 years earlier in 1565 in St. Augustine Florida, in gratitude for the safe arrival.  And they didn’t eat turkey but ham and olives, wine and chickpeas.  This is not widely known in the US or anywhere else for that matter, probably because the US prefers to link the celebration to its Anglican rather than Spanish heritage and roots.

"The first Thanksgiving meal in 1565 in St. Augustine that was shared between Spanish settlers and the native Timucua Indians: salted pork, garbanzo beans, ship’s bread and red wine"
The next day was Black Friday, a sales day the day after Thanksgiving which was until very recently an exclusively US event.  Amazon brought it to Europe, as did other online sites, but I was amazed to witness this week just how much Black Friday has invaded Spain and most of the world too.  Black Friday this year was huge here and wasn’t just on Friday but in many parts started on Thursday and will last all weekend until Monday which is another bargain selling day event called Cyber Monday.  Has the world gone crazy or what?  I ask myself why in Spain and most of the world we have taken on as our own celebrations such as Valentine’s Day, Halloween and now Black Friday.  I hope that doesn’t mean we will all be celebrating Thanksgiving next year.  My answer to its success can only be money; i.e. consumerism.  Even in Yoigo we celebrated Black Friday slashing prices from Thursday to today.
Yoigo joined in the Black Friday craze which took Spain by storm this week
I wondered what the origin of the day was, apart from being a sales day after Thanksgiving.  There are two possible theories, one about the association with “black” and coming into money and the more plausible one of the police calling it that due to so much traffic the day after Thanksgiving.  Be that as it may, Black Friday has come to stay.  I ignored it and did my shopping on Thursday in Barcelona and was not inspired to enter the frenzy this weekend as I hate crowds, just as much as I hate following sheep which is how I see Black Friday.  No, it’s not for me for the moment.

On Friday I had the occasion to wear some of the new clothes I bought in Barcelona on Thursday. Here I am wearing the new grey and white striped dress from Mango and the grey coat from Zara.  You probably know that my favourite brands of clothing are Zara, Mango, H+M, Lindex and M+S.  For shoes it is Clarks.
Wearing some of my new clothes on Friday morning
Off I went into town to Madrid for a meeting with my PR and Public Affairs agency Ketchum.  Here we were to go over the issues we have in Public Affairs and come up with a plan for 2016.  It was a productive session.

That morning we had another press release. This time it was to announce the return of our star tariff, the Sinfin with 20 gigas of internet and unlimited talk time.  It’s for new customers and is the focal part of our Christmas promotion and campaign.
Yoigo's sinfin tariff with 20 gigas is back for Christmas for new customers
I was home on time for our walk with the dogs and lunch.  The weather was glorious and it’s amazing that we go for walks in our shirt sleeves at the end of November. The bad weather came and went and it’s like summer again, at least during the middle of the day.

In the afternoon I did the weekly food shopping with Salu.  It always feels we are buying enough food to feed an army as we leave the supermarket with 2 full trolleys.  This time I bought even more food as I contributed to the nationwide campaign where food is being bought and collected for poor people on the biggest scale I have ever seen.
This week there was a nationwide collection of food for the poor at nearly all the supermarkets in the country
It was my good deed of the day.

Later that night we went out to dinner and were joined by Oli and Miguel, who is recovering slowly from his appendicitis operation.  We chose to go to La Vaca Argentina where we can use my excess number of luncheon vouchers and where I booked a table via The Fork, thus benefitting from a 30% discount.

Once home, Eladio and I continued to binge watch Prison Break which has us riveted with all the suspense this American prison series brings with it, not to mention rather too much violence at times. 
Some of the cast from Prison Break
Saturday was a lazy day.  I spent part of the morning watching the end of Downton Abbey and felt gutted afterwards as that was really the end and I wasn’t satisfied.  We went for another sunny walk in our shirt sleeves after which we came home and I made a lovely family lunch when we were joined by Oli and Miguel again.  Whilst Eladio slept his siesta, I watched one of the Call the Midwife Christmas specials I hadn’t seen. Then and there I ordered series 3 and 4 on Amazon and was disappointed to see there was no discount for Black Friday.

Meanwhile Suzy, Chati and their Italian friend were spending the day in Bath.  Suzy told me the weather was awful and that it was packed.  They were not able to see the Baths due to the huge queues.  The only picture I got was a selfie of her with Monica by the church next to the Baths.
Suzy in Bath yesterday - here with her Italian friend Monica
Later last night they drove on to Bristol where they would be spending the night with a friend of Chati’s who lives there. I look forward to talking to Suzy today to find out all about their trip and how she is in general.  We haven’t spoken for ages, just have contact on whatsapp.
Oli and Miguel went out to dinner last night and Eladio and I stayed in.  It was Salu’s day off, so we weren’t going anywhere.  And, yes, we watched more of Prison Break until it was time to fall asleep.

Today, Sunday, is another sunny day and we shall all have lunch together, but not before I finish this blog post and go for our walk.

Next week we shall be going to Montrondo again and Oli and Miguel will join us for the weekend.  But of course you will be hearing all about that in next week’s post.

In the meantime, I wish you all a great week,

Cheers till next time


Saturday, November 21, 2015

The aftermath of the Paris attacks, #NotInMyName, Benares restaurant first Indian Michelin star, “La Marseillaise” sung by English and French fans at Wembley, Miguel operated for appendicitis, to Montrondo again and away from the horrors, snow in the village, the end of the Indian summer and more.

Sunday 22nd November 2015
At peace with the world in sunny Montrondo

But the weather changed on Saturday and it was the end of the Indian summer

Good morning from Montrondo again.  You will ask why we go so often.  Well, of course it’s to enjoy our lovely new house but also the village is a respite, a place of peace; peace we all need after the terrible attacks in Paris. 

On Sunday last Oli and I watched Act of Valor on Netflix.  It was a bit violent, not exactly what we needed after Paris.  We spent most of the day tuned to the BBC to see how things were evolving. The police were hunting on the ground for the terrorists who had escaped as well as for the ringleader.  In the air, meanwhile, they sent jets to bomb the Daesh capital, Raqqa in their biggest attack on ISIS to date.
Retaliation for the attacks - bombs on Raqqa in Daesh
I couldn’t get Paris out of my mind and worried for my cousin Masha and her daughters, I wrote to them.  Thankfully I got comforting replies the next day that they were all alright. It’s ironic that it’s thanks to the terrorists that I got in touch with them.  The whole civilized world is on the side of France and if anything good has come out of the horror is that we all have come closer to Paris and to the French.  Any neighbourly animosity between the border countries, Spain and England, vanished that night forever.  Cities around the world lit up their most iconic buildings with the colours of the French flag, like the Town Hall in Madrid, the building which is also known as “Correos”, the central post office and also Cibeles.
Cibeles lit up with the colours of the French flag in solidarity with Paris.
I spend most of my free time now reading about the extremist group and know that normal Muslims around the world are horrified about what the group does in their name.  Muslims have circulated pictures of themselves saying “Not in my name”. 
No, it was not in their name, nor was it in mine
I found a quote from the Koran which I really wish these mad young men and women, many of whom I suspect join ISIS just for the thrill rather than for any religious convictions, would read and follow.  I know there are bloodier quotes in the Koran but this is the one I prefer to include here.
The quote from the Koran
Very many people confuse normal Muslims with terrorists and that is a huge mistake.  I just wish their voice could be louder so that people would believe them.  There have been articles in the press suggesting that some of the terrorists disguise themselves as Syrian refugees on their way to Europe which has led to countries not wanting to offer exile.  That is not the way to go.  We have to crush the extremists but also take care of those ordinary people escaping from them.  Theirs is the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.

In London that day Suzy was spending the time with her friends in Brick Lane, that multicultural neighbourhood famous for its curry houses, street food and markets where I hope none of them were worried about possible attacks there too.   It was a lovely sunny day and I am happy to post this photo of Suzy with her friends enjoying themselves.
Suzy and her friends in Brick Lane last Sunday
Oli and I had a long chat with her later that day on the phone and we can’t wait to see her when she comes home for Christmas in about a month’s time.

On Monday most of my thoughts were with my oldest friend who was being operated on for breast cancer.  The operation went well but the pathology report won’t be available for another 10 days.  Those 10 days will seem like eternity to her.  I am thinking positively and can only wish her a successful outcome.

That day I had a meeting in Madrid with my PR Agency Ketchum who have just won the agency pitch we did this year.  Like most PR agencies today, their work space is much like a newsroom as you can see in the picture below.
The Ketchum offices in Madrid - like a newsroom
I had a meeting with three members of the team; Víctor, Isabel and Ludi.  We wanted to discuss our plans for social media in the coming months.  After a productive session at a cafeteria below their offices, we went to lunch. I had booked a table at Benares, the new Indian restaurant in Madrid opened by the Indian chef Atul Kochhar. He is the first Indian chef to have a Michelin star which he won for his restaurant of the same name in London. 
The Benares restaurant in Madrid
As we arrived the waiters greeted us with their palms together saying “Namaste” the typical Hindu greeting which actually means “I bow to the divine in you”. I loved the gesture and their bobbing movements which reminded me of our wonderful stay in India a few years ago.

I realized once we were sitting down that the new Indian restaurant is actually on the same premises as the Annapurna Indian restaurant which I didn’t know had closed and which was a favourite of mine.  I love Indian food but am not so sure my PR team does.  I have a feeling they were being polite and would probably have preferred to go somewhere else.
With the team at Benares
I was surprised to see both pork and beef on the menu.  I mean that is so against the Hindu religion.  One of the waiters explained that the chef wanted to incorporate Spanish food into his menu.  I didn’t buy that especially when he told me the lamb we had ordered came from Kashmir. The food was good of course, but a bit too sophisticated for Indian cuisine in my opinion. 

What I did love were the hand towels we were served. They were little dry concentrated“pills” on a plate upon which boiling water was poured and then by art of magic, they grew and became towels to wipe our hands.  I wonder where they get these.  I’d love to have some for celebration meals at home.
That's how they serve hand towels at Benares
From an Indian restaurant I came home to an Indian summer.  Eladio was mowing the lawn which is a surprising thing to do in Spain in the middle of November.  As I told you last week, we are experiencing summer like weather even though it is autumn. 
Eladio mowing the lawn last Monday
The Indian experience continued at dinner when we ate the remains of the Benares lamb curry which I had brought home in a doggy bag.  It was a bit too hot for my liking.  Next time I shall have good old Tikka Masala.

On Tuesday I fasted.  Whilst I worked that day I kept up with the news in Paris. There was a manhunt on for one of the gunmen who survived the attacks.  His name is Salah Abdeslam. Aged 26 he is one of the three brothers involved in what has now been called “France’s worst mass killing since the Second World War.  He is the most wanted man in Europe. 

The most wanted man in Europe
Like his brothers he is from Belgium and from the notorious Molenbeek district where  jihadism reigns.  It was very sad to hear that day that the friendly match between Spain and Belgium scheduled for Tuesday night in Brussels was cancelled because of the danger of more attacks. The German Holland friendly match in Hannover was also cancelled, but not so the France England match which was to take place in Wembley the “cathedral of football”.

It was to be a powerful demonstration of solidarity with France and defiance against the Islamic State monsters.  It was amazing to see the photos and videos later with the French flag everywhere and the whole stadium singing La Marseillaise.  It was incredible to see English fans in solidarity with their French neighbours.  What a show Wembley put on.  I was very proud of England that day but then the British know how to rise to the occasion as they have demonstrated over and over again. This time it came in the form of football, the game they invented but which is now an international language of its own. Wherever you go in the world you can talk to strangers about football and thus relate immediately.  If you haven’t done so, try it.  It nearly always works.
Wembley, what a show of solidarity with France.
La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, has been sung worldwide this week and not only in France.  A catchy, well known tune, few know its lyrics.  It was first composed as a war song in 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle after the declaration of war against Austria.  It has remained a revolutionary song “an anthem to freedom, a patriotic call to mobilize all the citizens and an exhortation to fight against tyranny and foreign invasion” which seems fitting for these times.  But take a look at the lyrics below which are maybe just as bloodthirsty as those of their enemies.  
Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Arise, children of the Fatherland,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé !
The day of glory has arrived!
Contre nous de la tyrannie,
Against us tyranny's
L'étendard sanglant est levé, (bis)
Bloody banner is raised, (repeat)
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes
Do you hear, in the countryside,
Mugir ces féroces soldats ?
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras
They're coming right into your arms
Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes !
To cut the throats of your sons, your women!

You can read the complete lyrics here.

That night whilst the match was being played and which England won 2-0 (the least important aspect was the result), Russia joined forces against ISIS with France, the US, Canada and Australia.  Up until now Russia was fighting on the side of the Syrian President but has changed sides since they found out the Russian passenger plane which crashed from Egypt a few weeks ago had been an act of terrorism and that it had been blown up by a bomb on board.

It was on Tuesday that Oli rang me in the evening, asking me to join her and visit Miguel, her boyfriend who was in hospital. He had been complaining of pains in his stomach for quite a few days and finally decided to go to the A+E at his local hospital.  It was good that he didn’t leave it too late as they found he had acute appendicitis.  Thankfully they caught it on time as if he had waited a day or too more, it may well have developed into peritonitis.  I remember my Father had peritonitis many years ago possibly because he too hesitated in going to see the doctor and left it too late. 
Miguel just before he was operated this Tuesday
Miguel was operated on that night and successfully too.  These days most operations are done by laparascopy which is less invasive and shortens the recovery time.  However his appendix was so inflamed they had to do traditional surgery and he has 9 stitches or rather staples and has been given a recovery period of one month.  He was discharged on Friday and is recovering slowly, but obviously not enough for Oli and him to have joined us in Montrondo this weekend which was the original plan.

On Wednesday I got up at 6.  I had a big headache and a bad night.  We were off to Montrondo that morning to get away from it all.  As we drove I kept up with the news of events in Paris.  From early in the morning the police and special forces had raided a flat in Saint-Denis and gun shots were to be heard till after 9 am.  It must have been terrifying for the residents.  Some of them said later it felt like war and war it was.  The police had found the den of the terrorists and among then was the suspected ring leader of the attacks who died in the shoot-out, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, another young and fanatic jihadist. 

Abdelhamid Abaaoud the ring leader of the Paris attacks - killed in the Police raid in Saint-Denis
At the same time a woman terrorist Hasna Aitboulahcen blew herself up, the first woman to do so in Europe.  Later we read that in fact she hadn't done so, as the bomb was detonated remotely and that she cried out the words "help" several times before it went off. It was reported she may well be  Abaaoud’s cousin, not his girlfriend as the police suspected.  Amazingly I read later that she drank alcohol, took drugs and even had a “girlfriend”; not exactly in keeping with how an ISIS woman is supposed to lead her life.  I feel immensely sorry for her Mother.  
Hasna Aitboulahcen who lost her life in the police raid in Saint-Denis this week
In the terrorist den, there was no sign of Salah Abdeslam.  I also read later that he may be on the run, not just from the French authorities, but from ISIS for not “completing his tasks” possibly setting off his own suicide bomb in the 18th arrondissement  and that he even may be regretting his actions as he is supposed to have remarked that “he went too far”. He certainly did.  No doubt he will be caught  sometime soon. 

I got a respite from the news when we stopped on our way for the traditional pit stop at Rueda where we enjoyed a glass of wine and plate of ham in blissful peace.
Wine, ham and bread in Rueda on Wednesday on our way to Montrondo

We got here at around 2 with plenty of time for settling in and unpacking all the stuff we had brought.  I wonder if there will ever be a journey when the car is not full of things for the house in Montrondo.  Among some of the things we had brought was a new duvet cover and sheets for our bedroom.  I just couldn’t resist the black and white stripes which would match the black and white checkered floor in the bathroom and where the bathtub is in pride of place.  This is what it looked like when I had finished.
Our room in Montrondo with the new black and white striped bedding.
It was lovely weather, so at around 5, an hour or so before sunset, I went for the usual walk to Murias and back with Pippa.  It was so peaceful and I felt at ease with the world.
The walk on the old path to Murias with Pippa on Wednesday
On Thursday we woke up to more glorious weather.  
Montrondo - the view of the church
I was up at 7 and after breakfast with Eladio, set about catching up with my work in my lovely new study.  Eladio meanwhile was installing Toño and Dolores’ plasma TV on their kitchen wall.  There was time for coffee together at 12 and we had it on the terrace to enjoy the sun.
Coffee time in Montrondo 
I finished one of my end-of-year tasks that morning. Every year I make a desk calendar for Christmas and include some of the most important photos for each month.  So I spent some time choosing them before doing the online self-ordering on Vistaprint.  This is the front of the calendar.
The 2016 family  calendar I made and ordered this week
Looking through the photos, I reflected on this year in progress and the most important things that have happened. Well one was breaking my leg here in the snow last January, another of course was the rebuilding of this wonderful house and on a sadder note Suzy’s operation in August.  Other things that I will remember this year for were Oli and Miguel’s trip to Cuba, my participation in Undercover Boss as well as a trip to Finland in March and to London to be with Suzy in July.  No, it hasn’t been a bad year at all.

Just before lunch I ventured out into the village to buy some eggs from Serafina and Ulpiano.  On my way to “El Campo” I bumped into Salo and Manolita who were returning from “la matanza”.  La matanza is the slaughter time of year when hams and chorizos are made in villages all around Spain. Salo was carrying a plate of fresh pork fillet of steak and offered me some for lunch. I gladly accepted her offer and this is the plate of meat we had for lunch on Thursday.  I can’t begin to describe just how good it tasted.
Pork fillets from the "matanza" - thanks Salo!
I wanted to see the “matanza” in action so Manolita took me to where it was happening. I was amazed at what I saw.  Salo’s husband, Eulogio, was chopping T-bone steaks which looked mouth-watering as you can see in the photo below.
"Matanza" in Montrondo
The matanza continued and I would be going to see the women make chorizo later and learn how they do it.  Funnily enough it’s a tradition in Montrondo that I have never seen and it’s good to see the tradition continued, even if it meant eating the meat of a pig I saw recently; one of Ulpiano’s actually. I tried not to think about that as I savoured the delicious meat haha.  I know Suzy would not approve.

Later that day, just before dusk, I started watching Prison Break on Netflix.  I only saw the first episode but I am hooked.  I just have to get Eladio hooked too which is no easy task.

Later we both went for a walk with Pippa to Murias and back, a first for Eladio.  He is so used to working here that I think he doesn’t know what to do if he has no work.  Usually though he will find something to do. Just as we came back, Gelo’s food van arrived and I went to do a little bit of shopping, for things I had forgotten to bring. There were Fernando and Manolita “shopping” too.  One thing led to another and Pippa and I ended up having coffee with Manolita in her cozy traditional house in “Los Palacios” (well not Pippa actually).  I hadn’t been there for many years and was pleased to see things were just the same; i.e. the traditional Montrondo décor was still in place.

On Friday morning I was awake again at 7 in the morning.  Pippa always gets up with me and it’s a time I enjoy in the morning on my own with her and of course a big cup of coffee to start the day. The first thing I do after having my coffee is look at the news.  Apart from events in Paris, I was interested to realize that Friday 20th November was the 40th anniversary of the death of Franco.  Wow.  I could just imagine a few old diehards visiting his tomb at El Escorial in Madrid, but the numbers dwindle as the years pass.  He was never my favourite person in history (that was Napoleon by the way, followed by Churchill or maybe the other way round) but of course his place in Spanish history is at the forefront and it wasn’t so long ago that Spain lived under his dictatorship.  When my family and I started coming to Spain it was the early 70’s and even though I was quite young (15), I noticed the lack of freedom of expression and just how backward the country was.  Thankfully that is all history now; except that the wound in Spain has not yet healed. I don’t think it ever will.

Friday continued as normal here in Montrondo. It was a lovely sunny day and whilst I worked, Eladio spent the time chopping wood.
Eladio chopping wood on Friday morning
We met again for coffee with more sunshine on our new terrace.  Here I am bringing the tray to the table.

Coffee time on our sunny terrace on Friday morning
It was after lunch when we heard the news that there had been another terrorist attack, this time on a luxury hotel in the capital of Mali mostly frequented by foreigners. The death toll was 19 people. The perpetrators were a splinter group of Al Qaeda.  The world has gone mad or rather groups of fanatical people have gone mad and this is a new type of war we are still trying to get to grips with.  The splinter group said they had acted in the “name of Ala”.  I feel sorry for Ala! 

On Saturday “El Clásico” (Real Madrid vs Barcelona) was to be played and the security measures were the toughest ever put in place in Spain for a football match.  I was amazed to read there will be half a million TV spectators from around the world. Unfortunately we won't be among them as the match can only be seen on pay per view TV which we don't have in Montrondo. Damn the terrorists for denying our freedom.  

Meanwhile in our haven of peace life continued for us quietly in Montrondo.  We have always said that if there was war, we could always resort and happily so to living here.  Eladio and I went out for a walk at about 5 on the old path to Murias.  I love seeing the horses and cows in the fields.  Here is a photo I took of just some of them. Unfortunately I had no bread to give them.  I must remember to take bread always. 
"Pinto" horses in the fields of Murias de Paredes
On our way back we stopped at Lourdes and Angustin’s house as Lourdes had offered us a dozen of her freshly laid eggs.  We spent a pleasant time with them.  Despite Agustin’s illness – he is tied to a dialysis machine every second day at home – they are such a positive and loving couple.

It was dark and cold when we returned.  Eladio finally put the fire on and our living space (kitchen come dining come lounge) looked oh so cozy. 
Our cozy lounge on Friday night
So what did I make for dinner that night?  Using Lourdes’ hens’ eggs and Primo’s potatoes I made a Spanish omelet.  We had it together with a plate of delicious “lomo” as per the picture below. 

"Lomo ibérico" and homemade Spanish tortilla made with local potatoes and eggs for dinner on Friday night
We woke up to rain on Saturday morning as the forecast had predicted. It turned into snow and then into sleet and a few hours later the sun came out again but then the snow continued. Snow was forecast for this weekend and my dream is to be trapped in the snow in Montrondo when I would have to ring home and say we were stuck and couldn't get home.  That has never happened but hopefully one day it will.  Who cares about the weather if you are in a warm and comfortable house with enough food to last and of course internet to stay in touch?  Not me.  As I say I look forward to the experience.  One thing was for sure, the Indian summer we have been experiencing here and in most places in Spain was now definitely over.

Meanwhile in Brussels, as in many other European capitals, the security has been increased after the Paris attacks.  My dearest friend Sandra who lives in the Belgian capital, posted this on Facebook on Saturday morning: "Brussels on highest alert. Metro shut down all w/e. Army everywhere downtown. What world are we living in?".  I can only commiserate and agree.  
It is unthinkable to see the Army on the streets of Brussels of all places. These, unfortunately, are the times we live in.
And we were trapped inside thanks to the sleet, snow and wind; certainly not the army in this remote and peaceful area of Spain.  It didn’t settle much but snowed all day.
Snow and sleet in Montrondo on Saturday
Thus I introduced Eladio to Prison Break and we binge watched it for most of the morning.
There was not else much we could do on Saturday because of the snow and sleet.
We stopped to make lunch.  The choice for Saturday was English fish and chips, the fish being made with beer batter.  Here I am cooking in our new kitchen.
Making lunch on Saturday
And here is my plate of delicious fish and chips.

English fish and chips for lunch on Saturday in Montrondo
It carried on snowing all afternoon but at around 5 it stopped and Eladio and I accompanied by Pippa wearing her winter coat, ventured out for a walk to Murias and back.

The village looked so pretty with its thin coat of snow.  A thin coat of snow in Montrondo is called “farraspilla” or so Eladio’s family tell me.  It began to snow again and it was windy and when we turned the corner out of the village we were hit by what people in Montrondo call a “torva” (blast of cold wind). 
The village covered in "faraspilla"
Eladio and Pippa on our snowy walk to Murias on Saturday afternoon

I felt sorry for the animals in the fields but Eladio assured me that both the cows, the horses and particularly "my" pony and grey donkey would not feel the cold with their thick coats of hair.
"My" pony and donkey in the snow in the fields of Murias on Saturday afternoon
Once in Murias we went to the Palloza bar to buy some Christmas lottery tickets.  I spoke to a man outside the bar who told me that that night we could expect 15 to 20cm of snow. How exciting I thought.

Just as we were arriving home, Salo, my neighbour was crossing the road and offered me some “picadillo” (the raw ingredients of chorizos) which I happily accepted. I really don’t know what I have done to deserve such generosity from the people of the village.  She told me it could be eaten fried or with macaroni.  So lunch on Sunday would be macaroni with “picadillo”.

Once home, Eladio tuned into the radio to follow "El Clásico".  He turned it off when the score reached 3.0 to Barcelona, the final result being an embarrassing 4.0.  

Our day ended watching 3 more episodes of Prison Break comfortably on the sofa with the fire on.

Today is Sunday and once again I was up at 7.  It had snowed a bit more.  I took Pippa outside to do her pee.  It had snowed a bit more, not 15cm, but enough for Pippa to feel disoriented.  I mean she has never seen snow before.  It was very cold and we quickly came back inside.   It's snowing lightly now and probably will continue for a while.  I look forward to a walk in the snow again with Eladio and Pippa later.

We shall be leaving today and this afternoon will be home again. It's funny but it feels like we have two homes now and these days there seems to be an adjustment period when we return to our main home.  

Next week will be busy.  I have many meetings, an internal event as well as  trip to Barcelona which I will tell you all about in next week's post.

Meanwhile, peace to you all and good wishes until next time,