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,


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