Sunday, January 17, 2016

"Who is David Bowie?", The tiger and the goat living in peace, Suzy in Tenerife, a controversial parliamentary opening, cloudberries, Platea a gastronomic discovery, a family outing to see Titanic The Exhibition and other stories.

Sunday 17th January 2016
"Boarding" the Titanic on Saturday with Eladio, Miguel and Oli.  What a great exhibition
Hi again,

It’s a cold, crisp and sunny day in January, my Father’s favourite month of the year in Spain.  It’s not mine but I love the days when it’s sunny.  There has been snow in many parts of Spain this weekend.  Last Sunday it rained here whilst it snowed in Montrondo.  We haven’t been back since we returned on 4th January but rest assured we shall be going soon to enjoy the snow.  Meanwhile I make do with the photos posted by Javi, the village’s youngest inhabitant, who yesterday went up the Tambarón mountain and skied his way down.  The pictures were to die for. Here is the photo of the village covered in snow he posted last Sunday.
Snow in Montrondo - can't wait to go
This week I returned to my Fast diet (5:2) where I fast on Mondays and Thursdays and eat normally on the other days.  I also went back to doing 2 hour long walks a day and it is a battle to find the time as I have been very busy.  In the past 2 years or so I have gradually put more weight on and now is the time to try and shed it.  The trick is not to eat too much on the 5 non fasting days as time has told me. So wish me luck.

On Monday whilst eating my rather unpalatable oat bran for breakfast, I read that David Bowie had died aged 69 after a battle with cancer.  He is hard to describe, a controversial musical figure, born David Robert Jones in Brixton South London; a cockney boy who was good at music and discovered his talent playing a recorder at school.  Everyone knows who he is, except for my Father.  He asked the next day: “Who is David Bowie?” and commented that The Daily Telegraph had dedicated 8 whole pages to his life and death!”  I just had to say he was a famous “pop singer”, a term which my Father would understand and a term and genre he always hated.  When I was a child and the Beatles and Rolling Stones emerged he was against them and did his best to stop us listening to their music.  I was brought up hearing they were anathema and in a way that is sort of ingrained in me.  Recently Spotify have made available the song tracks from The Beatles and I have listened to their hits on my walks this week but always deep down feeling a little guilty as if it was wrong to like their songs.  Well I do I suppose, but mostly the more lyrical ones like Eleanor Rigby, Yesterday, Let it Be, The Long and Winding Road and Strawberry Fields.  As I listened to these songs this week I reflected a little on my youth and thought about my dead brother George who was a great piano player and loved and played the pop songs of the times to my Father’s chagrin as he would have preferred him to play classical music. I’m not sure because of this heritage whether I am a Beatle fan but I am certainly not a David Bowie fan; although of course I was sorry to hear he had died.   
RIP David Bowie
At breakfast on Monday I just read the headlines about Bowie’s death, finding another piece of news far more interesting because it was about animals, my passion.  The story was unique and could have come from The Bible or the Aesop fable.  In a safari park in Shkotovo near Vladivostok in Siberia in Russia, there is a Siberian tiger called Amur.  It is fed live animals once a week, mostly goats but a few months ago something unique happened.  Timur the goat was introduced into Amur’s den and instead of eating it, they became friends. If you don’t believe it just look at the photo of the two of them together or watch a video of them playing.
The tiger and the goat living in peace
They have been friends for many months now and who knows if Amur will end up eating his friend Timur or whether they will remain so.  Their story piqued my interest and reminded me of the verse in the Bible about the wolf and the lamb.  I looked it up and found out it comes from Isiah 11.6 and this is the transcription: The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. Their story of peace is something we should reflect on in these violent times of terrorist attacks as I would realise later in the week.

On Monday too Spanish Princess Cristina went on trial for embezzlement with her husband Iñaki Urdangarin in one of the most high profile court cases in Spain ever, because it affects the Royal Family.  We know she won’t be sentenced precisely because she is the sister of the King but just that she is on trial shows that some things have changed in Spain and in the world.  I’m a bit naughty and would secretly like to see her in prison as I suspect many Spaniards would. That’s because there is a little bit of the anti-establishment in me; although I was brought up by Conservative parents.
The Spanish Princess Cristina and her husband entering court on Monday
On Tuesday I went into the office to do various errands and see people for projects I am working on.  It was whilst I was there that Isis chose to attack tourists at the Sultanahmet square in Istanbul one of the major landmarks of the city. Once again they used the suicide bomber method which makes me cringe.  10 German tourists were killed in this attack; an attack that will do damage also to Turkey’s all-important tourist industry.  I mean who hasn’t been to the Sultanahmet Square if they’ve been to Turkey and walked from there to the Blue Mosque or the Hagia Sofia Mosque?  We stayed at a hotel opposite many years ago and our hearts go out to the ancient city which has so much to offer.  I was very sorry to hear the news.
Sultanahamet Square in Istanbul
On a lighter note that day an interview was published with me on my thoughts on communication in this day and age.  A journalist called Mar C. who I have known for many years and who works freelance interviewed me some months ago.  I had completely forgotten about the interview.  It’s very classic me, giving all my secrets away and saying what I think in plain language.  If you are interested you can read it in Spanish here.

On Wednesday we woke up to a whatsapp message from Suzy greeting us from Tenerife in the Canary Islands. She has been there on holiday all of this week with her friends Chati and two Monica’s.  We haven’t spoken to her but have seen some photos of her looking to be having a great time. 

Suzy having a grand time with her friends in Tenerife

It must be her 3rd or 4th visit there.  The nly island I have ever been to is Gran Canaria and that was some years ago just before Christmas time. I was not very impressed. Yes the weather was good but there were too many tourists but it was all very dry and there was not much to see.  I don’t know why but the Canary Islands have never been high on my list of places to travel to.

That morning I was up early as I had to be at Yoigo for a management team breakfast starting at 9.45.  It took me nearly 1.5 hours and as I drove in the dense traffic I listened to the radio.  That morning the only news in Spain was the opening of Parliament and the vote for the parliamentary speaker.  In Spain this title is much more highfalutin: “President of Congress” (the lower house). It is the 3rd highest authority in the land and the news was that the post for the first time in history would go to a member of a party which had not won the elections; in this case the PSOE.  It was seen as a possible first step in a coalition with the winning party PP who do not have enough seats for an overall majority, together with the votes of the new centre  party Ciudadanos.  The post went to Patxi López, a famous PSOE MP from the Basque Country. His rival was Carolina Bescansa from the anti-establishment party Podemos.  She didn’t win but stole the show by taking her 6 month old baby Diego in a pram to the opening session.  She was making a statement about the work life balance but has received much criticism as she has no need to take her baby to work if there is a crèche at the Spanish Congress. 

Carolina Bescansa of the anti establishment party Podemos on the first day of Parliament with her 6 month old baby Diego who she breast fed in public.
Her story was told the world over with voices for and against.  To make a further statement she even breast fed her baby in public.  Was that really necessary?  Isn’t breast feeding something very personal and private? How can you possibly concentrate on voting in Parliament whilst you are breast-feeding I wonder?  It doesn’t seem fair to the baby. My own opinion is that she used her baby for political reasons; something I don’t think is right.  I would far prefer her to fight for longer parental leave for both men and women and that the solution to the work life balance is certainly not taking your baby to work.  How can you pay full attention to your work when your baby needs your full attention too? Enough said.

Anyway, back to my trip to Yoigo.  Here I joined my team members for a breakfast hosted by our one Swedish member Urban. He had brought along churros and also homemade cloudberry jam.  He told us cloudberries are the gold of the forests in Sweden and in Finland of course too. Cloudberries are like a yellow raspberry or blackberry but taste tart. These delicate wild berries grow in the northern hemisphere in high latitudes and can withstand up to -40c but also need the sun. That’s probably why they are not mass produced. I’m not very keen on them but my Father loves them.  Urban very kindly gave me the remains of the jar to take home for my Father who I hope is now enjoying it on his toast each morning. 
Cloud berries

If on Tuesday ISIS attacked in Turkey, on Thursday it attacked in Jakarta at a busy shopping centre.  At least 8 people died; the 4 attackers, 3 Indonesians and 1 Canadian.  Are we getting immune to this kind of terrorism which can happen at any moment in any place in the world?

Friday was a busy day.  I had a meeting in Madrid at 11 with my events agency to scour locations to find a venue for a press breakfast we will be holding at the end of the month to present the financial results for 2015.  Again I was up early but this time even before the crack of dawn at 6.22.  I decided to go for my first walk of the day and left in the cold and dark at 7.30.  The sun only rose on my return.  I got home, had a shower, did my executive look transformation and set off for Madrid. My first place of call was a café restaurant called El Perro y la Galleta.  It is unique in that it allows people to take their dogs; something practically unheard of in Madrid.  That I suppose is why the name dog (perro in Spanish) is part of its name. 
Loved this bar
I arrived early and went into the sunny bar only to be greeted by two people I hadn’t seen for many years, Alex and his wife. They are a German couple we met at Amanda and Andy’s wedding many years ago.  They have lived in Spain for 10 years and we have seen them on and off.  I must say that apart from being lovely people their professions are very high profile too.  Diana is a brain surgeon and Alex is or was until recently the CEO of a branch of Bertelsmann in Spain.  It was lovely to see them again and I wish I had taken a picture.

Soon Gloria and Julia from my events agency, QuintaEsencia, arrived.  I loved the place and sort of knew from the beginning it would be the venue we would choose. But before taking the decision we visited another 4 or 5 places.  We walked everywhere.  It was sunny of course but wow was it cold when the wind blew.  Thankfully I was wearing my Swedish fur scarf which can be turned into a hat.  We finished early so I suggested we went to have a drink at nearby Platea, a gastro centre I had heard of but had never visited.

It was superb.  We entered via the fruit and veg shop entrance where I just had to stop to buy some expensive black cherries from Chile and miniature bananas for Oli.  Here I am in my Swedish fur headscarf paying for the fruit.
Buying fruit at Platea on Friday
The shopkeeper commented that this green grocer (are they still called that in the UK?) was the most photographed in Spain.  I wasn’t surprised as the display was as good or better than any I have ever seen including Fortnum and Mason or Harrods.  The variety and origin of the produce was amazing.

Platea was once a cinema but has been turned into a huge gastro centre, unique in its kind. There are shops or stands selling the most high quality food which you can buy to eat there or take away.  The idea is to buy food from various shops, such as the Basque tapas one (pinxos in Basque) and sit down anywhere you want and be served a drink.  This is just what Gloria, Julia, Bea – who joined us later – and I did.  It was a marvelous experience and I highly recommend anyone coming to visit Madrid who is reading this, to go along and visit.  For someone like me who loves top quality food and drink, Platea was a real gastronomic discovery.
With Bea, Gloria and Julia at Platea on Friday
That night Eladio and I had dinner at La Vaca Argentina, no gastronomic discovery as we go there very often. We usually love the food there but on Friday night we were disappointed.  I don’t know what went wrong or why but the food was just not on the same level as usual.  The meat was tough, the order was wrong and part of it was served very late.  Maybe they have a new chef.  I’ll have to find out.

We went home to watch the end of Prison Break and I was disappointed with that as well.  The ending was not what I expected but no spoilers; just that I did not like the end.  It made me cry but not in a nice way.

Saturday was the best day of the week by far and the best Saturday in a long time.  We did something totally different and it was thanks to Olivia.  This week she did a TV report on the Titanic The Exhibition at the Centro Cultural de la Villa, Fernan Gómez (Plaza de Colón).  She came home enthralled telling us just how good it was.  Well I have always been fascinated with the story of the sinking of that amazing ship.  I was brought up on it, even though it happened in 1912 and I was born in 1957 but of course there were many survivors still telling their stories until the last one, possibly Eva Hart (1905-1996) who was 7 when it sank and whose story you can watch here.  As there were too few lifeboats for all those on board and priority was given to women and children in the first and second classes only she and her mother survived.

Eva Hart one of the last Titanic survivors with her parents the year they sailed.  Only Eva and her Mother survived
My grandparents of course were alive and young when it happened and it has featured in countless books and films, the most notable one being by James Cameron with Kate Winslet and Leonardo di Caprio.  It was this film that captured the hearts of many, because of its story and music, not least our daughters, Eladio and I too, when we went to the premiere some 15 years ago.  Who doesn’t love the haunting music, “my heart will go on” or the story of Rose and Jack?  Spurred on by Olivia’s recommendation I bought two tickets for Saturday morning. Oli and Miguel, as journalists were lucky enough to get free press passes.

So off we went to Madrid together as a family outing on a lovely sunny day; quite a treat and something we don’t do often. I only wish Suzy could have been there. She would have loved it. I remember her being very affected by the film and watching the death scene of Jack in the cold sea over and over again.  

In the photo illustrating this week’s post there we are starting the Titanic experience which is possibly the only way to describe this exhibition which is highly interactive and very emotional.  I shed many tears throughout the visit although in the picture of us “boarding” I am smiling. 

I can’t begin to tell you just how good and well done it is.  It is an exhibition that is touring the world and is superbly created.  I usually hate audio guides, but these were excellent with great acoustics and and haunting descriptions; from the birth to the death of this great ship and through the telling of the stories of the lives of many of its victims and survivors.  Also on show were many objects which made the whole story come alive; some of them which had never been on exhibition before.  The recreation of the first class passageway and suites, the cabins of second and third class are perhaps the highlight of the exhibition as they are so well done.  In the picture below Oli, Eladio and I are standing in the first class passageway.
Eladio, Oli and I in the first class passageway during the exhibition
We came out 1.5h later emotionally drained, ecstatic with the visit and extremely hungry.  Guess what?  Platea is located just across the road from the Exhibition, so I took Eladio, Miguel and Oli to see it.  We went through the fruit and veg shop. It was quite busy inside but Oli and I couldn’t resist the Basque tapas. So we ate a “pinxo” each and shared 2 glasses of the most delicious Rueda white wine. 

From Platea we walked towards Calle Barquillo.  We were going to Casa Carolo for lunch.  It’s a restaurant part owned by Beatriz, a friend and we were there to try out the new menu from the new chef, Tania.  Here is Oli enjoying the moment
Oli yesterday having lunch at Casa Carolo
For me the best dish of those I tried was the “cochinillo deshuesado” (suckling roast pig with the bones removed).  It was out of this world.
This dish (cochinillo deshuesado) is a must at Casa Carolo
As we walked back to the car park in Colón Square Oli, Miguel and I went into a little shop called “Nice things”.  I didn’t mean to buy anything but couldn’t resist some flat blue suede boots.  Oli nearly bought the whole shop haha.  We came home at about 5.30 and all of us had a siesta as we were tired and sleepy from the exertions of the outing; or more like tipsy from the lovely wine at Casa Carolo.  Eladio and I woke up at ten to 7 in the evening of all times and I subjected him to more of Downton Abbey which I think he is beginning to like. 

We had actually had a light lunch at Casa Carolo, so by 8pm, Eladio and I were hungry again and had dinner.  It was yesterday that we started on our second and last Christmas ham. Here is Eladio starting to cut it with the 3 dogs drooling away at his side.
Eladio and the dogs yesterday - he's opening the new ham.
And today is Sunday and I have got to the end of the story of this week.  It has been a good one. I can’t complain.  Next week will be busy too but of course you will hear all about it next Sunday. Meanwhile, my friends and readers, I wish you all the best until then.

Cheers Masha

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