Saturday, July 09, 2016

Centenary of the Battle of the Somme, an emotional family reunion in La Teillée, France; bridesmaids revisited, Suzy’s travels in Nicaragua, discovering “Mölkky”, well done Iceland, dinner at Oli and Miguel’s new flat, off to Montrondo for the weekend and other stories.

Sunday 10th July.

The family group of cousins in La Teilee last weekend
Hi again,

This week I am writing from Montrondo.  We came on Thursday and will be staying until Monday.   I just love the village in the summer with long days and nights.  It gets dark here at 10.30pm, imagine.

I left off last Friday which was 1st July, the start of many people’s holiday but also the centenary of the most famous battle of the 1st World War, the Battle of the Somme which of course is in France.  The British and French forces were supposed to break through the German lines.  600.000 British soldiers came out of their trenches on 1st July and went over the top.  On just the first day some 58.000 were wounded and 19.000 killed, making it the bloodiest day in British military history.  Instead of giving up the battle continued for 140 days.  The battle was not really won by either side with a final toll of 420.000 British casualties, 200.000 French and 500.000 Germans.  The only reward for this terrible effort was a six mile entry into German territory.
A scene from the horrific Battle of the Somme
I can hardly believe that it happened now 100 years ago. May it never be forgotten.

If you read last week’s post you will know Vueling cancelled my 12.20 flight to Paris that day where I was looking forward to spending the first part of my trip with an afternoon in the city with my cousin Masha.  I spent most of the day at the airport where I read about the Battle of the Somme to while away the time.  I was also approached by lots of people who had recognized me from the Undercover Boss programme I had featured in and which they had broadcast again on Thursday night. 

Thanks to Vueling’s inefficiency I didn’t get to Orly until 21h.  From there I took the shuttle and then the Orly Val train to Paris getting off at Luxembourg where my dear cousin Masha picked me up in her car.

Masha is the daughter of my Mother’s first cousin also called Masha (confusing eh?). Masha senior was sister to my Mother’s other cousins Nastushka (RIP) and Olga (still alive and aged 90 and living in Paris).  The 3 cousins were the daughters of my maternal grandmother’s brother Sasha who fled to Paris to escape the Russian Revolution.  His sister, my grandmother, Sophie Lieven nee Stachovich, moved to Bulgaria and contact was sporadic.  Last weekend I was to meet up with Masha my cousin, her daughters Marie, Anna, Sophie and Elizabeth.  But I was also to meet Marie Helene, the daughter of Olga whom I had not seen since my first cousin Zuka’s (Sophie) wedding in 1968 in Bradford when she married Bruce from Yorkshire.  Masha, Marie Helene and I were Zuka’s bridesmaids when we were aged 14, 9 and 11 respectively.  We had not been together since then.  So it really was to be “bridesmaids revisited”.  

For the occasion Zuka got out her wedding album which I had never seen and we found an amazing photo of us as bridesmaids.  Also in the photo was another bridesmaid Anabel from Bruce’s family and little Antony who is Nastuska’s son; the little boy carrying the icon.  I should add the family is Russian although living in France and have kept their Orthodox roots.  To their credit they all speak Russian together and very often French.  Their English is perfect too as all the women in this family spent a year at a boarding school in England when they were children.  I felt at a huge disadvantage with hardly any Russian and very rusty French.

Here is that photo. I am on the far left. My Aunty Valya made those lovely dresses from turquoise silk and added fur to the collar and cuffs.  I loved them.
Bridesmaids in 1968.  at Zuka's wedding to Bruce. From left to right: M (aged 11) , Masha (aged 14)  Anabel (aged 19) and Marie Helene. (aged 9). At the front little Antony.
I was also to meet Marie Helene’s lovely daughters Helene (just graduated from Cambridge) and Catherine (studying at Warwick University).  Zuka and her Mother Aunty Valya (the wife of my Mother’s youngest brother Nicky (Kolya – RIP) were hosting a cousin reunion weekend at Zuka’s lovely country house in La Teillee (South Western France 30 mins from Poitiers) to celebrate the visit of her darling daughter Katty and children Luc, Sam and Ruby who moved to New Zealand 5 years ago.  We call them our Kiwi family and fell in love with them when they visited us in the 6 month caravan trip around Europe before heading for New Zealand.  I just adore them and there is an amazing connection with Katty who for me feels more like a sister.  She’s beautiful isn’t she?
My cousin Zuka (left), me and Katty her daughter who lives in New Zealand.
After the explanations of the family to be reunited last week, let me go back to my arrival in Paris.  Masha picked me up and we went straight to see her older daughter Marie who was visiting that weekend from her home in Geneva.  Unfortunately she and her boyfriend would not be able to join us in La Teillee but I was keen to see her.  The last time I had seen Masha and her daughters was in 2005 on one of my final business trips with Nokia.  All 4 of them have developed into lovely women.
With Marie and her Mother Masha in Paris on Friday 1st July
We chatted until late and then it was time to go home to Masha’s house in Clichy, just outside Paris.  On our way we picked up her youngest daughter Elizabeth. They have a lovely home where they have lived since Masha married. I slept right through in the comfortable bed in the quaint attic room.
My cousin Masha's unique house in Clichy Paris where I spent the first night of my weekend in France
We were up early on Saturday morning to beat the traffic.  Masha drove us all the way to La Teillee in her partner Serge’s car who came with us too (with the Sat Nav giving instructions in Russian!!!).  I sat in the back with her daughters Sophie and Elizabeth.  It was a great occasion to catch up on each other’s lives since we last met.  Masha’s 4th daughter Anna and her husband who now live in Perpignan would be driving from there to La Taillee bringing with them loads of fresh summer fruit.  Thus I got to see all 4 of Masha’s sweet daughters. 

On the Russian side of my family I am known as “baby Masha” to distinguish me from my Mother’s youngest sister Masha (RIP).  During the trip and reunion everyone called me “baby Masha” which I hadn’t heard for many years.  Zuka was worried I wouldn’t like it; but no, of course I did.  It was lovely to be called that again. 

We arrived at Zuka’s amazing place, like heaven on earth – a restored old farm house in the middle of the French countryside with lots of land.  The reunion was so emotional but happy too.  All through the weekend I kept wishing my Mother could be there to see us. I went from laughing out loud at one moment to crying my eyes out the next. Zuka had an amazing gift in store for me.  In 1993 a friend of mine (Amanda’s ex-husband Richard) had taped my Mother telling about the family flight from Russia in 1919 and all that happened afterwards.  She gave the tapes to Zuka who was to transcribe them.  However she lost them only to find them recently.  The gift was the found tapes; all 12 of them.  Apart from hearing the complete story (I know most of it but only in parts) I was to hear my Mother’s voice again and of course these tapes are fundamental to the biography I want to write when I retire. Unfortunately when I got home and played them – it was the first thing I did – the quality was terrible and I could hardly hear my Mother’s voice. I was so disappointed. I have some hope though that a sound technician can restore them and have given them to an expert to see what can be done.  Cross your fingers.
The tapes of an interview with my Mother on her memories of the family's flight from Russia and what happened afterwards - finally in my hands. 
I was so happy to see everyone and of course photos were in order immediately.  It was amazing to be reunited.  It was also wonderful to see and hug Katty’s adorable children; Luc aged 14, little Sam aged 12 and darling Ruby aged 6. 
With Katty's children.  From left to right: Sam aged 12, Luc aged 13 and little Ruby aged 6.  I just adore them.
They are such wonderful kids; well behaved, fun to be with, inquisitive and positive and a joy to be with. Ruby and I fell in love all over again and she would follow me around and write me little letters telling me how pretty or awesome I was.
With little Ruby at my favourite spot in Zuka's garden
Katty, Zuka and Aunty Valya had prepared an amazing spread and soon we sat down to eat.  Here we are at the table at our first meal together last weekend.

The family reunion lunch in La Taillee
It was pure joy to be part of the Anglo-Franco-Russian-“Kiwi” family reunion and I hope it won’t be the last.  We have all agreed we must do it again next year. I would love to entertain them all at home in Madrid. 

The afternoon was spent talking together; the kids playing badminton and then some of us went for a walk in the beautiful countryside.  Zuka took us to a nearby Druids’ seat made of stone in the forest which is where at some time Protestants who were not allowed to practice their religion would come to pray. It was the perfect setting for the picture below which I have called “cousins in the forest”.
Cousins in the forest
On our return, I got the walkers together with those who stayed behind to take some group photos.  First I arranged for a photo of the “Bride” Zuka and her bridesmaids, Masha, Marie Helene and myself which you can see below.
Three of Zuka's bridesmaids reunited 48 years later.  From left to right: Me, Masha, Zuka and Marie Helene

And here is a collage of the photo in 1968 and the photo last Saturday, 48 years later!  Wow.

The before and after photo - 48 years separates the two. photos. Indeed it was "bridesmaids revisited"
Then we had a group photo of everyone. For the occasion Marie Helene had brought straw hats with the French flag on them hahaha.  That is the photo I have chosen to illustrate this week’s post.

Meanwhile in Nicaragua, Suzy and her group of friends had moved from Popoyo to Playa Maderas. They were staying at their own villa which looks just amazing, don’t you think?
Suzy at Playa Maderas in Nicaragua this week
Unfortunately I began to have a headache which turned into a full blown migraine and all I could do was go to bed, missing dinner with my cousins, and get through the night as best I could.  It was one of the most awful nights ever and I prefer to erase the memory of it from my mind.  Thankfully I woke up on Sunday morning feeling better although rather washed out.  My headache hadn’t completely gone and would linger on until the next day but at least I could now take full part in all the activities.

After a wonderful breakfast of fresh croissants and French bread – their baguette is the best in the world – we had a quiet and relaxed morning.  It was on Sunday morning that Marie Helene introduced us to the game of Mölkky which originates from Finland.  It is quite the rage in France and there is even a world championship.  According to Wikipedia it was invented no so long ago, in 1996.
Being introduced to the game "Mölkky" in France last weekend.
It’s a game similar to boules and skittles.  Really it is a throwing game to knock the pins down but the rules are completely different.  We spent most of the morning playing.  I loved it as an outdoor game for people of all ages.  There and then I ordered my own game on Amazon and it was waiting for me when I got back on Monday.  I can’t wait to play in Montrondo with all the family.

It was Marie Helene who also introduced some of us to croquet; having brought the game for Zuka.  I hadn’t played it since I was a kid and it was such fun.  Katty was my partner and we lost the first round dismally but went back to win in the second round.  It was great fun. 
Playing croquet in France.  Loved it.
As the afternoon progressed people began to leave (Masha and Serge left on Saturday unfortunately) but just before that I went for a walk with some of the younger generation.  They wanted to learn to whistle like I can with my fingers and we made a lot of noise on the quiet country roads.  I treasure those moments of fun with the family. Everyone was to leave afterwards and only I remained with Aunty Valya, Zuka, Katty and the kids.  I had some quality time with all three.  Here I am with my Aunt who has just turned 91 and seems eternal as she in great health and spirit.  She kept telling me she could see my Mother in me.  I take that as a compliment.
With my dear Aunty Valya, the wife of my Mother's youngest brother Nicky (Kolya).
As we were finishing dinner she brought out a book in French about Russian nannies to Russian aristocratic families.
The book about nannies to Russian aristocrats where a chapter was written by my Mother about her nanny "Nashka" or "Nashinka".
My Mother of course; Mrs. Lloyd as I knew here, but born “Princesse Sérénissime Hélêne Andreievna Lieven” had a nanny; “Nashinka” who practically brought her up and who had fled Russia in 1920 with the family to take care of the children.  My Mother adored her.  Amazingly I met her years later in Biarritz when she was working for the Romanov family.  In that book there is a chapter about my Mother’s nanny and I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears when Aunty Valya told me it had been written by my Mother for the author.  Here is the page and a half she wrote in French for that book.

The chapter written by my Mother in the book about nannies to Russian aristocrats.  I wept buckets of tears as I read it.
I read it out in my faltering French and what I didn’t understand my Aunt and cousin translated.  All I could do was cry and cry and cry, for my Mother who wasn’t there and for my Mother whose own Mother never really loved her and whose darling nanny, Nashinkaka, brought her up and looked after her as if she were her own daughter; the child she herself never had. It truly was an emotional end to a unique weekend. I only wish my girls could have been there too.

As we were talking the kids were watching France play plucky Iceland in the quarter finals of the Uefa Euro Cup at Le Stade de France.  It ended 5-2 in favour of the French despite the Iceland fans’ war like Viking chant which had frightened off the Brits. But wow how the Icelandic team, fans and country hit the news with their new football prowess.  I was to see some of the fans at Charles de Gaulle airport on my way back.

Sunday night was important in our lives too as it was the night both Olivia and Miguel moved into their new flat in Mirasierra on the outskirts of Madrid.  Here is a photo of the half finished flat.  I do hope they will be happy there and I’m sure they will.  Love you bothJ
The lounge in Ol and Miguel's new flat - nearly finished.
Monday hailed the end of the incredible and emotional and happy reunion.  Katty and Zuka drove me to Poitiers to catch the 9.15 TGV (high speed train). There was time for a quick café au lait together before I boarded it.  I arrived at Charles de Gaulle at 11.45. The TGV was a far cry from the dirty old green French trains I knew so well from all my inter rail journeys in the 1970s!
My TGV arrrivng at Charles de Gaulle airport on Monday
I had plenty of time on arrival but had planned my journey thus because it is such a huge and bewildering airport.  There was some scant security going into the departure hall of Terminal 3 but not enough I thought.  During my time there thoughts of suicide bomber terrorists crossed my mind more than once.  Luckily nothing happened.  I had a lovely lunch at Pret a Manger; a prawn sandwich and fruit washed down by coconut water which I adore. I also bought lots of chocolates and foie to take home; so naughty but nice hahaha.
My yummy Pret a Manger lunch at the airport on Monday
And there they were, many of the Icelandic football fans, all dressed in the colours of their flag.  I congratulated many of them and sat next to this delightful young couple who were so proud of their country.
Two Icelandic fans I met at the airport on Monday
And then, out of nowhere and to everyone’s surprise they all burst into the now famous Icelandic Viking Chant.  Everyone in the terminal clapped, myself included.  When the team arrived back in Reykjavik, it seemed the whole country was there to greet the players. This was the welcoming they got; an amazing Viking Chant which has now become pretty famous thanks to their success in the Uefa Euro Cup this year. You can see it for yourselves here on this link.
What a welcome the Icelanders gave their football team once back in Iceland.  Here is a photo of the fans doing their now famous Viking Chant.
My plane left one hour late and during the delay I prayed the Vueling flight would not be cancelled as it was on the way out.  Luckily it took off and everything went fine.  Dear Eladio was waiting for me at the airport outside where the taxis are. I had forgotten just how hot it was in Madrid compared to Paris and walking outside felt like walking into a sauna.
It was lovely to be home to see my Father, Salud and the dogs but so strange that Olivia wasn’t there.  So I rang her and we had a long chat and agreed we would go over to their flat on Wednesday night for dinner. 

Tuesday was back to orderly home life.  I was in need of a fast that day after all the food in France. On the subject of food Eladio hadn’t done the food shopping so off we went to get 2 huge trolleys filled to the brim from Mercadona. I had to go to our local shopping centre later, Centro Oeste.  The sales were on and I bought 5 or 6 t-shirts, socks and espadrilles for Eladio. He never wants new clothes but I like him to look good.  Here he is in one of the t-shirts which match the shoes.
Eladio's new look
On Wednesday my beautiful game of Mölkky arrived.  That spurred me on to buy a set of badminton; both to be taken to Montrondo to play with the family in the summer. 
My mölkky game duly arrived from Amazon on Monday
I had a lunch appointment that day with my events agency (QuintaEsencia) team; the three sisters Cris, Bea and Gloria as well as Miguel.  It was at El Quënco de Pepa on the terrace; a place I love so much.  We went there recently with our American friends Sue and Gary. Here we are all together at lunch that day.
Lunch on Wednesday with my events team
We were having dinner at Oli and Miguel’s new flat that evening but first we had to pick up Oli from Cuatro Vientos where she was doing a live TV report on a plane that had crashed.  As a surprise I took Pippa along and they were delighted to be together again.

We loved their flat which is nearly completely ready and we had a great dinner around their TV table.  The dining room chairs have not yet been delivered. 
Dinner at Oli and Miguel's new flat on Wednesday night.
Later Oli and I washed up together in her kitchen.
Oli in the kitchen of her new flat.
I was happy to see them settled in and content.  The evening was great but it was a funny feeling Oli being there and not at home which seems so empty now.

On Thursday morning we were off to Montrondo.  I was up at 6.45 and we left early at 9.15. Of course we had the usual pit stop at Rueda for a glass of local white wine and plate of ham.
Elado in Rueda on our way to Montrondo this week
We got to sunny Montrondo at 1.30.  We were expecting to see Dolores, José Antonio and my Mother-in-law, but got a lovely surprise to find that their daughter Sara was there with her 4 month old baby Lucas who we had never met.  They invited us for lunch. 

In the afternoon the men set about cutting the grass on the plot of land behind our houses called “La Era”.  Here is my husband using his father’s scythe very professionally.
Eladio cutting the grass with a scythe on our arrival in Montrondo 
I went for a walk that night with Dolores and Manolita.  We didn’t get back until about 11 when it was still just light.  Thus dinner was very late. Thankfully Eladio was entertained watching France beat Germany in the Euro Cup semi-finals. The final will now be between Portugal and France.  Place your bets ladies and gentlemen. Later Eladio and I continued watching a series on Netflix we are addicted to: “Sin Identidad” (without identity) about stolen babies in the 60’s and 70’s in Spain. 

Meanwhile Suzy’s adventures continued in Nicaragua.  That day the group had travelled to the volcanic island of Omotepe and would be staying at the Eco Lodge in the middle of the jungle.
The jungle in Omotope in Nicaragua
On Friday I was up at 06.40.  I got work out of the way before breakfast.  Then it was time for an early walk to Murias and back with Pippa.
Me on my walk to Murias on the old path on Friday morning
The village looked beautiful in all its summer glory. It really comes alive at this time of life.
Montrondo in summer is how I like it best
That morning I was to drive Dolores to Villablino, the nearest town from here.  Dolores always goes to the market there on Fridays and it was nice to accompany her. Here she is buying fruit.
My sister-in-law Dolores buying fruit at the market in Villablino on Friday 
I had a quick look at the stalls and the produce on sale.  For the record, I bought a home made vegetable and meat pie and local cherries.  I also bought a pair of white sneakers and snapped up the t-shirt in the picture below. It’s me isn’t it?  In fact I’m wearing it now.
The t-shirt I just had to have at one of the market stalls in Villablino on Friday
We were home for lunch and a siesta or rather lunch and some more work in my case.  In the early evening we inaugurated the terrace behind our house as we were having people for tea.  My mother-in-law’s first cousin Dolores was coming and I just had to have them both on camera. Dolores hadn’t visited her native village for a long time and she is very well loved here.  I had to pass on my condolences for the death of her sweet sister Eva last year but more painfully on the death of one of her sons just before that.  Very sad!
My mother-in-law Ernestina aged 94 with her first cousin Dolores aged 90 
Dolores was accompanied by Pacita (Paz), the mother of J.M., the girls’ friend from childhood here in the holidays in the village.  And here is the table of guests on Friday afternoon on our newly opened summer terrace.
Afternoon tea in Montrondo
As the afternoon progressed, Pili, Eladio’s youngest sister, arrived as did Isidro, his youngest brother, his wife Yoli and older daughter Laura.  The latter brought with them their lovely new puppy, Marly.  Pippa was delighted with Marly’s company just as she was when they met last time in Montrondo.
Pippa and Marley get on famously
In the meantime Oli and Miguel were enjoying being in Valencia. They would have been to the beach, eaten paella and here in this photo she sent me, they are drinking “horchata”.
Oli and Miguel in Valencia this weekend
Friday night was Suzy’s last night in Nicaragua. From Playa Maderas they had travelled to the volcanic island of Omotepe on Wednesday night.  This is the photo she sent of some of the group in Omotepe.
Suzy and the group in Omotepe Nicaragua this week.
We had a quick whatsapp call that night.  It was super to hear her voice or what was left of it hahaha.  She told me the whole experience had been like Big Brother hahaha. They even found a scorpion under her bed as of course they were in the jungle.  She told me she had been on a zip line and I was happy to hear about it afterwards rather than before.  It was with a heavy heart that she started her return journey to London with Anita on Saturday.  They have had a marvelous time from all accounts and the group got on famously together.  

Yesterday Saturday, I was up at 7.15 with plenty of time to work, make breakfast and prepare the lunch of “cocido madrileño” followed by apple crumble.
The apple crumble I made on Saturday in Montrondo
After that I went off with Pippa for a long walk to Senra and back. It got hotter and hotter I must say but I loved the sounds and sights of summer.  I was accompanied by the music of the river flowing and the birds singing.  My favourite path looked so leafy and it was a delight to walk on as it is all in the shade.
My favourite path in Montrondo
One of the typical summer sights of course is the villagers cutting the grass in the fields to make hay stacks. Here the hay stacks are round.
Cutting grass in one of the fields in Murias de Paredes. A typical scene here at this time of year.
In Senra I was joined for coffee by Pili and her husband and Isidro and his family.  Only Pippa and I walked home and my how hot it was.  Thankfully we could drink water on the way from the streams in Murias and on the old path.  I came home to do some more work, hang out the laundry and finish making the lunch. 

In the afternoon the men continued cutting grass and also some of the great big flint stones at the back of the house whilst I read my book (Ken Follett) and had a little siesta.  They were both exhausted afterwards.  I spent the rest of the afternoon with Pili and with Roberto's daughters Lidia and Diana and their Mother Ana.  I introduced them to Mölkky and we played twice.  I now look forward to playing again today and all through the summer. Indeed it is a great game.  Many thanks Marie Helene for introducing me to it.
Playing Mölkky in Montrondo
And today is Sunday and it will be another scorcher, even here in Montrondo.  

Next week will be quiet.  I hope I will see Olivia.  I will be busy at work in the coming days preparing for the communication of the company's Q2 financial results.

I will leave you now to get on with Sunday in Montrondo.  No doubt it will be a relaxing family day.

Cheers then my friends until next time,


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