Saturday, August 06, 2016

Last day of the fiestas in Montrondo, Javier and Ana came to stay, Constante’s son, Roche, discovering his roots, playing Mölkky with the family, goodbye Roche, Suzy's new flat, "bacalhau à brás" and other stories.

Sunday 7th August 2016
Roche with the family group just before he left
Hi again from Montrondo where we are enjoying our long stay here.  Now we are far fewer only but last weekend we were 27 people.

On Sunday, the last day of the “fiestas” of Santa Marta, I was awake at 6.15 and had a great day; very productive too.  After a cup of coffee and publishing my blog I went for a walk with Pippa to Murias and back.
On my first walk these holidays
I was home on time for breakfast with Eladio and Olivia, my favourite meal of the day.  No sooner had we finished then we were off again and this time joined by Olivia.  We went all the way to Senra.  There we had a pit stop at the only bar there; Cumbres de Omaña.
With Oli and Pippa at Senra on Saturday morning
Soon we were joined by Pili, Andrés, Isidro and Yoli who had come for a coffee and to buy some bread.  Oli and I bought the last loaf the baker had in Senra.
Oli buying bread with Oli
They offered to drive us home but we were keen to continue walking.  It got warmer and warmer so we were glad of a drink of water from the old fountain in Murias. Pippa was too.
Oli and Pippa drinking water in Murias on our walk back to the village
In Murias we again got the last loaf of bread for sale!

When we got back to Montrondo, the 4wd rally up behind our house by “La Murueca” was just beginning. All the family and most of the village were watching.  I never did find out who won.
Watching the 4wd rally on Saturday
Then it was time to change sheets for the arrival of our guests Javier and Ana and also to prepare lunch.  As I am a bit of a speedy gonzalez, this was done in a jiffy. With some time on my hands before our guests arrived, Oli and I took Roche (Eadberto), Constante’s son who had come from Cuba to find his roots in Montrondo, for a photo session around the village.  I got Olivia to take the photos as she is a trained photographer and I knew her photos would be good. I took them for Roche and for his family  back in Cuba. The first one had to be outside the old family gates which Constante walked through when he left the village aged 20 in 1920!
Roche outside the gates of our houses
We then took him to the fountain in the pond on the village common known as El Campo and probably the main landmark in Montrondo.
Roche in Montrondo discovering his roots
I had to have one with him to remember this fascinating gentle Cuban man who was in Montrondo for the first and last time ever.  He is now 80 and very unlikely to come back, although you never know.
With Roche in Montrondo
At about 2 p.m. our friends arrived. After all the greetings with our extended family which must have confused them it was time for lunch and of course a short siesta afterwards.  Ana, Oli and I didn’t sleep but enjoyed a chat on the terrace.  Later we would have tea and coffee together with Eladio, Javier and José Antonio.

At 5.30 the last activity of the fiestas was to take place; the old fashioned bowling game which is unique to this area: “bolos leoneses”.  It is very complicated and seems only to be played by the older men who for some reason have not passed on the tradition to the next generation.. I had heard of the game many times but had never seen it in action. It was a bit like watching cricket; nice to look at but zero comprehension of the rules and how to play.  What I liked best was watching Eladio and Toño play with their former school mates all of whom are now in their 60’s and 70’s.  It was quite a unique situation.
The men playing traditional bowling on Saturday (bolos leoneses)
At about 6.30 Oli left for León to catch the 7.50 high speed train to Madrid.  She was accompanied by Pedro and Paula and Mario, Paula’s brother, drove them to León. I was sad to see my youngest daughter go and I would miss her.  But it was lovely to have her here.

After the bowling we took our friends to see the new landmark in the village, La Fleita spring with the restored bridge.  We all drank the pure mountain water there which was ice cold.
By the gate to La Fleita, the new bridge and spring with Dolores and Ana
From La Fleita spring we ambled through the village greeting many familiar people and on our way took lots of photos of course. 
Two good looking men in Montrondo!
I particularly like this one of Ana, Dolores and I by the second pond with another spring on the way out of the village.  It has also been recently restored thanks to the efforts of the village’s youngest inhabitant, Javier, who keeps the place in good shape.
With Ana and Dolores by the small fountain in the village
We then walked up the path to an area called “El Barrio” which has fantastic views of the village. 
View of the village from El Barrio
Here we took more photos. The light was perfect for them.
Javier and Eladio at the top of the village in El Barrio
At the top of the village
By 8pm, the temperature began to drop as it does here and it was time to head home and make dinner.  Ana and Javier had brought us some lovely provisions, including ham, lomo and chorizo as well as some home grown courgettes from a neighbour in their village “Peñacaballera” in the province of Salamanca.  I helped Ana make an omelet with the eggs we had bought that afternoon from Ulpiano and Serafina, the courgettes, potatoes and onion.  And here we are around the table for dinner on Sunday night about to dig in.  It was delicious.
Dinner on Sunday night
After dinner we sat around the table until late, talking and were accompanied by Toño. Javier and I even had a small drop of “pacharán”, a Basque liquor made with sloe berries.  Sitting around a table chatting after a meal has a name in Spanish which does not translate well into English.  The word is a favourite of mine and is called “la sobremesa”; literally meaning “over the table”.

It would have been lovely to have the girls with us but Oi had gone home.  I had to suffice myself with photos of Suzy having a good time over the weekend in London with her friends Chati and Anita. They too were having good weather.
Suzy, Chati and Anita in London on Sunday night.  They will soon be moving into their new flat in Hoxton, East London
Monday was 1st August and the official start of my holiday and that of most of Spain.  I was awake slightly later at 06.50. After a leisurely breakfast with our friends we went for a walk via El Vao (El Vago or The lazy one in English) fields in front of the church, then along the old path to Murias.  The fields were full of haystacks which were charming at least for me buy maybe not for Eladio who would have remembered the hard work making them when he was a young boy and man and had to cut the grass in the summer to help the family.
With Ana by a hay stack in "El Vao".
Once in Senra we were joined for coffee by Toño and Dolores who came by car and brought Roche and Ernestina with them.

That day Roche came for lunch and I made a very Spanish meal of chicken noodle soup (sopa de fideo or sopa de cocido) followed by oxtail stew made according to the recipe in Simone Ortega’s famous Spanish cookery book “1080 recipes”. It was Dolores who had bought me the meat in Villablino. Thanks Dolores!
Roche came to lunch on Monday 
It was so interesting to talk to Roche and get a firsthand account of life in Cuba from a true revolutionary.  Eladio asked question after question about the Castro rule of the island; one of the two last bastions of communism in the world I think.  Sometimes I felt it was time to change the conversation hahaha.
Lunch with Roche on Monday, our Cuban cousin
Later in the afternoon, there was more food.  We had what is known as a “merienda” (a sort of afternoon tea) in “El corral” (the plot of land in front of our houses).  Yoli, my youngest sister-in-law, went all out and delighted us with her tiramisu, her mother’s strawberry cake and Salo, our neighbour's homemade donuts. I loved being with all the family. On that occasion 5 of the brothers were present: Eladio, Toño, Adela, Pili and Isidro.  Only Alejandro the 4th brother was missing.
Afternoon tea and coffee on Monday (Salo's doughnuts)
We didn’t do much that afternoon except be together and chat and laugh but then we were to laugh even more over a game of Mölkky (Finnish bowling game which I learned to play in France). 
Playing mölkky with the family
Everyone loved it and I am so happy I brought the set to Montrondo.  For the record José Antonio won and I lost.

Dinner was a small affair; mostly leftovers and some of the delicious ham and “lomo” Javier and Ana had brought.  Toño and Dolores joined us after dinner for a lovely long chat around the dining table (“sobremesa”).  We did not go to bed until past midnight which is awfully late for me. I always say I am like Cinderella and must get to bed before 12 o’clock hahah.

Getting more into the spirit of the summer holidays, on Tuesday I woke up at 7.20 and not at the crack of dawn.  Maybe that was also because I had gone to bed after midnight the night before.  It was to be another beautiful day and the last day in Montrondo for Javier and Ana and Roche (Eadberto), Constante's son too.  He would be returning to Havana the next day, Wednesday 3rd August.  Originally Eladio and Toño had planned to take him to Madrid so we were very grateful to Javier and Ana who offered to drive him instead.  He would be in good hands once there as he would be received by Miguel and Claudia who would be seeing him off at Barajas airport. I would love to know what was inside his head as he returned to Cuba after his trip of a lifetime to his Father's beloved village, Montrondo.  I only hope it was good things.  In Roche, we had found a new cousin, a new member of the family, a person with opposite political leanings obviously but a person we grew to admire and love during his stay in his Father's country.  I am happy that we shall be meeting him again when we go to Miguel and Claudia's Cuban wedding next January.  Farewell Roche, see you soon.

We planned to take our guests to Villablino in search of local ware such as ceramics.  Also it was an excuse to go somewhere.  Villablino is a mining town which is nothing special but the mountain backdrop is to die for it's so beautiful. 

Before we left I had to leave the lunch ready and decided on something quick, easy and nourishing; lentil stew.  Whilst it was boiling, Javier and Eladio were outside chatting; I'm not sure what about but I was happy to see them get along so well.
Javier and Eladio chatting placidly. Notice Pippa posing for the camera!
It's 19km to Villablino and a long, steep and winding road but the scenery is spectacular.  It was difficult to find ceramics there and we thought we would be going home with no souvenirs at all.  In the end though we found some imitation vintage red enamelware which we all loved immediately. This was at an ironmonger called "Recaredo", an establishment Eladio says has been there "forever".  

We had a lot of fun buying it. Armed with our choices of enamelware, one of the shop assistants took a photo of us.   As you can see  below I am holding a cowbell in my hand. I had spied it in the shop window and thought it would be a nice ornament for the house in Montrondo.  I also thought it might have its uses, such as calling people to lunch or even to call José Antonio and Dolores at their house some 50 metres away hahaha. The funny thing is that cowbell in Spanish is "cencerro" which is also used as a term for someone who is off their rocker or mad.  
With the red enamelware we bought at Recaredo in Villablino
When I was buying it Eladio said I was like a "cencerro" hahaha.  Maybe I am a bit. 
The red enamelware looking good in our kitchen.
At around 5pm Javier and Ana left with Dolores and Roche.  It was time to say goodbye to Roche and for him to leave Montrondo most likely never to return. It was a very emotional moment.  We all went out to see everyone off.  Javier took photos of the group of us; Eladio and 4 of his brothers and sisters and their spouses.  The photo illustrating this week's story is of all of us together with Roche in his Father's village, just before he left.

Most of us he would never see again and he knew it.  His eyes were moist as he clasped his hands together and waved goodbye. My eyes were moist too.  But I shall be seeing him again and I much look forward to also meeting his family in Havana in January.  Goodbye Roche, it was a pleasure to meet you.  You made us all think about the family's roots in this very special little village; Montrondo.  See you again next year. So not goodbye but farewell. 

It was a very warm day on Tuesday, too warm to go for a walk in the afternoon.  I got on with domestic tasks; unloading the washing up machine, ironing, preparing a tuna fish salad for dinner and making apple crumble.  Meanwhile the rest of the family took the opportunity to clear out the old buildings in front of our houses; "el portón del caballo" (horse shed), "el corte de las ovejas" (sheep shed), "el portón" (main entrance) and "la cocina de leña" (old kitchen).  All of them were full of junk and stuff we have accumulated over the years. Instead of throwing it away it was always kept in these buildings.  You can't believe what came out of them but you can see the photo below and at least get an idea haha.
Just some of the junk we removed from the old stone buildings to throw away
As Dolores had gone back to Madrid (to return on Thursday) we invited Toño for dinner which we had on our terrace.  It was warm enough to eat outside that night.  Later Eladio and I tried to watch House of Cards on Netflix but the internet signal was not strong enough and we ended up going to bed relatively early.

On Wednesday morning I was up at 6.40; early again.  I went for a walk to Murias and back with Adela at 8 o'clock.  Pippa joined us of course.  She is my shadow here just as she is at home.  I spent the morning doing domestic tasks such as washing and ironing clothes, changing bed sheets and cooking. It's a bit like playing at houses here and I love it; at home it seems like chores. That day Eladio and Toño would be treated to fish and chips for lunch!

That morning I plucked up courage and went online to search for flights to Cuba in December.  We will be going for Miguel and Claudia's Cuban wedding on 3rd January.  And there and then I bought tickets for Eladio and I with Iberia.  They were not cheap.  We will be joined by Toño and Dolores on the outgoing flight.  We will also be joined by Pedro Delgado and his family and my niece Marta and her husband. I wish we could stay longer but  we have to be back for Kings' Day.

It was on Wednesday that our neighbour Salo had offered to show Pili, Yoli and I how to make homemade donuts.  She had made some for us a few days earlier and we loved them.  I'm not a donut fan but homemade ones beat the bought ones hands down.  Here she is making the dough in Pili's kitchen.
Salo kneeding the dough for the doughnuts 
It had to rise for at least an hour so she came back before lunch to show us how to roll the dough and cut the donuts.  She had two interesting kitchen gadgets to do so which you can see in the photo below. Notice how she does it in a plastic bag!

Rolling and cutting the doughnuts
The doughnuts freshly cut.  They are left to rise for another hour afterwards
Once made they had to rise again for at least an hour.  Salo came back after lunch to make the syrup in which they would be dipped in after frying them in corn oil.  Here she is frying them.
Frying the doughnuts
We had some of them for afternoon tea which was at our house that day.  Boy were they delicious. Watching Salo make them was a class in itself.  They are relatively easy to make but the process is slow.  Also they are so fattening I probably won't try my hand making them until next year hahaha.

We all pitched in that afternoon sorting out the rubbish that had been removed from the buildings in front of our house.  It was 95% junk.  It was funny to find things such as the girls' flamenco dresses Eladio had bought them in Barcelona on a school trip returning from Italy when they were about 8 and 9 years old!  

Whilst I was making dinner that night for Eladio and Toño alfresco, by the way, on our terrace, we heard from Suzy that Chati, Anita and her had found a new flat.  
Dinner on the terrace on Wednesday night
They will be moving in on 18th August, just in time for my visit on the 25th.  It's in a place called Hoxton in the East End near Hackney.  It looks nice as you can see in the photo below.
Photo of the lounge in Suzy's new flat
Once again we had difficulty watching House of Cards on Netflix that night.  I can only presume that's because too many people are sharing our wifi or because there are more people than in the winter using it in the village.  It's a bit of a disappointment having to watch traditional TV instead.

On Thursday morning I was up early again at 06.30 but I didn't go for my usual walk. Instead Eladio, Toño, Nuba, Pippa and I went for a walk up the mountains.  It was a cloudy day with rain threatening but a respite from the sun and heat even here in Montrondo. When it's in the mid thirties in Madrid it's in the high 20's and even reaches 30c. Thursday was a perfect day for the climb.  

Eladio and Toño on the mountain walk on Thursday morning
We walked all the way up past "El abedular" (birch tree forest), "la canalina" (a spring), "la cabaña" (the cabin)  and then made our way to "el charcón" (big pond).  The walk there and back took over 2 hours.  When my Father used to come to Montrondo he loved this walk and his favourite spot was "El Abedular".  You see his favourite tree is the birch tree.  So I asked Toño to take a photo of Eladio and I right by this spot for my Father.  And here it is:
Eladio and I at "El abedular" my father's favourite spot on the mountain walk.
Lunch was "fabada" (bean stew) which Eladio, Toño and I devoured after the exercise.

I spent the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon on domestic tasks; washing, ironing, cooking, etc.  As I hung out the washing on Dolores' washing lines where their chickens  are, I was joined, of course, by Pippa my shadow.  She barks at the hens poor things but Nuba no longer does so.
Pippa loves Montrondo.  If only she wouldn't bark so much.
In the afternoon the fish van arrived.  I always think it is so quaint to do the shopping this way in Montrondo.  Here it is.
The fresh fish van which arrives in Montrondo every Thursday afternoon
I bought some fresh cod and I was to make "bacalhau  à brás" a Portuguese recipe which I love.  It would be the first time I had ever made it.  It's a dish I remember from my student days in Portugal and it was time to try to make it.  If you are interested it is made with cod, potatoes, onion and eggs. Here is the link to the recipe I used.
My homemade "bacalhau à brás"
I made it the next day with the fresh cod rather than the salted cod specified in the recipe and wow was it good. I shall now be making it quite often. It's great to have a new dish to add to one's repertoire. 

That night we were finally able to use our smart TV and watch netflix. What was happening was that too many people were connected to our wifi and of course it got saturated when using it for video streaming which "eats up" an awful lot of broadband if not all.   Thus I changed the network which was no easy task to do.  The problem later was resetting the TV but thankfully Miguel, my nephew ,came to the rescue.  Finally that night we were able to watch House of Cards seamlessly. We saw Episode 1 of Season 2  and were stunned with what happened.  Don't worry no spoilers here.

Claudia, Miguel and Dolores arrived on Thursday night. It was great to see the newly married couple again. We had a long talk about Cuba, especially after the visit of Roche. I am now getting more interested in this communist island  since meeting him and because of our impending trip there in January.  It's going to be an eye opener to see Castro's Cuba I know.

On Friday, thankfully, I slept until 07.30.  That morning I went to Villablino with Dolores to do the shopping at Gadis, a great supermarket (the chain hails from Galicia) and the local open market.
Dolores at the open market in Villablino on Friday morning
I bought a vegetable and meat pie from our favourite stall as well as a pair of knee length denim jeans for Eladio which he looks great in.
The stall where I buy our favourite pie in Villablino
Lunch was at José Antonio and Dolores' house where we all chipped in.  I took along the bean stew ("fabada") from the day before and my just made, first time "bacalhau à brás"

I spent a good part of the afternoon in the back garden reading on our new sunbeds  in the shade.  I was joined by Pippa.  Here she is on my kindle hahaha.
Pippa on my kindle.
I wish she was as placid always as she is in the photo but she's a dreadful barker.  She's also petrified of vehicles and children; especially small ones and a couple of times has lashed out with a couple of small bites.  I am seriously thinking of getting her a muzzle for when  there are small children around. I don't know what frightens her or why she reacts like this as with us she is gentle and loving.

In the evening Dolores, the dogs and I went on a long walk to Senra and back, stopping for a coffee there and some water for Pippa and Nuba.  It was a beautiful evening and as you know I never get tired of the views here.

On Friday the Olympic Games started in Rio but I have no idea how the ceremony went.  You will have noticed there is no national or international news in this week's blog.  That is because we are absorbed in village life and are completely disconnected from what is going on around us; although of course I do see the headlines on social media.

Saturday was probably the highlight of our holiday in Montrondo this year.  I was up early as usual.  My body clock just won't let me sleep past 7 o'clock but that's ok as it gives me a long day to enjoy.  There was to be a family lunch and Pedro, Paula's fiancé from Malaga, was going to make paella for us all.  We were to be 18 people around the table behind our house; the only place with enough shade for all of us.  It was to be a hot day too.
Preparing the tables and chairs for the family lunch on Saturday
We all chipped in preparing starters and I decided to make bacon rolls.  This is an old recipe of mine from a cookery book my house mates bought for me at Nottingham University and it is always very popular.  The stuffing is made of chopped onion, breadcrumbs, chopped mushrooms, egg and parsley. This time I added sultanas to add a sweet flavour.
Making bacon rolls
The end result
There were also dishes of chorizo, salchichón, cheese and salads.  We now have 2 "lomos" from Julio and Fátima and more recently Javier and Ana so we also contributed 2 plates of this highly prized cold cut.

I must say the paella was spectacular.  You never know with paella how good it is going to be but Pedro is obviously an expert.
The family lunch on Saturday in Montrondo
After lunch came the "sobremesa" (Spanish term for sitting round the table in harmony after a meal).  We are lucky to have a musician in the family.  Eladio's brother Alejandro (the fourth sibling down of the 6 after Eladio who is the oldest), plays the accordion and he got it out for the occasion.
Alejandro played the accordion after lunch
Eladio and Adela led the hearty singing of Spanish folk songs.  I know many of them but have never learned the words. However google helped me when I looked up some of the lyrics!

Then the older generation; Primo, Adela, Eladio and Toño spontaneously started reciting poetry they had learned from the grandmother and at school more than 50 years ago and it was a joy to hear and watch.

I always love to see the brothers and sisters in this family get along so well.
Eladio and his pretty younger sister Pili who is the heart and soul of the family
We all had a late siesta yesterday and it was still hot at around 6; too much so to go for a walk.  We didn't venture out until it was past 7 when a group of us; Eladio, Toño, Miguel, Claudia, Paula and Pedro and I set of with the dogs to Murias.  The younger generation went for a drink there at the Palloza and the 4 of us set off back towards Montrondo with the idea of discovering a new path; "El camino Valle", the tree lined one between the old stone water mill and the off the road one to Montrondo.  Here Toño took one of the few photos I have of Eladio and I together  this holiday.
Beginning our walk along "el camino valle".
It was to be an adventurous experience having me in fits of laughter and slight fear all along the unexplored route back to the old path to the village.

We walked up the steep path and then turned right into beautiful fields with amazing scenery.  The grass got thicker and we were suddenly on a steep climb down not sure what we were walking on. there were some pit holes on the way and I hung on to Eladio from the back.  I looked behind to see how Toño and Dolores were doing and they were experiencing the same difficulty.
Toño and Dolores on our adventurous walk yesterday
As neither Eladio nor Toño were familiar with the way and how to cross the river to get back to the village, we went through field after field having to cross walls with barbed wire which felt like some sort of orienteering course.  We literally had to bend right over in order to go over the walls only to find there was no way to cross the river without wading through or taking off our trainers.  Finally we found a point we could cross but it was no easy task.  My husband and brother-in-law had to place big stepping stones on the river for all of us to make it to the other side.  It was so funny and we all nearly fell over in our attempts. Valiant Pippa followed closely all the way although we had to carry her over the walls.
Crossing the river yesterday - such fun
We finally made it across and found the old path which we reached where "La peña de Dios" (God's rock) is.  We then walked through the "vao" (fields in front of the church) and past Primo and Adela's house.  Primo who knows the terrain like no one in the village laughed at the description of our walk. He of course knows the right route and on Monday he will show us the way.  I look forward to discovering a new walk to add to that of Murias, Senra or up the mountains.

Meanwhile in Murias, after we had left, there was  a flying ant storm believe it or not. Poor Claudia hated every minute of it.  What a funny thing to happen. Strangely,  Montrondo was not affected.

And today there is an organised excursion to climb "El Tambarón" mountain, the highest peak in the area but that is only for the fittest.  I promise you one day I will climb it but maybe we might cheat and drive up in the car to the base of the mountain.  I have heard the last few metres have to be climbed up on all fours but that remains to be seen.

Today is Sunday, the mid point of our holiday here.  I shall be telling you about it in next week's post.

Meanwhile I hope you are all enjoying your Sunday whether you are on holiday or not.

Cheers my friends and readers; till next time,

PS You can see the full collection of photos of this year's holiday in our beloved village here.

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