Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hurricane Irma hits Cuba and Florida, Suzy in Bali, remembering Bletchley Park, the amateur bread maker, terror in London and other stories.

Sunday 17th September 2017
The bread maker. There is something so satisfying about making home  made bread. 
Good morning everyone. I hope you are all doing well and that you will enjoy the tales of this week. There is not so much to report on the home front, mostly my new found hobby of baking bread, but there is plenty of international news that is affecting the world. So here I go.

Last Sunday Hurricane Irma had already hit Florida. The whole world was watching to see what would happen in the American state where millions had fled their homes. Much less was written about how Hurricane Irma hit Cuba, Miami's poor neighbour. In the end it did as much damage there or more as, of course a hurricane does much more harm to a second world country than a first world country. In fact it seems that after hitting the Caribbean islands and Cuba, it was less strong when it hit the US saving it from worse damage.  The storm first hit Cuba the Friday before and didn't leave the country until Sunday afternoon. It was the first category 5 hurricane to land in Cuba in more than 80 years and caused 10 deaths at least and havoc everywhere. Having been to Cuba this year, I was devastated to see how the storm surged from the iconic Malecon waterfront some 6 blocks inland, including the lovely area where we stayed, Vedado. The streets of Vedado and many areas of Havana resembled canals. 
Havana after Hurricane Irma landed in Cuba. 
Unlike Florida, which will soon be back to normal, it will take forever in communist Cuba where there are no funds to repair the terrible damage inflicted on its inhabitants. My heart goes out to them.

In Florida meanwhile, Irma landed on the Marco Island where winds had now dropped from 185 mph to 130 mph. Of course it caused a lot of damage and loss of lives,up to 26, I read but those in hurricane safe buildings who had not left, survived it by either sheltering in special refuge centres or in their own flats. Not everyone wanted to leave and not all those who did could leave, because of a shortage of petrol. Florida Keys was worst hit with 1 in 4 of all houses destroyed. 
Florida Keys after it was hit by Irma
My friend Fatima's niece Gloria and her husband, huddled together in their flat in the financial district of Miami together with other Spaniards and sat out the the storm respecting the curfew. The only damage done was very superficial but it must have been frightening. On the other side of the Atlantic, I was able to follow the behaviour of Irma, thanks to their FB and Instagram posts. I'm so glad they are safe now. 

Meanwhile, further up the East Coast of the USA, Rafa Nadal was playing the final of the US Open at Flushing Meadows (New York) l against the the South African, Kevin Anderson. If Gloria, her husband and their friends had a TV signal in Miami, no doubt they would be watching the match and roaring for the Spaniard to win. Both tennis players are aged 31 and out of interest you might want to know, if you didn't already, that the latter is over 6 foot tall. Both men know each other well from having met when they were junior players. The Spaniard made a meal of the "giant" beating him in 3 sets 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 to win his 3rd US Open and his 16th Grand Slam. If he wins 3 more he will equal Federer's record of 19 and, as he is younger, he could surpass that figure to become the greatest tennis player of all time. It was another great win for Nadal and for Spain. What a great ambassador Rafa is for this country. Later in the week he spoke out on the illegal Catalan referendum which is supposed to take place on 1st October and agreed, like most Spaniards that Spain is better together.  It is unusual for a sportsman to talk about politics but these are unusual times.
Rafa Nadal with his 3rd US Open trophy last Sunday in New York.
On the other side of the world, Suzy and her friends had arrived in Bali, Indonesia, where she would be continuing her holiday in the Far East. She was supposed to be becoming home today but has prolonged her stay there until next Thursday. Here she is with her friends Anita and Chati.
Suzy in Bali with her London flatmates. 
Back in Madrid, we had the pleasure of the company of Olivia for dinner.  We hadn't seen her since she went to Cyprus and it was great to have her back but it wouldn't be for long as she had a busy week at work. I would have a more relaxing time with her this weekend. She loved my Irish soda bread and so did I but after making two batches and corresponding with my friend Jacky on bread recipes, during the week I would try my hand at making bread from yeast and different flours.

Monday was 11th September, the anniversary of the NY terror attacks which can never be forgotten. It was also the "Diada", Catalunya's national day which saw up to a million people celebrating in the streets of Barcelona. 
The  much reported upon Diada last Monday in the streets of Barcelona
Most of them were pro independence and the whole demonstration seemed more like a pro independence rally. The thing is there are over 8 million people living in this rich area of Spain which is divided in its wish to become independent. Those in favour make all the noise creating an image that all Catalans want to separate from Spain. There is a silent majority who are against it and I wish they would take to the streets but they don't possibly preferring to keep a low profile.  The other thing is, on 1st October if the illegal referendum takes place, I guess only those who want to see Catalunya become a separate country will be the only ones to vote which will make for a distorted result and which the local government, no doubt, will tout around the world to demonstrate that this is the wish of the majority of Catalans which it isn't. Meanwhile, the Spanish government is using both the legal system and police to make sure it doesn't happen. But they are not doing a good job with their international PR leaving the rest of the world  to sympathise with the separatists and call for dialogue. Those outside Spain calling for dialogue don't know though that it is impossible to dialogue with them. None of this is good for Spain's image abroad. Things are getting heated now and I wonder what will happen on 1st October. 


On Monday I was pleased to get another Airbnb reservation. I now have 5 upcoming after our Mexicans leave this morning.



Oli was back at work after Cyprus, editing everything she had filmed there, and rang me to tell me her next destination could well be St. Petersburg or Armenia. However for the destination to work out they have to find a minimum of 3 people from Madrid living there which is not always easy. I have tried to help with my contacts but so far have found non there.



Suzy continued her exotic stay in Indonesia and delighted us with photos of her visit to rice fields on Monday.  I mean, how exotic can you get?  I loved them. 

Suzy visiting a rice field in Bali. She is love with the place.
On Monday I tried my hand at making bread with fresh yeast rather than bicarbonate of soda which I used to make Irish soda bread. I used 250g of wholemeal and 250g of spelt flour, much in fashion now and apparently very healthy. I added walnuts and sultanas and made it deliberately flat as that is how Eladio likes it best because he prefers the crust to the crumb. It came out really well and tasted delicious.
My wholemeal and spelt bread which I made on Monday
If you are wondering whether I am eating all this bread, don't, because I have just a small slice or two and whatever is not eaten on the day it's made, I freeze for use later. I have been offering my Mexican students my bread too which they love. But it is my Father who has been most enthusiastic having it for breakfast. I'm sure it reminds him of when my Mother used to make bread. I always loved the smell of it in the kitchen and remember we would eat it with butter as soon as it came out of the oven. I have resisted that temptation so far here at home. 


That afternoon I came across the story of Charlotte Webb who had worked at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.

Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park was the central site for British code breakers during the war. It housed the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) which was recently made even more famous by the film, The Enigma, the story of British code breaker Alan Turing. Charlotte Webb, now in her 90's wrote a short book, Secret Postings about her experiences which is the book I was reading that day. 
My book of the week
When she started working there, she and all her thousands of co-workers had to sign a secrets document preventing them from talking about their work until after 1975. Her story, far too short and rather simply written, is more about the human side of wartime work at Bletchley Park but even so it was interesting. Unfortunately there was not one mention of Alan Turing. 


Tuesday was Apple's big day. In a huge fanfare, typical of them, the company based in Cupertino that has the biggest turnover in the mobile phone market, due to its high prices and margins, was to announce its latest new phones, the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X. The new flagship model, the iPhone X has really no new features which don't already exist in the market but they wanted to make a big noise about one of them, face ID recognition. On stage, Apple's head of softward engineering, Craig Federighi, had trouble demonstrating the new feature which did not work in public. 

Not a good moment for Apple when the Face Id demo didn't work 
That was one big PR mess for the company which usually reaps gushing articles for its new toys. But not this time. Whoever set up the phone for the presentation must have been cringing behind the scenes. I wonder what did happen behind the scenes when things went wrong? I would not have wanted to be in their PR shoes. They later tried to explain that the demo hadn't really gone wrong but the damage was done. I could have told them the demo could be dodgy before they started because, in my experience over the years, both voice and face recognition always end up giving problems. Another thing Apple did was remove the home button and that is another reason I won't be buying one. I never liked the fact that iPhones don't have a back button like other manufactured smart phones but no home button, at least for me, is not the way to go. However there are a legion of iPhone fans out there who will buy whatever the company from Cupertino makes even if costs 1000 pounds or more. Let's see how long their loyalty lasts. Only time will tell. 


Wednesday 13th September was the 61st birthday of best school friend, Amanda. She lives in Devon and we haven't seen each other for quite a few years and I miss her. I sent her a birthday message and only got a reply the next day. She had an awful birthday as their younger dog died on Wednesday. Poor her, poor them, poor dog. I can imagine their pain as if Pippa were to die, I think I would die with her. 



On a lighter note, I made more yeast bread that day. This time I made it all wholemeal and experimented with the rising time and adding steam to the oven, both tricks I had read about online. The added rising times certainly made the dough increase its size a lot but I realised later that, once in the oven, it didn't rise anymore, thus missing what is known as the "final burst" of proving or rising and it stayed the same size. From now on I would stick to the 2 proving times of one hour each. The steam  which I created putting in a tin of boiling water under the oven tray, didn't really work and I think it even made the lower crust less crusty. I won't be doing that again either. The result was ok but it was not the best bread I made this week.

My experiment with wholemeal bread on Wednesday
I'm sure though that Suzy would have loved it as she is a great advocate of wholemeal bread. She won't be trying it though till she comes. She seems to be having a very relaxing last week, to judge by the photo she sent of the three of them in their individual pool in Bali which seems to me the height of luxury.
Suzy resting and relaxing in the girls' private pool in Bali this week

I would have loved to have the bread for breakfast  on Thursday morning.  My breakfast these days is always a bowl of oat bran porridge, a cup of coffee and an orange. What makes it special is that I have it on my beloved Emma Bridgewater pottery like this which is the latest pattern in my modest collection.
Breakfast with Emma Bridgewater
It's not my preferred breakfast but I make the sacrifice to keep trim. My overall favourite breakfast would be with French croissants and a piece of toast. In fact I shouldn't really be having two slices of my home made bread for dinner,  as on Tuesday I weighed the same as the previous week. So, from now on, there would be either no bread at night or just one slice. There would also be longer walks. 

That morning, Thursday morning, I increased the length of my morning walk from 2 hours to 2.5h which is about 12 km. Doing the extra two is a question of will power as I feel very tired after it. Pippa probably does too as I still don't know how, with her little body and short legs, she keeps up with me. She does though, get extra food at breakfast to keep her going which I'm sure she appreciates hahaha.

The highlight on Thursday was seeing Olivia. She had to come home to get ready to go to a special event. Telemadrid, the TV broadcaster she works for, was holding a gala event that evening to present the new programmes, including hers, "Madrileños por el mundo". Apart from looking for people from Madrid living in St. Petersburg or Armenia, they are also looking for them in Brighton. The daughter of a friend of mine, Carlos, who heads up Apple Spain, by the way, studies there and when I contacted him, he was more than happy to give me his daughter's contact. I hope she turns out to be a good candidate.

I helped Oli get dressed for the gala evening and after trying on some of of her dresses and mine, she chose a lovely Zara one she had bought a few years ago and which I think she has probably never worn.  She looked spectacular that night. Later she sent us this photo next to Telemadrid's photo call which also shows their new logo. I'm so proud of my younger daughter. I really am.
Oli at the Telemadrid gala evening on Thursday
On Friday I was up at 6 in the morning again. I always read The Times online on my iPad and was worried to read that North Korea had fired another missile over Japan in possible retaliation for the new sanctions against Pyongyang. That's terrifying of course but far away. Much nearer home was the news of the home made bomb on the tube at Parsons Green in London. 
The Parsons Green tube bomb
It was yet another Isis terror attack in London. The bomb was home made and so maybe not as lethal as others but even so it injured 22 people. Later Scotland Yard detained an 18 year old man, boy really, but we have yet to hear if he is the culprit or if there are more bombs being planned. The Army has now been called upon to reinforce the Police and the former will be employed at locations or events with crowds. Frightening!

Life continued as normal at home. Thankfully where we live it is very peaceful, although of course any big town is in danger of this new type of warfare. 

The weather has been cooler this week so I have taken to wearing in between season clothing. I was wearing red that day and decided to put on the beautiful Les Nereides bracelet Sandra and Adele had bought me for my 60th birthday. In fact I am still wearing it now. I also got out my red Zara handbag to go with it. I do like the coordinated look don't I as my friend Kathy commented on Instagram:-)
Wearing my Les Nereides red bracelet this week. 
My dear Nottingham University friends told me they had chosen the bracelet in red as I always wear red nail varnish. True, true, it is my trademark as is my red lipstick. 

But I wasn't going anywhere fancy that day, just food shopping with Eladio. Ah but I did go out and it was to dinner to La Vaca with Eladio and we were joined by Olivia. Unfortunately you can no longer book with the La Fourchette app meaning there is no longer a 40% discount. We had a nice meal but the three of us all agreed the quality is not quite what it used to be. It was my first dinner out since I came back from France and for the record I had a glass of wine, enjoyed the bread with oil and shared a brownie with Olivia. Naughty naughty but nice. 

Before I move onto Saturday I should add that Friday was Mexican Independence Day. Our Mexican Airbnb guests told us the next morning that they had gate crashed the Mexican Embassy party. Their stay would be coming to an end on Sunday. They have been wonderful guests. They came to finalise a master degree in physiotherapy at the UEM (Universidad Europea de Madrid). The UEM has some agreement with Real Madrid and they went there 3 times; once to visit the installations, once to a Champions League match and on Friday for their diploma ceremony. They told me excitedly later that they had been shown round by ex RM player Emilio Butragueño who is a legend in this country. They left this morning and tonight I am expecting an Italian woman who is coming to bring her son to the University. Thankfully, Zena is taking care of changing the sheets and getting the rooms ready for our next guests.  

On Saturday I woke up to limited access to internet. In fact the signal has been performing badly for a while and I had to ring Telefonica again yesterday morning. The biggest frustration is not being able to watch Netflix. The Telefonica coverage for Netflix is notoriously bad by the way. After umpteen phone calls talking to a machine, I think it is now working better. I do hate the modern ways of customer service and far prefer talking to a person but that's the way of the world today unfortunately.

Again I made bread yesterday morning  as Olivia wanted to learn how to make it. We made spelt bread with walnuts and sultanas. If you are interested this is the recipe which is actually mine and does not come from any book. You can use any other type of flour or liquid and the measurements and method are the same. 

Ingredients: 

500 g spelt flour
10 g fresh yeast (or 1 sachet of dry yeast) to be dissolved with a tsp of sugar and a small glass of warm water (amount to be discounted from the total liquid)
350ml of liquid either water, milk, yoghurt or in this case kefir.
1 tsp of salt
1 tbsp of oil 
If you wish, add a tbsp of honey instead of the sugar 
Add sultanas (careful cos they can burn) and walnuts or seeds, etc. 

Method

Mix all the ingredients with a wooden spoon so that the flour doesn't spill when kneading it with a dough maker. Beat the dough until it does not stick to the bowl or the hook. Remove, make a round shape with your hands, cover loosely with cling film then place in a warm area to rise / prove for one hour. It should rise slightly. After the hour of proving, remove the cling film and knead again with the dough maker. Shape the loaf or loaves as you want them, cover with cling film again and leave to prove in a warm area for another hour. Meanwhile turn on the oven to 190ºc. An hour later the loaf or loaves should have doubled in size. Remove the cling film and score the loaf or loaves. Place in the middle of the oven and leave to bake for 40 to 45 minutes. You can either place them in a greased and floured tin or on grease proof paper. When they are ready, remove from the oven and place on a grilled tray. And voilá there you have your delicious spelt bread. 

I have now made bread about 5 o 6 times and I think this was the most successful recipe so far. I have chosen the picture of me with the two loaves we made yesterday to illustrate this week's post. Here is another one of me feeling proud with the warm loaves. I do have a look of satisfaction on my face don't I?
The happy bread maker. Here with my spelt bread which I made on Saturday
I have heard that bread making can become a passion so I may have to look out. I am still only a very amateur bread maker but I am loving this new hobby. I got a 10 out of 10 from Eladio when he ate it that night which is high praise from him. 

I spent most of Saturday with Olivia. In the afternoon we went shopping for Eladio's birthday present. He will be 73 next Saturday which I can't believe. Suzy will be with us then so the family will be complete. Apart from present shopping, Oli and I went into the luxurious Carrefour store in Majadahonda were I got some dried yeast, more lomo and smoked salmon (divine) as well as ingredients for our Ukranian weekend carer, Zena, to make gloubsy for lunch today.  Gloubsy is basically stuffed cabbage rolls, a dish my Father and I adore. My Mother did too and apparently she used to call it "heavenly" in Russian or so he told me.  

Now it's Sunday and I haven't been on my walk yet as Eladio has resumed his private tutoring to his Brazilian pupil, Luciano who came at 10 o'clock this morning.  Instead we shall go this afternoon. While they were talking about Nietzsche and  existentialism, Olivia wanted to make more bread or rather she wanted to make it herself so as to learn properly rather than watch me make it. Right now, as I write, it is proving for the second time. Right now is the perfect time also to sign off as I have to come to the end of the tales of this week, the tales of  a novice bread maker hahaha.

Now my friends, I shall leave you now to get on with the day. Wishing you all a great week, cheers till next Sunday,

Masha.








Sunday, September 10, 2017

Suzy leaves Malaysia for Indonesia, Oli in Cyprus and me in France, Hurricane Irma, Nadal and Muguruza both number one in the world and other tales of the week.

Sunday 10th September, 2017
Suzy(second right) and the rest of the "manada" in the jungle of Malaysia this week. 
Good morning everyone,

There is lots to tell this week which has been more exciting that the last one. Our family has been split with members all over the world; Suzy in Malaysia, Oli in Cyprus and me in France with only Eladio at home. It has been a week of natural disasters in the Americas and I am always so glad there are no hurricane seasons and hardly any earthquakes where we live but my heart goes out to those who are suffering them now.

Last Sunday was a quiet day. We hardly saw our Mexican Airbnb guests. They are the perfect guests, leaving early in the morning and  not coming back till late at night.  

This time last week Suzy and her friends were in the Malaysian jungle in an area called Taman Negara. In fact the photo illustrating this week's post is of them there. I think the most exciting thing they did there was to trek in the jungle at night and to cross the canopy bridges. I wouldn't have dared to do either. But I would have liked to visit the native tribe they went to see.
Suzy in Taman Negara, the jungle in Malaysia. 
They would be there until the 6th of September when they would carry on to the Cameron highlands until their return to Kuala Lumpur. There the team would split and the "London Team" (Suzy, Chati and Anita) would carry on to Bali for another week while the others had to return to Spain. 

The good thing about Sunday was that Lucy returned that evening. She apologised for having left us in the lurch under stress the Friday before and said she wanted to start all over again. I heaved a sigh of relief as her going would have meant trying to find someone suitable to replace her, no mean task. 

On Monday I had to skip my walk until later as I had a 09.30 appointment with my lovely dentist, Dr. Garralda. I would be his first patient after his summer holiday. I had a semi broken molar which had been giving me trouble in France. Thankfully it was not broken, just fractured and he was able to reconstruct it. The best thing of all was that I didn't need any anesthesia. It would be the first time I went to the dentist after leaving Yoigo and the first time I would have to pay myself rather than using the fantastic free health and dental insurance provided by the company. Ouch I thought as I got out my visa card.

From Dr. Garralda's clinic I drove to the Centro Oeste shopping centre in Majadhonda. I wanted to have the strap of my white Michael Kors handbag mended as it is coming apart. The shoe repairer there wouldn't do it and so far I haven't found anywhere to mend it. While there, I couldn't resist the temptation to visit some of the shops. My first stop was Zara where I bought this beautiful beautiful dress. I haven't worn it yet as there has been no occasion warranting it but I can't wait to. It's lovely isn't it?
My new Zara dress
I also tried H+M and bought another dress, a black floral one to wear with leggings as well as a black and white striped top.

New clothes from H+M.
These I would wear soon as I went to Perpignan on Wednesday. 

Once home, we went on our walk with the dogs. It was pretty hot by then and I came home all hot and bothered but nothing that a dip in the pool and good shower couldn't remedy. 

In the afternoon we read by the pool as we do most afternoons these days. I finished the amazing story of the unsung Italian boy hero, Pino Nella,  who saved Jews during the 2nd WW in Italy, "Beneath a scarlet sky" by Mark Sullivan. I immediately began another book buying it directly from my adored kindle. I downloaded the autobiography, "Daughter of Empire, Life as a Mountbatten" by Lady Pamela Hicks the daughter of Lord Mountbatten the last Viceroy of India and have loved every minute of the book, especially the part about her experiences in India just before independence. Not so long ago I read Viceroy's House and this was like a sequel or extension to the story it told. 
Great book I read this week
My Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge protector screen finally arrive that day. It lasted about 2 days before falling off as it doesn't stick well around the curves. Also, as I had feared, the sensitivity is not good and had me writing messages rather frustratingly. 

That night we started a new series on Netflix, "Orphan Black". It's about human cloning and I'm not sure it's our sort of thing. 

The good news that day came from Buckingham Palace. The Duchess of Cambridge, aged 35, is expecting her third child. The bad news for her is that she suffers from extreme morning sickness, something called "hyperemesis gravidarum" which sounds ghastly. She has had to cancel all her official engagements and that was probably why the Palace had to announce the news. Poor her but I wonder why she wanted to get pregnant again if she has to suffer so much. She would of course miss 4 year old Prince George's first day at school this week which was heavily reported on in the newspapers. His father, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, took him alone instead. He will be attending the 18.000 pound per year prep school Thomas's Battersea where according to the papers he will learn to "to be kind, acquire confidence, leadership and humility and not have a best friend to prevent other children having hurt feelings".  How ridiculous not being allowed to have a best friend and how unnatural, poor little boy. 

Prince William doing the school run without Kate - here taking Prince George to his first day at school

That was the good news. The bad news has been and is the threat from North Korea with its nuclear weapon trials. This, at least at the beginning of this week, was the main international news. It is a real threat and a danger and there doesn't seem to be an answer as how to deal with it. Surely there can't be a retaliation from the west or an all out nuclear war to destroy Pyongyang the capital of the most hermetic state in the world run by a madman? Diplomacy doesn't seem to work nor do sanctions. This issue reminds me of the Cold War when nuclear war was also always a threat.  But somehow, thankfully, it never happened. I sincerely hope it doesn't happen now.  

There is not much to report about Tuesday. It was the quietest day of the week. I briefly met our Mexican students at breakfast and of course went for my walk. I do 1 hour with Eladio and then another hour on my own with Pippa. It's part of my effort to keep trim and healthy but it is a very long walk indeed. In the afternoon again we read by the pool but didn't go into it as it is not as hot as it was before. As usual the dogs were at our feet and I caught this lovely picture of little Pippa on top of Elsa our lab which I want to share with you. I am Pippa's official mother hahaha but when we are away her surrogate mother is our adorable and long suffering golden labrador.
Pippa our mini dachshund happily lying on top of Elsa our long suffering labrador
Who was having a far more exciting time than me was Olivia, my younger daughter, the journalist, who was in Cyprus shooting a new programme of "madrileños por el mundo". She was busy though and that day as well as most of the week she was there, she worked 13 or so hours a day. However, that night, she would have a break and go out for dinner with my Franco Russian cousins who, coincidentally were on holiday there. So she got to meet Marie Helene, her German husband Christophe and their delightful 20 something year old polyglot daughters, Helene and Catherine. I just wish I had been there with them. It must have been so much fun.  
Oli in Cyprus having dinner with our Franco Russian cousins. 
I think that was the night Spain played Liechenstein in a World Cup qualifying match and beat them 8-0 as they had in the first round. Spain is top of its group but still has to play another match before being guaranteed a place in the World Cup. It looks like plain sailing to me. Another thing is winning the actual cup again. However if they play then as well as they are doing now, they would have a better chance than last time. 

Wednesday came and I was off to France as I told you last week. I would be accompanying a Spanish business man, Chema, a friend of Fatima's, to translate for him at meetings in Perpignan for the International Photo journalist fair taking place there. I was up at the unearthly hour of 4 o'clock and he came to pick me up in a swanky jaguar at 5.15. We were to catch the 6.05 high speed train to Barcelona. Once there we took the 09.25 TGV which actually goes to Paris but takes nearly 7 hours. That is probably because it stops at so many stations. From Barcelona alone we stopped at Figueras of Salvador Dali fame and then Girona. We arrived at Perpignan in blinding sunshine at 10.46. It turned out Chema's business contact coming from London, Charles, wasn't arriving until 3.30 and our hotel, a modest little place across the road from the station in Perpignan wouldn't let us check in till 2.30. That left us little option to do anything apart from walk into the "centre ville" and while away the time until 3.30. If I had been arranging the trip which I wasn't, no way would I have planned for us to get up at 4 in the morning as we could have left much later. That was a bit frustrating.  By 12 we were both starving and found a nice little place near our hotel called Le Jean where I tucked into a delicious filet de boeuf. Of course while in France I had to use my school French which always comes in handy although I do wish I had learned it better. I wanted to order a "rare" steak and thought the word in French was the same. But it's not, the word is "saguenay". It's funny, when I lived in England years ago I always ate my meat well cooked which is how I was brought up to eat it but after years in Spain I now prefer it really rare. That way it is much more tender. 

Finally Charles turned up, a delightful British man in his 50's who has always worked in the photo agency world. The business in hand in Perpignan was all about agencies who buy and sell photos which of course includes the paparazzi type but not only. The photos they buy and sell can be for news and of celebrities, royalty, sport, nature, the food world and many other types. We never actually got to go the fair as it seemed all the business meetings took place at the Café de la Poste in the middle of the town.  It was teeming with owners and sales directors of photo agencies from all over the world. If you have ever heard of Getty images, this what these people do or so I learned. There are 3 types of business here, "live photos" (breaking or current news), "non live photos" (older type news) and "micro shot" images. These last are photos that ordinary people can upload and sell to image banks owned by photo agencies but for a modicum fee, unlike exclusive or "live" photos which are the expensive ones. These days it seems, newspapers and magazines, are happy to pay for one or two photos but often get the rest from "micro shot" image banks or even Instagram.  Getty is the biggest player in the industry. 
The fair in Perpignan which I actually never got to see
My work started when Charles arrived. I had to translate from Spanish into English and English into Spanish for Chema until late that night. It's quite easy at the beginning but after a while gets very tiring. We were joined early on by Charles' business partner, Collin, an eccentric but delightful English man married to a Russian and who knows all there is to know about photos without actually being a photographer himself. I also learned an awful lot not  so much about photos but about the photo world which was until Wednesday a little alien to me although I have occasionally, during my career had to acquire photos and image rights from agencies like the ones I met this week in France. 

The translating took place at the Café de Poste in the hot sunshine which made the whole exercise even more tiring as when you are doing simultaneous translation you need a lot of concentration and can't miss a word of the conversation and if you get stuck on one word then you have lost the whole sentence. Thankfully, that didn't happen to me.  One of the meetings we had was with a London based image agency which provides The Sun often with exclusive photos for its front pages. I wondered if that was the agency providing the "rag" with photos of little George arriving at school this week.  That for me was the most interesting meeting of all of them.  Here I found out this agency sends its photographers to the Ibiza airport arrivals lounge in the summer to catch the international celebrities getting off the plane even though they don't even know who is coming. What a world. 

The meetings went on until quite late and I had to carry on translating through dinner with Chema, Charles and Collin in quite a noisy but nice brasserie type restaurant. It would have been a wonderful dinner if I hadn't had to work. I even carried on translating as we walked back from the centre of the town to our hotel. That day after so much walking, 14km according to my fitbit, I got lots of blisters on my feet as I wasn't wearing trainers. The next day I would have to find a chemist shop to buy "compeed" plasters. 

I was in bed just before midnight and although the hotel was a little seedy, the room was clean and the bed very comfortable. I was able to make up for lost sleep that night as the next day our first meeting wasn't starting until 12 noon. 

On Thursday I woke up at 5, then 6 and finally got up at 06.30. I do wish my body clock would let me sleep more. I woke up to news of  Hurricane Irma having pummeled small islands in the Caribbean such as the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin and St. Barts, Anguilla and  Barbuda. With a population of 1800, the small island of Barbuda was nearly completely destroyed with only 10% of its houses left standing. It would go on to hit Puerto Rico, later Cuba and of course  Florida in the US. 
Barbuda in the Caribbean nearly completely destroyed by Hurricane Irma this week.
But it wasn't all news about the dreaded hurricane. It was the sports news or rather the US Open tennis tournament  news that cheered me up. Rafa Nadal was through to the semi finals and so was his countryman Pablo Carreño although the latter would lose later. With Roger Federer out of the running, it was looking easier for Nadal. Later in the week he beat the Argentinian Del Potro in the semi final. Today, or rather tonight for us, he will be playing the South African Robert Anderson in the final. Even better news would come the next day when the Spanish Venezuelan woman tennis player, Garbiñe Muguruza, and this year's winner of Wimbledon, like Rafa Nadal, became number one in the ATP Tennis Ranking. Wow that was the best news this week. It's a real first for Spain for the top two places to be filled by two Spaniards and I don't think it has happened to many other apart from the US. Being a tennis lover and fan of both players I was really pleased and proud for them and for my adopted country.
Rafa Nadal and Garbiñe Muguruza both now top the ATP men's and women's singles. A wonderful feat for Spain. 
What pleased me nearly as much that morning was to finally  get a photo of Olivia in Cyprus on the job.  Here she is with one of the "madrileños" she was filming for her programme.
Oli "working" in Cyprus this week

















Later she would me tell me she loved Cyprus. I asked her what she liked best and she said definitely the people who were very open and friendly; especially towards Spaniards or so they told her. She was also quite impressed with the beaches and, like me, loved the Greek food. She also told me the Cypriot Tourist office which had been so welcoming about her visit, had totally ignored her ever since she told them she was also visiting and filming the north part of the island, the one invaded in 1974 by the Turks. I wondered what the feeling was in Cyprus about being a country divided by Turkey and Greece and she said the Cypriot Ambassador in Madrid had told her she, the ambassador, represented the whole country. Oli also told me the people she interviewed didn't seem too nonplussed about the situation. It is, of course, odd. 

I had breakfast on my own at about 7 in my hotel which despite being a tired little place with absolutely no character offered an acceptable breakfast.  

While waiting for Charles to turn up for our first meeting of the day, I was happy to receive a message from one of my customers based in Barcelona. They needed me for a new PR project. That was great news. I had been a little worried over the summer that I didn't have any projects coming up so both the job in Perpignan and this news reinforced my new status as an active member of the self employed work force. 

The meeting started with lunch at midday in town with Charles, Collin and of course Chema. I put aside all thoughts of Hurricane Irma, the US Open or Oli in Cyprus and concentrated on translating simultaneously. It's more normal to translate for one person speaking at a time but it becomes more complicated if it's two or more as was the case at lunch and in the meeting afterwards. The meeting after lunch was once again at the Café La Poste at a table, thankfully, inside, with no sun and less noise. At this meeting there were 3 Englishmen, 1 Frenchman and two Germans which was rather a challenge as often they spoke at the same time. I had to do sotto voce simultaneous translation for Chema and think super fast while I was doing it. Thankfully the meeting was much shorter than expected. My work didn't stop there though. We had finished at around 4 and could well have caught an earlier train - ours wasn't leaving until 7pm:-( - but we carried on talking to Charles this time in the sun and both men drank coke and wine non stop while I kept to water. I must have drunk 3 bottles of "de l'eau sans gas" as I was thirsty from non stop talking and also very hot. 

After a couple hours of translating in the sun and seemingly going over and over the same subjects and topics and mentions of the same companies, we finally said goodbye to Charles and walked in the heat back to our hotel to pick up our luggage. 

We had time to freshen up before going to the platform at the Gare de Perpignan which, by the way, Salvador Dali painted in 1965. 
Salvador Dali's painting of the Perpignan train station
The front of it probably looks like it did when he painted it as you can see here.
The front of the "Gare de Perpignan"
But I think that Dali would be horrified, although you never know, by the new back it has which is modern and ghastly at least in my mind. 
The modern back of the Gare de Perpignan

I had no idea but he had called the station the "center of the universe" after experiencing what he called a vision of "cosmogenic ecstasy" there in 1963. I'm not sure why he did or why he painted it but it has something to do with its "frenzied energy" present  thanks to so many passengers going and coming. He also said he gained the most inspiration simply by sitting in the train's lobby. 

I gained absolutely none, only wanting  to go home and it was to be a long journey; even longer than I thought in the end. 

We caught the 7pm TGV to Barcelona passing Dali's birthplace, Figueras, again and arrived at Barcelona Sants station at about 8.40. Our next and last train, the AVE to Madrid wasn't leaving until 9.15pm so we had plenty of time and even had a quick dinner. We ambled through the control and went down to the platform looking for carriage number 7. We went in the wrong direction and walked the other way but as we did, we realised the train was moving and was actually leaving and that we had missed it. We missed it by seconds as we thought it was leaving at 21.15 but it actually left at 21.14. Later we were told the doors close 2 minutes before. We were left stranded and feeling stupid and furious too when we found out it was the last train of the day and that we would have to spend the night in Barcelona. OMG what a stupid mistake we had made. I can tell you it won't happen again. Thankfully the RENFE official was kind and gave us another ticket to replace ours even though it was the type of ticket you couldn't change. The ticket was for the 6.05 am train the next day which meant once again we would have to get up at the crack of dawn.

We found rooms at the AC Hotel at the station itself but at 215 euros per room which is daylight robbery although we had no choice but to accept the price and check in. It was a pretty awful situation but nothing major and I remarked we would just have to make the best of it and that we did. At least I got an early night. The room was lovely and the bed comfortable but even so I slept really badly. No way did I want to spend the night in Barcelona so maybe my body was rebelling. And Barcelona is headline news these days owing to the illegal referendum on independence the local government is threatening to hold on 1st October. It remains to be seen whether it will actually go ahead. The whole matter is paralysing the politics of this country as well as dividing Catalonia. I just hope it won't be another Brexit. 

With that in mind I slept fitfully and was woken up by the alarm at 5 am on Friday morning. Feeling like a zombie I dared to go down to to the lobby in my nightdress to ask the receptionist for a cup of coffee. He was nice, didn't blink an eye and made one specially for me. Feeling less of a zombie I caught the 6.05 train with Chema and we found ourselves in the "silent carriage" which I think was fine with both of us.  This time we both made sure we were well on time and were sitting on the train 15 minutes before it left. I even had time to take a selfie of me and the train where I tried to smile although I felt pretty worse for wear.
About to catch the 6.05 AVE to Madrid from Barcelona on Friday morning.

I read most of the way while Chema slept. This time the train was not non stop and stopped at Tarragona, Zaragoza and Guadalajara. I was pleased on the way to receive another Airbnb reservation. I now have 4 coming up after our Mexicans leave. 

We got to Madrid at 8.45 and took a taxi to Chema's office. He had to go into work but had arranged for me to be taken home in an enormous top of the range chauffeur driven BMW. What luxury! I was home to find Eladio having breakfast but was just too shattered to go on a walk that morning. Instead I unpacked leisurely, took yet another shower, changed into fresh clothes and then went to do the weekly shopping with Eladio. 

On the shopping list I had included the ingredients to make Irish soda bread from a recipe I had looked up recently. I was inspired by photos on Instagram of home made bread. The advantage of soda bread is that the rising happens thanks to bicarbonate of soda rather than yeast and it doesn't need to rise and be kneaded lots of times before going in the oven. It's amazing but I made it in 15 minutes. It went in the oven at 190ºc for 45 minutes. I had no idea what it would look like afterwards but was delighted to see the result which looked perfect as you can see in the photo below. If you are interested, this is the recipe
My Irish soda bread
Meanwhile Hurricane Irma continued its deadly path. It may not have touched Mexico on its way but this country got a different shock when an 8.2 earthquake struck the southern areas of Oaxaca and Chiapas killing more than 60 people. It was, however, felt by 50 million people and there were many after shocks although on a lesser scale. No doubt many Mexicans remembered the devastating earthquake in 1985 that killed 10.000 people. 
Damage done by the earthquake on Friday in Mexico. 
Oli meanwhile was travelling back from Cyprus. However I won't see her until tonight as when she arrived on Friday, Miguel picked her up and they went to Valencia for the weekend. No doubt they will have enjoyed the local paella.

In the meantime, Suzy was also supposed to be travelling that day, from Kuala Lumpur to Bali in Indonesia. Together with Chati and Anita - the London "manada" team - were prolonging their holiday with a week in Bali while the others  - the Madrid "manada" team - were returning to Spain. However, she also had a travelling hitch. The girls thought they had a ticket for Friday but it turned out they had made a mistake and it was for Saturday. So they too had to find a room for the night. They found it at the same hotel they had started their holiday at in KL where they spent most of their time in the pool. 

Eladio and I had dinner alone on the kitchen terrace as we do most nights these days. For the occasion I made a salmon salad with which we ate some of the soda bread. It was good but does not taste the same as yeast made bread. It's more like the sort of bread you toast. 
Dinner at home on Friday night with Eladio - salmon salad and my Irish soda bread.
Saturday came and I was up at 6 although I had slept better than the night before. There is nowhere better for sleeping than in your own bed. 

We went for our walk which I continued with Pippa to make into a 2 hour long one. We were dressed for warm weather with shorts and a t-shirt but the temperatures had gone and it felt quite cold. This morning we both wore long trousers and a cardigan and jacket, although it is warmer today. 

Saturday saw the last day but one of the Vuelta de España (Tour of Spain) which Chris Froome is winning. Right now is the last stage which is never disputed by the peloton and this will mean he will be the first British cyclist to win the Tour of France and Vuelta and he has done it in the same year. But all eyes in Spain were not on him but on a local boy, Alberto Contador, a Tour and Vuelta winner who has now turned 35 and announced this year's Vuelta would be his last race after which he will retire from cycling. Never in his wildest dreams did he or his fans expect him to win the toughest mountain stage of the Tour of Spain yesterday which finished at the top of the legendary Angliru mountain. In fact when he was being interviewed he got so emotional, he burst into tears and had to walk away. I think that was a marvelous way to end his career. Well done Froome and well done and goodbye Alberto Contador.
Alberto Contador  yesterday winning the last stage he will ever dispute in his cycling career.
Unaware of what was happening in the Tour of Spain, Suzy, Anita and Chati safely travelled to and arrived in Bali yesterday. Suzy was bowled over with their hotel room which has its own private pool. 
The private pool of Suzy's room at the girls' hotel in Bali
Bali is not on my priority list of preferred travel destinations but Suzy is enamoured at least so far. I look forward to seeing more photos of their time there. But even more, I look forward to 17th September the day they come back and when she will be coming to Madrid to stay here for a whole month and a half. We do so miss her. 

Meanwhile people in Florida were either in shelters or had left the state, after mandatory orders to leave certain areas. I was happy to see some of my friends who live there post that they had left and were safe. However, my friend Fátima's niece who lives there, Gloria, and her husband and friends, tried to obey the order but found it impossible to do so. The roads were too congested and they could not find petrol anywhere.  They had no option but to stay and I really hope they stay safe. Now it seems the hurricane might not hit the city directly but will swerve slightly west and probably land somewhere else, possibly in Tampa. What a nightmare for the residents affected by Hurricane Irma and also the one coming afterwards Hurricane Jose. Just as I was writing that I checked the internet and have read that Irma has hit the Florida Keys badly (25 dead according to The Telegraph) and is on its way to Tampa.  No doubt we will know more later. 

Today is Sunday and the sun is shining unlike in Florida. We went for our walk and I found it a little difficult to walk with Pippa for the second half  as there was a very big mountain bike race taking place just on the paths we walk on. Thus we had to walk on the fields beside the paths. 

Inspired by the bread I made on Friday, I made more this morning before lunch but this time with wholemeal flour to which I added sultanas and walnuts. I baked it in a heart shaped cake tin and this is the result.
The wholemeal Irish soda bread I made this morning
I am saving it for dinner tonight for Oli who will be returning from Valencia. I know she will love it. If you are worried about my diet/keeping trim, don't be as I shall only eat one slice I promise.

I have now come to the end of the tales of this week. You will hear from me again next Sunday. Who knows what next week will bring? Good things I hope like more work and more Airbnb reservations. I do hope also that it will be the end of the dreadful hurricanes.

Cheers then everyone until next week.

Masha