Sunday, August 27, 2017

The cousin reunion, the end of my stay in France, Prince Felix Yusupov and how we are related to him, back to Madrid, our 37th wedding anniversary and dinner to celebrate, march against terrorism in Barcelona and other stories.

Sunday 27th August 2017
Eladio and I raising our glasses to celebrate 37 years of marriage at dinner on Friday night
Hi everyone,

Well I'm back now, having arrived from France on Tuesday evening. It's been a return to routine and hot weather although thankfully, today, finally  rain came which will, hopefully, put out the fires raging in many parts of Spain. 

I left off on Saturday 19th August. That morning, Katty and I went on our walk before breakfast and again enjoyed our time together and the delights of the French countryside. We should have taken baskets on our walk as we could have picked lots of blackberries or miniature plums. 
Katty picking blackberries on our walk
We came back to have breakfast, once again croissants and toast and butter for me. Thankfully here at home I have returned to my oat bran porridge and hopefully will soon have lost any weight I put on in France. 

That morning, after filling Zuka's car with all the food we would be contributing to the cousin reunion, we set off to Marie Helene's house in a small village called Mareuil in the area of Cognac. 
Where Mareuil is located in France, sort of central west. 
It took little over than an hour thanks to Zuka's fast driving, despite her broken toes. We were the last to arrive and would be 14 people all together. I was bowled over by our host and family's house or rather mansion. I had no idea they lived in a "maison de mâitre" which was so beautiful with its red shutters and outer barns and huts and even a miniature house, not to mention the pool or the vineyards it is surrounded by.
My cousin's spectacular "maison de Mâitre" in Matreuil in Cognac. 
Our party was to be a jolly one and the second cousin reunion which my cousins dubbed "la cousinade". It would comprise of the five of us; Zuka, her mother - my Aunty Valya, her daughter Katty from New Zealand and myself, then my cousin Mashenka, her partner Serge and daughters Elizabeth, Sophie, Anna and her French husband they called "Chouchou" and of course our hosts, Marie Helene, her German husband Christophe and their daughters Helen and Catherine. 

Lunch was almost ready when we got there which we had on the terrace of the little house and where we would have all our meals.  I sat next to the younger generation and particularly liked my little chat with dear Sophie who I know better than the others as she came to stay in Spain twice.  We had more in common too as she has studied Communication and was keen to hear advice from me about her future  career which of course is or was mine. 
Enjoying talking to my niece and cousin Sophie in Spanish about her future career. 
Amazingly, she still remembers her Spanish. In fact most of the party were polyglots, unlike me as I only really speak 2 languages. More than once I regretted my Mother not having taught me Russian, her mother tongue, or my poor school French. 

It was a wonderful location for our reunion. The afternoon was spent lounging around. I enjoyed lying on the grass reading my kindle. Katty caught me on camera unawares and I quite like the picture.
Lying in the grass at my cousin's place in Mareuil, Cognac. 
We would meet again for dinner that night where there were surprises for some of us. In the middle of the meal, my cakes and apple crumble, were served as birthday cakes with candles on to celebrate my Aunt's 90th birthday 2 years ago, Zuka's 70th this year, my 60th in February and Chouchou's 33rd. It was a particularly lovely moment and we were all surprised and happy with our presents and that our cousins had remembered. 

The evening ended with us all skyping or video whatsapping with Katty's family in New Zealand, her husband Tony and adorable kids Luc, Sam and Ruby. The 3 kids had been part of the cousin reunion last year and so we were missing them a lot. They played the guitar for us, did a Maori dance and in return the younger cousins present in Mareuil sang them Russian songs.  New Zealand is so far away that as we were going to bed they had just got up haha. 

On Sunday morning, I was the first one up as I had been the first one to go to bed. It was 6 a.m. and I enjoyed my cup of coffee, albeit nescafé, in the garden. Soon I was joined by Katty who got up early to join me on our early morning walk which had become a habit during our stay in France.  We went on a beautiful 2 hour walk along the vineyards. I even tried the grapes but they were sour. We were told they were grown for cognac and a drink called pineau which I don't think I have ever tried.. We also ventured into the village where I spied some strawberries which were delicious. I think they had an owner but as they weren't fenced I helped myself hahaha.
Vineyards around Mareuil

Inside  the courtyard of one of the cognac making houses mansions in Mareuil of which we saw many
We came back to have breakfast with our cousins and had a lovely lazy morning together. Soon it was time for lunch and another meal all together. I must say everything was beautifully organised.  And here we are around the table. Photos are courtesy of Marie Helene.

Lunch on Sunday 
The afternoon was equally lazy. I slept on a sunbed in the shade while some of our group swam in the pool. It was a warm day but not warm enough for me to swim as I am used to Spanish temperatures hahaha.  Later the girls and Chouchou would play croquet, not my favourite game but they were fun to watch. Even more fun was seeing the winning couple thrown into the pool fully dressed. I do wish I had taken a pic but my phone was charging inside the house. We were to leave that day, that is the 5 of us who had come from La Teilée, but decided to leave after dinner which actually didn't wind down until past 11pm and then we all spent at least an hour saying goodbye. Next year's "cousinade" will be at our house in Madrid and I have no idea how I am going to fit everyone properly as we only have 3 spare double rooms. I was told not to worry and that people could sleep in tents but I'm not sure how practical it will be to turn our garden into a camp site. Well, I'll cross that bridge when we come to it. I do hope my girls can join next year and get to know some of the cousins they have never met and also understand  their Russian roots a bit more.  

We didn't get to La Teilée until at least 1.30 in the morning and after unpacking I fell straight into bed to find my room mate, Katty, already fast asleep.

Monday came and it was to be my last day in La Teilée with Zuka, Aunty Valya and Katty. Monday 21st August was also our church wedding anniversary. I think for the first time I wasn't with my husband to celebrate it. Of course I wished him a happy anniversary at a distance and looked forward to celebrating 37 years of marriage later in the week. And here we are together on our happy day. I think I have posted this photo before many times, but here it comes again as the others are in the album and I have only scanned a couple of them.  This is the one with the vicar who married us, the Reverend Brandon Jackson with my Father and dear brother George (RIP) behind. It's nice to have them in the photo.
Eladio and I on our wedding day 37 years ago. 
It was certainly a happy day and I have to say too that it has been a very happy marriage. I have no regrets and love my husband to the core as he loves me. We are very lucky to have met, as life is a chance and both made the right decision. We are very different as you probably know but then they say opposites attract. My parents were very different too but the thing is Eladio and I share the same values and same open opinion and views on marriage and life in general. I think that is one of the secrets of our successful marriage. 

That morning Katty and I would go on our last long walk together.  It had been amazing to have her with us during my stay in France and a complete surprise. I look forward to her coming again next year but this time to our house for the "cousinade".

It was one of the warmest days of our stay and we spent it quite lazily. Apart from the morning walks, another routine we had was evening drinks all together on the terrace where I am afraid I ate pistachios nearly every day. I am working hard now to shed any weight loss as I know I must have put on a couple of kilos at least. Eladio says he notices it in my thighs (OMG!!). 

Talking of Eladio it was to be his last day too but in Montrondo where he had been alone with his sister and mother whom he would be bringing home that day until the end of the month. 

The good news on Monday was that the police in Spain had caught all 12 of the terrorists who had perpetrated the Barcelona attacks, including the van driver, 22 year old Younes Abouyaaquob of Moroccan origin, the man who went on the run but was caught on Monday and shot dead in the town of Subirats near the Catalan capital.  

Tuesday came and it was the day of my return. My Aunt and cousins were also leaving for Paris for a few days after which Zuka was going on holiday to her beloved Cyprus and Katty to London to see friends and shop and from there home to New Zealand. 

Zuka and Katty drove me to the train station in Poitiers where I was to catch the TGV. Katty helped me with my 20 kg suitcase and we had to have one last selfie before saying goodbye for another year. It had been so good. 
A goodbye selfie with Katty at the train station in Poitiers
I got on to the packed TGV at 09.30 which would get me to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport by 11.45 with time to kill until my flight for Madrid at 15.15. Once at the airport it was teeming with police and security forces telling us to move on. I was a bit worried something had happened but thankfully nothing had. I spent ages in the queue to drop my heavy case off after which I went through security, most of it staffed by immigrants, many of them with veils on. I have to say I found France a little worse for ware possibly due to the crisis. Their high speed trains are not as luxurious as the Spanish ones, they seem to be short of good roads, their supermarkets look a little tired and all in all I found that the tables had turned and it is Spain that is smarter all round whereas when I used to visit France I always found it cleaner and smarter than Spain. Not so any more in my view at least and I hope no feelings hurt. Even the bread and croissants are not what they used to be. Hopefully things will change under Macron's rule although his popularity is waning slightly and I did not like the news I read this week where I learned he had spent approx 26.000 euros on make up!!! 

At the airport I bought my Father some maltesers and indulged in lunch at Pret a Manger which I love. I also had enough time on my hands to order a book for my Father via Amazon on my phone. 

When on holiday with my cousins we had talked a lot about the past and somewhere I heard of a book by Prince Felix Yusupov called Lost splendor and the death of Rasputin which he published in Paris in the 50's when he was there in exile. He is famed for having killed Rasputin together with the Tsar's cousin, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovic although I have read in critics of the book that his tale is not completely credible. 
The memoirs of Prince Felix Yusupov which I bought for my Father and am avid to read too.
Prince Yusupov is another famous relative of mine. 
Prince Felix Yusupov in the days of splendour
Let me explain how. The Yusupovs were the 2nd richest family in Tsarist Russia (probably after the Tsar) and the Prince's mother, Princess Zinaida Nikolayevna Yusupova was both my Mother's godmother and my great grandmother's first cousin from the Ribeaupierre side of her family (my Grandmother, Sophie Lieven née Stachovic was a Stachovic on her Father's side and a Ribeaupierre on her Mother's side). 
My great grandmother (right dark hair) Olga Stachovic in Moscow circa 1910 with the Mother of Felix Yusupov, Zinaida, or Aunty Fairy. 
In this picture from an album I have at home is of my great grandmother and her first cousin, Princess Zinaida Yusupov. They must be having tea together as there is a somovar in the picture. What I don't know is where the photo was taken. It was obviously not  at the Yusupov palace in St. Petersburg as I know it was taken in Moscow in 1910 so possibly could have been at one of my Mother's family's palaces or homes there. They were very rich too as was her husband Prince Andrei Lieven's family.  Many years later my Mother asked her Mother, Sophie Lieven née Stachovich, what it was like to be rich. She answered that when she was rich she didn't notice it!! She then added that now she was poor (when they lived in exile in Bulgaria) she was too busy to notice it. No doubt I shall find out just how rich they were when I read Prince Felix Yusupov's memoirs. 

In fact my mother's family exiled together  with Princess Zinaida where they eventually landed in Rome and where my Mother was born at the ex Russian Embassy in 1920. My Mother used to refer to Yusopov's Mother as "Aunty Fairy".  She was apparently very beautiful and my Mother had this photo of her.
Princess Zinaida Nikolayeva Yusupova, Felix Yusopov's mother and my Mother's god mother and my Grandmother's first cousin. 
Amazingly on my first and only visit to Russia, to St. Petersburg in about 2004 where I took a group of journalists when I was working for Nokia, our guide took us to the Yusupov Palace. There I saw the original portrait of my Mother's godmother and her grandmother's cousin. I could not believe my eyes. I suddenly realised where I was, in a palace of the past of extreme wealth where once my Mother's family probably visited  for teas or dinners. It was a huge eye opener and a nostalgic moment. Of course I was unable to tell my journalists as how would they understand anything at all. What a story. One day I have to write my book. 

But back to the present and to my arrival home from my holiday in France.  I had had a wonderful time but it was great to be back home and to greet my Father, Eladio and of course my lovely dogs, but especially little Pippa who I had missed enormously. Possibly the best thing about returning home always is sleeping in my own bed and next to my dear husband.

On Wednesday, I resumed my daily routine and went on our walk with the dogs. It was lovely to walk with them and Eladio but I missed my walks with Katty. Meanwhile, my youngest daughter, Olivia, who went back to work last Monday, after  a super long holiday, was working on her next programme which is about people from Madrid living abroad (Madrileños por el Mundo). She is to be sent to Cyprus of all places, which delighted my cousin Zuka, who lived there for years until she and her family had to flee after the war there in 1974 when the Turkish invaded the island or islands.  

That night Eladio and I would watch a film, again about people having to flee their country. It was the wonderful Indian made "Viceroy's House" which I had recently bought on Amazon. It stars Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey. We watched it in two nights and yes I loved it as I am fascinated by the story of the independence of India and the incredibly violent partition of the country into two with the creation of Pakistan but somehow either it wasn't long enough or there were things missing. Gandhi hardly makes an appearance and the love story of 2 workers at the Viceroy's House, a Muslim girl and Hindu boy, did not really convince me. What it does do though is project perfectly how the British Raj must have been in all its splendor but unfairness to the native inhabitants. 
Our film of the week

Thursday was unbearably hot again. Even so I made fabada (bean stew from Asturias) for the family but had chicken myself. I just have to get back to healthy eating.

The highlight of Thursday  was a goodbye party for 2 ex colleagues from Yoigo, Dragutin an Laura who both worked in IT mainly. It was held at Laura's house in far away Alpedrete but a superb location for the party. It was lovely to see a lot of my ex colleagues but somehow I really want to move on and leave it all behind, except of course for the good times. But that is not easy when you are in the midst of your colleagues, some of who still work for the new company that bought Yoigo and some, who, like me, were forced to leave. Inevitably we talk about how it could have been had they not bought us and how Yoigo is no longer Yoigo. It was good while it lasted and I have moved on thankfully.
The goodbye Yoigo party for Laura and Dragutín.
I left while the party was in full swing as I wanted to be home for dinner with my dear husband. I so enjoy our quiet dinners together in the summer on our kitchen terrace accompanied by our 3 dogs. 

Friday came and we spent part of it preparing for our next Airbnb guests, a middle aged French couple who would be driving all the way from Perpignan on the border of Spain and arriving later that day.   We have had a few things to repair in the house this week, due to our Airbnb guests. First the downstairs room had a huge damp patch with paint coming off the walls which worried me stiff as in September we have a lot of guests coming. Thankfully the plumber came and dealt with the damp which he said came from the bath. Eladio pointed out that as it's used so much by all the guests it is probably their fault. Later that day, after our new French guests had arrived, we found the front door had gone a bit wonky and would not close properly. They were the last to use it so I can only imagine they must have done something. Who knows? Last, but not least, was a broken blind in the room they slept in. It's not the first time a blind has broken and I am beginning to think that people who are not from this country don't know how Spanish blinds work. I shall just have to tell them in the future. On top of all this, the review from Philippe, the French Airbnb guest, was not flattering. He gave me 4 stars and said 1) I should have provided breakfast which by the way is not advertised and 2) that guests have to pay for the air con. I explained later in my public reply that we don't do breakfast anymore as people tried to eat us out of house  and home and asking for it until lunchtime and that the air con now has a metre as we have had lots of abuse. I wish now I had added that after their visit the blind and door were broken and which would cost a lot more than the money they had paid for their stay. I could well have added too that the guests went away without even bothering to say goodbye. Oh well, you can't win them all I guess. 

Oli and Miguel arrived later that day and cheered me up enormously. They also brought down the average age in the house by quite a few notches haha. I hadn't seen my youngest daughter since before I left for France and it was lovely to be reunited. We spent some time by the pool and then it was time to get ready to go out for our 37th wedding anniversary dinner. For the occasion I had made a reservation at a new restaurant which is actually open only for the summer months. Called "Los jardines del palacio" it is situated in the gardens of the Palace of Boadilla. Of course I have seen the facade of the palace many times but had never been in the newly restored gardens which are magnificent. I was bowled over too by this place.
The restaurant "Los jardines del palacio" in the gardens of the palace of Boadilla del Monte

The palace was built by the Infante Don Luis de Borbon, the 6th son of King Philip V of Spain and his second wife, Isabel Farnasio. The Infante who went into the church and became the arch bishop of Seville, was also the brother of King Charles 3rd and in his later life a patron of the arts giving support to the painter Goya and others.  He had the palace built around 1761 and it is built to the plans of the Spanish architect Ventura Rodríguez in the neoclassicism style and is magnificent although mostly run down inside as it must need billions to restore properly. In any case it was amazing to be there. We could not have chosen a more romantic setting for our wedding anniversary dinner. As soon as we entered the gardens we started taking photos, like the one illustrating this week's post, the one of the palace and restaurant above and some selfies too like this one of the 4 of us who had the pleasure of dining there on Friday night.
A selfie of the 4 of us about to have dinner on Friday night at the new restaurant in the palace gardens. 
The food was good although simple as I heard they don't actually have a proper kitchen but bring it from the caterers' restaurant nearby.  The service was pretty fast too. We loved it so much, no doubt we shall return before it closes at the end of September.

Yesterday, Saturday, was  quiet day. After our walk, I went into Majadahonda to the local market again. I went to pick up some of the cushions missing from the order I had made to cover our three piece suite in the lounge of our flat in Santa Pola. They weren't ready so guess what? I shall have to go back again. I don't mind going at all as I just love some of the clothes there and yesterday bought another jump suit and similar dress, both of which I have worn today and yesterday. 

I was home on time to finish making lunch for everyone and it was nice to have the company of Oli and Miguel again. During the meal we had a call from Suzy from London airport (not sure which one). She was waiting for a flight to Dubai with her flat mates and friends from their "manada" group in Spain, Chati and Anita. From Dubai they would be taking another flight to their holiday destination, Malaysia. They would be joined today by 3 other friends from the group who would be travelling from Madrid, Rocío, Chati's sister Elena and Elena's boyfriend Antoine. They didn't get there until lunchtime today which is quite a haul. Once outside, Suzy rang to say they had arrived safely. I don't know why but as I get older I get slightly more worried about the girls travelling when I never used to do before. Particularly worrying for me was when I read that in Malaysia, a strict Muslim country, there is a death penalty for consuming or having drugs of any kind and prison for homosexuality. I warned Suzy but she didn't seem worried. Later she would post this photo of her and Chati about to leave on holiday. 

Suzy and Chati about to leave for their holiday in Malaysia and Indonesia

I look forward to vicariously enjoying their stay in Malaysia and later in Indonesia (only Suzy, Chati and Anita in Indonesia) with Suzy's posts, phone calls and photos sent to the family Whatsapp group. Thank God for modern technology that keeps us all in touch these days. 

But back to Madrid. In the afternoon yesterday, we lounged around the pool and I also played cards with Oli and Miguel; for the record  a game called "sevens" which I actually won hahaha. 

While we were playing cards, a big demonstration was held in Barcelona where more than 500.000 people marched chanting "No tinc por" (I'm not afraid) in protest for the 2 attacks in Barcelona last week which left 15 people dead. There were other marches and protests around the country including the town of Ripoll where most of the terrorists had their residence. Chillingly, the sister of 2 of them, Hafida Oukabir, spoke out against terrorism too. It must have been very hard for her. The Spanish King was present but was criticized by many for links to arms deals with Saudi Arabia who many people think finances Isis. They also called for the country's PM, Mariano Rajoy to "go home" in a clear cry for independence. It is unfortunate that the march was tinged with politics when clearly it should all have been about the victims and their families. I would have preferred a real show of unity. 
Yesterday's anti terrorist march in Barcelona. 
All I can pray for and hope is that the radicalized people behind these dreadful attacks will be caught out and that they will not crush our spirit or how we conduct ourselves daily. Since the Barcelona attacks there have been numerous others, some successful and some not, including a man with a sword who was thwarted outside Buckingham Palace. It's a new type of war I do not like and which is hard to deal with. That's why unity is necessary. 

And today is Sunday and I woke up to the sound of rain, something we haven't had in a long time. Even so we managed our morning walk. Right now as I write the sun has come out but rain has been forecast for the whole of the week. It will be great to have a respite from the hot temperatures and be able to sleep without the air con. 

The week ahead looks to be quiet. I have no trips planned or any events but no doubt there will be something to write about next Sunday that will interest you.

Hoping this post has interested you, I will sign off now and wish you all the best till next time.

Cheers for the moment,

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