Saturday, December 09, 2017

A seasonal family lunch, Christmas shopping, Puigdemont stuck in Brussels, 100 years of Finnish independence, our ancestor Mikhail Stakhovich was Governor General of Finland, to Montrondo for the bank holiday and other stories.

Sunday 10th December 2017
Enjoying a snowy walk upon our arrival in Montrondo on Wednesday afternoon
Good morning all from Montrondo!

Here I am in our village with Eladio, Oli, her boyfriend Miguel and Pippa on the last day of our stay here for the Bank Holiday which is known in Spain as the "puente de la constitución". This is the longest bank holiday in the year as it encompasses 2 holidays, Constitution Day on 6th December and the Immaculate Conception on 8th December. A lot of people like us will have been on holiday from Wednesday to Sunday and others will have taken the whole week off.

But let me start at the beginning, from last Sunday. That day I was up extra early at 5.30 and after publishing my blog, I began making lunch as we had visitors that day, Eladio's brother José Antonio, his wife, my sister-in-law, Dolores, their daughter, partner and little boy as well as their daughter-in-law, Claudia and her Mother Reina from Cuba were coming and it would be full house.  It was Reina's first time outside Cuba and she was overwhelmed by our consumer society. I can well understand her as, having been to Cuba, I know just how little they have and how much we have. It is an unfair comparison. 

I started off making my multi cereal bread and for the main meal, my famous chicken Korma curry with rice. 
The multi cereal bread I made on Sunday
Just as I was making my quasi Indian dish, I was joined by our   Indian guest, Nisar, who was staying with the family from Galicia (Nigran in Vigo)  who had reserved our house on Home Away when they came for a wedding in Boadilla last weekend. She is such a lovely girl and had lived in Spain with the family on an exchange 2 years ago and learned Spanish perfectly. However, she and I spoke in English. She told me that in her family their main language was English and that her Hindi was really bad which sort of surprised me. From Bombay, aged 21 she is a student of journalism. She seemed to me a very modern young Indian Muslim girl with all the right values. I asked her opinion on my curry and she politely said it smelled very good hahaha.  I was sad to see her leave when the family left that morning and had to have a photo with her before they left. It's not a good one but one to remember her by.
With our Indian guest last Sunday - Nisar
I had everything ready for the lunch by 12 so there was time for a walk before our guests arrived. Eladio, the dogs and I were joined by Oli who unfortunately couldn't stay for the family lunch as she had a prior engagement. It was a glorious sunny morning. 

I came home to lay the table and just as everything was ready our guests arrived. As our Christmas decorations were all up it felt like a Christmas family lunch which it was really, except that curry is not very Christmassy hahaha. Zena, our weekend carer who is from the Ukraine, had made the first course,  a Russian dish called "glouptsy" (stuffed cabbage rolls) which everyone loved. They loved the curry too. Dolores had brought "pudding", her home made apple cake which we all devoured. With heaving stomachs, we withdrew to the lounge after lunch where everything was really cozy thanks to our Christmas display. It's all a bit kitsch I'm sure but I love it.  Dolores' grandson who is only 2 loved the display, as well as all my ornaments but he behaved beautifully. 

We were not hungry at all but at 5 I served "afternoon tea" which seemed very fitting in our quasi British, Spanish and Russian home hahahah. It was great to have Reina (means Queen in English) visit us as we had met her at Miguel and Claudia's wedding in Cuba last January. I hope she felt at home with us. Before our guests left, I remembered to have a photo taken to recall the occasion. And here we are, the 4 women, Reina, Claudia, Dolores and I by our Christmas tree. 
With Reina, Claudia and Dolores
Soon after they left, Oli came back from her lunch with her friend Anita. We had time on our hands before eating again hahahaha, and we sat in our lounge with the lovely Christmas atmosphere and played ludo. For the record I won!  Dinner was a very small affair as none of us were hungry. Being Sunday night we watched the Jordi Evole programme where he interviewed 2 Catalan women politicians; Ines Arrimadas from the relatively new central democratic party, Ciudadanos, and Marta Rovira, a separatist from the ERC party. The former beat the latter hands down. I only hope she does so too in the elections on 21st December.  All in all, it had been a lovely day. 

On Monday I was up at 6 am. It was to be my main Christmas shopping day. I had already bought some of the presents online and at the weekend been with Oli to Gran Plaza Norte. I wanted to go to Primark and Tiger and avoid the weekend crowds. On Monday everything was more organised and there were far fewer shoppers. It was much easier to shop at Primark and here I did most of my Christmas shopping for the men in our house. I also got nearly all the stocking fillers for the girls at Tiger, a shop I love. I couldn't resist getting more Christmas decorations for the house there too as well as for Montrondo. I got the girls presents at Zara and it was here that I spied a beautiful dark green velvet trouser suit; something I have always wanted. I adore green and I adore velvet and when I saw this outfit, I just had to have it. It would be my Christmas present from my Father for me hahahaha. Aren't I lucky. This is it. You can see it online here
My Christmas present from my Father to me: this beautiful dark green velvet trouser suit from Zara
I still can't decide whether to wrap it up and put in under the tree with the other presents or to wear it to the ex Yoigo Christmas party next week. In the end I think I shall wear it to the party and then wrap it up and put it under the tree haha. 

I came home to have lunch with the men and then spent the most part of the afternoon wrapping up all the Christmas presents. I also went on our walk with Eladio and the dogs and it got a bit dark at the end. I can't wait for the days to be longer. After the winter solstice on 21st December the days will slowly get longer thank goodness. 

On Tuesday morning I did more Christmas present shopping but online this time. I have nearly finished the task with just a few things still to get. That morning I went to the hairdresser as my roots were showing and it was time to get them dyed. What a bore. While waiting for them to dye, I had half an hour to read the hairdresser glossy magazines. I also had time to order vital British Christmas items online from the British Corner Shop. Here I got a Christmas pudding, cranberry sauce and Paxo sage and onion stuffing. Christmas day lunch wouldn't be the same without these. I also got more crackers as well as chocolates; a Cadbury's selection box and a box of Roses which we all love. 

I was home on time for our walk - another glorious sunny day - followed by lunch with the men of leftovers. In the afternoon Eladio and I went food shopping, mostly to get provisions for Montrondo and to leave enough food in the house for Lucy and my Father. Oli and Miguel were coming to spend the night before we left together for Montrondo the next day. So I made a special dinner with the giant prawns I had bought at Mercadona. I cooked them, peeled every one of them (what a job) and made prawn cocktail in individual glass dishes. I did it in layers starting with lettuce, then fresh pineapple, avocado and finally the prawns which were topped with what we used to call at home "thousand island sauce". This is what they looked like. I think I will be repeating the experience and serving them to the family for our Christmas Eve dinner. 
Home made prawn cocktail for dinner on Tuesday night
While I was in the throes of cooking,  concentrating on making the prawn cocktail, little did I know the dogs were in the lounge attacking the Christmas tree. Norah, the beagle, will have been the culprit although I didn't see them. But I did see the result; the knocked over Christmas tree after they had gone for the chocolate decorations at the top of it. It had fallen all over the presents, tearing a lot of the wrapping paper. They had also climbed over the piano to get to a chocolate Father Christmas figure on the window sill, knocking off lots of ornaments from a glass trolley we have in the lounge. What a mess they left with stuff strewn all over the place. Lucy came to the rescue and together we put everything back. There are no chocolate decorations left and I won't be buying any more hahahha. I have learned my lesson. Naughty dogs! I was furious. 

We had a beautiful dinner together after which Eladio and I watched the news. One of the items reported didn't surprise me. Russia had been banned by the IOC from the 2018 Winter Olympic Games for doping. I think justice has been done there. But it's a big blow for Russia.  

What did surprise me was the news of the withdrawal of the European extradition warrant for Puigdemont, the former Catalan leader who fled to Brussels to avoid facing court in Spain for crimes of sedition, rebellion, disobedience, prevarication and embezzlement.  It's funny how if you are a member of the EU you can escape justice by fleeing to another country within the block. There's something wrong with the system there. Judge Pablo Llarena had decided to withdraw the warrant for a particular reason. In the Belgian legal system, crimes of sedition and rebellion do not exist whereas they do in Spain and are the ones that would give a longer sentence. Thus if Puigdemont were to be judged in Belgium he would be given a lighter sentence than his counterparts in Spain which would be unfair to them.  This means that from now on he is free in Belgium and in the rest of the world but it also means that if he steps one foot on Spanish or Catalan soil, he would be detained. So in a way he is exiled and stuck in Belgium for the moment. He claims he went there to "internationalise" his cause yet very recently  criticised the EU for being an undemocratic group of countries and even proposed  a referendum for leaving it, now dubbed "Catelix".  From the Belgian capital, believe it or not, he is participating in the Catalan Elections as a candidate. I think he is a coward and should never have left Spain. While he is galavanting in the European capital, his number two, Oriol Junqueras, is in prison in Madrid.  

Wednesday 6th December was Spain's Constitution Day. But it was also the 100th anniversary of Finland's Independence Day. Finland has a big place in my heart after all the years I worked for Nokia and Nokia is a big symbol of Finland. My friends there had much to celebrate. A 100 years ago the country declared independence from Russia. Since 1809 it had formed an autonomous grand duchy in the Russian Empire but all that came to an end in 1917 thanks to the Bolshevik Revolution. Before that it had been under Swedish rule since the 13th century. When the Russian revolution took place, Finland was able to declare independence as the union between the two neighbours lost its legal base and Finnish independence was later recognised by Lenin and his government. 
Finland celebrating 100 years of independence this week
While documenting this information, I remembered that one of my ancestors had been the Governor General of Finland when it still formed the Grand Duchy and belonged to Russia. So I searched the web and found out that Mikhail Aleksandrovich Stakhovich was appointed Governor General of Finland by the Russian Provisional Government on March 20th 1917. Wikipedia tells me he resigned on September 17. Born in 1861, he was  a Russian politician in the times of Tzar Nicholas II and he died in Aix-en-Provence in France in 1923, obviously in exile like all of my Mother's family.  So how is he my ancestor you may ask? Good question. Well, my Grandmother was a Stachovich and there is only one Stachovich family, a noble Russian family. Her mother was a Ribeaupierre and her father a Stachovich.  She, of course, married a Lieven, my grandfather, Prince Andrei Lieven. I would love to know what their relationship was. They will have known each other as she (Sophie Stachovich) was born in 1886 in St. Petersburg. This is the only photo I could find of the last but one Governor General of Finland. I wonder what he would have thought about Finland's celebration of 100 years of independence. 
Our ancestor, Mikahail Stachovich the last but one Governor General of the Grand Duchy of Finland. 
With these thoughts in my mind, I started packing for our trip to Montrondo. We had to take food to last the 4 of us until Sunday so the Volvo was pretty full when we left. There was lots of traffic and when we reached the province of Valladolid, we encountered frost, fog and freezing temperatures. We stopped at Rueda, an hour later than usual owing to the traffic, at about 13h for out traditional pit stop to enjoy the wine and ham there. I was starving as I hadn't eaten since breakfast at 6 in the morning. 

We arrived in Montrondo at about 4.30 to snow on the ground and the village looked beautiful.
Snow in Montrondo when we arrived.
There was too much snow on the ground  to open the gate to our houses and we had to leave the car outside on the road. Pippa, wearing her red jumper, was very wary of the snow and has been since. She is no fan of snow and touches it with care and then jumps back and looks for ground where there are patches of grass. But sometimes she had no choice like in the picture below. 
Pippa in her red jumper in the snow upon arrival on Wednesday
It took us at least an hour to unpack everything and settle in. I even set up my little Christmas corner on the wooden stairs. It will get bigger as the years go by no doubt, given my love of Christmas.
My little Christmas corner in our house in Montrondo
The house was warmish as Eladio had switched on the central heating remotely at 9 that morning via telephone, a technology we insisted upon when we built the house as it gets so cold here. Even so it wasn't very warm and he had to put the fire on. He should really have done it the night before. Later that night the house was much warmer and ever since with both the central heating and the fire on, it feels like being in a sauna. The maximum temperature outside though hasn't risen above 5c since we came!

By 5.30 Oli and I were ready for our walk. The men preferred to stay behind and enjoy the fire Eladio had lit in the lounge. The photo illustrating this week's post is of me on the walk on the old path to Murias. Below are Oli and Pippa enjoying the same walk. I should add Pippa mainly walked on the sides of the path that had no snow left hahaha. 
Oli and Pippa well wrapped up for our walk the afternoon we arrived. 
We loved the walk. Oli and I wore boots which crunched in the snow while Pippa walked on the side of the path hahaha. Apart from a group of neighbours we chatted to when we left the house, we never saw another soul. The Constitution Bank holiday usually forms crowds everywhere but, thankfully, not in Montrondo. It was freezing cold and we were well wrapped up. However there was some ice on the road and I was very cautious given that a couple of years ago I slipped on ice in the snow here in the mountains and broke my leg. Both Oli and I had a narrow escape walking up a small road in Murias on our way back. I nearly slipped so in the end decided to cross it on my backside which was a very funny moment. 

We hadn't had lunch that day as we arrived so late although I wasn't really hungry after our stop at Rueda. So for dinner I made what I had planned for lunch, fresh hake fried in breadcrumbs and a salad. Miguel and Oli helped me. Eladio caught us on camera as I prepared the fish and Miguel and Oli made the garlic mayonnaise to accompany it. In the photo I am wearing my new 10 euro Scottish tartan Primark winter pyjamas which I love.
Making dinner on Wednesday evening
The fish was delicious. Later we watched the TV and Eladio and I went to bed when I fell asleep. Oli and Miguel continued watching The Sinner on Netflix.  

Thursday dawned, the working day in between two holidays although most of Spain, if they were able to, would have taken the day from their holidays to lengthen the  bank holiday. I was up at 5.40 which seems to be the norm these days. After a lovely breakfast together, I made our lunch; coq au vin with rice. Thus I was free to go on a walk with Eladio, Oli, Miguel and Pippa. 

While the chicken was cooking in the oven, I made yet another Christmas purchase online. On Thursday I bought a "ramo leonés", (literally tree branch from León, the province we are in and the province where Eladio was born). I was inspired after seeing one in Manolita's house when I went there to get some bread I had asked her to buy us the day we arrived. I had often seen this typical Christmas decoration in León, especially at Eladio's sister's house and decided I wanted one to respect Eladio's roots. I couldn't decide whether to buy it for Montrondo or for our house in Madrid. 
The "ramo leonés" I ordered online
It symbolises fertility and the prelude of Spring and is typical not only in León but also in Asturias, Zamora and Salamanca. Its tradition precedes Christian times. I can't wait for it to arrive. This is the online site where I bought it, a site that specialises in products from León. 

We left for our walk at midday in the bright sun which reflected the snow on the ground. We were well wrapped up but gradually it got warmer and we  removed some of the layers. Here are Eladio, Oli and Miguel on the road to Murias.
On our walk in the sun and snow on Thursday
Our destination was Senra where we would have a cup of coffee in the sun outside at Cumbres de Omaña, which is unbelievable at this time of year.

On our way back we stopped at the bakery in Murias to pick up two loaves of bread we had ordered. I got Miguel to take a photo of the three of us with Pippa by the snowy path "camino valle" (the valley path) a spot where we often take photos. This is the photo he took. His photos never fail to be good as he is a professional cameraman. Aren't we lucky?

We came home to a ready lunch and only had to lay the table. Everyone enjoyed my coq au vin after which we naughtily ate the "turrón" (Spanish nougat eaten at Christmas) I had brought with all the provisions from home. 
A walk in the snow, here with Eladio, Oli and little "Pips".
During lunch it began to rain outside and it would continue to do so all afternoon so we were lucky to have had our walk in the sun in the morning. 

While my companions slept, I sat down by the TV to watch a film on Netflix I had been wanting to see for a while. It was "Playing for Time",  the film based on the book by Fania Fenelón recording her time in Auschwitz as a member of the women's orchestra which was forced to play for their captors, including the sinister Doctor Mengel and which spared its members from a sure death. 
The very moving film "Playing for Time". 
It stars Vanessa Redgrave who plays Fania Fenelon, a half Jewish pianist, composer and singer who was born in Paris and was of Russian descent. She was a very strong character who wrote a diary during her terrible years at the hands of the Nazis and later wrote a book of the same name as the film. I shall be downloading it soon. I was very affected by the brutality of it afterwards and remarked to Olivia that my generation are fully aware of the Second World War and what the Nazis did but unfortunately today's generation are not. Thank goodness though, there are many films and books to document the reality of what happened. 

As I was watching the film about hate, 45.000 Catalan separatist supporters had flown to Brussels to rally for independence and for the EU to "wake up", as if it wasn't already awake. They also went, in a way, like the Nazi supporters, to show their hate for the rest of Spain and their criticism of the European Union which in my mind exists to avoid wars like World War II. The Spanish Vice President, Soraya Sainz de Santa María, reminded them that they were able to travel to Brussels, the capital of the EU, precisely because they have Spanish citizenship and because Spain belongs to the EU, meaning that if Catalonia became independent, it would not obviously not belong. I wish they had watched the same film I had instead of showing their hate in Brussels. 

Miguel and Oli, meanwhile, made a delicious lemon and coconut sponge cake. I am not a sponge cake fan but it was very tasty. We had another cozy dinner together after which we watched the news. The most important news was that Donald Trump had announced the US would recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, provoking outrage around the world, especially from Palestine and Muslim countries . He described the decision as a "long overdue step" to advance the Middle East peace process but he has done precisely the opposite as the "fate of the ancient city is one of the thorniest issues between Israel and Palestine".  We can all now prepare for more "jihadist" attacks on the west; that will be the outcome of Donald Trump's decision; not peace. The guy is crazy. 

On Thursday evening 7 guests from Vigo (again) who had booked 3 rooms in our house on Airbnb, were checking into our house for 2 nights. Lucy would be receiving them and I was a little nervous we weren't there. I could only hope that everything would turn out o.k. 
On Friday I was awake at 5 a.m. but forced myself to stay in bed until 5.30. It was the second holiday of the week, this time to celebrate the Immaculate Conception. Spain is a lay state these days but religious traditions die hard. After another delicious breakfast, I prepared our lunch and made "bacalao a la riojana" (cod made the Rioja way with peppers and onions) and at about 11 am. we were ready to leave for the nearby mining town, Villablino to visit the Friday open market there. It had rained all night and the snow was all but gone and it would rain throughout the rest of our stay robbing us of our walks in the sun. 
Once in wet and empty Villablino we went to have a coffee at the Selene Cafeteria but there were no accompanying cakes or pastries this time. We were told the chef was on holiday. From there we walked to the open air market, only stopping to visit a big cheapo Chinese shop to buy some tarpaulin for the balcony of our house which apparently has a leak. Oli and Miguel bought lots of Christmas decorations for their flat in Madrid. There was not much to be had at the market and all the other shops, apart from the Chinese one, were closed. We made a beeline for Benigna's stall where she sells local produce. We bought honey, walnuts, ginormous onions and garlic, etc and somehow, don't ask me how I lost both the walnuts and honey during the process. I was buying stuff for my sister-in-law and Oli and Miguel were buying stuff too so maybe I left my bags at the stall. Who knows? So my visit to the market was not very fruitful. Eladio, Miguel and Oli also wanted to buy chorizo and cheese from one of the other stalls. Chorizo is a famous Spanish sausage but I'm not that keen on it considering it a little over rated hahaha. And here is Olivia making her purchases.
Oli buying cheese and chorizo
We drove home in the gloomy weather and soon were sitting down to lunch. Meanwhile Eladio's second brother down, José Antonio, had arrived from Madrid with his wife, Dolores, his son Miguel, Miguel's Cuban wife, Claudia and her Mother, Reina who I wrote about last year. Reina, I'm sure, was hoping to find snow in Montrondo as she has never seen it first hand ever but unfortunately it had gone because of the rain by the time they arrived. 
They came for coffee after lunch. Another nephew, Roberto, his wife Ana and their little girls had arrived in the village too and they also joined us. Soon we had a big family gathering around Eladio's enormous and very warm fire which had the room feeling like a sauna.
The family having coffee at our house after lunch on Friday
When everyone left, most of them to take a siesta, Oli, Miguel and I played Monopoly. A couple of years ago I had bought a vintage first edition John Waddington set online from a collector dated 1935 and it was the first time we were to use it. And here are Oli and Miguel beginning to play.
Playing Monopoly in Montrondo with my vintage first edition set
I got it for a song from the collector. It has been used but is in good condition. For Miguel it was the first time he had played on a London street board. For me it brought back memories of playing as a child at Christmas at my Aunty Gloria's house in London. No one won as the game went on too long as it often does. It was our alternative to going for a walk in the rain. 
I made dinner because it was dinner time that evening but I was not hungry after no exercise. Later we watched a film on Netflix but I slept throughout. There is something about sitting down on the sofa after dinner in front of the TV with a fire burning that just brings on the slumber.  
I rose on Saturday at 6 am. We would be returning to Villablino, this time to go to the supermarket there, Gadis, not because we were in great need of food but to stock up with provisions for home and because we all, that is, Dolores, Oli and I, are great fans of this supermarket which only exists in the north of Spain. 

It was raining non-stop again as it has done since Friday morning, while on the other side of the world, in California, 6 large wildfires are raging. The Governor of California blamed climate change and extreme weather conditions. Some 200.000 people have been forced to leave their homes and 500 or more homes have been destroyed and turned to ashes. How dreadful.
California wild fires
We left for Villablino as soon as we had had breakfast and made a beeline for Gadis. While shopping, Reina, Claudia's mother who was on her first trip outside Cuba, remarked that she felt dizzy. She wasn't ill, no, she was dizzy from so much produce on sale. She told us she had never seen anything like it and that she was amazed at the range of products and the range of prices. Isn't life unfair for some people? We stocked up mostly on provisions to take home to Madrid and when we had all checked out, went to have a drink together.

We were recommended a place nearby called El Taller for a coffee or "mosto" (non alcoholic wine) in my case. And here we are all together around the table enjoying family time.
In Villablino on Friday
We were home by 13.45. I quickly finished making lunch, including fillet steak I had bought at Gadis. Later we went for coffee to Toño's house to join the rest of the family. Another of Eladio's brothers had come from León, Alejandro who is often called "el músico" (the musician) as he plays the accordion. He played a few songs for us and as always, added a magic ingredient to the family atmosphere. Funnily enough his music made me start yawning and I had to have a siesta where I was joined by Pippa.

I came downstairs an hour later and, being on my own, decided to start watching season 2 of The Crown on Netflix. But soon the others came down and no one else wanted to watch it so I had to leave it to watch sometime later on my own of course. My family are not particularly interested in the British Royal family hahahaa. Well, why should they be?

Instead, I played cards with Miguel and Olivia. We played "sevens" called "cinquillo" here until it was time for dinner. I don't think any of us were hungry, probably because we had had no exercise. Because of the insistent rain we were robbed of our daily walks and it was now 3 days in a row that we hadn't got one. Meanwhile, on the Costa Blanca, people were bathing in the sea. I reflected that maybe we should have gone to Santa Pola instead of Montrondo for the bank holiday:-(
And today is Sunday and our last day in Montrondo. Once again I have woken up to rain. We shall be leaving after breakfast as there will be lots of traffic due to people returning from the long bank holiday. There will also be the added problem of what is being dubbed "Storm Ana" here, a weather bomb bringing torrential rain which the meteorologists call an "explosive cyclogenesis".  So wish us luck on our journey back.

I shall leave you now, to publish this and make breakfast for everyone before we pack to leave. We have had a lovely relaxing time here and will be back soon as Eladio and I will be spending New Year's Eve in Montrondo.

I wish you all a great week ahead. There's not much time till Christmas now. How exciting!

Cheers till next week,

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