Sunday, March 18, 2018

To Santa Pola for the week, RIP Gabriel, the new cold war, walks on the beach and to the lighthouse, RIP Stephen Hawking, home again and other stories.

Sunday 18th March, 2018
Enjoying the view from the lighthouse cliffs in Santa Pola  
Good morning everyone.

Wow, another week has gone by and pretty quickly too. Since I last wrote we have been to Santa Pola, to escape the bad weather, and back and here I am writing from home. This time last Sunday we were having breakfast with Oli and Miguel. To celebrate her return home from Mexico, my youngest daughter had a whim for "churros" for breakfast. Eladio and I obliged and went to buy them at our local "churrería". I offered some to our young Argentinian Airbnb guest, Esteban who is a professional car racer. He preferred my more healthy wholemeal home made bread. He's a nice guy and is a pleasure to have as a guest. He returned this Thursday and will be staying with us again in April and bringing his girlfriend with him. 

The main international news that day and over the past week or so, is of tension with Russia in the UK over the poisoning with a dreadful nerve gas of an ex Russian spy and his daughter living in Salisbury. Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia were found on a bench in that quiet British town after collapsing from an attack by a dreadful nerve gas called "Novochok", a chemical developed apparently only in Russia. They are now fighting for their lives in hospital with the added complication that there is no known antidote for this type of chemical. Blaming the Russians, Theresa May  said the UK would not tolerate threats to British lives by Russia on British soil. The Russians have claimed innocent. Since then 23 Russian diplomats have been expelled and later this week the Russians retaliated. I asked my Father, an expert on all things Russian, what he thought and he replied simply that this was a return to the Cold War. It is and I added that it had never really left us.

Today there will be presidential elections in the USSR and it is very probably that Putin will be reelected for the 4th time. I don't like the man. He is very dangerous. However he is popular in Russia or perhaps people only vote for him because they don't dare do anything else. When Olivia was in St. Petersburg, one of her interviewees, a priest who has lived in Russia for many years, told her that many people thought Putin was actually only a puppet President, put there and manipulated by the ex powers of the KGB. Whatever the case, he is the new Tsar of Russia and the tension with the West is only looking to escalate. 

But perhaps the biggest international news this week, went unnoticed, and that was the announcement that in China, the President, Xi Jinpeng would now in effect be able to be in power for life. I feel sorry for the Chinese. He sounds like the new Mao Tse Tung. 

After reading the news and as soon as breakfast was over, I did all the preparations needed for our trip to Santa Pola. At about 11.45, off we went, taking little Pippa with us. We stopped for lunch at one of our favourite places on the road to Alicante, Mesón Los Rosales. As I opened the car door a huge gust of wind nearly impeded my exiting the car and it was a very cold blast too. We were encountering the hazards of "Storm Felix" which thankfully would hardly affect the Costa Blanca on the South East coast of Spain. We were heading there basically to avoid the bad weather. Meanwhile a new storm was threatening, Storm Giselle. When will they stop I wonder?

Just as we left, I read on my phone the dreadful news that Gabriel Cruz, the 8 year old boy from Almeria who went missing on 27th February had been found dead in the boot of his step mother's car, Ana Julia Quezada. She was the main suspect from the very beginning and the police had been following her and caught her on camera lifting the child's body from the grounds of the boy's father's property where she had killed, buried and hid him for 12 days, meanwhile faking the distressed step mother. 

The story of Gabriel has hit the nation hard and caught its attention throughout the search for the little boy and the aftermath of his death. I, like many many people in Spain,  have followed the case throughout. It has been the biggest search ever on Spanish soil for a missing child. Over 2000 police and some 3000 volunteers took part. Meanwhile the little boy's Mother, a loving and charismatic woman, Patricia, has also caught the hearts of the nation. She practically led the search. From the very beginning, the main suspect was the partner of her ex husband, Angel, Ana Julia Quezada, a 35 year old black woman from The Dominican Republic. We now know she killed the little boy, most probably because of jealousy, and thankfully she is now in prison facing a court case  for killing him.  We also now know that when he left his Grandmother's house to go and play with his cousins, she followed him and made him go with her to her father's property in the country. In her words which the police doubt, they had an argument and the little boy hit her with an axe. In apparent "self defence", she hit him on the head and then suffocated him and finally hid him under rocks and stones and left him there until last Sunday when she went to get his little body to move it elsewhere, afraid the police would find it. She is now accused of pre meditated murder, having dug the hole to bury her step son's body before killing him. And everyone accepts that the little boy who was very obedient, would never have threatened her. 

During the whole case, she put on a complete farce pretending to help look for the little boy she had actually killed. She has turned out to be the witch in the story of the end of the life of an innocent little boy, the worst step mother in the world. It has been a huge media case in Spain and we would hear more during the week. Gabriel loved the sea and loved fish. Thus the police dubbed the operation "operación Nemo" after the name of the film Finding Nemo.  
The parents hugging and the photo of their son Gabriel behind them. 
Drawings of fish have come to symbolise the little boy. He will not be forgotten. His mother in all her appearances wore the turquoise woolen scarf his grandmother had knit for him and which was his favourite. She finally took it off the day of his funeral and gave it to Juan Ignacio Zoido, the Spanish Minister of the Interior. She wanted him to have it in gratitude for his constant support. Amazingly this big burly Andalusian Spanish politician was emotionally overwhelmed by the gesture. He himself lost a child aged 17 in a car accident a few years ago and could perfectly understand Patricia's tragedy. For me he is a hero, as are all the Guardia Civil forces who carried out the most impeccable investigation for the whole of Spain to see. If I ever had doubts about their professionalism, they were swept away this week. 

I couldn't get the story out of my mind it upset me so much. The hardest thing in the world for any parent must be to lose their child. 

But life continued for us and I consider myself always very fortunate. We arrived at our flat near Santa Pola, some 13km from Alicante at about 5 pm to sun but wind. It was 21ºc. It was strange to find a window open in the flat. We must have not closed the latch. There is no other explanation. We settled in and when Eladio put on the new electric radiator we had bought and the gas stove, the flat was soon warm. It rained a bit but thankfully soon stopped. But it was too windy and cold for a walk. Besides, Eladio had left his coat behind in Madrid. Instead we watched the TV to follow the developments of the case of Gabriel Cruz. I went outside to take Pippa to do "her business" and took some photos of the gardens, pool and the sea beyond. Our flat is in a complex of white apartments on a cliff overlooking a long and natural beach with no housing. There are few beaches left like that these days. 
With Pippa in the gardens of our apartment complex the day we arrived
I was happy to see a new Airbnb reservation on my phone as we were out in the gardens. A Scottish family from Edinburgh has booked our place for a weekend in July. I now have 13upcoming reservations from now until August. Oli says, "who would want to come and stay here?"  Well amazingly, quite a few people. 

We had a quiet dinner that night. In fact we never went out to dinner, preferring to eat at home, me in my pyjamas, and then watch TV, usually series and films on either Netflix or Amazon Video Prime. But that night we watched traditional TV, the weekly programme called Salvados, conducted by, who for me is one of Spain's best journalists, Jordi Evole. That night we saw him interview a Romanian girl called Amelia Tiganus who had been forced into prostitution and is now fighting against it. What a story. The programme was about the trafficking of prostitutes in Spain, nearly all of whom come from Nigeria, Romania, Paraguay and Bulgaria, most of them with the promise of a normal job. Spain is the country in Spain which consumes the most prostitution and there is legal limbo when it comes to the  prosecution of these girls' captors. What a horror story.

It was better to watch fiction. So later we saw the final episode of The Night Manager.  We went to bed feeling warm thanks to the new radiator. 

Monday brought the sun and we were able to have breakfast on the terrace contemplating the view of the garden and the sea beyond. The trees have grown so much since we bought the flat in 1999 that they now nearly hide the view of the sea beyond.

Being a Monday in March there was hardly anyone on the beach when we went down with Pippa for our first walk along the "Carabasi beach" which we love. Dogs are not allowed but no one cares in the winter so Pippa enjoyed the experience although she wouldn't go anywhere near the water after having taken one taste hahaha. It was sunny and windy but not particularly cold. The temperature at midday most of the time we were there was about 20ºc, much warmer than in Madrid.
On the empty beach with Pippa on Monday
We came home to lamb stew for lunch which I had prepared before our walk on the beach. Later in the afternoon we would go on another walk, this time to the lighthouse cliffs nearby. In fact we would repeat both walks nearly every day of our stay. It was sunny and warmer as the wind had dropped. I just love the views from the cliffs which are stunning. Here is Eladio sitting on a bench and posing for this photo together with Pippa who never left our side. The photo illustrating this week's post is of me on a bench on the cliffs contemplating the view. 
Eladio on the lighthouse cliffs with little Pippa
Just as we walked into the flat returning from our walk, I was pleased to see another Airbnb booking, this time from a German family who will be coming in June. I have to admit I really enjoy being a host for Airbnb, mostly because I get to meet really nice people from all over the world, literally. 

I will also be travelling in June as this week Sandra, my Nottingham University friend who lives in Brussels, has invited Adele, fellow Uni friend, and myself to her 60th. She is going to celebrate it at her brother's luxury bed and breakfast home in Tuscany, about 40 minutes from Milan. Ever since Sandra told us about his place, both Adele and I have been dying to stay at Villa Arabella.  It's going to be a real "girly weekend" and Adele and I shall be staying in the Blue Room which looks just gorgeous. So that evening after our walk, I bought my air tickets to Milan. That is going to be one long weekend to look forward to. Can't wait Sandie and Adele!

For dinner I made a healthy spinach omelette after which we watched TV using the Leelbox Android TV box I bought recently. For the wifi I had to connect it to my phone. In just 5 days or so, I used up about 9 gigas of my 20 giga monthly mobile tariff. That's quite a lot. Streaming uses a lot of bandwidth.  Our choice that night was Collateral on Netflix. I had a headache most of the day and watching TV and headaches is not a good combination. In fact I had a headache from Monday onward and it is still bugging me. Eladio reckons it has to do with being at sea level. Maybe he's right. 

Tuesday was 13th March, traditionally an unlucky day in Spain, the equivalent of Friday 13th. Well, we weren't unlucky that day. I don't think my continued headache really counts. We had breakfast in the sun on the terrace again, one of the highlights of being at our beach flat. After reading the news (we are news freaks hahaha), it was time to do some food shopping but thankfully not a lot as I had brought loads of provisions from home. We went to the proverbial Mercadona, the most popular supermarket in Spain which is not actually my favourite. However the one in this area was completely revamped in the autumn and is now pristine and has  a lot more variety than its Madrid counterparts. The guy serving us the wonderful ham we bought told us that all of the supermarkets would be revamped in the same style eventually. I was impressed and Mercadona has gone up now in my estimation. We also went to Quicksave, the small British supermarket directly opposite our house for a few English provisions. It is one of the few shops in the area that has been there for years; most of the others don't last long and are soon rented by other hopeful shopkeepers. 

That morning we went for another walk on our beach. 
The walkway to our beach, love it. 
That day there was no wind and I think it was the only time I walked with just a t-shirt on enjoying the air and sun. Once again we had the beach nearly to ourselves. Not so for Pippa as there were plenty of other dogs which for once she didn't bark at.  I took lots of photos as always and particularly like this one of Eladio walking with Pippa in front. 
Eladio on the beach with Pippa. 
From this beach you can see our apartment blocks up on the cliffs. We bought the apartment in 1999 and have never regretted it although we don't go as often as we would like.
The view of our apartment block from the beach
We did lots of walking this week in Santa Pola, to make up for the walks lost due to the heavy rain in Madrid. And true to tradition, once again we walked to the lighthouse cliffs and back that afternoon just before sunset. The sun sets around 7 or 7.15 pm now but next Sunday the clocks go back and we shall have another hour of daylight. Hurray.
The Santa Pola lighthouse on the cliffs which still works. 
Wednesday dawned. I was up at 6.50. Just a few hours earlier in Cambridge, where I was born, Britain's best known scientist, Stephen Hawking died peacefully at his home there aged 76. Diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) that attacked his muscle function at the age of 22, he was told he had about 2 years to live. However, the scientist who was known for his work with black holes and relativity, defied science himself by living 55 years more. He rose to fame when he wrote the book A brief history of time but I also think he was possibly more famous for being a crippled scientist. He had to learn to talk through a machine and in the end could only move one tiny muscle in his face to speak through the voice synthesiser. He himself once said "who can resist the idea of a crippled genius?".  Most people would have given up on life but not Stephen. He had to much to contribute to science and in the end he dumbfounded science itself. He was larger than life too. It's amazing how he formed a family and was married twice. His second wife was his nurse and I wonder what it was that attracted him to her. I really do. I also admire his first wife for taking on Stephen, his extreme disability and his physics. Indeed his story is remarkable and he will never ever be forgotten. RIP Stephen Hawking, you make me proud of my birth country.
Who can forget this image of Stephen Hawking?
Life carried on as it does, thank goodness, and that day I suggested to Eladio that we break with routine and do something different. I suggested we went to Benidorm, that tourist megalopolis on the Costa Blanca that tourists and senior citizens, many on their mobility scooters, flock to from colder parts of Europe practically all year round. If you haven't been there it is hard to describe. Perhaps the best way to define it is as the Blackpool of Spain. In many ways it is totally un-Spanish and  I hate its fish and chips shops, semi British pubs and all that it does to cater to the worst of Europe's tourists. However, it has its charms, mainly the two vast and well kept beaches, Playa de Levante and Playa de Poniente. Also it has a place in our hearts as it was on these beaches that our love story was first forged. 

Ours was a summer love story that lasted, unlike most. We first met in the summer of 1980, shortly after I had graduated during a brief meeting in Madrid at Eladio's brother's flat. We then spent time together at my parents' summer house in Callosa de Ensarria in the mountains of the Alicante province, together with his brother's family. Within about 2 days I had fallen in love with Eladio who would become the love of my life. He, apparently, fell in love  the moment he set his eyes on me. Our love flourished on the beaches of Benidorm, in particular at two bars, El Cachirulo on the Levante Beach in the town and at the Vimi bar on the Poniente Beach, further out of Benidorm. So in a way it was like going back to the scene of our crime this week when we visited the old town and the Levante Beach. We had been back many times but hardly ever to the centre, always preferring the Poniente beach. It's such a cheesy working class coastal tourist trap and neither of us has ever liked Benidorm but as it holds a place in our hearts we were happy to revisit it on Wednesday. 

At this time of year it is full of retired people. It wasn't very warm, just 19 or so degrees but there were plenty of Brits on the beach hoping for a ray of sunshine. I suppose they found it warm compared to home. For me it was quite cold and I never took my jumper off. We walked along the seafront admiring the beach which is beautifully kept. And here is Eladio with little Pippa enjoying the walk.
Eladio by the Levante beach in Benidorm this week
Nothing seems to have changed much. The same high rise hotels and flats are still there but amazingly there is still building going on as well as a lot of renovation. We walked the length of the beach and back and then headed towards the old town. Our idea was to walk to the Poniente beach but Eladio was too hungry so we decided to have lunch by the Levante beach. We walked to the nicest landmark of the town, the small citadel or castle which has amazing views of both beaches like this one.
One of the view from the castle view point in Benidorm
We also stopped at the old blue domed church, so typical in this area. The San Jaime and Santa Ana church entrance was covered in garlands of flowers and I had to have a photo taken there. It was just beautiful and such a contrast to the rest of Benidorm which is oh so kisch.
Outside the beautifully decorated entrance to the old church in Benidorm
We found a place for lunch at the far end of the Levante beach near the castle view point. This is where my friend Fatima's mother used to have an attic flat where we stayed when we came searching for our own beach flat back in 1999. We chose a nondescript little bar just below  with views of the famous rock of Benidorm. 
The Benidorm rock
This rock also holds memories of the beginnings of our love story. It was towards this rock that we rode in a paddle boat when we first met. We enjoyed our own company so much we ended up riding very far out and nearly reaching the rock. It took us ages to return to shore and Eladio kept telling me not to get anxious hahahah. 

For lunch we chose "arroz a banda", my favourite sort of paella and typical of this area. It was good but I've had better I have to say.
The arroz a banda we had in Benidorm on Wednesday
Later we walked back along the seafront and had an ice cream in memory of the first ice cream Eladio treated me to in Benidorm. I had my favourite flavours which are coconut and pistachio, flavours which are usually hard to find in Spain.

We came home and went for another walk to the cliffs. I never tire of this walk or the views. Our day ended with a light dinner of tuna fish salad followed by another film on Amazon Prime Video, Atonement, a beautiful British drama set in the 2nd World War. 

Thursday dawned and this time it was Pippa who woke me up at 6.30 asking for her breakfast hahaha. It was a windy day and the coolest of our stay. The thermometer did not rise above 18ºc.  I had some work to do and did it peacefully until we left the flat to visit the weekly market just across the road. It has lots of locally grown fruit and veg. Otherwise most of the stalls sell the usual rubbish you see in markets all around the world. We came home laden with bags full of enormous oranges and mandarins as well as strawberries, pears, freshly cut pineapple and lots of vegetables. Everything was delicious and oh so fresh. We would consume just some of it in Santa Pola as most of it was to take home for everyone to enjoy. These were the mandarins which were gigantic and really juicy and sweet. 

The amazing mandarins I bought at the Gran Alacant market on Thursday
Of course we had vegetables for lunch. The artichokes were out of this world. In the afternoon we watched the film Man on Fire with Denzel Washington as a very dedicated bodyguard to a young girl in Mexico. I loved it but not the end which was far too violent. We interrupted the film to go on what would be our last walk to the lighthouse, despite the cold. We got there just before sunset and it was amazing to see how the small island of Tabarca some 5km away, was still lit by sunshine. Visibility was quite good and I caught the wonderful moment on my camera.
The small island of Tabarca as seen from the lighthouse cliffs
We have only ever been there once, the year we bought the flat in 1999. We weren't impressed but I feel like going again one day as there is a wonderful path along which you can walk all the way around the island. There are about 2 or 3 streets there and the population has dwindled from about 240 inhabitants in the early 70's to just 57 who live there permanently now. It must be a difficult life and I suppose the main source of income is from fishing. 

We came home again, refreshed from our walk, to a dinner of potato salad I had made in the morning after shopping at the market. We finished the film and then began watching another Spanish series, El Príncipe, on Amazon Prime Video. It is a police series set in Ceuta - Spanish territory in Morocco - and is about drug trafficking there which is so prevalent as well as jihadism.  There is also a wonderful and impossible love story between the main detective, Morey, and a local Moroccan girl, Fátima, the sister of the main drug trafficker. She is so beautiful, I'm surprised she is not more famous. Hiba Abouk who plays Fátima is actually a Spanish citizen of Lebanese descent. Here she is with Alex González who plays the main detective in the series. He's pretty dishy too I must say.
The main protagonists of El Princípe the Spanish TV series we are currently watching.

We are loving it and it has kept us up late every night since. 

On Friday morning, Eladio suggested we leave one day early for Madrid. His main concern was to buy the drops for my eye operation next week. Having left the papers and prescription in Madrid, neither of us remembered which day I had to start the medication. So, just in case, we left earlier than planned. We had cleaned and packed by 11 o'clock or so and left with Pippa and a car full of fruit and vegetable. We stopped just once, for lunch, again at Mesón Los Rosales. Just as we were approaching Madrid, there was traffic and we were stuck in it for more than an hour. So we weren't home until about 6 pm and my goodness was it cold. But it was lovely to be home and to see my Father, the dogs and Lucy, in that order hahahaha. There was also Esteban, our Airbnb guest from Argentina to greet. He loves our house and said he felt completely at home. It's a pity he has a girlfriend as he would be a great match for my older daughter Suzy hahaha. I mentioned that on the phone and she said you cannot trust Argentinian men as they are like the Italians, great flirts with little substance, according to her. I, of course, didn't tell him this. Oli would be home too for dinner bringing with her some first class ham which we would have with my potato salad, a firm favourite with her. The best thing about coming home is always sleeping in our own bed, at least for me. 

On Saturday the bad weather continued. It rained and snowed and there was sleet when Oli and I went to do the weekly food shopping. We had a lovely family lunch which I know my Father always enjoys. Later Oli and I went out again together. It was quality mother and daughter time as we went to the Centro Oeste shopping centre for her to buy birthday presents for friends and her boyfriend. Of course we also ventured into Zara and some other shops. I only bought one thing, a pretty long sleeved t-shirt from Algo Bonito. Buying spinach at Carrefour doesn't count of course. That was for the omelette I would make for dinner that night for Eladio and I and Zena our weekend carer. Oli, meanwhile, went out to a birthday dinner with the girls' "manada" friends. 

Today is Sunday and for once it isn't raining. I woke up far too early, at 5.56 but was happy to see a new Airbnb booking, this time from a US family who will be coming in April.

I shall be making bread with Oli today and not much else. It should be a quiet day.

I hope you all have a nice quiet Sunday too, if that's what you want. Now I am at the end of the tales of this week, I shall sign off until the next time.

Cheers till then,

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