Monday, April 28, 2008

Lunches and dinners with politicians, friends and family. Summer is coming, Suzy is 24, TV again and we met a wild boar!

Suzy this morning, 24 today!
Hi again

This week has brought with it sunshine and warmer weather which was certainly a great plus for the commencement of Suzy’s birthday celebrations this weekend. Because the weekend brought such glorious weather with it, we decided to hold our first barbeque of the season to which José Antonio and Dolores were cordially invited. We seem to have spent so much more time outside which is when our dwelling gains most. There is nothing better than reading the Sunday papers over breakfast in the kitchen patio. It is one of the big pleasures in life.

Eladio and José Antonio, the Barbeque chefs
The week was busy but full of little social highlights which made it more palatable, of course. Midweek I had lunch with Juan, a colleague from work. I don’t seem to fraternise much on the work front and should do more often. I think we both found we had quite a lot in common in more ways than one.

Also midweek I had lunch with a journalist. Well, it was actually an interview with my boss. We went to the quite famous restaurant El Bodegón, only to find that we were joined by the likes of Rodrigo Rato, Angel Acebes and Jordi Sevilla. It is the third time I have coincided with Angel Acebes in a restaurant in quite a short time.

Perhaps the biggest event of the week was coming across a wild boar on our walk on Thursday evening. My Father was just ahead of us and actually did not notice it passing right under his nose to cross the road!! So what was a wild boar doing in our neighbourhood you may ask? We did too. Apparently the answer comes from too much construction. It seems the boars are being driven out of their natural habitat from so much building and have no place to go. This poor specimen, a large male was obviously lost and seemed quite bewildered. We are used to seeing rabbits on our walk and even the odd grass snake, but this was a real surprise that hopefully will not repeat itself.

Oh my God, a wild boar in our street!
Friday saw me again on the TV on the same chat show called “La Mirada Exterior”. This time I was joined by Jill and Lisa Wang. We had a splendid time commenting the week’s news together although nothing really extraordinary had happened last week. I think Luis Vicente, the journalist, enjoyed it too. It was funny to think that we represented 3 of the most powerful countries in the world; the USA, China and the UK!

Posing in the TV studio
It was actually Suzy’s 24th birthday today, Monday– HAPPY BIRTHDAY MY DARLING – but as Suzy’s birthdays are always a bit like Indian weddings, the celebrations started on Friday night. I was allowed to help with the cooking (mountains of potato salad, Spanish omelette, etc) but we were politely asked to go out for the evening.

Here we obliged and went out to dinner with Pedro Delgado and his wife Ludi. We went to Bice which is becoming a new favourite – coincidentally one of the places I had previously coincided with Acebes and Rajoy. For those of you who are not Spanish, may I introduce you to Pedro, the ex cyclist and winner of the Tour of France and Tour of Spain in his day. You may all know who Indurain, is, the 6 times winner of the Tour. However, in Spain, Pedro Delgado is probably just as famous and certainly more loved. It’s difficult to describe his undoubtable charisma. On a personal level he is equally attractive and has a constant twinkle in his eye. He had been to Oli’s university on Thursday for a TV sports interview she was coordinating. He was an instant hit and now all we need is a 10 out of 10 for Oli in TV production. Cheers and thanks Pedro.

Ludi and Pedro
Suzy’s celebrations continued into the weekend and here you have a photo of her in some great new sandals, just one of the many birthday gifts she received.

This week will be quite short as Thursday and Friday are a bank holiday. We were going to stay home but were very easily persuaded at the last minute by our travel friends, Roberto and Mari Carmen, to join them on a short trip to Zamora. Zamora is a medieval town in central northern Spain which I do not know at all so I’m quite looking forward to it. More about that on our return.

And that is it for this week; except for quick birthday greetings to Gerardo and Gustavo both of whose birthdays are today too.
Have a great one,

Friday, April 18, 2008

It’s Friday again. Suzy’s African experience, Elegy, a more feminine Spanish government and other things

Carme Chacón, the new Spanish Minister of Defence.

As I write here this Friday afternoon, it is pouring with rain outside. We have had another week of rain but that, of course, is good news for Spain. So I won’t complain. Suzy who is in Tunisia and was expecting bad weather has been lucky and it seems is quite tanned.

Her trip sounds great; lots of sun, lots of activity, a bit of flirting and of course, lots of culture. Shopping too has been an essential part of the trip and we look forward to being showered with things like nougat, tea and local pottery if she hasn’t run out of money in the middle of the trip! She has done all sorts of “African” things like riding camels and visiting deserts. Today they are travelling on 4WD vehicles and tonight they will be having dinner in a hammam probably accompanied by belly dancing. Anyway, we will hear more when she returns on Sunday.

Oli has been slaving away meanwhile and I can assure you she will finish her 5 year stint at University to get her 3 degrees this Summer. She did have time though to go to the premiere of Elegy, Isabel Coixet’s first venture into Hollywood. The film is based on the supposedly torrid novel Dying Animal by Philip Roth and stars Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz which must make a very sensual combination. He is her 63 year history teacher at an American University.

Penelope Cruz and Ben Kingsely with Isabel Coixet.
The premiere must have been pretty important as apart from the Director and Penelope Cruz it was also attended by Spain’s own “premiere”, José Rodríguez Zapatero.

He was flanked by his newly appointed lady ministers. Carmen Chacón is Spain’s first lady minister for Defence. Incidentally she is 8 months pregnant which should not be news but actually is in a country like Spain with such a heritage of male chauvinism. Zapatero obviously wants to change all that as he has also created a Ministry for Equality and appointed Bibiana Aido,who at 31 is the youngest lady Minister Spain has ever had. I think these are great moves by Zapatero who now has more women in his cabinet than men; admittedly only by one person. I do think that Bibiana is going to have a very hard job eradicating or even dealing with the ever increasing issues of wife battering and female discrimination in the corporate world but just the fact that the new Ministry exists at all should put a greater focus on these issues in Spanish society.

Oli and I went shopping yesterday to get some yellow earrings; well that was the excuse. I ended up buying a whole range of linen outfits for Summer from H+M plus a great canary yellow jacket from Zara as well as some lovely accessories from Claire’s. Oli got some stuff too and we came home laden with packages happy and content. Clothes’ shopping is such good therapy.

I also had lunch with my great friends Fátima and Julio at El Oso, one of our favourite haunts. Fátima was my colleague at Motorola and at Nokia and Julio was my great pal at Nokia. Now they work together and I am on my own. When I complained to them that I didn’t have any friends like them at my new job, Julio burst out laughing and said he wasn’t surprised as I don’t go to work very often because I work mostly from home and don't really have the chance or even the need! He is right of course and as my Mother would have said, I can’t have my cake and eat it!

The most important outcome of our lunch was the decision to postpone our trip together to celebrate Julio’s birthday to June and to go to Córdoba instead of Cáceres. We are bent on going to the Hospes hotel which if you take a look here,you will understand why. Ever since we got back from our recent trip to Andalucía, I have been telling Eladio I want to visit Córdoba again and here is the chance.

I must mention too that we had dinner last Saturday with José Antonio, Eladio’s next brother down, and Dolores and their son, my favourite nephew, Miguel. We went to Bice,that Italian restaurant I love so much in Madrid. We hadn’t seen José Antonio and Dolores since 6th January which is unacceptable for such close family. They have just taken semi retirement and it is obvious to all and sundry they are thoroughly enjoying it. Dolores has just been to India with a friend and José Antonio is beaming with happiness over their newly built house in the village of their boyhood, Montrondo.

Tonight Eladio and I will be going to see Elegy. Oli says it’s the best film she has seen for a long time and I respect her judgement. Tomorrow I expect we will be going on our own to our favourite Saturday night restaurant. Guess where? Yes, it is La Vaca Argentina. And on Sunday Suzy will be back and in no time the weekend will be over and then it will be Monday. But that’s life isn’t it.

As a final note in this week’s post I should probably add that I now have the final verdict of my back problem. I was quite lucky to be diagnosed on Monday with a non increasing spondylolisthesis. It does appear, from the CT Scan that the 2 vertebra are now fused or stuck which seems like a stroke of luck from nature according to my doctor. That means that the slipping vertebra should not move any further forward. It also means there is no need for surgery as the surgery itself, as I understand it, consists of fusing the 2 vertebra. On the downside I have to live with the pain and be careful not to carry anything heavy. I am also supposed to lose a lot of weight. That is the worst part of the whole verdict. So, end of story except that I have to be monitored every 6 months just to be on the safe side.

That’s all for the moment folks.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Life goes on, …..the sun comes and goes

Susi enjoying the sun after lunch last weekend
Hi again

I haven’t written for a while. That’s not because I have nothing to write about but because I have been pretty busy and on all fronts actually.

At work I’m at a preparatory stage for all sorts of activities. I’ve also been interviewing new employees, which is something I have come to enjoy. I try and portray them how they come across but add some fun and also some deep questions into the interview. I am sort of happy with the results. I know now more than ever before that I should have been a journalist. But, of course, it’s too late in life.

On the family side I have some rather sad news. My dear Aunty Masha, my Mother’s youngest and most beloved sister, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, that most cruel of all diseases in the elderly and the one I actually fear and dread most for myself. She doesn’t know what it is, thank God, otherwise, of course she would be terrified. She will, of course, be well looked after; of that I am sure.

At home life goes on. We have been doing the usual things. Last weekend we had dinner with our friends, Roberto and Mari Carmen and this weekend we will go out to dinner with José Antonio and Dolores, whose birthday it was yesterday. Happy birthday dear sister-in-law and friend from here.

Yesterday Eladio and I did something different and went to see Cavalia.

I had bought tickets well in advance as it is only going to be in Madrid for a short time. It is a show inspired by some of the founders of the Cirque du Soleil. It is difficult to describe as it is a mixture of the exhibition of horses and their extraordinary beauty and their relationship with man in a multimedia setting of wonderful music, light and image. A better description comes from this horse magazine:

Cavalia is a must-see extravaganza created by Normand Latourelle, one of the founders of the famed Cirque du Soleil, which will take your breath away. Directed by Érick Villeneuve, Cavalia celebrates the relationship between horses and humans, in a way you have never seen before. Horses frolic with acrobats, aerialists, and entertainers in front of a constantly changing background, projected on a 200 ft wide screen, transporting the spectators to dream-like virtual settings. The audience is only feet-away, seated theatre-style facing an enormous 160 ft wide stage which allows the horses enough space to gallop and play – at times completely unfettered by bridles or halters – at full speed.

It has been raining all week and has been quite cold. However Spain needs rain as it is becoming a bit of a desert. But and, to quote a reader from The Daily Telegraph, I would also like someone to switch back on a bit of global warming as we have had to return to wearing winter clothes this week. Funnily enough, last weekend, Susi and Oli began to sun bathe, as you can see from the picture illustrating this week’s post! I wonder when they will again.

Suzy is going to Tunisia tomorrow and was hoping to sunbathe there. Unfortunately the “global warming” is also switched off there with temperatures not forecast to go above 23ºc next week. Sorry Suzy! She was so looking forward to this trip which is supposed to be a celebration of her graduation; except that she still hasn’t graduated!! When she is going to finish is a bit of a mystery at the moment. We can just expect it to be “one day” and whether that is this year or next remains to be seen.

I have also revisited the past again this week. I decided to scan the photos from my school days which I had shown Amanda and co on their visit a few weeks ago.

Amanda and I at school in 1974 or 1975.
I also scanned some family ones and came up with a great one of my parents on New Year’s Day in 1974!!!

My parents at home in Bradford in 1974
I am now on a mission to scan the best photos in all our family albums. There are more than 20 so I shall be even busier from now on. I love photos and I can see that they are a pretty important part of our life. They are in albums, in frames all over the house, my pc has hundreds of files and, of course, they illustrate this blog in a sort of diary of our life. Maybe I should do a course in photography. I’ll have to think about that.

This week coming up will be important for me as on Monday I get the results of the super scan and will see my Doctor, perhaps for a final diagnosis of the spondylolisthesis - which I had to look up to know how to spell again.

Meanwhile, cheers everyone,


Friday, April 04, 2008

The Anglo Spanish weekend, a reunion of the past.

Buying a lottery ticket in the Puerta del Sol, a very typical thing to do in Madrid.

It was only a week ago today that we were expecting the visit of my old school friends from my Bradford days. My best friend Amanda was coming with her husband Andy and her brother Simon and his wife Gill. As I have probably mentioned in other posts Andy and Simon went to Bradford Grammar School where my Father was a teacher of languages (actually French, Russian and German – just to show you how knowledgeable he is!!). Amanda and I have been friends since we started at St. Joseph’s College Grammar School when we were 11 (some time ago, of course!). Gill was the person we least knew. However as the weekend progressed this household gradually fell in love with her charming and easygoing nature just as Amanda said we would.

Amanda and Andy had been to see us before but it was Simon and Gill’s first visit. They don’t know this, but there were many preparations to welcome them, the shopping, preparing the beds, deciding on the menus, the actual weekend programme itself (oh, yes, I programmed everything - including what seemed most popular; the “leisurely breakfasts”) and even new blue and pink hydrangeas for the kitchen patio. Everything had to be just perfect for such an important and unique visit. The only thing I couldn’t programme was the weather. The forecast was not too good but we were very lucky that Saturday was gorgeous with temperatures of up to 25ºC. We were more unlucky with Segovia on Sunday where it rained, was cold and windy and at one stage even hailed!

However, the weather never deterred us as we all enjoyed every minute of the weekend, talking, laughing, walking, visiting monuments and places, eating (a lot of tapas) and drinking gallons and gallons of wine. They discovered Rueda white wine which I already know that once you try it you are hooked and never want to drink white wine from any other wine yard in the world. I think they might agree.

Eladio went to pick them up at the airport on Friday as I was coming back from my TV programme. Lunch was a tapas type affair which I think they were much looking forward to. We went on to live off tapas most of the weekend. After a siesta (also programmed, of course) we took them on our daily walk. Both Andy and Simon were offered walking sticks for the occasion! You might not know but Eladio has a fixation with the latter and also has quite a collection.

The "boys" with their walking sticks
On Friday night we went to the Basque restaurant called La Txitxarreria in Pozuelo, Andy was so looking forward to going back to. I had some hitches parking and Eladio got lost (we went everywhere in 2 cars and were very sexist using one for the “boys” and one for the “girls”), so dinner was a little late but that is no problem in Spain. And it was worth it to judge by the mountains we ate. We all had to agree, however, that the best was the meat, grilled to perfection and oh so tasty.

On Saturday we left the car at the local underground station and took the metro to town. It was such an unusual occasion for us that we took photos. I really can’t remember the last time we took the metro. We were pretty slow with the logistics; buying tickets and knowing which gate to go through because of lack of practice of course.

In the Madrid underground
Our tour of Madrid started in Plaza de España. We then walked up the Gran Vía past where Eladio used to work. Our first stop was the famous Loewe shop (my friends called it “Lovey”). It is perhaps the only Spanish “haute couture” brand and it is so exclusive they have to unlock the door to let you in our out! Here my friends bought the very sexy “Esencia” fragrance for Andy and Simon and here, amazingly enough, we bumped into the veteran tennis player, Björn Borg who it transpired later was in town for the Veterans Masters Series.

Posing in Loewe
From Gran Vía we turned into the famous street of Alcalá and walked up to the Cibeles fountain from where we crossed the street and walked up Recoletos to the “triangle of culture” where you can find the Thyssen Museum and the Prado (and a bit further on the museum of contemporary art, Reina Sofia). There was no time for real culture but plenty of time for street culture of which we saw a lot throughout the whole day. One example was this amazing “live” statue of stone men.

The stone men. Can you guess which is real and which is not?
We carried on up the Calle de los Jerónimos, made a quick detour into the emblematic Palace hotel and then walked on past the Spanish parliament (El Congreso) until we reached the square called La Puerta del Sol, the geographical centre of Spain and from where all roads are measured. After taking the obligatory photo of the “kilómetro 0”, we decided to make our way to the Plaza Mayor and find somewhere nice for lunch.

By the Km 0 in Puerta del Sol
The Plaza Mayor is the old main square of Madrid and every city in Spain has one. Perhaps the one in Madrid is the most beautiful in Spain. I wanted to take my friends to have tapas at one of the bars under the Cuchilleros Arch but we never got to them as we came across the outside dining area of the restaurant called Las Cuevas de Luis Candelas and I just knew this was the place we were going to have lunch. It is slightly touristy but very traditional and has excellent food. The waiters today are still dressed like the original Luis Candelas who was a bandit and the restaurant dates from 1825 or so. Here we enjoyed some more great tapas.

By the Arco de Cuchilleros off the Plaza Mayor
After lunch we wandered back into the Plaza Mayor and watched some of the side shows. Simon and I dared to go for a Chinese massage which I thoroughly enjoyed. His was a little rough I’m afraid. From the Plaza Mayor we walked to the Plaza de Oriente to show them the Madrid Palace which is a copy of Versailles as most Spanish palaces are. Unfortunately it was closed. The last stop of the day was to be the Retiro Park and this time we took a taxi.

Whilst waiting for the “boys” at the entrance to the Retiro we came across the arrival of guests to what looked like a very high society Spanish wedding to judge by the amazing costumes.

The Retiro Park, Madrid’s equivalent of Hyde Park, was teeming with people and side shows which is how it always is when the weather is good. I wonder how many nationalities were there when we were, to judge by the number of different languages being spoken.

We returned home on public transport again, to be greeted by a very well organised dinner by the girls which included that dish made famous by the Casa Lucio restaurant, “huevos estrellados” or “starred eggs”. However much I tried to explain the dish to my friends, there was no way I could get away from the fact that the dish is really only egg and chips!

While the meal was being prepared and over some more Rueda wine, Andy and Simon were having an animated conversation with my Father about the old times which I think was enjoyed by them all. Simon discovered my Father had also lived in Bristol when he was young and that they were both Bristol Rovers fans!!

After dinner we drank some lovely Pedro Ximénez sherry (thanks Graciela) and read parts of my diaries when I was 9, 11 and 14. I sounded a horrible girl. I then went on to read out again some of my school reports, including things like “Sport: “rarely swims”, “lacks equipment”, “M would do better if she concentrated”. The whole thing left me feeling quite depressed and I am thinking of burning those reports. Truth to tell I have been much more successful professionally then I ever was at school.

Sunday was the last day and we were determined to enjoy it to the full in Segovia, that jewel of a town with its famous 1st century intact Roman aqueduct about 85 km from Madrid.

A close up of the aqueduct in Segovia
We took my Father with us and I had booked a table at Segovia’s most famous restaurant, Mesón de Cándido which is directly under the aqueduct. As it was pouring with rain upon our arrival we made our way straight to the restaurant. Here we introduced our friends to the delights of such dishes as suckling pig and suckling lamb. If anyone thinks paella is Spain’s best dish, I would ask them to try these and if possible at this restaurant.

Outside Mesón de Cándido under the Aqueduct in Segovia
After lunch we walked rapidly around the town because it was so cold. We toured the top part of the aqueduct and then walked up the Calle Real to the Plaza Mayor and entered the magnificent cathedral. It is actually 18th century and late Gothic but still a marvel. I was particularly struck by a candle stick representing the “original sin” (Eve turning into a snake!) I saw in the Cathedral Museum.

The Cathedral in Segovia
From the Cathedral we walked to the famous Alcázar (Fortress) which towers above Segovia and reminds you of the Austrian castle made populour by Walt Disney. Here is where some of the regional Kings and Queens of Spain, before Isabel la Católica, are buried, or represented. Also it seems Spain's military archives are kept here too.

The Fortress (Alcazar) of Segovia
Very tired, from so much walking, and a little cold from a small hail storm, we drove home to spend our last evening together. We had lost a little of our gas but were soon fortified by a pot of English tea and some exquisite M+S shortbread biscuits my friends had bought for my Father.

And then it was Monday morning and time for my friends to go. Time did fly but the two days were packed with so much fun and activity they will not be easily forgotten.

I do hope our friends will come again soon.

Cheers Masha