Sunday, July 19, 2009

Playing at houses in Montrondo, Russian folk music, the oldest man in the world dies and how I remember the first landing on the moon.

Ludmila Zikina celebrating her 80th birthday just a few days ago on 10th July and being presented flowers by Svetlana Medvedeva, the Russian premiere's wife. Her death came as a shock to this music loving nation.
Hi again

As you will have read from my last entry, we spent some time again in Montrondo last week. I took my pc and with a slow connection was able to work from the kitchen in the old house whilst Eladio and his sister Pili and husband Andrés painted the staircase and ceiling and doors all in desperate need of a new coat of paint and thorough spring cleaning. We also went to receive some more furniture from Ikea, basically the two chests of drawers for our room and the room the girls sleep in. The rooms are looking great and now that our accommodation is so appealing we know we will be going back more often than before.
Eladio painting in Montrondo.
Pili and Andrés, the quarrelsome but loveable couple pausing from painting for this photo.
Montrondo was very quiet and only woke up while we were there when Ceferino and Livia celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They arrived at the church in an open top car decorated with flowers, something probably never seen in sleepy Montrondo. Afterwards they invited the whole village (some 50 people, half being there only for the summer) to drinks and food at their home which was also decorated for the occasion. Maybe if Eladio and I make it to our 50th we might consider doing the same.
Ceferino and Livia's 50th wedding celebrations last week in Montrondo.
I was chief cook as I’m no great painter and also because I had to be connected most of the time arranging for an important press release to be sent out and continue preparations for a big event I am planning for the beginning of September in Santander. In Montrondo we all tend to have huge appetites perhaps because of the mountain air and I mostly served them appetising cooked dishes typical of the area such as lentils with chorizo or “cocido” with chick peas. There are no shops in Montrondo or in any of the surrounding villages so once we had run out of supplies I had to shop at the van that comes twice a week and felt like a real villager.
Shopping in Montrondo is unique.
Lettuces, potatoes, eggs and bread are easily acquired though and I would walk down to Primo, my brother-in-law's place every day to pick a fresh lettuce from his vegetable patch for our salad. It tasted so good. I think we haven't left him very many and I hope he doesn't mind. I did see some new ones sprouting though.
Genaro, Primo's neighbour's vegetable patch in Montrondo.
Sometimes it felt like playing at houses and actually we all enjoyed our stay much more than when we are all there and the group grows to nearly 30 people and cooking becomes a nightmare Toño and Dolores were with us at the beginning and then Pili and Andrés took their place.
Eladio and Toño enjoying being together in Montrondo, outside Toño's newly built house.
We only went out once and that was to dinner in Senra with Pili and Andrés. There is not much choice so we went to practically the only restaurant within 50km, to Cumbres de Senra in the nearby village of the same name. You have to book for them to open the kitchen and we were the only diners! In the evenings we would work off all the delicious food with a brisk walk to Murias and back under a wonderful starlit sky. Throughout our stay we were accompanied too by Eladio’s mother who, is, of course, at her happiest in her beloved Montrondo.
I took the opportunity to take lots of photographs of the village with my new Canon Ixus 970 camera which is proving to be a treasure. Here you can see the whole collection.

Suzy stayed at home, studying and cooking for my Father who for once preferred not to come to Montrondo. Oli had moved to her new flat and when we came back we missed her again as she had gone off to the Music Festival in Benicassim with friends from work. We ourselves will be going away again next week on Wednesday for our much awaited trip down memory lane, with my Father to Yorkshire. Hopefully we will see her on Tuesday night at least.

Of note since I last wrote it was Bastille Day on 14th July so I hope the French enjoyed their “fête nationale francaise”. Of much more interest to me this week was the passing away of Ludmila Zikina, considered the people’s artist of the USSR as the most popular and loved singer of Russian folk songs in the last century. She was 80 and died of a heart attack and I know that the Russian people will miss her dearly. Amazingly she sang in public only recently and it was at the Eurovision Song contest in Moscow in the spring. Thankfully her songs will live on forever.
The "young" Zikina probably when she was at the height of her popularity. I think you could safely call her "the voice of Russia".
I didn’t remember her name until my father showed me her obituary in El Mundo. That got me interested and I was soon surfing the web for her songs, most of which have a place in my heart from my singing days and family music heritage which was brought to me by my Mother and dear Aunty Masha. I used to sing and very well, had a superb soprano voice which I ruined by smoking. But when I was in my teens I would sing for my Aunt’s choir and on stage solo at the Norwich Russian courses. So when I listed to Zikina sing Течет река Волга (the Volga flows as my father translated for me yesterday), those days come back to me. I for one have ordered some lovely Russian folk music from which will help me remember even more vividly my singing days and more importantly wake up the Russian blood in me.

Not long after Ludmila Zikina died in the country which represents half of my origin, in the UK, where the other half comes from, the world’s oldest man died at the age of 113. He wasn’t just any man, he was the First World War veteran Henry Allingham who became the world's oldest man in June 2009 following the death of the previous holder of the title in Japan, according to the Guinness World Records. Henry Allingham, who was one of only two surviving First World War veterans in the UK and the last surviving founder member of the RAF, had celebrated his 113th birthday on June 6.
Henry Allingham in 1916. Fancy having lived 113 years. I bet he never thought he would be famous when he posed for this picutre.
In his own words, he owed his longevity to: "cigarettes, whisky and women". This is him on his birthday in 2006. He may well have still been smoking and drinking but not much else judging by these photos.

Neither Henry Allingham nor Ludmila Zikina will live to witness the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing tomorrow but it will have marked their lives as it did mine. It happened on 20th July 1969 when I was 12. I remember my Mother staying up all night to watch it on the television. I was quite interested but too young to stay up. I certainly remember the moon walk by Armstrong and his famous words which I will never forget: “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. I find it difficult to fathom that it might have been a hoax as some people aledge and prefer to think it wasn’t. It’s funny how I remember the first moon landing but none of the subsequent ones. What I do remember on that day were my preparations for the Girl Guide camp I was going to. I think it was to Baildon Moor.
The first moon landing on 20th July 1969. No one who witnessed that moment will ever forget it.
The world will be celebrating the anniversary tomorrow. One family will not and that is the Moroccan family who lost their wife and daughter Dalila who died recently in Madrid due to swine flu. She was pregnant and as she died, her tiny son Ryan lived which was the family’s saving grace. And then last week, little Ryan died too after an inexperienced 22 year old Spanish nurse fed him through the wrong tube. The family is devastated and most of Spain is in shock with the news.
Baby Ryan being buried by his bereaved family in Mqid, their native town in Morocco this week.
Swine flu has not gone away and I read today that it is most virulent with pregnant women and small babies, as was the case of Dalila. It's supposedly because their immune system is down so that their bodies don't reject the baby growing and then, of course, the babies catch it from their mothers. I'm sure doctors don't describe it that way but that is how I understand it.

I don’t want to end on a sad note, so I thought I ought to tell you that I made “salmorejo” yesterday. And what is that you non Spaniards may ask? Salmorejo is like thick gazpacho and comes from the Córdoba region. This is what mine looked like yesterday.
My salmorejo was delicious. It was the first time I made it but it won't be the last.
And here is the recipe: 1.5kg very ripe (pealed) tomatoes, 200gr of old bread soaked in water, a piece of garlic (optional) and loads of oil (some recipes say 250ml). Of course you must add salt and vinegar and the final taste depends often on the amount of these two ingredients. You just have to liquidise all the ingredients so the mixture is completely smooth and leave it to cool in the fridge. When you serve it, it is typical to add diced boiled egg and Spanish ham. This is a great summer starter, similar to gazpacho of course, but thicker.

And on that tasty note, I leave you until next week when I will be in my home country. More about that in my next entries.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Home and off again, a fall, reading and languages, Winston Churchill, a farewell dinner, strawberries without cream, Tour de France and other things

Winston Churchill, England's most famous Prime Minister, puffing a cigar on his Chartwell estate some time in the 40's. Apart from a brillian politician, soldier, writer and journalist he was also an amazing character.
Hi again

I’ve been a bit lazy with my blog recently. I like to think it’s because I have been very busy for the last week or so. That is so, but also keeping up a blog weekly is actually quite a task. You can’t just sit down and begin to write. You have to write the list of things to mention, get the photos together and of course find the links. Then you have to feel in the mood or be inspired which is perhaps the most difficult part.

I don’t know if I’m inspired right now but I do have the perfect conditions to write a new entry. I am sitting in the quadrangle in Montrondo on an old wooden chair with my pc. The sun is shining on the other side and I can hear Eladio and his Mother discussing how to put up the Ikea curtains we brought for our room on yet another trip here to improve our living conditions. We are alone, just the three of us and have Montrondo all to ourselves which is perhaps how I like it best.

So where shall I start? The title says “home and off again” and actually refers to Olivia’s return from Guatemala and her moving into the new flat. Oli returned last Sunday after her two week adventure in Latin America where she went to work with an NGO that helps underprivileged children. She had a grand time and the experience must have been very enriching.
Oli with Laura her friend outside Lucrecia's house where they stayed in Antigua in Guatemala.
No sooner had she arrived we went to visit her new flat which she actually moved into on Tuesday. It’s a little place in the centre of Madrid near Atocha which she will be sharing with her colleague Miriam whom we have yet to meet. It’s small but in a perfect condition. I hope she will be happy there. Luckily, as she’s not moving far, we will not miss her too much as I know she will be visiting and staying with us often. For her first night she was accompanied by Suzy who I know will miss her dearly. They might fight like cat and dog, but they are very close.

“Home and off again” also refers to Suzy coming back from her week’s holiday in Santa Pola with her friend Juli and cousins Laura and Alicia. They returned on Saturday brown and relaxed but we didn’t see much of them as they went off almost immediately to a barbecue at Copi’s place in Bonanza. Laura and Alicia went “off again” too on Sunday, back to their native León just before Olivia arrived.
Alicia on the left and Laura on the right of the photo on Sunday just before they left.
Whilst they were all away, Eladio’s mother, Ernestina, came to stay and for a few days it was just the “oldies” at home and it felt a bit like a senior citizens’ residence!

Ernestina is not self sufficient like my Father and unlike him doesn’t know how to fill her days and seems to live from meal to meal. She is in good health but doesn’t read or walk. She doesn’t like to help in the kitchen either. She is not much interested in the television and is very hard of hearing. She is very skilled, however, at sewing and knitting so we gave her the task of making woollen socks to keep her occupied and she happily knitted wool in the unbearable heat of July.
Ernestina sewing and Eladio keeping her company with his book.
Ernestina is at her happiest in Montrondo which is where she was born and brought up her own family. So when we told her we were coming here for a few days, her eyes lit up and she came to life immediately. And here she is, with us now, pottering around, helping Eladio with the curtains, watering the plants and feeling thoroughly at home.
Eladio's Mother here in Montrondo today where she is at her happiest. She is wearing the classic blue dressing gown which is how I'm sure I'll remember her always.
My father stayed behind this time, perhaps because he prefers his peace in a place he is familiar with and where he doesn’t have to depend on anyone. He gave us a fright not so long ago when he tripped over Norah or a cap Norah was playing with in the kitchen. He fell flat on his face and my heart sunk as we helped him up. My father for someone aged 90 is in very good health and my only fear for him is a fall. His own Father fell in his early 70’s which caused a massive stroke. He died within the week. That same fear for my Father has always been with me. Miraculously though he came away nearly completely unscathed apart from a superficial bruise on his head. I always thought he was more fragile but his bones must be made of rock to have resisted a fall like that.

My Father is a great reader. Eladio’s mother always marvels at him reading the paper, doing the Daily Telegraph crossword or reading a book in German, Russian or whatever language takes his fancy. I am a bit of a reader too when I have the time and recently Eladio seems to be joining me. I have just read Clara’s War, the miraculous story of a Jewish girl in Nazi occupied Poland. It is, of course, my favourite genre. I also love biographies so this book was doubly interesting. Eladio is reading it too now in English, is fascinated by the story but also pleased that he is able to understand the English. It is the first book he has ever read in English and I imagine it will not be the last. In order to learn a language, it is fundamental that you read too in that language. It was my Mother’s trick and she knew 6 languages!

Right now I am finishing the biography of Phyllis Moir who was one of Winston Churchill’s personal secretaries but in America. I have also read the one by Elizabeth Nell who was his secretary in war time London. Both are a fascinating read. Churchill is an amazing character as we all know but in these books comes to life. I am more interested in him as a person than as a prime minister or war strategist. He must have had one of the most brilliant minds of his times. I learned that he was three things in life, a soldier, a journalist and a politician and that he never stopped being all three. He was also a great writer which is where he made his money. He might have been an aristocrat but the family was relatively poor. He wrote his own father’s biography and asked his son, Randolph, to write his but once he was dead. Randolph did begin to write it but unfortunately died early and never finished it. Phyllis Moir wrote her book in 1941 so in it she refers to Churchill in the present which is quite funny to read. Fascinating man, fascinating times.

You may be interested to know that this book which I got via, was actually out of print but was sent to me via Kessinger Publishing’s Rare prints who reprint anything for anybody, even a single copy. Churchill would have been impressed I’m sure.

Meanwhile it was Independence Day on 4th July in America. I didn’t get to go, of course, but did get my taste of America this week, in that I acquired my 3rd pair of white leather sneaker Keds which you can only buy in the States. I am a “sucker” for this footwear and have worn all my Keds to the ground, especially in the Summer. I bought my first pair in Phoenix, Arizona, on a press trip with Motorola. The second pair came from Macy’s in Los Angeles on another press trip this time with Nokia. These, however, come from New York, from Broadway to judge by the packaging and I got them thanks to my friend Javier and his wife Ana who are living there now. I actually went to pick them up at their house in Las Rozas and got to meet their 4 nearly grown up kids. We will be seeing more of this family in August. Thanks guys. As I write, I am wearing them too and they feel comfy on my feet.
My keds, as worn today whilst writing this post in Montrondo.
I didn’t wear them, though on Tuesday when I went to the Spanish Senate, or Upper House, for the annual report from the Government on the state of the telecommunications market in Spain. Fortunately the news for Yoigo was good, but then we knew it would be. Here the crème de la crème of the sector meets every year and it is a grand occasion for networking. The press are there too and I was privileged enough to be invited to the press conference afterwards.
The Spanish Senate, a beautiful building.
On Tuesday though, one journalist was missing, Antonio P who was unfortunate enough to be included in the black list of the ABC newspaper recent layoffs. I have known Antonio for many years. He was even instrumental in my joining Yoigo so when I heard he was leaving, I quickly took part in the organisation of his farewell party. It took place on Wednesday at Naia, a restaurant owned by Pedro, a colleague, from work, which is in the heart of old Madrid in Plaza de la Paja, number 3 if you are tempted to go and taste their amazing food which we all enjoyed on Wednesday. Their foie and croquettes are superb as is the brownie dessert as well as many other delicacies on their very reasonably priced menu. There were 29 of us there on Wednesday to bid Antonio farewell, but not goodbye. We were a crowd made up of the communications managers from all the operators as well as the journalists from Spain’s main media who write about the operators. But that night, as I said in my improvised speech when we gave Antonio a lovely Cross pen and Moleskine pad that later everyone wrote on (good thinking Ana!), we were only competing for Antonio’s heart. He will have a place in mine always. Good luck Antonio and don’t disappear.

I cannot finnish this entry without mentioning two sports close to my heart and that are part of our lives in June and July always, tennis and Wimbledon and cycling and the Tour de France.

The Women’s final was no surprise and was played by the William’s sisters who have dominated women’s tennis for quite some time now. Serena, the younger of the two, beat Venus 7-6, 6-2, and garnered her 3rd Wimbledon whilst Venus has won 5. That sounds fair to me. Wimbledon is all about fair play but it also about strawberries and cream, of course.
Serena Williams won this year's Wimbledon, her 3rd, as ever against her own sister, Venus who has already garnered 5. I wouldn't like to be their parents watching them.
I read this year that Wimbledon without Nadal, the world’s number one until this week, and winner of last year’s edition, is like strawberries without cream. The cream, I’m afraid, went to Federer. Federer became tennis's greatest men's champion, watched by a legion of champions, as he beat Andy Roddick 5-7 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (7-5) 3-6 16-14 in four hours and 16 minutes to claim his sixth Wimbledon crown. It was also a record 15th Grand Slam title for the Swiss master, overhauling the total of Pete Sampras who was in the Royal Box along with fellow legends Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver, as reported by the official website.
Federer winning Wimbledon. He is dubbed as the history man of tennis. I bet he was glad Nadal wasn't there this year.
Very soon afterwards, the start of the Tour de France last weekend in Monaco, saw the comeback of Lance Armstrong, who has returned to the sport 3 years after resigning as the one and only 7 times champion of this legendary competition. He is now 37 and there are mixed opinions as to whether he will win it or not. So far, he is second in the general classification, thanks to his superb performance in the prologue and team time trial which his team, Astana won. It is in these stages that seconds are fought for but it is in the mountains where they fight for minutes. Today, in the French and Spanish Pyrenees, the first mountain stage takes place. We will know just how fit and able Armstrong is today as he competes against the Spanish winners of the last three editions, Pereiro, Contador and Sastre. Lance’s comeback and this competition certainly make for a promising Tour de France this year. I for one will be following it avidly.
The Austrian rider, Cancellara, who won the prologue, pipping Armstong to the post on the first day. His won was no surprise as he is, after all the olympic time trial champion. He won't win the Tour de France, though, that's for sure.
And that, folks,is it for this week, or last 10 days.

Cheers from Montrondo.