Sunday, March 31, 2013

A trip to Montrondo and back, Easter, the clocks went forward, Suzy’s coming home and other stories.


A trek to the snow on the slopes of the mountains above Montrondo
Hi my friends and Happy Easter

That is, Happy Easter to those of you who believe, those of you who don’t and those of you, who, like me, always doubt.  A picture someone posted on Facebook was very to the point as regards Easter and it tells us that it is not about the bunny.  That picture has been in my head ever since I saw it and got me thinking as usual about my own faith.  You probably think I am a believer with all my stories about the new Pope.  Well yes, I wonder too and have done so all my life.  I cannot deny, especially today, that God exists but, unfortunately for me perhaps, I am not one of his faithful and only turn to him at the worst times in my life.  

I agree Easter should not be about the bunny

Let me stop being profound and get back to my usual pragmatic self and tell you about the week.  On Monday I fasted for the first time since my flu and I felt great.  I mean I felt great the next day and a lot lighter.  

On Tuesday Eladio and I set off for Montrondo to spend a few days at Eladio’s beloved village in the mountains in the north of Spain with his family.  We stopped in Rueda in the pouring rain at about midday for the usual glass of wonderful white wine and plate of ham.  Instead of doing so at the Palacio de Bornos, we skipped tradition to try out a new place next door called “La Cuba”.  It was nice enough and sold mostly the same produce as its neighbour but it lacked the charm of Bornos.  Apart from consuming some wine and ham, we stocked up on 3 boxes of Ribera de Duero red wine, chocolate and local biscuits to share with the family in Montrondo.

Our stop at Rueda on our way to Montrondo on Tuesday

Our next stop was for lunch at the Parador in Benavente in the province of Zamora.  Here we always order the soup made of local chickpeas which are grown in the small village of Fuentesauco nearby.  We really are creatures of tradition.

Chickpeas from Fuentesauco at the Parador in Benavente

We arrived in Montrondo at just after 4pm where it was raining as it was to do so during most of our stay and were greeted by José Antonio and Dolores and also my mother-in-law, Ernestina. 

Eladio and his brother José Antonio (in green) happy to be together in Montrondo
While they pottered around the house and surrounding terrain, Dolores and I went for a walk to Murias de Paredes – the nearest village – and back and of course were joined by their mongrel, little Nubah of terrier descent.  

Dolores on the walk to Murias on Tuesday afternoon, wet but nice and fresh

On Wednesday, over breakfast, I was happy to hear that Spain had beaten France in a very decisive qualifying match the night before for the Football World Cup.  You remember I asked you to cross your fingers after Spain drew with Finland?  Well, thanks my friends, if you did because they now lead the group and thus have nearly earned their place to play in Brazil in 2014. It seems unfair to me that the reigning champions do not earn an automatic place in the following championship, but these are the rules of the game.  

When I am in Montrondo and the weather is not good, I like to cook.  It relaxes me and is something to do. I made a huge chicken Korma curry that morning, not a very local dish I know, but very popular with José Antonio and Dolores and ourselves. I’m not so sure Ernestina likes it very much; it must be very strange for her palette, but she never said anything and stoically ate most of her portion.

The chicken korma curry I made in Montrondo on Thursday
The highlight of the day was a funeral in the village.  I had nothing else to do, so decided to join the family and attend the 12.30 mass at the little stone church along with most of the villagers and people who had come from afar to say goodbye to “Maruja”. 

We went to this lady's funeral on Wednesday in Montrondo

Maruja, aged 84 and officially called Tecla was the mother of Lourdes – very well known in Montrondo - and had a big family to judge by what I read on the announcement above of her death which was posted in the village and of course by the turnout. 

A very big turnout at the funeral for such a sparsely populated small village (just 10 people or so live there all year round)

I met and greeted many of the villagers, some I knew and many I didn’t.  Of course Eladio was in his element as he knew nearly everyone.  On Wednesday at the funeral mass I met for the first time a lady called Paz, the mother of the very famous friend of all our children, commonly known as J.M and probably only called by his real name, José Manuel, by his Mother who incidentally looks exactly like her son.

Paz, Ernestina and Dolores at the funeral

After the curry lunch, the men and their mother went off to sleep the siesta.  The sun was shining for once, so Dolores and I took the opportunity for another walk with Nubah to Murias de Paredes.  The official excuse was to fetch some medicine at the chemist but really we needed a walk to work off the heavy but delicious lunch. 

On Maundy Thursday I cooked again.  I made a huge fabada (bean stew) and boeuf stroganoff for the other members of the family who would be joining us in Montrondo for the Easter break.  

Eladio and José Antonio spent the better part of the morning warming up and cleaning the old house for their brothers and sisters.  I thought the picture below of Eladio was very funny - he said "habemus papam" and asked me to take a picture. It's quite obvious why isn't it?

Eladio after lighting the fire in the kitchen in the old house in preparation for the arrival of his brothers and sisters - he said "habemus papam"!!
  At about 11 they all arrived: Adela and Primo, Pili and Andrés and Isidro and Yoli and their daughter, Alicia who is the youngest of all the nieces and nephews and who is also my god daughter.  Trebol, Pili’s beautiful Dalmatian came too and enjoyed freedom with Nubah in and around Montrondo.

Beautiful Trébol in Montrondo

5 of the 6 brothers and sisters were to be together – in descending order: Eladio, José Antonio, Adela, Pili and Isidro.  Only Alejandro, the brother in the middle, was missing, as his Mother pointed out.

With my sisters-in-law in Montrondo - lunch on Thursday at José Antonio and Dolores house

After a short siesta, we all decided to go on a walking trek up into the mountains of Montrondo to find the snow.  We were lucky the weather behaved and although we were all clad in warm clothes, gradually we shed the outer layers as we got warm from the walk.  In fact, unusually for the time of year, it was not at all cold during our stay.

The trek was the real highlight of our stay and we all enjoyed it immensely.  We found the snow after 45 minutes of climbing and the photo illustrating this week’s blog is of us all at the snowiest moment of our trek.  The day before we arrived in Montrondo it had snowed but unfortunately it had disappeared by the time we arrived.  Determined to see some snow this year, the trek on Thursday was my one chance to see some. 

Nubah enjoying the snow on our trek
 At certain points of the walk which is known as La Ruta de las Fuentes de Omaña, you can spy the highest peak called “El Tambarón” which is over 2.100 metres high and impossible to climb when there is snow.  In the photo below it is just behind Eladio and I.  During our 2.5 hour trek I vowed to climb it in the summer.  I wonder if I will.  Maybe, but it is a long trek, some 3hours to reach but of course less to come down. 

Eladio and I on the trek to the snow on Thursday in Montrondo with the El Tambarón Peak behind us

You can see a short video of part of the trek here on You Tube.

On our return we were greeted by Juan (José Antonio and Dolores’ youngest son) and his girlfriend Cristina who had just arrived and later we all had tea or coffee at Adela and Primo’s new and very little but charming house.
Tea and coffee at Adela and Primo's house after our excursion to the snow

Whilst we were on our trek, the new Pontifice, Pope Francis was saying mass at the Casal del Marmo prison outside Rome. Following the tradition of washing the feet of the faithful by his predecessors on the day before Good Friday, he astonished the world by washing the feet of a woman inmate whilst there.  The fact that she was a Muslim was another big break with tradition.  The piety of the moment is of course laudable, but that it was so public, for me, at least, diminishes its humility, but then again if Pope Francis had done so in private, we would never have known.



Pope Francis washing the feet of a Serbian Muslim woman prison inmate on Maundy Thursday
The next day was Good Friday and true to tradition I had brought some hot cross buns.  Amazingly they had been in our deep freeze for a year but were none the worse for wear.  We enjoyed them split in half and toasted at breakfast and I commented to Dolores that I had been brought up on the tradition of only eating them on or after Good Friday, never before.  Funny eh?  The same applies to Easter Eggs so when I received a message from Olivia to ask whether they could start on one of the delicious Hotel Chocolate eggs I had ordered, I replied with a very firm “not until Sunday, Easter Day”. I had left a packet of hot cross buns at home for my Father with strict instructions to Oufa to toast them for my Father on Good Friday

Hot cross buns are a must on Good Friday but not before

Good Friday of course is the day Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and it is the saddest day of the Easter period. In Spain Easter is synonymous with religious processions and although religion is apparently on the decline, the processions are ever important.  Interestingly after having written this paragraph about Easter in Spain I read an article from the New York Times entitled: “Easter gets an exemption from Spanish austerity” about how much is spent on the processions in contrast to the current economic crisis.  Here I also read that only 18% of Spaniards confess to be practicing Catholics, yet as I wrote above, the traditions at Easter continue.  This is the time precious church figures are paraded in the streets by the fervently faithful and the streets are lined with onlookers, many of whom will be amazed tourists.  The weather of course is always a damper and the “cofradías” (brotherhoods) who spend most of the year preparing for the processions hope and pray for good weather.  But it always rains at Easter in my experience, although, luckily for the “cofradías” and spectators, the sun usually makes an appearance at some stage during Easter and only a few processions have to be cancelled.  This year it was the same old story or so we saw on the TV as I haven’t seen a procession for some years now.  I just dug out the picture of the last one we saw.  It was Palm Sunday in Granada in 2008 when we stayed there with my Father on a trip to Gibraltar and Andalucía which you can read about here.

Palm Sunday procession in Granada as seen by us in 2008

On Friday it rained all day, so after the very copious family lunch and long siesta, taken by some, we decided to pack our bags and come home.  When it rains in Montrondo there is not much to do.  Internet works badly and we are not a card or board playing family, so being cooped up becomes a strain. We left at about 6pm and were home before 10.  It was good to see the rain already disappear when we were passing León, an hour away from Montrondo.  It was good too to greet my Father and Oufa on our return and to find my online purchases waiting for me: Decaf Yorkshire tea to last me a year (I always buy in bulk, like the meringue nests hahahaha), the Hotel Chocolate Easter Eggs and my new TV series, Call the Midwife which I am looking forward to watching. 

I look forward to watching series one of Call the Midwife set in East London in 1957 the year I was born
We slept so well in our own bed and it was great to wake up at home.  Yesterday, Saturday, was a quiet day.  I did the food shopping with Oufa in the morning.  Olivia joined us for lunch but not Susana because as you will have seen from this week’s headline, she is moving out of her flat and was very busy.  So I went with Olivia after lunch to see her there for the last time.  She was with Juli, Chati and her Russian friend Emil who we all call “Vladimir”.  Her flat was full of bags and suitcases and boxes because today Sunday she will be moving home.  It will be just for one month though as in May, you probably know, she and Chati will be going to London to seek their fortune.  Believe it or not, all of us spent my time there playing a new addictive mobile phone application version of Trivial called Triviados.  It seems to be taking over my life so I really must start to ration myself.

Suzy's flat full of boxes and bags in the throes of her removal this weekend
I came back home on time for our daily walk.  We left at 7.30pm and I remarked to Eladio that it was still daylight and that at the same time the next day it would be just as light one hour later.  That of course is because the clocks were to go forward last night – Saturday 30th March.  Conscious of that, we put some of the clocks and watches forward before we went to bed and I put the alarm on my iPhone for 8 am this morning.  I wasn’t sure whether I would be woken up at 8 or 9, but these days technology works so well because devices are programmed to change the time automatically.  Thus I was up early and didn’t feel cheated of an hour in the day as I normally would have done.

And today of course is Sunday and Easter day and I have been busy, with my morning divided between writing this week’s post, playing online Triviados mainly with Olivia and of course making the big Easter Day roast chicken for lunch.  It had to be with all the trimmings: sage and onion stuffing, roast potatoes, various types of veg, gravy and never to be forgotten cranberry sauce.  All this was washed down by a wonderful glass of Quercus wine from a magnum bottle given to me at Christmas by Samsung – thank you Samsung.  It was delicious. Also delicious and very filling were the Easter eggs.  Thank goodness tomorrow I will be fasting and again on Thursday.  

There was time this morning too for more online purchases from my favourite online store, Amazon.  Prompted by a promotional mail from them I bought the complete collections of Colditz and Cold Feet.  We used to enjoy Colditz at home as a family in the 70’s, the BBC TV series about the special camp designed by the Nazis to hold high risk and politically important prisoners of war. So I hope it lives up to my memory and expectations.

I look forward to watching Colditz again but am not sure I will enjoy it as much as I did in the 70's.
As to Cold Feet, it was made in the late 90’s and is the wonderfully tragic and comic story of the lives of three very different types of couples in their thirties set in Manchester.  Cold Feet is one of my favourite British TV series and it was introduced to me by my dear friend Anne N whose taste in films and TV series is very akin to my own.

A great British TV series made in the late 90's
Meanwhile Suzy, helped mostly by Emil and Juli, are packing furiously and at some stage they will be arriving here with vanloads of clothes, furniture and kitchen appliances.  All this will join the boxes of Olivia’s discarded clothes in the garage. It will be great to have Suzy back if only for a month and half before she goes.

Suzy in the throes of her removal home with the help of Emil and Juli
 As I come to the end of this week’s story, it is raining furiously again outside and I am wondering when it will stop to be able to go on our walk.  

Meanwhile I hope you have enjoyed reading this week’s story and wish you all a great week ahead.  Mine promises to be busy – lots of work and two days of fasting!

Cheers till next time my friends,

Masha
PS You can see the rest of the photos of our stay in Montrondo here on Facebook.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Olivia in Galicia, new church leaders, Father’s day and birthdays, making oxtail croquettes, Spring came, more Downton Abbey, the two Popes meet, home made soda bread and other things.


History in the making - the two popes meet on Saturday
Hello everyone,

This week there is lots to tell.  It has been busy and full and best of all I am over my flu.

Let me start from last Sunday where I left off.  It was a good day for Spanish sport.  Rafa Nadal, over his injury, won at Indian Wells and Fernando Alonso was second in the first race of this season’s Formula One, the Australian G.P. 

It was a happy Rafa Nadal who won at Indian Wells last Sunday

It was also St. Patrick’s day, the Patron Saint of Ireland which seems to get bigger every year.  On Sunday too, with a view to celebrating Easter, I was tempted by an email from the Hotel Chocolate site, introduced to me some ago by our dear Indian friend, Sandeep.  These are the wonderful eggs I ordered; the extra thick milk chocolate egg and one called Raspberry Eton Mess sandwich.
The extra thick chocolate Easter egg I ordered from Hotel Chocolate is on its way here

This lovely Easter Egg is also on its way

On Sunday evening Olivia was back from her master of ceremonies event in Lisbon. Suzy brought her back from the airport and I thought we would be having a family dinner.  But that was not to be as Suzy went out that night, as the next day was a holiday in most of Spain.  

On Monday Oli was up literally at the crack of dawn at 04.30.  A car was coming for her from TVE to take her to the airport to catch an early plane to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.  She was to spend the week there covering news for her programme, La Mañana de la 1.  Her first story was that very day, the story of the sabotage of 10 lorries in Ribadeo, a beautiful coastal town in the province of Lugo and one close to our heart as we have stayed there before.  You can see the clip here if you go to 11.30h.
Olivia reporting from Ribadeo in Lugo on Monday

I told her when she came back on Friday just how much her appearances brighten up our lives and how we all enjoy watching her.  It makes us so proud and I never tire of seeing her on the TV.  I know it brings much joy to my Father too and regret my Mother never having seen her.

Monday was a great day. To begin with it was a holiday to celebrate San José (St. Joseph) which was actually on Tuesday 19th but for some reason the authorities had moved the holiday to Monday, something we will see more of in the future, like the bank holidays in the UK.  On Monday, well on the mend from my flu, we went for our first walk together with the dogs in nearly two weeks.  It was sunny and felt good to be outdoors again.
Eladio on our walk on Monday, the first for a long time because of my flu

It was Oufa’s day off so I made lunch that day.  I had an urge for pasta, something that comes upon me every now and again, so I made spaghetti carbonara.  Suzy joined us for lunch that day and then in the afternoon the two of us went shopping to Gran Plaza 2.  I was in need of some retail therapy after being cooped up at home with my flu.  I was also in need of some time with my wonderful daughter.  Needless to say we went to Zara and H+M.  I have absolutely no need of any more clothes and actually didn’t feel very inspired.  I was however tempted by a black pencil skirt from Zara which instead of the slits had white material on either side.  I have yet to wear it. I could have worn it that night when I went out to dinner with Eladio but didn’t as it is a bit too formal for where we went.  It was our first dinner out for two weeks and we chose to go to nearby De Brasa y Puchero where we had what we always do there: “patatas revolconas”.  As usual they were delicious. We had an early dinner out in order to be able to watch the next episode of our current favourite series, “Gran Reserva”.
We just loved the "patatas revolconas" at De Brasa y Puchero on Monday night

Tuesday was Father’s day and a fitting day for the new Pope, Francis, Jorge María Bergoglio to be inaugurated at the Vatican.  He had chosen his name Francis, or rather Francisco after the Italian Saint from Assis, as the symbol for peace, austerity and poverty.  Indeed this new Pope has made a great start with his simple ways.  He refuses to wear the luxurious red shoes his predecessor favoured and on Tuesday reduced the pompous ceremony by one hour.  Instead of being given a gold fisherman’s ring in honour of the first pope, St. Peter, it was made of silver.  The other symbol given to a new pope is the “pallium”, a strip of lambswool that represents his role as a shepherd.
The Pope's inauguration on Tuesday

There were government and church leaders from 130 delegations, the most important of all being Bartholomew 1, the Patriarch of Constantinople.  In the Orthodox Church, unlike the Catholics, there is no overall head.  Having said that Bartholomew I is considered their de facto spiritual leader. His official name and title are: “His all holiness, Bartholomew 1, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch”. So why was his presence important you might ask?  Well, because it was the first time an Orthodox Patriarch attended a Papal inauguration since the great schism between western and eastern Christianity in 1054.  One of the main reasons of that split was the growth of papal power. My Mother was Russian Orthodox, her Father was a priest and two of her sisters were nuns, so I do know something about the Orthodox.  I learned from my Mother of the hate and distrust they have of the Catholics and she always hid the fact that I went to a Catholic school from her fanatical sisters Olga and Dara.  I often wondered what they would have thought about me, their niece, actually marrying a Catholic priest.  They wouldn’t have liked to know that the Orthodox Patriarch was present in Rome on Tuesday.  Had he been the Russian Patriarch I think they would have been more worried. 
Pope Francis welcoming Bartholomew 1, the first Orthodox Patriarch to be preset at a Papal inauguration since the great schism in 10.54 - it was a historic moment for Christianity

Pope Francis I know is very into the reuniting of Christians and so am I, so I was happy to read that a few days later he received more than 30 delegations representing other Christian churches as well as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain religions.  My Mother, a lot less fanatical than her nun sisters, would have definitely approved.  In the 70’s and 80’s she acted as the official interpreter for the Russian Orthodox Archbishop Pitirim and thereby goes a long story.  Her first assignment at the ecumenical event was in Uppsala in Stockholm.  When she got back she handed the money she had earned in cash to my Father who promptly hid it in a book in his study.  The awful thing is it was never to be found again as he did not remember in which book he had hidden the money my Mother earned as an interpreter at the World Council of Churches. There are many more anecdotes of her times as Pitirim’s employee, but this is one that stands out most in my memory.

As I watched some of the Papal inauguration I wondered how on earth the protocol of who sat next to who was managed.  It could not have been easy but I suppose the Vatican is the world’s biggest protocol artist.  I mean fitting in Mugabe with Angela Merkel, the royalty of Europe and all the heads of states can only be a nightmare in my mind.

Whilst I was watching the Papal inauguration, Olivia was on her way to a remote village in Lugo.  Later we watched her report on the amazing story of the sale of abandoned villages in the region, some of which were being sold for a song at 60.000 euros.  Who on earth buys villages?  Well apparently singers and artists, but also normal people from countries like Norway or England.  You can see her report here in this clip if you go to 11.30.
Oli telling the story of abandoned villages on sale in Lugo on TVE on Tuesday

On Tuesday afternoon I felt like a lady of leisure as Suzy had arranged for a friend of hers who is setting up business as a private masseuse, to come and give me a massage.  Bea arrived with “Chati” (Maria is her real name), Suzy’s companion to London when they leave Spain in May, in the afternoon, Bea lugging a very heavy looking professional massage bed.  For just 30 euros I got a great massage lasting nearly 1.5h and boy was it good for the muscles on my back, which Bea said were tied in knots.  Later I had a relaxing Jacuzzi to get rid of all the massage oils.  

From lady of leisure I became a cook just a while later, making a huge batch of homemade croquettes from the leftovers of a dish of oxtail casserole I had made at the weekend.  I made another batch the next day too as there was still more meat left over. In the end I think I made over 80 of these delicious morsels of food which are very popular in this household especially with the girls.  This is what they looked like when I fried them.
My home made oxtail croquettes

Tuesday as I said was San José, so all Josephs in Spain would have been celebrating either their birthdays or saint’s day, not only Fathers.  It was Eladio’s second brother down, José Antonio’s birthday too and we all greeted him from afar via whatsapp, although I do know Eladio called him to personally wish him a happy birthday.  He was alone at home, so I was worried he would be celebrating alone too and thus was happy to see from a photo posted by his youngest son, Juan, later on Facebook that they had organized a celebration dinner at Juan and Cristina’s flat that night. Happy birthday Toño from me too again.
José Antonio's birthday dinner on Tuesday thanks to Juan and Cristina.  Notice Nuba his mongrel in pride of place

Wednesday was good too.  First we had the pleasure of seeing Olivia on the TV again.  At 10.15 she reported from Santiago on actually a rather sad case.  It was about some members of the Spanish national rugby team (yes they do play rugby in Spain, although it’s a minority sport) having been beaten up by a group of Portuguese hooligans.
Olivia reporting on Wednesday from Santiago on the Spanish National rugby team members being beaten up by Portuguese thugs

On Wednesday, at apparently 12.02 on the dot, just past midday, spring officially started.  We certainly have signs of it in the garden with lots of blossom on the trees as you can see in the picture here.
Spring came on Wednesday - there is plenty of signs of it in our garden

Wednesday brought with it another birthday.  Susana’s beloved friend and neighbour, Elena, the sister of “Chati”, was 30 that day which is quite a landmark as far as birthdays go. Suzy came to get cream for the cake which she asked me to whip.  Thus I happily contributed to Elena’s celebrations.  Happy birthday Elena too from these pages.
Elena was 30 on Wednesday and Susana made her this cake

It was also on Wednesday that my order of seasons two and three of Downton Abbey arrived.  I have had mammoth sessions watching it on my pc ever since but am now rationing myself as I don’t want to finish it yet.  I have fallen in love with all the characters and can safely say it is probably my favourite TV series ever.  My love is divided between Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonnerville) and Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle).  I was most shocked when His Lordship had the short but sweet affair with the widow housemaid Jane Moorsum (Claire Calbraith) but enjoyed every forbidden kiss on screen.  I have since ordered the special 2012 Christmas episode called A Journey to the Highlands, as well as the scripts of series one and two and two books, The World of Downton Abbey and The Chronicles of Downton Abbey. That means when I polish off series three I will have more to look forward to, not to mention series 4 which is not out yet.  I shall certainly enjoy the scripts and as my friend Anne commented, it is Maggie Smith who plays the Dowargess Countess of Grantham (Lord Grantham’s mother), Violet who has the best lines.  I particularly like this one when her youngest granddaughter Lady Edith Crawley remarks how exciting the preparations for her wedding are to which her grandmother replies: “at my age one has to ration one’s excitement”.
The Downton Abbey characters who are all so familiar to me now

On Thursday Downton Abbey helped me get through my first fast day since my flu started, putting my mind off food and into the lives of these characters in the early part of the 20th century. 

Olivia excited us and her audience as she reported on strong winds of up to 120km/h that day from Muxia on the death coast (costa da morte) in Galicia.  She really looked as though she was going to be blown into the rocks if not the sea.  You can see her here if you go to 11.30h.
Olivia reporting on the wind in Muxia on Thursday 

On Thursday it was the turn of another church leader’s inauguration or in this case enthronement.  Here I refer to Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury whose enthronement took place at the Cathedral there on Thursday afternoon.  He will be the spiritual head of 1.7 million members of the Church of England, far fewer than Pope Francis’ 1.2 billion Catholics, but the ceremony was no less pompous, although sprinkled with singing and dancing that you would never see in a papal inauguration.  The Church of England also broke with papal authority in the 16th century in a time that became known as The Reformation.  The catalyst of course was the refusal of the Pope to annul the marriage of Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon.  Interestingly enough Justin Welby worked for 11 years in the oil industry before entering the church.  Very unlike the Pope he is married and has two sons and three daughters.  The Most Reverend Justin Welby not unsurprisingly studied at two of England’s most prestigious academic institutions, Eton and Trinity College Cambridge where he studied history and law.  I do think the Catholics could learn from the Church of England and allow their priests to marry and women to become priests, but somehow, I don’t think that will happen even under the outwardly revolutionary new Pope Francis. 
Justin Welby the new Archbishop of Canterbury was enthroned on Thursday, just two days after Pope Francis

Olivia reported live on TVE1 every day this week and Friday was not an exception.  At 10.20 we saw her report on the story of a car accident in La Guardia on the border with Portugal.  The story was about a girl called Kenya who was rescued by a handsome policeman and by her fellow passengers who later escaped as the driver reportedly did not have an insurance policy for the car.  Olivia later told me that she had to persuade the girl to talk as otherwise the story going around was that her fellow passengers had fled and didn’t help her out of the burning car.  Eventually she agreed and Olivia told her story and hopefully it had a happy ending.
Olivia reporting from Pontevedra on Friday a car accident case

Friday being Friday we went to the cinema and then out to dinner.  I bought tickets to see the new version of Anna Karenina, perhaps the most famous novel of Russian literature and one I can boast I have actually read although it was a long time ago.  The author of course is Leo Tolstoy and every time I hear his name I remember my Mother telling me that her Mother, my grandmother used to play tennis with him when she was about 15.  That must have been in the late 1890s or early 1900s.  Fancy that you probably think and so do I.  It certainly is an interesting part of my family history.

However, Tom Stoppard’s version of this wonderful novel is rather strange and the whole setting a little too theatrical for my liking and a bit ridiculous at times.  Nevertheless the music and the costumes were simply wonderful.  We discussed the film over dinner at Gino’s afterwards and both agreed that it was rather over the top and had not really met our expectations.
We were a bit disappointed with the new Anna Karenina film on Friday

As we were enjoying our dinner, the Spanish national football team, the world champions, were drawing with Finland 1-1, not exactly a nation known for being good at the game.  The match which should have been a walk over now complicates Spain’s passage to the next world cup in Brazil. In order to be guaranteed a place there, Spain now has to beat France in St. Denis next Tuesday and that I can tell you will be no walk over at all.  So keep your fingers crossed for Spain please.

Olivia was back from Galicia on Friday evening and that night her wonderful boyfriend Miguel came from Valencia to stay with her for the weekend. But we were not to see them until Saturday morning.  Olivia had been incubating a cold or flu virus which sounded similar to mine so Saturday morning saw me accompanying her and Miguel to find a doctor to help her cure it.  Thankfully she was given a bout of antibiotics and is taking a turn for the better but of course has spent most of the weekend in bed.  I hope she gets better soon.

Yesterday, Saturday, we had a big family lunch with both girls there, albeit Oli with her flu and not much appetite.  In Italy at about the same time, history was being made as the new Pope Francis went to meet the emeritus Pope Benedict and they had lunch together too.  The latter looked extremely frail to me and I now think he probably really did resign because of his age and health and not only because of the church’s woes, all probably contained in the famous and secret Vatileaks file both Popes will be familiar with now.  The photo illustrating this week's blog is of the two popes together and I chose it because of its historical importance.

Saturday brought with it more cooking.  After our walk in the afternoon I decided to try out my friend Anne N’s recipe for soda bread.  This is it and it is incredibly easy to make as there is no waiting for the yeast to rise because the raising agents are the bicarbonate of soda and yoghurt which does its rising in the oven.  The latter should have been buttermilk which is not to be found here so I used yoghurt instead.  It was a bit of an experiment as I haven’t made bread for years. Oufa helped me make it, or rather we made it together and this is the result.  Was it good?  Well yes, but it tasted a bit cake like and didn’t have the same wonderful smell you get with bread made with yeast and fresh out of the oven. 
The soda bread Oufa and I made on Saturday afternoon

And now it’s Sunday.  We went for our walk in the morning, I made Russian food for lunch – boeuf strogonof from my Mother’s Russian cookery book (delicious) and now it’s time to publish this week’s chronicle and say goodbye until next week which of course will be Easter week.

So goodbye my friends and readers until next Sunday,

Cheers/Masha

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The flu virus continues, discovering Downton Abbey, Pope Francis, Olivia in Lisbon, Samsung’s new phone and other things



Oli on stage as an MC in Lisbon this week
Hello again everyone,

Today is Sunday and is day 13 of my flu virus which has had me out of action and feeling unwell and strange for so long now.  I don’t remember the last time I had flu but it must have been many years ago.  I have waves of nausea and have lost my appetite (good you may say), things taste and smell strange, I have gone off coffee and can’t stand my new perfume Angel.  I haven’t been for a walk for two weeks and have little energy.  I have spent a lot of my time in bed sleeping and I have been plagued with ghastly headaches for which no tablets have any affect.  Luckily this is a peaceful time for me at work and I have no trips or events on the horizon, so I have had to stick it out at home.  On Monday I thought I was better and got of bed but it was an illusion.  On Tuesday I had to go into work for the weekly management team meeting and then a fancy lunch at No with the girls from my events agency and my new boss.  That was such a huge effort I think I have paid for the consequences the rest of the week.  On Thursday Eladio dragged me to the local doctor when my head was at its worst.  There I heard my symptoms were common and that there was an epidemic of this particularly strange and cruel virus.  He prescribed antibiotics in which I had no faith as I have always understood that they cannot cure a virus.  But I was wrong.  Finally yesterday, Saturday I began to feel just slightly better and today I know I am on the mend.  I still feel all those funny things but at least the headaches have gone and I can begin to feel myself again.  Today I think I shall go for our walk for the first time in nearly two weeks and that will be the test.  I have friends who have also had this flu and some have warned it takes a whole month to get over.  I sincerely hope that in my case it will be less. 

But let me start from the beginning, from Monday.  The week before I had made an order for meringue nests and sugar free jelly from a new online shop called Brit Parcel.  I love meringue nests to serve with fruit and yoghurt and ice cream and they are unattainable in Spain.  The big plus of meringue is that each piece only contains 50 calories, so great for keeping the weight down. So this was my chance and I ordered 25 packets.  Even I was shocked when I saw my order arrive on Monday morning.  I now have enough meringue to last us more than a year.  The problem though is the expiry date is the end of May.
My order of meringue nests from Brit Parcel
This was the week I discovered and fell in love with the British TV series Downton Abbey.  My friend Julio had lent me the dvd of series one some time ago but I never had a moment to watch it.  So while I was in bed curing my flu, it was finally the time to do so.  I had watched parts of series three recently on the television but of course not having watched the series from the beginning didn’t understand a lot of the story.  So from Wednesday to Friday I polished off the whole of series one and have now ordered series two and three from Amazon which hopefully will arrive tomorrow.  It’s a great British series, similar to Upstairs Downstairs but oh the setting is much grander and the story line is far better. 
The main characters from Downton Abbey now all very familiar to me
Discovering Downton Abbey has been the one advantage of having flu.  I can’t think of any other.  Oh but yes I can, the pleasure of having my wonderful husband Eladio looking after me so lovingly.  Thank you Eladio.  You are the best personal doctor in the world.

On Tuesday the much awaited Conclave started to vote for a new Pope.  When I last wrote I told you I had hoped for an African pope.  I was very interested in the whole process as much of the world’s media were, so I was very cross with myself, when, because of watching Downton Abbey, I missed the white smoke on Wednesday.  To tell you the truth I missed it because I thought the process would take much longer.  I have followed the news very closely and am fascinated with the whole story.  It is funny that in this increasingly secular world the media should have made such a fuss of the conclave.  But they have and I think the reason is the sheer fascination with the medieval rituals entailed being played out in this modern age.  I had hoped for a black Pope but am equally pleased a Latin American has been chosen, someone from the “new world”, albeit of Italian origin.  Jorge María Bergoglio, aged 76, the arch bishop of Buenos Aires is the first Jesuit Pope and he calls himself Francis after the humble lover of the poor, Saint Francis of Assis. He is a breath of fresh air, modest and simple in his ways and in his first 48 hours or so has broken with many of the trappings of his predecessors, shunning protocol, talking directly and even going on incognito trips. 
Pope Francis, the new Pope from Argentina
His first words were very simple, Buona Sera and he started with a joke that his fellow cardinals had to go to the end of the world to find a new pope.  He refused to travel in the pope mobile preferring the cardinals’ bus.  He also refused to wear the pope’s red shoes and ermine red cape remarking that “the carnival is over”.  In Buenos Aires he apparently travels on public transport but that will probably be difficult in Rome.  When he was shown the Papal rooms he commented that there was room for 300 people and that he didn’t need all that space.  Later he held a press conference for the 5000 media reporting on the conclave where he abandoned the script and told them some of the secrets of the conclave as well as saying that he wanted a poor church for the poor.  Oh yes I like this man, but don’t get me wrong.  He is modest and humble, smiles and jokes but he is not liberal and we will not see him admitting women to the priesthood or recommending contraception or even letting priests marry.  On the other hand he is a breath of fresh air in the stifling and corrupt Vatican and I think he will attract more people to the dwindling faith and will do the Catholic Church a lot of good.
Pope Francis blessing the dog of a blind journalist, true to his namesake he must be a lover of animals.
On Wednesday just as the white smoke emerged from the chimney of the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Olivia was arriving by plane in Lisbon.  I told you last week that she was to be the MC for a European Union prize giving ceremony.  It was for a teacher’s project called eTwinning.  The event was on Thursday afternoon and for the occasion she wore a lovely red dress of mine from Zara.  Isn’t it nice that we can wear each other’s clothes?  Miguel, her boyfriend, had flown out from Valencia on Thursday morning to be with her and they were to make a long weekend of the occasion.  So whilst in bed watching Downton Abbey Miguel was sending e photos of Olivia in action, on stage in Lisbon.  She looks so professional, don’t you think?  She later admitted she found the whole subject of the prize giving rather boring and I told her I hoped no one noticed. Thankfully they didn’t as they were very pleased with her and have said they want to work with her again in next year’s edition.  She was also approached by a man in the audience who said he wanted to hire her services for an event in Istanbul.  Fancy that!  She will be back tonight but just for a few hours as tomorrow she will be up at 4 in the morning when a car comes for her from TVE to take her to the airport where she will catch an early flight to Santiago in Galicia from where she will be reporting this coming week. 
Oli is a natural on stage
This week was a sad week for my best friend Fátima.  On Wednesday morning I heard through Julio that her 86 year old father had died.  I rang her immediately and heard that the lady who looked after him and whom I know, Manoli, had found him dead in his bed in his flat in Santa Pola that very morning.  Fátima told me through tears that she had spoken to him the night before and that apart from his flu he seemed perfectly ok.  Later she told me he must have died of sudden pneumonia, so this horrible flu virus finished him off.  She went immediately to Santa Pola with her brother Manuel and sister Gloria to do everything you have to do when someone close to you dies.  On Friday morning when I was doing the food shopping with Oufa I bumped into her and we went to have a cup of coffee together and she was able to tell me of her ordeal.  Her main feelings were of guilt for not seeing him often enough.  I told her he wouldn’t want her to suffer from guilt, that guilt is so negative and that she should remember the good times.  My heart went out to her though of course and made me remember my own Mother’s death.  Nothing ever prepares a child for the death of his parents. R.I.P. Manuel.

This was the week Samsung, the Korean mobile phone giant, chose to launch its new Galaxy S4 model and it did so in the homeland of it arch enemy Apple, in the US, in the heart of New York at the Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan.  I am a great fan of the S3 model and also a user of the Apple iPhone 5 so was interested to see what was new in the S4.  And it turns out that not much.  It’s all about software rather than hardware.  I had hoped for a less plastic finish, but the S4 looks identical to the S3.  You can see that in this picture of the two models.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 looks exactly like the S3
It apparently does new stuff that I find rather gratuitous like stops a video if you remove your eyes from the screen and I have also read that many of the new features are available already for other Android phones via applications.  What is an improvement though is the camera which has 13 megapixels.  But is it an iPhone killer?  Only the market can answer that but I doubt it.

The weekend has been quiet.  I am feeling better but not really up to going out to the cinema or for dinner out.  So the highlight this weekend was having Suzy and her friend Juli for lunch yesterday. Oufa our Moroccan home help made fish and chips but in a very unBritish way with spices in the breadcrumbs and potatoes.  Today, her day off, I am cooking a traditional Spanish meal, oxtail with sauce made from the stock and vegetables with sautéed potatoes.  You see, my appetite is coming back.

We didn’t go out last night, Saturday but thoroughly enjoyed a great World War II film on the TV in bed called “Where Eagles Dare” by Alistair McClain and starring Richard Burton and a very young Clint Eastwood.  It had us riveted to the screen to well past one in the morning. 
Where Eagles Dare made in the late 60's but still a great film.
Hopefully next weekend I will feel completely myself and we will be able to go and see the new version of Anna Karenina and also have dinner out.  And now I have the reached the end of the tale of this week and it is time to go upstairs and make the sauce for the meat.  So I will leave you and wish you all a great week ahead.

Cheers till next week my friends

Masha