Thursday, September 22, 2016

Montrondo, a visit to León and home again, Oli joined a new TV programme, Liesl from The Sound of Music dies, visitors from Geneva, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Madrid, Eladio’s birthday and other stories.

Friday 23rd September 2016

The birthday cake moment with Eladio  at lunch on Thursday, one day early.
Hi everyone,

I am writing today Wednesday so as to get ahead with this post and be able to publish it before we go to Malaga on Friday where we will be attending Paula and Pedro's wedding (my niece). It's being quite a frantic week and this has been the first moment of peace I have had to myself in quite a long time.  

As usual, let me start from where I left off.  That was on Sunday 18th September and our last day in Montrondo with my Spanish family, Gerardo and his wife Vicky, his sister Irene and her husband Tomas.  

I was feeling pretty fragile that morning after a huge migraine the night before; most probably caused by the glass and a half of red wine I had drunk for dinner.  Oh how I love wine and oh how bad it is for me, but I never learn.   I managed to eat breakfast (I have a stomach like a horse hahaha) but was too week and zombie like to join Eladio, Vicky, Tomas and Irene on another walk up the mountains. Instead I stayed at home and made the lunch - fabada (bean stew) - and also accompanied Gerardo who had a bad back and couldn't climb the mountains either. 
Even if I say so myself, the fabada I made on Sunday was delicious
The climbers were back by 12.30 when it was time to go out, this time to Murias to accompany our churchgoing friends to the mass there at the beautiful little church. I would have far preferred to take them to the church in Montrondo but it only offers mass every second Sunday which didn't coincide with our stay.
The lovely church in Murias where we went to mass last Sunday
There were very few parishioners and most of them elderly too so I think our group of 6 younger people added a breath of fresh air to the weekly mass and made the congregation look bigger.  It was very short; unusually so and Irene remarked it was like an emergency shot gun express mass hahaha.  

Once outside we were surprised to find a collection of vintage cars in the main square.

Some of the vintage cars in Murias last Sunday
The owners were out on a drive in the area and had stopped for lunch at the main bar in the village, La Palloza.  The black Mercedes looked exactly like the sort of car Franco, the Spanish fascist dictator, would have been driven in.  I particularly liked the old green Renault car in the second picture.

We stopped at La Palloza too after mass for a drink and tapas.  Our friends were bowled over with the beauty of the place; me too actually. It was packed full that day.  We had a very nice surprise when we came to pay the bill as we had been treated to by our neighbour in Montrondo, "Toño". Thanks so much. 

We walked back to Montrondo along the old road in the sunshine, looking forward to our lunch.  And here we are at the table that day.
Our last meal with our guests on Sunday in Montrondo
After a short rest our friends would be leaving. Whilst others slept, Irene and I sat outside at the back of the house chatting.  Adela (the older of Eladio's two sisters) and her husband Primo arrived out of the blue from León and gave us the latest update on my brother-in-law who was in hospital for tests after symptoms of drowsiness, sudden loss of memory, etc.  We decided to go and visit him after our friends left.

Meanwhile we all had a cup of coffee together before it was time to say goodbye to my "Spanish family".  They are so close to my heart. We had a very relaxed weekend, they felt completely at home and we enjoyed being their hosts.  Even Pippa liked them and she is very particular hahahaa. 

When they left, we followed Adela and Primo to León which is an hour's drive away.  We went to see our brother-in-law who was in hospital and all the family there.  He was a lot better since he had been admitted the Friday before. His daughter's wedding the following weekend was in danger and I felt so sorry for everyone - later there would be good news and it would be celebrated and he will be treated once the wedding is over (hurrah). 

On the way back to Montrondo in the car that night, I finally got to talk to Oli my youngest daughter. Last week I told you she had good news.  Well, the next day, this last Monday, she was to start working in a new job as a lead reporter for a programme called "Mi Camara y yo" emitted by Telemadrid. She had been "head hunted" for it something that doesn't happen much in television or rather there are very few openings, especially in Spain in these days. Well done darling! Unfortunately though she had to curtail her holiday short by one week and I think she was not yet ready physically or mentally to start a new stressful job. It is turning out to be extremely stressful with erratic long hours; just what she had complained about when she worked for the Aquí En Madrid programme.  Poor her. However, it is a step up in her career and she will be responsible for making a 45 minute report every two weeks. That doesn't sound much but I can tell you it is. When they made the programme I was in, Undercover Boss, which lasted 50 minutes it took 10 days of intensive shooting and much more to produce it. So, yes, she is going to be busy.  The first report is entitled "Raro, raro, raro" (strange, strange, strange) and will be broadcast on 3rd October so it's panic stations at the moment for her.  So far she has filmed pieces on a cemetery on a roundabout, a man who converted a container into a house, a family who live self sufficiently in a bamboo home and other amazing stories. 

That night it was a horror story we watched on Netflix, a documentary on the holocaust and how the Nazis came up with the dreadful "final solution".  It nearly made me sick and so I went off to bed unable to watch anymore.  How can people today say that the Holocaust never existed? The Nazis were stupidly efficient enough to film nearly everything they did so they left documentary evidence that proves it happened.  

On Monday morning I woke up in Montrondo at 06.30 with another headache, but at least it wasn't a migraine and after my first coffee it slowly began to recede.  I was horrified to read in the news that there had been a terrorist attack in Manhattan; this time with "pressure cooker bombs" .  Thankfully there were no fatalities but 29 people were injured.  When will this stop?
The aftermath of the terrorist attack in Manhattan (Chelsea area) on Monday
But the story that caught my attention that morning was the one about 73 year old Charmain Carr; Liesl in the Sound of Music, who had just died
Goodbye Liesl
She was the eldest daughter of the 6 "Von Trapp" family children in the film which is probably my favourite film of all time.  It was released in 1965 when I was 8. I loved it from the very beginning and forever afterwards. I have watched it countless times and know most of the lyrics of the songs off by heart as do my girls.  Apparently it has been seen by more than one billion people!!  Who cannot remember the beautiful Liesl singing and dancing    "Sixteen going on Seventeen" with "Rolf"?  She was actually 21 when she starred in the "blockbuster" film with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer and had no previous acting or singing experience.  
Beautiful Charmain Carr as Liesl in The Sound of Music
Kim Karath, who played "Gretl" (the youngest of the children) in the film, tweeted: "She has been like a sister throughout my life".  Reading her obituaries I learned that she had written a book in 2000 called "Forever Lieslon her experiences in the making of the film.  I bought it immediately on my kindle and am now enjoying it whenever I have a moment to myself. It is a must for Sound of Music fans like me.

The book written by "Liesl"
It was a very sad piece of news as I adore that film.  RIP "Liesl". 

I got on with life though and had many domestic chores to undertake before leaving the house spick and span until our next visit. My main task was washing, hanging out the sheets and remaking the beds as well as cleaning the bathrooms and as many surfaces as I could. Eladio was badgered into the hoovering hahaha. The new washing line he had built came very much in handy that day.
Hanging out the washing in the sun in Montrondo on Monday
It was dry very soon as it was another glorious sunny day in Montrondo.  We were sad to leave but had to get back.  

Lunch which was leftover fabada was interrupted with whatsapp messages from my daughter Suzy in London.  She told me she was  thinking of applying for a dietitian job overseas and that she had received a job offer application from a friend (what a friend!) in guess where?  One of the remotest islands in the world; St. Helena.  I was gobsmacked. How could she want to go there? It's so damned far, it was where the British exiled Napoleon after he escaped from Elba, knowing he would not be able to escape from that remote British overseas territory. It doesn't even have an airport that is functioning yet as it is so windy.  St. Helena is in the South Atlantic in the middle of the ocean in between South Africa and South America and you have to fly to Johannesburg then travel by ship for god knows how long to the capital Jamestown which has only 700 inhabitants! Suzy told me she would only go for a year and that it must be beautiful and peaceful.  By the end of the night between her friends and family we persuaded her against the idea.  Thank God for that but she did give me a scare.  I was already imagining her falling in love with someone there and settling down forever, lost to her family.  If Zuka my cousin is reading this she will understand as she lives in France and her daughter Katty in New Zealand which is tough for her. 

I was still googling St. Helena when we set off after lunch. On our way home we stopped in León to visit our brother-in-law who was looking much more like his old self.  We then went to see Eladio's mother, Ernestina, who is now living with her youngest offspring, Isidro and his wife Yoli in their house on the outskirts of the town.  She is losing her memory fast and doesn't really know who we are but welcomed us enthusiastically.  We certainly brightened up her day.  Yoli and Isidro have a kitchen garden and after a cup of coffee and a piece of Yoli's apple cake, they presented us with two huge tomatoes and an even bigger pumpkin. They insisted it was a pumpkin although it looked like a giant courgette to me.  As we were leaving I got everyone on camera, including my god-daughter Alicia with the foresaid vegetables  hahaha.

A farewell photo at Yoli and Isidro's house with my mother-in-law Ernestina and god-daughter Alicia, little Pippa, Eladio and the giant vegetables.

It was a long drive home (3 hours) and whilst Eladio was at the wheel I began reading "Forever Liesl" but driving and reading made me fall asleep. I woke up just before we arrived at past 11 pm.  My Father was asleep by then but the dogs gave us a very warm welcome.

Tuesday was a busy day, catching up with work.  I had many errands to do and also had to prepare for a special dinner that night.  Marie who is the daughter of my cousin Masha who lives in Paris, and her fiance Anas of Indian extract but brought up in Tanzania, were on holiday in Madrid and would be coming in the evening.  For the record they both live and work in Geneva.  She is a consultant and he works as a Risk Manager for an oil trading company (brainy jobs to quote Olivia!). I was told Anas didn't eat pork and imagined he was Jewish but no he is Muslim. The lovely couple explained over a drink of wine (her) and a non alcoholic drink of lemonade (him) that he is an Ismaili Muslim; which I had never heard of. I was told they belong to the Shia branch of Islam and are quite moderate in their faith with women and men praying together for example.

My philosopher and ex priest of a husband knew all about them of course. Marie told me this branch of Islam being very moderate forbids women to wear a veil.  Their spiritual leader is Aga Khan whose name was familiar but I had no idea who he was.  You can find out more about him here. They will be married next year and we've been invited to their wedding in August!! We asked whether she had to convert as we know she is a Russian Orthodox believer. You will be relieved to hear that she isn't obliged to but that their children will have to be Muslims. I heave a sigh here.  I suppose we could have avoided the topic and talked about the weather but this was far more interesting.  Here are the lovely couple with me when we sat down to the pork free dinner. 

Anas and Marie who came to dinner on Tuesday night.
Just before we sat down to dinner, I got a surprise call from Oli to say she and Miguel were coming home, straight from where she was filming the piece about the bamboo home.  i was so happy as I hadn't seen her for ages. But she came home to disaster having heard that the owner of the house at the end of an afternoon's filming had refused that any of it be filmed. Oli had to pacify her and it was panic stations again at work.  She was told to come to a meeting immediately in the centre of Madrid after 9pm, poor thing. Thankfully the problem was solved on the phone and Oli calmed the woman down who finally agreed to most of the filming being aired.  It was such a stressful situation.  I felt sorry for my exploited TV reporter daughter. TV always seems glamorous but behind the scenes it is not.  I know from seeing Oli doing her job. 

Finally we were able to enjoy dinner together.  Marie and Anas were going to Valencia the next day on the final stage of their holiday after visiting Oporto and Madrid.  As Miguel is stationed there with TVE he was able to give them lots of tips, especially about the best types of paella to eat.

For Paula's wedding, all the guests had been asked to send a short video congratulating the couple which would be showed during the wedding party. It was the last day for submitting it and we were going to ask Anas and Marie to film Eladio and I. As Oli and Miguel were there we killed two birds with one stone and did a video of the 4 of us, courtesy of the impromptu cameraman, Anas.  We quickly had to brainstorm what to do and in the end decided on this: we all dressed up in wigs, wore wings on our backs (all this from our fancy dress cupboard); each of us came out from a different door or location in the lounge dancing to the sound of Cliff Richard singing "Congratulations".  It was absolutely hilarious.  I can't post the video, but here is the photo of the 4 of us dressed up for the "show". 
Dressed up for our video for Paula's wedding
Soon it was time for our international guests to leave as they would be having a very early start on Wednesday morning.  Before they left I insisted on a selfie to remember the dinner and to send to my cousin Masha.
As selfie at the end of the evening with our lovely international guests, Marie and Anas.
On Wednesday morning, Olivia continued her shooting for the first programme and believe it or not it was to be about the Russian Orthodox Church in Madrid or rather their new Cathedral which I didn't even know existed.  It is was built a few years ago and is the typical onion domed church you always recognise as being Russian Orthodox.
The Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Madrid
I was harassed by Oli to tell her very shortly the differences between the Russian Orthodox and the Catholic Church. Of course I know a lot because my Mother was of that faith and my Grandfather was an Orthodox priest.  But how to sum it up and tell her the most salient parts in under 5 minutes? I managed to tell her about the three barred cross, that the priests can marry but not divorce and have to have beards, the difference between a religious painting and the icons, the latter being sacred art, the difference in the calendars, that their Christmas is on the 7th January and not much more.  A few hours later, after the filming, she rang to tell me she had adored the experience, loved the church and especially the  priest.  Believe it or not, Father Andrey Kordochkin, who was born in St. Petersburg, studied at one of the most famous Catholic boarding schools in the world, Ampleforth in Yorkshire with which my Mother had many contacts and then at Oxford and Durham. He sounds like a very interesting chap and I would love to meet him. Oli agreed with him to take my Father there one day so I look forward to that.  She also told me she cried in the car when they left because her visit to the Russian church brought back so many memories of "Grandma", my Russian Mother.  "How touching my Father" said when I told him. I was glad Oli got the chance to visit and do a report on the church as this religion is part of her heritage; something I should perhaps have instilled in my daughters and never did.  Sorry girls!

Whilst Oli was filming the church the world was learning that Angelina Jolie had filed for a divorce with Brad Pitt.  Really I don't care about this Hollywood couple but the media are full of it. 

In the evening Oli called me to say she would be dropped off by the cameraman near home and could I pick her up and bring her home. Well, of course I could.  By 7 she was home, the earliest time since she started the new job. However she had not slept well the night before and nor had she eaten on Wednesday.  I soon put remedy to the latter and when Miguel came off we went to have dinner  at Ginos. 
Miguel and Oli at dinner with us at Ginos on Wednesday night
Oli was with us in body but not in spirit receiving messages and emails and phone calls until late that night with instructions on the videos she had to do the next day.  I think the production company is not very well organised as the plan for Thursday was filming in a far away village in Guadalajara; a story on a stone house and in the afternoon a story on an enchanted wood in San Martin de Valdeiglesias.  Both locations are really far apart and it would be nearly a 2 hour drive to the first one and over 2 hours to the second one. 

On Thursday I was up at 7 and able to make her breakfast.  I wished her a calm and productive day.  The Rudyard Kipling poem "If" came to mind and I sent her the verse which starts off like this: "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs".  I hope she takes my advice. 

For the record Thursday was the first day of Autumn.  However, the warm weather continues here and this week I have been bathing in the pool after our morning walks.  I'm not sure how long it will last but while the going is good I hope to continue to use the pool. 

Eladio's birthday was on Friday 23rd but as we would be travelling to Málaga that day we decided to celebrate it with a special lunch on Thursday so that my Father wouldn't miss out on the occasion.

And here is the birthday "boy" who, as you can see from the candles on the cake, was celebrating his 72nd year.  Amazing right?  Natasha, our Ukranian temporary carer,couldn't believe her eyes.  She said he didn't look a day over 60 and I agree with her.  For his birthday I had bought Season 4 of House of Cards and a brand new touch screen kindle; from my Father and I. I must have made the right choice as he was pleased with them.
Eladio with his cake and candles, birthday card and presents.
My Father loves birthdays. Here he is tucking into the delicious chocolate and fruit cake.  There was loads left and I told him there would be enough left for him to have a piece every day in our absence.
My Father happily tucking into Eladio's delicious birthday cake on Thursday
On Friday we would be celebrating his birthday with all the family, including Suzy who was flying from London on Thursday night.  It will be great to be all together. 

Shortly after lunch I had to go to the office for an all staff meeting about the integration of our company which has just been bought.  For the moment there are plans on the table but they are ambitious and I look forward to being a part of them.  As the new Austrian CEO said, this is the biggest corporate project in Spain at the moment and he is right. 

Last night we had the pleasure of the company of Olivia and Miguel for the 3rd night this week.  Oli remarked how lovely it was to have two homes. This is because her main point of reference with her new job is often the Ciudad de la Imagen (CIty of Image) where TeleMadrid is based),  So it was dinner again together last night and we ate it outside.  

Then guess what we watched on TV last night when we went to bed? Yes, you knew, the beginning of Season 4 of House of Cards.  We had missed Kevin Spacey and Robin Weight - Francis and Claire Underwood - and this season promises to be just as good as the rest.

Whilst we were watching the TV, Suzy had landed in Málaga from London.  It was quite late but waiting for her to have dinner were dear Paula and Pedro (the bride and groom - Paula is our neice and Andrés and Pili's daughter) in that big Andalusian city, one of the biggest towns in Spain by the way. And here are Suzy and Paula, two beautiful cousins who love each other so much. Don't they look happy?  
Suzy and Paula in Málaga last night
Hopefully we will be having dinner with them and all the family tonight, the night before   their wedding at the St. Augustín Church in the old city on Saturday.

Well yes, the big day has come.  It is Friday morning and at 08.30 we shall be leaving by car with José Antonio and Dolores and hopefully arrive in Málaga on time for lunch with my darling daughter Suzy.

It's going to be a great family wedding; all of us in Málaga and of course the weather will be glorious in that part of Spain. I have only ever visited Málaga once. We shall be staying at the Parador which is on the beach so of course I have packed our swimming costumes. 

I will publish this now. I know it's Friday and not blog day but I want to be free of writing this weekend and to able to enjoy the family wedding.  But also I want next week's post to focus completely on Paula and Pedro's big day.

Wishing them a long and happy marriage, I will sign off now but not before saying Happy Birthday to my dear dear husband.   We celebrated yesterday but shall continue to do so today.

Cheers for now/Masha

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Colombia wins La Vuelta a España, Oli on holiday in Cantabria and Asturias, more Emma Bridgewater pottery, photos from my past, back to school, to Montrondo with friends, a wedding in the village and other tales of the week.

Sunday 18th September 2016
With our guests in Montrondo beneath the lovely arc of flowers ready for the wedding on Saturday
Hi everyone

I am starting writing this week’s post from Montrondo.  It’s 6.30 on Friday morning and here I am in my little study with Pippa sitting on the sofa behind me. We got here yesterday when it rained all day and today our friends Gerardo and Irene and their spouses Vicky and Tomas will be joining us.  They are very special friends, my “Spanish family”, the “González Galvez” with whom I lived in Madrid in my year in Spain in 1978 when I was studying Spanish at Nottingham University.  I lived with that wonderful family for a year and in exchange for food and accommodation I was supposed to teach English to Gerardo and Irene who were then aged 14 and 11 roughly.  They took me into the bosom of their wonderful family and we have remained close ever since.  They were a fundamental part of my wedding.  Here is a photo of them all on that day when Gerardo junior was our driver in his Father Gerardo’s Seat 132, quite a luxury car for the times.  Irene and her sister Julieta were also my bridesmaids, along with my nieces Sara and Marta.
The González-Gálvez family with us on our wedding day on 21st August 1983.
Gerardo and Irene are on my right. 
This week I dug out some old photos of those times and here you have Gerardo and Toti his younger brother (7 at the time) in Galapagar where they had a country house we would go to at weekends.
Gerardo with Toti on his shoulders in Galapagar in 1978
Also at Galapagar is a photo of Pili, the mother with Julieta.
Pili and Julieta in Galapagar in 1978
I also found these photos of myself and of Irene, Julieta and Toti at their lovely flat in Madrid.  I think it was in 1979 just before I was going back to England.
At my "Spanish family's" flat in Madrid probably in the summer of 1979.  To the right, Julieta, Toti and Irene.
They were truly my Spanish family and this weekend is going to be one full of laughs remembering those times when for example the children would lift up my skirt, lock me in my bedroom or hide under the bed to avoid the English lessons hahaha.

But let me start at the beginning, from where I left off. It was last Sunday 11th September, the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in the history of the US. 

It was also the end of the Vuelta a España, one of the 3 big cycling tours.  It was to be the day for Colombia.  Nairo Quintana won theTour, his second great tour after winning the Giro in 2014.  Chris Froom came second and third in the podium was another Colombian, Esteban Chaves. With 2 Colombians on the podium, the country had raised the flag high for their country by winning the Tour of Spain for Colombia.
The winners of this year's Vuelta a España. 1st Nairo Quintana from Colombia, Chris Froom from the UK and Esteban Chaves from Colombia too.
Colombia is a country of cyclists, mostly climbers as they are the right size and weight for that type of cycling.  They are often called “escarabajos”, (beetles) and I can only imagine the commentators from Radio Caracol de Colombia or Radio Nacional de Colombia, going mad on the microphone when their countryman Quintana won the Tour of Spain for the first time since Lucho Herrera 29 years ago. 

When I used to go the cycling tours I knew the commentators from these famous Colombian radios and their style was very emotional.  I remember once lending them my Motorola phone to transmit the race as their signal had broken down.  We were great friends.  I also remember one of them at the start of one of the stages at The Tour of France.  He was in the portable toilet and didn’t realise it was being removed; literally being lifted up in the air and to quote him, “with his trousers down”.  This is an anecdote that has gone down in cycling history hahahaha.

Olivia and Miguel were just starting their holiday and on Sunday were in the region of Cantabria (near Santander), staying at a beautiful place on the coast called Cabezón de la Sal.  Here they are near the River Saja in Bárcena Mayor.
Oli and Miguel on holiday in Cantabria by the River Saja in Bárcena Mayor.
They wanted to explore the area and Sunday found them also in San Vicente de la Barquera, another nice town on that spectacular northern coast, still fairly unknown to the majority of tourists who always head south. 

Miguel and Oli on the beach in San Vicente de la Barquera this week
It was still hot in Madrid and in most of Spain that day. My friend Fátima came to visit. She coincided with Natasha, the Ukranian lady who was to care for my Father and the house whilst Salud was on holiday. She’s a nice lady but of course it’s not easy to get to know the ropes in such a big house in such a short time. 

Monday was a quiet day.  The highlight was the arrival of my latest Emma Bridgewater pottery order; more polka dot mugs and some plates to replace the ones our home helps have broken over the years.  Each time they break one my heart heaves as they can only be ordered from England and are very expensive.  But oh how I love my Emma Bridgewater collection.
My Emma Bridgewater order which arrived this week
Monday was when I started digging out photos from my past.  I noticed some of my Finnish friends posting photos of themselves when they were young on FB.  So I asked my Finnish friend Anne what it was all about. She told me it was a “throwback photo challenge” and challenged me.  This is the photo I came up with; one taken when I first came to live in Spain when Eladio and I lived secretly “in sin” in 1981 - it was not the done thing in Spain in those days.
Me aged 24 in Madrid in 1981 when I first came to live in Spain.
I was 24 there.  Everyone says Suzy my older daughter looks like me; perhaps she does, although I don’t see it. That photo was easy to find as it has been sitting in a frame at our house ever since it was taken all those years ago.  That spurred me on to look for more old photos from our albums of which we have over 30.  You see I was already taking lots of photos back then, albeit with a lousy “instamatic” camera.  It was a Kodak one. That much I remember. I wanted to find one of me outside our old house in Callosa de Ensarría which my Mother bought, I think in 1972.  And here it is. I am sitting in the street in a long skirt which I well remember wearing, with a stray kitten at my side that I had adopted.  It was so miserable and skinny we called it “Misery”.  My love for animals goes back to my childhood.
Me in Callosa outside our house with the kitten I adopted, Misery.  The Summer of 1978. I was just 21.  
As a child I was never allowed to have a cat or a dog. In revenge, today I have 3 dogs and 1 cat.  Thankfully I married a man who has the same passion for animals as I.

I found more photos of our Callosa Days and particularly like this one of my Father on a walk between Callosa and Bolulla.  Here he is in his 50’s looking very fit.
My very fit Father in his 50's in Callosa.  He was so happy there as we all were.
At lunch I showed him the photo.  He then reminded me that the first time he went to Callosa, he first went on a trip by train to Andalusia, visiting The Alhambra and Granada. He also told me he had climbed the famous mountain, El Pico del Veleta which is over 3.300m high. Boy was he fit in those days.  He used to walk everywhere and it is such a shame that now aged 97 he is immobile.

I also found a unique one of me with my brother George (RIP).  I don’t have many of the two of us together so was happy to come across this one. I think it was taken in Guadalest circa 1978.
A rare photo of me with my dear brother George (RIP).  Here possibly in Guadalest in about 1978.
All these photos of my past!  You are probably wondering why.  I wonder why too.  Now I am nearly 60, the past seems so important and I keep going back to it; to the places I used to go to and finding people from when I was young.  This week for example I was contacted by an Italian called Pasquale from Turin who used to attend the Norwich Russian courses where my parents and my Aunty Masha used to teach every summer at the University of East Anglia.  Pasquale came for quite a few years and we became fast friends.  My Mother adored him and my Father too. I even went to visit him with my school friend Maggie W. just after we finished “A” levels at St. Joseph’s College in the early 70’s.  I was just 18.  So when I got the message and then later an email it was amazing. I always love to find people from the past who were once important to me.  That’s the power of the internet and I am forever grateful for it. 

Tuesday came and it was shower time for my Father. It was a disaster as he fell in the shower.  Natasha didn’t really know how to bathe him despite having been shown by Salud and despite her having said she had looked after elderly people before. I just don’t believe her.  Thankfully Eladio came to the rescue but my Father had hurt the nail on his big toe.  I felt so sorry for him and cross with Natasha.  We were going away on Thursday and I was not happy with my Father being left alone with her.  Very kindly my dearest friend Fátima offered to stay whilst we were away which brought me great comfort.  My Father keeps asking when Salud is coming back and it is hard to explain that she is on holiday and that she deserves a break; like all workers in Spain and in the world.  I must say she is the best home help we have ever had.

I had a meeting that day in Madrid.  It was nice to dress up and get out of the house.  It was with my press agency and the head of press for Másmovil, the company which has bought Yoigo.  I was home just on time for lunch with the two men; Eladio and my Father.  Natasha’s cooking is not really up to scratch I’m afraid but then I didn’t expect it to be.  Even so it was eatable hahahaha.

Tuesday was also my oldest friend Amanda’s 60th birthday.  She was my best friend at school and we have known each other since we were 11, meeting at St. Joseph’s College in Bradford in “1 Kappa”, our first class there.  I can hardly believe we are now nearly old women. 
Amanda outside our house in 6 Heaton Grove in 1974.  It's unbelievable to think she turned 60 this week!
We were very different.  Amanda came from a very English family and I came from a multi-cultured one. She was very good at school going on to study at Oxford and I was a pretty bad pupil and only began to pull up my socks in the 6th form when it was too late to aspire to Oxbridge.  I did manage to get a place at Nottingham though.  On Wednesday we would have an hour long chat on the phone catching up on our lives.  She and Andy (ex BGS) live in Devon in a beautiful house on a cliff overlooking the sea.  I haven’t seen them since 2010.  It’s been too long.  We both agreed we must remedy that.

This week children in Spain were going back to school.  It’s called “la vuelta al cole”.  My friends were posting photos of their children going back to school after the holidays.  My girls are now aged 32 (Suzy) and 31 (Olivia) and I well remember their “vuelta al cole” each year to St. Michael’s school in Boadilla, a stone throw from where we lived.  Every September we would religiously take a photo of the two of them in their pristine uniform by the front door of our old house in Río Tajo in Boadilla ready for their first day at school after the summer holidays.  This is them in 1993 aged 8 and 9.
The girls "back to school" photo in September 1993. Suzy left was 9 and Oli right was 8. 
Those were very happy days and it’s amazing how fast time has gone by. I just wish I had realized that then and enjoyed those times more, rather than worrying about their homework or other silly things which usually end up sorting themselves out with no need for so much worry.

Wednesday was a funny day weather wise.  It was the first time it had rained in a long time.  The hot weather went just like that.  Thankfully the sun came out in the afternoon and we were able to sit outside with our books. The dogs as ever were at our feet. Here are the 3 of them playing together.
Our three lovely dogs: Elsa the lab, Pippa the mini dacshund and Norah the beagle
Meanwhile in London it was the hottest day in September on record; since 1911 I think I read. So when we told Suzy it was raining here we all found it quite ironic. The tables had turned.   Oli meanwhile was enjoying her holiday in Cantabria. That day they drove to Santander after a 12km run in the morning.
Oli running on holiday in Cantabria this week. 
They would have lunch in Santander and visit a zoo afterwards. Sometimes I have to censor myself in this blog and this is one occasion.  Olivia had very good professional news that day but unfortunately it is not official and I can’t say anything. All I can say is well done darling, I’m very proud of you as we all are. 

Wednesday saw them at some famous caves called “Cueva El Soplao”.  I have never heard of them but Olivia urged us to visit them one day as she says they are fantastic. Well we’ll have to take her up on that.  That day they moved to Asturias, one of my favourite provinces in Spain. They call it “Asturias Patria Querida”.  They went to stay at a spa hotel called Hotel Maria Manuela. That night we spoke on the phone and I asked her where she was. She had no idea and had to ask Miguel, the holiday planner hahaha.  The hotel is in a small village called Benia de Onis.  Asturias is famous for its cider and here they are having dinner that night and drinking cider out of a unique dispenser you only find in Asturias or in Asturian restaurants. It’s supposed to maintain the sparkle you see.
Oli enjoying cider in Asturias 
On Wednesday I made preparations for our trip to Montrondo, mostly food shopping as you know there is no shop or bar here. 

Thursday came and Eladio helped Natasha get my Father in and out of the shower, to my relief.  At 8 my friend Fátima arrived; she would be staying until we got back on Sunday.  I am so grateful to her. 

She brought her little dog, “Chispi” with her. We weren’t sure how our dogs would react but after 5 minutes or so of growling they were all fine. But it was Pippa and Chispi who were the happiest. They began to play soon after meeting and it was obvious they were to make good friends. Finally they both had a dog to play with of their own size hahaha. Here they are on Pippa’s blanket. Unfortunately for Chispi, Pippa would be leaving as we were taking her to Montrondo with us.
Chispi and Pippa made friends when they met this week.

I gave Fatima all the instructions on my Father’s day, when he gets up, his breakfast, coffee and tea times, etc.  I think Natasha was a bit put out at me giving the instructions to my friend instead of her, but I just didn’t trust her.  I felt very guilty as we left. 

We were in Rueda by 11 and of course stopped for the traditional break at Palacio de Bornos where we had the customary plate of ham accompanied by their delicious white wine.
Eladio at Palacio de Bornos in Rueda on our way to Montrondo on Thursday morning.
We got to Montrondo just after 2pm.  It was raining and would do so all day. Therefore there would be no walk.  We had a cursory lunch of “pelmeni”. I wasn’t at all hungry after the ham and wine at Rueda but Eladio was and asked if there was a tin of sardines! There wasn’t so he had a tin of tuna fish instead hahaha.

Both of us or rather the 3 of us (including Pippa) had a long siesta afterwards. It wasn’t my intention and I slept till 6.40. I felt like a zombie afterwards.  It was time for the food lorry to arrive so I put my sou'wester and wellington boots on and went out to find the van.  It was then that my neighbour Salo told me the owner, Gelo, was on holiday in Malta of all places.  I needed oranges for juice in the morning which I had forgotten to bring. Thus I would be going to Villablino on Friday morning to get them and probably more things too as Friday is market day there.  It’s a pity Dolores wouldn’t be here to go with me.

It's  wet outside today (Friday) but hopefully will rain less than yesterday, or, at least that’s what the weather forecast has predicted.  
A scene from Montrondo - wet yet beautiful on Friday morning
They have also predicted that on Saturday and Sunday the temperatures will go up and there will be sun and clouds and no rain.  I certainly hope they are right for the sake of Gerardo, Irene, Vicky and Tomas who are coming this evening.

Well very soon after I wrote that the sun came out.  As Eladio was reversing the car out of the old path to our house, I thought it would be a good idea to get a photo of the family houses whilst the old gate is still there.  There is talk of removing it and turning the lovely old barns into modern store places. I don't want to see that happening. Those gates as I've said time and time again are witness to the history of Eladio's family and it would be a shame to see them go.
The family plot, the old gates and new houses.
We were going to Villablino to the market.  We dressed in clothes for rain but it never came. In fact the day was beautiful.  Once in the town we went straight to the food stalls and there we bought a  home made meat and vegetable pie for dinner on Friday night, as well as the oranges we needed and some more fruit.  Eladio bought cheese as you can see in the photo below. We also bought some "cecina", a sort of smoked beef cut in thin slices a bit like the Italian braseola but much nicer. It is very typical of this province, León.
Eladio buying cheese at the market in Villablino
We came home to more sun so we opened up the terrace and cleaned the garden furniture ready for the arrival of our guests.  Lunch was home made lentils.

It was on Friday that Miguel and Oli moved from Benia de Anis to Andrín in Asturias. The latter is near the pretty village of Llanes.  

It has a beautiful little beach and I have always wanted to visit Andrín.  We will one day, I'm sure.

On the move too were Irene and Tomas.  They too, inspired by us, stopped at the Palacio de Bornos in Rueda on their way here, no doubt for some of their wonderful ham and wine. 
Tomas and Irene at the Palacio de Bornos winery in Rueda on their way to Montrondo on Friday

We would be waiting for them for our evening walk when they got here.  The weather was wonderful and I was really looking forward to it.
The good weather in Montrondo on Friday
In the meantime in Madrid, Fátima my friend was keeping me posted on how my Father was. She very kindly ate lunch with him each day and worked at my desk in our study where he watches the BBC World news every afternoon. She sent me this lovely photo of him watching the news with her little dog Chispi by his feet. It's such a nice photo.
My Father watching the BBC World news in our study. 
In London meanwhile Suzy was waiting for her boyfriend Telmo to arrive from Biarritz.  He was supposed to have flown out on Thursday but the Ryan Air flight was cancelled due to the French air traffic controllers strike.  I would only hear later that he finally arrived on Friday evening.  I hope they have a great weekend.

Tomas and Irene arrived her at just before 7 and once they had settled in, off we went for a long walk.  We took them on the path we had discovered in the summer that takes you to Murias via the fields and old paths through a lovely birch tree forest.

On our walk with Irene and Tomas on Friday evening.
It gets dark here half an hour later than Madrid which gave us more walk time. Gerardo and Vicky had set off later than Irene and Tomas but even so got here really fast; in just 3 hours - I hope they don't get a speeding fine hahahaha.  So when we got back they had already arrived and set off out of the village to meet up with us.  Now we were all together.

They had all brought lots of excellent wine some of which we would have around dinner.  For dinner I served a home made chicken noodle soup (sopa de cocido) with the meat and vegetable pie I had bought in Villablino, "cecina", cheese and fresh asparagus, all followed by local "reine claude" greengages. Here we are having dinner.
Dinner on Friday night with my "Spanish family"
We then had a long "sobremesa" which turned out to be a heated conversation around the table where we talked about the institution of marriage and how it is changing to the Catholic Church and all its wright but mostly wrongdoings according to Eladio who was very inspired that night. 

Meanwhile that night, outside in the dark sky, a super moon made its appearance.  It was amazing.
The super moon as seen in Montrondo on Friday night.
I had read there would be one that night and looked it up and found that it was being called "a spooky harvest moon"; a lunar eclipse which would not be repeated until 2024.  It was truly spectacular and very visible here possibly because there is zero pollution in this mountainous rural area. 

And today is Saturday and we have a whole day ahead of us to enjoy.  The weather promises to behave and no doubt we shall go on a walk up the mountains.  There will be a local wedding today.  My neighbour, Salo's twin daughter Patri is getting married.  I bet you didn't know that Montrondo is famous for its high percentage of twins. 
4 of the 5 sets of twins from Montrondo by the church in the village.  The two in the middle with shorts on are Patri and Adri but I can't tell them apart.  Patri is getting married today which will be quite an event.
According to this article there are 5 pairs of twins (4 identical) for just 49 inhabitants (not all live here all year round). Interesting eh?  There is no scientific explanation for this but the legend goes that it is due to the water in "la fuente del cuadro" high up in the mountains. So now you know, if you want twins, you must come to visit Montrondo and drink the water from this spring.

Saturday was a day packed with activities. I drew up a programme for our guests which started off with leisurely breakfast.  Mid morning we stepped outside the house to show them the village; the highlights and of course to meet many of its inhabitants.  First we went to the village common (El Camp), then to get eggs from Serafina and Ulpiano.  Right across the way from their house we took them to see one of the latest landmarks, La Fleita spring where they tried the fresh water that comes straight from the mountains.
By La Fleita spring.
From there we walked up the path that leads to the mountain, via El Retorno, to take them to where you get best views of the village.  However just as we up by the beauty spot we heard the bread van and had to come rushing down. Meals in Montrondo without the local bread are unheard of and Spaniards cannot conceive of them without it either.

We then walked towards the main landmark, the 18th century church of the village. At the beginning of the path we found many pear and apple trees and just had to try some of the fruit.  Here are Irene, Tomas and Gerardo helping themselves to apples! When Eladio was a child it was forbidden fruit, but today no one cares hahaha.
Picking apples in Montrondo
On our way we found Fernando, a local, tending his orchard.  He kindly gave us 3 enormous spring onions!  I had to get a picture of him
Fernando by his orchard.
Once by the church we took the customary photo just below the belfry.

In the church grounds were some of the local women; Manolita, Marisa, Pili, Blanca, Josefa and others preparing a surprise for the bride of the wedding that would take place in the afternoon.  They had done a splendid job and I loved the arch of flowers but especially the old bicycle.  We took loads of photos and I have chosen the one with the 6 of us beneath it as the main feature photo of the week.  I had to take one of the women too after their efforts.
Well done Josefa, Manolita, Blanca, Marisa and Pili for the beautiful flower arrangement at the entrance of the church for the wedding. 
By then it was time to walk to Murias to go and have a drink at La Palloza bar.  My friends loved the place; I do too because of its spectacular backdrop.  Below are Gerardo and Vicky raising a bottle of beer for sheer happiness.
Vicky and Gerardo at La Palloza bar
We walked home and we were running late on my programme but no worries as thanks to a super team effort, Tomas, Vicky, Irene and I made a delicious dish of bacalha a bras.  

Then it was siesta time but soon the bells were tolling for the wedding.  Irene, Tomás and I went to watch and to congratulate the family.  It was just so beautiful and the bride couldn't have looked lovlier.  
The wedding
Salo, the mother looked radiant. I just love the contented smile on her face and her dress of course.
The bride's mother Salo. 
Once the ceremony was over and all the wedding participants left for León where the reception would take place, the village seemed emptier of course.  

But there were still more activities that day as Javi, the youngest inhabitant, had organised a game of bowling (bolos leonesas) as they are played here.  It's really only the older generation who know how to play and they were teaching Javi and others of the younger generation.  I loved watching Eladio take part although his skills were rather rusty hahaha.
The complicated game of bowling which took place on the common on Saturday after the wedding.
After so much standing and watching and not understanding, hahaha, we needed to move, so off we went on our last walk of the day up the mountains. Our goal was to reach the birch forest (El abedular) where we just had to have a photo. 
By El Abedular in the mountains yesterday
We were back home just before 9 and thanks again to a super team effort, we rustled up a delicious dish of fried eggs, chips and tender local green beans from Serafina's orchard. The conversation after dinner was once again rather philosophical; thanks to my husband ex priest, philosopher and teacher.  He knows so much and I listen to him with awe.  I whispered to Irene that that was one of the reasons I love him so much.  

The night was not good.  I woke up at 3.30 with a migraine and was sick as a dog; throwing up countless times until finally I slept and then woke up at 7.15.  I am no longer feeling sick and the headache is receding as I write now.  But it's time to leave you now and get on with making breakfast for our guests.

As to today's programme, well it's pretty free but will include mass in Murias at 1.15 after which we shall of course go for a drink to La Palloza.

You will hear all about it my next post.  Meanwhile, let me wish you all a good week ahead,

Cheers from our beautiful village where the sun is shining and the day promises to be another glorious one like yesterday.