Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Season's Greetings

to everyone passing by. Thanks to everyone who visited and may 2009 be one of peace, joy and happy blogging.

Friday, 19 December 2008

A-Z guide to a Spanish Christmas

Ollas, Lotería, Uvas? What do these have in common with Christmas? Theresa O'Shea explains.

Theresa and Valerie produced the very amusing book "Estar en el ajo" referred to in a previous post, with the link to their website. For those of you who tried to access it before , it now works.

Árbol What’s a fir tree got to do with a traditional Spanish Christmas? Like reindeer and sleigh bells and Papa Noel himself, not a lot. But as Spain spends its way into the Global Department Store Christmas, the árbol de navidad is growing in popularity - although it looks unlikely to usurp the belén (see B) as Christmas decoration número uno.

Belén Christmas crib, or Nativity Scene. Belén actually means Bethlehem, and while some show just the manger scene, others form elaborate tableaux of the town and its environs. Many families have a “belén box” that goes back decades, full of lovingly-collected half-broken figurines, lumps of papier-mâché, bits of twig and silver paper, mirrors, corks, seeds and dried grasses; all ingeniously employed to recreate streams and bridges, paths and hills, carpenters’ workshops, fields of wheat and so on. Ironically, this most traditional of Spanish Christmas customs only goes back to the 18th century and was imported from Naples by the first wife of Carlos III.

Cava Catalunya's greatest gift to the world: affordable, drinkable champers. While bottles of the stuff are frequently uncorked at Christmas parties and gatherings throughout Spain, in Catalunya festive cava consumption reaches unthinkable oh-no-please-not-another-glass / bottle / case proportions.

Dulces Sweet things. OK, so the Spanish do savoury brilliantly: hams, cheeses, olives and all the other salt of the earth stuff. But it's hard to get excited about mantecados and polverones: lardy cakey, biscuity things that glue your mouth together and come in terrifyingly large boxes.

Esteban Steven, as in Saint Steven's Day. 26 December is a bit of a damp squid in most of Spain; there are newspapers, the banks are open, and some unfortunate souls even return to work. In Catalunya and Baleares though, it is a public holiday and as important as England’s Boxing Day.

Figurines for the Nativity Scene. These were originally made of porcelain, and later baked clay and plaster. It took the wonders of the hundred-peseta shop to turn an artisan art form into mass-produced tack. Apart from the main players, you can buy a whole range of village extras, including the kids’ favourite, el cagón or, in Catalan and Valenciano, el caganer (the, er, crapper). What a country lad with his trousers round his ankles has to do with the holy scene is anybody's guess.

(and for the latest addition of Barak Obama to the el cagón family, click HERE

Gambas Prawns. Ever since his first Christmas dinner in the UK (miniscule prawn-cocktail starter on a bed of limp lettuce), my Spanish husband insists on smuggling boxes of frozen shellfish in with the thermal underwear. Gambas at Christmas means dinner plates piled high with the giantest of prawns, langoustines, scampi, crayfish and other well-endowed relations. And that's just the pre-starter!

Higos Figs. After the shellfish comes a soup of some kind; for the main course there's turkey, fish, goat or lamb; then perhaps a light dessert; and finally – to aid digestion? - out comes the Muscatel and the frutos secos: almonds, hazelnuts, dates, apricots, and figs. If you're a fig fan, don't miss pan de higos – a thick nutty “cake” packed solid with the contents of several fig trees.

Inocentes, el día de los Santos Holy Innocents' Day. 28 December. Slight warped sense of humour in evidence here, as Spaniards celebrate King Herod's slaughter of male babies by playing April Fool-type practical jokes.

Jamón Christmas is a grim a time for pigs, especially the patiently-fattened acorn-eating variety. One false turn in Carrefour and you'll find yourself suddenly hemmed in by ceilings of swinging forelegs and hind legs, interspersed with extra-large, extra-phallic chorizos (sausages). Of all the festive foodstuffs it is the jamón, lovingly mounted on its cutting stand and covered with a damp cloth, without which the Spanish Christmas hamper would never be complete.

Lotería A staggering 90 percent of the population take part in the world's most famous and "fattest" lottery, El Gordo. Hardly surprising with prize money totalling EUR 1.8 billion. On the morning of the draw (22 December), any local bar is the place to be, where everyone will be glued to the TV screen, clutching their décimas and participaciones (more affordable fractions of full numbers) as the children of the San Ildefonso orphanage pull out and sing-song the winning numbers.

Misa de Gallo Rooster mass, as the Spanish call our equivalent of midnight mass.

Noche Buena Christmas Eve. Most Spaniards rate this as the most important of all the Christmas feast days. It's the only time, other than summer siesta hours, when streets are deserted and bars and restaurants close. But don't be fooled, the action simply moves indoors. On this "good night” the latest-suppering country in the world goes for gold, with most Christmas dinners starting around eleven or midnight.

Ollas Saucepans. Preferably large enough to bath a small child, considering that it's quite normal for 20 or 30 family members to eat together over the Christmas period.

Pascua, Flor de Poinsettia. A recent addition to the Christmas decor. Striking though they are, with their deep-red star flowers and velvety green leaves, I've yet to buy one that lasted beyond Reyes. (see R)

Quo Vadis You can guarantee this epic will be on television, along with Qué bello es la Vida (It's a Wonderful Life) and El Mago de Oz.

Reyes Kings' Day. In Spain it is still the Three Kings - not Father Christmas - who bring the presents. On the eve of 6 January, every city, town and two-bit pueblo holds its cabalgata (cavalcade). Melchor, Balthasar, Gaspar dressed in all their exotic finery parade down the main drag on tractors, horses or camels, thrones in tow, throwing sweets and toys to the crowds of excited children. Later, they flit from balcony to balcony, dropping off presents and partaking of milk and biscuits (water for the camels).

Santa, or Papa Noel The purists don't like it, but Spain has little hope against the red and white tide. Only the department stores and the kids are happy as parents end up buying two lots of presents now.

Tió, as in cagar el tió. Put as delicately as I can manage, "making the log drop its load". A charming Christmas Eve custom in Catalunya that involves singing special songs and beating on a blanket-covered log (the family tió) until the presents pop out.

Uvas Grapes. We sing Auld Lang Syne and hold hands while the Spanish eat a dozen grapes. The tradition was started by the wine merchants of yesteryear, giving the locals plenty of time to develop a 12-lucky-grapes gene. Year after year as I choke on green pulp and pips, my Spanish friends down theirs effortlessly. In 1996, however, even the most adept swallowers came unstuck when the clock of the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, instead of striking at digestible three-second intervals, speeded up to one and half seconds, leaving half of Spain with its mouth full.

Villancicos Carols. Forget solemn. Think hand-clapping, foot-stomping, pub-type sing-a-longs and you've captured the essence of Spanish carol-singing. Traditionally takes place around the belén, with everyone banging on a medley of home-made instruments - anís bottle and spoon, mortar and pestle, paper comb, jars of lentils and a zambomba (see Z). Probably the catchiest of all villancicos is the ubiquitous “Mira cómo beben los peces en el río” (Look how the fishes are drinking in the river).

White Christmas Blanca Navidad, covered by old crooner Rafael, is as much a part of the season here as in the UK - despite the fact that most Spaniards (in the South and on the islands, at any rate) have as much chance of seeing a white Christmas as Brits have a sunny one.

Xixona Cheating a bit here, the Castilian spelling is Jijona and it's the name of a town near Alicante where most of the season's turrón is made. Said to have been invented by the Ancient Greeks, authentic turrón is a kind of nougat made with almonds, sugar, honey and egg white. It is sold in gold bullion-type slabs and comes in hundreds of different flavours these days. Along with the hams, occupies more square metres of supermarket in December than any other product.

Yemas Egg yolks. We have Spain's Moorish past to thank for the fact that many Christmas sweets are made principally from pure cholesterol. Well, something has to be done with all those leftover yolks from the turrón production.

Zambomba © NUKAMARI

Zambomba Key instrument for villancico (see V) sessions. Basically an upturned bottomless flower-pot with a drum-skin stretched across one end and a hole in the middle through which a pole fits. To produce the instrument's low zam-bom, zam-bom sound the player spits on his or her hand and moves it up and down the pole. That's the theory, at any rate. My efforts suggest there might be a zambomba gene out there somewhere.

Thanks to Theresa for her permission to reproduce this here.

If you enjoy their style, visit their website as there are more stories there.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Simple Truths

Back in the 70s when I was studying sociology, among other things, I learned the name for that senseless activity we all deploy to escape doing something we don't want to do - Displacement Activity. You know the thing: you have an assignment to do, an appointment to make, etc. and, suddenly, there's that burning need to clean the oven, re-order the cupboards.....jobs you've procrastinated over for weeks. I chuckled with recognition then and I still do when I find myself indulging in it.

I've developed a passion for lists over the years. Unlike now where lists are essential, I didn't need them, but I always had a list of "to-do" things which always ended with "do nothing". This was good advice from a friend to help me overcome a time of extended sick leave when I felt bereft of the structure of my job.

This week I've received from SimpleTruths.com another piece of good advice which brings together list making and displacement activity..... "eat that frog". Go take a look http://www.eatthatfrogmovie.com/

Don't forget to turn up the volume.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Another time-consuming passion

For the last two years, el jefe has been busying himself preparing a website about steam locomotives - that is when he's not been occupied by building stuff for the garden, digging, planting etc. or doing mosaics.

He is a night-bird so every evening when I hit the sack around 11, he stays up till 1 or 2 a.m. wrestling with sophisticated art software programs to produce locomotives and tenders from times gone by. It's complicated, time-consuming work and the air has been blue at times as he frequently "forgets" to read the manual (you know the phrase - RTFM!) and spends hours figuring out how to do something only to find the easy answer when he consults the tutorials.

Anyway, the current results are HERE

There are some sections still being built but there are enough illustrations and explanations to interest that strange breed of people, affectionately known as "anoraks" who love the age of steam. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

November Sundown

People who visit our garden take one look at the bottles that hang in the pear tree and say "why are those there?".
We explain about the sun shining through them when its low in the sky. Here it is.......worth it, eh?
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Saturday, 29 November 2008


In brilliant sunshine this morning I hung out some washing and within 10 minutes, hailstones appeared. Oh, good, I can ignore the garden and can sit in front of my PC with impunity...which I did, and read some great familiar blogs. This quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson seems apt for many warm, generous people out in blogland..."The best effect of fine persons is felt when we have left their presence". How true.

I came across a Black Box widget - see on the right. Have a go. It will take you to blogs of people who made similar black box choices. My first "hit" was this delightful blog HERE
Another great blog about Spain, in English, to add to my collection. Go have a look. There's a wonderful exhibition in Granada (where the blogger is based) of a Peruvian photographer and if you visit her shop, you'll find some chic home-made cards and other goodies.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Churros, more information

I can see that my post on these delicious naughties brought back happy memories for some of you, so here's more information, with thanks to a wonderful book "In the Garlic" (estar en el ajo, which means to be clued up, to know the score) by Valerie Collins & Theresa O'Shea. Val and Theresa have a website click HERE
You can read more, buy the book and visit other articles by these two women, who live in Barcelona.

For those not in the garlic, churros are fritters made from dough and extruded from a large piping bag into hot oil. When fried to a crispy texture, they're dusted with sugar and (optional) cinnamon.
What I didn't know was that the smaller, crinkly ones I prefer are called madrileños. The thicker tubular variety that I had recently are porros (truncheons) or tejeringos (meaning I-inject-you's, from the verb jeringar to inject). And just to muddle me up even further, on our next trip to Seville we must ask for calentitos (little hotties - I love it).

Monday, 10 November 2008

Indulgence, Spanish style.

The No. 1 elevenses in Spain. Hot chocolate, which is like liquid chocolate and a cup of this leaves you wired for hours, and churros - thin (usually) hot doughnut sticks with sugar shaken over them.

We allow ourselves these about twice a year but I didn't bargain for these very wide sticks today in our local supermarket cafe. Here's my plate of naughtiness. The waiter did a double take when I ordered a plate each.

These scrumptious naughties can be found in most areas of Spain, often in special churros cabins. They're about half a metre long when fished out of the fryer, snipped into smaller bits into a paper cone and shaken over with sugar.....heaven.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Spanish scenes

Storks getting ready to leave for Africa - very late this year I think. They suddenly appeared and I didn't have time to refresh my memory on how to zoom. Click on pictures to enlarge.
I rounded a corner at Novo Sancti Petri after meeting a friend for a tapas lunch, and here was this wonderfully restored rickshaw. What it's doing here, outside an overstuffed furniture and nick-nacks shop, is anyone's guess.
And here's my favourite round another corner....a cafe devoted solely to Haagen Dazs ice cream.
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Wednesday, 5 November 2008

President elect, Barack Obama

What a night.... and what a wonderful result. And what a mammoth task ahead of him. The victory speech was so inspiring in its inclusivity, yet realistic . I don't want to lose this so will print it out and pin in on my study wall.

For those of you who missed it, here it is:


Obama acceptance speech in full

A speech by the new president-elect of the United States of America, Barack Obama

Comments ()

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It's the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

I just received a very gracious call from Senator McCain. He fought long and hard in this campaign, and he's fought even longer and harder for the country he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine, and we are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader. I congratulate him and Governor Palin for all they have achieved, and I look forward to working with them to renew this nation's promise in the months ahead.

I want to thank my partner in this journey, a man who campaigned from his heart and spoke for the men and women he grew up with on the streets of Scranton and rode with on that train home to Delaware, the Vice President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden.

I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last sixteen years, the rock of our family and the love of my life, our nation's next First Lady, Michelle Obama. Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House. And while she's no longer with us, I know my grandmother is watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight, and know that my debt to them is beyond measure.

To my campaign manager David Plouffe, my chief strategist David Axelrod, and the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics – you made this happen, and I am forever grateful for what you've sacrificed to get it done.

But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to – it belongs to you.

I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn't start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington – it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.

It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation's apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory.

I know you didn't do this just to win an election and I know you didn't do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor's bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you – we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years – block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers – in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House – a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We are not enemies, but friends…though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection." And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn – I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down – we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security – we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

For that is the true genius of America – that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing – Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons – because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America – the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that "We Shall Overcome." Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves – if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time – to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth – that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America."

What exciting and scary times we are living in.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

U.S. Presidential Elections.

Well, it's been a long haul and tonight will be the decider. El jefe and I will be snuggled down all night in front of the fire rooting for the candidate who will do most to lighten the load of ordinary people and restore respect for the U.S.A. worldwide. And we all know who that is.

Not since the JFK election have I found the American politics so absorbing and interesting, to the point that little else got done.

Am thinking of all my American blogging buddies over the water.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Further U.S. Politics - Senator McCain/The Keating 5.

I came across THIS

an article from the Phoenix New Times written 20 years ago about the conflict of financial interest and poor judgement of John McCain in the Keating 5 affair.

It's a long article and well worth the read to illustrate - to me at least - how little has changed in the way John McCain conducts himself in public life.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

More on the U.S Election.

Here's a selection of comments to today's Times article HERE
about some of the choices Obama could make for his cabinet.

"There may be no wealth left to spread if Obama gets elected
We may wish for the 1930s again.
Galt, Philadelphia, USA

Think about this, many financiers such as George Soros have been funding Obama. If Obama becomes president, these funders are going to call in their markiers and Obama will have to start passing out favors. This could get sorta nasty.
gordon, garrison, texas, USA

Why shouldn't the Celebrity Candidate lineup a Celebrity Cabinet? McCain is probably going to pick his cabinet the old-fashioned way based on credebility, commitment and credentials, not celebrity.
Maripo, New York , USA

God save you? Words fail? After 8 years of a President who has brought death & destruction wherever he has turned his fundamentalist eyes? Look up Socialism - this isn't it. You should be grateful Obama can be bothered to be President of a country left in such a shocking state, at home & abroad
Elizabeth, London,

Count down, those the uneducated. Your time is up. 8 years of the incomprehensible reign of terror from those republican nut jobs is over.

The rest of the world can now focus on picking up the pieces from one of the most disgraceful administrations in history.

Shame on anyone voting republican.
Duncan, Melbourne, Australia

This election ISN'T OVER YET!!!
There is no guarantee the Marxist Obama is going to be elected.
I will be voting for McCAIN on Monday (early voting). I encourage everyone on the fence to do the same!
This arrogant Marxist and his Media Cabal must be defeated!
Toby, Dallas, TX

The real scandal is that we're still having an election in the United States. The French fashion designers have spoken, the New York Times has given its full commitment, and Hamas is simply delighted. Why are all those bitter, God-fearing, gun-waving Americans still entitled to have a say? Change...
Richard Blauhaus, Meriden, USA

Susan Rice and John Kerry leading the charge on foriegn policy - say it isn't so. Lord help us.
Greg, Los Angeles, CA, USA

The fact that you might somehow consider this "socialism" explains what's wrong with the USA. This kind of ignorance and simple mindedness is what brought people like Bush to the White House. If you guys make the same mistake again, you deserve what you get. Get your great country back on the map!!
John Harding, Montreal, Canada"

Let's hope most Americans don't see things the way most of these US commentators do.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Jerez outing

I've been so obsessed lately with reading and watching so much about the American presidential race, then clearing up after the worst storm here for 40 years when one of our ngaio trees came down that I jumped at the chance to go to the International Women's Association meeting in Jerez.

It was being held in a renovated Moroccan market in the old quarter of the city. It houses about 25 artists and artisans, mostly women, who sell their handmade wares - jewellery, leatherwork, ceramics, textiles and paintings.

The Association meets every month and starts with a communal breakfast, then a talk (last month it was on spiritual healing) or a tour. It's a good way to meet other women of all nationalities and to get to know more about this part of Spain and its culture.

Below is a little slide show to give you an idea of the architecture, both renovated and crumbling, of the Cathedral, the City wall and the Zoco (market) where we had breakfast followed by a little retail therapy.

Jerez is truly a beautiful city. Surrounded by vines, it's the home of sherry and thousands take the trips round the bodegas to learn about the process, sample their wares and have a little tapas. It's good to go in a party by coach so that a little siesta after too much sampling doesn't go amiss on the way home.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Where the bail-out money goes

Here's an article from a British newspaper which highlights just what taxpayers in USA and UK are concerned about: executives of failing companies rewarding themselves with the bail-out money.

"Bosses of an insurance giant bailed out with £48 billion of U.S. taxpayers' money went on a £250,000 retreat to a posh resort less than a week after the rescue, it has been revealed.

American International Group executives racked up a huge tab during the week-long getaway.

The bill included £13,000 worth of spa treatments for AIG employees at the Tuscan-themed St. Regis resort south of Los Angeles.

But U.S. lawmakers investigating the firm's meltdown were still enraged over cash spent on banquets, golf outings and visits to the resort's spa and salon.

'Average Americans are suffering economically. They're losing their jobs, their homes and their health insurance,' Democratic House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman said.

'Yet less than one week after the taxpayers rescued AIG, company executives could be found wining and dining at one of the most exclusive resorts in the nation.'

Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said: 'They were getting facials, manicures, and massages, while the American people were footing the bill".

OK, a quarter of a million pounds is paltry when billions are bandied about but where was the oversight and control promised when agreeing these bail-out sums?

Friday, 3 October 2008

Sorted books

These wonderful blogs - 60going on16 here,
Random Distractions here
and Musings from a Muddy Island here
have acquainted me with the Sorted Books Project, and it's just up my street....

This is what it's all about

The Sorted Books project began in 1993 years ago and is ongoing. The project has taken place in many different places over the years, ranging form private homes to specialized public book collections. The process is the same in every case: culling through a collection of books, pulling particular titles, and eventually grouping the books into clusters so that the titles can be read in sequence, from top to bottom. The final results are shown either as photographs of the book clusters or as the actual stacks themselves, shown on the shelves of the library they were drawn from. Taken as a whole, the clusters from each sorting aim to examine that particular library's focus, idiosyncrasies, and inconsistencies — a cross-section of that library's holdings. At present, the Sorted Books project comprises more than 130 book clusters.'

Apart from fiction going back to the 1950s, my library overflows with stuff on mental health, therapy and alcohol/drug dependency. This, my first offering, is a typical scenario.

As D says on 60goingon16, a very good exercise for aging brains - and what a marvellous way to mooch around my books on a rainy afternoon.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Wise Words

After a week of getting bogged down with a huge variety of reports on US and UK remedies for the catastrophic global financial situation - and feeling no nearer to understanding it - I turned to my journal where over many years I've recorded scraps of wisdom from different writers.

Jenni Diski hit me first. Her description of certain tabloid newspapers reflected my feelings on the topic as well as when watching the news...."a kind of despair that grows like creeping paralysis over the will".

And then, on the same page, some uplifting words on a common theme:

Albert Camus "The evil that is in the world almost always comes from ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding"

Marie Curie Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.

Anton Checkhov Man will become better when you show him what he is like.

So, it's back to the drawing board if I'm to get out of this "creeping paralysis"....read, discuss and debate and try and reach a better understanding.

I wonder if other people have "wise words" to comfort themselves when their energy is low.

Here is a lovely Sanskrit poem I've visited frequently over the last 15 years.....

Look to this day, for it is life;
The very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the truths and realities of existence -
The joy of growth;
The splendour of action;
The glory of power.

For yesterday is but a memory
And tomorrow is only a vision.
But today, well lived, makes every yesterday a memory of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

U.S. Expenditure

My head is stuffed with facts and figures about the collapse of some of the biggest financial institutions and the bail-out figures to be paid out - $85 billion to AIG. Yes, 85 million million.

Compare this with the cost to the U.S. of fighting the Iraq war, as the widget counter on the bottom right of this blog will show. I got into all of this because of an article by Noam Chomsky in July this year. To do it justice, I am copying and pasting the whole thing.

So sorry. Cannot seem to paste this so it remains intact - right hand margin cut off. To read the whole article click on the link, chomsky.com at the bottom of the page.


Well, their voices should matter.....think of the billions of taxpayers' money going on this war. And think of the good that money could do for health care, affordable housing, education, pensions and care for elderly and disabled people.

Check out the dollar counter widget......the mind boggles. To put it in £ sterling

U.S. expenditure £2,000 per second
U.K. expenditure £31 per second

Saturday, 20 September 2008

The Spanish Language

What a beautiful language and, as with any other, it’s the putting together of the verbs, adjectives and nouns in the right order and not constructing sentences literally that is the key to fluency. After 5 years here I still have difficulty and I was urged to spare a thought recently in an article about Spanish emigrants who went to Switzerland in the 1950s to 1970s who still have problems with the German language.

More than two million Spaniards emigrated during that time; many went to Basel, Switzerland, fleeing from a backward, impoverished country. Of those who decided to stay, their average age is now 69 and have formed the Arco Iris Association and conducted a survey among themselves. 336 Spanish residents participated and about half the men and three-quarters of the women say they have never managed to learn the German language well.

I find this an odd statistic because in my experience here, it is the women who work the hardest at learning the language. Couples start classes together, then the majority of the men give up and leave the talking to the women. Was it ever different? Women seem to work harder at keeping up contact with family and friends; they send the birthday and seasonal cards and, generally, keep the whole social scene humming along.

Am I right or am I being sexist.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

U.S. Politics

I haven't got around to including my links on this new blog but one of my favourites which addresses issues of aging is Time Goes By.

There's always lively discussion , contributions from a geriatrician and great stories on a sister site. Ronnie, the webmistress, tirelessly provides information on the upcoming American elections and invites contributions from readers, which are published on a Sunday. It's all made fascinating reading, albeit a little scary and, to be honest , fills me with despair and frustration.

I've noticed from following the reports in the Guardian, that many of the commentators on articles are from the USA. Some are full of righteous indignation that anyone outside of the USA has the temerity to criticise or comment on how the elections are being handled. But here's one that caught my eye apropos a recent speech by Sarah Palin.

Interesting post from Craigslist in Sacramento.

I'm a little confused. Let me see if I have this straight.....

* If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you're 'exotic', 'different', even 'elitist'

* Grow up in Alaska eating mooseburgers, a quintessential American story.

* If your middle name means "handsome" or "good looking" in Arabic you're a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.

* Name your kids Willow, Trig and Track, you're a maverick.

* Graduate from Harvard law School and you are unstable.

* Attend 5 different small colleges before graduating, you're well grounded.

* If you spend 3 years as a community organizer, become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor, spend 8 years as a State Senator representing a district with more than 750,000 people, become chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, spend 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran's Affairs committees, you don't have any real experience.

* If your total resume is: local weather girl, 4 years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with fewer than 9,000 people where you raised sales taxes and which you left with a newly created debt, 20 months as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you're qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency behind a 72 year-old cancer survivor with high blood pressure who takes Ambien to sleep at night.

* If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising 2 beautiful daughters, all within Protestant churches, you're not a real Christian.

* If you cheated on your first wife a number of times and finally with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you ARE a good Christian.

* If you advocate responsible, age appropriate sex education, including the proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society.

* If, while governor, you staunchly push abstinence only, with no other option in sex education in your state's school system while your unwed teen daughter ends up pregnant, you're very responsible.

* If your wife is a Harvard graduate lawyer who gave up a position in a prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner city community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family's values are not America's family values.

* If your husband is nicknamed "First Dude," with at least one DWI conviction and no college education, who didn't register to vote until age 25 and once was a member of a group that advocated the secession of Alaska from the USA, your family is extremely admirable and ALWAYS puts 'country first'...

OK, much clearer now.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Cadiz Air Show

We should have been there at 9 to park and get a good spot. Loaded up with picnic, blanket and beach umbrella it was more like mid-day when we arrived and it was mayhem in Cadiz.....people, cars everywhere. Not an inch of space to spare.

Cruising down the side road of the Causeway, hoping someone had got fed up, gone home and left us a space, we got further and further away from the action. Ah but..... we found parking near an almost deserted beach and with our binoculars were able to catch a Catalina-type flying boat used as a firefighter, the Mirage and F11 jets and, to end the show, the Spanish equivalent of the Red Arrows, streaming red and yellow smoke trails. All in all a good few hours and I solved the mystery of why there are hordes streaming to the beach every day: there's always a lovely breeze down there to cool them off.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

A new direction.

I’ve wound up my gardening blog and am over here to let my thoughts be given free rein on any topic that takes my fancy. Not for nothing is it called Everything and Nothing and that the url means “my foot in my mouth” (my partner’s suggestion - I wonder what he’s trying to tell me!)

Let me kick off with a lovely observation from Kate here. I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about aging recently and I think her metaphor provides a nice link between my old blog and the new.

gracefully aging

While admiring the Pulsatilla vulgaris this spring, I began thinking of how the life of a flower from bud to seedpod loosely parallels our lives. When we are young and in full bloom, we turn our faces to the sun and bask in our youthful beauty and exuberance. It is a time of unlimited possibilities and much exploration. Our petals are shiny and bright. We are filled with youthful optimism and yearn to reach higher and experience as much as we can.

And then, as time goes on, we gain more knowledge and a deeper wisdom about life. We have cycled through our early adulthood and have reached middle age. We have learned much about life and love and know the meaning of loss. We know, too, what is really of value and what we cherish.

It is a time of a different sort of beauty- more of a radiant, inner one. Even though we are exhorted to try and maintain youthful appearances and banish any outward signs of aging, there is a dignity nonetheless in allowing ourselves to enjoy the skin that we're in.

Just as with the Pulsatilla, the seedpods are not as flashy as the flowers, but they still have an allure. There is a mystery to them. They are occupied with other things beyond passing fads and pleasing others. Sometimes these are hard lessons to learn.

Thank you once again Kate for allowing me to use this.