I had thought it would be a good idea to have some friends over for dinner to celebrate the onset of 2007 (sorry if you didn’t receive your invitation on time…must be that pesky postal service), and as the New Year is a very special time, I wanted to have a proper sit-down dinner. Problem number 1 with this seemingly brilliant idea was that my dining table only holds eight people comfortably. Problem number 2 was that I wanted to invite more than eight people. Problems, schmoblems…I resolved it easily by simply planning two dinners. Okay, I never spent a lot of time pondering the logistics of having two dinners on consecutive days but instead worked out the menu. In the last several weeks of 2006, British television was chocker with cookery programmes, and the one that attracted my interest were the three programmes with Nigella Lawson. Nigella has this…well, style, when she prepares food, and I was mesmerised by some of the recipes she did so I decided to have a go at several of her menu selections.
The starter would be a grilled peach half; sitting on some lettuce, covered (artistically, of course) with some extra-thin sliced Serrano ham, sliced Parmesan, and with Goat’s cheese crumbled around it. Once assembled, a bit of Balsamic vinegar was sprinkled over the entire starter tower of gastronomical delights. It looked easy-peasy, but to be safe, I tried to make one of these a few days before the big dinner extravaganzas. It was fab, so that was on the menu for sure.
The main course was going to be baked chicken, prepared with lemon-wedges and spiced with sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and a liberal dose of fresh Basil from the garden. My vegetable plan included potatoes that I wedged and covered with a blend of sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and Rosemary, also from the garden; as well as sprouts. Cooking Brussels sprouts, as told by the lovely and talented Nigella, can be a trick. Her recommendation was to slop them into boiling water for about five minutes, and then put them in a fry pan that already contained cooked bacon bits and garlic. Add a dollop of butter (to Nigella, a dollop appears to be about 2 kilos, and I did cut back on that a bit), and cook for another five minutes.
Finally, I had decided that I wanted to have home-made ice cream for dessert. Not just some trendy, carcinogen-laden frozen treat, but orange-zest ice cream. No, I don’t own an ice cream maker, and as a matter of fact, I don’t even own a mixer. But I borrowed a mixer, bought some double cream and some icing sugar, picked a couple of oranges and had at it. Zest the orange, squeeze the juice out of what is left over, add the sugar and then chuck in 500 ml of the cream…and mix…and mix…and mix. Yes, I did do a test run of this as well, and learnt that without a proper ice cream maker, this can be a bit time consuming. It took well over 30 minutes standing there with a mixer, whipping the mixture into shape, followed by another 6 hours or so in the freezer before it is ready to eat, but it is soooooooo good, especially when hot melted chocolate is dripped over it.
So, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, I did my proper-cooking-thing, and served everything on the plates and serving platters that I had made last summer (and, as you might imagine, on the placemats that I had screen-printed for the dinners). The trick of course is to make sure that everything is ready at the appropriate time, and this is where on Saturday evening, things did go astray a tad. One of my friends is a vegetarian, and I think I don’t’ think she had enough to eat, with just a ham-less salad, potatoes and separately prepared sprouts. I had planned to make some tofu-based chicken for her, but by the time I had everything else going, I had completely forgotten to cook it. Ooops…my kitchen time management needs some work apparently.
I wasn’t sure exactly what would happen with the dinners. The options seemed to be; A) the second group of people would get the best of the two dinners, as my learning curve should improve after the first attempt; B) the second group of people would get the worst of the two dinners because I would be so knackered from the first dinner and would muck up the second attempt; or C) I would lose 16 friends due to the effects of food poisoning. Luckily (for both my friends and myself), all seemed to go well, with the minor complaints that I hadn’t dressed like Nigella (she does have this propensity to cook in a red satin robe…)
Enough about my recent cooking exploits. It was another beautiful morning yesterday, with the sun streaming down on the village (and I suppose on the entire island, but I live in Puigpunyent, so that is my concern). It was so warm and sunny that it seemed to be a good day to get out of the house, just to see how some of the areas around the village survived the winter. Okay, even I would agree that it might be a bit premature to say that winter is already over, after all, it is early January; but every good day in January means that the potential for those nasty days that I dislike (the ones where clouds fill the skies and rain falls all over), are diminished. So off on my walk I went.
In the past few days drives to Valdemossa and Establiments were in order, but today was just perfect for a walk. I put on a jumper and set out from La Antigua. After being here for almost two years, I seem to have identified several walking directions. Today’s journey was down on of the back roads that wind around the village, past the winery, coming out on the Puigpunyent-Palma road. Once I had driven the way, just to find out how long it was, but now, with my magical pedometer, the only thing that is important is the number of steps. I do keep striving to get to the magical 10,000 steps per day, but I think the person who came up with that number was probably on some serious medication at the time, but none-the-less, I suppose that being conscious about the amount of exercise I get daily is better than just thinking about it sitting on the terrace reading.
The walk (a full 8,205 pedometer-certified steps) was very special…it was as if winter actually was over. The almost negligible breeze helped to make the apparent temperature soar, and early on, I had to remove my jumper as I strolled (sorry, as I energetically power-walked…yes, that sounds better) along the narrow road. The only noises I could hear were from the odd dog or two that seemed to be a bit concerned that I was walking past their respective fincas; and the sheep and goats that wander around in the fields, their bells clinking as they grazed on whatever they graze on.
So when I returned home, I realised that the walk had stimulated my appetite, and made...a pizza.
the lovely and talented Ms. Lawson
one of the dinners
a field near Puigpunyent
the onset of summer (one can only hope) in the village
the Son Puig winery near the village
ecologically sound weed destruction
I like living in Puigpunyent, but you probably already know this. Part of the reasons why include that being here has been very good for my desire to have a creative outlet for whatever it is I do. The past several days have been, as I can best describe them, as days filled with intensive creativity. Now before I get into this letter, I think we all need to sit back and realise that creativity is a relative thing, and what one may think is creative and what someone else might deem creative may just be different. There, having said that, I will now tell you what has been going on.
First, the weather has been simply brilliant lately, and I have known for years that when the weather is good (by my standards), my creativity surges. This doesn’t mean that I have come up with the solution to global warming, solved world hunger, or even established a plan for real world peace. I tend to work on a different level I guess. My creativity levels focus more on things I can actually do to contribute to what I think is important. So this means I have been writing excessively – I do have a commissioned piece that I need to have done at the end of the month, and to make sure that it is good, I have been conducting a series of phone interviews with people in the UK. Whilst these interviews do sort of cut into my other creativity time, they have produced quite a few good content inputs for the written piece.
I have also been working on the logistics involved in producing this year’s holiday card. I usually begin working on my holiday cards in September or October – this is the time that I come up with the idea of what I want to do, and in most years, even make a sample or two to see if the idea is even viable. Two years ago, I made all sorts of tests, only to determine that my idea for the card, in a word, sucked. So at least by starting early, I was able to design something else. Last year’s card project began in October, and it took a month to get the cards ready. This year, 2007, my planning began a tad earlier. I visualised the card I wanted to make for 2007 in mid-December, just as I was posting the last of my 2006 cards. Yes, this did seem a bit early, even for someone who lives and thrives on projects, but the only explanation I can give is that when I ‘see’ the idea clearly, I need to get cracking on making some samples to test the idea out.
Just after New Year’s, I had made several tests of the cards. Well, actually, ‘several tests’ means I had by then come up with several variations on the 2007 card. My son and daughter-in-law, Dave and Nancy, whom I told what I was doing, began to express concerns that at the rate I was working on this, I would, by mid-summer 2007, I would have enough cards sorted out to last through 2010, but I assured them that this wasn’t the case (but to come to think of it, that might be a good idea). So the part of the past several days has been focused on making sure that the final design was feasible to have ready for posting near the holiday season.
This weekend brings yet another celebration in the village. This one is for Sant Antoni, who I am told “was born in Egypt in the year 251 and spent most of his life praying and fasting in the desert, where he was tempted many times by the Devil, who would appear dressed as a woman. Since the Middle Ages he has been acknowledged as the Patron Saint of domestic animals.” Tempted by women and the Patron Saint of domestic animals. Hmmm.
Okay, the flyer that was stuffed into my post box at La Antigua said that this Sunday was the highlight of the celebration, the “Les Tradicional Beneides.” I can’t wait, or so I thought up to the time I was able to figure out what the translation was on the flyer. Here is what it said; ‘Totes les carrosses que vulguin participar-hi. Optaran als seguents premis.” Right. What I think this means is that I can bring any animals that I own to the village church and they will be blessed. Now even though I don’t own any animals, and even though I am Lutheran, and even though I am really not sure what this is all about, this sounded like a great way to spend the afternoon. With my non-existent Mallorquin, how do you suppose I came to the conclusion of what the flyer said? No, I didn’t ask anyone in the village, and I assumed that it didn’t mean that everyone could come to the village centre and be tempted by women. I simply looked at the words…and then at all the little photos of cats, dogs, pigs, and horses that were pasted on the flyer. See? Earning that Ph.D. really has paid off. I was thinking I could borrow a friend’s pet and have that blessed – that has to be a better option than going to the ceremony with a six-pack of Coke-Light and saying that it is a litter of something – but instead decided to just have a wander over and see what the celebration was all about.
The parade that preceded the blessing of the animals was pretty impressive, with decorated floats, everyone in costume (boys all kitted out as little devils and girls as…well, little girls). I haven’t seen this many people in the village in ages. The traffic was at a stand-still with all the roads being completely backed up with cars trying to get through the village centre (okay, both roads). I am convinced that some of the tourists that think that a drive in the country on a sunny day is a good thing to do, finding themselves in Puigpunyent after missing some turn, were convinced that Brad and Angelina were in town.
And then there were the animals. I have no idea how many were actually there, but I did see a ferret (I suppose they need all the blessings they can get), a couple of goldfish in a Tupperware-type container, numerous parakeet-type caged birds (all looking rather concerned), cats galore (mostly eyeing up the birds I think), and a plethora of dogs. Cute dogs, nasty-looking dogs, little dogs, big dogs, and even the odd monstrous dog that looked strangely like he (or she) just rambled down from the Pyrenees after herding a couple of thousand sheep.
The local Priest, who apparently doesn’t have animal allergies, blessed each and every pet that their owners carried / dragged / nudged / cajoled / walked (all of these methods were visible on this fine Sunday morning) up to the church steps, and then everyone went home, safe in the knowledge that their respective pets were now well protected by the blessing of the church. It is days like this – sunny skies, warm weather, good friends – that I realise how lucky I am to live here. And I think I need a puppy.
our mayor (seated) at the head of the parade
our local parade band (both of them)
just wait until he grows up and remembers the head-gear
how adorable is she?
a bit intimidating perhaps
yes, this is Tony, my plumber
receiving a blessing from the local Priest
one of the more sedate parade floats
It has been a relatively busy week for me. On Tuesday, I flew to Germany to meet with a client. (yes, I actually left my island) I won’t even get into the weather as I think all of you have a good understanding of my views on acceptable levels of temperature; but the trip itself was quite good after a tentative start. The flight itself was fine and because I only had a carry-on bag – I never check baggage when I travel as the delays at the baggage collection conveyors can be abysmal, and the risk of losing baggage it too great – I was able to scurry through the terminal to find my client-supplied driver. As I walked through the glass doors, I began to look around at the group of drivers that were holding up signs with the names of the people they were there to collect. No, not that driver. Not the next one either, nor the next one in the queue of drivers who didn’t look that happy about being there either. Actually, I scanned the signs of the dozen or so drivers and couldn’t see any signs that had ‘Rieley’ printed on them. I have learnt that spelling doesn’t count in these situations, so I also scanned for ‘Reilly,’ ‘Ryley’, ‘Wyley,’ and any other aberration of my surname. Nothing. This was, to quote Stan Laurel, a fine mess.
Here I was in Frankfurt; it was past the time when I could ring my client to see if there was a car-glitch; and I was getting cranky. I began to walk around, trying to be obviously looking for someone, with the hope that the driver, who must have forgotten to bring a sign, would spot me. After about ten laps of the passenger area, I was still driverless. By now, the number of passengers from the Palma flight had been exhausted and a new group of passengers on an Istanbul to Frankfurt flight were coming out. I reasoned that if I didn’t find the driver soon, I would have to simply find the taxi rank and manage my own way to the hotel that I had been booked into. Another ten minutes drifted away, and as my frustration level was reaching a new high, I saw a man with a very small company logo on his suit-coat…and the logo was of the company that had brought me to Germany. Apparently he thought it was my job to find him. An interesting customer service concept.
After reaching the hotel, I had a near-life-threatening shock. The wi-fi system that the hotel was using was not functioning. Now I don’t know about you, but it is 2007, and my expectation is that any decent hotel that caters to business people has a functioning broadband system, and most of them are wireless. And whilst this hotel did have a system, the service provider was having a problem, so there I sat, in my hotel room, unable to connect my computer, and having CNN the only English-language station on telly. And if that wasn’t enough turmoil, I realised that in my rush out of the house earlier in the day, I had forgotten the phone charger for my mobiles, and my Spanish phone was about dead.
So let’s recap. I had left La Antigua; I was in Germany, where the temperature wasn’t even near my low level of acceptability, I almost didn’t get a ride to the hotel, I would be unable to recharge my phones, meaning in short order, they would sink into uselessness, and I couldn’t connect my computer and check my messages. Hmmmm, it was a good thing I deal well with stress. Right.
Things did look up the next day. The extremely competent P.A. of the client I was in Germany to see went out and bought me a phone charger; the internet service provider managed to get things sorted out by the time I returned to the hotel at the end of the day; my meetings went very well; and I was booked on a flight home the next morning.
Okay, let me explain what ‘morning’ means in this context. My ticketing was done through Air Berlin, which I have found to be a brilliant airline. But for some bizarre reason, the only flight that they had from Frankfurt to Palma the next morning was to depart at 0630. With all the travel problems that we all deal with in today’s world, a 0630 departure means you need to be at the airport before 0500; which means that I needed to leave the hotel at 0430; which meant I needed to be awake well before 0400. Ahhh, the joys of business travel. The good news was that Tabea (the one who saved my life with the phone charger) had made arrangements to have a driver at the hotel at 0430. The bad news was that I would have to be ready to go by that time.
I reasoned that I would need a wake-up call from the hotel, so when I ordered my evening’s room service, I placed a request for the 0400 wake-up call as well. I had them repeat my dinner order as well as confirm the wake-up call time, and then settled back into responding to emails. By 2000, I figured that I had better think about going to sleep, so I turned everything off and closed my eyes, opening them only to see what time it was. 2100. 2230. 2315. 2355. 0030. 0130. 0215. Scheisse…I was still awake and the amount of potential sleep I could get was slipping away faster than support for the Iraq war. I think that I must have fallen asleep at that point, as the next time I looked at the clock, the segmented green numbers said 0345. Fair enough; 1-1/2 hours of sleep was better than no sleep at all, so I dragged myself out of bed and popped into the shower. At 0400, my phone alarm went off. I was now getting dressed, trying to figure out how to get into the mini-bar to have some orange juice, and wondering why the wake-up call didn’t come through. By 0425, I was downstairs in the lobby waiting for the car to take me back to the airport, and asking the desk clerk about the wake-up call. ‘You didn’t receive the call?’ he said. ‘Strange, it is written down I think.’ Oh good; he must have been the brother-in-law of the first night’s driver.
I did arrive home safely and on my drive back to La Antigua, I realised that this trip provided me with several solid travel lessons, and I think they all begin with the tag line of the credit-card advert…’Don’t leave home without it.’
1) Your phone charger: don’t leave home without it; so you can be sure to have a wake-up alarm in case the hotel forgets.
2) A good book: don’t leave home without it; so when your computer can’t connect to the internet, you have something to do.
3) A dictionary for languages you don't speak: don’t leave home without it; so if the country you are in doesn’t have television programming you can understand you can find out what is going on in the world (without having to sink to the level of watching the pseudo-news broadcasts of CNN).
Then there always is the option of simply modifying the American Express advert to say, ‘Just don’t leave home.’
the morning after i returned home
the spectre of a glorious morning
the village never ceases to amaze me
a water fountain in the village for pets
Galatxo, with low clouds
a field behind a friend's house
so good to be home
I was going to look up the word “bureaucracy” in my dictionary, but then I realised that the past several months have provided me with a good idea of what it can be. In late December, I decided to change one of my mobile telephone providers. I have, besides a proper home phone, a UK mobile and a Spanish mobile. I use the UK mobile for my trips to England and my Spanish mobile when in Mallorca. I know it is a bit complicated, but this keeps my roaming charges down to a minimum, and therefore, they seemed like a good idea to have. But shortly after moving to La Antigua, I noticed that my Spanish mobile, which is on a contract through Vodafone, didn’t function well at home due to the immensely thick stone walls of the house. So realising that the easiest way out of a problem sometimes almost makes sense, I went out and picked up a ‘pay-as-you-go’ card from Movistar to use with a spare mobile handset that I had. All I had to do was forward all the calls from my Vodafone handset to the Movistar handset and all would work well, as for some unknown reason, the telephone signals from Movistar actually make it through all the walls of La Antigua. I really can’t figure out why this is, as there is only one real mobile tower in the village and both Vodafone and Movistar have antennas on the same tower. Regardless, my plan worked, and I was able to receive calls made to my Vodafone mobile by forwarding them to my Movistar mobile. Confused yet? Don’t be…this is the easy part of the story.
After almost two years of paying my monthly charge to Vodafone and buying the odd pay-as-you-go recharge for my Movistar phone, I decided that this was plain silly, so I decided to finally drop the Vodafone contract and convert the contract to Movistar so I could stop buying the recharges every so often. My biggest concern was that I would keep my same Spanish mobile number, but as phone service providers are under regulations in the European Union to do this, I figured that it would be a piece of cake. So…I went to the big Carrefour store in Palma (where all the mobile service providers have their own sales and service counters) and explained what I wanted to do to the man at the Movistar counter. To make sure that he understood my request, I actually practised what I was going to say whilst driving to the store, and his reaction showed me that my language skills have indeed improved. All I had to do was fill out a form and all would be set into motion I was told. Oh yes, one more thing…I needed to provide a copy of my residency number and my existing Vodafone contract information. Of course, I didn’t have that stuff with me, so I went home. Two days later – I really try to only go into Palma if I have more than one thing to do…pollution, global warming, and I just don’t like leaving the village unless I have to – I was back at Carrefour with all the information. Of course, the first man I spoke to wasn’t there this day, so I explained my cunning plan to the current Movistar sales-type guy. He said something like, ‘okay, I will take care of it. We will notify you by text message within a week when the contract and number have been changed to Movistar.’ I was impressed, not only by my ability to do the transaction in Spanish, but also by the apparent efficiency of the changeover service.
After a week, I still hadn’t received a text message, and I assumed the reason was obvious. I realised that when I forwarded my phone calls from the Vodafone phone to the Movistar phone, the text message function doesn’t forward as well. Buggers. I got into Amelia and drove to Carrefour, with the expectation that they were trying to contact me but were unable. Part of the excitement of having the number switched was that I would get a new phone as part of the deal. Not that I need another mobile – I have three or four old mobiles that I don’t even use, but hell, I am a male, and new electronic kit is always fun to have, especially when it is free. I arrived at the store, when gleefully skipping through the doors to the Movistar counter in anticipation of having my phone problems sorted once and for all. Alas, another new person at the counter greeted me. Luckily, this person was aware of the situation and pulled out some papers and then began to explain to me that Vodafone couldn’t find any record of the contract information I had supplied; and because of this, hadn’t made the changeover to Movistar. I couldn’t understand what the problem was until I remembered that when I first took out the Vodafone contract – when I had first arrived in Barcelona several years earlier – I didn’t have a residency number and used my passport to validate the contract…my American passport. Okay, so now I understood the problem, but this understanding only surfaced another problem. The clerk (number three if you are keeping track) said that all I needed to do was produce my U.S. Passport and they could sort out the problem, but, as I am now a British citizen and hold a British passport. I explained all this to the clerk – yes, in Spanish – only to see him look mystified. He knew what I was saying but was at a loss as to what I should do next. I told him I would return home and see if I could locate my old passport number or a photocopy of the old passport.
The next day I returned again and praise the Lord, it was the same clerk on duty as the previous day. I had my old passport number (but no photocopy). We exchanged information and he told me that I should have my new phone and changed contract within a week. He would let me know. Right. Another week passed and I hadn’t heard a thing so I drove into the city. Yes, if you are now assuming my frustration level was hitting new highs, you are right; but I am living in a different culture that I was raised in and patience is a virtue, so I remained calm. Well, the JBR-newly-British-citizen-living-in-Mallorca-type-of-calm.
Another week passed and after still not hearing anything, Amelia whisked me back to Carrefour. It was clerk number two again, who, after checking the paperwork, told me that Vodafone was still struggling with the switchover process, still due to the complications of an old contract based on a passport I no longer held. I was told to wait a week and it would all be straightened out. Another week, another trip to see who was working the counter, and another trip home without my contract being changed over. In mid-week, I received a text message directly from Vodafone requesting me to ring Customer Service to explain what I was trying to do. By this point, I thought that what I was trying to do was clear to just about everyone in the solar system, but I rang the number and went through my request to switch my service and phone number to Movistar, and why. ‘Ahh, entiendo’ the voice on the phone replied, and because she was saying that she understood, I assumed that the switchover was as good as done. Silly me.
Still another week, another drive in, followed by a drive home with nothing having changed. I was beginning to think that the free phone I would receive from Movistar as a bonus for switching to them would be out of date by the time they actually were able to activate the number in their system. But, as someone who does putter around in the world of business, I knew that this would get sorted out. And besides, it wasn’t as if I was phone-less; my forwarded calls were still coming through. I was just trying to make my life a tad simpler…and to save the cost of the pay-as-you-go phone cards.
So let’s recap: this process began in late December, and I am writing this letter in early March…and tomorrow I plan on driving to Carrefour. No, I haven’t been told that the contract has been switched. I just thought that they missed seeing me. Maybe this week...
In between trips to Carrefour, I have been rather busy. Busy doing what you ask? Well, to begin with, I have had guests here at La Antigua and one of them did occupy a bit of my time. The good news is that Holly was a wonderful guest. She and I would go for long walks each day; we have great talks about just about everything; she didn’t bother me when I was writing; and she would let me rub her back as much as I wanted to. Holly is, of course, a dog. When my friend Millie asked if I would take Holly for a bit whilst she (Mille) was away, I jumped at the chance. I have thought for quite a while about having a dog, and this seemed to be a good way to see if the idea really was a good one. Millie’s instructions were quite clear: brush Holly everyday, take her for occasional walks, and talk to her a lot.
Everyday, we would venture out from La Antigua 3 – 4 times, with each walk being almost 2 kilometres long (which I think was more tiring for Holly than it was for me), and whilst walking, we would talk about what was going on in the village and make incredibly cheesy comments about the other dogs who would be yelping their heads off as we strolled past. When it was nearing dinner time, I made sure that I gave Holly options about what I could make her, usually explaining how I would prepare that evening’s taste treat delight…which ended up being the same thing night after night, but hell, she is a dog and probably regardless of what I would say (“oooh, tonight I am going to prepare roast lamb with fresh rosemary from the garden, accompanied by fresh green beans and a side salad”) she only heard “blah, blah, blah”. Holly left last weekend and will sorely be missed. But my work schedule is pretty full for the foreseeable future, and it didn’t seem fair to have Holly locked up in the house.
Whilst Holly was still here, my brother Jack and his friend Steeve came to visit just before my birthday and it was great to see them again. Jack had come to Mallorca last year and it was fab for him to come again. Both Jack and Steeve used the time away from Berlin to stay connected to their work, but we had some great talks and it was so nice they came to spend my birthday with me.
springtime almond blossoms flourishing
a village doorway
in interesting village perspective
looking into the courtyard
JBR and Holly in the village
how pathetic is this?
my new stairway duster
birthday presents from Jack and Steeve
Jack and Steeve...always working
Jack and I, in Puigpunyent
copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, James B. Rieley