Vivienne Sarobe´s Oasis

Vivienne Sarobe, psychologist and founder of OASIS talks to us about the place of happiness and wellbeing she has created in La Moraleja and the importance of reigniting our playful side.

Where did you live as a third culture child, constantly on the move?

My parents are both Spanish and we moved a lot because my father is an engineer who helped build the Puente de Salazar in Lisbon and many electrical power plants. I went to 9 different schools and was exposed to many languages growing up: English, Spanish, French, Swahili, Xosa, Zulu, Sutu, Welsh, Afrikaans, Italian, Portuguese, Mandarin…I still use three.

What about later when you were in your twenties onwards?

I started a law degree with the aim of becoming a diplomat, but then I was swayed by psychology as I love listening to people and really understanding them. I set up a private practice in La Moraleja, and also passed a public examination that led me to the public sector for several years and I also helped found City Country, an American Spanish Montessori Project School.

Vivienne´s oasis in La Moraleja

You have been a psychologist for 36 years, what lessons have you learned?

We need to understand our individual nature and take into account our own specific needs as well as celebrating diversity. Most difficulties arise because we don´t understand a particular need or uniqueness. You can´t judge a fish for its ability to climb a tree!

Oh, and now that I´m sixty years old I can afford to say, the most important thing is LOVE. Love is not a feeling but a practice of acceptance and understanding that requires discipline, kindness; patience; great courage; imagination; sensitivity and everything you´ve got.

How did you come up with the concept of Eggomotion?

I have a Youtube channel called Vivienne Sarobe, which explains it.  One day a client asked me to explain procrastination, so I took some eggs from the fridge and painted the facial expressions that reflected the issues being discussed.  I left them in the office and my patients started to relate to them and asked me to paint more, and the concept just grew from there.

One day my dog, Wanda, ate one of the eggs so I began to use wooden “Eggos”! Eggomotion is a narrative to help us see and play with the mind. I have two books on Amazon, “Eggomotion, the mind in motion” and “Learn Eggomotion”. which teaches the method in Spanish and English. I´m currently working on the next book.

You have recently launched OASIS, what is it all about?

It´s a centre dedicated to happiness, wellbeing and learning. We have a wide range of multi-lingual highly trained professionals such our psychologist who qualified at Columbia University; our psychiatrist who has worked for the National Health System in the UK and our art team.

Our mission to is help people to feel at home in Madrid and fully supported as they integrate into life here. We adopt a very practical and dynamic approach. Mental health is particularly important to expats as constant moves, the lack of family nearby and cultural changes are objectively stressful and require very specific tools to help them navigate the course.

Why is play and playfulness so essential our wellbeing?

Play and playfulness are a great medium to rehearse and experiment with facets of life that we find hard. So that we´re better prepared for them. They are even great healing tools for trauma if you know how to use them.

Art in the making in Oasis

You are also an accomplished singer, what role does music play in OASIS?

Songs are a great way to teach emotional intelligence in a way that resonates with children and adults alike. Apart from being therapeutic in itself, music provides a language with which we can explore our minds whilst at ease and make friends all over the world.

We offer workshops to discover your own voice and music and we create tailor-made workshops to suit.

In addition to expat support what other services do you offer?

We are also culture vultures and thanks to my black book of local experts we can provide top-notch classes in diverse areas such as the arts, psychology; communication; parenting; skills for family life and/or couples; tools to ease adaptation to expat life; what to expect in mourning, …anything concerning the mind.   

Vivienne encourages us to be playful

What makes OASIS different from other wellbeing centres?

We´re a one-stop shop for the international community and returnee Spaniards to ease that transition into Madrid life. We have all experienced expat life first-hand so we understand exactly what it feels like. This enables us to connect with our clients on a deeper level as we speak the same cultural language in all its guises.

We listen between the lines to uncover what our clients really need. We then address the whole self and offer a bespoke plan to focus on those requirements.   

Vivienne´s jazz group

What do you do in your spare time?

Believe it or not, I rest…. and write; sing; paint and garden. I have lots of lovely friends to share life with. My latest book and record, about the grief of losing my son, is coming out in April 2024. It´s been such a positive experience putting this together. So many parents lose a child but it´s rarely discussed. Mourning in general is overlooked, so I wanted to share my experience.

My band performs at public and private venues. We do events, weddings, cocktails, house concerts, etc.  In fact we have accidentally become professional!

Where is your OASIS?

Right next to La Moraleja, exit 17, in a beautiful little community of houses.

Oasis – Therapy, learning, and art by and for members of the international community

Contact Vivienne Sarobe at 616108013 or

Oasis can bring out the artist in you

Do you know your onions? – Susannah digs deeper into the tradition behind this treasured allium

March means we´re in full calçot season. These giant spring onions are cultivated in Valls, near Tarragona and are enjoyed from Figuerès to Fuengirola.  At this time of year, people drive for miles around Catalunya to enjoy char-grilled stems which are often served in newspaper or on terracotta roof tiles. Once you´ve peeled off the outer part you´re left with a tender gooey stem.

The Annual Fiesta de la Calçotada in Valls

Farmers from the town of Valls in Tarragona were the first to harvest these onions. As the stems began to grow, they piled on earth around the shoots to force them to grow upwards to the surface, a bit like a leek. The name hails from this growing technique as the process is called calçar in Catalán which literally means “to cover the bottom part”. It also serves to keep the subterranean roots snow white in colour. The coveted long spring onion shape ensures a more even grilling than the bulbous variety. 

Every year approximately 55 million of these alliums are harvested from November to May although only 10% originate from the heartland of Valls which is now a protected designated area.

Burning bushels of onions

Legend has it that a 19th century farm-hand called Xat de Benaiges accidentally burned some onions he was cooking on a fire. Eager to preserve the insides, he peeled them, only to discover that the inner layers had reduced down to a tasty unctuous delicacy and the trend took hold.

By the 20th century, the tradition of families and friends gathering around communal barbecues of the calçots from December to May had given rise to the phenomenon of calçotadas. Today this popular ritual is responsible for long queues of cars snaking their way out of Barcelona and Tarragona in search of their favoured blackened vegetable in local masías or farmhouse-type restaurants.

Eating calçots is an art

Eating these wobbly long onions is a bit of an art and bibs or “pitets” are handed out in a mandatory fashion. The onions are not completely cleaned as a little earth protects their outer skin.  You have to hold a ‘calçot’ by the leaf with one hand and stretch out the peel downwards with the other hand.  Calçotadas can last for several hours and usually take place on Sundays as most participants eat as many as 25-35 per head. There are many eating competitions and calçot festivities as far afield as Dublin, London and New York if you haven´t been struck down with indigestion.

Calçots in romesco soup – A creation from the infamous Torres Brothers

Almost as appreciated as the vegetables themselves is the sauce that accompanies them.  Most restaurants up and down Spain serve them with Romesco. Yet the real die-hard aficionados stick to the local salvitxada which is a bit sweeter as it contains dried ñora peppers as opposed to the choricero variety found in Romesco. The other ingredients include toasted almonds and hazelnuts, roast tomatoes and garlic, olive oil, garlic, vinegar and parsley, which can either be ground in a pestle and mortar or liquidised for a smoother sauce.

Some chefs have come up with various innovative versions of these prized scallions such as confit calçots served with a meat and butifarra sausage gravy or even a crunchy calçot tempura dipped in curry sauce in Barra Alta restaurant in Madrid and Barcelona.

Barra Alta restaurant offers a modern twist

I am also a fan of the jarred calçot sauce, made with tomatoes and toasted almonds from most sizeable supermarkets. It goes down very well with fish and grilled meat, especially when accompanied by a chilled beer or copita of fino. On occasions I have been known to adulterate calçots with some tabasco but only because I eat chilli with almost everything.  Apart from the chocolate stash I´m saving for Easter Day.

The Right Move with Cris Barbi

Italian- born Cris Barbi, an experienced estate agent talks to us about the property market in Madrid and her passion for photography

What do most expats look for in a house or an apartment here in the suburbs of Madrid?

Most clients are interested in light, space and proximity to their children’s school. Outside space is also an important attribute such as a terrace for an apartment and a swimming pool for a house.  These are also key reasons why many clients prefer the outskirts of the city, in addition to getting a bigger bang for their buck in the city centre.

Maxing out at Remax

Do you specialise more in sales or rentals?

I do both. My clients are both Spanish and Expats and as an expat myself I appreciate how hard the leasing process is here in Spain. I also help a lot of foreign buyers to understand the sales process here with all the legislative foibles there are this jungle market, ensuring they don´t fall into the wrong hands.

Family time

How did you first get into the real estate business?

I´ve been an Expat for more than 20 years and although I have dealt with some good real estate agents, I’ve never found one that I´ve been 100% happy with. I wanted to be that agent I never had. I started in Brazil in January 2016 and continued on my return to Madrid later on the same year.

Daredevil Cris at Iguassu Falls

Which nationalities are the most and least demanding clients?

Americans are used to professional service, transparency, modern and well-maintained houses, none of which is easy to find here.

Overseas clients coming from troubled areas are often happy to overlook some of a particular house´s issues and to sacrifice some of their requirements in order to settle here quickly.

Spacious living

What is the key to a successful estate agent?

Listen, listen and listen some more and apply oodles of patience. Good negotiation skills go a long way too!

You lived in Curitiba for 10 years, how do your Madrileño customers differ from the Brazilian ones?

Brazil is closer to the American Real Estate market in so far as you need a licence to work in this field, unlike in Madrid, where anybody can start up in this industry with no experience whatsoever and this is often reflected in the poor image that Spanish property owners have of my profession.

Iconic Ipanema

How did you get into photography and how has it shaped your life?

I have always loved photography as a way to capture a detail that trigger an emotion ten years from now. I like photos that tell a story. I´d love to incorporate a bio-engineered camera in my eyes!

Cris captures the essence of Camburiu

What trends do you see in the real estate business in Madrid in general?

Some say that AI will take over even in Real Estate and some Companies are already using impersonal online sites to list properties, charging a fixed minimum amount. However, I still feel that buying a house is such an emotional process which must be taken into account. For example, some people have to downsize for heartfelt reasons. I work with people, not bricks. AI wouldn´t know the difference….at least for the time being.

Blue sky living

Where would you buy a flat or a house if you could choose, budget aside?

As an investment maybe Tetuán, Embajadores or Pacífico…although prices are already going up.

 Otherwise, I love Chamberí, Justicia, Lista and some parts of Hortaleza and Charmartín as they are quieter than the more touristic areas such as Recoletos. In terms of the suburbs, both Pozuelo and Majadahonda tick my boxes.


Tel  – 34 636 47 58 29

Relaxing in Sicily

Spotlight on María Elena Laufs

Before our Co-Vice President moves back to Germany we take a heady nose dive into big hitter, María Elena´s multi-faceted life as a British-born university lecturer, author and motivational trainer and former globetrotting fashion buyer who spent her formative years amongst colourful peacocks in the heart of the English countryside.

Your parents are from Spain, do you feel at home here?

I do feel totally at home in Spain, especially in Galicia where my extended family live.

María Elena at Belvoir Castle

How has being brought up in an English fairytale castle where your parents worked shaped your life?

It undoubtedly gave me my fascination with clothes. Living at such a grand 356-room castle gave me a glimpse into a world where the ladies were all beautiful and glamourous. It prompted me to go into fashion retail.

As a daughter of 2 chefs, are you a culinary goddess?

Yes, I am a good cook. However, I do not enjoy cooking and the happiest period of my life was when we lived in Hong Kong and I didn´t cook anything for almost four years as we had the luxury of a live-in helper who did it all. Absolute heaven.

María Elena with her brother on a visit to Belvoir Castle

How did you cope moving round the UK every few years?

I had a big enough ´why´, working in fashion retail, to make the ´what´ of moving around the country at a moment´s notice manageable. I made sure that in every town I moved to I had certain elements in my life that brought me joy, such as a nice home, a friend and tennis.  I called this my ´Joy Backbone´ and you can read about it in my chapter in The Book on Joy.

Do you have any amusing stories about adapting to life in Hong Kong?

As an English teacher, I would be despatched to various government schools in places far away from the glitzy Central district. Hong Kong has these fantastic minibuses that take you everywhere, but they don´t have proper bus stops. You just shout out to the driver when you want to get off. As the only Westerner on these buses, I found the thought of shouting out in my tourist Cantonese so excruciatingly mortifying that I just used to wait until someone else got off, meaning that I regularly ended up miles away from where I was meant to be and had a pretty long walk back.

María Elena in action in Hong Kong

You coach people on how to add more joy into their lives, how do you add more to yours?

By keeping the things that bring me joy at the forefront of my mind and ensuring that I follow them as a guide to how I live my life. l have my current top 5 on my noticeboard as a constant reminder.

What is it about being a motivational speaker that inspires you?

Having the opportunity to influence people´s lives for the good.

María Elena in virtual action

What was it like bringing up your husband´s 3 German-speaking children in a suburb of Dusseldorf?

As a non-German-speaking career girl, it was both a baptism of fire and a comedy of errors, involving lots of hand gestures and exaggerated facial expressions.

María Elena at home in Germany

What´s your favourite podcast?

Best Friend Therapy, which mirrors conversations I love to have with my own best friend. I also like My Wardrobe Malfunction, which is all about our relationship with clothes.

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn?

The reality of the words about friends in the poem, Train of Life, and how we never know when they will step down and vacate their seat.

Are you a natural sportswoman?

No, definitely not.  However, I have always loved tennis. Nothing beats hitting a scorching winner down the line. I came to yoga during my Hong Kong years, learning it from an array of Indian yogis who manoeuvred me into positions I didn´t believe possible. I love the stretched-out feeling yoga gives me, coupled with the sense of accomplishment when conquering a tricky pose.


Which fashion website should we consult for the latest trends?

My daily guilty pleasure is the “moda” section of I´ve also recently gone back to my first love, fashion magazines, which are great here in Spain.

María in her fashion executive days

Why can´t you stay still?

I spend so much time immersed in the world of personal development, it´s almost impossible not to be. Being surrounded by positive, enthusiastic people lifts you to new heights.

Where´s next for María Elena?

My third collaborative book, The Book on Abundance, is released mid-February. My chapter is all about what a wardrobe purge tells you about yourself. I´m launching an online course, English for Fashion Buying and Retail, in the summer and following that, my friend and I are planning on creating our own podcast in the latter part of the year.  The working title is ´Would I do that differently now?´ and it´s a light-hearted reflection on life with the benefit of hindsight and experience.

María Elena strikes a pose in yoga in Granada

The Best Fabada in the World

The Asturians are baying for blood, yet the jury has spoken and as of March last year, the Best Fabada in the World is in Madrid! The winners of last year´s competition was none other than the Mesón Asturiano Sidrería Arturo in the Hortaleza area of our capital.

The ultimate taste test

Originally run by Asturians, today the Mesón is in the hands of chef proprietor Carlos Guillermo García, a former pharmacist from Peru. Unable to find work in his previous profession, he was forced to take a cooking job to make ends meet. “I´d never even been near a saucepan in my life”, confesses García timidly. The original Asturian owners treated him like one of the family and passed on their secret recipe for their winning bean stew on their retirement in 2015 and García has been working his chemistry on it ever since.

García’s magic touch comes up trumps

For those of you unfamiliar with Spanish pulses, fabada is a slow-cooked white bean dish with various guises of pork. Ranging from morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo, tocino and pancetta (lard and bacon). Slightly similar to its French cousin, cassoulet, yet without the silky duck confit.  This is potent fare and the resultant gases when eaten in “fartura”, which ironically means abundance in Asturiano, and harnessed correctly could probably power the whole of Pozuelo.

People travel from miles around to sample the Mesón’s Asturian fare

On an icy cold day I am rather partial to a steaming bowl of fabada and on a recent trip to Asturias we had the pleasure of sampling a delicious variety at Casa Belén in Villaviciosa, just 20 minutes inland from the beautiful coastal town of Gijón. Asturians are known for their hearty appetite so the Menú del Día comprised an ample starter of Sopa de Ajo, alias a garlic and pimentón soup thickened with bread, a giant chalice of Fabada and then the other regional speciality: Cachopo (2 breaded veal fillets filled with melted cheese) & chips washed down with cider and Belén´s special natillas (custard) to follow, all for the paltry sum of €15. The Macdonalds Happy Meal with its meagre soggy burger and mass produced French Fries for the same price wouldn´t do very well in this area…..

Playa Rodiles, near Villaviciosa makes for a popular holiday spot

Funnily enough, if you´re looking for a quick fix, whilst not being a huge advocate of tinned food, the Litoral brand of ready made fabada is surprisingly tasty and the giant catering can sizes of 5 portions have served up many a happy winter lunch to me and my 51 immediate in laws at the farm near Aranjuez where we got married. Think of it as gourmet Baked Beans with all the porky trimmings. It certainly takes pride of place as a Spanish storeroom staple and I´m hoping to get my hands on some of Jurgita´s prize Lithuanian chillies to perk up my next Asturian ration.

My go-to Fabada, sssh, don´t spill the beans

So watch this space for a possible visit to an Asturian restaurant with the lunch bunch coming soon….

Belén serves up a mean bean feast for two

Mesón Sidrería Arturo – Calle del Mar Bering, 9. Hortaleza, Madrid. Tel 917 63 12 39

Casa Belén – Calle General Campomanes, 1, Villaviciosa, Asturias. Tel 696 05 37 21

Hit the sweet spot this Christmas with heritage candy

What do the late Queen Fabiola of Belgium, Infanta Pilar de Borbón, Lauren Bacall, Ava Gardner or Spanish politicians and senators past and present have in common?

They have all been avid patrons of Madrid´s oldest sweet shop, La Pajarita.   Named after a popular origami figure that the literati made out of paper napkins in the tertulia cafés, La Pajarita first opened its doors in the newly done up Puerta de Sol in 1852.  

Some of the 17 flavours

The founder, Vicente Hijós Palacio was a regular fixture at the intellectual social gatherings in the fashionable local tea and coffee houses of the day and a good friend of writer and philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno.

I have to admit that I find it a lot easier to digest copious quantities of artisanal candy and chocolate than weighty tomes of 19th Century Spanish literature, which nearly finished me off at university. However, I can imagine a generous dose of La Pajarita´s violet sweets would probably make any literary tertulia considerably more palatable.

Calle Villanueva 14

Unlike many other businesses, La Pajarita remained operational during the Civil War, and their underground cellars provided a welcome safe haven for neighbours in which to shelter during the bombings with many a clandestine mass being celebrated for those seeking spiritual relief.

Crumbliest chocolate bark

In 1969 La Pajarita moved to Calle Villanueva 14 in the Barrio de Salamanca where you will find 17 different flavours of candy and a wide assortment of chocolates from 32% to 70% cacao. Upstairs in a tiny office bustles the great grand-daughter of the founder, Rocío Aznárez Ramos, who left her investment banking career to take up the helm of La Pajarita alongside her husband, Carlos Lemus. The dynamic duo are responsible for bringing the business into the 21st century without foregoing any of its quality vintage character.

Chocolate origami pajaritas

Before he died, Rosa´s grandfather was amazed to see that sales could still be made while the shop was shut thanks to the internet. He had never used a computer and all of his business dealings were sealed with a gentleman´s handshake.

Not such shrinking violets

La Pajarita´s signature sweets are the violets and they jealously guard their original recipe that has been perfected over the years and which enables them to stand out from the more commercial varieties available. La Pajarita violets are crafted with a touch of acidity and a layer of contrasting sweet syrup unlike the more cloyingly-sweet versions.

Rainbow assortment candy

It´s always heartening to see a 171-year-old family business thriving on the tradition of producing high quality products whilst preparing the company to flourish for the next five generations. So I shall definitely be adding my mother in law to the long line of illustrious La Pajarita customers this Christmas. Knowing her, she´d appreciate a few volumes of Unamuno as well.

Banibanoo – a slice of Persia in Madrid

I thought I wasn´t a pudding person. And I probably wasn´t. Until I tasted a life-changing chocolate, pomegranate and pistachio pavlova at a delectable Iranian restaurant, called Banibanoo. Forget those brittle, synthetically sweet friable toothpaste white meringues sold in Mercadona. Instead drift off to your wildest gastronomic dreams as you imagine sinking your teeth into a crispy shell of a fluffy pillow stuffed with gooey marshmallow-textured chocolate and rubicund fig quarters, oozing rosewater-scented cream adorned with sherbetty pomegranate seeds and crunchy pistachios.

This walnut-coloured concoction that reminds me of my erstwhile Latin teacher: hard on the outside and soft on the inside. When she was pleased with us she´d soften her hard-set jaw and draw a blue moon on the blackboard…signifying the once in a blue moon event of no homework. In her classes she used to buzz in around our desks in a terylene black skirt scrutinising our declensions.

On one occasion, aged 12, I decided her funereal attire needed a spot of decoration and decided to see how many white circle reinforcements, (remember those?…they were supposed to stop the holes ripping on your printouts in a ring binder file), I could stick on her hem as she was craning over my neighbour´s excrutiating rendition of Hannibal crossing the Alps. Unfortunately, my audacity and dexterity were not appreciated as the other girls’ sniggers gave me away and I bore the full brunt of the wrath of Miss Jewell when she realised the back of her entire skirt was embellished with tiny white donut rings, rather like those Polo mints actually. Personally, I thought I´d done her a bit of a favour in the trendsetting department but she wasn´t having any of it and I was duly sent to detention.

Black quinoa with grilled aubergine, zucchini, feta, pomegranate and lime salsa!

Anyway, there´s no pain in Banibanoo…just pure pleasure. And a very varied clientele.  Everyone seated in eyeshot of the riotously coloured dishes piled high on the counter so that you can choose your dishes from real life as opposed to your phone screen.

Flamboyantly dressed, with ebony-rimmed eyes, Banafsheh Farhangmehr´s striking attire matches the mesmerising boldness of her culinary creations. I caught up with Bani, as she is known, to find out a little more behind this Iranian corner of Madrid.

Iranian food is all about slow cooking as there are lots of stews and very elaborate dishes. At Banibanoo they start cooking at 07:30 prompt in order to have the multitude of seasonal salads, meat and vegetables and rice dishes stacked up on view by 1 pm.

Bani´s earliest childhood memories are of her mother taking leftover stews to the neighbours. “Iranians want to spread the joy and share it”, she explains. “They lavish so much love and attention on each dish they know it´s going to be really delicious so each meal is savoured in company.” 

Bani´s eye-catching rice and salads

After completing a Cordon Bleu course in London, Bani decided to open a restaurant in Madrid where she had been working in marketing for several years. Keen to capitalise on the novelty factor of Iranian food in Madrid, Banibanoo opened its doors in 2015 and is still very much a daytime affair. Breakfast is a popular phenomenon as tahini and date toasts or avocado and poached eggs in tomato sauce are devoured by a diverse Spanish and international clientele.

Other than the use of saffron I discover that there isn´t much similarity between Spanish and Iranian food as “we don’t tend to fry many dishes and our meals are more akin to a rolling feast than specific courses”, Bani explains.  

Soft-boiled eggs and Comté cheese toast

Banibanoo is very much a mixture of authentic Iranian dishes as well as a place to champion fusion food. Bani likes to add an original twist to classic dishes.

At lunchtime diners are invited to choose 3 dishes from a sweeping list of options such as spicy grilled cauliflower with pumpkin seeds, broccoli and dates; chicken, almond, saffron rice with orange peel or baked aubergines with meat and pomegranate molasses for set price of €16.95. Ruby-red pomegranates, toasted nuts and rich caramel dates feature heavily and most of the rice dishes can be served without meat. The exotic range of flavours and textures make for a very exciting collage of flavours both for the eyes and the stomach.

One of my favourites: roast cauliflower with yoghurt and pomegranate

Most of the combinations are not accidental as in Iran all dishes relate back to some science or medicinal qualities. “Pomegranate is cooling, whilst walnut is hot so you get an ayurvedic balance,” elaborates Bani.

I am amused to see “No Libanesa” pasted across Banibanoo´s extensive menu. “After 8 years I was fed up with the reviews on Trip Advisor saying mine was the Best Lebanese restaurant in Madrid.” Bani explains wrily.

The pièce de resistance – chocolate fig pavlova

Finally, I try to tempt the recipe for those tantalisingly exquisite chocolate pavlovas out of Bani. “We have a Russian chef”, she explains, “as they also eat pavlova in Russia and we add vinegar to the mix to get that chewy texture”. It all sounds very haphazard to me so I think I´ll be sticking to Bani´s moreish version for now.

Bani chalks up success

Before I go I ask Bani how easy it is for an Iranian woman to fit into Madrid. She explains that the adjustment has been very easy as Iranians share a similar culture. “Even the layout of the streets in Madrid are similar to those in Tehran”, she says wistfully.

Keep an eye out for Bani´s next project as she´s contemplating opening an ice cream shop with Iranian flavours in Madrid´s Justicia barrio. Knowing my penchant for an authentic rosewater ice I will be first in line.

Bani in Yazd, Iran

INC Has Got Talent – Moving and Shaking with Stacy Viva

This month we talk to California born, real estate guru, yoga teacher, coach, corporate speaker, wellness expert with an MBA and a fearless zest for life: Stacy Viva.

What prompted you to put your belongings into storage and move to a Madrid Airbnb 10 years ago?

I’ve always been great advocate of initiating change in my life as opposed to enduring it. I saw my life, as I still do now, as an adventure and was looking for a challenge. Looking back, I feel that every 10 years I shed my skin; I silence those inner fears and re-invent myself.

Never one to sit on the fence

How did you start your yoga and wellness business?

I literally started giving free yoga classes with weights in the Retiro Park and then moved onto teaching it professionally (I was certified in the US).  Yoga subsequently spring-boarded me into other areas of wellness such as Happiness, Mindset and Movement and I started giving workshops seminars in blue chip companies like Amadeus and Amazon.

Happiness starts with a smile

Tell us about the coaching side of your business

I mainly do group coaching with presentations and it´s very much interactive with lots of questions whereby I help people express themselves. We also focus on being present instead of constantly switching between activities and deluding ourselves that we are multi-tasking.

Stacy embarks on a new career path

Tell us about your recent career move to Berkshire Hathaway Home Services (BHHS) Spain (a Warren Buffett Company)

 I´m drawing on my former real estate experience, this time for US and expats who want to buy or rent in Spain.  I am the first point of contact and very much the go-between facilitator, between these individuals and the BHHS offices and agents in Spain.  I am designing the strategy for Spain which is both exciting and challenging.  I feel so fortunate that they hired me and take on board my suggestions. 

An awe-inspiring octogenarian mother, everyone should have one

How can we live our best life at its midpoint?

Be open-minded!  I met my boyfriend on a train, my best friend in a restroom and my favourite jobs have been the ones that I have created myself. Some people think they’re too old to try new things in their midlife; our biggest enemy are our thoughts. I knocked on my current employer´s door because I saw an opportunity.   The things you go after, you really want, while the things that land in your lap are not really what you thought they were. 

Ever the plucky child (in red)

What have you come to appreciate through your personal and professional life?

The value of time. We don´t have time to fight, waste or worry.

We need to be very selective and make time for the people we really love. Furthermore, I don´t see the point of saving my best bottle of champagne or hottest heels for special occasions. Every day is a special occasion as we never know how long we have!

Putting her best foot forward round Madrid

What does the future hold for Stacy Viva?

I may well have shed my skin yet again in 10 years’ time. I´m certainly not expecting to retire! 

A leap of faith down the next career path

What´s Stacy´s magic mantra?

Wake up with gratitude, walk with an open mind and move your body every day. No days off.

Spotlight on Inge Drenthen

This month we talk to Dutch-born, former transport agent, flamenco and yoga teacher with a flair for belly dancing and fine food: Inge Drenthen.

What did you do before you came here in 2010?

Before we came to Madrid, we spent 3 years in Turin in Northern Italy and 5 years in Brussels. I grew up in the Netherlands and was a shipping and land transport agent for 17 years.

Your father is half Indonesian, did your Asian heritage influence your upbringing?

Not really except that I definitely have a penchant for Asian cuisine. I have never felt typically Dutch and embraced Spanish culture as a child when we used to come here on holiday.

Dancing has always been a huge part of your life, tell us about this lifelong passion

I have been dancing since I was tiny! I took up ballet at 4 and modern dance at 6 years old. At 16 I joined a Palestinian dance group and later on I took flamenco lessons. As an adult I continued with flamenco and Oriental dance, even when we moved to Belgium and in Italy I also kept up with Oriental dance which I love. Moving to Spain meant I could return to flamenco and I also learned sevillanas. I have had different teachers, each with their own style which has been fascinating.

What´s your favourite dance and why?

My favourite dance is flamenco because it is very passionate, beautiful and emotional, every “palo” type of flamenco dance has its own rhythm, emotion and energy.

How did you come to teach sevillanas?

At the request of friends and INC members and I absolutely love it!  In September I am adding a new beginners’ group. It´s great fun and you can dance sevillanas in two´s as well as in a group of 3 or 4 and even with more people in a circle and there are accessories such as a: “mantón” (shawl), “castañuelas” (castanets) or “abanico” (fan).

What sort of yoga do you practise and how did you come to teach it?

I practise and teach Vinyasa Flow yoga , Yin yoga and Hormonal yoga. I started to practice yoga about 35 years ago because I had hyper ventilation issues. When we moved to Spain I deepened my connection with yoga and was fully inspired by my teacher.

After my training, some friends asked me to give classes and that´s how I began. My students’ enthusiasm really energised me and it was so gratifying seeing them go home happy and grateful. I still give lessons at different places in Madrid and have continued my career development with a Hatha yoga course and a hormone balance teacher training.

What does yoga bring to your life?

I heartily recommend yoga to everyone, it has brought me so much, more confidence, energy, peace in challenging times, reflection, and so much more…. I prefer Vinyasa because it feels like dancing, flowing and synchronizing with one´s breath.

How do you find living in Madrid compared with Turin?

Northern Italians are more detached than the Madrileños and whilst Spaniards are louder than the Italians, the latter gesticulate more dramatically when they speak. Italians are more fashion-conscious and most of them like to dress up, high heels are not uncommon in an ordinary pizza restaurant! I prefer the Madrid weather and the opportunity to dance flamenco being in Spain presents.

How did you enjoy living in Brussels?

I loved it. We lived in a beautiful forest just outside of Brussels in the French-speaking area which is quite different to the Flemish side.  I think the food is better than in the Netherlands, the Belgians are more gastronomically-minded, just like me actually!  

You´re an avid reader and a member of the INC Book Club, name a book that has inspired you

That would be “Light of Life” by B.K.S Iyengar. This is a wonderful book I had to read for my first teacher training about Iyengar ‘s insights after years of practising and teaching yoga.

What book do you most recommend to others?

“Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman which we read in the INC book club. It´s a beautiful and heartbreaking story about loneliness and explores the loyalty of children towards their parents and the serious consequences of neglect by foster-parents.

If you could wave a magic wand what would you do next in your life?

I´m already starting it: the launch of my retreats with a nutrition, life coach and aromatherapy specialist in September.

I would also very much like to learn to how to play the “cajón” which is a flamenco box drum originally from Peru

As a keen chef, I also would like to do more cooking classes or organize a cooking club.

Oh My Cod – Postcard from Portugal

The holidays are almost upon us….which means Madrid´s Saharan temperatures are about to sizzle our pavements. Time to leave the city.

One summer destination only 6 hours’ drive from Madrid, known for its refreshing Atlantic breezes is Lisbon. Last August we had a very illuminating few days there before riding the waves further south in Alentejo. Lisbon´s tourist scene has mushroomed since I was squashed like a sardine into a tin-sized room at the Residencia Dublin for a month in 1987. Having spent part of my gap year enjoying the tail end of hedonistic “La Movida” movement in Madrid I found it hard to adjust to Lisbon pulling down the shutters on their nightlife at 9 pm.

These days it´s always wine o’clock in Lisbon

Back at university in the UK my Portuguese professors were less amused by my fixation with maps adoring the walls. On one occasion, whilst sitting through the nuances of the future subjunctive in Portuguese, long since defunct in Spanish (for good reason), my attention wandered aimlessly over to the elongated outline of South America on the wall next to me. Dona Manucha interrupted the class to inquire about my fascination with South American geography. To which I replied sheepishly that I was merely planning the route for my forthcoming summer trip from Lima to Rio. “Perhaps if you spent half the time concentrating on Portuguese grammar as you do scrutinising the Amazon river you might even become fluent”, she retorted. I took great pride in showing her my Distinction with Merit in Spoken Portuguese as part of my Final Degree 4 years later.

Today the historical hotly disputed rivalry between Portugal and Spain is very much alive and on our way in from the airport our taxi driver wasted no time in telling us drily that Spaniards “only looked after themselves”. Nowadays, the recreational gap between the capital cities has narrowed as day and night, the cobbled streets round the Praça do Rossio are teeming with tourists and E-scooters.

Not as safe as you might think

A word of caution about the latter mode of transport. A few years ago, a Lisbon resident friend of mine from Colombia hired an E-scooter with his teenage children just before Christmas. Having crashed into a curb he broke several bones and was set to spend several weeks in hospital. One frantic call to Bogotá was enough to persuade his ex-wife to get on a plane just before Christmas Eve so the kids could enjoy some semblance of the festivities with at least one member of their family. Ignoring her new boyfriend´s advice to remain in Colombia the ex-wife duly arrived in Lisbon and whilst out on New Year´s Eve she fell head over heels with the owner of the restaurant next to the Cathedral in which they were having dinner … and there she remains with him, to this day, still smitten.

Cod fishing is a solitary affair

One of the capital´s newer attractions is the Centro Interpretativo de Bacalhau or rather the Cod Cultural Centre near the Praça de Comercio opposite the banks of the River Tejo.  This fascinating museum champions the determination and grit of adventurous Portuguese fishermen willing to navigate challenging waters and unchartered territory near Newfoundland and Greenland in search of tons of cod so highly prized in Europe.  Not found in their own waters, Portugal´s love affair with this cold-water species started when they supplied the Vikings with their copious quantities of home-grown salt so that the Scandinavians could preserve their large catches of cod. The dish started to gather momentum and as a cheaper and more practical alternative to meat, salted cod soon became more widespread further inland in the Iberian Peninsula.

The grandiose shop at the Cod Cultural Centre

During the Salazar regime, the brave “bacalhoeiros” fishermen were so highly esteemed that they were granted exemption from compulsory military service. Frankly, I don´t know what was worse, zig zagging round freezing North Atlantic icebergs in one-man boats 2 kms out from the huge whaler boats they depended on for 6 months at a time or playing at toy soldiers in warm barracks on home turf.

Crispy cod fritters at Bacalhau restaurant

Today the Portuguese consume 20% of all cod that is caught worldwide and it comes in all shapes and guises. Our children enjoyed nibbling on the salty cod fritters known as pataniscas de bacalhau whilst my husband and I preferred the potato fishcake version called pastéis de bacalhau.

There´s something fishy going on with these pastéis de bacalhau

Cod main courses have also undergone a facelift and Casa Lisboa does a delicious high-end version of Bacalhau à Brás in which the cod is shredded and placed in a pan with olive oil; finely chopped fried potatoes; onions and scrambled eggs. The dish is then topped off with a sprinkling of black olives and chopped parsley.

Bacalhau à Brás goes upmarket at Casa Lisboa. Photo credit: Casa Lisboa

Next to the Cod Centre is the Museu da Cerveja, the Beer Museum, which shows how the canny monks commandeered Portuguese beer production. Highly nutritious, this amber brew provided an attractive refreshment for the friars to offer passing hungry and thirsty pilgrims and was also, like cod, conveniently exempt from catholic fasting rules.

Tuk Tuk Touring

By this stage the kids were starting to get undeniably restless so we flagged down a Tuk Tuk and saved ourselves a barrage of puerile complaints and demands for ice creams as we did a whistle stop tour of the top churches. A definite first for me to be conversing in Portuguese with a Bangladeshi tour guide on a hair-raising mission.  

If you´re after a different type of kicks, as in making the earth shudder for you in true Meg Ryan-style, then there is a great 4D earthquake museum for the seismologically-inclined looking to relive Lisbon´s catastrophic 1755 Quake which razed part of the city.

Not even a cannonball would get him out of bed these days

All in all, despite its chocolate box clean-up there´s still an authentic edgy undercurrent that punctuates the polished visitor-centric veneer and provides a glimpse of Lisbon´s pre-touristic charm. This year my son will be returning to the Portuguese capital with between 2 and 3 million teenagers as they welcome the Pope at the beginning of August so you may wish to defer your trip outside of those dates!

Ps – The word “cod” comes from the Middle English term for bag or scrotum as in “codpiece”, the medieval genital protector, in reference to the fish´s bulging shape. As a keen collector of antiques and artefacts my grandmother acquired a copy of Henry VIII´s codpiece currently on show at the Tower of London. It still comes in handy as a jockstrap when the family badmington matches become a bit heated.

In cod we trust