BEIRUT MELTS MY HEART WITH FROZEN FRUIT

What do Shakira, Salma Hayek, Amal Alamuddin (alias Mrs Clooney), Elie Saab (couturier to Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts and Kate Middleton) all have in common? They’re all Lebanese, as have been former presidents of Jamaica, Colombia, Ecuador (3!) and Brazil.

The Lebanese are an entrepreneurial nation and many Beirutis I have met are proud of the commercial spirit that comes from their innovative and enterprising Phoenician merchant heritage; those ancient founders of coastal colonies all over the Mediterranean, not least in Cádiz.

Promises of ice cream behind the awning

In 2019 we decided to see Beirut for ourselves. After a fascinating peak at the local cathedral, mosque and recently-excavated Roman ruins my ice cream fetish started to override any more thoughts of culture and our 11 and 6 year olds’ eyes flickered with increasing interest.  Having seen a particular ice cream parlour on one of Rick Stein and Nigel Slater’s UK BBC cookery programmes it had long been my ambition to try the Hanni Mitri ice cream for myself. So armed with former INC member Linda Talluto’s picture of the place we embarked on a monumental five-hour treasure hunt …on foot. There’s nothing like roaming through the streets of a city on a mission to savour superlative ice cream to really get to know it. If only our map had also marked the contours of all those steep hills that abound in Beirut.

Return visit for quality control purposes

After 5 hours I got very excited as we turned a corner and spied a very unassuming bullet-ridden corner shop at the end of a narrow road that I recognised from Linda’s photo. The children had virtually melted en route but were immediately revived and miraculously ordered strawberry and lemon flavour in fluent school French.

The family-owned business has been going since 1949 and has seen a few bombs in its time. There are no seats and no frills. The shop has since moved temporarily followed the Beirut blast in 2020 and the all the ice cream continues to be made on site daily.

We´ve struck gold at last

Mr Mitri and his diminutive mother were both expecting us to order and leave their minuscule premises but there was no getting rid of us. Buoyed up by fragrant iced perfumes and the cooling freezers we weren’t going anywhere. Copious ice creams and Mr Mitri’s family history later (he ditched banking to take on his father’s ice cream business) we finally re-emerged into the burning sun. As Mr Mitri isn’t coming here anytime soon I urge you all to book a flight just to try his ices.

Mr Mitri shows off his best selection

Mother Mitri uses plastic gloves to literally thumb the different flavours into narrow biscuit cones or down into a plastic cup that literally defies any normal physics of mass and volume. So you end up with rainbow ribbons of zingy oranges and lemons nudged into a corner by the heady aromas of rosewater sorbet and all tempered by a snow-white coating of clotted cream or “ashta”. In addition to the more traditional flavours, you can find mulberry, watermelon, mango and amareddine which is an apricot paste sorbet filled with crunchy toasted pine nuts.

Mitri´s magic snow

There is clearly no need to fix up the bullet holes (one of them is actually embedded inside his ice cream machinery) as people are more interested in what’s in their hand than on the wall.

Now, you might think that 3,500 km is a long way to fly, albeit on a direct flight, for an ice cream but actually when you factor in all the ancient culture and the boundless hospitality on tap in Beirut it´s definitely worth it.

However, if you do find yourself on an authentic ice cream mission in Madrid here are a few of my favourites closer to home:

Solo Naturale in Alcobendas, with its focus on premium natural ingredients,

Heladeria Gioelia is a favourite amongst our treasurer, Shalini. Particularly the Cremino flavour of white chocolate with hazelnuts and chocolate praline cream. Most importantly, they also deliver!

Gioelia serves up one of its gems

Heladeria Los Alpes is one of Madrid´s oldest ice cream parlours, since the Tuscan founders arrived here in 1933 and has a few branches across the city and suburbs including Las Rozas and Pozuelo de Alarcón.

Meanwhile if alchemy is more your style, head to N2LAB where liquid nitrogen is the star ingredient and the resultant creamiest of creams are served up by staff in scientific overalls and protective glasses in Calle Gravina, 5 (Chueca).

Ice cream to blow your mind at N2LAB

After a gander round the Retiro I usually make a beeline for Maison Glacée which also doubles up as an innovative pastry shop. Ecological milk from the Comunidad de Madrid is used to ease out what for me is the most authentic Italian style ice cream in the capital in Calle Alcalá 77 and Calle Ibiza, 42

Italian INC member, Tiziana is rather partial to Gelateria Sienna on Calle Narváez and I´m inclined to believe her so I shall be heading there on my next trip into the city.

Finally, there is ubiquitous global brand, Amorino whereby exotic ices are fashioned with a spatula into the shape of a rose. Each flavour forming a different petal. My favourite branch is in El Corte Inglés Gourmet section in Callao from which you can admire spectacular views over Madrid´s rooftops.

Your Baan or Mine?

Piquant food and exquisite cocktails are always a winning formula for my seasoned palate. So I´ve found myself being lured by promises of Penang curry washed down with Pisco Sours at Baan Asian Emphasis restaurant off Paseo de Recoletos on more than one occasion since it opened last year. Apparently, Baan means house which is somewhat misleading as this is definitely not your traditional spartan Thai abode but rather a very plush velvet dining experience complete with a cocktail bar upstairs and a DJ spinning discs as fast as you can say otro Mai Tai por favor.

Pork loin ready to dip, tiradito of tuna & seabass with spicy salsa

The food however, is authentically Asian and guides your taste buds through an exotic gastro graze round Vietnam, Thailand with a pit stop in India, Korea, Japan and China. Whilst rice might be the recurring theme, the dishes themselves reflect large regional variations in the gastronomy of the Orient.

The former French rulers, succinctly summarised their colonies in the area as follows: “The Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow, whilst the Laotians listen to it grow”. Personally, I found Laos to be the ultimate in laid back, as exemplified by their eponymously-named local currency: the Kip*.

Napping is a national pastime

We start with the Tiradito de Atún Rojo, which for me is the star dish. Shimmering slivers of tuna line up in rows under dollops of creamy white mounds of miso topped with emerald strands of kimchi and sprinklings of crispy sesame seeds.  

My fellow guests insist on the Nem ran de pollo (Vietnamese rice paper rolls) so two over-sized fried batons arrive bursting at the seams with spiced chicken, Pyrenean blood pork sausage and skinny noodles, neatly camouflaged under a jungle of lettuce and mint. The dish is rustically presented inside-out as ordinarily the greenery would be tucked inside the wrapping. Our reedy bamboo chopsticks lacked steel reinforcements so we resort to our hands and make a very satisfying sticky mess of it all.

Horticultural Nem Ran

Baan´s executive chef, Víctor Camargo has been on my watchlist for a while now as I was a regular at his former fusion culinary residence: Sudestada.  He´s even brought one of his succulent culinary renditions with him, and a personal favourite of mine: pork cheeks in vindaloo sauce.

It´s a well-known secret that the Brits have banished Roast Beef off the bestseller lists of their staple dishes in favour of Chicken Tikka Masala. However, what many people don´t know is that in 2002, British supermarket chain, Asda, provoked an outcry from the not insignificant local British Asian population when it launched its own mega spicy readymade version of this Goan dish and called it Findaloo. Needless to say the jocular reference to the secondary effects of the chillis resulted in the curry being hastily removed from the shelves.

Gastro dilemmas in a Vietnamese market

Ironically, the origins of Vindaloo are much less spicy, as the dish was introduced to Goa by their Portuguese colonisers. The name derives from “vinha de alhos” and denotes the Portuguese practice of tenderising and preserving meat in wine vinegar and garlic. The Indians didn´t have vinegar so the resourceful Portuguese set about making some from coconut toddy. Baan´s version is an unctuous spicy sour sauce; the perfect foil to the natural fattiness of the pork cheeks. It is very much a  triumphant marriage between Iberia and the Sub-Continent.

Tamarind and cardamom-flavoured Vindaloo

The rest of the main dishes follow in the same vein of pan Euro-Asian cooking with marked aplomb and originality. Baked octopus is added to staples such as Pad Thai and Amontillado sherry mousse and dill-doused potatoes partner up with wasabi roast beef. Maybe that gutsy version of the bovine dish will reinstate the Holy Cow to its former glory in the British popularity stakes in time for the Queen´s Platinum Jubilee on June 5th.

As for pudding, mine is almost always a Pisco Sour or three but if you´re looking for more solid refreshment Baan do a mean Lychee “Slush Puppy” with baked banana and cassis ice cream.

Temple touring in Thailand

C/ Villanueva, 2. Madrid.
Tel. 911 088 900
Web: www.baanrestaurante.com
IG: @baanmadrid

*To kip = to take a nap

Face to face with Begoña Slocker, graphologist

This month we delve into the fascinating world of graphology as accomplished graphologist, Begoña Slocker talks to us about the traits our handwriting can reveal and how to best apply this science in both professional and personal spheres.  

What prompted you to embark on a career as a graphologist?

Graphology has always been part of my life since I was born in 1954 as my father was a member of the Societé de Graphologie in Paris. When my own children grew older I started studying it as a hobby really, never to imagine that I´d actually make a living from it as I do today.

What is it about writing that determines someone´s character?

Handwriting, at the end of the day, is very much an expression of our feelings, just as when we´re happy we walk with our head up and back straight. Our writing is the same, it goes up or down according to our mood. There are hundreds of features that you can analyse once you´ve mastered the science of graphology over a long period of time.

How do companies use a graphologist in their recruitment process?

A graphological analysis looks at personality traits in three sections:

Intellectual qualities, willingness and behaviour.

The candidate writes 15 lines only and his or her signature from which a report is written. There are many detectable characteristics such as their professional competency in terms of quality and quantity of their output, as well as their capacity to adapt, honesty, if they lie or steal, if they´re well-balanced individuals or have conflictive personalities amongst many other features.

The graphologist also helps to determine the suitability of a particular role for each candidate based on their respective personality. Graphology is a very useful asset that can be put to good use in tandem with the Human Resources department.

The team at work at Centro Slocker

What does a graphologist contribute to the police force?

Well, on the surface not much but I have just had a case of a man who tragically fell from a bridge whilst on a trip. The insurance Company claimed that he must have committed suicide, contrary to what the deceased’s family stated. I carried out a study of his handwriting taken from the day before the accident and I was able to demonstrate that there was no evidence of depression, instability or sadness which, if present, would all have been very easy to spot. This was a person full of zest for life so it would have been impossible for him to have purposefully harmed himself.

However, aside from that exception, graphology is not admitted in court cases. This is Handwriting Expertise which studies the authenticity of writing, signatures and falsified documents. I do get involved quite frequently in this sphere as unfortunately there are so many scams and the victims need professionals to defend them.

Slocker is at one of her many speaking engagements

Can someone hide their true self by changing their handwriting?

During the first few lines it´s possible to try to falsify one´s handwriting but this is very difficult to keep up as the brain is very swift to forget a newly-acquired writing feature or style.

When we write text, at the beginning we strive to preserve neat handwriting but from the fourth line onwards we are less concerned with neatness and our own individual features come to the fore.

Where it is most difficult to copy is the signature, the most important part of any text. One´s signature is where our real SELF comes out and it belies our true personality. I never analyse a text without a signature.

The truth will out

What skills do you think you need in order to be a graphologist?

The first one is preparation, in order to be a really good graphologist you really have to study very hard, practise your skills and be very honest by really only stating what you actually see in the handwriting features themselves as opposed to embellishing the evidence with supposition in an effort to provide more information than there actually is.

A good graphologist should not have any prior information on the person they are analysing until afterwards.

It´s also key to use the skill in a positive way by highlighting a person´s attributes as opposed to using it as a weapon against them.

Tell us how you used the science of graphology to branch out into other areas.

I have been collaborating on one day Women and Leadership courses whereby they learn to get to know themselves better. I have found this work very enriching.

Slocker´s skills are snapped up by international brands

Tell us about the work you do for Montblanc pens

I work in events whereby I undertake graphological analysis on site for customers and I am also offering that service in Las Rozas Village which is a very rewarding new string to my bow.

Slocker and daughter with Orn at a recent INC event

What interesting anecdotes can you tell us relating to your work?

A customer sent me a letter from his girlfriend in order for me to gauge their compatibility as they were a week away from their wedding and I told him that up until the last minute he could say no.

Understandably he refused to have any further contact with me. Eight months later they got divorced and he wrote to say that I´d been right all along and that “you are an excellent graphologist so I´m going to continue to hire your services”.

On a separate occasion, I warned a company that a particular candidate was someone who wanted to get ahead by dubious means, they hired them anyway and two years later the candidate switched over to a competitor as a director taking all the information they had acquired. 

Slocker with well-known writer, Antonio Gala

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn?

That people are neither good nor bad; we all have a palette of shades in which we can find the best version of each and every one of us.

Always at the helm

What hobbies/interests do you have aside from work?

I love photography, sailing and reading.

Begoña Slocker – CEO

Centro Slocker

Calle Gaudí 10

Boadilla del Monte, Madrid 28660

Tel 673 930 675

Spotlight on Jo Ball

Today Susannah talks to fellow Brit, Occupational Therapist, former valet parking assistant to the stars, business woman, teacher, flower arranger, charity volunteer and intrepid sailor, golfer and mountain biker, Jo Ball who has illuminated INC members’ lives with her radiant awe-inspiring attitude since 2021.

Always on board with anything and everything aged 22

Where are you from originally?

I’m from a scenic rural town nestled firmly within the county of Northumberland, an hour’s drive from the Scottish borders.

My love of everything outdoors stems from living this bucolic life with the added bonus of having the most beautiful beaches within a 10-mile drive.

When I was younger I loved to ride …..is there anything more exhilarating than a flat out gallop on the beach?

Enjoying Northumberland on 2 wheels

Talk us through your varied career

After school I followed my hippy heart to LA to study nursing but realized it wasn´t for me. Like many students I had a few jobs and in LA I worked as a carparking valet at a prestigious nightclub which meant I had the opportunity of parking several Lamborghinis and other luxury cars belonging to the likes of Eddy Murphy, Janet Jackson and Metallica to name a few….having just passed my driving test.

On my return to the UK I trained to become an Occupational Therapist and as my career progressed I turned to teaching and taught hospital staff how to manage patients in the community.

Two peas in a pod

How did you meet your husband?

I met my partner when he was 18 and I was 21 in a night club…we are still in love today as we were all those years ago……31 years this year we have been together. He is the very best part of me.  When I feel homesick I only have to look at him and I know that I am home.

You also have an entrepreneurial streak and a strong creative flair

Whilst working for the National Health System I had a long- standing love affair with flowers and undertook many courses before setting up my own business specialising in wedding flowers and then it wasn´t long before Italy beckoned.

Jo takes the helm round the island of Elba

What were your impressions of living in Emilia Romagna for three years?

Italy stole my heart and I must return one day to get it back. In Italy we scoured the countryside, travelled every weekend or I went alone midweek discovering more and more about who I was or what I really wanted out of life.  We tried each and every vineyard en route, delighted in the local food, took up sailing and chartered our own boat around Elba Island with our old dog and learned some hair-raising lessons and a great respect for the sea. We were fearless.

It was in Italy that I fell in love with mountain biking but alas I did not have the stamina to attack the hills at my age nor the inclination so we bought electric mountain bikes and my love of cycling has and does remain quite obsessive. It has replaced my love of horse riding once my magnificent mount died and I still now cycle everyday with gusto.

Jo gets into the swing of it

What other sports are you interested in?

In 2019 I took up Golf, a sport I have fallen in love with and brought my love of it here to Madrid where I try to play every week. A walk on the golf course is like meditation to me and can quieten the noisiest of minds.

Camping respite in Lozoya during hectic treatment

Since early retirement from your hospital career, what charity work have you been involved in?

After Italy we returned to the UK for 2 years where I had decided that, as I was now retired, it was time to pay it forward to my community and help where I could.  In 2018 I became a Trustee for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. We constantly have to raise money to support our local centres that house thousands of neglected animals.

I also worked as a volunteer fundraiser for a hospice that provides invaluable palliative care at home in my local rural community. The RSPCA and Hospice Northumberland are two wonderful charities close to my heart and a privilege to work for.

Jo receives treatment shortly after moving here

What does INC mean to you?

I walked into an INC coffee morning on my own one day in 2021 and met some forever friends and kindred spirits.

 INC has brought me great happiness when sometimes the days could appear a little dark after a double cancer diagnosis in 5 months after moving here. It gave me an opportunity to discover a sisterhood of wonderful, strong, beautiful women. It forced me out of the house when I wanted to dive back under the duvet and it established a normality I greatly needed.

There are two ladies in particular (you know who you are) who have shown me such kindness and support during days when the sun refused to shine.  Thank you …….you are now part of my story forever.

A favourite cycling haunt in the Escorial

Jurassic Park Meets Truffle Worshippers in Matarraña, Teruel

Where in the world can you visit the biggest natural wildlife attraction in Europe, have a fresh waterfall massage in a natural pool, ogle dinosaurs, meander through medieval villages, soar above a cobalt blue reservoir on a zipwire, walk the plank over rocky gorges and snaffle up a hearty plate of local almonds and ham whilst watching the ibex mountain goats scramble across the rocky hills?  

No matter what season you visit the Matarraña Province of Teruel in North Eastern Spain it will knock you out.

This is Spanish Tuscany on speed without the spectators. The panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and olive and almond groves from the fortified hilltop villages are more reminiscent of Tuscany than Iberia.

Walk the plank for fun

Surprisingly, water is a recurring theme in this inland province as visitors can enjoy kayaking and paddle-boarding on the local azure waters of the Embalse de Peña reservoir or gorge walking on wooden boards set above the crystalline waters at El Parrizal before refuelling at local restaurants such as Raco or Roda in tiny Beceite whose population totals a mere 603 inhabitants.

Book in for natural hydrotherapy at El Salt

Matarraña is also host to the internationally-acclaimed “vulture man”, José Ramón Moragrega, whose wild vulture reserve is the biggest natural wildlife attraction in Europe. Moragrega’s interest in vultures began 25 years ago when these carnivorous creatures’ source of food dried up thanks to the ban in leaving out animal carcasses after the outbreak of mad cow disease so now every morning at 9.30 am sharp he feeds 250 kilos of rabbit to 300 odd vultures at the Mas de Bunyol farm and conservation centre which also includes 6 guest bedrooms on site. 

Buitreman serves up breakfast

Jurassic Park enthusiasts will be fascinated by the Dinópolis circuit of 7 interactive dinosaur museums dotted around Teruel where the largest dinosaur remains were found in Europe. The Inhóspitak centre in the tiny hamlet of Peñarroya de Tastavins, a stunning 20 minute drive through the mountainous heart of Matarraña from the fortified village of Valderrobres provides a fun and informative introduction to excavating dinosaur remains through interactive video games. 

If adrenaline is more your vibe, look no further than the newly opened Tirolina Fuentespalda which boasts the longest zipwire in Europe at 2000km with endorphine-fuelled ascents of up to 200m.

Don´t look down

There are now several interesting places to stay in Matarraña. The first hotel to make its mark on the area and where the former monarchs of Spain, Juan Carlos and Sofía have stayed is Torre del Visco, run by British-born Jemma who has converted a stunning medieval watchtower near Fuentespalda into a luxury boutique Relais & Chateaux hotel with all the trimmings and charm, including a river with natural swimming and outstanding local cuisine from their on-site organic farm.

Valderrobres is the most important village in Matarraña

Perched on a hill at 985 metres above sea level is Mas de la Serra Wilderness Retreat, a restored farmhouse or masía on an almond farm in between Fuentespalda and Valdrerrobres. Guests are treated to arresting views of the mountains and pine and oak forests from the terrace of one of the remotest hotels in Europe. The masía is available for exclusive hire or by the night as a hotel and whilst the owner, my brother, hasn’t scrimped on the sanitaryware providing both a sauna and outdoor hot tub there are a couple of second-hand items that add to the quirky atmosphere namely Margaret Thatcher’s lavatory and my grandmother’s enamel and iron bath.

Mas de la Serra by night

At dusk whilst diners tuck into herb-crusted lamb baked in the outdoor oven or rabbit in almond sauce, the rare wild mountain goats, known as Ibex, punctuate the deafening silence as they scramble up and down the scraggy hillsides. Serious foodies can arrange truffle hunting trips in the area that is responsible for 70% of the world´s truffle production, a lot of which ends up in the finest Italian restaurants. Whilst walkers can wander past the almond groves up to La Picosa to enjoy magnificent views of the piercing blue reservoir in the valley below.

If modern architecture is your thing you can consider sleeping in a square glass cube balanced precariously along the edge of a mountain ridge in Monroyo at Hotel and Restaurant Consolación. The restaurant is also open to non-guests and pays homage to local ingredients such as Monroyo black truffles, wild honey, light Aragonese lamb and plenty of Teruel ham.

Sleep in a box

Last year saw the opening of the fully-restored Torre del Marqués, the area’s first 5 star hotel complete with spa facilities and vineyards which promise to reactivate the former flourishing local wine industry, the forebear of the area´s fruit and almond production.

Torres del Marqués – Aragonese Tuscany

Suffice it to say that, as per Teruel´s advertising slogan, Teruel Existe (Teruel exists), the region is very much alive and is certainly my favourite unspoilt area of rural Spain.

Breakfast with a view at Mas de la Serra
Beceite is home to some of Matarraña´s stunning gorges

Spotlight on Rocío Alférez

Madrileña, Mother, former Marketeer with a Masters in International Trading turned Mentor and Coach, Caterer, Flower arranger, Teacher of business skills and Spanish and ever-enthusiastic dancing Queen, Area 4/5 Coordinator,  Rocío Alférez talks to us about how living abroad and returning to Madrid has shaped her life and what makes her tick today.

Inter-generational family time

As former expat, how have your experiences abroad shaped your view of Madrid today?

I´d say that I´ve definitely come to appreciate how rich, vast and fulfilling the diversity of life around the world is. Within that, Madrid has undergone a dynamic transformation from Spanish capital to pole position as a vibrant, cultural, international landmark city on the must-see map.

After working in marketing you moved to Ireland, what was that experience like?

I have experienced Ireland both before and after its dramatic economic transformation and have always thoroughly enjoyed my time there, both in the city and the country. The Irish and the Spanish have much in common!

Rocío with her ICADE students

What aspects of your job did you particularly enjoy when teaching Soft skills and Leadership on Masters programmes at university in Madrid?

I love teaching, especially languages as I also teach Spanish. I enjoy opening my students’ minds and eyes to exploring a new world and encouraging them to dive in without fear.

Rocío´s apartment in Curitiba

You spent 3 years living in Curitiba, how did you adapt to life in Brazil?

Despite Brazilians being fairly close to Spaniards both emotionally and linguistically there were certainly plenty of differences below the surface. For example, femininity is embraced and celebrated with less reticence there. The women ooze power and confidence.

In terms of vocabulary, the “false friends” often caught me out. Soon after arriving, I was fairly shocked when my driver announced to me: “Eu te ligo e depois te pego” which in Spanish literally means: “I’ll flirt with you and then I’ll hit you” as opposed to “I´ll call you and then come and pick you up”. That experience encouraged me to master Portuguese quite quickly.

Flower power with stunning table settings

You used to be the President of the Parent-Teacher Association at your son’s school, ICS, did that role present any particular challenges?

Ha ha, well trying to harmonise 65 different nationalities and their respective expectations, cultural traits and parenting experiences in addition to those of the staff was certainly quite a challenge! However, the school was great at listening and most of the parents were reasonably familiar with that particular type of education.

Rocío’s artistic al fresco dining

How did your stint on the PTA at ICS then become a springboard into catering?

I´ve always been passionate about cooking and inspired by my grandmother. When I returned to Madrid in 2010 people (moms, friends) started to ask as me for recipes, menus, then they asked me to teach them so I ended up holding a weekly class with different groups. Later on, I started to receive requests to cater for parties, business dinners, private dinners at home etc so I´ve been running cookery classes and catering for several years now.

What attracted you to coaching and mentoring?

When I returned to Madrid I had to reinvent myself professionally which was quite daunting yet liberating at the same time. I had a real drive to help others and thought that my inner motivation could be useful to share. My shrewd friends pushed me towards the sphere of coaching and I discovered fortuitously that it was a perfect match for my passion and skills.

The merits of online teaching

What is Lindy hop and how did you get into it?

Lindy Hop is a dance in between Swing and Rock and roll. And I love it! Dance has always been part of my life (flamenco, jazz….) and prior to Covid I enjoyed classes and weekend dance groups all over Madrid.

In addition to catering you are also very creative with flowers?

Yes, I love flower arranging and décor. I can´t imagine life without aesthetics. I need it as a source of peace and joy. However, my main driver is humankind, I prioritise giving and doing my best by people. I sincerely believe that the main reason we are here is to truly love and be loved.

Floral nativity scene arrangement

What is your secret Madrid?

The Parque El Capricho- I grew up in that part of Madrid and used to play there as a child. Plus the magic atmosphere of artists and intellectuals in the Café Comercial in the Glorieta de Bilbao conjures up special memories us congregating there with my parents and neighbours when I was going out in Malasaña in my youth.

Roció’s house in the greater Madrid outback

What tips can you give to students looking for that motivation to be the best they can?

The first tip I would give to students is not to be hampered by fear but to enjoy every step of the way. Learn that life will gift them lots of opportunities in every season of their lives and that it is positive to have a vison for their own future and a commitment to their present.

When faced with tough decisions I ask them to focus on achieving a balance between and finding concrete examples of these 3 things:

  1. 1. what they enjoy
  2. 2. what they are skilled or best at
  3. 3. the kind of life they want to have

You have a very positive, social outlook, how have you maintained that during the pandemic?

I have to say that in my case being a Christian and having faith is what truly helps me go forward in my life. Also, understanding that what we think is not necessarily what we are is extremely helpful!

Sunny side up at INC events

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

Can I just recoup a normal life please!!! And travel A LOT.

Mummy´s boy

Spotlight on Susannah Grant

This month INC´s Blog Editor talks to herself (ooops – must be going mad) about bullseye spitting, teaching Scottish dancing to Spaniards, royal lingerie and the perils of Indian tigers

Business was always a pleasure in Roussillon

Is it true that a lot of Brits are quite eccentric?

Of course it is, my maternal grandmother was a keen collector of original antiques such as Queen Victoria´s bloomers. Most people adorn their walls with precious family heirlooms, I´ll be lucky to inherit some second-hand gargantuan pants.

Bloomin’ marvellous – but too big for my sister or me

Why are you so restless?

Family holidays were spent at my paternal grandmother´s house in the wilds of the Scottish Highlands yet I was brought up on a diet of exotic tales of our globetrotting ancestors making their name in distant lands.

As soon as I was old enough to ditch armchair travel for the real deal, I was off to explore the world for myself.

My father and brothers enjoy some quality Highland fare

Where did you start?

Funnily enough Madrid was my first port of call. On my gap year, aged 17, armed with 2,000 pesetas (€12), I arrived at Chamartín by train as, understandably, my father refused to pay excess baggage costs for my 3 suitcases and a ghetto blaster the size of a Shetland pony.

At the post office in Bhutan

What were you doing here?

Despite an A Level in Spanish, my poor linguistic skills relegated me to the photocopying cupboard on day one of my internship at McCann Erickson. By the time they realised that I was more of a guillotine operator than a photocopier, cutting off the heads of most of the material I was supposed to be copying, I had acquired sufficient colloquial Spanish to be allowed out to shadow some of the directors or rather one in particular.

I have always preferred to adapt the well-known maritime phrase about having a girl in every port to a more efficient aeronautical version by having a boy in every airport and over the years I have acquired fluency in 4 foreign languages.

One ice cream is never enough in Florence

Where does your heart lie?

Madrid will always be my first love and this is the fourth (and final) stint of living here although my childhood was influenced by my parents´ posting to Italy before I was born which had a lasting impression on them and me. So, after university, having had a narrow escape from Kimberly Clark´s UK graduate recruitment scheme at their factory of sanitary towels whizzing round on a conveyor belt in the heart of the Kent countryside without a nightclub in sight I headed for Florence. I lectured in English at their university for a few very happy ice cream-filled years until the recession eased off in London. Italy will always retain a very special place in my heart.

Another day at the “office” – tasting Port in the Douro

What prompted you to join the wine industry?

My love of French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian language and culture have always been the principal driving forces of my life and these are all spoken in top wine-producing nations. Newly returned to London I enlisted the help of my lifelong friend and fellow wine bod to help me perfect my aim of spitting out wine in a perfect rainbow-shaped arch into a spittoon. We started off with the bath tub and after 2 full days of swilling out €100 of Bulgarian plonk I was ready for professional wine tastings, wine exams and a fabulous fun-filled 12-year career travelling round vineyards all over the world.

Ready for merengue with my husband

What hobbies do you enjoy?

Latin music is my passion. Particularly good old-fashioned salsa, merengue and son Cubano orchestral bands. In my 30s I took a career break to travel for 2 years and the other backpackers in my hostals were rather bemused to see this seasoned woman getting changed to go out salsa dancing at 1 am when they were just staggering back to the dorm intoxicated from a backpacker´s BBQ in Perth, Auckland or Miami.

I have danced my way round the world and once accompanied Cuban Orquesta Aragón (the precursors to Buena Vista Social Club) whilst they were on tour in Colombia.

My own bucking bronco in Panama

What other dances rock your boat?

On one occasion my interpreting skills at a conference were stretched to the limit as I was asked to teach the entire sales team of González Byass (as in Tío Pepe sherry) to dance Scottish reels in Aberdeen. Naturally, the Spanish, with their innate sense of rhythm were instantly better at it than most of their British counterparts. As also exemplified at my wedding. González Byass are also responsible for my year-round addiction to Salmorejo (the weightier Córdoba version of Gazpacho soup). I first tasted it at a lunch at their Jerez bodega and haven´t stopped swigging it surreptitiously out of cartons in supermarket carparks ever since.

Cooking up a storm in China

So are you a bit of a foodie then?  

I live to eat and I also love to cook. My first dish entailed melting plastic cheese slices in a pan with ketchup to make a pot noodle-inspired pasta sauce. I´ve come a long way since then.  

Some of my Japanese-inspired handicrafts

Do you have a creative side?

From time to time I creep out of my natural creative-phobic comfort cave to make jewellery. Although ordinarily I just buy it. As you may have noticed I have a necklace (or two) for each day of the year.

Lesson 1 – dive into as many experiences headfirst as you can

What lessons have you learned over the years?

The world is smaller than you think. I shared a dormitory with an Irish lady in Fiji who happened to know the candidate that Kimberley Clark had chosen over me 15 years earlier. He had been impossibly pig-headed during our last round of interviews and I was not surprised to hear that he was subsequently sacked 6 months into the job for not gelling with the team. So much for multinational psychometric testing.

Trekking in the snow-capped foothills of Everest with my lovely Gurkha guide

What´s next for you?

Probably a shady plot in the British Cemetery of Madrid. Before that I´d like to write up some of the family history of some of my more notable (or should I say notorious) ancestors.

Hanging on for dear life in New Zealand

Why would anyone want to read about your relations?

Well it´s an excuse for some more travelling and although some of my ancestors’ achievements are still in evidence today I would like to document them for posterity.  For example: Tsum, Moscow´s flagship department store was inaugurated by a Scottish family member; another built a Speyside whisky distillery with his own hands; whilst Capetown´s main street is known as Adderley street after my ancestor successfully campaigned to prevent South Africa from becoming a penal colony. Other forefathers were less successful, namely Captain Handcock who was killed by a tiger in Ooty, India, whilst out hunting aged 24 and Jock Delves-Broughton who was suspected of murder as featured in the film and book, White Mischief set in Kenya´s so-called Happy Valley. Not to mention the forebear who did two stints in Wandsworth prison for fraud. Hopefully, my legacy will be less irksome.

Educating the kids on the marvels of Lebanon
Off to work on my trusty steed in Florence

Spotlight on Amanda López-Moleón

Hang on to your seats as we whirl through the multi-faceted life of business angel, film producer, movie buff, property guru, Three-time Jamaican president of Women in Film & TV, amateur painter, crafter, certified sushi-chef, scuba-diver and mother of 3 humans and 2 dogs that is Amanda López-Moleón

You have a rich multi-cultural heritage, how has that shaped your life?

It’s helped shape my life.  Not only am I bi-racial myself (Indian/ Goan and Black/Jamaican) but I have added my Spanish husband´s nationality to the mix. This helps me to see things from three cultural perspectives and to be accepting of all races and cultures. I’d say I´m a “Woman of the World” so to speak. 

What was it like to run your mother´s health-food business after your mother suddenly died when you were 25 years old? 

It was tough at first to persuade my mother´s former staff to accept that the little girl they´d seen growing up was now going to be their boss. However, despite the initial challenges my brother and I won them over and expanded the business., which we later sold. I learned the importance of good communication, treating people well and learning how to become a inspiring leader.

Amanda with Ben Stiller

You are your brother were known as the “Dynamic Duo” in the film industry in Jamaica – tell us about your career in Jamaica. 

My initial plan after completing my university studies in Canada was to combine my film degree with my minor in Environmental Management. I had romantic notions of becoming a Caribbean-based National Geographic Documental filmmaker. However, as soon as I was asked to move to the rural mountains on the island to work on a sustainability project I realised that my creature comforts and amenities were more important to me! (very fickle, I know). So I opted for working in advertising making corporate TV commercials and music videos instead! I also produced and was Assistant Director for overseas productions who use Jamaica as a film location (such as BBC, NBC, Universal Studios, Warner Bros etc).

Which celebrities did you cross paths with?

In my career I have met the likes of Usain Bolt, Robin Williams, Ben Stiller, Mandy Moore, Jose Coronado, Javier Sarda, John Krasinski, Peter Strauss, amongst many others. 

Rubbing shoulders with John Krasinski

You´re a huge movie buff, what´s your favourite film? 

There are soooo many- If I have to choose just one it has to be: The Gladiator by Ridley Scott. A fantastic combination of amazing cinematography, high production value (locations, costumes, art department) … with a riveting story about the constant struggle between good and evil, the rise of the underdog, vengeance, love, allegiance, devotion…and beautiful people set against a great soundtrack with high action, blood, guts and drama. It still gives me chills. We even gave our eldest son the middle name Maximo (The Spaniard) because of the film!

Do you have a professional Midas Touch? When your father got sick you built up his vet business to become the largest clinic in Jamaica and the Caribbean. 

A Midas Touch? By no means!! Although I do think I treat people well; I am fair and calm, I make good alliances and all this helps to make my projects a success. Perhaps I have a keen eye for the right people for the job whether it be for a film crew, designers for our property projects or partners for Wednesday Wanderer events. 

On a personal level, I chose an amazing husband who compliments me (another great alliance). Where I am weak, he is strong and where he is lacking, I am there to lift us, to complete us…making our family a success. 

It’s something my parents taught me. They were polar opposites, from 2 very different cultures and backgrounds. Yet they each created historic businesses and had an incredible, successful marriage bringing us up to face the world.

And my mom always said, “Always make the world a better place for you having been there.”

I carry that through with everything I do. 

Wandering around Madrid on a Wednesday

What prompted you to set up the 250-strong whatsapp group, Wednesday Wanderers? 

I was inspired by my own experience of wanting to explore and experience the best on offer in my new country. (Even though I had a Spanish husband who showed me the  ‘ropes’). So I got a couple friends together and we started doing walks round various areas of Madrid. I called the four of us the Tuesday Trekkers. And we committed to keeping our Tuesdays free to tour together. Then we decided to offer other practicalities to the greater expat community – such as demystifying how to order in a typical Spanish butcher and fishmonger. We then incorporated numerous talents from so many stay-at-home expat parents we met through school to form workshops on topics ranging from nutrition, self-defense to cookery. It’s cool to learn! I’m a bit of nerd like that. And I love getting people connected and together! Community is very important.

Culinary artistry

In Madrid you run lots of cooking workshops, what food sums up happiness for you?

I’m a total foodie. I love it all…

But the Asian continent as a whole, is truly my favourite cuisine.

Indian, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, Vietnamese…the list goes on.  

What other hobbies do you have (& what do they provide in your life?)

I paint, I watch lots of TV series, documentaries and movies.

I craft with my kids (not as often as we would like).

I love cooking and travel really feeds my soul. I incorporate a little bit of wherever I´ve been to into my life or cooking when I get home. Exploring recharges me and I´m a firm believer in enjoying a trip or two alone, annually, with your partner (minus kids – it’s critical for couples)!

You and your husband run a commercial and residential property business in Jamaica, what opportunities do you see in the country?

Jamaica is a stunning country with tons of natural beauty a rich culture, vast wealth of talent and enormous potential. Tourism is becoming more refined and Jamaican music, film, cuisine and art are gathering momentum thanks to the support they´re finally receiving. 

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

Well despite turning 50 (this May) with 3 kids I do still toy with the idea of going back to school to study Tourism and Hospitality for the sake of our villa rental business that I love. I have already got more cooking classes for myself (and my husband) lined up for this year (more Thai and starting Korean and Chinese), which also helps our tourism product in Jamaica and of course it simultaneously benefits the family, Since my kids love food also.  Although, fantasy wise…. I would love to open a cooking school, or maybe a restaurant/ lounge bar of some sort. A funky little Jamaican-fusion place with a great Caribbean vibe…music and food!! 

Amanda makes a trunk call

Amanda´s film quotes to live by:

Neil Armstrong in First Man… 

“When you get a different vantage point, it changes your perspective…it allows us to see things that maybe we should have seen aa long time ago. “

Braveheart…

“Every man dies, but not every man really lives” 

Ferris Beullers Day Off…

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Lastly…

Forest Gump..

“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you might get.”

Dressing the part in Thailand

More TV tips to perfect your Spanish from Anne Pinder

Netflix, Spanish.  Some have subtitles. You can find these shows with Netflix search bar.

*Las Chicas del Cable.  A group of young women work as telephone operators in Madrid, from late 1920’s to late 1930’s. Love stories, politics, phone modernization (big implications for our “chicas”) and more. Very entertaining, though I didn’t like the last season as much as earlier seasons.   Great clothes, and it’s fun to see places in Madrid that you recognize in a different period setting. 

La Cocinera de Castamar.  Young woman takes over job as cook in a noble house near Madrid (easily recognizable as the palace in Boadilla del Monte).   The man of the house has a tragedy in his past, the cook has some big issues but is an astonishing cook.  Things happen.

La Catedral del Mar.  Based on a book by Ildefonso Falcones, this is about building Santa Maria del Mar church in 14th century Barcelona. It’s also a coming of age story for a poor young boy who helps build the church, and has some big adventures on the way to adulthood – and as an adult.  This is sort of like a Spanish Pillars of the Earth.

Baztan trilogy, three movies, in this order:  El guardián invisible; Legado en los huesos; Ofrenda a la tormenta.  Based on books of same names by Dolores Redondo.  Part pólice/detective, part scary supernatural, part return-home story.  Some nudity and sex.

Amazon Prime, Spanish

Another treasure trove for language learners.  If your Spanish is pretty good and you would like to know more about everyday life in Spain, check out Cuentame Como Pasó. This long-running series follows an everyday Spanish family from 1968 to 1992 (so far), key years in Spanish history.  

French, a quick note:  My Spanish is fluent, so I’m trying to recover my almost-forgotten French.  Graded readers were really helpful, after level C1 and following suggestion of someone in Pasajes bookstore I jumped to unsimplified but easy reading:  Harry Potter, figuring that an entertaining young adult book with a known story would be a good start (and yes, it is).   For TV series on Netflix I’ve watched Bonfire of Destiny and Lupin, both are good, especially Lupin.  Several other shows bookmarked for the future.

Gain fluency in Spanish in context by Anne Pinder

So will you be working on your Spanish in 2022?  Language learning is not just memorizing grammar, mix it up a bit for more fun and probably faster progress.  

Graded readers are simplified books, sometimes simplified classics, sometimes specifically written for language learning. They’re usually graded by classic language levels A1 to C2, and usually if not always have audio, CD or downloadable from Internet.  Various publishers. Available at least at Pasajes bookstore (Calle Genova 3) and Casa del Libro (Gran Via 29 and other addresses).

Watching movies really can help, some people theorize that Spain is behind on language fluency because most movies are dubbed.  Here are some tips for series that are entertaining if skewed to period pieces pieces which are my favorite genre (sorry).  Depending on where you are or how you watch, some of these shows may not be available or might be available different ways (I think MInisterio del Tiempo was on Netflix in the USA), though all are available at present if watching in Spain.  If you cannot decide, my suggestion is to start with shows with a *   Another other option is to find a movie or series you like dubbed into Spanish and with subtitles.

RTVE Spanish TV.  Since these were created for Spaniards, probably no subtitles.

*Ministerio del Tiempo.  Time travel IS possible, and that means people going back in time can mess up the future (our present), intentionally or unintentionally, so the super-secret Time Ministry has a team of people to make sure that doesn’t happen.  This can get complicated, but it’s fun, and you learn some history and meet interesting people, like painter Diego Velázquez.  https://www.rtve.es/play/videos/el-ministerio-del-tiempo/

Aguila Roja. Gonzalo is a mild-mannered teacher in part of his life, superhero in another part of his life. His sidekick is the only person in on the secret, his son admires Aguila but thinks his dad is a coward.  Some love interest, some really evil bad guys, lots of adventures.  Historically fairly accurate, including King Felipe IV being a skirt-chaser, though the real Cardenal Mendoza is from another period and apparently was not as ambitious as the Cardenal in this series. Fair amount of violence (Aguila beats up at least one bad guy in every episode), some nudity or half-seen sex scenes. NOTE. This might not be available now, I was watching daily, stopped at a scary place and now looks like it will be hard to re-start, though the series may be available for purchase.)  https://www.rtve.es/television/aguila-roja/capitulos-completos/

La Señora.  Spain in the 1920’s, a young man and woman fall in love but it has to end because of social differences.  They never forgot each other, meet up again years later.  Just started watching this one, looks interesting.  https://www.rtve.es/play/videos/la-senora/senora-capitulo-1/1583859/

Tiempo entre Costuras. Based on book by Maria Dueñas, translated as A Time in Between or  The Seamstress (different titles in USA and UK); if you haven’t read it you should.  Great story of a young woman from Madrid just before the Civil War who ends up in Spanish Morocco and eventually back in Madrid.  Lots of things happen, can’t say more without spoiling the story.  I loved the book, watched part of the first episode and as sometimes happens, one of the characters was so different from my imagination that it put me off, so can’t recommend personally (yet), though people who have watched most or all say it’s really good  (I need to try again). https://www.atresplayer.com/antena3/series/el-tiempo-entre-costuras/    I think this is also on Amazon Prime.