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Spotlight on Jo Ball

April 22nd, 2022 by

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

Spotlight on Rocío Alférez

March 10th, 2022 by

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

February 25th, 2022 by

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

January 27th, 2022 by

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

Spotlight on Angela Daley

November 16th, 2021 by

A regular fixture at INC cultural events, this month we take a look at the rich tapestry that makes up, Australian, Mother of 2, former librarian, Angela Daley´s life spanning several continents thanks to the pioneer spirit of her parents who left behind war-torn Germany.

Growing up in Melbourne your mother tongue at home was German – why was this?

My parents were from Germany and Montenegro respectively. They migrated to Melbourne four months before I was born and decided to retain the German language and many German customs as well. Many of which we have kept to this day such as the annual chocolate Easter Egg hunt and holding a German-style Christmas dinner on 24th December.

Annemarie and Mirko

Your father was originally Serbian and spent time as a Prisoner of War in Pompeii, did he ever speak about his experiences during the war?

My father fought for Yugoslavia in World War II.  Many of the battles were brutal and he lost endless comrades. Eventually he was caught by Italian soldiers and spent two years in a prisoner of war camp in Pompeii. He never spoke about his experiences in the war but whilst my sister and I were growing up he suffered dreadful nightmares from those days and would often wake up screaming. Enduring the war and captivity developed my father’s survival skills and these certainly came in handy when he moved to Australia. 

Pyramid time at Teotihuacán in Mexico City

Your mother had to flee from what is now Poland to West Germany by foot during World War II, did she ever talk about her wartime experiences?

My mother also suffered trauma. She had been brought up in a wealthy home and was being groomed to take over her father’s empire. However, in February 1945 the Russians attacked the East German city, Breslau, where she lived and her family had to flee on foot. My mother did talk to us about some of her experiences during the war but she mainly focused on telling us stories about her happy childhood before that period. 

Her family finally settled near Münster in North West Germany. My mother had studied English at university and was employed by British forces responsible for the repatriation of former German prisoners of war.  My father was one of those prisoners and the rest is history !!! After getting married my parents decided to leave the ravages of war behind them by migrating to Australia. 

The family enjoy a reunion in Chicago

What was Melbourne like during the 1950´s and 1960´s?

Melbourne was very different from how it is today. It was mainly populated by people of Anglo- Saxon descent, the level of culture was limited and the food was quite plain. Today the city is a thriving metropolis filled with people from all over the world. It has amazing restaurants offering all sorts of cuisine and culture abounds all around. 

Have you been to Montenegro where your father was born?

Yes. My mother died suddenly in 2005 and my father became very depressed. They were lifelong soulmates. As a surprise we flew from New York to Niksic, Montenegro where my father was born and I phoned him from there. It was a special moment for us both. 

Sahara safari

You have enjoyed a long career as a librarian, what was it about law librarianship that appealed to you? 

It brought an excitement to my work as a librarian that I had never experienced before. Loads of interesting and challenging legal research and pressure through deadlines. I loved it all!!!

Your first overseas posting with your husband was in New York, how did you find life over there? 

New York is an amazing city to visit and it literally never stops. But trying to live a normal life in Manhattan did have its moments!!!

Angela´s daughter

You then moved to Washington, how did that posting compare to New York?

Washington is also an amazing city but it was difficult for me to meet people and to feel like I belonged. Lots of networks exist but mainly in the sphere of foreign affairs and the military. 

Angela´s son

 What brought you to Madrid?

My husband jokingly says that he is a “failure at retiring “!! He has had a few attempts. For a couple years he has been on the board of a Spanish company and he had recently even been considering attempting retirement once again. However, following a twist of events at a board meeting in Madrid in October 2019 he unexpectedly became the company’s full time CEO!!! 

What’s unmissable for you in Madrid?

I love everything about Madrid and Spain. But more than anything I am very attached to Meninas in all shapes and forms. 

Up close and personal with a moose in Northern Sweden

Name a book that has inspired you and why?

“Spain” by Jan Morris. This beautifully written book is filled with heaps of interesting information on the history, geography and culture of España. 

We are both keen linguists, what is it about languages that you love in particular?

Learning other languages opens up your mind to other cultures and gives you the ability to embrace and to feel part of them so much more.

Daley family fun time in Melbourne

What is Angela Daley’s motto for life?

Each day is precious!! Enjoy it to the full!!!

Spotlight on Hyacinth Rebaud

October 21st, 2021 by

This month we dive across many oceans into the life of INC Board member on the VP Team, mother of 3, half Australian-half Filipino, owner of studio l’atelier Pilates 18 and Pilates instructor, Hyacinth Rebaud who after finishing school on a sheep farm in Australia went onto acquire a Master´s in Development and has carved out a career in the sector in various cities ranging from Manila to Manchester. 

You started globetrotting from a young age, what was it like being sent from your home in the Philippines to school in Geelong near Melbourne, Australia?

This was definitely an experience that marked me profoundly and I made many lifelong friends.  Once I´d got over the homesickness I took full advantage of the opportunity going away to school meant, especially for a girl from the Philippines. It gave me the mindset to believe that anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it (and to always be prepared!).  

Riding by rickshaw in the Philippines

As someone used to densely populated Manila, how did you adapt to finishing high school on a merino sheep farm in Australia? What impact has that experience had on you in later life?

Well, it was certainly a steep learning curve! I wasn´t exactly enamoured with the remoteness of the location but I did acquire an appreciation for nature in all its raw beauty which has stayed with me today. 

I also had to skill up on how to deal with bushfires, droughts and such things like having kangaroos running around your property or snakes under the house. I am not a country girl at heart, but I would not change that time for anything in the world. 

Girl time in snowy Madrid

Having met your French husband during a brief stint at home in the Philippines you took a 1-way ticket over to France to be with him. Would you describe yourself as a risk taker?

I´m usually completely risk-averse but I knew I´d regret not giving the relationship a chance so despite having spent only a few months together I jumped on a plane to see what his world looked like. It’s fair to say that I tend to trust my gut feelings/intuition (always have, always will). 

You spent the bulk of your professional career in development and Corporate Social Responsibility – what attracted you to that sector?

Today, roughly less than 20% of the population live below the poverty line in the Philippines (about 18 million vs 3% in Spain). I simply wanted to understand this ‘inequality’, why it exists and what can we do to change that, practically speaking.  Through my interest in Development, I have worked on a range of projects such as urban development and economic and social impact in China and Inner Mongolia; fundraising and implementing Gender and Diversity in Australia and the Philippines; female entrepreneurship in Uzbekistan and microfinancing in the UK and France.

Hyacinth in Uzbekistan

Prior to moving to Madrid you spent three years in Athens, how did you adapt to life there? 

Once we´d mastered the rules such as: 

  • Guests should arrive at least one hour late for any dinner party
  • At 7 pm you will be served coffee not wine
  • Pedestrian crossings are decorative only
  • It is mandatory to invite ALL family members to children’s birthday parties and to stay for the entire day
  • Smoking is still acceptable in all indoor places

We found the Greeks were some of the warmest, most hospitable people we had ever met. 

How did you enter the world of pilates?

Raising a family constantly on the move meant I had very little time to dedicate to self-care and I felt my body had almost been hijacked by the needs of everyone around me.  Pilates provided a valuable one-stop shop in terms of healthy exercise and centering my mind and eventually, I trained to become a certified Reformer instructor to set up my own business. I feel privileged to have overcome the challenges that come with the territory of being a small business owner and Pilates has allowed me to really re-kindle my mojo.

You´re a great advocate of the Reformer in Pilates, what does it add in your opinion?

I am very biased I know, but personally, Pilates on the Reformer is a game changer and takes the Pilates experience to another level. It consists of various components that can be adjusted to each person´s specific requirements. If you haven’t tried stretching on the Reformer, then you have never experienced what a really good stretch feels like! 

I have a small studio in which I teach 1:1 private classes. It is such a humbling and rewarding experience to be part of someone’s physical and mental journey to boost their confidence and “blossom again”. 

Alhambra time

Which is your favourite podcast?

I´m currently enjoying :

‘More Than One Thing’ with Athena Calderone – the imperfect journey of various creatives, storytelling about professionals who have not necessarily taken the ‘normal routes’.

Hyacinth with 2 of her brood in the Plaza Mayor

Have you found any traits in common between the Philippines and Spanish?

Yes! The weekly family Sunday lunch ritual; warmth and hospitality especially to total strangers (I feel like I have been very fortunate! Finally, the love of dancing and music which are a frequent feature, Covid-permitting, of most social gatherings. 

Fun in the UK

Spotlight on Mariate Vidal

March 5th, 2021 by

This month we delve into the life of Mariate Vidal who has spent 20 years abroad and comes from a long line of Spanish Pharmacists. Not content with managing one of her family´s chemists in her home town of Tarragona, Mariate has acquired a PhD in Microbiology and two Masters in Food Science and Human Nutrition respectively.  Nowadays Mariate is putting her renowned cookery course skills to good use and enjoying her multitude of hobbies and industrious charity work.

Mariate enjoys Richmond Park, London

You´re now living in Madrid for the first time, after 2 decades years abroad, what is like to be back in Spain?

Funnily enough, it did take quite a bit of adjustment as we´d never lived in Madrid before.  I missed the international aspect of my life, hence joining INC and despite not being able to attend many events for obvious reasons it has been a positive experience.

Mariate´s life has taken many courses

Where have you lived before?

I grew up in Tarragona and went to University in Barcelona before moving back home to work in a Pharmaceutical Laboratory and do a PhD in Microbiology. After getting married we moved to Toronto due to my husband´s job and from there to Milan, Dublin and finally London where we spent 11 very happy years.

La Dolce Vita

Tell us about living in Milan

I erroneously assumed that by speaking a mixture of Spanish, French and Catalan I could make myself understood in Italian. We lived in the very chic area of Brera, in the thick of all the upmarket boutiques, museums and restaurants which was quite a contrast to the bucolic Toronto suburbs. However, we embraced the city and were soon nicknamed “Los Amigos” by the affectionate owners of a lovely local trattoria where we became regular fixtures.

Mariate cooks her native tortilla at a London street party

I don´t think I have ever met woman who embraces such diverse pastimes. What sort of activities did you enjoy in whilst living abroad?

I have always sought to take full advantage of every posting. In Toronto I took English and French lessons, cooking classes, learned to ice skate and I even enrolled in a Landscaping course at the University of Toronto, in addition to gardening courses at local community centres. In Milan I took up Italian and soaked up all the art, fashion and design features of our local area. Our time in Dublin was quieter because my hands were full with both babies.

In London, in addition to cookery I took photography courses, joined the PTA at our daughters’ school and became a volunteer in public health activities. I also studied a Masters in Human Nutrition and did a professional cookery course which led to a job as a Cookery Teacher Assistant at school and discovered I really enjoyed teaching.

Mariate the pharmacist at the pharmacy

Where does your interest in Science stem from?

It runs in the blood as I am a third-generation pharmacist. My father set up an analytical laboratory and my mother ran her own pharmacy so I was surrounded by science since birth!

Your passion for food has also taken on a more gastronomic approach, tell us about your prestigious cookery course you completed in London

Ironically I was a very fussy eater as a child however, during my Pharmacy degree we had to study food science for a year and that became one of my favourite subjects. I hadn´t cooked much before getting married so I took cookery classes when we lived in Toronto. Later on, I enrolled at Leith’s School of Food and Wine fulltime in London with the support of my husband and some childcare. It was a highly demanding yet stimulating experience which I thrived on and now I know how to make proper scones!

Indi enjoys the snow in Richmond Park, London

What international customs have your family absorbed into your own culture/family life?

Plenty of gastronomic ones! Such as maple syrup, porridge for breakfast and my daughters appreciate Indian food after their weekly curry school lunches in London!

What is your role at Manos Unidas charity?

This is a wonderful NGO whose aim is to empower local communities to tackle hunger, health and sanitation issues in Third World countries. I prepare reports on the various projects that Manos Unidas will get involved in for potential investors. My previous academic and professional background is useful and the work is stimulating. I then write up the final reports to show the donors how their money has been spent.  It´s a fascinating role because it´s opened my eyes up to the needs of many different countries as well as the inner workings of an international organisation.

Aquaduct culture in Segovia

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

That’s a difficult one…  I would love to have several next lives… So that I could be a Oxford/Cambridge professor, or maybe a travel or science journalist or even a chef like José Andrés or Massimo Bottura, who, besides being good at what they do, use their skills and influence to help people in need.

Spotlight on Irlanda Gutiérrez

February 5th, 2021 by

This month the Spotlight falls on new INC member, Texan-born tennis star who gave her life a volte-face when she left her corporate career to practise Swedish and sports massage, Irlanda Gutiérrez.

You climbed up the corporate ladder of a male-dominated business. What was it like to be one of very few women in Senior Management of Enterprise Rental Cars?

In those days men made up 90% of the workforce in that sector so it was certainly a challenge for me as a woman. I felt I had to prove myself more than a man in the corporate world in terms of knowledge, efficiency, capacity and putting in the long hours.  Having almost exclusively male colleagues was novel and on the whole pretty smooth. I´d say men are generally very rational and mathematical in the way they operate.

What tips would you give other women juggling careers and children?

Some days were 12-14 hours long so I´d have to race to day-care to breast feed during my lunch hour and run back to work in heels.  Those days were truly insane.  It’s tough to give advice because in hindsight I should have worked less to create a better balance.  However, as  women in the workplace we do have a tough time of it because if we request to work shorter hours it is seen as a sign of weakness. There is definitely no harder job than properly raising your children and upkeeping a home.

What was it in Guadalajara, México that prompted you to delve in massage therapy? 

When I was forced to leave my corporate career because of my husband’s move to Mexico I had to re-evaluate my life and think.. Do I ever want to do that again? The answer was no… it was too high of a price not to be able to give my children and home some of me.  Guadalajara was ahead of Texas in terms of yoga, organic food and meditation and I literally dove in.  When I returned to the States 2 years later, I went back to school in Laredo and Austin to qualify as a Licensed Massage Therapist. After that I did several specialization courses over the world such as India and Switzerland and my particular area of expertise is working with Athletes. I was lucky as with all my sports contacts my practice in Texas was booked solid year-round. I am now practising here in Madrid.

How did you develop an interest in food and what does it mean to you today?

I’m not sure I´m a great cook but I do love to eat, especially the organic fruit and vegetables that I discovered in Mexico.

What was it like working as the official massage therapist for rockstars and celebrities at a concert arena?

I was fortunate to land a fascinating job as the Laredo Arena Therapist as ZZ Top came into town and took my predecessor on tour with them.  So I would be in charge of the singers, dancers and VIP’s for event and concerts.  My kids thought it was so cool that I would attend a rap star or any number of famous people.  They would look larger than life on stage and yet off stage they are just as human, fragile with the same stress and laughter like the rest of us.

Ready for the Nationals!

Tell us about the role competitive tennis has played in your life.

I was very happy being an amateur tennis player and played competitive tennis with my Texas team. We would travel all over the place in competitions and had just the best time.  Team sports and competition give you life for sure, mentally and physically.

Irlanda holds steady

Why have you decided to specialise in sports massage therapy? 

I love being an amateur tennis player and yogi. I understand athletes and their needs. It took me a while to get here but I am now doing what I love the most.

 Has anything surprised you about Spain and its people?  

The way they honor and respect meals and mealtimes is something I am not used to yet rather admire.

What dish would you dream about if you were cast away to a desert island?  

Definitely Thai food and Tacos too!

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

I´d love to open my own health and wellness center.

Spotlight on Isotta Peira

January 7th, 2021 by
Isotta´s social suppers

This month we dive into the life of Savonna-born, former travel operator, juvenile butcher extraordinaire, volleyball player and duelling fanatic, Isotta Peira who now runs her own food experience company in La Latina.

Having studied French and Spanish, you first came to Spain in 2013 to work in the travel industry. Tell us about what that period of your life. 

It was a highly frenetic, crazy few years. Italy was deep in recession so I moved to Madrid to take a telemarketing job selling cruises.  I ended up sharing a flat with two other Italian friends and we were all working hideously long hours, 6 days a week. Life was pretty intense as the job was highly competitive and we partied about as hard as we worked. Later on, I got to travel frequently to France, Morocco and India which was a definitely plus point.

Isotta´s legendary Nonna

You started helping out at your grandparents´ butchers´shop when you were 6, how did that prompt you to make a career out of food?

That was a truly memorable part of my life. I became transfixed by the magic of transforming ingredients from one state to another and also by the respect a butcher has for the animal. My passion for food and minimising waste definitely stems from those days.

What was it like working as a chef in an Indian restaurant in London in 2009?

At first it was quite hard as I discovered I had a minor intolerance to coriander which appeared in every single recipe! Fortunately I´ve got over that now.

Isotta teaches the art of homemade pasta

A lot of people think that the Spanish are very similar to the Italians, what similarities and differences have you noticed?

That’s true! We are like cousins ahah. Of course, depending on the region we come from, there can be more similarities or differences.  Both nationalities are fiercely proud of our cultures and talk very loudly! I see that Spaniards are better at switching off after work, something I´m trying to learn!

Isotta and her wife Andrea have some Ratatouille-themed fun

Tell us about the supper club dinners you organised before the pandemic.

Andrea, my Bolivian wife and I hosted our first social dinner in November 2018 with a view to offering authentic home-cooked food in a cosy environment where people from different cultures could comfortably socialise. It was a huge success so we created the brand Eatsperience Madrid, and it is now my fulltime job.  We have organised many a themed evenings such as gnocchi nights and unusual pairings such as artisanal gelato with savoury food.

Female team spirit

What part has sport played in your life?

When I arrived in Madrid I played for an amateur women´s volleyball team which was great fun and very social. Hopefully, I will have more time to join up again after Covid. As a child I took up fencing seriously and became a teacher myself until I went away to University.

Eatsperience goes online

What is your secret Madrid?

When I feel homesick, I go to Mangitalia: an Italian Shop in Calle Galileo. The Italian and Spanish owners have treated me like family from the moment I set foot in the place.

Tell us about your charity work with the elderly in Madrid

My close relationship with my grandmother instilled deep admiration for the elderly and I was introduced to the Fundación Alicia y Guillermo by one of my volleyball team-mates. I have been keeping a lady in her late 80s company for several years. She loves to recount the time when she, as RENFE (train) employee she met the former Queen Sofía of Spain.

Rocking and rolling

What ingredients would you take with you if you were confined on a desert island?

Mangos – I could eat mangos all day! Raw meat with parmesan, followed by carrots and fennel and heaps of pasta on the off-chance I could boil up some water!

Spotlight on Evelyn Nackman

December 3rd, 2020 by

This month the Spotlight falls on seasoned lawyer, amateur flamenco dancer and budding novelist, Evelyn Nackman who is also a Lieutenant Colonel with an artistic flair and a mother of 3.

Tell us what prompted you to pursue a legal career within the US Military

I grew up in the suburbs of Washington D.C., one of the most politically charged places in the USA. Where some people grew up with favorite sports teams, my world was divided by political parties. I’m a believer in being the change you want to see. After attending law school in Chicago, I joined the military, and became a lawyer.

The law and the military are two institutions that have traditionally been dominated by men. Women have a powerful stereotype-defying perspective to bring to all institutions. I have been a part of that institutional change within the US military and globally as the US forces interact with the forces of other nations for peacekeeping and coalition building missions. The military’s rigorous professional training helped launch my legal career in the civilian sector.  

Flying high

Are you still involved with the Armed Forces? 

Public service has been an important aspect of my life. I continue to serve my country.  

The strict lockdown in Madrid gave you an opportunity to complete your first book, what prompted you to write a novel? 

My family’s numerous postings meant that I needed to reinvent my career. As an English major in college and a lifelong reader, I’ve always wanted to write fiction. My time in Spain has given me that opportunity.  

Walking like an Egyptian

You have 3 daughters, including twins – how does your husband cope with so many females in the household and are any of the telepathic myths about twins true? 

My husband is one of those rare men who has the gift of charm and grace when it comes to dealing with personalities. At home, he’s treated like a celebrity, so it’s a win-win for him. 

The twins have whatever the opposite of telepathic connection is. They couldn’t be more different. They look nothing alike and act different. They have separate interests, etc. That said, my three girls are best friends and fiercely protective of each other.  

Do you have any stories about adapting to life here in Madrid?

Americans use imperial measurement for the most part and all of our produce, in the US, is weighed at the checkout till. So I have no idea how much a gram of anything is or how much a banana (or anything at all) weighs in either metric or imperial. During the pandemic, I used Hipercor’s online order service which proved just how little I knew.

The metric system drives Evelyn a bit bananas

How has painting been a creative outlet throughout your life? 

Art is just another language trapped inside you. Everyone has art in them of some sort whether your medium is words, paint, clay, or performance. Just like you can say some things better in Spanish or Greek to express yourself, the arts are another way of communicating that which can’t be spoken directly. As such, the best art makes you feel or remember or understand something better about life, as well as being a release for the artist.  

Alexander the Great

I use all types of mediums: pastels, water color, oil paint, etc. Painting is another way of capturing how I see the world, like writing. The creative process connects parts of my brain that were never connected before and expands my understanding of the world.  

I spend as much time as I am able in art museums absorbing the messages and language in the works there. I’ll photograph a painting that strikes me and go home to recreate it with my own colors. Going through another artist’s creative process helps me understand what they’re saying in a way that simply looking at a painting can’t. In this way, Goya and other infamous painters and I have spoken to one another. In the process, I create something new and improve my own expression.  

The Belle at the ball in Vienna

As someone who has been in Madrid for a year how has being a member of INC been beneficial to you? 

INC has been a great way to connect with other women, professionally and personally.  

What is your secret Madrid?

I love finding nooks, interesting views, one-of-a-kind artisanal products, and meeting people in their element. Not the easiest to do right now, but rewarding when I am able to do it. Some of my favorite place are: My art class held in a studio on Calle de Fucar, the view from the RUI Hotel rooftop, Ferreterría by EGO (a restaurant with yummy jamón) anything in Mercado de Paz, and my flamenco classes in Pozuelo. 

Fun times in Santa Barbara

If you could go anywhere, where would you like to live next? 

I’d love to live in France or Italy next. I studied French for years and love both countries. 

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

I waved it! My wish was granted! I’m starting my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing with NYU in Paris this January. I’ll be on my writing journey for a while, hopefully capitalizing on my experiences since I left full time legal practice.