Spotlight on María Elena Laufs

January 26th, 2024 by

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

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

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

María Elena at Belvoir Castle

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

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

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

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

María Elena with her brother on a visit to Belvoir Castle

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

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

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

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

María Elena in action in Hong Kong

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

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

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

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

María Elena in virtual action

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

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

María Elena at home in Germany

What´s your favourite podcast?

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

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn?

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

Are you a natural sportswoman?

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


Which fashion website should we consult for the latest trends?

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

María in her fashion executive days

Why can´t you stay still?

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

Where´s next for María Elena?

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

María Elena strikes a pose in yoga in Granada

Spotlight on Inge Drenthen

September 13th, 2023 by

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

What did you do before you came here in 2010?

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

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

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

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

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

What´s your favourite dance and why?

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

How did you come to teach sevillanas?

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

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

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

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

What does yoga bring to your life?

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

How do you find living in Madrid compared with Turin?

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

How did you enjoy living in Brussels?

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

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

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

What book do you most recommend to others?

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

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

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

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

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

Spotlight on Margarita Gokun Silver

April 27th, 2023 by

This week Susannah talks to Moscow-born, American national: Margarita Gokun Silver, formerly a public health consultant in Uzbekistan and later a cross-cultural coach from Athens to Argentina and now a full-time writer. A successful author of a novel and an essay collection; prodigious freelance journalist and accomplished painter, Margarita is about to collect a second Masters to add to her Ivy League credentials.

At school on Lenin´s birthday

What was it like growing up in the USSR in the 1980’s?

I started that decade by proclaiming my loyalty to the USSR as a Young Pioneer and I ended it by giving up my Soviet citizenship and leaving the country for good. In between there was everything that usually happens in a life of a young girl coming of age during the end of Brezhnev/Andropov/Chernenko stagnation era and Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost. We marched, we protested, we held kitchen discussions about Sakharov and Politburo, we queued for butter, and we hoped things were going to change for the better. Spoiler alert: they didn’t.

You left your Mechanical Engineering degree course in Moscow and emigrated with your parents to the US, what surprised you the most when you arrived in in 1989?

First impressions: way too many streetlights (Moscow had close to none); the size of their supermarkets, the friendliness of people. The fact that no one walked anywhere (we ended up in a small town—NYC would have probably been different) and the cost of tuition in a local liberal arts college.

Exhibiting in Cuenca

After pre-med you went to Yale to do a Master’s in Public Health and later worked in health consultancy in Uzbekistan, how did that experience shape your life in hindsight?

I understood working in health care wasn’t my thing and I just wanted to write.

Enjoying Italy

As the spouse of a US Diplomat on the move you decided to become a cross-cultural coach in Argentina, Greece, Russia, Spain and USA, do you draw on any of those skills and experiences as a writer today?

Curiosity is a big one. You have to be curious about people to be a good coach —and you have to be curious about the world around you to be a writer, to want to tell stories.

Do you have any funny stories about settling in Tashkent?

We bought our car in Tashkent on a Christmas Day by bringing a suitcase full of cash to a market on the outskirts of the city and hoping we’d leave that market driving that car and not stuffed into a trunk of another.

You were already an accomplished self-taught author of two books and many essays and articles, what was the most useful tip you learned in your Creative Writing course at Oxford University?

Sometimes just turning a noun into a verb gives you the exact word you’ve been looking for.

Have you had any feedback from the Russian authorities on your satirical novels?

No, and I really hope I won’t. They aren’t always very nice.

What inspires you to write?

Stories, other writers, conversations with people.

Pushkin does some edits

Is it true that if your great grandmother hadn´t missed the train you might have grown up in Argentina?

Technically it’s true but then again it wouldn’t have been really me because if she did make it to Argentina, she wouldn’t have met my great-grandfather and my grandmother would have never been born.


What made you decide to take up oil painting in your 40´s whilst living in Miami?

I’ve always wanted to paint with oil and always postponed it. Then at 40 I decided that waiting for (painter’s) life to begin was stupid and enrolled into a class. I wrote about this decision and how I made it here.

What is it about Madrid that prompted you to return here after your stint in 2012?

I like the vibe of this city, the friendliness of its people, the immensity of its blue sky, the imprint that sunlight leaves on its buildings. It just feels good to live here and at this point of my life that good feeling is what I need.

Family Trip to Toledo

Which book do you most recommend to others?

Too many to mention and my taste has changed over the years, but I’ve always come back again and again to Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita”.

Spotlight on Giselle Rouvier

March 9th, 2023 by

This week Susannah delves into the diverse life of INC´s Rio de Janeiro-born Social Media Editor; former architect; designer; marketeer; childhood ballerina and now mother and yoga teacher, Giselle Rouvier.

Leblon Beach Rio de Janeiro

How has your nomadic childhood in London, Toronto and various Brazilian cities shaped you?

Oh wow, I think it has shaped me in so many ways… For a very shy person like myself, I feel that moving around has given me the opportunity to come out of my shell. One thing I´ve realised is that being pushed out of my comfort zone can lead to growth and personal transformation from a very early age. I also feel that learning to adapt in various settings has make me more flexible, resilient and empathetic.

In the Big Apple

What´s the best advice you’ve been given?

Right now, as a Mother and solopreneur, I’d say it was “you can do anything but you can’t do everything.” So I´d say understanding that I need to make a choice about what my purpose is and what my focus is going to be has been a key lesson.

Giselle dons a hard hat

How has your previous career as an architect and designer helped you in your current profession as a yoga teacher?

As an architect-designer you get to be a bit of a psychologist and to understand how experiences and spaces can shape how a person will feel. I was very interested as an architect in how buildings and cities affect our moods and wellbeing and this has always fed through to how I teach Yoga. I really enjoy designing the entire class experience; the journey of the practice, the bhava or feeling I want you to leave the mat with, the music, the lighting…everything. 

Taking a measured shot

How has your hobby as a photographer evolved over the years?

My keen interest in photography started aged 12 when my father gave me my first camera. I used to take a lot of pictures of nature and I´ve had many moments in my life whereby I´ve considered becoming a full-time photographer. However, I´ve often doubted my talent for it. Photography for me is a way of stopping time dead in its tracks. It reminds me to stay in the present and to be fully aware of the beauty that surrounds us, be it nature, people we love, a kind gesture, a smile….it can be a really therapeutic activity.

Menstrual Cycle Awareness Workshop

What was the most surprising part of the menopause yoga course for instructors you took recently?

How early it can start and how unprepared we are for it!  Also, that (peri) menopause can have a very profound impact on a woman’s life if completely ignored. I have heard tales of women who got divorced, lost their jobs and even started on antidepressants during this transition as they lacked valuable support from a doctor, naturopath, therapist or a yoga women’s circle to mitigate the symptoms. To some extent, it is still taboo, just like the menstrual cycles, to talk openly about these things. I would dearly love to change this narrative for women. 

Younger yoga days

How do you advise people to reconnect with their bodies as they get older?

I love this idea that as we get older, we start to feel liberated from the pressures of how we should be, what we should do and we get back in touch with our inner wild authentic self. Like there is this wise, ancient inner-self waiting to emerge.  

I would advise people to pay closer attention to our own body´s signals.  Do less. Be more and breathe more. Follow your own path of creativity and intuition. Put your phone aside and move your body whether it be dancing or yoga, whatever takes your fancy.

Giselle gets into character from a young age

How do you see the future of social media panning out?

I think it will take over our lives even more… it will become our search engine, our shopping experience, a place of work for lots of us.

You are INC´s social media editor, how do you use social media in your own life?

I use it only for work purposes, to get the information out there but on a personal level I have completely stopped using Social Media for 4 years now… I try to have a healthy relationship with it, as I felt that it could really “rob me” of my precious time here on this Earth and sometimes even affect my mood. I try as much as I can to not be glued to my phone when I am around my daughter so she can learn by example that we are social beings but we tend to feel better and healthier if the interactions are face to face and real.

The Beach Bunnies

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 … 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. “


“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.”


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