28.11.09

New York




While in New York we visited Ellis Island. It was fascinating to see where the immigrants were taken, subjected to intensive questioning and endured medical checks. Eyelids were lifted with boot hooks and if there was any sign of disease, even a cut from shaving was considered suspect, they were isolated and could well find themselves sent back to their home country. The saddest part of this story was that they weren’t returned to their own village where they knew people, but to the port from which they embarked upon their journey to America, which could be a long, long way from home. A father or grandmother might be sent back, or girls as young as 12 could be abandoned in the port of Liverpool unless a parent was available to return with her. But if there were other children to care for in the new world, or parents had already died on the voyage out, this might not be possible.



We went up the Top of the Rock, which was great, if a little scary. From here we could see the whole of the New York skyline set out before us, including the Empire State building, the Chysler Building and others. The lift, or elevator as we should call it, shot up 63 floors. Oh, my! Even our hotel, the Marriott Marquis, had 48 floors, and the top one was a rotating restaurant. Amazing sights from there too.




We walked up 5th Avenue, window gazing at designer stores such as Armani and Gucci where the rich do their shopping. We then walked in Central Park, feeling rather as if we were in a movie set as so many parts of it were familiar. The walkways, the pond and skating rink, for instance.


Then after lunch in a typical New York diner, we visited Macey’s to do some Christmas shopping. That second evening we saw The Jersey Boys. A feel-good musical. Great fun and great music, particularly for anyone who remembers Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. We loved it, although I have to say that ticket prices were a great deal higher than in London.

Manhattan was smaller than I expected, particular Broadway and Times Square. The streets were narrower and congested with both traffic and people, the sky scrapers taller, and with little warm sunshine filtering through we needed our hats and scarves. But then it was November. We enjoyed New York immensely and while using common sense and watching our purse and wallet, felt perfectly safe. We would certainly go again.

23.11.09

Queen Mary 2 - Ruby Wedding Trip













Taking a trip on one of the luxury liners was once only for the rich and film stars of the ilk of Cary Grant and Dorothy Lamour. Now such treats are within the reach of mere ordinary folk such as ourselves. David and I have just returned from a most wonderful trip on Queen Mary 2 to New York. From the moment we joined the ship at Southampton to sailing into the Hudson river with that first early morning sight of the Statue of Liberty, it was a voyage to remember. We enjoyed excellent cuisine, top class service and first rate entertainment. We were celebrating our ruby wedding and toasted the start of our adventure as the ship slid gracefully out of Southampton with a complementary half bottle of champagne.

This was our first cruise, more correctly termed a crossing, and we’d both packed several books to keep us occupied, not wishing to be left twiddling our thumbs for six long days and nights. As it turned out, finding time to read them was the main problem. There’s a swimming pool, cinema and theatre on board with shows every night to keep us entertained, plus TV in our stateroom, lectures, workshops and quizzes among other delights. With ten excellent restaurants and various bars to enjoy on board, David worked off some of his excess calories by walking on deck, one turn equalling a third of a mile, while I enjoyed the line dancing and took part in the fitness programme. This included pilates, yoga and step aerobics. I confess I avoided the gym, full of earnest folk puffing away on treadmills and such. I meant to swim in one of the pools but never quite got round to it.

Every evening I put on a ‘posh frock’ or little ‘elegant number’ specially purchased for the trip, and David looked very handsome in his tux or smart jacket. Then off we went dancing in the Queen’s Room, though I have to admit we weren’t very likely candidates for ‘Strictly’ as we jigged our way through the Latin numbers, and I never did persuade David to join in the afternoon lessons. We were, however, regulars at the disco in G32, tucked away aft where the most marvellous Caribbean Band Vibz kept us bouncing till the wee small hours.

We bounced in other ways too, as we did encounter some pretty rough weather. It was November after all. Captain Nick Bates, who kept us all entertained with his Irish jokes, informed us we were suffering a force 8 gale mid-Atlantic, which reached force 10 for a time over a twenty-four hour period. But Queen Mary 2 sailed blithely on through the 12 - 18 ft waves, her stabilisers making for a trouble-free crossing, although the odd slide to port or starboard did sometimes create much laughter on the dance floor.

The ship herself is magnificent, beautifully appointed throughout, the epitome of luxury, and all the staff were so friendly and attentive. It took us most of the week to explore all of her charms, visit the Mayfair shops, find unexpected corners where we could play a game, linger over a lunch time drink to the strains of the string quartet, or simply sit in the sun. I took part in the book club of course, and visited the well stocked library. We were sorry when it was over for all the excitement of docking in New York at dawn, and are already planning our next trip, perhaps on the brand new Queen Elizabeth whose maiden season is next year.

I’ve posted a smug shot of us both looking very pleased with ourselves, and one or two of the ship, including our lovely stateroom.
Read what my publisher has to say about one of life's little coincidences.
Best wishes,
Freda

7.11.09

First of the olive crop



Yes, this is a picture of me picking olives. The ladder doesn't look too safe, does it? The one above is of David unloading them at the coperativa.

We spent yesterday picking the first of the olives. The Levante wind was blowing, some of the olives were fat and ripe and we were afraid we might lose them. We picked around 35 kilos from 3 trees which we took to the local cooperativa. To earn the status of extra virgin oil the olives have to be taken to the press on the day of picking and reach a certain acidity level. Ours were fine and resulted in 5 litres of oil, the first of the season. We still have 26 trees to pick, which will probably be ready for harvesting in a couple of weeks, and can yield as much as 600 kilos before we're done. It's going to be a bumper crop this year as the trees are heavy with fruit. Despite the drought this summer, we had rain in the spring when the fruit was being set, and again in the autumn to swell them. I love olive picking. It's great fun. The big boys with a thousand trees or more in their groves use machinery to do the job and it's serious money. But we hobby olive pickers do it by hand. We don't shake the tree like that lovely old woman in the advert, nor do we bash it with sticks, although I suppose that's one way of doing it. We just run our hand down a branch and knock the olives into the bucket below. It's a most satisfying sound. We also put nets under the tree to catch the fallen ones. Of course you can get neurotic about picking every last olive, and the most luscious ones,like blackberries, are always just out of reach, so ladders and some tree climbing is called for. Yes, I have fallen out of an olive tree, and knocking over the bucket and spilling the olives is another hazard. But it's a day of exercise in the sun, more fun than going to the gym, and at the end of it you've produced something that is actually good for your heart. We invite friends round to help. Some actually volunteer , and everyone looks forward to olive picking day. For their efforts they get a couple of litres of extra virgin oil, and a good lunch of course. Anyone still sober enough after lunch can carry on picking for a little while longer, but then in the late afternoon or early evening, we take the crop to the press. It may not be a particularly cost effective method but it's less work, and much more fun.
Best wishes,
Freda




2.11.09

Postal Service

With post so disrupted in England at the moment, I thought you might like to hear how it works here in rural Spain. When we first came to live in the village about ten years ago, just for a few months each winter in those days, we waited weeks for our post to arrive and received not a scrap. We asked friends in the UK to send us letters to test it, but nothing came. And then someone pointed out that we hadn’t introduced ourselves to the postman. Ah, we thought, this must be a quaint Spanish custom. So along we went to do just that and Pedro declared himself delighted to meet us, shook our hands and welcomed us to his village before handing us a huge bundle of our mail which he’d been saving for us. It turned out that he was dyslexic and couldn’t read, but once he’d connected your written name with your face, that was fine. We never had any more delays after that.

Fortunately now I can send the manuscript by email, but back then getting the manuscript to the publisher was fraught with unexpected difficulties. Thinking to speed things along I took my substantial manuscript to a much larger post office in the nearest town and asked that it be sent Urgente. The man behind the counter weighed my parcel and was appalled. He took great pains to explain how much such a transaction would cost. Not only an arm and a leg, but more euros than I could possibly imagine. I kept insisting that was fine. It had to be in London by Friday. Unconvinced that this little English lady understood a word of what he was saying, he called upon the entire assembly of customers gathered in the Post Office to help him, found someone who could speak English and had them explain to me exactly what I was letting myself in for. I agreed, and accepted the terms. It must be there by Friday, I said. In five days. It took three weeks. Next time I sent it by ordinary post and it was in London in 3 days.

Now our postal service is generally quite good, you can send something addressed to me with no house number or street name but just the village, and I’ll get it. Isobel, our post lady, knows who we all are. She doesn’t deliver, unless your house is in the village. Ours is on the hill just beyond so we have to collect our post, taking turns with our neighbours. Very communal. Of course, if her son Danuelle is sick, then the post office is closed and we couldn’t collect it anyway. Fortunately he’s a healthy child. When he was small he would happily eat his morning yoghurt sitting on the weigh scales, although it was a nuisance for him if someone wanted to send a parcel. And if Isabel is having a busy time, such as Christmas, one or two stalwarts get stuck in and help her to sort and deliver them. Very much a community affair. Our only problem is that the PO is open for only a short time each day, and not on fiesta’s or bank holidays, of which there are any number. But you can’t have everything, and patience is essential. As no doubt it is in England too at the moment.