March 29, 2015

The fairy of International Day

It is one of the school's highlights: International Day. Every year the community rallies together to display their countries' virtues, traditions and culinary delicacies. It feels like the United Nations is throwing a party on a Saturday afternoon. You can hear Indian sitar music emanating from a classroom, Brazilian samba tunes sweeping across the courtyard and the Italian anthem blaring out of a loudspeaker all at the same time.

Volunteers from over 30 countries have come together this year in order to make this day a truly special experience that will stay in our hearts and in our memories in the years to come. We even had an alumni visiting for the afternoon from London. I admit when we moved to Lugano, we also went back to Madrid for a day just to participate at International Day. That says it all!

It is not only the food, the drinks, and the music that makes this day so special. It is the involvement and dedication of each participating country to share and educate the rest of the community about their part of the world that will make you smile or even stand in awe with respect.

It is a way of traveling across the globe without leaving the school grounds. However, the day you DO end up traveling to these destinations you'll be a little wiser and a wee bit more prepared thanks to International Day. You'll remember the person that taught you that particular custom and memories will come flooding back.

The Falafel that you had never tried before, the Jamon Iberico that was freshly cut, the Swedish meatballs your friend cooked 7kg of, the Caipirinha that was served with the biggest smile and knocked you off your feet, the Australian frog-in-a-pond not to mention the pavlova that is now my son's favourite dessert. American BBQ or Peruvian Ceviche, all of these dishes are forever linked to a friends' face.

But there is one lady who, year after year, makes it all happen here in Paris. Uma fada português who spreads her magic combined with her organisational skills and rallies hundreds of parents together to sign up their country and come up with questions that will be printed on a passport that the kids need to compile by visiting each country's booth. All of this would never happen without her! So next time you remember International Day think also of the Portuguese fairy who devotes endless hours of hard work and immense dedication to enable us to share a little of our cultural backgrounds with other members of the community and encourage the “international-mindedness” in our children.

Obrigado. Estamos todos muito gratos!

March 27, 2015

Te queremos mucho!

This is her last week. She has been with us for eleven years. I still remember the day we met at the local Carrefour café for her interview for the position of nanny/household help. We had just arrived in Madrid a few weeks earlier ready to build yet another home in a new country. She turned up accompanied by her daughter who was checking out the English books section when I introduced myself. Now that's what I call a good first impression. The Columbian lady was reserved and didn't say much. However, she came with good recommendations and therefore I decided I liked this mother-daughter duo and would give it a try.

Yadira started working for us a few days later and has stayed with us ever since. She has long become part of the family, threating to leave us every time we move but then decides otherwise because she is too attached to the kids. She admitted to me a few years ago: "Señora, I would have never believed I would travel the world at my age. Gracias!"

This proud, stoic, strong-minded, stubborn lady has reached the age of sixty-five and has decided to retire returning home to her native Colombia which she left as a teenager in search of work. She has put her two daughters through college single-handedly whom today are charming young ladies pursuing their own careers in multinational companies.

To our kids she has been their confidant and rock. The person they could turn to with whatever concern, worry, or doubt they might have. She always had good advice to share. Mummy would try to give them the answer. Daddy would make a lecture out of it but Yadira would listen and ask questions.

Expat daughter has grown up with Yadira always by her side, fiercly defending her in any situation or from anybody suspicious. Yadira's definition of suspicious being anyone not part of the family! She and my eleven-year old have that very special bond of a lifetime together. When they play games, cook, watch TV shows or just chat together, it is a delight to watch their complicity and listen to their giggles over jokes that only they understand.

Expat boy took a few years to properly bond with Yadira. My guess is she was used to girls because she has two of her own. However,  through their shared passion for tennis and football they built a connection over time that is unique and very special to both of them. The highlight of Yadira's year is when my teenage boy takes her off to Roland Garros as his date!

Yadira has always been there for us. She is the family's pillar. When all of us are frantically running around leading our lives we know that when we come home, her smiling familiar face will open the door happy to see us. We shared our path for more than a decade. They were eleven, unforgettable years together which would had never been such fun or so serene without her. She always looked out for us and never, ever has she failed us. She knows that she has a place very, very special in each of our hearts.

March 25, 2015

Oyeme, amiga mia!

My husband calls us "the Sex in the City girls" and I'd like to think of it as a compliment. We do not consider ourselves Fashionistas! We orginate from many different countries and although we all used to live in Madrid at one point, we are now scattered throughout the world.

What brought us together - as so many times in the life of Expat trailing spouses - were our kids and their school. It was where we all started our Spanish adventure so many years ago. PTA might not be everyone's cup of tea but in our case the Parent-Teacher-Association gave us a common goal to improve our children's school experience. Turns out we had a lot of fun ourselves while doing so!!!

Last night, I realized as our reunion dinner progessed and the discussions evolved, that not only had we moved on geographically but that many of us found ourselves in a completely different stage of life. A decade ago, our happiness depended on our kids and our husbands. Don't get me wrong our existence still depends on our kids and partners but the concentration has shifted. We have consciously or subconsciously moved the weight away from others - after all, the maintance becomes less as the children grow up - and have started to look after ourselves better. We are learning to put our wishes and needs higher up on our list of priorities compared to ten years ago. This not only transpires in our current life situations but also in our conversations.

We talked openly about our feelings, our fears, our health worries, about lost loves and new encounters that make us feel good. We don't know what the future will bring us but - over the years - we have learnt to enjoy the moment, to appreciate what we have and stop worrying about what we don't have and especially about what others think of us. We know exactly what we like and how we like it and are less inclined to compromise our happiness for someone else's. On the other hand, sharing and genuinely caring becomes a habit, knowing that what goes around comes around... and even if we loose a few and end up disappointed, it doesn't matter. We know we did our best.

So, what makes me feel so at "home" with my gang of Latinas? It is the implicite trust that we have in each other that I treasure. The aspiration that each of the Sex in the City girls has for the other, that she deserves to be happy and have the life she is aiming for. The knowledge that no matter how close or how far we live from one another, we will always accompany and support eachother in whatever path we decide to take in our pursuit of happiness.

So, who cares if we might now be defined as "une femme d'un certain age"? We have the most precious gift of all: the gift of true friendship!

March 21, 2015

An excursion up North

Today I happend to extend my cultural playground all the way to the far North. Arriving in Edinburgh for family reasons, I spent the morning exploring Scotland's most famous castle, a historic fortress which dominates the skyline of the city of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh castle has been at the heart of Scotland’s life for well over 1,000 years. It is the most besieged castle in the UK and over many centuries has witnessed royal ceremonies, savage battles, medieval parliaments, lavish feasts, grand parades, ruthless politics, raids by stealth, the birth of a king and the deaths of queens, jousting tournaments, troubled marriages, devout prayers and intensive military activity. It is a fascinating lesson in Scottish history, built over various epochs, offering endless nooks and crannies to explore. It was just a pity my kids weren't with me to share all the fun.

Barely soup and Scottish salmon for dinner with a late night stroll down Princes street to digest it all. Porridge with proper strong tea for breakfast and a spectacular view onto the castle. Souvenir shops selling kilts and cashmere sweaters. Scottish bag pipers throughout the old town displaying their talent making an extra few Scottish pounds. It all went straight to my tourist heart's delight.

I came across many fellow tourists who were being guided and given directions by the locals. The traditional department store "House of Frazer" was sadly deserted due to unbeatable competition by global high street brands.

Blue skies and fabulous sunshine were a real treat and the Scottish laid-back pace, the unusual accent and the friendly smiles all left me with a taste for more.

But most of all the feeling of content lifestyle prevailed in stark contrast to the daily stress of a metropolis such as Paris. Edinburgh might be Scotland's second largest city, but it certainly has found its own comfortable, humane rhythm. I'll be back with my children soon.

March 15, 2015

A young, innovative Dutch vibe

There is always a special buzz in town during fashion week. You can tell by the "beautifool people" - as the French call them - running around as well as by the huge white or black marquises being set up in various historic locations to host the famous brands' shows.

Then, there is a whole different current vibrating along side the VIP events. A bustle of creativity that supports Paris' reputation as the capital of fashion. Unknown, independent, young designers who are trying to make a name for themselves and somehow manage to stage shows with very little budget. The means might be meagre but the creativity, the will to succeed and to be different from anybody else on the market is tremendous.

It is that creative vibe that I like to follow and which will sometimes take me off the beaten track. The path led me to the Atelier Néerlandais which was staging a show of very experimental young fashion designers who graduated from the same academy as Victor & Rolf.

It sounded like fun so I decided to discover the talents of the four Dutch artisanal designers who had joined forces to showcase their Autumn/Winter 15/16 collection of clothing, textiles, jewellery and bags. Their interpretation was definitely unique although not particularly to my personal taste but then again that would be too conservative. These artist focused on creativity and innovation. Haesung Bong, Anja Dragan, Sunanda Koning and Chrissie Houtkooper definitely held everybody's attention during their 15 minutes of Parisian claim to fame.

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