Saturday, March 14, 2009

Death in the Afternoon...or Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder

Here madness lies...

Agent Triple P had not expected to be in Washington DC but he had been invited to a dinner with "top people" to discuss a subject on which he was something of an expert. As a result he was just touching down at Dulles airport when a week previously he had no idea that he would be here.

His flight had been more than comfortable as he had been upgraded to first class. There had been some problem with a double booking so he was moved after hae had got on to the plane. This put him in a surprisingly good mood for someone making a seven hour flight. Ten minutes from landing he was just reflecting on how smooth and enjoyable the flight had been when the plane started to bump and make those sudden drops that he really couldn't bear.

Anyway he landed shaken but not stirred and discovered another advantage of first class; you got off the plane first which is a distinct advantage when arriving at US immigration. Unfortunately the plane had arrived at about the same time as not one but two aircraft from Saudi Arabia. One of Triple P's key travel rules was never to stand in an immigration line behind Arabs; particularly when arriving in the US. However he had been allocated his booth by the rather perky arrival line girl and had then waited fifteen minutes whilst the Arab couple in front were soundly interrogated. A veiled Arab lady is always a tantalising prospect but of course this lady had to remove her veil to be photographed. This she did to reveal a heart-stopping beauty that made Triple P's annoyance at having to wait melt away completely. Eventually perky queue girl took pity on him and took him and steered him to the front of another queue.

The slight delay meant that his case had already been unloaded from the carousel and so he quickly passed through customs into the arrival hall where he looked out for his particular friend M who had said she would meet him. Much to his surprise the lady who approached him was not M but her mother, a gorgeous woman only slightly older than Triple P himself, but who looked ten years younger.

Triple P had met M's mother, J, in the bar at the Hay-Adams hotel the previous July. He had been waiting for M and had got chatting to this attractive lady over a Martini or two whilst waiting for M. He knew he was supposed to meet M's mother, a lobbyist that evening but had imagined a pencil thin wizened woman with short-cropped grey hair and a severe trouser suit not the curvy woman in a black leather miniskirt, seamed stockings and a turquoise shot silk jacket. In fact he had just started to think that she might be a professional lady. When M eventually arrived she was pleased that Triple P had got to know her mother. Her mother had given Triple P a conspiratorial and rather filfthy wink.

M's mother, J, explained that M had been delayed at work and so she had volunteered to pick him up. They made good time and arrived at his hotel, the St Regis, in no time. Rather surprisingly she parked her car and followed him into the hotel rather than just dropping him off. Triple P checked in but was told that his suite wasn't ready. J appeared from parking her car and suggested they have a drink in the bar instead. It was only 3.30pm but, as J pointed out it was half past seven in London. As a result of this conversation she suggested that they both have a Death in the Afternoon.

This particular cocktail had been invented by Ernest Hemingway and had been contributed by him to a 1935 celebrities cocktail book called So Red the Nose, or Breath in the Afternoon edited by journalist and author Sterling North. Hemingway wrote: "This was arrived at by the author and three officers of the H.M.S. Danae after having spent seven hours overboard trying to get Capt. Bra Saunders' fishing boat off a bank where she had gone with us in a N.W. gale." His directions were to “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.” In this cocktail the ice-cold Champagne acts like water when preparing absinthe normally so that the non-soluable components (mainly those from anise, fennel, and star anise) come out of solution provide the cloudy opalescence called the louche ("opaque" or "shady"). The addition of water, or in this case Champagne, is important because it causes the herbs to blossom and brings the flavours.

The only thing we would disagree about is the instruction to "drink three to five" of these. After only two Triple P and J were already getting inappropriately friendly. Nevertheless Triple P is already thinking of trying a variant with added vodka.

Piják absintu by Viktor Oliva (1861-1928)

All in all an afternoon drinking these made us appreciate the picture The absinthe drinker by the Czech painter Viktor Oliva which Triple P has seen on the wall of the Cafe Slavia in Prague.

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