She was a woman of a certain age. Attractive, but with history. I poured her another martini and lit her cigarette.
Meeting unforgettable characters is one of the wonders of travel. It is what I miss most about being locked down.
Take the woman with the martini and the cigarette. I met her at a cocktail party in Cape Town. In her youth she was a sought after model. She married well and divorced better. Looking for something to do she ended up in Botswana with an idea for a business. She did her market research amongst people who mixed her martinis and lit her cigarettes. They all agreed that she was onto a winner.
So she set up a company to build aircraft for African farmers who managed sprawling acres. The aircraft were imported in kit form and assembled in Botswana. Business was tough. It didn’t help that she’d never run a company and knew nothing about building aircraft. The locals she hired as her crew were friendly chaps – but they’d never been near an aircraft and weren’t sure on which end to mount the engine. No one wanted to purchase an aircraft from WP Aviation. By the way WP stood for Wing and a Prayer. You can’t make this stuff up.
The company was doomed. Reading the writing on the wall, her foreman asked whether he could have some of the aluminium panels destined for an aircraft. She was happy to let him have the panels, but was curious about his plans. It turned out that he was going to turn them into coffins. Africans have elaborate funerals and often get into debt to ensure a proper send-off. A funky aluminium casket would be in demand.
The lady with the martini and the cigarettes spotted an opportunity. She went into partnership with her foreman and built a stonking business making aluminium funeral caskets. She then decided to vertically integrate into the funeral parlour business. Leveraging make-up skills from her modelling days, she ensured that the bodies left her funeral parlour looking better than they ever had in real life. She made a killing, sold her business and now raises horses in South Africa. Men still mix her martinis and light her cigarettes.
In times of strife we need reminders of the people who live among us who just refuse to be defeated. The entrepreneurs, the builders, the grafters. I hope we can all travel and meet them again soon. And I look forward to mixing a Martini and lighting a cigarette for a certain lady.
In keeping with the theme of this story I commend two cocktails – an aviation cocktail and a corpse reviver
The Aviation cocktail was invented at the Wallace Hotel in New York City, circa 1916. It takes its name from the Creme de Violette liqueur which give the cocktail a pale sky blue colour. In its early days flying was fabulously glamorous. In the US commercial aviation took off in the 1920s – by which time prohibition meant no cocktails could be legally served anywhere. The image of the glamorous cocktail swilling traveller didn’t become a reality in the US until the 1950s when airlines were finally allowed to serve alcohol on board.
1 3/4 oz gin
1/2 oz Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
1/4 oz Creme de Violette liqueur
1/2 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail coupe or martini glass. Garnish with a lemon zest twist. Sugar on the rim is a sweet option. If you can’t find Creme de Violette, ramp up the gin instead. You will still have a lovely drink, minus the sky blue colour.
The Corpse Reviver
The Savoy Cocktail Book is the bible of the cocktail world and was written in 1930 by Harry Craddock, head bartender at the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London. America was still under prohibition and Craddock plied his trade to a stream of rich American visitors. The Corpse Reviver has many variations using different base alcohols. This version, the Corpse Reviver #2 is closest to the classic and is guaranteed to revive your corpse at any time of day or night. Drink with care!
3/4 oz London dry gin
3/4 oz triple sec or Cointreau
3/4 oz Lillet Blanc (or dry white vermouth)
3/4 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 dashes of absinthe
1 dash of sugar syrup (optional – add if you find the lemon juice too sharp for your taste buds)
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail coupe or martini glass. Garnish with a lemon zest twist. Alternatively rinse your glass in absinthe and pour in the rest of the ingredients.
“There is only one way to drink a cocktail. Quickly, while it’s laughing at you” – Henry Craddock, author of The Savoy Cocktail Book