Monday, September 8, 2008

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street - Book Review

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street
by Helene Hanff
Avon Books 1973

This is the story of Helene Hanff's first trip to England in 1972 after the first book she wrote, 84 Charing Cross Road was published. She was invited to England by the English publisher (Andre Deutsch) to publicize the book. She spent 5 weeks in England, and this is the diary of her trip.

Helene's favourite part of London is Regent Park and Marylebone area. She also visited Oxford, Cambridge, Stratford on Avon, Windsor and Eton. During Helene's stay in London, she was interviewed by many reporters, newspapers, TV and radio stations.

This diary is written in just the same style as her letters in 84 Charing Cross Road.

This is Helene's version of a martini, and how to train a british bartender to make one. Now I dont drink alcohol so I have no idea what is in martini. This is what goes in Helene's martini. (page 78 - Avon edition 1973)

So at 10pm I am having a martini, more or less.
The first night I came in here and said to the young bartender, a martini please. He reached for a bottle of Martini and Rossi vermouth and poured a glassful of it before I could scream - WAIT A MINUTE.
Would you put the gin in first please. I said.
Oh he said. You want a gin martini.
He got the gin bottle and a shaker, and I said
Would you put some ice in the shaker. I like it cold.
Right-o he said, and put an ice cube in the shaker, poured a jigger of gin on it, added half a cup of vermouth, stirred once poured it out and handed it to me with a flourish. [...] Nobody could drink it.

The next time I came in, it was dinner time. Noone was there and the bartender and I got chummey. He said Wasn't I the writer and told me his name was Bob. I said, Did he mind if we used my recipe instead of his, and he said, Right-o, just tell him exactly what I want.

First I said can we start with 4 icecubes in the shaker. He thought I was crazy but he put 3 ice cubes into the shaker. (he ran out of ice).

He poured a jigger of gin into the shaker, and then I said,
OK Now pour another jigger of gin.
He looked at me in disbelief, shook his head and poured a second jigger of gin.
Okay, now one more, I said.
MORE GIN? he asked, and I said,
Yes and lower your voice.
He poured the third jigger still shaking his head.
He reached for the vermouth botle and I said, I'll pour that.
I added a few drops of vermouth, stirred vigourously, let him pour it out and said it was perfect.

I used a French cover, because I could not find any American covers online, and I do not like the English cover.

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