Martini of the Week 11: The Orient Bar at the Pera Palace Hotel, Istanbul

Agent Triple P likes Istanbul and it is always a pleasure to return there, as we did last month.  After Canada we think it is the country that we have visited most often. True, Istanbul is hopelessly over-crowded (nearly 14 million people or nearly 20% of the population of Turkey) and can be horribly noisy but the location for this week's (yes, we know we never actually post one a week) Martini, the Pera Palace Hotel, perched overlooking the Golden Horn, is quieter than some places that Triple P has stayed in the city.

The Pera Palace was built in 1892 specifically for travelers on the Orient Express arriving from Paris.  It was the first European hotel in Turkey and the first building, other than Ottoman palaces, to have electric lighting.  It also had the first electric lift in the city which is stil operating today.  It was closed in 2006 for an extensive renovation and reopened about  a year ago. 


They have done an excellent job on it although, sadly, as is often the case these days, the site of the restaurant has been moved from its original grand room to something more contemporary and characterless downstairs.  Nevertheless the food at the new restaurant  is excellent even if the decor is a bit at odds with the more traditional look of the rest of the hotel.  Triple P had splendid ravioli followed by guinea fowl for lunch one day.

Triple P and his companion, B, were sat in the Orient Bar; a great favourite of Ernest Hemingway.  Other famous guests include Ian Fleming, Great Garbo, Jackie Kennedy, Alfred Hitchcock and Sarah Bernhardt.  Famously, of course, Agatha Christie stayed at the hotel and penned Murder on the Orient Express there.  You can even stay in her old room and the restaurant has been re-named Agatha's.

The Orient bar today (or, rather, last month)

The decor of the refurbished bar is a bit relentlessly purple for Triple P's taste but, fortunately, there are enough original elements remaining to still provide a vintage experience.  When we last visited the bar was more yellow and traditional although it was looking a little tired, but the updating has been done well we think. 

 Orient bar about six years ago

In its heyday

The service was truly excellent and the only negative was the slushy jazz/funk muzak.  We are not suggesting that they should have gone twenties retro (or even Richard Rodney Bennett) but something more appropriate to the surroundings would have been nice.

Orient Bar terrace

On the evening Triple P and B were there it had been 27 degrees centigrade and so most people chose to sit out on the new terrace.  This was very nice and, indeed we sat there another night but Triple P wanted to experience the bar proper.  The lighting was engagingly dim and curtains blocked out the bright evening sunlight very effectively, making it seem later than it actually was.

B who was in a particularly expansive mood had a glass of the local (from the Marmara region), and trendily labelled ,Arcadia Suavignon Blanc-Sauvignon Gris.  She drank this in two gulps, justifying herself with a trying day, so we ordered a bottle.  Not as assertive as a New World Sauvignon and, indeed, it showed quite a lot of grapefruit taste.  Not in an English white grapefruit sort of way but in a fruitier red grapefruit sort of way.  Fortunately the grassiness of the Sauvignon Blanc took away what could have been a sweetly cloying aftertaste.  Wine is expensive in Turkey, due to UK-style high taxes, but this was certainly better value than the imported wines.  A normal bottle of French Champagne, for example was over £200 a bottle. 

At this point B berated Triple P for writing wine notes rather than paying her the attention she undoubtedly deserved in her white silk with cerise flowers cocktail dress.  This was certainly a better outfit than the following morning's effort which consisted of some, admittedly fetching, olive green shorts with white trim and a Freddie Mercury teeshirt.  Oh well, it was only for going down to the spa, we suppose.  Still, the elegant public spaces of the hotel suggest something more formal should be worn at all times.

Anyway, Triple P's Martini was gratifyingly cold and made with Absolut vodka.  It only had two olives, rather then rather increasingly prevalent three or even four and B kindly removed the second one.

We finished the evening with a very restorative (Triple P had had to get up at 4.15am to catch his early morning flight from London) cup of truly delicious Turkish tea.  Happily it wasn't full of sugar, as it often is.   Because of his fatigue Triple P retired early (around nine pm) whilst B gave him a demonstration of how harem girls serviced their virtually immobile masters in a series of gyrations which, she claimed, were the origins of belly dancing.

Most diverting!
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This Week's Films: 9

We are still watching True Blood, and am now on the second series, but also have managed a few other films lately, although, yet again, we have bought more than we have watched!

All Ladies Do It (1992)

The story

Housewife Diana (Claudia Koll) is finding married life a bit dull and embarks on a series of affairs to bring some passion back into her life.  Meanwhile she learns the joys of anal sex from a poet and attempts to persuade her husband to indulge her in it.

Claudia presents herself to a plastic penis

Seen it before?

No, this was a first time, although most Tinto Brass films feel like you have seen them before: stylised sets, lingering shots of his actresses posteriors (anus inlcuded), sex scenes with prosthetic penises etc.

Any good?

Not as jolly as some Tinto Brass features we have seen and elements of it leave a rather bitter aftertaste, but a reasonably worthwhile way to spend an hour and a half, particularly if you are fond of the female posterior.  Make sure you buy the Italian language subtitled (and uncut) version rather than the horrible dubbed version.

Notable for...

Making a star out of Claudia Koll (real name Caludia Colacione) who, after a series of erotic movies, later became a born-again Roman Catholic.

Any good girlies?

Lots of attractive Italian women but Claudia herself is an absolute knockout.  Pretty close to perfection for Agent Triple P!

King Arthur (2004)

The story

Arthur and his Samartian knights are about to finish their 15 year stint in the Roman army in Britain when they are sent on one last mission that will bring them into conflict with Merlin and his Wodes (by which they mean Picts but the producers thought the real name sounded funny and this from a film where the director is called Fuqua) and a Saxon invasion force.

Seen it before?

Half of it before our original DVD stpped working.
Any good?

There have been a few Late Romans in Britain films and all of them have been dull and historically inaccurate (don't even start Triple P on the Roman armour in this one).  This had a few good scenes but was let down by dreadfully wooden acting from Clive Owen (Arthur) and Keira Knightley (Guenevere).  Nice scenery (mainly shot in Ireland), though.

Big wall

Notable for...

The producers building a one kilometre long recreation of Hadrian's Wall.  The producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, insisting that Miss Knightley wore a bizarre (and unhistoric) costume to show off her tummy muscles.

Eat some pies, girl!

Any good girlies?

It depends what you think of Keira Knightley, as basically she is it. Classically beautiful actress with a talent for period roles or hopelessly wooden clothes-peg with the figure of a boy.  Personally, we think it's not her finest hour although she looks surprisingly convincing in the action scenes, despite her delicate muscles..

The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery (1966)

The story

A group of train robbers stash their loot in what is to become the new St Trinian's School.  The girls move in and the robbers have to get it back.  Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education is trying to get the school closed down.

A fine selection of baby doll nighties

Seen it before?

Once, on TV in black and white decades ago.

Reg Varney appreciates being down the stairs

Any good?

The first St Trinian's film to be shot in colour it is notably more "sixties" than the fifties feel of the earlier three.  Most of the original cast has gone but there is a whole cohort of new character actors who would become British TV stalwarts for years to come: Reg Varney, Terry Scott, Arthur Mullard, Larry Martyn who join the older brigade of Raymond Huntley, Richard Wattis, Eric Barker et al.  Dora Bryan is splendid as the new headmistress and Frankie Howard, although only working on three cylinders, keeps things moving as well.  George Cole returns for the last time but the girls themselves are rather anonymous and play second fiddle to the other characters more than before.  The weakest of the original four.

Gratuitous low-angle shot

Notable for...

Being based loosely on the real great train Robbery of 1963.  An appearance by original Dr Who companion Carloe Ann Ford.

Margaret Nolan takes off

Any good girlies?

Other than the few brief appearances by Margaret Nolan (the girl in the Goldfinger credits sequence) the girls are more background dressing, although some of that dressing is very nice indeed.  Rather more sixties baby doll nighties than stockings and suspenders (although they reappear in the second half of the film).  Margaret Nolan, as the school art teacher,  manages to combine the two whilst doing a striptease.

More films soon as we have a backlog!
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The Playboy Club TV series cancelled

The new The Playboy Club TV series has been cancelled after only three episodes.  Feminist Gloria Steinem, who went under cover to work as a Playboy Bunny for an expose in 1963, and a pressure group called The Parents Television Council are all claiming that there efforts resulted in the show's cancellation.

Gloria Steinem, er , undercover in 1963

In fact, it was much more likely to have been its very poor ratings which got worse with every broadcast.  It seems to have been partly hamstrung by the notoriously conservative US network guidleines so, despite the protests, was not pornographic (or anything approaching it).  Perhaps it would have done better on a cable channel although the consensus  (and the views of our particular friend S in Vancouver) was that it just wasn't very good.  There weren't even enough episodes to make a DVD release as they stopped filming halfway through episode six. Apparently, the other sixties-set new series, Pan Am, isn't doing that much better either and is looking very vulnerable too in the cut-throat world of American network TV.

As regards the conservatives' protests, these were largely about the promotion of Playboy (who were very involved in the show) as a company, focussing on their hard core TV station rather than the content of the TV show per se, although their were accusations that the show glamourised prostitution.

Triple P was always faintly amused by the strict TV censorship on network TV in America compared with Britain, Germany, France, Italy (or frankly any other country in the western world).  We reasoned that it must have something to do with America's Puritan origins ("Lets face it", as S has said, "America was founded by  a bunch of people who were forced out of England for being too old-fashioned and ultra conservative in the early 17th century!").  Whatever, the reasons for America's peculiar attitudes to sex and nudity (bad) as opposed to violence (good) we are starting to see worrying signs of increased censorship here in the UK. 

Only this week, the government announced that people signing up to internet services from four of the major providers would have the ability to opt out of all "adult" subject matter for their service. There is now pressure on TV shows such as The X Factor not to allow performers like Rihanna (Christina Aguilera and Rihanna were both critised for their inappropriate performances in last year's X Factor final) indulge in "raunchy" (their favourite word) routines during peak-time viewing and threats of sanctions against TV music stations for showing racy videos (which would be most of them, by their definition).  I have also noticed that some supermarkets (notably the Coop) are putting "modesty covers" over magazines with pictures of girls in bikinis (not just nudes) on the cover in their shops.  Interestingly this only happens to magazines aimed at men.  Identical types of shots on the covers of women's magazines go uncovered, bizzarely. 

This is all about protecting children, apparently, although why no-one has questioned why sexuality (a major driving force of human life) is something children need to be protected from does not seem to have been discussed much. Anyway, it seems unlikely to address the the biggest problem relating to children and sexuality in tthe UK which is the fact that we have the highest rate of underage teenage pregnancy in Europe; a Europe that is much more relaxed about depictions of nudity and sexuality than we are  (and we are streets ahead of the Americans).  Its all a bit odd!
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Lady Forsyth

Sir Bruce and Lady Forsyth at Buckingham Palace this morning

Cheesy but engaging entertainer and Strictly Come Dancing host Bruce Forsyth, whose showbusiness career has lasted longer than most people's lives, was knighted by the Queen this morning.

Winelia as Miss Puerto Rico

Good for Brucie and all that but what he really should be congratulated on is his stunning wife, Winelia Merced, now Lady Forsyth.  A former Miss Puerto Rico (the only country named as a result of a cartographer's error) and Miss World in 1975, she is 54 years old (Bruce is 83) and still looks quite wonderful, Triple P thinks!


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Calendar Girl October 2011: Kara Tointon

We had to confess to never having heard of Kara Tointon when we featured her as a calendar girl back in early 2010.  All that changed with her triumphant appearance on Strictly Come Dancing last autumn.

No doubt as she hoped, it re-ignited her career leading to her starring as Eliza Doolittle in the West End production of My Fair Lady for which she picked up stunning reviews; The Daily Telegraph saying that she was "an actress of truly great potential".  She is currently working on a feature film.

Whilst she continues to look nice photographed in lingerie her Strictly regime gave her a body that led to some excellent dance-style photographs.

Kara does Flashdance

For Strictly publicity she recreated the role played by Jennifer Beales in Flashdance (bearing in mind that the body in motion in the film was dancer Marine Jahan).  Whatever, it showed off her toned thighs to perfection.

No doubt this is what led to this superb set of her in wet dance attire by Shoreditch-based photographer John Wright.


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Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

Apples on our tree this afternoon

Well not really.  We are having bizarrely unseasonable whether here in the South of England this week.  Driving along in the car this morning all the trees are turning and swathes of leaves are dropping in the breeze but the temperature has been hovering around 30 degrees centigrade (that's 94 for you Americans).  It's all coming from France (or Turkey - they don't seem to be able to agree).  Over the weekend it was hotter here than in Mexico, Spain or Cuba! We had the hottest October day since record began; and that's about 350 years!  Phew!  Nice to see all the girls giving their little outfits one last outing, though!

Trouble is we need a taller ladder!

Never mind, the wet summer followed by a sunnier autumn is doing wonders for the fruit in Triple P's garden.  Our chillis, which have been relentlessly green all summer are now turning red, we've had a few strawberries and the apples and grapes have been the best we have ever seen.

The grapes are looking good too

Back to normal weather later this week sadly.
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