Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Orient Express

Picture: Easy Travel Net

This famous and luxurious train journey from Paris to Istanbul takes a leisurely six days and five nights. Enroute, the traveller spends a day and a night in Budapest and the same in Bucharest, then rejoins the train for the last leg to the shore of the Bosporus.

Each year at the end of August, the Venice Simplon-Orient Express train departs Gare de l'est bound for Sirkeci Station in Istanbul. Rates for 2013 will be $19,000 USD per person based on shared occupancy of a suite cabin.

L'Expres d'Orient, or the Orient Express was a steam train that made its first journey in 1883. According to "The truth behind the legend," the last true descendant of that train, EuroNight 469, left Strasbourg for Vienna on the night of December 13, 2009, officially ending the use of the name Orient Express on European timetables. Regularly scheduled runs had lasted for 126 years.

A main reason for the great fame of the Orient Express was, of course, Agatha Christie's novel, and the related movies. In 2010, Murder on the Orient Express was filmed again, once more starring David Suchet as the inimitably moustached Hercule Poirot.

Christie's highly original tale reflects a heinous historic crime. In March 1932, the first son of aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh was snatched from the family home and a ransom was demanded.

The 1974 movie, with a brilliant cast including Albert Finney, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York and Lauren Bacall, left a strong impression. The performance of the redoubtable Wendy Hiller as the Princess Dragomiroff was a highlight for me. Spitting out her criticism of someone wearing what she considers to be too much cologne, she states, "When I say drenched, I mean drenched."

The train is drenched in the atmosphere of the 1930s, a heady but paradoxical mixture of luxury and comfort, offset by mystery and violence. The contrast between the very wealthy and their humble servants is bridged in the film by a common purpose of violence, unveiled in a dramatic ending by the foolproof "little grey cells" of Christie's Belgian detective.

To anyone who finds my comments too revelatory, be assured that book or movie will not be enjoyed the less for knowing or suspecting the final revelation.

Agatha Christie was a pioneer, both of a genre, and within the genre she invented. A unique feature of this tale is that the featured crime literally doesn't get off the train. It goes unreported and unpunished, even though the perpetrators are known. In this special case, the community judges the killers by a moral law that accepts revenge as a justification for murder.

No doubt it is largely this story, with its unusual perspective on justice, that has kept the legend of the Orient Express mythology alive, and with it the era, as portrayed by Dame Agatha, OBE.

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