Friday, August 13, 2010

History, Mystery,

(I've never read it, and I prefer the Peter Ustinov movie version)

Today marks the anniversary of the first run of the fabled railroad the Orient Express. On this date in 1888 the OE made its maiden run from Paris to Istanbul in 81 hours, 41 minutes, an unheard of cross continental speed at the time. It immediately became the preferred escape route of European refugees.

Fabled for its luxury and the elegance of its passengers, the OE became THE way to travel. Agatha Christie may have mentioned it somewhere or another.

While today marks the anniversary of the first trip, the OE has not been in continuous service. World Wars have periodically interfered. OE Dining Car 2419D has played a momentous roll in both world wars.

November 11, 1918 at 11:11 AM local time the German army surrendered to the allied forces in car 2419D. The French government had the car transfered to a museum shortly after the war. Placing this plaque on the door.


In June 1940, as a thumb in the eye gesture, Hitler had Dining car 2419D moved from its museum and had it transported to Paris for the signing of the French surrender. In their haste the German soldiers overlooked the sign.

William Shirer, then a CBS radio correspondent who was present that day had this to say:
Hitler reads it and Goring reads it. They all read it, standing there in the June sun and the silence. I look for the expression on Hitler's face. I am but fifty yards from him and see him through my glasses as though he were directly in front of me. I have seen that face many times at the great moments of his life. But today! It is afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph. He steps off the monument and contrives to make even this gesture a masterpiece of contempt. He glances back at it, contemptuous, angry - angry, you almost feel, because he cannot wipe out the awful, provoking lettering with one sweep of his high Prussian boot. He glances slowly around the clearing, and now, as his eyes meet ours, you grasp the depth of his hatred. But there is triumph there too - revengeful, triumphant hate. Suddenly, as though his face were not giving quite complete expression to his feelings, he throws his whole body into harmony with his mood. He swiftly snaps his hands on his hips, arches his shoulders, plants his feet wide apart. It is a magnificent gesture of defiance, of burning contempt for this place now and all that it has stood for in the twenty-two years since it witnessed the humbling of the German Empire.

Mr. Shirers full account of the day may be read here.

As prospects for winning the war dimmed, Hitler had the car destroyed. It has since been rebuilt and is again in a French museum.

After the war, air travel, and the cold war took their toll. The Orient Express fell out of favor. However luxorious, a small rail car was no place for an elegant woman to dress for dinner, and the one loo down the corridor..

Oddly, for all its luxury, it's still a miserable place to sleep, railroads being what they are.



Shelley said...

Nevertheless, a sleeper car on a railway is an experience everyone should have at least once! We've done an overnight journey from Berlin to Heidelberg in a modern silver job complete with toilet & shower + breakfast in your car. Also, from Prague to Banska Bystrica with the loo down the corridor. Both are amazing, but the latter more romantic.

David V said...

You prefer the Peter Ustinov movie version !!!

The heat has got to you.

JMW said...

Did you see the recent PBS program featuring the actor David Suchet who plays Poirot on Masterpiece Theatre? The program followed him on an actual journey on the Orient Express. It's been restored to its former glory and is quite gorgeous.

~Tessa~Scoffs said...

Echoing JMW - the PBS special was full of history and details that help when you watch the latest MOTOE with Suchet as Poirot. They even let him drive the train and the actor's smile is pure joy. This version is darker (and better) with an opening scene (of a prior case) that shows Poirot's state of mind as he boards the train. Ustinov's, although wonderful, in comparison seems kinda campy.

DocP said...

Although my overnight sleeper experience was memorable for the faint whiff of urine and mothballs, (old Soviet train car, Paris to Prague), I have rarely slept better. Dress for dinner? We boarded after dinner, but I could have managed.

Toad said...

I'd watch Peter Ustinov wash sox. I did see the PBS Oe show and the MOTOE and found them both very well done.

Didn't David Suchet do another version once upon a time?

Dovecote Decor said...

Thank you for the reminder that I have the Orient Express on my life "to do" list! I am really going to have to prioritize and head down to enter the lottery! This may be my lucky day, I'll let you know and take you along if I win. Inspiration!

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