16 12 2006



Though the era of the Orient Express is a century late for the noble Grand Tours, and no longer available for a modern adventure, a trip in such grand fashion had elements of cosmopolitan adventure.  It also suggests to me how important the method of travel was to undertaking a Grand Tour.  In Elizabethan times one was forced to be leisurely – if one desired luxury.  Pace was limited by distance between Inns, and getting there early had little advantage.  Of, course, when one was in a great city for several days, there were social events as well as sight seeing to fill the time – and always periods of reflection, writing and conversation.  On a modern tour, one needs a guide, not to explain the historic significance of what you are seeing, or what adventure lies ahead, but to describe what just flashed by at blurring speed – but its in the Tour Book anyway.


A Tour on the Orient Express was a compromise, of sorts; full trek from
Calais to
Istanbul if desired, or many points of departure.  Layovers were possible; but as the trains had sleeping compartments, dining salons, cocktail lounges and libraries, it was never necessary to leave the train at all!  And perhaps, more was lost than gained.


Consider the limitations:


1)  you had to accept that getting to either
Paris or
Constantinople was a worthwhile goal.  These final destinations were decided on by others, their task then becoming one of convincing you of its value.


2)  the route was set and side excursions were impossible – you had to see the panorama of scenery and ‘slice of life’ directed by mountain passes and rivers, while pretending that what you were seeing was representational of either life or nature.


3) you traveled with peers, i.e., people with similar economic, political and educational– certainly safe, and even comforting, but questionable as source of inspiration or of ‘broadening oneself ‘in Grand Tour tradition.


4) elitism was a predictable and infusive element of such a trip, well documented in the use of the Orient Express in novels, plays, mysteries and movies.  Please notice that only scan mention is ever made of what is going on outside of the train – it became a world unto itself.


5) food and beverage was fine and grand, to be sure, but offered nothing of local taste or flavor or the culture being passed through – sad, as history abounds with the important mixture of food and conversation in order to learn of people and dreams.


which brings us to consideration of the metaphysical and allegorical trappings of a Grand Tour.  Certainly, one cannot blame the Orient Express on the problems of today.  Yet, the willingness of the better educated and powerful classes to accept this ersatz substitute for a Grand Tour contributed to the end of something – exactly what I am not sure.  Consider that today many people feel no need to travel for the Internet can tell you all you need to know of people, places and history (and are sometimes even accurate).  You need not read a book as
Hollywood will show you the world as it really is, a substitution of a bright screen for a window on the Orient Express.  Even better, you can enclose yourself in a tiny room in a house (often not a home), surround yourself with cultural dishes in little white boxes, chat with know friends of ideas already tested and abused – and pretend that you will somehow benefit from it all.  At least the Orient Express went somewhere.  We laugh at a phrase like, “if you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”  A local expression oft heard resembles, “I like to try new things, but not for the first time.”  Methinks it all started on the Orient Express.


One humorous observation of those ‘grand old days’ was that those on the train, after a chance glance outside, would comment on the “unfortunate” peasants and workmen and children – even extending into pity and remorse that everyone could not make a trip in a gilded box on wheels and rigid tracks.  I would ask that you ponder on what those ‘simple folks’ thought – about their pity for those on board whose lives and views were so limited, their hearts cold, their spirits jaded or lost – strangers flashing past, who would ever be strangers.


at least in Lemuria, there are no trains!







2 responses

17 12 2006
Heather Blakey

Fabulous, thought provoking account Ken. You will see it all appear again, like magic, on Day Eighteen. 🙂 along with another famed train ride.

17 12 2006

Yes, very good reading. Love the poster.

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