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Pole to Pole

Day 44: Istanbul

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleThe shadow of this great event hangs over the day, giving everything else we do a certain air of unreality. Some of the unreality is there already, especially in Room 411 of the Pera Palas Hotel. This is the room in which Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express. It's small and rather cramped and you wouldn't get much writing done nowadays as they've just built an eight-lane highway below the window. After Agatha Christie died in 1976, Warner Brothers wanted to make a film about the mystery of eleven lost days of her life. An American medium, one Tamara Rand, said that in a trance she had seen an hotel in Istanbul and in Room 411 of this hotel she had seen Agatha Christie hiding the key to her diary under the floorboards. On 7 March 1979 the room was searched and a rusty key was found. The president of the hotel company, sensing Warner Brothers' interest but miscalculating their generosity, put the key in a safe and demanded two million dollars, plus fifteen per cent of the films profits. Here the key remains. Its age has been authenticated and as Agatha Christie was highly secretive about travel arrangements it's considered unlikely that the medium can have known about the Pera Palas before she saw it in her trance.

It all makes Room 411 rather a creepy place and I'm glad to get out and into the bustle of Pera Street - the mile-long main thoroughfare of Istanbul. The best way to see it is from one of the venerable red-and-cream trams that run its length, though I must confess I do catch breath when I notice the number of the tram we're on - 411.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 44
  • Country/sea: Turkey
  • Place: Istanbul
  • Book page no: 97

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