My wife and I were listening to some Agatha Christie mysteries on audiobooks (I know, wild and crazy life I lead), and it was striking how stable and pleasant the Middle East appears, in the books set there (Murder in Mesopotamia, Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express.) The detective goes from his luxury Baghdad hotel to a first class train through Syria, and then onto Istanbul and on towards Paris, with only a brief delay for snow and murder in Bulgaria. A family traveling in Israel complains about how boring and uneventful Jerusalem is, and so goes to Egypt to see the sights, and go on tour to Aswan and maybe Khartoum, Sudan.
‘More than 70 years ago, Christie recorded her arrival at Palmyra, her usually light tone giving way to one of genuine emotion. “After seven hours of heat and monotony and a lonely world – Palmyra! That, I think, is the charm of Palmyra – its slender creamy beauty rising up fantastically in the middle of hot sand,” she writes. “It is lovely and fantastic and unbelievable, with all the theatrical implausibility of a dream. Courts and temples and ruined columns … I have never been able to decide what I really think of Palmyra. It has always for me the dreamlike quality of that first vision. My aching head and eyes made it more than ever seem a feverish delusion! It isn’t – it can’t be – real.”’