D.he ghost train is about to pull into platform nine, but we still think that’s a rumor. We stand in the middle of the bustle of Florence’s main train station, Mussolini’s dreadful gift to his people, a block, as angular and clunky as the Duce’s chin, and feel infinitely far away from all the old Florentine splendor, from the proud Palazzo Vecchio, the marble mountains of the cathedral, the immeasurable treasures of the Uffizi. Instead, we are caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. People rush across the platforms, tourists drag wheeled suitcases behind them, regional trains and high-speed trains drive in and out, to Rome, Milan, Lucca, a connection to Domodossola is expected on platform nine. No scoreboard knows our train, no loudspeaker announces it, there is not the slightest hint of its existence – apart from three musicians with banjo, clarinet and trombone who, like strollers of the times, play swing music from the twenties on our track. It is the welcoming anthem for us and the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, which announces a tempting message: everyone else in Florence central station will be at their destination in a few hours at the latest. But we are about to travel to a lost era with a train that officially comes from Venice, but actually from another world.
Suddenly he appears, crawls up at a snail’s pace and causes us a colossal disappointment: No majestic steam locomotive pulls into the station with a triumphant gasp, but a modern tractor that hardly differs from the locomotives on the other tracks. But with its slow-motion pace, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is already giving itself away and conspiratorially gives us to understand that it has no hurry and no destination, although it is undoubtedly going to Paris, because it is the destination and it is the deadly sin of our modernity for it is.
A mixture of “Pinocchio” and “Nutcracker”
Then the locomotive creeps past us, and we can’t believe our eyes: She has more than a dozen midnight blue wagons with swan-white roofs and golden letters in tow, each one almost a hundred years old, each one as radiantly beautiful as a diva on rails, built in various European factories, as evidenced by the polished brass plaques on the steps of the doors. Les Ateliers Métallurgiques in Nivelles, The Metropolitan Carriage Wagon & Finance Company in Birmingham, Les Entreprises Industrielles Charentaises in La Rochelle: These are the birthplaces of these wagons, which proudly bear the words “Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Européens” over the Wearing windows, including the coat of arms of the company with the double lion, worthy of a royal family, and four-language specifications such as Carrozza-Letti, Voiture-Lits, dining car and dining car, also in gold letters.