A Touch of Irak and Gertrude Bell

From The Gate of Shiraz in Parker Pyne Investigates (1934) to her archaeological memoir Come, Tell Me How You Live (1946), to Death Comes to An End (1944), there is ample evidence of Agatha Christie’s being besotted with the Middle East.

Christie takes a photograph of an Assyrian ivory statue in Nimrud, Irak.

Intrepid like-minded English women before her have crossed the Sahara and spent nights in the wilderness of the desert, but none turns the wonders of the ancient cultures of Assyrians and Egyptians into a crime fiction. In her memoir, Christie’s account on her journeys accompanying her husband captures the lives of the people and their customs with great fondness and respect. And if she’d had to choose her favourite place, it would have been Irak. For Murder in Mesopotamia (1936) and They Came to Baghdad (1951) become the everlasting memories of her fascination towards the country. In the later book she dedicates it to ‘friends in Irak and Syria.’  What’s more, in Murder Is Announced (1953),  she names the priest’s dog Tiglath Phileser after an Assyrian King. The ‘wise’ and ‘clever’ canine creature helps Miss Marple work out as to the execution-style murder has been carried out in the house of Letitia Blacklock. If there was another woman who would match her  passion, it would be Gertrude Bell. BBC 4’s Book of the Week: Queen of the Desert, which highlights her major role in the formation of the Republic of Irak, unearths an indomitable but intriguing personae ahead of her time. Bell is the choreographer behind the installation of Faisal I of Irak  in 1921. Her  work for the Arab Bureau during the First World War I gathering intelligence for the British Imperial government leads to her post as the Oriental Secretary under  Sir Percy Cox. In the meantime, she reaches out to Faisal. Her excellence in Arabic and Farsi, as well as her wide networking with the tribal leaders and the chieftains, are indispensable to the success of British campaign after the Ottoman Empire relinquishes its power in Irak and Arabia in 1917. At that time Irak is an uncharted territory; for thousands years Arabs have recognised it merely as ‘al iraaq,’ a vast land consists of three former-Ottoman provinces namely Mosul, Basra and Baghdad. In Greek it is called ‘Mesopotamia: ‘between the rivers’ (the Tigris and the Euphrates). Unbeknown to her, there was a secret pact between Britain and France to divide authorities in the region rich in oil but ruled largely by tribal laws. Her plan for Faisal as the Pan-Arab king has been thwarted. Much as she believes such pact is an ill-informed decision, Bell does not step back. She then manages to cajole Faisal into claiming a kingdom in a region he has no bearings and root.   Bell’s involvement in the Near East starts in Tehran. She stays with her stepmother’s sister, the wife of British Minister Frank Lascelles, in her attempt to find a suitor. She falls in love with one there, but Hugh Bell disagrees to their union in marriage. Her heart bleeds when she receives a telegram about his death, eight months after she was back in London. Despite her heartache,  Persian Pictures (1894) is published.  The Desert and the Sown (1907)  follows, enriched by three-hundred photographs she has taken about people, landscape and agriculture of different regions of Syria and Palestine. The Thousand and One Churches (1909), co-authored with William Mitchell Ramsay,is considered as a seminal archaeological work about the first Christian settlement in Turkey. Contrary to Bell, Christie’s interest towards the Middle East is a slow-burning one. Clara Miller brings her twenty-year old daughter Agatha to Cairo for her formal ‘coming-out’ into the society in the winter 1910. Unfortunately, the young Agatha is more into dances and parties, being oblivious to any archaeological artefacts and history. She does not warm up to Sphinx and the pyramids. In her biography (1976) she writes: “Mother tried to broaden my mind by taking me to the Egyptian Museum, and also suggested we should go up the Nile to see the glories of Luxor. I protested passionately with tears in my eyes the wonders of antiquity were the last thing I cared to see.” In 1915, the then-newlywed Mrs. Christie might not have heard about Bell.Nor would she have come across the three books the other had written. Little did Christie realise thirteen years later she would board the Orient Express from London to Baghdad like Bell 36 years before. Her last-minute decision to have cancelled the Caribbean trip had a huge impact to  her life and writing. Due to her leg injury, her journey back to London is accompanied by a twenty-six year old junior archaeologist Max Mallowan. She returns to Irak as his wife in 1931, a year before the country declares itself as an independent kingdom. Mrs. Mallowan brings her  typewriter and the sounds of the clanking keys of her typing is part of life in a dig.   When Murder in Mesopotamia is out in print,Bell has long gone.She dies in the early hours in her Baghdad home two days before her 58th birthday ; in the same summer The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has catapulted the shy Mrs. Christie into the limelight. Christie’s portrayal of the atmosphere in the imaginary Tell Yamrijah  would have thrilled Bell a lot. Just as Christie, Bell is familiar and passionate about the hard work being carried out during an excavation. It would have tickled her that the plot suggests a former spy has been among the members of the team. Had they met, both women would have had a lot to share and discuss. On the one hand, Bell could have told Christie about the flowering Daffodils in her Baghdad’s garden and her friendship with King Faisal. On the other hand,Christie would have intrigued Bell with the usage of lotion cream to recover an intricate Assyrian ivory small statue. When I wrote Notes on They Came to Baghdad during the marathon reading in 2013, little did it occur to me that Irak has left an indelible mark in Christie. A plan to sabotage an international peace conference held in the capital is well under way and it will be unstoppable unless the evidence of it being presented in time. Why  a peace conference, I wondered. The answer perhaps is not a clear-cut one.It seems to me the book challenge the views regarding the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, seen as more phenomenal  and much more popular than the discovery of Ur. Instead of the Valley of the Kings Christie suggests Baghdad:the cradle of civilisation. And therefore peace ought to be where everything begins. What would have Bell had to say  had she been alive to read Christie’s books? First, she might have recalled the depiction of the British agent Carmichael in They Came… among a league of men in  her circle. Next, she might have seen resemblances of her boss Sir Peter Cox in Corbie, and maybe a little of herself in Victoria Jones. Both Bell and Christie might have something in common after all. They have encounters in connection to the Armenian genocide . In Iraq and Gertrude Bell’s The Arab’s MesopotamiaPaul J. Rich quotes Bell catching a glimpse of the horrors  in Damascus. For she has witnessed the Kurds, being ordered by  the Turks, rounding up the Armenians and taking them to different places. Later they are killed.  In the memoir,Christie recollects  her visit to the Yezidi Sheikh of the Sinjar, whom gives shelter to hundreds of Armenians fleeing from the prosecution. Also, the story of the amiable Aristide, the Armenian driver whose taxi is hired for an  arduous journey from Beirut to North Syria.  At the age of seven Aristide is thrown into a deep pit with his family and other Armenian families. Whilst his father, mother, two brothers and sisters are burnt alive, his life is spared. Found and saved by  the Anaizah Arabs, he is then brought up as one of them.  This 15th September will mark 125 years of Christie’s birth. Queen of the Desert starring Nicole Kidman will also be in the cinemas in the UK this autumn. Whilst Christie has been a household name for over eighty years, Bell’s has only  came up in the last twenty years. Alas, the first woman who receives a First in Modern History from Oxford gets her dues.

Notes On They Came To Baghdad

Rating: 3.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1951

Motive for Murder: Evidence

Plot: Victoria Jones’s mimicking her boss’s wife goes a little bit too far and she is to resign with immediate effect. In need of money and a thirst of adventure, a chance meeting with a man in the park brings about her taking up a role as a company for an American woman heading for Baghdad.

What begins as the young woman’s infatuation to a man turns to be a mixing-up in the murder of a British agent at a hotel in the country. As a witness, she is a target. Yet, her life is still worth its while until the highly confidential information can be retraced from her.

In the meantime, Richard Baker is on his way to Kuwait. In Basrah, he bumped into an old school friend dressed as an Arab with a strange manner. Little did Baker realise afterwards that the piece of folded paper put into his pocket was the half-part of the information sought by the ‘Arab’’s enemies. Nor does he know that his life is in danger already.

With an impending international conference on peace is due in a few days’ time in the capital, the Intelligence would need the evidence concerning a multi-national organisation, of which with money and power has an agenda to retain conflicts between America and Rusia.

Who did the man Baker meet? Can Edward, the reason of Jones’s presence in Iraq, help?



The Cold War might have been a difficult time as the division between two opposing ideologies of the ‘Iron Curtain ‘East and the ‘Freedom’ West had grown rapidly. To Christie’s mind, however, the changing of the political map had not only been fascinating but opened up a new kind of ‘game’ in the world of crime of hers. After the Great War, the political upheavals mostly affected Europe; after the Second World War the impacts were much bigger like ripples of waves that gather its force and push many countries to decide their leaning either to the West or the East.

Max Mallowan’s discovery in Ur, Iraq as a young archaeologist begins his long-standing devotion and love to Agatha Christie, the then newly-divorced woman on a crossroads in her life. Christie visited Irak for the first time in 1928.

Furthermore, this is the book written prior to Korea War (1950-1953) and therefore there is a touch of hope on Christie’s part for the world peace. Nonetheless, like many of her generation, Victoria Jones is oblivious to current affairs and instead attracted to a Prince Charming and decides to follow him to Baghdad – despite the fact that she then just knows his first name. Of course in the fifties subtlety is still regarded as of vital; to reach the man she has to find her own ways there.  Her meeting with the unassuming old Mr. Dakin and a dead body in her hotel room alter her views about the world. Awakened by a proper lecture, Jones is made to understand that money goes side by side with politics and a human’s life costs less than the Intelligence obtained (see Clues). It is captured in a chapter, which is lengthy but not stuffy, in depth but using plain English. I suppose there had been a message Christie had aimed at that time to have done such; she might have believed the importance to educate her readers, particularly women for not detaching their minds from current affairs.  Personally I feel that she had wanted women to see politics as their territory, too.

It is intriguing how those issues give way to a different facet of a seemingly carefree shorthand typist. Jones’s character might resemble her predecessors Anne Beddingfield (see Notes The Man In The Brown Suit), Tuppence Beresford and Bundle (see Notes On The Secret of Chimneys and Notes On The Seven Dials Mystery).  Jones in ‘the thick of it’; being an accidental agent  recruited on the spot, her abduction, her getting away from her captors and more importantly her concluding the affair. With a sprinkle of romance and naivety   Jones grows up to be a woman and finds her soul mate in the end.

Sounds so Christie’s? Yes and No. No, because of the more open approach to men by women; that Jones going to an unknown territory entirely on account of a man is quite a progressive move for the era.  Compared to Bundle’s jealousy to the lady friends of Jimmy Eversleigh’s, Jones’s determination to find her man would have been unheard of in the late twenties.

The setting is another interesting thing. Iraq might have been chosen owing to the country’s association with Christie’s meeting her second husband Max Mallowan there when she went for the first time in 1928. Her fond memories are reflected in the plot; that Jones goes to Baghdad as a ‘nurse’ to an American woman who has broken her leg. Likewise, Christie had an accident in Athens on her way back to England and the young archaeologist who was much younger than her had agreed to accompany her to England. In the story Jones is rescued by Richard Baker, a young archaeologist as she has lost her way on the desert after her lucky escape from the captors.

The image of Agatha Christie when accompanying Max Mallowan digging in Chagar Bazar, Syria between 1935 and 1937

All the same it is not a straightforward romance between Baker and Jones.  Anne Scheele comes to scene first; a secretary to an oil magnate with a wealth of access to information and influential figures in finance and politics. The Intelligence keeps an eye on her, as well as another party. Her movement is followed closely until she disappears after visiting her ill sister in a nursing home. Is it purely a luck that her appearance is similar to Jones?  And who is she working for? Yet it is only the Mastermind who knows how Scheele looks life in flesh.

Like a puppet master the Mastermind remains in the shadow while his puppets act and play their part, masking their identities to others. Mr. Dakin, Sir Rupert Crofton Lee and Anne Scheele are not who people think they are and therefore there lie the twists. Coupled with Christie’s similes in the narrations, it is not easy to pin down the double-meaning words and sentences of the characters until the end.  Is it the words of a dying man to be believed? How about a note of recommendation dated back eighteen months before? Or what lays beneath a quote of a Shakespeare’s poem?

What I am fascinated about is the dynamics between Mr. Dakin and Jones. He is frank and almost totally honesty about the situation. And they grow trust rapidly. I believe that Jones’s naivety and her somehow seeking a father figure to the other are plausible. Yet, I am not convinced that the reality would be the same.  More importantly, wouldn’t it be a risk, having laid bare most facts to a ‘raw agent’ such as Jones. Anyhow, perhaps Mr. Dakin is an exception.

At any rate ‘the war’ Christie ‘proposed’ in the plot did occur. I wonder how she might have felt reading about what had occurred between North and South Korea. Surely it was not her fault but a warning – or better: her advice- had been given, particularly after the 1947 war between Israelis and Palestinians. I am just glad she did not see the tiresome Iraq-Iran War (1980 – 1988) because it would have very much broken her heart .


The Twists:             

-Henry Carmichael passes half of the information to Richard Baker and the other to Victoria Jones

-Sir Rupert Crofton Lee kills Henry Carmichael

-Victoria Jones remembers that Sir Rupert has a small ‘boil’, ie. a distinguished mark on the back of his neck

-Anne Scheele disappears after she visits her sister in a nursing home in London

-Victoria Jones is kidnapped after a picnic with Edward at the ruins of Babylon

-Victoria Jones’s appearance resembles Anne Scheele


Cast of Characters:

Anne Scheele (the secretary to Mr. Morghantal, a magnate in oil business)

Mrs. Cardew Trench (of whom Victoria meets in Tio Hotel)

Catherine (a Syrian who works at the Olive Branch)

The Clipps (who hires Victoria as a companion for Mrs. Clipps to Baghdad)

Captain Crosbie (of British Council)

Dakin (works in an international oil company in Baghdad)

Edward (the secretary to Dr. Rathbone)

Gerard Clayton (British Consul in Basra)

Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton Clipp (the US citizens, of whom the wife is the one Victoria accompanies)

Henry Carmichael (a British agent on the run for crucial information he holds)

Lionel Shrivenham (of British Embassy in Iraq)

Marcus Tio (the proprietor of Tio Hotel in Baghdad)

Dr Rathbone (Edward’s boss, Director of the Olive Branch)

Richard Baker (British archaeologist who digs outside Basra, Henry’s school friend)

Sir Rupert Crofton Lee (the great traveller, of whom Victoria is on the same plane to Baghdad)

Victoria Jones (the protagonist)


The Most Fascinating Character: Marcus Tio

The proprietor of the Tio Hotel is involved in the case because of the dead body of Henry Carmichael, the British Agent who died from stabbing in Victoria Jones’s room. Without asking and doing as he was told, Carmichael’s body is then disposed. He carries on about his business as usual afterwards.

As an entrepreneur, Tio seems to know well how to run the business. Superficially he is a jolly personality; to his guests his jokes are rather silly and his mannerism is gay and bubbly.  At heart he is a terribly serious man. It is not by chance that the premises has become a meeting point for influential figures in British politics in Baghdad and the venue for an international peace conference. For his discreetness appears to be the key and moreover he is willing to play part for the sake of protecting his clients’ interests.

There is not much about his background and what makes him decide to run such a hotel. Was he one of Mr. Dakin’s recruit? Nor is his relationship with Mr. Dakin. I wonder to what extent is his knowledge about Dr. Rathbone and the Olive Branch.

Readers, what nationality is he, do you think?


Richard Baker:

He remembered how the Arab had clutched him when he stumbled. A man with deft fingers might have slipped this into his pocket without his being aware of it.

He unfolded the paper. It was dirty and seemed to have been folded and refolded many times.

In six line of rather crabbed handwriting, Major John Wilberforce recommended one Ahmed Mohammed as an industrious and willing worker, able to drive a lorry and minor repairs and strictly honest – it was, in fact, the usual type of chit or recommendation given in the East. It was dated eighteen months back, which again is not unusual as these chits are hoarded carefully by their possessors.

Victoria Jones:

The young man lay just as she had left him. But now his face was a queer greyish colour and his eyes were closed. Then, with a sharp catch in her breath, Victoria noticed something else  – a bright red stain seeping through on to the blanket.

‘Oh, no,’ said Victoria, almost as though pleading with someone. ‘Oh, no- no!’

And as though in recognition of that plea the wounded man opened his eyes. He stared at her, stared as though from very far away at some object he was not quite certain of seeing.

His lips parted  – the sound was so faint that Victoria scarcely heard. She bent down. ‘What?’

She heard this time. With difficulty – great difficulty, the young man said two words. Whether she heard them correctly or not Victoria did not know. They seemed to her quite nonsensical and without meaning. What he said was, ‘Lucifer….Basrah…’

Dr. Rathbone to Victoria Jones:

‘Why did you come and work here, Victoria? Because of Edward?’

Victoria flushed angrily.

‘of course not,’ she said indignantly. She was much annoyed.

Dr. Rathbone nodded his head.

‘Edward has his way to make. It will be many many years before he is in a position to be any of use to you. I should give up thinking of Edward if I were you. And, as I say, there are good positions to be obtained at present, with a good salary and prospects – and which will bring you amongst your own kind.’

‘But I really am keen on the Olive Branch, Dr. Rathbone.’

He shrugged his shoulders then and she left him, but she could feel his eyes in the centre of her spine as she left the room.

Come, Tell Me How You Live (Memoir)

Rating: 4.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1946

Motive for Murder: n/a

Plot: n/a


Maz Mallowan and his wife, Agatha Christie Mallowan, who accompanied him during his digging in Syria between 1935 and 1937.

This so-called ‘archaeological memoir’ is an answer to various questions asked  about the authoress’s journeys to the East in the thirties. Mrs. Agatha Christie Mallowan is a travelling companion to her renowned archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan.

‘So, you dig in Syria, do you? Do tell me about it. How do you live? In a tent?  etc. etc.’

I imagine her sighing quietly, thinking of a suitable answer. Would they listen to the nitty-gritty details of the excavations, the findings and the high-brow terminologies in the science itself? Or would she be able to tell them about the unforgettable first night in Amuda? Their aloof architect, Mac and Mansur, their boy servant?

I’LL TELL THEE EVERYTHING I CAN by: Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) ‘LL tell thee everything I can; There’s little to relate, I saw an aged, aged man, A-sitting on a gate. “Who are you, aged man?” I said. “And how is it you live?” And his answer trickled through my head Like water through a sieve. He said, “I look for butterflies That sleep among the wheat; I make them into mutton-pies, And sell them in the street. I sell them unto men,” he said, “Who sail on stormy seas; And that’s the way I get my bread– A trifle, if you please.” But I was thinking of a plan To dye one’s whiskers green, And always use so large a fan That they could not be seen. So, having no reply to give To what the old man said, I cried, “Come, tell me how you live!” And thumped him on the head. His accents mild took up the tale; He said, “I go my ways, And when I find a mountain-rill, I set it in a blaze; And thence they make a stuff they call Rowland’s Macassar Oil– Yet twopence-halfpenny is all They give me for my toil.” But I was thinking of a way To feed one’s self on batter, And so go on from day to day Getting a little fatter. I shook him well from side to side, Until his face was blue, “Come, tell me how you live,” I cried, “And what it is you do!” He said, “I hunt for haddocks’ eyes Among the heather bright, And work them into waistcoat-buttons In the silent night. And these I do not sell for gold Or coin of silvery shine, But for a copper halfpenny, And that will purchase nine. “I sometimes dig for buttered rolls, Or set limed twigs for crabs; I sometimes search the grassy knolls For wheels of hansom-cabs. And that’s the way” (he gave a wink) “By which I get my wealth– And very gladly will I drink Your honor’s noble health.” I heard him then, for I had just Completed my design To keep the Menai bridge from rust By boiling it in wine. I thanked him much for telling me The way he got his wealth, But chiefly for his wish that he Might drink my noble health. And now, if e’er by chance I put My fingers into glue, Or madly squeeze a right-hand foot Into a left-hand shoe, Or if I drop upon my toe A very heavy weight, I weep, for it reminds me so Of that old man I used to know– Whose look was mild, whose speech was slow, Whose hair was whiter than the snow, Whose face was very like a crow, With eyes, like cinders, all aglow, Who seemed distracted with his woe, Who rocked his body to and fro, And muttered mumblingly and low, As if his mouth were full of dough, Who snorted like a buffalo– That summer evening long ago, A-sitting on a gate.

For her choice of answers vary and will depend on what the person wishes to hear. 

‘A final warning,’ she writes in the Foreword,’so there will be no disappointment. This is not a profound book – it will give you no interesting sidelights on archaeology, there will be no beautiful descriptions of scenery, no treating of economic problems, no racial reflections, no history.’


From the preparations for a long journey by train from London Victoria to Beirut to her following Max in choosing the excavations site; from the intricate matters in customs to her befriending her husband’s team members emerge ‘everyday doings and happenings’ through the eyes of Mrs. Mallowan. They are the lighthearted, moving but sensitive accounts without her falling deep in the burrow. She is not Alice, but would Alice requires a toilet seat, of which is unavailable in Syria?

Reading the lines in which she describes a bug powder in her possession to the Turkish officials by scratching her body all over in front them or recounting  Max arguing with the Armenian driver who rehires the car the Mallowans has hired to French tourists are hilarious. Christie plays down the difficulties she has experienced and small inconveniences an English woman in her forties having to endure in travelling.

For her  the desert weather, the scorching heat during the day and her inability to adapt to squatting position while doing the ‘loo business’ are not substantial.  She is more intrigued towards Max’s  and the foreman’s comments about the Romans remains, the work arrangements and her trying to win the heart of the stiff upper-lip Mac.

Also, it is more important to describe in details her encounter with the mice in the first night in Amuda, a small town in Syria. Not only did it put to a test the authoress’s adventurous spirit and determination but also her sense of humour in the most unbearable situation.

You aren’t really going back to Alep?” Max inquires anxiously the next morning. I (Christie) blush a little over the remembrance of my hysterical outburst.’

There you go. Had she lived, she could have written the scenes of Indiana Jones better.

What I like most is her attitude. For she does not seem to think of herself a Lady Hester Stanhope. Instead Christie happily admits that she has known the Harbur and the Jaghjagha because of Max.

Nonetheless, she sees that the carpenter will make a toilet seat for her and that the mice gang are to disappear from her bedroom.  She is not in the least excited to develop the films in the dark room crouching in a room with a sauna temperature.

As for  broken potteries, amulets or whether a small statue resembles a ram or a dog, it is not so much about their being much older than her that she comes to appreciate. More is whether they are a potential murder weapon.

Glad she finds it in an ancient guern. In Murder In Mesopotamia Louise Leidner was struck on the head by the heavy stone.

Towards the entd of the book it dawns on me that this book is the only one which provide insights into Christie’s personal life.  What’s the urge to share them, given that she doesn’t give interviews?

Is it her respect to the local culture and her valuing the simplicity in the locals’ life, be it the Kurdish, the Arabs or he Armenians?

story of  an Armenian boy rescued from a deep pit and brought up as Arab in 1915 is moving.  She touches the topic of the end of Ottoman Empire in the context of the change of the political map and captures the simmering tension between Mohammedans (Muslims), Yezzedis and Christians in a balanced manner.

Interestingly she admits writing the book during the uncertain years blighted by the Second World War. It is her escape from fears and morbid imagination.

’For after four years spent in London in war-time, I know what a very good life that was, and it has been a joy  and refreshment to me to live those days again…Writing this simple record has been not a task, but a labour of love…’

Christie tweaked the Lewis Carroll’s poem in her ‘A-Sitting On A Tell’: I’ll tell you everything I can If you listen well: I met an erudite young man A-sitting on a Tell. “Who are you, sir?” to him I said, ‘For what is it you look?” His answer trickled through my head Like bloodstains in a book. He said: “I look for aged pots Of prehistoric days, And then I measure them in lots And lots of different ways. And then (like you) I start to write, My words are twice as long As yours, and far more erudite. They prove my colleagues wrong!” But I was thinking of a plan To kill a millionaire And hide the body in the van Or some large Frigidaire. So, having no reply to give, And feeling rather shy, I cried: “Come, tell me how you live! And when, and where, and why?” …………………………………..

How profound.

And yet, in the Foreword she stresses that ‘this is not a profound book…etc.’

In all fairness I suppose the Westerners can actually learn from their East comrades many civilised things and again ripe the benefits of their easy going approach. That the East and West is not a clash of cultures but a room for tolerance and respect. That death is not a horrible thing.


The Most Fascinating Character: Aristide

Max Mallowan hired an amiable Armenian man and his taxi (a battered-looking Citroen) in Beirut for three months, as they headed for the Habur and the Jaghjagha near the Turkish border for a survey of potential digging sites.

One day the Mallowans happened to pass a group of French tourists whose taxi was broken down. Max  offered to take them back to their hotel with their taxi. Later he came back looking furious to Aristide. For it turns out it was their taxi that had been used to transport the French. In Aristide’s defence he said to Max: ‘But, did you not tell me that you yourself would not use it this afternoon? Naturally, then, I have the chance to make a little extra money. I arrange with a friend, and he drives this party around Palmyra. How can it injure you, since you do not want to sit in the car yourself?’

He is firm in his belief that his weekly wage must be kept by his employer until the end of the journey. He only asks four pence to buy a pair of socks. His thriftiness means it is cheaper not to shave his beard and it does not matter because he is in the desert. Having been asked what he would do with the money, he responds, ‘It will go towards buying a better taxi.’ ‘Max continues, ’And when you have a better taxi?’ ‘Then I shall earn more and buy two taxis.’

Armenian he may seem, he is attached to the Anaizah tribe of the Beduins. When he was seven,  the Turks rounded up all Armenians (1915-1918) and killed them. Aristide was thrown into a deep pit with his families and other Armenian families alive. They were then burnt alive. Yet he, who was below them all, was survived and found later by some of the Anaizah. They took him with them and adopted him into the tribe. He was brought up as an Arab and knew his true identity when he had reached eighteen. Nonetheless, to the Anaizah Aristide is still one of them and vice versa.

When the survey is finished at the end of the year, so is his employment. When the Mallowans came back to Beirut the next Spring and enquired as to Aristide’s whereabouts, they were informed that he had been working for the government: driving a street watering-cart in Der-er-Zor.


The Twists:

–          Toilet seats were imported to Syria

–          Four deaths at an incident in Tell Barak due to the workmen’s greediness

–          The Sheikh in Chagar Bazar was asking for ‘garden money’ after other compensations paid


Cast of Characters:


Alwi – Hamoud’s elder son

Aristide – the Armenian

‘Bumps’ – the architect when the other (Mac) was away

The Colonel – Max’s colleague who oversaw the digging at Tell Barak

Ferhid –

Guilford – the photographer

Hamoudi – the Arab foreman and an old friend of Max Mallowan’s

Mac – the English architect

Mansur – the ‘head boy’ maid in the Mallowans’ household

Max Mallowan – the husband, the chief archaeologist

Michel – the Christian driver with his three golden rules: forca (pull/try hard), economia (being economical at all time),  sawi Proba (make trial)

The Sheikh at Chagar Bazar digging site

Subri – the maid for the Colonel and ‘Bumps’

Yahya – Hamoudi’s younger son