Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Vomitous Mess of Artifacts (2 Nov 2008)

I was on the midnight train to Georgia. Except it was only 9:10. And it was going to Luxor. But otherwise, it was totally the same.
We spent the morning at the Egyptian Museum. Wow. What a place, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a great way. I may offend some people here, but that is a museum badly In need of a good curator. Or a visit from the Cleansweep tv show team…I’m not sure which. Here’s something Americans, and I would say much of Europe, can’t really understand, and that is, how much detritus builds up over more than a couple thousand years of civilization. Once you’ve been to the Egyptian museum, you’ll get a much better idea. There’s just SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much stuff there. Now I’m not in favor of chucking any of it, this is the dawn of civilization we’re talking about here, and after 5000 years, even the most trivial leavings have acquired some status. But it was so hard to wrap your head around it all, it seems like it would have been better to do some editing in what they displayed (and how they displayed it…there weren’t as many labels as you could hope for, and they were old and fading…and would it kill them to install a few more benches? I mean, between the museum ticket and the mummy room ticket they’re pulling in $30 a head, it’s not like they’re operating in the red, right?)

That said, what an incredible experience. The mummies were unbelievable! They’ve still got their hair, even good old (very old) Ramses II, who seemed to have treated his white hair with a yellowing agent, reminding me of the time Diana’s daddy, our branch president’s hair inexplicably turned lemony… I found myself wondering a lot, both yesterday and today, if the ancient Egyptians, in their goals of immortality, could have conceived of their bodies and creations still being here, mostly intact after, in some cases, 5000 years. They could reckon a day, a year, a dynasty, but lacking (as far as we know) a written history prior to roughly their invention of it, could they imagine an “eternity” as long as 5000 years?

Another thing that boggled my mind – perusing the Ptolemaic and late period sarcophagi and mummies, which were decorated in the Roman style, a phrase I’d read in Lonely Planet leapt to mind, about Hathor being identified with the Greek goddess Aphrodite. How cool that ancient peoples could be introduced to each other’s deities and say, “Oh yeah, we know her, we just call her a different name.” Of course, conquerors in more recent times have done the same with holidays and such, but it seems like we’ve lost the art. When was the last time you heard a Christian say to a Muslim, “Oh, yeah, I know all about Allah, but we don’t have a name for Him. We just call Him God. Did you know He had a son? His name is Jesus. Oh, you’ve heard of Jesus? That’s pretty cool.”
After the museum we hit the souq, and I watched Belinda buy two gorgeous new costumes, which she’s working on “tuning up” while I’m typing this on the piccolo computer. I just watched – yes, Mom, I was a good girl, I realize we’ve got a recession on back home. We got KFC and went back to Luna Hotel to wait to catch the train that brought us down here to Luxor. I’ll let you in on a little secret…Belinda gets a little…shall we say, crabby?...when she gets stressed, and apparently trying to get from Cairo to Luxor is stressful. But once we got settled in our compartment…which was no Oriental Express, but it wasn’t too bad, either…things calmed down, and we made it down here to the Oasis Hotel, in spite of the fact that I almost gave the owner, Hassan (who came to pick us up at the train station) the blow off, because he was in the group of hopeful cab drivers pressing us to choose them to take us to the hotel. We talked about tourism options in Luxor, and signed up for a balloon ride for tomorrow morning, and headed out to Luxor temple, which is just up the street (Luxor is not such a big town). Again I was struck with wondering if the ancient Egyptians could have conceived of us, in a time so far removed from their own, and what would have happened to their monuments if Europe hadn’t gotten interested in antiquity (would it still be under sand?) We found our new home, a fast food joint named Snack Time that has some pretty incredible food and wireless internet access, and a rooftop terrace that has live music tomorrow night (guess where we’ll be eating?) Cruised the souq a bit and we’re back at the Oasis (bit of trivia for y’all, but that was the name of the apartments my parents managed when I was born) for the night.

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