Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 5 – The Egyptian Museum

I have devoted the morning to touring a grand museum. The building is of 1890’s vintage, on the general lines of the old Louvre. Unfortunately it has not aged graciously, so I think I should send them Faby as a consultant to jazz up the paint work, refresh the glass windows, and rearrange the collection si it tells more of a story. Ah, yes, the small typewriter cards have to go, to be replaced by large, bold notes of explanation.

But outside of this minutia I have to say I stand in awe. The pieces are truly magnificent, and speak of the highest level of artistic accomplishment in a civilization that not only flourished 5,000 years ago, but also went through two near collapses and, like a phoenix, rose from its ashes twice! I imagine we could call its transformation into a Greco-Roman “colony” as a third and final period of decline, but if so they went into the night with a bang.

Fabulous pieces include the Nermer Tablet, which records the unification of lower and upper Egypt about 3,000 BC, under King Menes, the unusual statues of Akhnaten, the heretic king, the many statues of Ramses II, aka Ramses the Great, tons and tons of stele and papyri with lengthy inscriptions (they were chatty little things those Egyptians), and the carving of Nut, the protective goddess of the starry sky, on the inside of a royal stone sarcophagus. The treasures found in the unrobed tomb of the young King Tutankhamen are indeed remarkable, not only on the wealth they represent but also on the variety of artifacts represented.

I made the bad decision of paying a small fortune to visit the royal mummies, thinking that it was there that the full regalia of Tutankhamen would be on display (it is not, since Tutankhamen still rests in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, no doubt on a store-bought casket). Imagine my disappointment when all I saw was row after row of mummies, and I have absolutely no interest on mummies. However, I did find an interesting thing. These mummies of ancient kings had all been found together, in a cache at Deir el-Bahari. It seems some king of the 25th dynasty was concerned about the pillage of ancient tombs, so he had all the royal mummies he could find in the Valley of the Kings collected, had them rewrapped and tagged (a toe tag, like they use in the morgue these days), and buried them all together at Deir el-Bahari, where his guards could keep an eye on them. Pretty nice of the old fellow, don’t you think.

I have to praise the Egyptian Museum for their decision not to allow cameras. Most tourists groan (me included) when they have to surrender their cameras at the Guardarropa, but it is sooo much nicer to wander looking at the collection without having to stop every five seconds while some nincompoop takes two minutes to fire a shot. Now, if they would only ban tour groups my cup of joy would overflow. What a nuisance it is to get engulfed by a bunch of tourists moving like a swarm of locust!

A quiet walk along the Nile brought back my sense of balance, and after a delicious lunch of a ketfo sandwich (some type os spice ground beef rolled into a sausage) and a liver sandwich (chicken livers cooked in a tasty tomato sauce) I made contact with Habibi Tours, who will facilitate my visit to upper Egypt. Their representative was most professional, I paid for all the arrangements, and was even given a one hour in a hotel room to take a shower and take a nap. At 3:30 pm, exactly, my driver came to pick me up, to drive me at neck-breaking speed to the airport. Egyptians are good drivers, but they have the tendency to straddle the dividing line between the lanes, no doubt to double their chances to shift to an empty lane. The problem is that by doing so they actually occupy two lanes, so the Formula One racer coming behind has to (1) toot his disapproval, (2) squeeze himself in half a lane, and (3) straddle the line himself so other drivers will have the same troubles that he had to face.

But I made it to the airport, and an uneventful plane ride brought me to Aswan, the city that has grown around the Aswan High Dam. It is a colorful city at night, with people coming out at night to promenade along the river, play in the public gardens, or just seat with friends sipping coffee, just like they do at La Parroquia back in Veracruz.

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