Friday, March 5, 2010

Cairo, Egypt

March 1, 2010
Cool, clear

Today was our first day in Egypt. We arrived at our hotel in a gigantic orange party bus early this morning, slept until just before eleven, ate some breakfast, and then went straight to the gigantic Egyptian museum. When I was eleven years old, I went through a major Egypt phase: I read about Cleopatra, I had an Egyptian perfume-making kit, a collection of real papyrus, and I had stacks of books on mummification. I made a paper mache mummy head for a class project, made it sure it never dried so I could cajole people into using a modified coat hanger to pull out the “brains” through the nose. The brains were facts about mummy written on soggy paper. Needless to say I was pretty excited.
The highlights were the King Tut exhibit with the sarcaphogus and mask, the famous bust of Nefertiti, the unwrapped mummies that still had hair and fingernails, the royal jewelry, the ancient dried seeds and plants, the Rosetta Stone, the Narmer Palette, and the animal mummies, especially the crocodiles. It was like I was in sixth grade again, but even more intense. I wish sometimes that I could have lived during that time period to see what it all was like.
I missed the Rosetta Stone the first time I walked past: there was no crowd of people, there was no fancy case, and there certainly was not any tag identifying it as one of the most important artifacts in the world. When I walked past it for a second time, the shape caught my eye, and I turned to admire it until some guy leaned up against the case in order to send a text. I was shocked how unimportant it seemed. The Narmer Palette got infinitely more attention: a special case, a huge crowd, and two different labels.
The mummies were obvious a huge draw; there was a ten dollar entrance fee and I must have stayed in that room for an hour. There were nine royal mummies; two were still wrapped up entirely and the rest had uncovered faces and feet. I really wish that the whole bodies were uncovered, but I imagine that would cause a problem in a conservative country, and it would be disrespectful to the dead. Someone mentioned that they thought it was an extremely disrespectful exhibit even with the coverings, but I feel like after two thousand years, I wouldn’t mind my mummified body being displayed. In fact, I think I would like it – it would give some a degree of immortality.
That’s what was so striking about this museum: the ability to make this amazing culture immortal. The building and displays were not at all fancy, but the sheer number of ancient artifacts stunned me. Statues were stacked upon statues, and each room was teeming with carvings and jewelry and the building incorporated the Egyptian archways and huge stone blocks into its own architecture. I loved it.
There was an entire room dedicated to animal mummies; and the most dramatic part was definitely the two crocodiles. Each was about twenty feet long and had a head bigger than my torso. One had been mummified with a group of baby crocodiles in its mouth to represent the way a mother would carry her young. There were a handful of mummified goats, some mummified cats and dogs, birds, a few shrews, and a few other animals I can’t remember.
After the museum, the group met up and we went on a “dinner cruise,” which consisted of two slightly sea worthy boats on the Nile and two guides who tried futilely to get us to dance by shaking their hips quite wildly. Our dinner was three different kinds of noodles mixed with beans and lentils and fried onions. I’d been warned that Egyptian food was mediocre, but it was definitely edible but definitely not that exciting. We watched the sunset (beautiful because of the pollution and dust particulates), and went home.

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