Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It was a good day and I only upset one person

DH and I finally got our day at the museum. There were several special exhibits that I had wanted to see, but as is the case with best laid plans, we just didn't take everything into account. Such as, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art puts together a special exhibit it's a big deal (not like the Egyptian Magic exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum last year. That exhibit could have fit in a closet.). We saw "Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C."


It wasn't so much about Babylon, Mittani or Egypt, or any of the nation-states that were between them, as much as it was about the relationships between the states. So, if you didn't know alot about the era or that part of the world, you could walk through the rooms in an hour or so. We saw plenty of people doing just that, saying "oh look at that sword" or "cool sandals" (they were made of beaten gold, and they were cool), or "those little beady things-what are cylinder seals?" But for us, we only got through 2 of the rooms, and had started on the third, when we decided to break for lunch (and yes, we did eat at the Petrie Court Cafe. The duck comfit is better at MOMA, but the food is still very good). After lunch, and coffee and sufficient rest for our feet, we went back to the exhibit.

That was when I disturbed the world view of a fellow museum goer. We were looking at a display of Babylonian styled cylinder seals, made and found in Byblos, mid to late second millennium. A pair of women was looking at them rather intently, and DH starting talking to one of them. (he has that talent of being able to talk to anyone.) She was amazed that writing was used for common place purposes-there was instruction on horsemanship, written in cuneiform, incised in clay. She was under the impression that the situation in Europe in the early Middle Ages had been consistent throughout history-until the Enlightenment, only priests knew how to read and writing was for religous or state purposes, only. Then, she said that she had visited Jerusalem, and had seen cylinder seals in a museum there, but none were as fine as the ones we were looking at. I (and this is why I am not good at talking to just anyone) pointed out that at best, Jerusalem in the mid to late second millennium was a backwater village. Holy tilt the world off its axis, batman! Bad enough to suggest that business people could read and write (or hire scribes), but to suggest that there was a time when Jerusalem wasn't the center of the universe??!!

(We spent nearly another two hours going through the rest of the exhibit. A good part of that time we found ourselves in the same area as those women, but they were very careful to avoid us after that!)

After we finished (and my feet felt like I had been wearing those gold sandals, rather than comfortable shoes), we made a quick visit to the Egyptian galleries. Even though the museum was crowded, the "feel" of the Temple of Dendur was that of calm. Even with crying babies, cavorting teenagers, nervous guards, I felt I could stay there for hours. From there, we visited the Tomb of Perneb. The feel there is very different, I get a sense of deep brooding unhappiness, to the point where I begin to feel pressure in my head. It becomes unpleasant and then painful very quickly. In some ways, the Temple is still in use, maybe not for the active worship of the Roman era Isis, but it is still a place of visitation and awe. The tomb? It is an exhibit in a museum, and something there is not happy about it. DH said that he, too, felt something like that. I will admit to relief, confirmation that I am not imagining things is always nice.

We've already started making plans to go back.

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