Monday, March 29, 2010

King Tut Exhibit

On Friday, my mom, sister and I went to the King Tut Exhibit up in San Francisco. There was a long period of time in my teens when I wanted to an an Egyptologist, or at the least, an Archaeologist. As a college freshman in an ancient studies class, I was once asked by my professor to stay after class so that we could talk. I was nervous, wondering what I'd done wrong, but it turned out that she thought I knew more about Ancient Egypt than she did and wanted me to recommend some books! I wound up loaning her a few and always took that gesture as a compliment.

So when I found out that the traveling exhibit of Pharaoh Tutankhamun's burial treasures was coming somewhat nearby, I was very excited. I had, after all, spent hours as a teen, attempting to decipher the hieroglyphs on his sarcophagus in order to translate them. The exhibit has been here for a few months, and I was excited to go, even if it meant spending 4 hours in the car.

The Golden Gate Bridge is peeking up in the distance on the right

Driving through San Francisco always makes me claustrophobic. Look at how close the houses are. I know some people don't mind living like that, but I would wither and die. I think I was born in the wrong century. I need the wild.

The exhibit was at the De Young Museum, and to get there, we passed by the Japanese Tea Gardens. Here's a peek at the tranquil beauty of the gardens in spring.


I've been watching Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg's miniseries The Pacific every week, about WWII fighting in, you guessed it, the Pacific. I love to think about the fact that during our grandparents' generation, the Japanese were our enemy, yet now we are friends, and California, a state built by many Japanese immigrants, now celebrates its immigrant heritage.

Approaching the museum. The palm trees already reminded me of Egypt.

There was no photography allowed inside the exhibit, which is understandable, and the exhibit was wonderful. It takes about 90 minutes from start to finish, and the artifacts begin in the Amarna Period with Tuja and Yuja, Tut's great-grandparents, including Tuja's resplendent sarcophagus and death mask. The exhibit then moved on to show relics from Akhenaten's time as pharaoh, in which he radically changed the religion from the worship of many gods to the worship of one, the sun. The backlash from Akhenaten's rein was severe, and much of his art and written records were destroyed by the priests. Tut attempted to restore the traditional religion of the region. On display were several gold-gilded treasures found in his tomb, including canopic jars, perfume bottles, and various statues meant to serve and protect the king in the afterlife.

My favorite artifacts, however, were the items that showed signs of wear, indicating that Tut had used them in his life. A square, unadorned jewelery box, for example, pulled me in, and though most passed it by because its was marble and not much to look at compared to all of the gold and stone-encrusted treasures elsewhere, I couldn't walk away. He had touched that box, 3,000 years ago. Perhaps, after a long day, he had chatted with his wife as he took off his jewelery and stored it within before lying down, the breeze blowing through the open window and caressing his skin.

My other favorite artifacts were a scarab bracelet and a headdress that he wore. Both were gorgeous and reflected exquisite craftsmanship. Did he wear that bracelet then put it in the jewelry box? Was it a favorite of his? Was it heavy on his wrist? Did it slide down and bump against his hand? And did the headdress pinch his hair? How did it make him feel to wear it?

I was saddened to leave the exhibit, knowing that I would, most likely, never again come so close to an historic figure who has captured my imagination for so long. But it was well worth the wait and journey.

On the downside, my fellow museum-goers, while respectful of the dead, were not so respectful of the living. Many people bought devices for an "audio tour" which, as far as I could tell, meant that Omar Sharif narrated everything that the plaques and information on the walls of the exhibit said. That's great if you wanna spend an extra $7. What isn't great is that the people who bought these audio tours (which was probably more than half of the crowd) saw it fit to stand still, listening to the device, while standing right in front of the artifact, blocking the descriptive placards from view of the rest of us who weren't having the same information spat into our ears. Figuring out that you're obstructing everyone else isn't that difficult. Where was the common courtesy?

To be honest, the people acting like moocows wouldn't have been that bad if they were, you know, normal-sized people. Alas, they were large. Very large. I often forget about just how fat many Americans are until I'm thrust among the throngs of the public. When you're that big, no one can see around your girth and if someone thinner tries to slip in close, they get smacked about as the larger people shift and waddle off.

Yes, I'm being cruel in my descriptions of the obese, and I'm sure my current views are tainted by being a fan of the show Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, but seriously. The museum scheduled the tours so that only a certain amount of people would be in the exhibit at one time so that it wouldn't be too crowded. That's a great idea. But we've gotten to the point where that limited number of people is still too much because the people are, literally, too big.

I know I'm turning into a fattist, but no one has been able to stop me. Please, someone, set me straight if you can. I know and love many people who are overweight, just as I know and love many people who smoke, have drinking problems, etc. Being obese doesn't reflect who you are, but it reflects a huge portion of your mentality and lifestyle. I mean, literally, obese people are putting their choices out there for others to see. So it annoys me when large people snap and snarl and say that you have no right to judge them because you don't know them. They're right to a point -- there is a lot about a fat stranger that we don't know -- but we know one big thing. Pardon the pun.

I'm torn on this. I'm not into shaming or pointing the ugly finger at anyone. And yet obesity has become and epidemic in our country. How ironic is it that the country with the most food doesn't know what to eat? The worst is seeing fat children. Wake up, America. That is not normal. Gabby Sidibe (the star of Precious), while talented and beautiful, is not healthy. Young people who have carried that weight for years can die of obesity-related complications by the age of 30. That is not a scare tactic. That is science.

After the Tut tour, we went up into the tower with an 8 story high view of the city. Check out the scenery from up there!

The Natural History Museum

The Golden Gate is on the far right, peeking up over the mountains

The bay

San Francisco

Just to let everyone know, I've had to change my comments policy. In order to get rid of the Anonymous robot comments, I've changed my settings so that only registered users may comment. I hope that isn't a problem and I apologize in advance for the inconvenience.

Here's a song that has always reminded me of King Tut (and one that I used to dream to putting in a movie about him):

Full Circle by Loreena McKennitt

Tracie -- Hopefully that's the last of Anonymous! I'll try to have more animal pictures soon. :)


Tracie said...

Thanks! I love animal pictures. That tour looks fascinating. One place I would like to go is Egypt. I must admit though that most of that Interest is from SG-1.

However I just read this today and I found it fascinating.

Tracie said...

I'm not sure that link came through correctly. Lets try again

Hammy said...

What a great review of the exibit. I love the way you don't just view the items but you question them too. Anyone can view the beauty of such artifacts, but to see the beauty of it's past is something i regard as a great historian. I wish i'd been able to have seen the exibit when it came to London a few years ago, but unfortuantly i had few days when i was able to go and of course those happened to be days when it was fully booked (typical)
I do have to agree with your on obesity especially among children. I read some time ago of adults being charged with animal cruelty because their dog was so obese. Yet parents of an obese child are not charged with child cruelty. And with such a high percentage of obese children becoming obese adults this attitude towards good should be squashed at a young age.
I really loved Jamie Oliver's programs on the state of the British school dinners. They where appauling and so little money goes into improving it. He got so much stick for trying to change the food and yet he was trying to make a proper difference. In my opinion he has made a difference and yet it is still a far cry from what it really needs to be.