Tuesday, April 29

Back in L.A.

We made it back to L.A. around 7 p.m. yesterday evening, tired but happy because we enjoyed the trip. Thankfully the journey back was uneventful. In fact, once we put the new set of tires on, the Saturn ran admirably. It’s only a little four cylinder engine, so the fact that it managed all of those mountain curves and hills is pretty impressive. And really, when it comes to the tires, we’re lucky we made it as far as we did. While we waited at Sears for the tires to be changed, we talked about it and figured out that the tires were the original ones that came with the car. It’s a ’95, so mainly they were just old. After the tire adventure, I enjoyed the drive. It really is a pretty part of the country to drive through. Through certain parts of northern California I was surprised at how much it reminded me of home—flat, wide open spaces, farms, and much better drivers than you find in L.A. Maybe that’s my problem—I’m living at the wrong end of California!

The worst part of coming home after a trip is unpacking. So I usually don’t do it—not right away, anyhow. Besides, last night I was mostly concerned with a) getting some dinner and b) getting to bed. We did stop for a night’s rest on the way back, but while we were at the conference it was early mornings and late nights, so I had some rest to catch up on. As tiring as the trip was, it was a really good time. I know I was enjoying myself because for long stretches I forgot all about work, bills, and all of those other daily stresses. The best part was meeting up with some friends from Egypt I hadn’t seen in a very long time. One friend in particular, Mohsen, I was completely surprised and very pleased to see. He’s an archaeologist and busy as ever, but I was happy to see him doing so well.

There were some blah moments, though. The second night of the conference there was a reception at the Seattle Museum of Art. ARCE usually always has some sort of reception at a museum in order to give members an opportunity to view local antiquities collections. The only problem was that SAM doesn’t really have an ancient Egyptian art collection—all they have at the moment is a show of ancient Roman art from the Louvre. To offer an exhibition on ancient Roman art to Egyptologists is like serving dog food to someone who is expecting a thick, juicy steak. I’d say if the museum doesn’t have an Egyptian art collection, save the money and let us do what we did later that night—go out to dinner and visit, then go back to the hotel and crowd into someone’s room and drink and talk into the early hours of the morning. Actually, technically speaking I had dinner, then I spent a good hour or so soaking and playing in the absolutely HUGE and wonderful bath tub in the hotel room. I think that was the first time since I was a kid that I spent so much time in the bath that my fingers got all pruny.

My overall assessment? That time in the bath was worth the whole trip.

Friday, April 25

A Flat Start

Seattle, WA

"Remember what Bilbo used to say: It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

Did Tolkien ever have it right - just by stepping outside your door you're inviting the unexpected. Some adventures are more fun than others, however. As planned, we left L.A. at about 3 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon. That was about the last planned thing that happened for the next four hours or so. I think the best way to do this is just to present the course of events:

3:00P - Leave L.A.
5:30P - Tire blowout 30 mi. outside of Bakersfield (we'd only been on the road outside of L.A. an hour!). We empty the tightly packed trunk and quickly discover we have a jack but no lever--not that it mattered anyway, since we also discovered we didn't have a tire iron either.
6:15P - AAA shows up and exchanges the flat tire for the donut
6:25P - Head (slowly) for the nearest Sears Automotive in Bakersfield
7:00P - Arrive at Sears
8:55P - On the road again

And so, three hours and $384 later (apparently the rubber on ALL the tires was old and cracked), we were finally able to hit the road again. Since we were so far behind schedule, we drove until 3:30 a.m. We stopped for a restful few hours of sleep at a Motel 6 near Redding, CA.

On Thursday we still had around nine hours or more of driving still ahead of us. Fortunately, after our tire adventure our trip was uneventful and we arrived at the Seattle Grand Hayatt about nine that night. Based on previous experiences, Eric and I always plan to stay at the conference hotel--it's so much more convenient. Needless to say, the Hyatt is a classy hotel and our room is SWEET! It was so nice to end our long two days of driving in such a luxurious room. It even has a great view of the Space Needle--and our room is just a lowly standard double! The nicer rooms in this place must be incredible.

The only downside of staying in such an expensive hotel is that they're used to catering to people who are wealthy enough to not care about paying for "extra" amenities. For instance, they charge you per computer for internet service and the mini bar, aside from being outrageously expensive, is computerized--so if you even pick up an item, the room account is charged for said item.

This morning the conference began, and Eric was downstairs by 8:15 a.m. raiding the booksellers tables. He didn't even bother to change because he wanted to workout before talks started, so he went down dressed in a t-shirt and gym shorts. And he tries to tell me my family is redneck! Between the two of us we have quite the Egyptological/Ancient Near Eastern library, and Eric insists on adding to it every chance he gets. I suppose there are worse habits a husband could have, but academic publications are so expensive! By the time I arrived downstairs I found that the stickers on several of the sellers' display copies read, "Purchased by: Eric Wells." Sigh. I just hope there is room left in the car for US on the way back. (In case you're wondering, I myself bought only two books today--at a discount.)

Thus far a good time is being had by all. I'm very glad I was able to attend the conference this year. Aside from listening to interesting talks (for instance one I saw this afternoon on nocturnal demons and dreams), it's great to meet up with friends in the Egyptological community and visit. Good company, conversation, and food always makes for a good time.

Wednesday, April 23

Off to ARCE

Last Saturday Eric and I attended a wedding for our friends Cindy and Oscar in Palos Verdes. It was a beautiful seaside wedding and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves very much. The weather was a bit chilly (especially after sundown) and the wind was a constant annoyance, but that's pretty typical for this time of year. It was a good reason for Eric to dress up a bit, so I made sure we had our picture taken!

Today I'm at work, waiting for this afternoon when Eric, myself, and our fellow Egyptologist and friend Krystal will hit the road to Seattle. It'll pretty much be I-5 for the entire journey north, so between that fact and the road maps from AAA I armed myself with, I feel confident we'll find our way just fine. It's hard to believe that we're driving all the way from southern California almost to Canada in just two days. Actually, it sounds kind of insane--especially given that (at least in L.A.) gas just hit over $4 a gallon. Either this road trip will turn out to be well worth the drive through a beautiful part of the country, or it will be a long and exhausting trip trapped in the car. I'm optimistic, so I'll go with the first option. If it turns out to be the second, I'll blame Eric. After all--it was HIS idea. :-)

Hopefully in spite of the conference schedule I'll find some time to post entries in the next few days, so we'll see you on the road!

Thursday, April 17

Break Next Week!

By this time next week I should be somewhere on the road to Seattle for this year’s ARCE (American Research Center in Egypt) Conference. As I mentioned before, we’re road tripping it up there instead of flying. Considering the recent chaos at the airports, this might not be a bad option. The key will be for us to make it there on time, since the drive is 17.5 hours. We’ll be leaving next Wednesday afternoon as soon as I get off work in the hope that we can get about half of the drive in before stopping to rest for the night. Eric, being a man of great vision but little practicality, has the idea that we’re going to be able to see the redwoods on the trip up there. Not if we’re going to make it there on time, we won’t, but I’m sure he’ll figure that out soon enough. He doesn’t like to be contradicted (not many people do), so I’ll just wait for reality to do that for me. So, aside from being a little nervous about arriving in Seattle by our hotel check-in time, I’m really looking forward to the trip. Any time I have the chance to get out of L.A. is a relief for me. Unlike New York, L.A. isn’t built up, it’s built out, so it doesn’t have the same cramped feeling. But after a certain amount of time I start to wish for a chance to get back to some wide open spaces again.

Next week will be my first opportunity for some time away from work since I started at the Villa last September. A break about now sounds like a good idea. I just learned earlier this week that one of our four teachers here is leaving, and since we’re already at a skeleton teaching staff there’s a lot of question about how our work schedule will be impacted. The schedule we have (Mondays and Tuesdays off and one six-day week a month) is the hardest thing about this job, but every once in awhile there’s a reminder that our efforts are appreciated. I received the email below this morning:

“I must thank you for the exciting experiences my students had at the Getty. They showed enthusiasm and appreciation for the beauty and visual displays of art and architecture. The tours were informative and caused many to comment that they wanted to bring their families sometime to enjoy the sights, sounds and richness of ancient Greece and Rome. Well done. I am just waiting for next year to open up so I can expose the new incoming sixth graders to the museum. All of you must just love your work, informing and inspiring young people to appreciate the richness of these cultures. Thank you so much.”
--Sandy Brady, South Gate Middle School

Here’s hoping for a little good news and some refreshing and fun time off next week!

The picture above is of the Villa Education department was taken last week, when we said goodbye to our Egyptian guest scholar, Nagwan. She's second from the right on the bottom row.

Saturday, April 12


Yesterday was a busy day. In addition to the juvenile dilinqu—I mean, in addition to the morning school groups, my afternoon “Collection Highlights” tour was observed and evaluated. Luckily I had a great group of inquisitive people, so the hour went quickly and all went very well. After I wrapped things up at our last stop (painted frescoes in the Theater gallery), I stuck around answering questions for one particularly interested lady. As I was talking to her, a man from the group who I recognized as being the guy with the Irish accent a few sharp questions reached over and awkwardly shoved a five dollar bill into my hand. I was still holding my headset in my hand (we use microphones so people can hear us in the more crowded spaces), so he had a difficult job fitting the bill in there as well. By the time I recovered from my surprise, the man had dashed off and faded into the crowd.

Believe it or not, I have been tipped on my tours before, and the experience is always awkward on a number of levels. The last time it happened was after a VIP tour of the King Tut exhibit at LACMA. That time was uncomfortable as well (it always is, because tipping is not a usual practice in my line of work), but I was mainly offended a) because I was doing my job and I wasn’t aiming for tips and b) this was an incredibly wealthy man who probably had a weekly income that could sustain me for the rest of my life, and he only gave me a five. Come on! If you’re going to go through the social awkwardness of the process at least make it worth it. Knowing how out of touch with reality these types are, I’m guessing he thought that five would buy me groceries for a week. Anyhow, this time around it was quite different since the guy who tipped me was obviously just an average tourist from Europe. Once it was all said and done I laughed about it with the other teachers, and they said it’s happened to them before as well—particularly with foreigners. Maybe in Europe it’s the custom to tip the guides. If that’s the case, they must think all Americans are stiffs because Eric and I never tipped our guides when we were in Italy and I certainly didn’t see any of the other Americans doing it. Of course, if you ever find yourself abroad and accused of gipping the guide, just tell them you’re Canadian.

Thursday, April 10

The Golden One

We praise the Golden One,
the Lady of Heaven, Lady of Fragrance,
Eye of the Sun, the Great Goddess,
Mistress of All the Gods,
Lady of Turquoise, Mistress of Joy, Mistress of Music...
that she may give us fine children,
happiness, and a good husband.

--Epithets of Hathor, compiled from various sources

These are epithets of Hathor, one of Egypt's most ancient and important goddesses. So what in the world does she have to do with anything? Well, I've had some questions about where the "nebut" part of my blog address comes from. Really, it's mainly a matter of practicality. If you've ever tried to come up with a unique email or internet URL, you know what I'm talking about. It's not as if I could just use "Amber" or any other combination of my name--they're all taken! What I usually do in such situations is rely on Middle Egyptian, the language of ancient Egypt. Usually there aren't too many people out there who incorporate ancient Egyptian words into their cyber addresses. And so I chose the word "nebut," or "golden one" or "that which is golden" or "one who is golden." (It is pronounced "neboot.") Considering my blond hair, I thought it appropriate, and I've always liked Hathor, who was popularly known as "the Golden One" to the Egyptians. That said, I thought I'd tell you a bit about her.

Often Hathor was shown in human form as a woman, sometimes wearing a red sheath dress and a crown surmounted by a sun disk between cow horns. In human form, she's hard to distinguish from another great goddess of ancient Egypt, Isis. (The identities of these goddesses often merge or mix anyway, which makes things even more confusing.) But she can also be represented in bovine form as the "great wild cow" or as a composite human-cow face. In her aspect of "the Golden One," she was a radiant and resplendent goddess (here you can see how she and I share some of the same qualities) said to accompany the sun god Re on his daily journey across the sky in the solar barque. As the daughter and "Eye" of the sun god, she was also a vengeful goddess. In one of Egypt's myths, Hathor's rage and vengeance nearly destroyed mankind. (Again, as Eric may attest, Hathor and I might have a bit in common...)

She was also a sky goddess and was closely associated with women, female sexuality, and motherhood. Closely related to this role was her aspect of goddess of joy, music, and happiness. After all, if you have love, joy, music, and happiness usually follow, right? So, if you think about it, the association isn't all that strange. The Egyptians also saw her as a goddess of foreign lands, a protective deity who would look out for you if you were traveling abroad. As "mistress of the west" (i.e. where the sun sets, the land of the dead), she was thought to welcome the deceased into the afterlife, offering them refreshing water to quench their thirst and purify them for life after death.

All of these roles and titles paint a picture of an ancient goddess that it is impossible to reduce to a few divine forms or aspects, so it's difficult to neatly define her place in ancient Egyptian religion.

...And that concludes today's Egyptology lesson!

Monday, April 7

Mummies in the Dark

I had a very lucrative but exhausting Sunday last week. That day was the "Dinner and Lantern-Lit Tour" event at the Bower's Cultural Museum in Santa Ana. It was their farewell event to their "Mummies: Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt" exhibition. First of all, I was lucky to even get there since the directions I got from the Bower's website led me directly to John Wayne airport. Luckily for me the people at the local McDonald's knew where the museum was and pointed me in the right direction. I had to go twenty minutes out of my way, but I arrived at last. I knew beforehand they had overbooked the event, but when I walked in the door it was clear they had REALLY overbooked the event. I took tours into the exhibit for three and a half hours straight, and that doesn't include the three groups Kara (a fellow Egyptologist and friend of mine) or the ones the docent volunteer took out. It was a chaos reminiscent of what surrounded the Tutankhamun exhibit events I helped out with a couple of years ago. (That exhibit is now in London.) I had seen the Bower's mummies exhibit only once before about two years ago, but somehow I managed to pull off just showing up and hitting the ground running. It probably wouldn't have worked out that way for any exhibit that wasn't on my specialty of ancient Egypt, though.

The whole lantern-lit tour idea was totally corny, but it worked out alright since lanterns were distributed to a few others in the group as well. The exhibit was pitch-black, and they shut the door once the group was inside, to the delight of the audience members. Between that and my warning that I took no responsibility for anyone left alone in the dark with a mummy they were a pretty excited bunch. The woman organizing the event wanted Kara and I to wear pith helmets as well as carry a lanterns. That idea died a swift death. It was a very grueling night--neither of us got any dinner and my voice was shot by the end of the evening--but because they really needed help, I received decent compensation. So it was an evening of time well spent, all things considered.

The people at this event were, in some cases, not only crazy pyramidiots but drunk crazy pyramidiots. Then there were other people who were just really having fun. One woman was very excited and told me she couldn't believe she was meeting a real Egyptologist. (I had introduced myself as an Egyptologist and Museum Educator.) She was very nice and I'm glad she had a good time. By the end of the night I was beat, and I think the woman organizing the event was a little embarrassed that Kara and I didn't get any dinner. I had told her at the beginning of the night not to worry about it. I know how these types of museum events go, and seeing the crowd--all of whom were eagerly awaiting their special, "expert-led" tour through the exhibit--I knew there was no way dinner would be a possibility. At the time, she kind of gave me a stern look. I think I still look too young for some people to believe I might know what I'm talking about. You'd think the fact that I wasn't freaking out on her at the sight of a packed lobby and the knowledge that everything was running twenty minutes late would have given her the impression I'd been down this road before.

After all that, I still had an hour drive to get back to Los Angeles. It was certainly the most unique teaching experience I've ever had in a museum, and I'm pretty sure it's going to stay that way. After all, when is the next time I'm going to be asked to lead a tour by lantern light through a pitch black gallery?

Friday, April 4


Charles A. Orsborn
February 5, 1928 - April 4, 2006

Thursday, April 3

A Good Day

Today was a good day. This morning started out with the usual school groups. My second school group was a high school class that was to have a "Daily Life in the Ancient World" lesson. As you might imagine, high schoolers are not the easiest audience I encounter. Just holding their attention can be an epic struggle sometimes. But it turned out to be one of those tours where I really felt like I had their interest. Nothing beats this job when you feel like people are getting something out of what you're doing. Even the teacher afterwards told me I was "wonderful" and that he was impressed with how well I kept their attention.

That compliment right there was enough to improve my day, but then after morning teaching assignments it got even better because I was scheduled for a massage. Nope, that's not a typo. A masseuse comes to the Villa once a week, and at the insistence of Eric and another friend of mine, I finally scheduled my first massage ever last week. WOW. Not only did my neck and back feel so much better afterward, but the ethereal music (courtesy of her iPod) and the smell of the lavender massage oil made for an incredibly relaxing experience. Considering that kind of first impression, it's not surprising I made another appointment for this week. (After all--I reasoned to myself--my teaching schedule won't allow me to make an appointment every week, so I should take advantage of it when I can!) After my massage, feeling nice and loose and smelling like lavender, I tucked myself away in the reading room of the Villa library to work. The Villa's reading room is bright and sunny and quiet with a view of the ocean, and it was a great place for me to finish out my afternoon.

As much as my job involves interacting with the public, it's not every day that I'm able to leave work feeling more positive and relaxed than when I arrived. Thank God for small miracles, eh!? As I drove home along the Pacific Coast Highway, enjoying the view of the sunshine and ocean waves through my shades, I thought maybe--just maybe--living in California isn't all that bad.

[Keep in mind that, even after nearly six years out here, that's still a maybe. :-) ]