Tuesday, February 24

One Year Later

A year ago today I started this blog to help friends and family keep up with what's happening with me. I was a little wary of blogging at first, but I've come to enjoy being able to share my stories with all of you. I went through my blog archives and picked out some of the posts from the last year I particularly enjoyed writing.

Cyclops Takes a Stake to the Eye 2/25/08

Onion Rings? 3/10/08

A Flat Start 4/25/08

Tipped 4/12/08

The Golden One 4/10/08

Mummies in the Dark 4/7/08

Mrs. Wells Goes to the Opera 5/18/08

War Games 7/12/08

A Goddess On Her Knees 10/12/08

When Lion's Eyes Are Smiling 11/17/08

If there's a post you enjoyed, please leave a comment and let me know which one you liked. Remember, this is for fun--but it won't be any fun if no one responds!

Monday, February 16

Catastrophic Failure

Well, this day was a real flaming bag of dog doodie. Those come along for all of us, and no matter how much you tell yourself they are just a normal part of life, it doesn't make them any easier to take. Technically I guess the bad day started last night, when Eric's car engine overheated and left him stranded on the side of the 405, but I didn't find out until this morning. (Our AAA membership more than pays for itself each year considering our frequent need of a tow.) I also woke this rainy morning to find the carpet under our bedroom window was soaked again.

That discovery sucked, but we held some hope that we might hear the mechanic say the engine was not completely toasted. Unfortunately, the hope that the car engine was not permanently damaged proved false. The mechanic actually used the words "catastrophic engine failure," which pretty completely quashed any feeble optimism we had mustered. Now we find ourselves back in the position of negotiating the use of our one remaining car in a way that will allow us both to get where we have to be when we need to be there. On top of that, we need to sit down and decide if we are willing and able to try to replace the vehicle we lost. As if tax season didn't already have me depressed enough!

Ah, well. C'est la vie. I know we will figure this out, and of course things could be much worse. Still, it is a shame this week had to begin on such a crappy note, especially for poor Eric. In the last seven days he's suffered from food poisoning, fallen down the stairs of the parking garage, and had his car experience permanent engine failure. If I were him, I'd seriously consider hiding under my bed covers for a good long time. Then again, when all's said and done he's still married to me, so I think he came out ahead.

All the negativity aside, I had a pretty good time this week at the Magical Gemstones colloquium the Villa hosted. It was quite a treat for me, getting relieved of my teaching duties for the day so I could spend it listening to various scholars lecture on ancient amulets (a.k.a. "gemstones"--makes for a sexier title). Next month a new exhibition on ancient amulets will be opening at the Villa, so the colloquium was a good chance for me to jump into the topic early. Also, I'm planning to develop a "focus tour" on amulets on display in the galleries, so the more research the better. Luckily for me my knowledge of ancient Egyptian religious/magical iconography and tradition puts me in a good position to begin to understand some of the layers of meaning in the amuletic images. Even in the ancient world ancient Egyptian religion was seen as very old (and thus very powerful), so some amulets in the ancient world borrowed heavily from ancient Egyptian religious tradition. If all goes well, over the course of the next month, I'll be able to transform myself into a mini-expert on amulets of the Roman world.

You know, many ancient amulets were designed for protection. Maybe what Eric needs is a nice amulet with a good strong apotropaic image and inscription to keep him out of trouble. Say, for instance, a nice little gem like the one below.

Ancient amulet featuring a rooster-headed, snake-legged god with a kilt, shield, and whip.

Monday, February 9

The Wheel: Life Made Easier

I started the past week out on a great note, having a very enjoyable lunch with my LACMA ladies. It made for a welcome timeout from running errands and doing my weekly chores. As always, my time off disappeared quickly and the work week arrived once more. On Thursday evening I attended a lecture at the Villa on Roman nude male statuary. This was a timely talk, given that I have recently started collecting research materials to plan a new adult gallery course on nudity in ancient art. I very much enjoyed the lecture, but in order to see it I was stuck at work until 7:30 p.m. That late start time gave me three extra hours at the office, since L.A. traffic (plus the rain) doesn't make it easy to run home and come back in that amount of time. I was glad I stayed, but that was a long day.

Of a much more boring nature but on the vital topic of making my life easier, I finally invested in an "Easy Wheels Jumbo Elite Shopping Cart" from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Those of you who have a washer and dryer in your home, thank your ever-loving lucky stars, because that is a luxury I have been without for a decade now and would consider committing acts of violence to achieve. Living in university family housing, there is massive competition for washers all the time. So, when I schlep a basketful to the laundry room, I carry as much as I can (hopefully at least three washers' worth), plus the detergents. I used to take it for granted that carting laundry around was just the lot a city apartment-dweller had to accept. However, age and crankiness at such bull pucky have convinced me I'm entitled to bend and shape my environment to my supreme will. Thus, since it is unlikely I'll achieve the luxury of not having to haul clothes back and forth from a laundry room like a pack animal anytime soon, I got the "Easy Wheels" cart. What they charge for such a simple contraption is highway robbery--clearly, the merchants know the situation and adjusted the price accordingly to cash in on the discontent of laundry schleppers everywhere.

My Easy Wheels cart in front of the laundry room.
But, being determined that I should no longer suffer the weighty load of a overstuffed basket of laundry, I paid their price. I brought it home, Eric assembled it, and I loaded it up with laundry, ready for my usual Monday morning laundry detail. The cart is awesome. However, after I started a couple of loads this morning the sky decided to open up and rain heavily. Since I have to walk outside to get to the laundry room, the rain made things interesting. But, thanks to my new wheels, I was able to race through the rain a lot more efficiently. It doesn't really corner well--or at all, in fact--but I pop it up on its back wheels and it maneuvers just fine.

I know what you're thinking. "Did she really just write a post about a cart?" Yes. Yes, I did.

[Note: You'll notice below there's a new feature called "reactions." The idea is you can interact by responding to the post with just one click. Also, each individual post's page now has an embedded comment form, so you don't have to navigate away from the page to leave a comment. To get to a post's page, click the title of the post.]

Monday, February 2

Excavating Egypt

Last week I finally had a chance to drive the two hours or so down to San Bernardino and check out the "Excavating Egypt" exhibition at California State University's Fullerton Art Museum. Originally I was supposed to go with Eric and our friend Kandace, but Saturday morning Eric woke up feverish with the flu. Since I work most weekends, this was my last chance to see the exhibit, so Kandace and I stuck with our plans. Not to worry, we left Eric well-supplied with cold medicine, cough drops, and tissues. (He's feeling much better today, in fact, so hopefully he's over the worst of it.)

I had never been to the Fullerton Art Museum before, despite its boast that it has the largest collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities west of the Mississippi. (Really?) It is a very small university museum, and obviously isn't used to a lot of traffic from visitors--the museum parking lot only has eight or so parking spaces marked "visitor." The dinky venue aside, I was looking forward to seeing the exhibit, which features finds made in the 19th century by pioneering Egyptologist William Flinders Petrie. The artifacts are on loan from the Petrie Museum of University College London, which houses over 80,000 ancient Egyptian and Sudanese artifacts.

The majority of the museum's collection was formed from artifacts Petrie (above) excavated during his prolific career in Egypt. He excavated at dozens of sites, and the Petrie collection is distinguished today as one of the most important Egyptological collections in the world, not just because of the quality of the collection, but because most of the objects come from documented archaeological contexts. As I tell visitors almost every day, many artifacts in museums across the world do not have documented archaeological contexts. Since most objects in the Petrie's collection do have such a context, we know so much more about them than we would otherwise because we know exactly where they were found.

So, you can see why I was looking forward to seeing this particular exhibit. The objects did not disappoint. They were some of the best ancient Egyptian artifacts I've seen outside of Egypt. I enjoy the sculptures and reliefs, but I have to say I'm usually most taken with the objects that represent the trappings of daily life--personal things someone wore or used so long ago. Jewelry, games, cosmetic jars, dolls, and so on. I have to say, though, the bronze pieces really caught my eye. I'm so used to seeing bronzes with the typical dark patina of centuries or green bronze disease, I was definitely impressed with the excellent condition of many of the bronze artifacts in this exhibit. You gotta love that dry desert climate. The flask below was my favorite bronze piece. It was made from a single sheet of bronze, hammered into shape. The workmanship is amazing--the metal was hammered into 1/40th of an inch in thickness.

As much as I enjoyed my chance to see these artifacts, the museum educator in me was front and center as I wandered through the galleries. The first thing that struck me was the text panels, which were loaded with text. That's what they are for, of course, but most of the time you want to limit the length as much as you can. People are not going to stand for five minutes in front of a text panel to read it. In fact, most visitors never read beyond the first paragraph. Text panels and labels can be great points of contention, so I'm just going to chalk these up to the fact that this exhibit had a very academic bend to it and was specifically intended for university audiences. The other two things that caught my attention have to do with the issue of display.

One choice that confused me was displaying a lion head "water spout" high up on the wall, way above the display cases. I get the idea--display it high up just as it would have been if it were in context on the edge of a temple roof. The problem is, a lot of visitors simply missed it because it was so high up, and even if you saw it you could not see it well because it was so high. Also, I spent a lot of time looking at that lion head, and I saw a solid sculptured head with no sign of any hole to act as a spout. The identification seems based on comparison with another lion head spout excavated at Lisht. I'm still not sure this means this lion head needs to be identified as a water spout. The photo below is not that great because there was very little light available, but it gives you an idea of how the lion was displayed in the gallery.

Kandace tried to take a picture of me pointing to the lion head, but there wasn't much light.

The other display choice that raised an eyebrow for me had to do with the one mummy portrait in the exhibition. If you take a look at the image below, you will see the protruding display case is surrounded by a wooden picture frame. Okay, so because this is a "portrait" it needs a picture frame? It's an amusing little addition, but unnecessary and misleading.

Overall, I definitely think the quality of the objects outweighs any negatives, and I'm glad I had the chance to see them before they leave town. And, I'll always be a fan of Petrie's archaeological legacy. I mean, this was a guy who lived in a tomb and was rumored to have stripped naked to explore cramped tomb shafts. That's a kind of hardcore archaeology that will never be again. He also anticipated the significant need to squeeze every bit of information out of even the smallest scrap of evidence from the past before it became the modern archaeological standard.

"The past is vanishing before our modern [eyes, it] changes yearly and daily. There is ever less and less to preserve and everything possible must be garnered before it has entirely vanished. The present has its most serious duty to history in saving the past for the benefit of the future." Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie