17 April 2008

A-Z of Egyptian Stuff, plus food and shopping!

Wednesday Lori dropped me off at the Egyptian Museum before she headed off to class.

The museum is enormous, and has only Egyptian stuff. It's not like the British Museum, which has fun things from all over the world: this is a haven for people who like Ancient Egypt and mummies. I had a few hours, so I read all the signs and learned neat things. Once my brain started hazing over from information overload, I played the alphabet game (find interesting things that start with every letter of the alphabet, in alphabetical order-- I usually get stuck at Q, but I finished it this time). Here's an A-Z of the Egyptian Museum.
A is for amulets: there was a whole room full of them! Most showed gods, but some were symbols (like an eye) or animals (like crocodiles).
B is for baboons: people used to keep them as pets. Some people had their baboons mummified with them when they died.
C is for chariots: they're really nifty! The wheels were really far away from the standing thingie though, that surprised me. In movies the wheels are usually pretty tight, but they were really about two feet away on each side.
D is for Daggers: they didn't look like a fun way to die.
E is for Eyes: eyes in Egyptian art are really classy.
F if for finger covers: mummies had a tendency to lose their fingernails, so they would often have little rings or gold fingers put on to keep them intact.
G is for gridlines: sometimes the artists used gridlines for their carving and forgot to get rid of them when the art part was done.
H is for hair: priests wore headdresses covered in really curly hair, some of the mummies were wearing wigs, some had their hair bleached from the chemicals...
I is for Inscriptions: hieroglyphs everywhere! They're really pretty, I think.
J is for jewelry: most was simple beadwork, but there were some substantial breastplates made of brass, and the like. Egyptian rings are often not continuous circles, they have a break so that they can be resized.
K is for kings: I saw lots of dead kings. One of the Ramses was apparently killed by his harem. They think it was poison. One guy was killed in a war, and he has a huge split in his skull.
L is for layers: important people didn't get one single coffin, they got lots.
M is for mummies: I saw lots of those: royal mummies, animal mummies, souvenir-type mummies (from ancient Egyptian tourist traps... see V is for votives), mummies of average rich people...
N is for noses, or the lack thereof: Noses are fragile, and sometimes mummies lost them. Sometimes, they got accidentally knocked off when the mummies were rewrapped.
O is for Osiris: he and Isis were quite important, so he's pictured a lot.
P is for people: there was a room full of little statues of people, kind of like dolls. There were bakers, and butchers, and builders, and other professions. Little vignettes of ancient Egyptian city life.
Q is for queens: I saw several! In the (shrunken but surprisingly well-preserved) flesh.
R is for remnants: there was a room full of bits of parchments, with both texts and pictures. Very pretty stuff.
S is for shoes: they wore flip-flops!!
T is for Tutenkhamun's gold head: it's really shiny. It may seem to be in perfect shape when you look at pictures, but some of the stones are missing on the back.
U is for underworld art: people had copies of the Book of the Dead in their tombs (kind of like manuals for the gods, should they forget where the soul was supposed to go), and special decorated shrouds and stuff.
V is for votives and fake ones: votives were little mummies of animals that tourists could buy to offer to the gods. They'd want to get well-done ones, because apparently, as long as the mummy lasted, your prayer would last. However, lots of the votives sold were fakes: either just a little piece of the animal, or no animal remains at all. Sneaky! However, the votives did obviously last a really long time, so those prayers are in good shape.
W is for wood: lots of the coffins were made of wood, many were in stone of some sort. The wood ones got painted prettily, and the stone ones were usually carved.
X is for x-rays: they find out about how the people died from x-rays, and figure out which votives were real with x-rays. Luckily there was one displayed, otherwise I would have gotten stuck at X!
Y is for yellowed papyrus scrolls: I'm amazed at how well it lasted! They're ancient. And books were all scrolls, so they can display a whole book unrolled across a wall.
Z if for the word "zeal" in the phrase "Overzealous use of this mixture [baking soda and salt which was stuffed into peoples heads to preserve them] caused her cheeks to explode." OK, so this is sort of cheating... but the sentence was just so awesome. If it makes you feel any better, I did see Zillions of tourists, and some Zeroes, and a parking Zone. And zoom lenses.

Outside the museum, you're allowed to take pictures, so here's one of some hieroglyphed columns:

After Lori had another class (I hung out with her friends and had watermelon juice... my new favorite drink) we went out for koshari with her friend Sarah. Koshari is a mixture of little round noodles, little pieces of spaghetti, rice, lentils, fried onions, chickpeas, and tomato sauce. It may not sound appetizing, but somehow it's delicious. I honestly don't like any of the ingredients alone, but together it's good.

We got fitir for dessert, which is fried dough a little like a crêpe, covered in sugar. It was delicious too, although fried dough covered in sugar can't fail to be tasty! The best part of all is that this completely Egyptian meal cost... less than a dollar. Cool.

After dinner, we met up with Lori's flatmate Sarah (yes, another Sarah) and her friend Walid, who's a real Egyptian and is also a man. That's important, because we were heading to the Khan al-Khalili, which is an enormous outdoor market. Having a man with us meant that we wouldn't be harassed and that we wouldn't be cheated, and he could help haggle when necessary. It really was great to have him there, and the market is absolutely amazing. I didn't buy too much: only a scarf (shiny green), some beads, and two pairs of earrings. One is made with lapis and turquoise and looks like lotuses, and the other is really long and dangly and has purple stones. Both are silver. The beads were the biggest purchase by volume: it was smart, because for about ten dollars I got about a hundred dollars' worth of beads (literally). However, this means that my suitcase will have about fifteen pounds of beads in it. So I'm torn between "really intelligent purchase" and "Kel, you're an idiot." Lori bought some shoes, a couple scarves, a dagger for her boyfriend, a tunic, and a talking camel for her Grandma, who likes cheesy souvenirs. Walid and the Sarahs bought some things as well, but I don't really remember what. Here's a picture of the one of the market streets, packed with people and things to buy. I think my camera lens was dusty...

And here's the cutest thing I've seen in a long time: in one of the spice shops, there was a cat asleep in one of the bins with her four kittens:

And here's a really big mosque, with the typical "Allah" in neon.

Egypt is a lot of fun :)

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