15 April 2006

Good Friday Meets the Twilight Zone (part 1)

"I read two words," I told Dad with enthusiasm.

Unimpressed, he said, "Yeah, so?"

All of my teenage attitude powers returned in an instant. He was looking at the informational plaques on the museum's walls. I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and huffed with a shrug.

"In Egyptian writing?" he ventured.

Sarcasm burst forth, "No, I was having trouble making out the Roman alphabet..." Is that right, Roman? I wondered to myself briefly before plunging ahead, "...whatever, printed in English on the info plaques." I looked at him sternly. "Yes, in Egyptian."

He looked a bit surprised. It occurred to me that maybe I hadn't mentioned that I was learning to read hieroglyphs. The attitude vanished as quickly as it had arisen.

Dad reached over and gave me a congratulatory pat on the back. "Here, come look," I said, leading him to the back room of the exhibition. I pointed to the cartouche on the relief carving that had once been part of a wall in a temple at Koptos.

When I first saw it, I referred to the xeroxed pages I'd brought with me. (My studies of Egyptology are an intermittent affair, so I haven't memorized all of the basic alphabet yet.) I knew which direction to read the symbols in and that the legs were a determinative with no phonetic value. The transliteration worked out to: i, n, t, f. I ran the letters through my head, "I, n, t, f. I, n, t, f," and then said, "Intef." I leaned over and read the description of the piece: it did indeed refer to King Intef. In excitement, I raised my fists above my head and exclaimed a quiet, but proud "Yes."

Not since I turned 4 and was lying on the big green rug, next to the table with claws, staring at a word on my birthday card until I realized what seemed like "greet" must actually sound like "grate" despite its spelling, have I felt such satisfaction for recognizing a single word.

Once Dad and I finished looking at the Egyptian exhibition, we decided to check out the museum's permanent collection on the next floor. At the front of the building was a room with floor to ceiling windows that spanned the 2nd and 3rd stories. A dual staircase made of marble, one on the left and one on the right, rose up and turned to meet before the final incline to the 3rd floor. The room was empty except for the two of us.

We were looking at some marble sculptures set in the open spaces of the second floor when a young girl appeared at the top of the left staircase. She came down a few steps and leaned over the rail, addressing me, "There are mummies up here if you want to see them."

She wasn't the first to mention mummies. I'd heard several kids and adults ask if there were any while walking through the special exhibition. "Ok," I called up.

"There's even a mummy of a dog," she informed me enthusiastically.

Mummies have never been the source of fascination for me that they clearly are for so many people, but I gamely replied, "We'll check it out, thanks." Dad and I exchanged amused shrugs. When we looked back up, she was gone.

It was surreal, but that was just the beginning...


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