Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pictures at an Exhibition

This past Saturday we had seats for a symphony concert at the Orpheum Theatre. It's quite a while since we had season's tickets, now instead we prefer to buy them occasionally, depending on the program. On this particular occasion, the tickets had been a birthday present to the "old scientist" from a friend so we didn't really pay any attention to the soloist or the program, just the date.

Since we usually dine leisurely, at Italian time, between 7.30 and 8 pm, it was a bit of rush to have dinner early, change and leave for the theatre. I thought I had left plenty of time for driving there, parking the car and arriving in adequate time to peruse the program before the beginning of the concert.

But everywhere you go now in Vancouver you come across road works and two lanes become one with trucks, equipment and crew in what was formerly the second lane. Even downtown on Saturday night, it seems. All getting ready for the Winter Olympics in 2010. I guess they must have finally plumbed the depths of the treasury of upper levels of government for we have been complaining about the state of the roads here for ages. So the journey downtown was a trifle slow.

Needless to say, we rushed into the foyer as the gong was sounding and fell into our seats just as the concert master entered the stage. Hurriedly perusing the program in the half dark I found to my delight that the main offering was Pictures at an Exhibition, by Modest Mussorgsky. The very piece I had mentioned in my post Pieces of Eight, earlier in the week. One I could listen to over and over.

So I settled in to the first half of the concert. Richard Strauss's Don Juan followed by Gustav Mahler's Blumine. Oh, no! The "old scientist" doesn't like much written after 1800. But both were very enjoyable. Then the soloist, a Canadian mezzo-soprano, Anita Krause, with a gorgeous voice, when you could hear her over the orchestra, performed Mahler's Ruckert Lieder. Less successful unfortunately, due to the singer being drowned out on occasion and frankly I find Lieder rather boring. Intermission followed and we were happy to sit in our seats and peruse the program notes.

Suddenly an army of stagehands appeared and started removing chairs from the stage. Then the piano was wheeled off. What the heck? Pictures at an Exhibition was written as a piano suite and then arranged for the orchestra most famously by Ravel, amongst others. There is always a piano. Suddenly all became clear. Elgar Howarth, English conductor, composer, former professional trumpeter and the conductor of the evening's performance, had arranged the suite for brass and percussion and this was the concert's main offering.

After the shakedown on the stage, with the addition of a wide range of percussion instruments including xylophone, seventeen brass players were assembled around the conductor with two percussionists across the rear. With very good orchestra seats we had an excellent view of the French horn players, with the one female, a very good looking young one at that, closest to us.

I must say that it was extremely interesting, watching them hastily exchange the various mutes and frequently empty the spittle out of the horns. Normally, the audience does not see these behind the scenes activities since brass players are usually seated at the back of the orchestra.

But did this arrangement work, you ask? Yes it did. We both enjoyed it very much, along with the rest of the audience who gave them such resounding applause that they played several encores. A very pleasant surprise indeed. I think the whole performance must have been delightful for the brass players who were very busy indeed, especially the percussionists. It's not often that they get an opportunity to shine so and the trumpet player was outstanding as he switched between several different instruments.

I don't think I'm rushing out to buy the CD of this arrangement. But I still love Ravel's orchestration of the suite and can listen to it again and again. Perhaps you might like to hear the first of four parts of this performance conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen with the Philharmonic Orchestra at the BBC Proms. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Chocolate --- The Achilles' Heel of JMB

I'm quite fond of food actually, as you would imagine if you saw me in real life, rounder than I would like in these latter years. But on the whole I think of it as fuel to keep me going. I do try to choose food that is healthy and which I like. Most things I can take or leave, but there is one thing that I cannot leave if it is in my house and that is Chocolate.

I have to confess that I am addicted to chocolate. Just thinking about it and writing about it conjures its taste in my mouth. Preferably dark and of good quality. So strong is my addiction that I cannot have it in the house because I consume it until it is all gone. Do I succumb sometimes? Well of course I do.

My daughter also loves chocolate and she has one Lady Godiva chocolate after dinner every night. Only the best for her too. But is this truly my child? How can she stop at one? Her father doesn't particularly like chocolate but somehow my addicted to chocolate gene and his take it or leave it chocolate gene have combined in her to create the chocolate in moderation gene. Why can't I have that gene?

Someone randomly passed by my blog yesterday, stopped to read the Photo Hunt post with the chocolate covered ice cream and left a comment and a link about how chocolate was banned in Switzerland at one time. My eyes popped open at that and I decided to follow the link.

While we all know that Switzerland is renowned for the production of very fine chocolate it is a relatively recent introduction. Brought to Zurich at the end of the 17th Century, it was consumed as a drink at various feasts of the guilds until banned in 1722 by the Zurich Council, which considered it an aphrodisiac and unsuitable for the citizens' consumption. Did you know that Casanova consumed chocolate before bedding his conquests because of that belief?

Several wandering Italian cioccolatieri reintroduced it into Switzerland in 1750 and slowly it became accepted with the first chocolate shop opening in Berne in 1792. Rather than reproduce the development of chocolate from drink to what we consume today, you can explore this Swiss site, where I wasted an inordinate amount of time chasing the links, as is my wont.
A particular favourite of mine, dark chocolate with hazelnuts,
food from the gods

Now studies show that dark chocolate is good for your health. Dark chocolate has more antioxidants per gram than other foods laden with the substances, like red wine and green tea and berry fruits according to researchers which suggests that the beneficial effects of chocolate lie in its antioxidant properties. I can easily be convinced of this. More claims and chocolate facts abound at this site where I found this little gem.

Coincidentally or otherwise, many of the worlds oldest supercentenarians, e.g. Jeanne Calment (1875-1997) were passionately fond of chocolate. Jeanne Calment habitually ate two pounds of chocolate per week until her physician induced her to give up sweets at the age of 119 - three years before her death aged 122.

But I need to know the bad effects of consuming chocolate, not the good things about it. However these are fast being denounced. No longer is chocolate considered a cause of acne, although I am long past the age of worrying about acne. Connections between migraines and chocolate are suggested by some but I don't suffer from migraines, thank goodness. It's toxic to animals, especially to dogs, but I'm not a dog. Well it is definitely high in calories and saturated fat and sugar in some types and I guess that will have to be deterrent enough for me.
The month of December is going to be very hard for me in this regard. It seems that chocolate is one of the first things that spring to mind as a gift at this time of year. I'm guilty myself for I always put chocolate in everyone's Christmas stocking at our house. One giant dark Toblerone bar, one dark Terry's Chocolate Orange, along with assorted other dark chocolate favourites have been included in the Christmas stockings here for many, many years. Yes, I used to put them in my own, but no more. Somehow I have to get through this period without eating chocolate, when it's all around me, even in my own house. So wish me luck.

Hello, I'm JMB and I'm a chocoholic.

Update: My good friend Eurodog, of Belgium, has reminded me that her homeland is also a producer of very fine chocolate and she sent me this link which I share with you. All there is to know about Belgian chocolate. Enjoy. The link and chocolate too if you are not a chocoholic.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Saturday Photo Hunt --- Hot


When we were visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I happened to notice from the window this hot air balloon travelling over the green parkland.

What could be better on a hot day than an ice cream and here you see my granddaughter indulging in a chocolate coated one

Slim pickings in the archives this week and I was under the weather for most of it. Better now. Next week Red, my favourite colour.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Pieces of Eight

This meme was passed to me from Lady Mac and she sent it to Welshcakes too. Both answered it brilliantly so I don't think I can compete with them. But I'll give it my best shot.

8 things I'm passionate about

1. My family, especially my one and only granddaughter
2. Animals, preferring dogs to others
3. Women having equal rights and opportunities and naturally equal pay for work of equal value. Sorry James.
4. Books, books, books
5. Museums, all kinds
6. Zoos. I could watch animals for hours and I would have made a very good animal behaviourist.
Keeping my mind active, learning something new every day
8. Good food, preferably cooked by someone else, and good quality dark chocolate

That list doesn't seem very altruistic, does it? I must be gettin
g old.

8 things to do before I die

1. Go on safari, as if you haven't heard that one before.
2. Read all the books on my TBR pile, a very unlikely event since they keep multiplying like bacteria.
3. Go back to study in Italy.
4. Become truly, truly fluent in Italian.
5. Finish a huge queen sized quilt that I've been making for ten years, at least. It only has to be quilted.
6. Finish putting all my books into a data base so I don't buy the same one twice, which I've been known to do.
7. Go on safari. Did I mention that already?

Yes I know there are only 7 here but I can't think of another thing. Well until I hit publish and then something will occur to me, in which case I'll update it.
I've always hated goal setting when I've been forced to do it for some reason, in some course I was taking or whatever. You also have to remember that I have less time to achieve these goals than many.

8 things I say often

1. What the hell is going on ( I have to change it to "what the heck" around my granddaughter).
2. Hi (somehow it has changed from hello over the years), always accompanied by a big smile I'm told.
3. Tell me...
4. What are you reading?
5. Thank you, no. Or Yes, please. It depends.
6. Let's stop pussyfooting around and get on with it.
Where are my glasses? (It seems Welshcakes and I share this problem)
Bugger, bugger, bitch, bitch!

8 books I've read recently

1. The Bookseller of Kabul --Asne Seierstad
2. The Pianist -- Wladyslaw Szpilman
3. Peony in Love -- Linda See
4. The Water's Lovely -- Ruth Rendell
5. A Russian Diary -- Anna Politkovskaya
6. The Tipping Point -- Malcolm Gladwell
7. Body Surfing -- Anita Shreve
8. Still Summer -- Jacqueline Mitchard

I must say that this blogging business has seriously cut into my reading time! Well book reading, since obviously I read a lot of blogs.

8 song I could listen to over and over

1. Nessun' dorma Luciano Pavarotti or Ben Heppner
2. Send in the Clowns Judy Collins
3. Con te partiró Andrea Bocelli
4. Dancing in the Streets David Bowie and Mick Jagger
5. Home to Stay Josh Groban
6. O Holy Night Luciano Pavarotti
Clouds Joni Mitchell
8. Amazing Grace, Joan Baez, Judy Collins or just about anybody, a cappella or on the bagpipes

This meme said songs but really I'd like to have put Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto or Pictures at an Exhibition or Elgar's Cello Concerto or some other classical pieces.

8 qualities I look for in a best friend

1. Empathy
2. Ability to listen
3. Sense of humour
4. Curious about things
5. Fun to be with
6. Dependable
7. Forgiving
8. Compassionate

Can I say that this is a mighty strange collection of eights? Especially the last set. But there you have it. Not the best meme I've ever done. If you are interested in doing it, knock yourself out.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Bookseller of Kabul

Tonight was the meeting of the Short Book Club, however, since I have suddenly come down with a severe cold, I took pity on my fellow members and decided to spare them the possibility of catching it from me.

So, instead of hearing about the interesting discussion, you will have to make do with my thoughts about the book.

Åsne Seierstad is a Norwegian journalist who was in Kabul with the forces of the Northern Alliance as a war correspondent when the rule of the Taliban fell in late 2001. Not long after, in a bookshop, she met Sultan Khan, who had survived as a bookseller for almost thirty years, first under the Communist rule, the Mujahadeen and then the Taliban. He even spent some time in prison under the Taliban regime, as well as several periods in Pakistan, until he returned to Kabul after their fall.

The two became friends and she was invited to his home where she met his family, some of whom could speak English. Recognizing that here was an ordinary Afghani family whose story would make a good book, Seierstad arranged to move in with them for some months. She lived as they did, went where they went and slowly gathered her material for this book as they took her into their confidence. The family were a typical one of Afghanistan in the way that they had to live in the harsh months after the fall of the Taliban. On the other hand, they were literate in a country where three quarters of the people cannot read or write. The account, although factual, is written from their point of view in a fictionalized way and the names of Sultan and his family have been changed.

What emerges is the story of a family ruled totally by the oldest male, Sultan, in a way that seems to leave everyone very unhappy but unable to do anything about it. The whole family lives in a four room flat, a total of 11 people, consisting of Sultan, his second young wife (his first middle aged one lives in Pakistan at the beginning of the story, as a refugee, although she returns to increase the household during the time of the book) and their child in one room, his younger brother and eldest son by his first wife in another room and finally his mother and two sisters, two younger sons and a nephew in a third room.

The lives of the women in this book are portrayed as truly appalling. They are treated in the family as second class citizens, even by the younger male members and life is hard. Leila, Sultan's young 19 year old sister is merely a household slave who longs to escape this life by becoming an English teacher or even marrying, although her mother refuses to let her go.

A bookcase is the only furniture in the house with all activity taking place on the stone floor, covered by mats and cushions. The kitchen has a sink, a gas primus and hotplate on the floor but there is only intermittent electricity and running water. Everywhere the women go they are covered from head to toe by the burka and they are never unaccompanied. Did you know that Muslim women often suffer from Vitamin D deficiency since they are always totally covered outdoors? Towards the end of the book the women begin to leave off the very uncomfortable burka, as freedom from wearing it is obtained at last.

However life for the males in the family ruled by Sultan is no happier. The eldest son works reluctantly in the bookstore, resenting that his life is totally dominated by his father. A younger one works in a kiosk in a hotel, although he really wants to attend school. Sultan has quarreled with one brother and does not acknowledge him, however the rest of the family visit him and his family. The contrast between the bookseller who has striven all these years to keep literacy and free thinking alive and the despot on the home front is astounding.

The back story of Sultan's change from engineering student to bookseller is shown, along with his many tribulations as a bookseller under the different regimes. The casting aside of his first wife Sharifa for a young 16 year old Sonya is detailed with its heartache for all members of the family. But Sultan's word is law and it is done.

The book moves from one family member to another, telling the story from their point of view, showing their hopes, their dreams but mostly their frustrations with their lives under this strict tyrannical family system. We see negotiations for a bride, an engagement party, a wedding, a visit to the hammam or bathhouse, a religious pilgrimage, even the murder of a female relative by her brothers, all through the eyes of one family member or another.

Although I found this an extraordinarily depressing book, in part because of the situation of the women in this repressive society, I do think it is a worthwhile book to read. It gives a very real picture of life in Afghanistan for ordinary people who are trying to live their lives, according to their faith, in a land that has been mired in conflict for so many years and still continues that way. Indeed, it is a truly remarkable book and I can highly recommend it.

It's no surprise that Sultan Khan, Shah Mohammed Rais in real life, has published his own version of the story in Once upon a Time there was a Bookseller in Kabul, for he was very angry indeed about the family's portrayal in Seierstad's book. He has attempted to sue her for invasion and violation of his privacy, as well as damage to his reputation, in the Oslo courts. 'It is defamation of me, my family and my nation,' he raged. Since the book was issued in Afghanistan he believes his family is endangered and has tried to seek asylum in Norway. All in all, the aftermath of the publication of the original book is an interesting ongoing saga in itself.

I wonder what the thoughts of the other members of the Short Book Club were regarding this book and what they have chosen to read for next time.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Conspicuous Consumption, Sort of

When you get to my age, family members have great trouble finding presents to give to you for birthday and Christmas. The "old scientist" and I always have trouble finding something for each other and we have our birthdays within a week of each other. I'm always up for a book and he's always up for a great bottle of wine, but mostly if we want something we go and buy it. Even the big stuff.

We've both been poor and I don't use that word lightly, for it surely was true. We are both the first generation in our working class families to attend university and that gave us the ability, by dint of luck and hard work, to become, by our parents standards, wealthy although we don't think of ourselves that way. However it is probably true, provided the stock market doesn't crash completely.

Imagine my surprise when my son said to me before my birthday, which comes first in the line-up, " S and V (my daughter and son-in-law) and I want to buy a big screen high definition TV for a combined birthday/Christmas present for you both." What the heck? We can afford to buy it ourselves, for heaven's sake. Apparently I had expressed a wish to have such a thing in passing some time ago and it was glommed onto by the devoid of ideas children. But it's not that simple, there are complications with the set-up, you see, else I would already have done it, no doubt.

After several conversations with both of them, we felt obliged to go out and look at these things. Let me tell you, its stress factor is right up there with buying a new car, which I loathe intensely. Some friends had recently purchased a new set-up so I had conversations with them, read Consumer Reports and did online research before venturing forth, but it's still a nightmare out there. However, after two very long exhausting days, visiting and revisiting six different electronic stores, listening to good salespeople and bad salespeople, we purchased a new Sony TV. As well we had to buy an expensive High Definition DVR recorder which decodes the signal and records programs in High Definition onto a 160GB hard drive, should you wish. They also threw in a "free" Blueray Disc DVD player, since Sony is trying to promote this technology which they invented over the rival HD system. The add-ons we will pay for ourselves. Well one was "free". Yeah, right.

The next trick was to dismantle the perfectly good but not high definition TV-DVD-VCR set-up which we had before, and install the new lot. The old TV was housed in this teak entertainment centre in our family room. But of course the new one could not fit in the old space so is situated on top, involving looking up a little but it's acceptable. So tra-la, you see the new TV in position on top of the old teak stand/bookshelf unit.

The old Video cassette recorder is still here, however the old DVD player and digital decoder box, along with the old TV have moved into our bedroom to replace the TV that was there, which is now homeless and will finally rest in my daughter's old room or my son's bedroom at his house, which will push his bedroom TV down the line to the recycling depot. So you see this was the start of a big reorganization, which involved the connection of many different cables (when is the truly wireless era arriving?) and the moving around of many books in the process.

Now did we need a new TV? Certainly not. Would we have bought one ourselves? Probably, sooner rather than later. After all we are getting on in years and can no longer wait for things to give up the ghost before we go for the new technology, as was our previous wont.

But what house really needs three television sets for two people, who don't even watch a lot of TV on the whole? Why the same one that has three computers, well one really is out of date, and four stereo systems and eight telephones for the same two people. Consumerism personified.

So thank you, S and V and G. We are enjoying the new TV, although we haven't quite mastered the three new remote controls and three thick manuals but I'm sure we'll be on top of it all soon. I wonder if there's anything worth watching.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Saturday Photo Hunt ---- I Love ........(Fill in the blank)


Since I came to Canada 46 years ago, I have developed a taste for Canadian native art, of all types. Over the years I have acquired a few pieces of different forms and bought many pieces to give as gifts. If my house catches fire I will be grabbing my two precious sculptures on the way out. Swans, a Brazilian soapstone which I have featured on my Photo Hunt before and this Inuit sculpture, a amazing green soapstone head from Belcher Islands, which I dearly love and have owned for twenty five years or more.

It stands at 9 inches tall and is the most
amazing green coloured soapstone
with wonderful markings

This is a most powerful work,
despite its relatively small size

A silk screen print on the wall in my upstairs hall
and typical of Coast Salish Art. It's called
Wildman from the Sea.

In Vancouver, at Granville Island, Eagle Spirit Gallery is one of the finest galleries showcasing museum quality native artwork. They specialize in masks and Inuit carved sculpture and it is my pleasure to visit it often, just to look around, for the items there are way beyond my price range. The photos below were taken from outside, through the window, so the quality is not brilliant.

A mask and a decorated wooden container on the stands with a totem pole and an exquisite Moon Mask on the wall in the background

This beautiful wooden head is a stunning piece


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Autumn in Vancouver

Once, for a university level course which I took after I retired, I had to write a 500 word essay in Italian about Autumn. I talked about how I didn't really like Autumn, or Fall as we call it here in Canada. Yes, Fall, because the leaves fall off the trees obviously, and after our Indian summer, which can sometimes last until the end of October, the rain arrives with a vengeance along with the dark evenings.

Houseboats near Granville Island

The Pacific Northwest region of Canada is geologically speaking quite young since it is volcanic mountain range country, with relatively young forests which are mainly evergreen cedars, pines, hemlock, spruce, douglas fir and it is not renowned for the Fall colour of the trees. But there are enough maples and other deciduous trees both in the parks and in private gardens to give us a little taste of the autumn colours for which the eastern part of Canada and the United States is so famous.

Sometimes, in Autumn, I look around and see a beautiful day with the sun shining, the air clear and bracing, the mountains with clouds wreathing their summits, a blue sky above and I realize that there is beauty in this season.

Never to late in the season for a sail, if the weather warrants it.
Recent photo on a very fine Autumn day

Occasionally we are lucky and instead of rain we get a fine, cloudy day on a Thursday for our walking group outing. This year we have had a particularly fine year for Fall colour. I am not alone in these thoughts because many people have commented on it. The photos were taken recently on a Thursday walk.

So, despite the fact that the leaves are now slimey underfoot on the sidewalks and in the parks, I think I have enjoyed the good parts of Autumn this year and perhaps it is not such a bad season after all. However I am looking forward to Spring.

The fine day was appreciated by these musicians who were making a music video with this rotunda as a background. No singer was present but a beautiful female voice came from huge speakers. Everyone was rugged up except the two musicians. Vancouver is known as Hollywood North so you run into filming quite often in these parts.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

King Tut Exhibit --- Franklin Institute, Philadelphia

Warning: a rather long post, try not to nod off.

The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia

It's not often that the treasures from the tomb of King Tutankhamun are exhibited outside of Egypt but over 130 Egyptian articles, including 50 from this famous tomb were displayed at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia between February and September in 2007.

We were lucky enough to purchase tickets to King Tut and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs which was a very interesting show, beautifully set up and displayed throughout eleven galleries. The tickets allowed entry at half hour intervals to ensure a relatively uncrowded and organized tour of the exhibits. Even at the end of August these separate slots were still selling out. However we actually managed to be in a time slot which was busy but not sold out so we made our way leisurely through the exhibit.

The painted metal decoration on the front staircase,
attached to each riser

I think most of you are familiar with the discovery of King Tut's tomb by archeologist Howard Carter in 1922. This tomb was by far the best preserved and most intact tomb of a pharaoh ever found in the Valley of the Kings, for ancient grave robbers had usually stripped them fairly clean. A rich storehouse of treasures was discovered by Carter and Lord Carnavon who had financed the 15 year search for this tomb.

Many years ago I read a book about the fascinating story of this discovery and the tale of the so-called curse which followed those who disturbed the tomb. I also visited the Cairo Museum in 1960 and saw the famous gold mask and other items from the tomb displayed rather unimpressively in assorted cases. However now these treasures are treated with great care and displayed with great artistic skill to show to advantage their beauty and value. I am always impressed by today's high standards of displays in museums and this one was especially good.

Image used for advertising the exhibit, taken from the
viscera coffinette of King Tut.

No photography was permitted in the exhibit so apart from the photos of the Institute above the images in this post are taken from here. I have nine pages of notes, written in the half dark as I wandered through this wonderful exhibit but I shall have to trim that somewhat here.

Beginning with a short film narrated by Omar Sharif, the tour began with objects belonging to Tut's predecessors and explanations of their lineage and connections. As for King Tut, his mother is known but his father is not. As we passed from gallery to gallery the displays gave some of the history of Egypt and illustrated daily life of the time, tying in with the objects on display. There was a discussion of the traditional beliefs of the Egyptians, the gods they worshiped and the fact that Pharaoh was an intermediary with them but became a god upon his death.

Beautiful inlaid pectoral of King Tutankhamun on display

The fact that the Egyptians believed in an afterlife and the importance of mummification and burial was illustrated both in objects on display and in large wall explanations including photos from the Valley of the Kings and inside some of the tombs.

Following the history of his predecessors, there was a gallery devoted to Amenhotep IV, whose radical change in beliefs altered the life of Egypt significantly. He believed in a single god, Aten, the sun god, and changed his name to Akhenaten, and moved his capital to Amarna. He also changed the style of art and architecture, building temples without roofs so that the sun could be seen. However his ideas proved very radical, especially for the priesthood. With his wife, Nefertiti, he had six daughters but no sons.

Around 1330 BC, as Tutankhaten and at about nine years old, Tut became pharaoh probably by virtue of his marriage to Ankhsenamun, the third daughter of Akhenaten. However, no doubt under pressure, after a few years he restored the previous religious beliefs and reinstalled the priesthood. He was renamed Tutankhamun and he moved the capital back to Thebes but died at about 19, around 1323 BC, with no living heirs, although two mummified stillborn babies were found in his tomb.

The next gallery included a discussion of the search for and discovery of the tomb. While robbers had been in the outer rooms, the burial chamber was untouched. Carter, on opening the chamber, said, "Everywhere was the glint of gold." On display, there were many items from the tomb used in daily life: mirrors, game boards, vessels, cosmetic containers, chests, even a chair probably used by Tut as a child.

Child's chair with footrest

The mummy was protected by an outer coffin or sarcophagus made of red quartzite and was highly decorated with figures of goddesses, hieroglyphic texts and painting. It measured nine feet long, five feet wide and nine feet high. Inside nested three man-shaped gold inner coffins. Its face was covered by the gold mask and when the mummy was removed from the linen wrappings there were hundreds of pieces of jewellery and amulets included, even a dagger and sheath which was on display here. Some very fine pieces from the mummy were displayed including the pectoral shown above, a beautiful gold falcon collar and a golden diadem with a cobra on the front and a vulture on the back representing Upper and Lower Egypt and which was found on his head below the mask. In this gallery was a spectacular film recreating in three dimensions the sarcophagus and the various coffin layers, as well as a layout depicting the actual size of the sarcophagus.

Diadem with cobra on the front and
vulture on the back.

Since the image used on every brochure and in all the advertising for this exhibit was of the head of this coffinette you may be surprised to learn that it stands a mere 12 inches high but it is a beautiful object of gold, enhanced with carnelian, rock crystal, obsidian and coloured glass. It was one of a number of containers used to hold organs from the body.

Viscera coffinette

The last room of the exhibit told of the various examinations of the mummy using modern day techniques including the 1968 X-ray studies which found several broken ribs and a recent fracture in his left knee.

However, in 2005, CT scans were made of the mummy which concluded that he had died of gangrene after breaking his leg, not that he had been murdered as was previously speculated since there was a break at the base of his skull. It has been concluded that this was probably created during the mummification process. He was thought to be healthy and had no cavities in his teeth although he had an impacted wisdom tooth.

A forensic reconstruction of his face was also undertaken from the CT scans by several teams of sculptors with many similarities between the results.

Recently, on November 4th, 2007, the unwrapped mummy was placed in a climate controlled display case in the tomb in the Valley of the Kings and for the first time it is on show to the general public.

Not everyone totally approved of this move, for example here at Nourishing Obscurity where James also discusses the so called curse. However, Jams O donnell of The Poor Mouth is far more positive about it here.

I cannot truly describe how interesting and comprehensive this exhibit was. It has since moved to London, England and I can only say if you get the chance to see it you will not regret it. An excellent preview of the exhibit is shown on this website.

Once again images of articles on exhibit are from here.

I'm sure your eyes have long since glazed over, however this was as much for me as for you, my dear readers. You will also be pleased to know that here endeth my tale of our trip to the beautiful city of Philadelphia.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembrance Day ---- Poppy Day

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae

John McCrae was a Canadian doctor who served in the First World War and in honour of his friend he wrote this very famous poem, In Flanders Field, which is commonly used on this day, November 11th, when we remember those who have died while fighting for their country. Click on the link to read it in full.

May I recommend two people who have written some very special posts with this day in mind.

James at Nourishing Obscurity wrote a very comprehensive and moving post of the story behind Armistice Day, with some additional thoughts on the Great War and the signing of the peace treaty here.

For those with an interest in History, this week the Political Umpire of Fora has written a series of posts about the First World War which I have found extremely informative and different to boot. It begins here, followed by Parts II, III, IV, V, and VI.

Earlier this week, many people posted Peace Globes. Maybe, one day, there will be no more wars. Even then we must never forget those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
from For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon

Lest we forget

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Saturday Photo Hunt ---- Flexible


Difficult theme this week, but when I hear that word the flexibility of a person springs to mine. An Olympic gymnast for example. Nadia Comaneci, winner of five gold medals and the first person to be awarded a perfect score of 10 in an Olympic gymnastic competition. Or the practice of yoga, with perhaps a good example in BKS Iyengar, after whom a particular style of yoga is named.

At my age it is a constant battle to keep flexible and I work at it both at the gym and at home. I use a combination of stretching and pilates and yoga which suits me at this time of my life. Below are some of the tools I use, including the Swiss ball and stretchy bands and some DVDs.

The colour of the stretchy bands denotes the various levels of resistance

Yes, this is a bit lame I know, but I was really strapped for ideas this week.


Thursday, November 8, 2007

Birthday -- Life Expectancy

Today is my 72nd birthday. Even I can't believe it, for inside I still feel like a 35 year old, which I consider to be the ideal age. No I don't want to be 20 again, or even in my twenties. For me, to be stuck in a Groundhog Day scenario, recycling from 35 to 55, would be perfect.

However today it seems appropriate to me to reflect on a rather serious subject as well as to enjoy the celebration. That topic is life expectancy.

For some years I have been saying rather jokingly to people who buy me gifts for whatever occasion, "Don't buy me anything I have to dust." Well of course this doesn't refer to books, which I am only too happy to dust or move around from here to there, usually stopping to peruse them as I do.

I don't know if, in the back of my mind, I was already thinking that maybe I wouldn't necessarily have so long to enjoy them or that I frankly had too much stuff already. But the former thought seriously began to cross my mind when we had to put our beloved dog Cleo to sleep several years ago.

The "old scientist", who is not quite the dog person that I am, announced that we would have no more dogs. Of course he had said that the previous time when our dog had died, fifteen years before, but I just quietly ignored him and Cleo arrived in our lives and he loved her just as much as I did. Naturally, when she did anything undesirable, she reverted from our dog to my dog.

I knew that I could do the same thing again, but I started to think more carefully about it this time. Each of the four dogs in my life have lived for 14 or 15 years. That could be the length of the commitment you have to be prepared to make when you have a dog. Suddenly I began to think about whether I actually had that much time left.

As a female, my life expectancy is around 86 years, statistically speaking. So perhaps I wouldn't be around to take care of a dog for its normal lifespan. I decided to think about that for a while and learned to live without a dog for the first time in many years.

About six months later the "old scientist" was diagnosed with prostate cancer and life expectancy became a very big issue. As the scourge of men in the way that breast cancer is for women, prostate cancer has many methods of treatment and some of them are based on the individual's life expectancy. There's even a rather ominous sounding treatment, or rather lack of treatment, called Watchful Waiting which basically assumes that something else will probably kill you before the prostate cancer will.

As another example, the surgical removal of the prostate, probably the most efficacious treatment is usually not performed on men over 70. Although, because the "old scientist" is very fit for his age, this option was not ruled out until later when the cancer was classed as too advanced for a surgical cure. All the while treatment was being discussed the words life expectancy were tossed around constantly and the "old scientist", being that way inclined, was running algorithms on life expectancy and survival rates after each different type of treatment.

Subsequently he underwent 8 weeks of daily radiation treatment and is now "cured", as he announces to everyone. God willing, he is, or that's what we assume. But, as a male, his life expectancy is 84 years, although his mother lived until she was 104, so he may have better genes than normal.

Consequently you can see that life expectancy has had some serious consideration by me in recent years. We try to keep fit at the gym and eat healthily and that's frankly all you can do. Often it's the luck of the draw, which I always used to think about when I worked in hospital pharmacy. Why does that person have that awful disease and not me? Why do I work here in the basement and they lie in that bed up on the ward? A mystery for sure.

So my plan is to enjoy each day to its fullest, for most of us do not know our life expectancy despite the fancy algorithms. But hopefully I will live out my allotted span according to the charts or more. For you see there are so many places I have yet to visit. I still have to fulfill my dream to go on safari. I don't yet have all the answers. I'm still a work in progress.

I have not been the only one pondering age this week. Janice from Pursuance of Truth wrote this lovely poem, When Did I Grow Old. With her permission, here are the five last lines. Do go read the whole.

Now the hair on my head has gone whiter;

the wrinkles on the face deeper and wider.

Now the seasons pass by so quickly

the taste of death is in the air...

When did I begin to grow old?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Dona Nobis Pacem

Click on the image to see how this all began with Mimi

Peace we want because there is another war to fight against poverty, disease and ignorance.

Indira Gandhi, 1966

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Solutions to those Technical Woes

Some days you just need a good laugh at someone else's technical troubles and I found it recently at Failure is the Key to Success. Thanks Ian. Don't drink your tea or coffee while watching this.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Philadelphia ---- Museum of Art, Part IV

This is the last part of my visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There were so many parts of this museum which tempted us but time was a factor. We had already spent more than five hours there and had time for perhaps one more section. Arms and Armor was chosen by my son so that's where we headed.

The Museum catalogue says the following about the armory section of the museum which was established in 1977 with the bequest of a collection by Carl Otto von Kienbusch:

A remarkable selection of fine armor and arms intended for kings, princes, noblemen, and their armed retainers. The high quality of the armor for man and horse, swords, daggers, polearms, firearms, shields, crossbows, and equestrian equipment on view in these galleries draws attention to the luxury, diversity, and refinement of martial objects made by some of Europe's most accomplished armorers over many centuries.

I found it a very interesting section of the museum but I don't seem to have much detail about the individual pieces so the photos will have to stand alone for the most part. As a purveyor of facts and information about the places I visited I feel I have been derelict in my duty in this instance. I hope you enjoy the photos anyway.

Just five relatively small galleries hidden away at the top of the Great Stair Hall housed the arms and armor collection and this was the main large gallery.

As you can see there were two large horse and rider displays of armour in this gallery and the windows had especially interesting decoration. Many of the suits of armour displayed were for tournament jousting which had its own specific design needs. One of the things I noticed was how small some of the suits were, as if men were much smaller in former times, although one suit in the collection was 72 inches high so obviously its owner was tall. Of course they had to be very strong for a suit of armour weighed in the region of between 55 to 70 pounds.

A selection of crossbows
displayed as you see

This shield was quite heavily embossed with decoration

A selection of early firearms was attractively arranged in this case

I thought this helmet was a delight. A very worried looking male image adorns
the front. Don't you love his frown and the bags under his eyes?

A collection of rapiers from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
was arranged in this display case

A closer view of the case above shows a very beautiful English presentation sword
from the late eighteenth century in its scabbard. It's the one with the
blue inlay in the handle. Click to see it more closely.

So ends my tour of this magnificent museum with Part I, Part II and Part III highlighted earlier. Without a doubt Philadelphia has a world class museum, both in its building and its collections and I can highly recommend it. Vale la pena, as the Italians say. It's worth the trouble.

Strange spacing problems. I'm afraid you'll have to live with them.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Saturday Photo Hunt ---- Classic


So what's the first thing that springs to mind when you say Classic? Well for me, it's ancient Greece and Rome. That's one definition of Classic: of or pertaining to Ancient Greece or Roman cultures. While another definition is, Classic: a creation of the highest excellence. Combined in one object, the ancient Greek statue of the Venus de Milo fulfills both definitions. This beautiful piece stands in the Louvre Museum in Paris and all the photos in today's post are scanned from prints of photos I took on a trip to France in 1988.

Now for one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. Situated in Paris on the Île de la Cité, in the middle of the Seine River, it is the classic example of a cathedral.

The French word for Castle is Château and the region of France best known for its dozens of Châteaux is the Loire Valley. For me the classic one is Château de Chenonceau, seen below. This romantic château is built out over the River Cher and is surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Last but not least. What is the classic celebratory drink? Why Champagne of course and who invented Champagne? Dom Pérignon whose statue stands outside the Moët and Chandon headquarters at Épernay, France where we toured the cellars which are carved by hand out of chalky soil of the region. They stretch for 32 kms under the town and contain 40 million bottles of champagne.

Cheers! Cin cin! Salute! Proost! Skoal! Santé! Sláinte! LeChaim! Kanpai! Za vashe zdorov'ye!
and so on.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Philadelphia --- Museum of Art , Part III

Continuing on with our visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which I have posted about previously here and here, I want to show you some things that do not hang on the walls. Specifically a few photos from the Asian Art section which occupies 25 galleries.

Sometimes I don't like to think about how so many of these items end up in museums, especially museums in the United States of America. I am sure they are acquired by legitimate purchase, or so I hope. But often I wonder why they are for sale in the first place, especially religious items.

Of course some make perfect sense. For example, the Temple of Dendur is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York because it was rescued from being buried under the water when the High Dam near Aswan, Egypt was constructed.

But how may I ask does an Indian temple get to be in a Philadelphia museum? The image below is from the online website of the museum since it was extremely dark in the gallery and below that the description from the catalogue regarding the temple which comes from Madurai, in the province of Tamil Nadu in Southern India.

At the heart of the Museum’s rich collections of Indian art stands a magnificent temple hall, the only example of South Indian stone architecture to be found in an American museum. It is made up of elements acquired by a Philadelphia family traveling in India in the early years of the twentieth century.

This evocative space is a reconstruction from the ruins of three shrines that were built in the ancient city of Madurai, in southern India. All three shrines date from about 1525–50.

Yes indeed. Acquired by a very wealthy Philadelphia family while travelling in India.

In the same gallery as the temple was this perfect 11th century bronze of Lord Rama, also from Tamil Nadu. Bronzes from this era are considered peak creations of Indian art according to the Museum catalogue.

The above were posted especially for my blog friend Vijay, a radiologist who lives in Salem in the province of Tamil Nadu.

But the Asian Galleries contain items acquired from other countries besides India. Sunkaraku, or Evanescent Joys, is the name of this beautiful Japanese ceremonial teahouse. It is very popular with visitors to the Museum and when we entered and asked what special highlights were in the Museum, since obviously we could not see them all, we were told not to miss this.

The teahouse was acquired by the Museum directly from the architect Ogi Rodo who constructed it using elements from an eighteenth-century teahouse. Rodo designed country retreats and teahouses for wealthy leaders of the political and financial world of early twentieth-century Japan. Below we have the side garden of the teahouse.

Sunkaraku sits in a large gallery lit by daylight along with a Japanese temple, which you can see in the right foreground of the photo below.

The interior of the temple which is from the Muromachi period or late 14th century to late 16th century. Rather dark I'm afraid.

This image is taken from the Museum website to give you a better idea of the interior.

Finally for this post we have an oasis of serenity, the Chinese Scholar's study with this late eighteenth century example from Beijing. The walls are actually hinged panels with silk covered lattice work at the top and painted landscapes at the bottom. The long narrow table is designed for painting or for looking at scrolls, some of which you can see in the wood holder on the floor nearby.

The space was very dark so the photo is not brilliant but I liked the space and the items with which they had furnished it.

I think you can tell that I really liked this Museum and would have been happy to have spent much more time there. I hope you are not losing interest for there is one more post to come. Just five small galleries house the next fascinating collection, Arms and Armour. So Part IV soon, I hope.