Friday, July 1, 2011

Nefertiti's Knees

Turin is a tight little brunette of a town, where they make cars. Not that you'd know that from the city center, which is all about porticoes. And the Risorgimento. But mostly porticoes, where you can comfortably consume your bicerin, and shop, and show off, all at the same time, whatever the weather.
Unlike Paris or London, Turin's river (the broad, still-mountain-fresh Po) runs beside the city center, not through it, a line dividing town and country. Plump green hills spring up on the far bank, adorned with plump white villas. The rich merchants and nobility of Turin can literally look out of their windows, and keep an eye on their investments and employees in the smart downtown shops. 

Just a provincial gem then?
No. At every turn, Turin politely reminds you in a small, elegant way, that it was a royal city a tutti gli effetti, the capital of the Kingdom of Sardinia, and then Italy's first capital, when they finally got their act together in 1861. But then Rome took took over, and sigh, things went downhill from there - for the country, not for Turin, which carried on making stuff, like, hello, cars.
 ... so totally want one!!! but pink, and with a soft top, please. 

So how come they have an Egyptian Museum here, second only to Cairo? A voice inside whispers Hey, does the word Bloomsbury mean nothing to you? But apparently Turin trumps the Bristish Museum, Louvre and the Met, making it a must-see. The building is an old Jesuit college with ironic crux ansatas under every window. It's all mahogany and grand staircases and three discrete sections, firstly your standard overwhelming interpretative bit, glass shelves full of alabaster and bone that make you think of Indiana Jones. The Italian equivalent is Ernesto Schiapparelli. Don't let the old guy photo fool you. His  (rather boring) Big Find is part three of the tour; some tomb or other, can't remember, I was pretty a-nile-ated by then. 
The second section is pure stone magic, a vast, mirrored hall, lit with refreshing restraint. 
It's like a conference of cartoon idols. There are tubby ones and lion ones. The lion ones look like the Pink Panther.
But the first section.... Yuck and yay. They've got a lot of disgusting mummified black things that were once baboons and dogs and ibises too, but who's going to take a photo of all that. There are dead people with tissue paper skin, horribly torn, horribly wrong for us to look in on them, but the cats are fun, although come to think of it they probably held something barf-making back in the day. The museum covers a huge time range, going right back to the prehistoric Scorpion King period, and up to Cleopatra and all that Greek stuff. They have an amazing map showing all the  mines of Egypt, there are enough fragments to get your imagination soaring, if only the thing had been before the endless sarcophageal babushkas of the first rooms.
Positioning the map, at the end of this part of the exhibition is surely deliberate. Not just saving best till last, but it's also the Egyptologist's way of pointing out how much stamina you need to go a-ventuing into the desert. I've only been staring at bits of rock for an hour, and I already feel the need of a sit down. Plus liquid sustenance. Looks like someone's been there before me...
Now that's limber.

This by contrast is gross. Nefertiti's knees. The card says these bits of leg were found in her sarcophagus. Someone has sawn through her legs, or maybe neatened them up, there's a gruesomw thought. They are black and the ends have a sort of tree-ring effect, bone in the middle, bandages outermost. I don't even know why I looked.
Why would anyone steal a body, but leave her knees? Why would anyone want to pick them up and bring them to Turin?  Why am I staring at them right now? The mysteries of the ancients... 

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