The Road to Memphis and Thebes

My extended vacation has been fortuitous in a number of ways. It was always my plan to spend some time in the South of France; I’ve been meaning to go on this exploratory jaunt for years, but I never planned to do it this year. I thought I’d go to California and then spend some time at home trying to work on the gardens. In my heart I knew that I’d never have the motivation to see that project through to its conclusion, so I leapt at the chance to visit the Mediterranean when the news was reporting that the Egyptian Museum in Turin was finally finished with its extensive renovations.

As you well know, Egypt means everything to me. Look at the header of this website for confirmation of that fact. I love nothing more than mummies and sand and camels and falafels and tombs and galabeeyas and the history. It’s the passion in my life that I always sought, so, there was little chance that I would not be visiting this museum. And what better day to see it than my birthday? I was going to TREAT MYSELF. I was going to LIVE! And so I did. I had already been to Egypt, so I was making the route a bit backwards, but as Champollion famously said, “The road to Memphis and Thebes (ancient capitals of Egypt) pass through Turin.”

I pulled on my H&M outfit, felt hella cute as I squeezed into those tiny chelsea boots, and with an actual spring in my step, I leapt out onto the cobblestone streets of Turin.

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Like any intelligent visitor of a popular destination in the summer, I bought my ticket in June. I don’t understand why anybody would possibly wait in a line that drags on for hours when you can buy them on the Internet for only slightly more. You literally walk right in! I took my ticket to a machine, held the barcode to a camera, and a wristband popped right out. The staff looked at me like I was a wizard, so clearly this wasn’t something that was supposed to be so easy. There were a dozen huddling around one of the ticket machines. Not sure what that was about.

I was thrilled as I read a sign boldly proclaiming, “THE STUDIES FOR ANY PERSON WISHING TO BE SOPHISTICATED SHOULD END WITH A TRIP TO EGYPT.” Quite right, Plato, I thought, already checked that off my to do list. Then there was another that spoke to me, body and soul by Carlo Vidua, “The taste for traveling is the most wonderful taste of all…I will soon be at the foot of the pyramids, this thought transports me with joy, yesterday evening I was drunkenly mad with pleasure.”

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I blew kisses and tossed my hair at the harassed looking people throwing daggers my way as I pranced through the entrance to the exhibits and collected a headset. These come with each ticket, and the moment I learned that sad fact, my heart sank. There is nothing worse than a tourist with an audioguide. AND THEY ARE GIVING THEM TO EACH PERSON??? I moaned a bit as I turned around to face the first gallery — all about the pieces that founded the museum’s collection — and saw hoards of people lingering around certain pieces, unmoving, staring blindly at a papyrus as the machine fed information to them that they didn’t care about.

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I’m not saying that I’m the only devoted amateur Egyptologist in the place, but I can guarantee you, I would bet my life on it, that the vast majority of people staring at the Kings List do not care much about it. If it were up to them, they would have scanned it with their eyes very briefly and moved on to something more visually stimulating like one of the beautiful Books of the Dead that the museum has unrolled and put on display. But no. There they stand, an unmoving, slowly shuffling mass of educated zombies. It was truly infuriating, reader. Look at them here ruining the flow of the museum:

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They should have the audioguide be an extra charge or make the lectures much more abbreviated. The casual visiter doesn’t need to know all the details about trade relations with Kush, after all. They just want to ogle a mummy, look at some gold, and admire well painted papyrus. I don’t blame them in the slightest. I wish that they could have that experience, but every visitor is guilted into hearing about how odd it was for the workmen at Deir el-Medina to paint a statue white to make it look like alabaster for five lengthy minutes as a pile of more of them lines up. Ugh. That really put a damper on my Egyptological fervor, but I was determined to have a fabulous time. It was my birthday, after all, and this is a place I have wanted to see since I was a child.

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After examining some first editions of Champollion’s books on Egypt, watching a technician restore a sarcophagus, and peer into the eye sockets of a predynastic mummy, I sat back on a bench to watch the people. I saw several visitors go from each case in the exhibit and photograph every single thing in it. They weren’t students. They weren’t researchers. They were just people who were truly never going to look at those pictures of blurry ostraca ever again in their lives.

I wanted to punch them.

And for the very first time in my life, I appreciated the Cairo Egyptian Museum’s ban on photography. It forces you to be more aware of your surroundings and appreciative of the artifacts on display. I don’t mind if you take a few pictures. Lord knows, I do. BUT STOP DOCUMENTING EVERY SECOND OF YOUR LIFE. (Look, I see the hypocrisy with me writing this, but I consider myself a travel writer. I take pictures and write these posts for you and I both. I’m not just hoarding imagery of a place I went for no reason like so many people do.) Museums have become painful for me since the advent of the smartphone. You used to be able to look at things. Now you’re shoved to the side so a toddler can take a picture of a canopic jar with his Nintendo DS. I have never glared harder at members of the general public as I did on this day. It was infuriating.

But still, I did have a good time as I wound through the relentless crowd. Here are some pieces that I was particularly fond of:

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Not a lot of wooden artifacts from ancient Egypt remains because they have a serious termite problem. Archaeologists know find little deposits where the termites have totally eaten pieces away, so they pour a setting compound to get a cast of whatever it was.


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I really enjoyed this trial sketch of one of the pharaohs. A Ramses, I think…there were quite a few. I like his smile.


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One of the more famous pieces in the collection: The Satirical Papyrus. It’s more frequently known as “The Turin Erotic Papyrus” for reasons that should be quite clear. Here’s an amusing documentary:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iEclAQo_vc

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This dancer is another incredibly famous piece of ancient Egyptian art — it goes against all the standards of their rigid system of artistic expression.


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My sister is obsessed with birds. This drawing of a deceased person’s Ba is probably my sister in a very ancient past life.


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The tomb of Kha and Meryt was found in 1906 and the contents were completely moved to the Turin Museum. Such a thing would never happen now, so it’s rather remarkable to have such a complete collection of beautiful grave goods. I think Meryt’s rose gold coffin is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.


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Osiris was covered in a bit of ancient glitter. It was hypnotizing.


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With blocks of raw natron, the salt used to desiccate corpses for mummification.


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YASS GAGA #hairgoals


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This coffin was seriously damaged by ancient tomb robbers.


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Rows of inconceivably perfect sarcophagi. This variety has always seemed peculiar to me.


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The common people would fill this mud brick in the shape of Osiris with seeds and dirt. He was the god of rejuvenation (amongst other things) and this would be part of their at home worship.


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The King’s Gallery, which houses huge statues of various pharaohs is one of the most well-known parts of the Museo Egizio. It’s flawless and overwhelming.

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After the exhibits came to an end, I picked up a few books in the chaotic gift shop…so many children…and hurried back to my apartment for another birthday gift: a nap.

Waking gracefully, I discovered that the camera had accidentally gone off while I was admiring the view from my balcony. I swear I’m not a model:

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A little while later I found myself inside of a gorgeous old pharmacy which had been converted into an overpriced lunch spot. I had the most delicious gruyere and spinach tart and enjoyed the views of the piazza as I wondered how long it would be before age spots started to appear on my twenty-six-year-old skin. Do I have years? Days? A few weeks? I don’t have any savings for plastic surgery. I’ll have to start that fund when I get back home.

Finished with my lunch, I discovered I wasn’t quite finished eating, so stopped for some gelato. It seems Turin is quite renowned for their gelato, and if the double chocolate I had was anything to go by, there’s a reason for that. I also needed some cheese focaccia, because it means everything to me:

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I walked and I walked through all the galleries and arcades

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and then I lost my goddamn shit. You see, reader, I stumbled into something that I thought was a relic of the past, something I thought I’d never get to experience, something I never dreamed of actually witnessing: I WAS IN AN AUTOMAT!

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For those of you not in the know, automats used to be a common feature of big cities. You’d put your quarter in a slot, open a door, and pull out a sandwich or a piece of pie or whatever. There was an endless number of them in New York City, but they went out of fashion with the advent of fast food and are now relegated to the memories and dreams of people like me who can’t get over how marvelous it must have been. But here one was right in front of me!

I darted from window to window like an energetic chihuahua. Like all things, time has changed the concept and operation of an automat, but the general idea still applies. You insert your money and get what you want. This was basically a room full of vending machines of every variety. One of them prepared hot pasta dishes. Another brewed freshly ground coffee in front of you eyes. One rented DVDs. Another one sold condoms, USB cords, and underwear. And yet another was stuffed with SIM cards and tuna sandwiches…the combination never made a lot of sense, but I was too overjoyed watching the Lavazza machine make me an espresso to care. It was wonderful. I hate to say it, but that little shop was the highlight of my birthday. I’m not even ashamed. I want to start an automat empire back home. WE NEED THEM.

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After getting myself back together, I walked and I walked, letting my feet take me wherever they wanted, I didn’t care. I stopped by this church that had a recreation of the Shroud of Turin which had recently been exhibited for the first time in many years. Too bad I missed it.

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I enjoyed every second of it, for, I was madly and hopelessly in love with Turin. This is what I seek when I travel, and I really don’t find it often. There are very few cities that own my heart. In short, they are: Paris, San Francisco, Sarasota, Villefranche-sur-Mer, and Turin. They’re all perfect to me in an endless variety of ways that I’ll never be able to fully explain. They satisfy something within me. Turin…whatever it was…made me love it.

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After sitting along the river, which was oddly like being in the middle of the wilderness, I sauntered back towards my part of town to have my birthday dinner at Eataly. It wasn’t the greatest meal I’ve ever had. There’s a world of difference between al dente and undercooked, after all, but I didn’t mind. It had been a wonderful day. I had seen great pharaonic treasures, I looked hella cute, I wasn’t morbidly obese, I was in Italy, and I lived in a world where automats exist! And look at the key to my apartment:

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