An Egyptologist in America – Part 1

I woke the next morning about forty pounds lighter. For some reason, the radiator was out of control on the third level of The Jane, and everybody was boiling. It was about the exact opposite of living in a Fred Mertz-owned property. Feeling lethargic, but oddly refreshed, I showered and put on my best hipster disguise: hair in a bun, oversized plaid shirt, and enormous glasses. I fit right in. The only thing I didn’t have was the beard, but that is my fate in life. I will never be one of those lucky people. I hope beards go out of fashion soon, because stubble is all I can muster, and that’s not enough.

Stepping into the Café Gitane was like going to a twin convention. Literally every man in there was dressed in the same outfit I had clad myself in. I smirked as I sipped on my mimosa and then my café crème and scribbled notes in my Moleskine about the people around me.

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My favorite was a man who had his beard, which was easily two feet long, segmented by ponytail holders. I didn’t understand, but I could not look away. It was absolutely mesmerizing. I don’t hold anything against anybody — the Parisian terrorist attacks have made me love everybody I come across…it’s weird — but I would never want a beard like that. I already go through enough conditioner for the hair on my head. Do you brush a beard? I would have to assume you would. Wait…do you condition a beard? My Birchbox used to send me conditioning oils for beards before I called them to inform the company that it wasn’t in my DNA to have hair sprouting from my cheeks. That was a shameful conversation, but I get much better things now. I have a copper flask coming next month!

The day was a bit chilly, but I didn’t anticipate being out in the outdoors for long, so I cocooned myself in a scarf and a chunky cardigan and hurried down to the Subway. It was simple to get to Brooklyn, and I marveled the entire way about the benefits of my iPhone. I know that I’ve gone off on this before, but every time, I’m amazed. You see, when I first moved to Paris, I didn’t even take my cell phone with me to Europe. It was a flip phone with like…fifteen numbers in it. What help was that going to be? I didn’t even dare to dream of an iPhone back then. They were out, but they were nothing like they are now. So, back in 2009, I sat in front of my computer and drew out detailed maps to get me where I was going. This has served me incredibly well ever since. I know Paris like the back of my hand. I think it helped my sense of direction tremendously. But now, I don’t even bother. I just tell the phone to tell me where to go…and I get there without any trouble. Then I sit on the train with my Kindle app instead of a heavy book, and before long, I am where I need to be. Truly, the future is an incredible blessing. I wonder how archaic this is going to sound five years from now? I mean, I literally just boarded a plane with a barcode on my watch…I wouldn’t have even considered that last year.

When I wasn’t speculating on the future or reading Le Testament Néfertiti, I was mentally complaining about the cleanliness of the Subway. The Métro would never look like this! I’m not saying it’s pristine, but at least the walls aren’t crumbling! I won’t say the same for the RER; it routinely smells like urine and dead bodies. I’ve never figured that one out. Would it be so hard to slap up some paint, New York?

The train journey was a bit lengthy, but you pop directly up outside the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

I didn’t take a single elevator on this trip as a kind of pointless personal challenge, so the stairwell that led to the Egyptian exhibits was at the end of the timeline of Egyptian history. I wasn’t concerned about that. I was too overzealous about the thematic room at the end dedicated to cats in Egyptian art history. This was my kind of place! I said hello to Sekhmet and Bastet and a variety of sphinxes and was giddy before entering the main exhibit halls.

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Selfie with bae. (Amenhotep I)


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Royal Ka relief.

There were two men deciphering a stele, which was of course incredibly intriguing to me. Normally, I’m the only one standing in front of them for a half hour translating ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. How odd it was to have brethren! We made polite conversation for quite some time about our mutual love for Egypt. They weren’t the Egyptologists I hoped they were, but they were taking a class at Brown. So, they were smart enough. And they knew their stuff when it came to hieroglyphs, so we dissected a stele about an offering made by Rameses II to a temple. Oh what fun this was! And then things started to go south.

Look…I like alternative archaeology. I honestly do. I think it’s fun, full of possibility, and an interesting diversion for scholarly minds. I won’t say that it’s a hundred percent bullshit…but I’d say that most of it reeks of bullshit. Still, it’s a jolly good time, and I’ve never missed an episode of Ancient Aliens. I never will, even if I groan frequently at the screen. It’s my kind of relaxation. But these guys were hardcore serious. They glared at me when I smirked at their theories on what was the cause of Akhenaten’s disfigured representation. They thought that he was a half alien. Like…they seriously thought this with all of their hearts. I’ll never say that Akhenaten wasn’t an alien…but I’ve seen his remains with my own eyes, I’ve read papers about his DNA, and I’ve written my own scholarly papers on a possible diagnosis of Marfan Syndrome. My new friends weren’t a fan of my theory. People tend to get angry when you tell them something that is simple and obvious. They want a conspiracy and an alien. I can’t blame them for a minute. After then they wanted to argue about the race of the pharaohs, but when I told them that I couldn’t care less if they were black, white, brown, or purple, our friendship was over and we parted awkwardly. I was rather relieved. That topic makes even the most respectable people a stammering fool. I’ve never understood that debate. Why would it matter? I won’t get into it here…

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Statue of the scribe, Sety.

On my own again, I found myself in a room about the Old Kingdom and the pyramids when I heard a woman tell her child, “Look, my sweet, they found all of these coffins in that pyramid!” She was pointing at the Great Pyramid. I choked on my own breath. I was about to educate her and her children on the truth of the matter — very little has been yet found in any pyramid, after all — but I have learned how strange it looks when I start one of my lectures. My audience at LACMA appreciated my mummification talk, but that did get me nearly escorted out of the museum. I’m still offended by their insistence that I didn’t have the qualifications to give a talk on the use of cedar oil in embalming. Whatever! NOT BITTER. (Little bitter…quite bitter, actually)

The galleries were lovely with a great variety of pieces from predynastic pottery, a stunning Book of the Dead, and a variety of mummies. There were quotes on the walls about Egyptology, and one by Gustave Flaubert spoke deeply to me: “The sand, the Pyramids, the Sphinx, all gray and bathed in a rosy light; the sky perfectly blue, eagles slowly wheeling and gliding around the tips of the Pyramids. We stop at the Sphinx; it fixes us with a terrifying stare…I am afraid of becoming giddy and try to control my emotions.” It was all presented beautifully and I had a wonderful time.

…that is, until I heard this, “So…is this written in Egyptian?”

Mind you, dear reader, I was standing in an Egyptian gallery dedicated to the writing of the ancient Egyptians in the Egyptian wing of the museum. I groaned loudly and received a glare, but good lord, how dumb are these people? There are so many people that are inconceivably stupid. One of my lectures was needed, I felt a bulleted list being collated in my brain, but I decided against it.

So, I fled the hieroglyphs wing and found some Amarna art to soothe my nerves. It helped.

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The Wilbur Plaque showing Pharaoh Akhenaten on the left, and Queen Nefertiti on the right. This is one of more famous pieces of Amarna-era art.


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Is this not basically me with my hair up and Starbucks in hand?


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A row of gorgeous coffins near the mummies that once occupied them.


This is one of my favorite pieces, an actual golden laurel crown. I've never seen one before. I was enchanted and in great need of one.

This is one of my favorite pieces, an actual golden laurel crown. I’ve never seen one before. I was enchanted and in great need of one.

There was a little section devoted to Babylonian art, and as I stood facing one of the great palace wall segments covered in Akkadian cuneiform, I felt blessed that I had chosen ancient Egypt as the passion of my life. At least I can make some headway with hieroglyphs…cuneiform would make me jump off a bridge. Look:

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For the most part, the rest of the museum was shit. I just can’t do modern art, and there was far too much of it for my taste. It feels dated and gross. I glared at the carpet (carpet!) and then grimaced at the remains of a plantation house, nearly punched this “art” (but who would have noticed?):

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nodded at a rather interesting piece of sculpture dedicated to Nefertiti:

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found an image that could easily be the cover of the first book I ever wrote, Terrible Miss Margo, which turned out to be a terrible steaming pile of shit (I’ll fix it one of these days years):

"Heat" by Florine Stettheimer.

“Heat” by Florine Stettheimer. Much better than those “Cathedral” pieces of shit in the Met.

and I was really rather enamored of this one:

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“Not at Home” by Eastman Johnson.

and then I finally found something I really liked. For reasons I don’t really understand, somebody donated their living room to the museum. It was built during Prohibition and had a secret bar inside, so I was a fan. I’m a huge fan of tastefully done wood panelling and Art Deco, so I immediately memorized this place as the future residence of one of the characters in one of my future books. I’m thinking the next one. I still can’t decide if it’s set in New York or Berlin…probably New York.

I passed through a creepy exhibit on death in pre-contact America that had art from Native American tribes from the Arctic to Peru. Fascinating stuff, but there was an eery soundtrack that really got to me. Quality design when that happens. Across the hall was my favorite non-Egyptian exhibit. There was no real plan, it was just a bunch of stuff that the museum has in storage instead of on display. There were shuffling walls covered in European masterpieces and Greek statues were piled on shelves next to Mid-Century Modern lamps and ash trays. it didn’t make any sense, but I loved it. Then there was a little display of Mayan pottery, and I was concerned by the lack of Mayan representation in museums around the world. I’ve seen one display in Washington D.C, a beautiful suite of rooms in LACMA, and that’s it. Mayan art is gorgeous and needs to be better appreciated.

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I grabbed a few cookie cutters in the shape of hieroglyphic characters and then grabbed the train back to Manhattan. Passing by Aux Merveilleux de Fred, I bought a box of every single flavor, chatted some more with the very nice proprietor, and then hurried back to gorge on them.

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I started with the hazelnut-almond variety. I didn’t expect anything. I surely didn’t expect to hear a choir of angels start singing. It was one of the finest pastries I have ever had in my life. I want it for my birthday cake every year. I can’t recommend it enough. The other favors were great, too — well, the cherry didn’t send me — but that first one has changed my life. I am a better person because of it.

An hour later, I was eating couscous and wondering why Caitlyn Jenner couldn’t wait until I’m home to visit Des Moines. I’d like a selfie with her. Why is she in Des Moines? Did anybody ever understand why she was at the mall? I’m still confused. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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