High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

This is fiber optic cable, which is the future. This is culture, which is delicious.

Sunday, July 13, 2003


I caught a train downtown to meet J. at the Field Museum. I found a parking space, I was in good time for the train, I didn't accidentally board the express,which would not have stopped at the Museum campus, and things seemed as if they would go smoothly. I should have known better.

The ubiquitous construction has made its way to the Metra stations, which meant I had to walk a bit out of the way, but I had some time. As I tried to make my way around to the south face of Field, where we had agreed to meet. There was a piece of construction equipment obstacling my path and as I attempted to circumvent it, I was snottily asked where I was going by the person astride it who then informed me that the south entrance was closed.

This being the case, I figured that J would be at the north entrance. He wasn't there, so I waited a bit, then went around the eastern face of the museum to the parking lot to check for his car, which was where I was expecting it to be. Puzzling. I went back to the north steps and confirmed with a security guard that the south entrance was, in fact, closed. I sweet talked my way into the front of the museum to use a pay phone to call J's cell (I still haven't gotten mine replaced). The pay phone repeatedly informed me that the area code and phone number were invalid.

I considered leaving a note on the car and, of course, discovered that I had no writing implement in my purse. An electronic guitar tuner, yes. Cat nail clippers, you betcha. But a pen? Not I. I did have chapstick, but I'm pretty sure that writing on the Jag's windows would be frowned upon. I wandered back and forth to the north steps several times, figuring we'd have to run into one another sooner or later. Not so much.

Finally, I decided to check to see if he was forlornly standing outside the construction gate on the south side of the museum. As I cleared the parking lot, I saw numerous people either (a) standing on the south steps of the museum; (b) hovering in midair where the south steps of the museum ought to be; or (c) people so utterly taken in by a convincing trompe l'oiel of the museum's south steps that they were able to defy gravity. A very sunburned J was one of them.

We decided to take in Eternal Egypt despite the limited time available to us. It's an interesting exhibit of pieces from the British Museum. The first piece in the exhibit is a predynastic depiction of someone smiting an invader from the East. Gotta love something that starts out with a good smiting.

I liked the arrangement of the exhibit for the most part. It was quite easy to wend one's way through it and not feel unsure of what you'd seen and not seen. It was laid out mostly in chronological order but without much regard to geographical context within the major periods. Visually, they managed to give it a bit of the feel of British museums without the clutter and crowding.

The text, unfortunately, left a lot to be desired. There were many pieces that were of uncertain or unknown provenance with no indication why it was unknown. I imagine some were obtained from collectors or there was reason to believe that they'd been moved in antiquity, but you come away feeling like all these fantastic pieces were mouldering away next to the Ark of the Covenant for want of a competent DBA.

One of my favorite pieces was the schlubby scribe flask. The text made it sound very mysterious, because scribes were usually depicted in quite respectful fasion, but in this case, the vessel was poor quality and . . . quite frankly, tacky. It seemed clear to me that it was a souvenir picked up in Memphis or something in the days before you could by a mug shaped like a tit with "Tiajuana" written over the nipple hole. The monkey riding a horse, the turtle-headed tomb guardian (I completely broke J by saying, "What duck?"), and the political cartoon papyrus featuring a gazelle and lion playing a board gmae also deserve honorable mentions.

There were also several pieces that blew my mind not because they were particularly great, but because they had a work-in-progress feel to them. There were stelae with grids etched on to the surface to help with the proportions, faint outlines remaining where lines had been redrawn and so forth. Trippy to think of artists sitting down to a task 4000 years ago and going through the same motions we do (well, not we as in me; black hole in el artistic portion of the brain) now.

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