Friday, 9 September 2016

Paris, part one: Dredging Up Egypt’s Divine Dirty Laundry from the Sea Floor

Paris, France (Paris, France)
December 2015
Saying goodbye to Denis, the car we had been best friends with for the last six months, was tough. After returning him to Peugeot EuroLease we even missed Synthia, his irritating navigation system. Many wrong turns had been taken because of her, but we had good times too. Heh...remember that one time in the Chocolate Valley when we were trying to find that one stupid chocolate factory and she almost brought us to the right place but we didn't believe her? I miss Denis...
Unaccustomed to the burden of our bulky packs on our backs (that was Denis' job), we experienced an uncomfortable metro ride to the Latin Quarter. With two hours to kill before we could check into our AirBNB, we sipped on coffees at a café and played hangman. Fancying the idea of a French breakfast for lunch, we asked for a croissant but the waiter informed us that they had sold out. There was, however, a bakery just across the street that he said offered croissants. Blessed by said waiter, I ordered a croissant from the nice bakery lady and we dunked it in the overpriced coffee. Hangman could proceed.
When the time came to check in, we were shown around the cute and cosy apartment by our host, who had left us with a bottle of rosé and bowl of Chuppa Chups. Generous enough as it was, he also said that we could check out whenever we liked and would close off the apartment for bookings on our day of departure. This was an absolute godsend as in two days we were scheduled to embark a 22:30 train for Annecy, and being able to keep our bags in a secure location (and not on our backs all day) was a luxury. That evening I enjoyed a dubbed episode of Monk in which the titular character frets over exposed limbs while trying to solve a murder committed on a nudist beach.

Based on a tip-off from Fabienne, we knew that there was an exhibition on at L'Institut du Monde Arabe featuring sweetazoo ancient Egyptian artefacts. Titled "Osiris, Egypt's Sunken Mysteries", the world-roving exhibition was mainly based around the worship of sibling-spouse deities Osiris and Isis, and the rebirth of Osiris. Though expensive, the visit was well worth it and I recommend anyone take a look (having ended its Paris run, the exhibition has moved to the British Museum in London and will remain there until 27 November 2016).

As the title denotes, these artefacts were found under the sea in two sunken Egyptian cities. Amazingly, the pieces on display were extremely well-preserved for being submerged in sea water for over a millennium, and there were several wooden statues! Wooden! Wood in the sea! Imagine that! Over 2,500 years old, the statue above was a representation of Serapis, a Graeco-Egyptian god who was a kind of amalgamation of Osiris, Zeus, Hades and Dionysus. (And he's made of WOOD, you guys! Dis some crazy shit.)

A giant statue of Hapi was placed front and centre, showing how important the flooding of the Nile was to ancient Egyptian people. Another hugely significant part of their lives was what would come after their time ended. Osiris, god of the afterlife, had some bizarre and disturbing mythologies surrounding him and his sister-wife Isis. There was one interesting statue that encompassed not only incest, not only necrophilia (Osiris died at some point), but also bestiality as many Egyptian gods could turn into animals. That being said, it was rather tastefully done and didn't show anything that wasn't family friendly. If I hadn't read the placard I could have mistaken the statue to be a hawk sitting atop a mummy. Fun fact: Osiris' body had been cut up into pieces following his death and had to be put back together, but Isis couldn't find the fourteenth piece: the phallus. Thinking on her feet, she had one made out of gold. Astonishingly, she and the corpse then conceived their son Horus.
Though the exhibition is open to the public and has a wide array of displays, the excavation of the two sunken cities is still underway and we can hope for even more treasures to come. The classiness of the expo was undercut slightly by the gift shop, which was selling Egyptian-themed rubber duckies.

Handily for us, L'Institut du Monde Arabe was very near to where we were staying and on the way back to our neck of the woods we passed by the Panthéon, which unsurprisingly is based off the Pantheon in Rome. Originally a church, it's now a mausoleum for bits of dead French people.

Right next door was another impressive church, Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, the building of which was completed in 1624. This church also holds bits of dead people, but this one is exclusively for saintly figures and not simply esteemed members of the public.

In the area around the Panthéon, the streets were wide and the apartments very Parisian. 

Yet deeper into the Latin Quarter, the streets narrowed and took on a more crooked quality. Christmas lights hung from lifeless winter-stricken trees as a harried mother pulled her crying child into a café. A businessman striding past checked his watch and decided he had time for a cuppa. Young women teetered on high heels along the unevenly cobbled pathways and smoke drifted up from cigarettes flung discarded into the gutter. The Latin Quarter used to be the trendy place for artists and writers, and I find that's usually the best part of a city.

After lunch at a Vietnamese joint where we feasted upon pined-for specialties like Bun Bo Nam Bo and Ca Phe Sua Da, we walked to Grom for a little gelato pick-me-up. On the way we found a fascinating series of photos on bees all the way along the fence of the Jardin du Luxembourg. We also spotted a boutique bookstore which had on display a book from the 1700's showing illustrations of Egypt. The Sphinx was burried up to her neck in sand!

Today's post was almost called: Dysfunctional Families - Ok Egypt, You Win