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Weekend, Part 1

It was a fabulous weekend, thanks entirely to [info]vynehorn . The other week she read an article in the Washington Post about how due to some miscommunications, the Chinese government was pulling back the Philadelphia exhibit of the Ürümchi mummies on March 15 when the exhibit was originally supposed to run to June 5. The biggest bummer about this was that we hadn’t even known they were in the country! So after some kvetching and whining, we decided that neither of us were doing anything the weekend of the 12th, and we decided to go. I ordered tickets and arranged to leave Charlotte with Grandma and Grandpa, she reserved the hotel, and we both arranged to take half days on Friday.

Bob drove. This has its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, he has all the correct instincts to drive in New Jersey and Philadelphia. On the down side, I’m pretty sure it took a few years off my life. Oh – and it’s MUCH scarier from the back seat. In fairness though, I wouldn’t have done well in the city, so I’m glad someone else was driving. He DID miss the exit for the Garden State Parkway, though. The room was nice – newly renovated and very pretty. Also, it was walking distance from the museum and the parking was good until 11:00pm. That meant we had easy parking good for the whole day we were actually there. We caught dinner down the street at an Irish pub where the food was very good, the noise level was astronomical, and the average age was calculated to make me feel old. That’s what you get when you have dinner at a pub on a college campus, I guess. Despite very comfy beds, no one slept well. I don’t sleep well away from home, I don’t recall Bob’s issue, and apparently I was snoring like a drunken sailor. Not good, that.

Breakfast was very expensive, but tasty and plentiful, and we headed out to get to the museum early. It was a very good thing that we had gotten entry tickets for 10:00am. It was a touch crowded when we got there, as the 9:00 and 9:30 groups were already in the exhibit, but we were timely enough to probably be the first batch of 10:00 entries allowed in. It was a really spectacular exhibit. Two of the mummies were there – the one they call “the Beauty of Loulan,” and the mummy of an infant who was either 3 months old or 8 months old, depending on which resource you believe. Having had one, I’m going with 3. It was a spectacular exhibit, and the photos don’t do it justice. The textiles were amazing. I don’t know about anyone else, but I generally don’t think of prehistoric peoples as having complex, patterned, woven textiles. Obviously they did.

There were a few very striking things to me about the exhibit. The first was that the Beauty of Loulan really is quite lovely. You look at the pictures of this desiccated, mummified body and think “yeah, right.” But in person you can see that she is a strikingly attractive woman, with masses of thick auburn hair (pretty much exactly the shade I have always wished mine was.) The infant mummy was sad. It’s this tiny body that has been oh so carefully swaddled. Again, the textiles were fascinating, but the context was rather sorrowful. I have to wonder if I would have felt that way before having Charlotte, because having one of your own increases the visualization. No way of knowing. Another thing that struck me was the dichotomy between the wall placards and the audio tour. The text of the wall plaques is the commentary approved by the People’s Republic, and in many cases it has been sanitized to the point of irrelevance. We had been warned of this by the Washington Post article, which is part of why we got the audio tour. So for the sandstone mask, the plaque said something like “this mask is made of sandstone. Holes have been drilled for the pupils. It is a fine example of the culture of the region.” The audio tour additionally talked about how the round, deep-set eyes and prominent nose were typically Caucasian features. It was like that all through. Things like “this rare piece tells us a lot about weaving in the local culture.” Aaaarrrggghhh!!! WHAT does it tell us? But they’re not sharing. We speculated as to what the Chinese language version of the audio tour said, but there’s no way for us to know.  

By the time we were done seeing the exhibit, it was packed like a sardine can – to the point where we had trouble getting out of the galleries. I was very glad again that we had gotten early tickets, and I was also glad that we hadn’t had to bring Charlotte. We squeezed out, and at my request wandered off to see the two Egyptian galleries. In the upper gallery they had an assortment of animal sculptures, and one of the pieces was a ram’s head carving almost identical to the one in the Met – the one that I think looks like he’s wearing a Bluetooth. In the adjacent gallery of Asian artifacts, they have the second largest rock-crystal sphere in the world - it’s amazing to see a piece of unflawed rock crystal that large. After the Egyptian galleries we caught lunch, and we headed back. Despite the flooding in New Jersey and the terrible bus accident up in New York, we didn’t encounter any unusual traffic, although it was very heavy. We picked up Charlotte, headed back to Burlington, and Vynehorn went on her way back home. Got a pizza for dinner, fell over, and went to bed early.

It was a striking exhibit, and it’s a shame that it’s ending early. The mummies’ last day on display is tomorrow, the artifacts’ last day is the 28th, and the gallery will be open with photos of the artifacts (free of charge) until June 5, which is when it was originally supposed to end. I feel bad for the museum, but it sounds like they did the best they could, and they got a lot more than they were originally going to when things went wrong. Whatever happened, I’m glad that we got to go. It would have been incredibly frustrating to have found out about it, say, today, and know that we’d missed it.

Also, I think that one of these days I want to take a long weekend and just go to Philadelphia. It’s a striking city, and I’m always on some sort of specific trip so that I don’t get to roam. We drove past all these neat looking places – the Cira Center was gorgeous at night with their LED display. I know it’s just offices, but it would have been nice to be able to look at it without also having to watch for traffic and street signs. The 30th Street Station looks like someplace I would like to see the inside of. There were all sorts of beautiful buildings around the campus that I would have liked time to look at and photograph. I think there needs to just be a “tourist” trip someday. Of course, I keep saying that about New York, also.


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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
safiya_shirazi
Mar. 14th, 2011 02:45 pm (UTC)
If you do decide to do a full weekend in Philly let me know - one of my old college roommates is a curator at the Mutter. (Although perhaps medical oddities aren't everyone's cup of tea....)
kls_eloise
Mar. 14th, 2011 04:26 pm (UTC)
I don't know how my husband would feel, but *I* think that looks like an incredibly cool place to visit.
oocdc2
Mar. 15th, 2011 12:30 pm (UTC)
And, if you come to Philly, we are only five miles north of the Philly border. Bring Charlotte, and we can go to Sesame Place or Camden Aquarium.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )