King (Tut) and I: When I walked through pyramids

05/03/2014 7:29 PM

05/03/2014 7:29 PM

When I went to the Tut exhibit down in Union Station, the motivation was about storage and packing as much as anything else.

A few years back, I’d been in Tutankhamun’s Valley of the Kings resting place — he’s still down there, but without all his cool stuff, which makes me worry about how he’s getting along in afterlife without his boats, bows and board games.

Earlier, in the old Egyptian Museum in Cairo, I had wandered around the entire Tut collection — shed-sized shrines, chariots, model river vessels, three 10-foot beds, chests galore.

So as I observed the unlucky boy king (his burnt look is probably a result of spontaneous combustion of his embalming oils within his coffin), I looked around and wondered how his retainers got all that junk jammed in that little tiny tomb.

A teenager and a mess go together like pretzels and white chocolate, of course. But this, although somewhat hastily arranged, had been a royal burial. And now it’s all clear to me. There was another room in the tomb that we couldn’t see when I was in Egypt.

When the big 1977 tour of an incomplete selection of real pharaonic artifacts came through Chicago, my family had been awed but felt rushed by the mob. So I recommend seeing these highly authentic reproductions, right down to the little shriveled guy himself.

There’s never going to be another tour as big as the ’77 blowout, and people may not be anxious to wander around Cairo or Luxor any time soon.

Plus, this exhibit offers in-depth information about what you’re seeing, which I can assure you doesn’t exist in the dim and dusty Cairo institution. For instance, the baby coffins and mummies are baffling over there, but here you can learn from the replicas all about his stillborn or unborn daughters.

Although Tut’s underwear or condoms will not be found in Union Station.

I had a heck of a time when invited to Egypt with several other editors around the country. I peeved the prime minister with a question about Hosni Mubarak’s “police state” (about which we hadn’t seen nuthin’ yet, compared with today’s insane crackdown); got briefed by internationally known liberal writers and journalists; met the future, to-be-deposed President Mohammed Morsi (he sat mostly quiet on a couch); was chased with some Muslim Brothers by security agents down the street; visited famous mosques and Coptic churches; and experienced a haboob (dust storm from the Sahara).

But none of that held a candle to the touristy stuff. I mean, even Roman emperors made their way down there to see the sights. They loved the colossi of Memnon (actually Amenhotep III).

Cracked by an earthquake, one of the giant statues across the river at Luxor (Thebes to the ancients) used to sing in the mornings when the wind was right. It brought one luck to hear it. Then somebody made repairs.

One has to be in the presence of the Great Pyramid, built for Cheops, to really understand it. Going up its dark tunnels was like being in the guts of a god. It is so massive that I hope this monument to the pride of a man — and thus all men — will still defiantly be there when our sun blinks in its death throes and cauterizes the fungus we call life off our rock. (I can only

hope

, since it’s more likely to be a casualty of the African plate crashing into the European plate.)

But I digress.

Time along the Nile folds on the continum. The last period of this great bread basket of the known world then being run by actual Egyptians, not invaders from neighboring regions, ended about five centuries before Jesus. The pyramids were built about 20 centuries before that; it took about 85 years, they say.

I went out to look around one of the granddaddies, the Step Pyramid out in Saqqara, which was the vast burying ground across from the former capital of Memphis.

As I kicked around, something poked up from the desert sands, something created by man, perhaps the coned bottom of a clay lamp or vessel. It’s at home in my small stash of antiquities. So have Indiana Jones sue me.

At least it wasn’t an obelisk. These looted monuments already are scattered around the world. Italy has more (11) than Egypt (9), thanks to Roman lust for trophies. That’s one in St. Peter’s Square out front of the Vatican.

In Paris, the 75-foot Luxor obelisk soars in the Place de Concorde, exactly where the guillotine did its sanguine work during the French revolution. Its twin, fortunately, is still in Luxor.

Another pair was divided between east Central Park in New York and the bank of the Thames in London. They are both fancifully called Cleopatra’s Needle, although they were carved for Thutmose III more than a thousand years earlier.

For some reason it pleases us to have things that might be so old. True, my relic could have been shaped from the mud of the Nile just a few centuries ago, not millennia.

Sadly my accelerator mass spectrometer is down, and the Geek Squad is not cheap.

So who knows what its carbon-14 would say? I’m pretty sure it belonged to Cheops.

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