Sunday, September 11, 2016

England, 2016, Part 15: The British Museum

Ah, but enough of experiencing things - it was time to go stand around and look at schtuff.

We awoke rather giddy on that Monday morning. We had somehow survived another long day of driving across England, we were still amazed by what we had touched and felt at AVEBURY and we were still pleasantly hungover from our weekend in GLASTONBURY.

And I had already drank in a PUB and ridden the ginormous FERRIS WHEEL last week, so I had pretty much ‘done’ London. How could we kill 4 days here? I guess we should go see one those museum-thingies that they got here.

First up though: Breakfast! The fun of tourist hotel meals is you get to see people
Buried with his necklace of Pokemon.
from all over the world - who just left their home time zone. We were already pretty much acclimated, but at 9am in the Days Hotel dining area we saw people who’s brains were saying it was Midnight, Dead of Night, Dawn, Noon, Teatime, etc. With hair styles to match.

The parents looked exhausted and the kids looked hyper and mischievous, the latter being the cause of the former. The children were prattling on about everything and nothing in their own language and the grown-ups were trying to get them to stop talking long enough to put some food in their busy mouths. 

Assyrian Lamassu, protector of King Ashurnaisrpal II
(Not very well, apparently)
Yes-yes, jah-jah, si-si, oui-oui - Now…….EAT!

Bonus! No more driving! (Remove 30 points from blood pressure). We caught a quick tube over to Tottenham Court Road station and emerged into real estate steeped in History, soaked in Hubris, awash in filth and priced higher than Tokyo. Serve, chilled.

The British Museum is not warm. It is not demur. It rises like the First National Bank of Christ with its haughty, aquiline nose thoroughly in the air. The sun may have set on the empire, but here is its nightlight.

Here are also 7 million people (annually) looking at 50,000 objects.
Not pictured: Humility
Aaaaggggg…..We need a guide! As always, Admiral Karen and I found different, but complimentary means to this end: She rented the audio guide and I downloaded the App.

Between us we managed to see all of the major galleries in random order and reverse timelines. Every drafty hall we entered seemed to hyperspace us to some other part of the globe, but always moving from modern to ancient. We could not have seen the exhibits in more convoluted way if we tried - and we did!

"Roman copy of a Hellenistic Original"
Which pretty much sums up the Roman Empire
But by gum we saw it all, even if it made no sense at the time and is a jumbled pile of images and memories now.


And yeah the art was cool and the sculptures were good, but I am a word-jockey. Give me script! Also, I am dedicated to Service, so also give me things that help unlock other things. With this mindset in mind it is no wonder that I made as much of a beeline as I could to one of my life-long obsessions: The Rosetta Stone.
There it is. I can go home now.

From this simple proclamation, written in 3 languages, comes all of our cultural knowledge of Egypt. The deciphering of the Rosetta stone unlocked an entire ancient world. I bought the magnet AND the mouse pad. 

Other Egyptian doo-dads? They got ‘em by the gallery full. Pretty much every object you’ve heard about Egypt is here, save for the pyramids and King Tut’s carry-on luggage.

And, I think Iceland and Lichtenstein are the only countries that haven’t ruled Egypt…yet. 

Here is an Assyrian saying "Howdy"
Because we were navigating the museum like two drunken sailors, interspersed randomly with the Pharaoh show we saw the Assyrian galleries. And here I learned that I have been mispronouncing their name all along. Its actually “Kick-Assyrian”. Every sculpture, frieze, panel, tile or tea towel of this Iron Age empire shows some sort of terminal violence. The Assyrians are not interested in your treaty, your culture or your life. Just die. All of you. 

¿Quién es más macho? Nadie.

From the blazing desert to a land that never sees
the sun. He seems okay with it.
Sandwiched in between Egypt and Assyria we often found Greece and Rome. I know these two were different empires at different times, but the British Museum is the great spiral of ancient eras: Everything exists here at the same time. And because Karen and I were consistently losing the geographic and linear plot along the way, Everywhere existed along side Everytime. And because the Romans appropriated all of the Greek shit anyway, it made it doubly hard to tell the two apart. 

Confession: This is the room of the Elgin Marbles,
and up until last night I hadn't connected the room
with the name. They mean "things-made-out-of-marble"
Not a bag of aggies and steelies.
So, Greco-Roman then. Yes, I like that. If you can’t differentiate - hyphenate! 

Like the Egypto-Assyrian wings, anything that you’ve ever heard about Greco-Roman is here in this museum. Famous statues, priceless bas-reliefs, entire temples are on display. The Brits have everything Greek in their museum but the Parthenon and Zorba.

(Note: They left the Parthenon, but a fellow named Elgin took all of the marble fiddly-bits from it.)

Crouching Venus (Hidden vagina)
is having an excellent hair day.
So we spent our morning walking through something like this: Egypt/Roman/Assyrian/Egypt/Greek/Egypt/
Roman/Assyrian/GiftShop/Greek/Egypt, etc.

Eventually we found an exit off of the ‘all-time-all-place’ merry-go-round and had a cuppa and a crumpet and reset ourselves. The jumble of cultures was a bit wearing. But our tea break did not dispel our cultural confusion: the interior courtyard of the BM is decorated with priceless statues, and they are from Egypt, Greece, Assyria, Rome………sigh.

Hercules would like to inquire as to how
you have spent your morning.
And speaking of BM, where ARE the restroooms (Toilets) here? Ah, in the basement, of course. 

The basement is also where you can find the African artifacts, which tells you a lot about the British Empire, and the mindset that still pervades a museum that has been open to the public longer than America has been a country. 

Part of a Greek Temple. The other faces
of it are in storage - not in Greece.
I love indigenous art because it is fantastic. Greco-Roman art is all about recreating the human form in perfect poise and detail. African art is just trying to scare the crap out of you. For the most part with good results.

And considering that the Romans considered human perfection to be an endless series of 8 foot tall 14 year old boys in the buff, its hard to tell which culture is more disturbing.


The most disturbing thing to me were the discreet dedication signs high up on the walls over each of the 100 rooms: 
  • The title (The “Mr. and Mrs. Super White 1%er Gallery”), 
  • what it contains (objects made by future Subjects in a foreign land rich in resources, like, say, Humans), 
    Ceremonial Plate from Algeria. And yep: That
    is the Wheel of the Year depicted.
  • when these objects were fashioned (Before Christianity - but we’ll just gloss over that), 
  • and the timeline that brought them to us today (sculpted 1,500 BC - Captured by the Francs 600AD, brought to Senegal 1250…….gift of Sir Earl Count Snidely Wibbleybits the 4th, 1803)

The Assyrians celebrate by
killing everything and everyone.
The ellipsis is key. That expanse of dots glosses over the somewhat uncomely fact that Sir Wibbleybits went to that country, found it in a weakened condition (Thanks to Admiral Nelson’s naval cannons), and liberated the artifact, taking it back to Jolly ‘Ol England for “Safekeeping”.

All of it. 50,000 objects (1% of its “inventory”) in one million square feet of display space, “liberated from its country of origin for ‘safekeeping’”. The British Museum is the most popular museum in the world because it contains the greatest hits of humankind, under one roof, and the reason all that stuff is there is because the British invaded 190 countries in 600 years and merrily carted off all the best bits.

One of the few modern displays at the BM
is "Cradle to Grave: In Sickness and in Health"
A graphic depiction of the number of pills
an average person takes in a lifetime. Woman
on one side, man on the other, random life
photos on the margins. LOVED this.
17 million artifacts in all. Which begs the question - when the limeys pulled anchor and sailed away, gaily singing “Rule Britannia” - did they leave anything behind??

I want to go home.
Nope, they pretty much stole it all, from everywhere else. The only country not represented in the BM is their own. There is nothing British in the British Museum, because they never invaded themselves. 

Cultural appropriation, you say? The English invented the term. No, wait: They probably just took it from some other country.

Have the ‘Countries of Origin’ complained about this systematic pillaging? Why yes, they have. And yet, as the Wikipedia page drolly comments: “The British Museum continues to assert that it is an appropriate custodian and has an inalienable right to its disputed artifacts, under British law.
Me too.

In other words, we own it all…..because we say we do. Neener-Neener.

Next up: Boats, bullet holes and POTATO CHIPS.

Angus McMahan

P.S. The Irish, an ancient culture overflowing with priceless artifacts, is represented in the BM along the 10 foot wall of a side alcove, facing away from the flow of foot traffic. Ouch. Zing. We also looked all over for witchy stuff, but the nature-based religion of all peoples is not represented here. Head back into the countryside please for such ‘earthy’ and ‘dirty’ matters. The British Museum is a monument for the Civitas, not the Paganus. (It just isn’t done!).

(Pics: Britain invades everything including your mom meme from - all else from my iPhone.)

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