On Thursday I went with a friend to check out San Francisco's newly re-opened de Young Museum -- I could quote miles of statistics about how many pounds of copper (950,000) were used to create the bizarrely wonderful perforated and embossed "skin" of the building, etc etc -- but on the other hand, I could just as well suggest visiting the de Young website for that information.
It was an outstanding experience. I am not a great museum goer (though most people imagine I must be -- "Oh you're an artist!" they say, "-- you probably ADORE going to museums!!" No, I don't. I detest going out in GENERAL. I would much rather stay home and sleep, eat, play computer games and pet cats) but this one was worth every moment spent there -- the building was as much an exhibit as any of the huge number of items inside it. The special exhibition currently on view is about Egypt's only female Pharaoh, HATSHEPSUT.
Now I imagine that all of you are just as clued in on the lady as I ... was NOT: for instance, I had no idea that she was styled as a KING, despite rather obviously being a woman. I can just imagine the grammatical nightmare posed by the information cards accompanying the exhibits! There were many uncomfortable compromises involving such constructions as: "The King sits on HER throne ... " etc (that's not an actual quote, just an example of the type of thing available). Nevertheless, it caused a powerful ripple of sympathy and what Doris Lessing calls "with-feeling" to imagine the weight of responisbility resting on the distant lady's narrow shoulders, being the one and only recorded female Pharaoh. She ruled 10 centuries after the pyramids were built (again, I'm only quoting something I read there three days ago, not verbatim) so she represents an odd hiccup in the system. After her death, her nephew Thutmose III did what he could to erase her cartouche (i.e. the hieroglyphic symbol representing her) from the inscriptions on statues, but he did not succeed, it seems, from erasing her from our knowledge.
How strange it is, then, to gaze upon that serene and smooth-skinned face, with its delicate eyebrows and false-beard and try to imagine the thoughts that animated its living owner. Ha -- and not in English of course! Nothing so simple. I can see speech bubbles in hieroglyphs ... incomprehensible thoughts ... the gulf of time almost too vast to contemplate and yet, and yet: she looks so contemporary, so much like you or I (give or take the decorative cobras and "simple three-wig hair-do")! There was, perhaps, an edge of politics in the choice of such an exhibit to open the de Young's new building to the public -- was I the only one who noticed a curious resemblance between the faint, cat-like smirk on Hatshepsut's carved representations and the almost identical one that typically adorns Hillary Clinton's face? Oh the first and only phemale Pharaoh! Yes.
There was much, much more to engross and distract our attention, but I will mention here only the wonderful vista, staring up from the entrance coutryard to the museum's main building. It is enclosed in such a way that, looking up, we see an elongated pentagonal shape which perfectly frames the sky -- the sky itself becomes an art-work, framed and ever-moving for our delectation! Breathtaking.
And -- a moment of only-in-Berkeley Zen: returning from the museum, I got off at BART's downtown Berkeley station and stopped at Andronico's to pick up a few groceries on my way home. At the checkout counter, the checkout clerk noticed the TINY sticker -- barely an inch square -- which announced that I had been a visitor at the de Young Hatshepsut exhibition -- and he stopped what he was doing to chat with me about it -- the CHECKOUT CLERK!! -- and said how much he was looking forward to visiting the museum himself, soon.