Saturday, June 28, 2008

Sublime and Ridiculous

Nefertiti - the name means "the beautiful one has come" - haunts Egypt. She was queen at a time that more than met the threshold for the enigmatic Chinese blessing "May you live in Interesting Times." She disappeared from history for a millennium or two (and therein lies a tale), and when German archaeologists discovered the original of this bust, they covered it in mud and smuggled it to Berlin.

This is but a reproduction, sitting in a bay window in a Cairo attraction that outcamps even the Umm Kulthoum Museum (no easy feat, that), the Gayer-Anderson House. It's a place that invites the question: Gayer than whom?

It's a disarming, enchanting thing, a vast, rambling medieval merchant's house (a pair of them banged together, actually), furnished by its last occupant (a British Major with a penchant for all things Oriental, especially if they had high cheekbones and were about 16). Highlights include the Queen Anne Dining Room, a little parlor in the most outré Louis Farouk style ever, and lots of portraits of both Gayer-Anderson and his petit amis:

Hmm. Think there was a little ego involved here? The house is chockablock with portraits, but this is my favorite.

The Major was apparently especially fond of this youngster, one Abdul, whose image is repeated in paintings and skethes throughout the house. The guide will solemnly inform you that they shared a room, pointing out the small pharaonic-style cot that sits at the foot of the Major's own, elaborately inlaid lit de chambre.

Another feature of the place is the Major's extensive collection of life masks. Did I mention that in addition to being disarming and enchanting, it's more than a little creepy?

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