imaginary outfit: the egyptian galleries

imaginary outfit: the egyptian galleries


Making yourself at home in a city like New York is surprisingly easy and deceptively hard. It's big but not private. There are a million places to see and 8 million people to share them with. Finding a place for yourself takes doing.

My home away from home is The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The city is full of amazing museums, but it's the one I find most comfortable. I visit about once a week. It feels like stepping into the home of some carelessly grand, insanely wealthy, and slightly eccentric relation who lets you rifle through her jewel box. It's ideal for wandering, because seeing everything is an impossibility. There is always something new to notice.

The first three or four times I visited, I couldn't get past the Egyptian galleries. They pulled me in like an iron filing to a magnet (it's not just me - the lines to go in those wings are always the longest). If you have never been, to walk through them is to wonder that anything is left in Egypt at all. There are 36,000 objects in the collection - everything from temples to tombs, sphinxes to sarcophagi, ancient raisins shriveled like gravel, string after string of beads sifted from the sand, tiles from faience factories, painter's palettes, tiny hippopotami, unused inlays, golden toe caps, wig rings and makeup applicators - all arranged in a warren-like cluster of rooms, some large and grand, some very small. Long, narrow galleries snake back and through the space, taking you through hundreds of years of history in a few short feet. It's not excellent for hurrying, but that suits me fine.

The study galleries are my favorite - little pocket rooms tucked off to the side and packed floor to ceiling with shelves full of objects that aren't quite special enough to merit a place of honor, but are too wonderful to hide - boxes of gold leaf, fragments of statues, cast-offs from a bead factory. I look at those shelves and imagine armies of men and women making each item, using them, breaking them, discarding them ... and then, thousands of years later, another army of men and women painstakingly searching, treasuring, cleaning and cataloguing each one.

I can't get enough it. After I visit, I always dream of Cairo.