Mummies come to Montreal

 

Mummies come to Montreal

What is the fascination with mummies? Ancient Egypt is right up there with dinosaurs in kids’ obsessions. The difference is that almost all adults retain that awe-struck wonder about this beautiful and mysterious civilization. Our imaginations have been captured by countless books and movies on the lives and death rituals of these people.

The British Museum exhibition of six mummies and over 240 objects related to the lives of each of them opened last week at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Besides the superb staging and curatorship of the exhibit, what makes it unique is the inclusion of modern medical scanning technology.

I had seen a sarcophagus before. There is a beautiful one in the permanent collection of our museum. A sarcophagus is simply the coffin that contained a mummy. I had often included ours in tours I gave as a volunteer guide. The gods painted on the wooden case, the still brilliant colours and the story of the woman who had been entombed in our sarcophagus were a high point of a tour.

So why did it feel so different to stand before what would have been the contents of a sarcophagus? A sober form, wrapped simply in linen, the shape of the body clearly outlined lay before me. What was touching to me was the irresistible tug of the imagination to connect with the person lying just a foot away. A deep feeling of compassion flooded over me.

Archaeology has been described as controlled destruction. To remove the bindings of these mummies would inflict irreparable damage. The code of ethics of the British Museum does not permit the removal of the wrappings. Fortunately we now have the technical tools to virtually strip away the bindings and “see” the person within. The CT scans our doctors order to diagnose our health problems have been used here to penetrate the mysterious lives of these six individuals. CT scanners use a combination of x-rays and a computer to create the images that are projected onto the walls behind the mummies.

Visitors now know that these people were buried with amulets, with nail covers, with colored beads. We know the ages, the ailments and the causes of death as revealed to us by state of the art equipment. The priests and embalmers who carefully prepared these six people for the afterlife could never have imagined that the immortality they hoped for would be, in a strange way, played out in a museum thousands of miles from the Nile.

Of course, I looked on, intrigued as the three-D images were projected on the walls. My eyes kept coming back to the white forms, however, and something in me was glad that there was no image of the child mummy. He was safe inside his touchingly small sarcophagus. In glass cases lining the walls of his room the toys our children still play with lay still. A ball, a top, little clothes that a child might wear today.

In spite of our technological advances, there is still so much that is universal.  What is the meaning of our lives and our deaths? What is the meaning of the death of a child, of our grief? We share many mysteries with our ancient Egyptian brothers and sisters and not all of them can be revealed by state of the art equipment.

The exhibition – Six Mummies – Six Lives will continue until February 2, 2020.

 

Urban beekeeping

 

 

I live in a pretty densely-populated area of Montreal. Three years ago I noticed many bees congregating in my garden around a dripping hose I had been meaning to fix. Groups of twenty or more were quite common. My small city garden is not very well manicured. I planted some wild rose bushes a long time ago and they certainly have thrived. Add to the mix, clematis, peoney bushes, black eyed Susan and some cone flowers and I concluded that the bees were not just coming to drink. There was pollen in this jardin anglais!. My back yard is bordered by a city lane that is part of the Montreal initiative, ” Les Rouelles Vertes”. That means our lane is not paved but rather left to grow green and wild.  Golden rod, milkweed and Queen Anne’s Lace flourish there. Add a little judicious planting by the city of Saskatoon berry bushes and elderberry along with orange day lilies, and you have an urban paradise for pollinators.

The high number of bees was puzzling though. A stroll down the lane revealed that one of my neighbors had bravely taken on a new project. She had set up two small hives. She was glad to hear her charges were getting plenty of water even though she had a supply set up for them in her own yard. Perhaps it was a case of, ” the water is wetter on the other side of the fence” ?

How interesting it was to meet my neighbour and learn about her enthusiasm for her project but also to wonder at her courage.  We always think about intrepid bee keepers brandishing their smokers, and kitted out in impenetrable gear. However, imagine the first time a novice beekeeper opens the hive! A scary moment, no?

As you can see, this year our neighborhood bees outdid themselves. Production was over one hundred kilos. I bought a few jars and even got a freebie in honor of my watering hole! After all, it never hurts to spread your wings and try new places….especially if you’re a city bee.

 

 

 

 

Modesty

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A friend and I were shaking our heads over the antics of “president” Trump the other day and he made an unusual request. He said, “write about modesty”. Right away I knew he didn’t mean anything to do with bikinis… or burkinis. The idea simmered in my mind for quite a while. After all, even writing for public consumption is hardly an act of modesty. Do I believe I have something interesting, enlightening, amusing to say? Surely that rules out the modest approach. Modesty is not much appreciated these days.  All the advice columns tell us how to “sell” ourselves, how to “boost” readership, how to “be best” – oops, can’t keep that family out of anything!

How long ago was I taught in what seems now like a medieval Catholic….and British…ethic, not to boast, not to draw attention to one’s own accomplishment, not to be “vain”, “proud”, “a show-off”. Those reproaches were among the worst that could be levelled against anyone.

Then I thought about nature. The way the seasons repeat, the way plants follow a natural progression of what looks like death, rebirth, blooming, seeding and retreat into a mysterious slumber is inexplicable. Animals, that look at us with a certain understanding, an understanding that we, who boast of being the highest form of life, cannot fathom. The sea, wind, stones, planets and stars, simply go about their business without drawing attention to themselves, in their modest way. Even in its most spectacular moments such as volcanic eruptions, tornados or blizzards, nature just is. There is no heralding that “This is the greatest eruption, folks, trust me!” There is, in these great demonstrations of nature’s power, an inherent modesty.

So I must be vigilant. A little less, “fantastic, amazing, incredible” in my writing, and in my thoughts. Let’s have a big round of applause for modesty, folks. After all, it’s the greatest quality!

 

 

 

 

Good Furniture

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I never thought about how sturdy furniture has to be until I started to demolish a couch. Why demolish it? It came into the house through the good work of two wonderful movers – a guy and a woman who worked wonders. I actually wrote a poem about the miracles these people performed. It’s on this blog in the distant past posts and you can have a look if you search for Moving a Washing Machine. I need to get this couch out of my house now because I bought what I know is a much inferior couch. The feature that sold me, however, is that it converts to a bed for when my grandkids visit.

People have tried to get this couch out of my house before to no avail. My little duplex was built in 1960 when furniture was not mammoth and on occasion I have even had to take out the living room windows to get other  pieces in or out. The last time was just after a raging snowstorm and my miracle workers had to wade through two feet of snow with my mother’s antique sofa. The legs of antique sofas do not come off. The prospect of taking those windows out again – and worse – getting them back in properly was not to be considered so through the doors we must go.

My 15 year old grandson and his best friend agreed to carry the darned thing out to the curb if I could be sure it would fit. Hence the need to bash the legs off. Easier said than done. When I bought this couch in the 1980’s (God, how old am I?) it was a high ticket item. Over the years I had it reupholstered and to be honest, it has held up well. After wrestling with it today I understand why.

Four legs – four blocky pieces of wood well upholstered and attached to the frame by nails, screws and staples had to come off! Screwdrivers, pliers, a hammer and most important a steely determination to get those damned legs off the sofa – – and still it took me two hours. The boots? well after the first block of wood  flew off unexpectedly and landed alarmingly close to my bare toes, I figured I’d better put on my version of construction boots.

What really surprised me was how sturdy this sofa really is. I am sure the replacement one will not be half as good. However, it was painlessly paid for with money collected  from a cash-back credit card I have been using for two years (plug for Tangerene here) and the kids will sleep better.

Too bad I have forgotten the name of the maker of my old faithful. I remember I paid a lot of money and bought it in Ogilvy’s. I’m sure it’s the only thing I ever bought in there!

In this throw-away era it was somehow satisfying to discover that my furniture was really well made. It took knowledge and skill to make that sofa. But brute force and a stubborn attitude won the day!

 

At Last

Today in my garden.

HARD SPRING

Spring in Montreal

is a breech birth.

We can feel it coming.

We can feel the earth groaning,

absorbing the ice and snow

of months of frigid darkness.

The sun, it’s warmth

no longer faint, fickle, theoretical,

coaxes, wheedles the first snowdrops, crocuses.

These are never picked.

Now come the shoots of daffodils and tulips

and grass, that universal miracle

appears.

The sound of hardy birds, but still not a leaf.

A few closed buds along a twig

and heavy rain – the waters breaking

cold and painful.

The brave yellow blooms

stand against a meager unkind frost one night

and then, sap drips from a vine

and the whole city knows

a long warm day

with magnolias, pink or white like waxy cups or earth

stars opening on the leafless branches.

The moon rises soft and silvery

over the city blessed by newborn Spring.

 

poem from ” Northern Compass” available on Amazon

 

 

 

Homesick for my garden

 

  
How strange to be homesick for a grey sky. I was under an unfailing blue sky for months this winter – never shovelled a flake of snow, didn’t have to battle ice like my dear friends and relatives here in Montreal. Yet, in April I got restless. I longed to hear the sound of geese returning, to see frail green shoots breaking through the wet cold ground of my little garden. The Spanish camellia bush full of pink blossoms was impressive. The purple bougainvillea tumbling over a wall made a great photo op.  Yet, the yellow mimosa made me long for forsythia. Yes, there is nothing like the humble snowdrop to make you realize how strength resides in the delicate things. The crocus that is the first draw to bees is a sign of hope. How can the victory be worth anything if there was no battle.

The downside is that I have a very ambitious fritillaria  that is almost ready to bloom and I heard rumours of sleet tonight. Time to make a little newspaper had for my darlings that waited so faithfully for me.

Mysteries – Do you know?

OK this is my week for asking my readers questions. I am posting a few pictures that have me scratching my head. One is of a tile depicting a saint – well, he has a halo! He seems to have a falcon on his hand as he rides his horse. Any idea who he is? Then there is a weird rock formation. The picture was taken looking at a cliff face. Obviously water has worn a channel down the rock but I wonder why it is that pink color. Next is a lovely plant that is blooming everywhere.  Is it Mimosa? Finally, this machine on the beach had me puzzled. I presume it is to haul boats up the beach but ….is that a car engine? Curiouer and curiouser as Alice would say!