Friday, January 9, 2009

Optical Illusions: Photos from The Venetian, Las Vegas

I'm always a sucker for a good optical illusion. Here are a couple of particularly fine shots of such illusions taken by dondelion - found within the flooring of the main public entry hall at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. Thank Goddess for The Venetian. This is perhaps the ONLY hotel in Las Vegas where one does NOT have to walk through the casino in order to check into the hotel! It's a gorgeous spot, one of my favorite places in Las Vegas. The ambiance is incredible - they seem to have the colors and the lighting JUST right. I also love the shops and the faux "canal" complete with gondolas, although when dondelion and I were trying to find the faux "St. Martin's Square" (the restaurant where we had a 10:30 PM reservation was on the Square), the pathways on the shopping floor turned into a veritable labyrinth! The particular path we needed to take was down a certain lane that - from the general perspective on the main path - looked like a dead-end with an ice cream shop dead center. I really wanted to visit the ice-cream shop but I kept that wish to myself. Half an hour later, after wandering around (I was enjoying looking in the shop windows) I was miffed when dondelion stopped and asked for directions (can you imagine - a man who actually stops and asks for directions! - that's why I love him so much!) and led me down the very same path that we both had previously judged to be a dead end - ending in the ice cream shop! Oh well. We strolled past the shop with my salivating tongue hanging out and suddenly appeared what seemed to be the equivalent of a yellow brick road! Before we knew it, there was the Mikomoto shop that I remembered SO well from dondelion's and my last visit (in November, 2003, when we got officially engaged) with the $50,000 strands of pearls in the windows! We had arrived in the faux St. Martin's Square! It was filled with people. A group was playing venue-appropriate music, far too loudly in the echoing confines of the Square, and there was no place to stop for a minute (or even 10 seconds) to catch one's breath and simply and enjoy the views and the people all around. But we did find a spot or two anyway. I am not a fan of the rudeness of elbow use in general, but in Las Vegas, sometimes, one has to use elbows in order to MOVE! Anyway, back to the optical illusions. The first shot is at the main entry into the hotel lobby where guests check-in. It is a bit dark - I'm too tired tonight to do photo-stuff to try and lighten it a bit - anyway, the spectacular astrolabe is not the primary subject of the photo, it's the floor! Take a look at it. dondelion's photo captured a lady walking gingerly across what appear to be raised planks! The second photo was taken at the end of a long promenade from the check-in area toward the casino. On one side are exclusive shoppes, on the other side are windows looking out onto the grounds of the hotel and the busy sight of limos, cars and taxis pulling in and out. Where the casino begins, the marble flooring ends and plush carpeting takes over. Shades of Escher! You also get a very good view of the lushly painted vaulted ceiling over the promenade.

Carmen Report: Photos from Egypt

Our friend from Madrid, Carmen Romero, widow of IM Ricardo Calvo (a chess historian and the mentor of our tiny "Tribe") spent the Christmas holiday on tour in Egypt this holiday season. Carmen is a noted chess historian in her own right and has presented many papers to gatherings of chess historians and chess collectors at symposia around the world. Carmen has offered her work for first internet publication at Goddesschess, for which we are very grateful. It is impossible to describe the depth of our affection and regard for our dear "W.I." and her unfailing support of the vision and mission of Goddesschess. Carmen read my post of yesterday about the discovery of the tomb of Queen Sesheshet, and emailed me the following information, along with two photographs taken at the Valley of the Kings during her recent holiday there over the Christmas vacation. Here is part of her email: Dear Patton [that is a nickname The Chief gave me], I have seen in the blog your post about Queen Shesheti in Saqqara. They are making continuous excavations in the "Kings's Valley", like in the "Queens's Valley", and in Saqqara. In the Spanish newspaper "EL PAIS" was an article about the few historical evidences on Sesheshet: she is mentioned as "Mother of the King" in the tomb of the Visir Mehu (I have seen) and, mainly in passing, as the mother of Teti, also in a passage about baldness in the medical papyrus [of] Ebers (very curious). Teti, according to [historian] Manetón, was murdered by eunuchs [of one or more of his wives], and the son of one of his wives became Pepi I. Best regardsWI Thank you, W.I.! I am not the best historian on ancient Egypt, and I may be wrong about this, but I believe that Pharaoh Pepi I ruled for about 40 years and was considered one of the greatest of all the Pharaohs. He was one of the last Pharaohs of the Old Kingdom. Here are the photos that W.I. sent - excavation in the Valley of the Kings: Egypt will continue to reveal her ancient mysteries to us long after I am gone - perhaps for the next 4,000 years! May we ALL learn to appreciate her precious gifts from the past.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Queen Seshestet's Tomb Found

I'm not sure if I published something on this story earlier - here is a news story from Yahoo/News today. Note the difference in how the Queen's name is spelled in the photo credit and in the article itself: Shesheti versus Seshestet. Photo credit: Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass (L) excavates a newly discovered grave containing the remains of Queen Shesheti in Saqqara, in this handout photo taken January 6, 2009.(Handout/Reuters) Mummy thought to be Queen Seshestet found in Egypt Thu Jan 8, 7:21 am ET CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian archaeologists have found the remains of a mummy thought to be that of Queen Seshestet, the mother of a pharaoh who ruled Egypt in the 24th century BC, the government said on Thursday. After five hours spent lifting the lid of a sarcophagus in a pyramid discovered south of Cairo last year, they found a skull, legs, pelvis, other body parts wrapped in linen, and ancient pottery, the government's antiquities department said. They also found gold wrappings which would have been put on the fingers of the mummified person. Grave robbers ransacked the burial chamber in ancient times and stole the other objects. "Although they did not find the name of the queen buried in the pyramid, all the signs indicate that she is Seshestet, the mother of King Teti, the first king of the Sixth Dynasty," chief archaeologist Zahi Hawass said in a statement. Teti ruled Egypt for at least 10 years around the year 2300 BC and is buried nearby. While archaeologists have found many royal mummies from ancient Egypt, most of them are from the New Kingdom, which began 500 years after Teti's time. (Writing by Jonathan Wright; Editing by Sophie Hardach)


He's so cute! Someone feeding a squirrel in a Nicaraguan nature preserve, I just found this photograph at Yahoo/news while I was reading a different story. Photo credit: Nueva Guinea Town, some 300 km (186 miles) south of Managua, December 29, 2008. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas (NICARAGUA)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Jessie Gilbert

Does anyone remember Jessie Gilbert? Who cries for Jessie Gilbert? Jessie Gilbert died on July 26, 2006. Jessie fell from a window up some 8 stories one night at age 19, while attending a chess tournament in the Czech Republic. At the time of her death, Jessie was due to give testimony against her father on criminal charges of sexual abuse of Jessie and other minor females. After Jessie's death, Mr. Gilbert was found the equivalent of "not guilty." "I loved my daughter", said Mr. Gilbert. Yeah, it seems he loved her to death. Jessie's mother says her daughter killed herself. After the inquest into Jessie's death, Mr. Gilbert sued his former wife for custody of their two minor daughters (Jessie's sisters), then aged 15 and 9. The former Mrs. Gilbert was said to have threatened the life of Mr. Gilbert at the time, but no charges were ever filed against her. Eventually, the story dropped from the public eye. There was substantial evidence of a long history of self-abuse (such as self-slashing) by Jessie Gilbert and earlier suicide attempts. According to news reports at the time, Jessie was on antidepressants at the time of her death. From what I've read, these are classic symptoms of a young child who has suffered sexual abuse. I wonder if Mr. Gilbert had private visitation rights with his two minor daughters after his divorce from their mother. On this day in history: 1999 – Eleven-year-old Jessie Gilbert from Croydon became the World Women’s Amateur Chess Champion. Background coverage at Chessbase.

A Grandmaster Who Gives Back

A great story that deserves more publicity. Thank you, GM Murray Chandler. From The $100,000 thank-you Russell Blackstock January 8, 2009 Queenstown Chess Classic organiser Murray Chandler is personally underwriting the international tournament with a six-figure sum. The New Zealand grandmaster – who owns property in the resort – also put his hand in his pocket to the tune of $30,000 for the inaugural contest three years ago. This time the prize pot for the 10-day competition – which starts at the Millennium Hotel next Thursday – is a whopping $50,000. “I’m underwriting the tournament again for about $100,000 as a thank you to the NZ chess community, who were fantastic to me when I started out as a professional player in 1975 when I was aged 15,” says Chandler. “I’ve had a wonderful time playing throughout the world and will never forget the tremendous support I received as a youngster.” About 115 competitors have registered for this year’s event, including strong representation from Europe. An additional $6500 is also on offer in the NZ Rapidplay and Lightning Championships – and for under-18s, a Queenstown Junior Classic is being introduced over four mornings.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

More Photos from Christmas, 2008

A couple of dondelion's photos from The Venetian. This is "St. Martin's Square" inside the Venetian Hotel. This shot was taken on Christmas night, after we'd seen "Phantom of the Opera." We had 10:30 PM dinner reservations at a restaurant on the "Square" and were reconnoitering the territory and taking in some of the local entertainment prior to supper. There was a musical group playing (off camera). The "Square" was packed with people (I've never seen it otherwise during my prior visits) and dondelion chose this shot toward a corner of the "Square" to show the skyline and realistic "architecture"The sky was tending toward "sunset" at the time (it changes on a regular schedule from sunrise to sunset). Another shot of "St. Martin's Square," this one toward the opposite end of the "Square." The sky is deepening in color toward evening and the "Square" is packed with revelers! Our restaurant is on the right (outdoor seating), marked with the small oval yellow sign on the wrought-iron fencing. The lights and fencing on the right mark off one of Wolfgang Puck's restaurants.

Think Burning "Witches" Is a Thing of the Past?

Think again. Ohmygoddess! What a horrible, monstrous story. Report from ABC Woman burnt at stake in PNG: reports Posted 8 minutes ago Updated 9 minutes ago A young Papua New Guinea woman was lashed naked to a pole and burnt to death in what authorities fear may be another sorcery killing in the jungle interior of the country, local media reported. Black magic is still practiced in the highlands of Papua New Guinea and women are often killed for having extra marital affairs, being accused of sorcery, or blamed for spreading HIV/AIDS. Witnesses told The Post Courier newspaper that the woman, aged between 16 and 20, was stripped, blindfolded, gagged and tied to a pole on Tuesday. "The girl was stripped naked and could not shout for assistance or resist as she was tightly strapped and her mouth gagged," witness Jessie James told the newspaper. Truck tyres and firewood were then placed around her, petrol poured over the tyres and wood and set alight, Mr James said. "I don't know the right words to describe it but it's barbaric. Can you find the best words to describe such acts that are rampant here?" highlands police chief Simon Kauba said. The Post Courier newspaper editorial condemned the killing, saying PNG's hysteria over sorcery was creating a climate similar to the 17th century witch trials in America. "If it is alleged she was a sorcerer, this is yet one more example of hysteria and superstition running rampant in parts of our country," the editorial said. "Sorcery is a most difficult crime to prove. "In the witchery trials of America, hundreds of years ago, hysteria took charge and terrible injustices were done. "People were burned at the stake. We are doing the same thing now. "How many of our young are afraid to go home because of these sorcery beliefs and vengeance practices? "Those who say she got primitive justice should pause to think, it could be you next on that truckload of burning tyres." - Reuters

How Britain Planned to "Resist" A German Occupation

A fascinating story, all the more so because it's true. From The Times January 5, 2009 Secret army of ‘scallywags’ to sabotage German occupation Michael Evans, Defence Editor By day they were ordinary civilians — from dentists and clergymen to gamekeepers and roadmenders – in a Britain gripped by fear of imminent invasion by Hitler’s blitzkreig troops. The only clue to their alter egos might have been the pieces of paper in their pockets – informing any police officer suspicious of their behaviour “to ask no questions of the bearer but phone this number”. But new details have now emerged of the highly secretive role played by a “resistance” army of fit young men and women chosen as would-be saboteurs and spies in the event of a German landing. In the dark days of 1940, the unit grew to about 6,000 members, who knew little of each other and operated in small guerrilla groups. Recruited to disrupt a German occupation force – including roles such as blowing up tanks, lorry parks and communications – the teams prepared by carrying out covert missions, known as “scallywagging”, at night. The Auxiliers, as they were known, formed operational patrols of seven or eight heavily armed men who emerged from hideouts to watch the coastlines of East Anglia for any sign of approaching German commandos. Their role was to engage in irregular warfare, which meant that, as civilians, their capture by the Germans would have led to their instant execution as spies. Not everyone in the military hierarchy approved of the concept, believing that only men in uniform should be recruited to fight the enemy. Official records of the GHQ Auxiliary Units – whose creation was authorised by the inner War Cabinet, chaired by Winston Churchill – have rarely been released by the National Archives. Now John Warwicker, a 78-year-old retired Scotland Yard Special Branch officer, has unlocked some of the secrets and written an account of the resistance organisation-in-waiting, called Churchill’s Underground Army. “There is unnecessary secrecy about these units [but] Britain’s stay-behind army of civilian men and women should not be cast aside or written off as insignificant,” Mr Warwicker said. Even those recruited for bombing missions never knew who was really behind the idea. Mr Warwicker said that they had thought they were working for the War Office, but GHQ Auxiliary Units were financed by MI6, and one element of it, the Special Duties Section, became so experienced in covert operations that after the threat of invasion receded, members of the section were snatched up by the SAS for the rest of the war. Some of the Special Duties Section spies were women. Many of those who were recruited into the Auxiliary Units had been selected from the ranks of the Home Guard – yet as one senior officer recorded at the time: “To compare them with the Home Guard was to compare the Brigade of Guards with the Salvation Army.” “They were a secret guerrilla group – the members were not to know each other. As cover for their activities they were to appear to continue their lives entirely normally,” Mr Warwicker said. The key man in each patrol group had a store of explosives and weaponry hidden away and only he knew where it was. When the idea was first mooted in 1940, recruiters were dispatched around the country to find suitable candidates: men and women who had not been sent to war because they were needed on the land or in other vital jobs. The trawl included clergymen, gamekeepers, poachers, dentists and roadmenders. “A minor police record was not necessarily a disadvantage,” Mr Warwicker said. Each operational patrol was also issued with one gallon of rum. The jar was to be opened only to relieve pain in the event of injury or in the face of imminent capture, in the belief that “a tot or two might help to extend the time an auxilier could be expected to resist interrogation and torture”. In 1944 an ungrateful War Office demanded the return of every jar of rum, unopened and still with an official seal. It failed to notice that many, while still apparently sealed, were filled with green tea – or something similar. ‘I said I would do anything’ Case study Don Handscombe, an early recruit to Churchill’s underground army, recalls the moment when he was arrested by a sharp-eyed police constable who wanted to know why he was scurrying around at night with a revolver in a holster. Now 90 and living in Suffolk, Mr Handscombe told The Times: “I said I was with the Home Guard but he didn’t believe me. He didn’t like the look of me — this was after Dunkirk when we expected to be invaded. I had to spend a few hours in a police cell until our intelligence officer arrived to release me.” After that, Auxiliers were given a note to produce in such circumstances. Mr. Handscombe, who was trained in explosives and marksmanship, had been recruited while he was working as a farm manager: “I was asked what I was prepared to do for my country and I said I would do anything.”
This is scary stuff. I remember in college back in early 80's in one political science class, we did a series of exercises trying to imagine what it would be like if the - then - seemingly powerful Soviet Union invaded the United States. (Remember the television mini-series "Amerika?" - really scary stuff!) Was it better to be Red than Dead? Or better to be Dead than Red? I opted for better Dead than Red and joined a subversive group to undermine the ruling Communists. Easy to pretend to do so, in a college classroom. If push ever came to shove, what would I really do, more than 30 years later?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Las Vegas Pictures, December 25-26, 2008

dondelion wanted to get a photograph of one of the slots at the Casino in the Wynn and it didn't occur to me until he was literally in the middle of his shot that - I think the casinos don't like this! I'm sure I heard this somewhere or other. Of course, that hasn't stopped me from taking pictures in many of the LV casinos. Realistically, if a competitor wants to find out what is going on in another casino, it only has to send in some people with a notepad and paper, or good memories, and report on what they see. So maybe there is no longer a big taboo about taking photos inside a casino! This is a rather shakey shot of the theater at the Venetian where we saw "The Phantom of the Opera." It was stressed several times that photographs were strictly prohibited, but as it was after the show we figured what the heck - dondelion wanted a photo so I handed him my camera and said go for it, Mr. Don. As he was getting ready to snap a very large female attendant looked up at us from about 10 rows and one section over and started making tracks as she yelled "NO PHOTOGRAPHS ALLOWED." I hinted that Mr. Don might want to HURRY IT UP and even as the flash was dying I grabbed the camera from him, shut it down and shoved it into my purse as we beat a hasty retreat. It brought back to mind memories of running out of the vault at the Prado in Madrid in October, 2002, after I took an illicit photo of a crystal barque on golden wheels that, unfortunately, was done in pre-digital days and came out mostly blurred. I've never published that particular photograph. The guards ran after Mr. Don and I, we just were closer to the vault door and the narrow hallway was crowded, so I was able to worm my way away... I've no doubt they would have confiscated my camera if I'd been caught. It is an absolutely spectacular space and you can see - lit in all its glory, the chandelier that plays such an important role in the play.
I'm trying to remember where this photograph was taken - somewhere on the enormous grounds of Caesar's Palace, I believe, and it had to have been taken on Christmas Eve day, because we spent all Christmas Day at Isis' and Michelle's place and didn't get back to the hotel until after dark. This was taken near a shrine - I think dondelion got a picture of that, I'll look for it. The garden in this area is parterred and lovely, even in winter. There are three fountains, this is a shot of one. Our hotel, the Imperial Palace, can be seen in the distance, next to Harrah's.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

More Photos from Christmas, 2008

dondelion, Isis and yours truly, at Isis and Michelle's new house. This photo was taken by Michelle in the living room - the fireplace (not seen) is in the background. Behind the curtains on the right is a sliding door to one of the patios and the pool. The chair that dondelion and Isis are sharing is Michelle's papasan chair. I was sitting on a "hard" chair to avoid pet dander. No - dondelion is not Chinese and no, I do not have lights embedded in my cheekbones. Isis and Michelle's pool. Even in December it's inviting! Isis had new grass laid in, the concrete surfaces around the patio and house were resurfaced, textured and painted, and the block fence was also painted to coordinate with the painted concrete and the newly-painted trim on the house. To the right is the golf course. During the early part of our visit, there was a sun-shower, it was raining on the golf course but on the other side of the fence where we were standing, it was dry! Later a fierce rain storm rolled in and blew branches and debris into the pool and pounded us as we drove back to the hotel. Here is Michelle in one of the 360 degree chairs - it turns in a circle 360 degrees so you can face the wide flat-screen t.v., the patio doors with a view of the pool or the fireplace. Behind is the "formal" front entry to the house. On the wall to the right of the entry is one of Isis' oil paintings (among other things, Isis is a painter). In the breakfast room where we ate brunch, dondelion relaxes next to another of Isis' paintings. No, it's not Twiggy although it does resemble the model during her hey-day in the mid 1960's. The table isn't visible - it's a Saarinen style white pedestal table surrounded by four deeply cushioned button- upholstered 360-degree rotating chairs in ecru.

More Photos from Christmas, 2008

More photos from The Domes at Mitchell Park (December 28, 2008). A view of the mini-lagoon in the Tropical Dome. Makes me want to stay there forever, it's so beautiful... Close-up of a banana tree, with bananas, in the Tropical Dome. A view in the Arid Dome.

Turkish Housewife Opens Her Own Museum

Okay - how could this person possibly afford to do this - is she independently wealthy? Does she have some other source of income? Where did these objects come from that she is now displaying in her "museum"? How did she acquire them? Did she buy them and, if so, for how much? Were they gifts to her and, if so, from whom and when? Did she dig them out of the ground herself and, if so, where and when, and did she meet all requirements for legal export/import of ancient antiquities? Where did the money come from for the lady to purchase a house to use as a museum? Was this article done as the equivalent of Turkey's "April Fool's Day"? Inquiring minds want to know! Story from Hurriyet Daily January 4, 2009 Housewife opens museum GAZİANTEP - After collecting historical artifacts in her home, housewife Füsun İşsever has bought a historical Gaziantep house, restored it and turned it into a museum. The latest pieces she has added to her museum are three important artifacts from the Roman Empire. İşsever lives in the southeastern city of Gaziantep. She said she had dreamed of setting up a museum for many years and, so she could display historical artifacts to a wider audience and in a historical space. She said she had bought an old Antep house right next to the city’s historic castle and began to display nearly 1,500 artifacts. "Glass, porcelain and hand-made clothes are on display at the museum, which is called the Medusa Culture and Art House. There is also a jewelry store in the museum. A jeweler from Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and a filigree master from Mardin’s Midyat district work in the store." İşsever added that the glassware in the museum was Turkey’s second largest collection after the Koç Foundation collection. Rare figures in the museum The museum has recently put on display four important artifacts from the Roman Empire. One of them features a queen giving birth, the child is born dead and an angel takes him to heaven. Another 3,000-year-old artifact depicts the Greek god of wine drinking, and people playing the flute and having fun behind him. İşsever said it was a very rare item. A 3,500-year-old wine cube depicts Zeus, Apollo and Alexander the Great returning from war. An ancient Greek bowl portrays running horses, carriages, and a queen.
Did you catch that? Alexander the Great appearing on a 3,50o year old "wine cube?" Darlings, Alexander the Great died in the 4th century BCE!

Paintings from the Lost Tomb of Nebamun

How grateful I am that any of these magnificent tomb paintings have survived since c. 1500 BCE, and how sad I am that antiquities robbers destroyed so much of their beauty for money. Irreplaceable heritage and history destroyed forever and hacked out of the 'living rock' of our memories for a few lousy bucks. A pox and a curse on the houses of those people who dealt in and continue to deal in such iniquity! I am really GLAD the man who destroyed Nebamun's tomb died on the streets of London a pauper. Photo: Nebamun, his wife and daughter on board a skiff, during a hunting trip. For colours, the unknown 'Michelangelo of the Nile' would have used soot, desert stones and ground glass Photograph: Corbis (Notice the cat, sort of "floating" at the knees of Nebamun, helping herself to the plethora of birds! Cats - invariably female - were Egyptian symbols for female sexuality and the recreative force, embodied in such goddesses as Bast (Bastet) and the powerful and ancient lioness-headed Sekhmet (Sakhmet), an aspect of equally ancient goddess Hathor (Het-hert), often depicted as a cow-headed woman. In later depictions, Hathor was depicted as a woman sporting long cow horns with the Sun resting in-between, and often confused with renditions of Isis.) Raiders of the lost art They are ancient Egypt's greatest tomb paintings, yet they were created for a middle-ranking official by an unknown artist. As the Nebamun panels go on display in the British Museum, Robin McKie reveals a tale of exquisite craftsmanship and a 3,500-year-old tabby cat Robin McKie The Observer, Sunday 4 January 2009 Enter the British Museum's new Egyptian gallery and you will be struck by a line of painted panels of unexpectedly rich colouring and extravagant composition. On one panel, a pair of naked female dancers, their fingers interlaced, glide sinuously before a crowd at a banquet. Beside them, a flute player stares out from the painting, her hair shimmering as if she is swaying to the music. Each figure is distinct, individual and freely drawn, their proportions and detail captured perfectly. Wander further along the main wall and you will find other exuberant depictions of everyday life in 18th Dynasty Egypt: a boy driving cattle along a road; geese, stored in baskets, ready for the market; a farmer, stooped and balding, checking his fields, and a hunt through reed beds that burst with creatures - shrike, wagtails and pintail ducks - easily identifiable still. These are the tomb paintings that once belonged to Nebamun, a court official who lived almost 3,500 years ago, and they are the greatest surviving paintings we have from ancient Egypt. Each was created for Nebamun by a painter as gifted as any of the Renaissance's finest artists, and they will be revealed to the public this month when the British Museum opens a special gallery dedicated to them, a 10-year project that has cost £1.5m to complete. It will be a striking addition to the museum. Yet for all the effort that has gone into the gallery's construction and the studies of its paintings, mystery still shrouds the Nebamun panels. For a start, archaeologists have no idea about the identity of the artist who created them and are equally puzzled why a painter of such talent was involved with a relatively minor clerk like Nebamun. Nor do historians have any record of the original tomb's location. The man who discovered them was a Greek grave robber called Giovanni d'Athanasi, who dug them up in Thebes, as Luxor was then known, and then passed them on, via a collector, to the British Museum. However, in 1835 D'Athanasi fell out with curators over his finder's fee and refused to divulge the precise position of the tomb. He took his secret to the grave, dying a pauper in 1854 in Howland Street, a few minutes' walk from the museum. Ever since, archaeologists have searched in vain for the tomb of Nebamun and any treasures that it may still contain. The Nebamun paintings have - to say the least - a colourful history, and the task of unravelling it, and for caring for these remarkable works, has been handled by Egyptologist Richard Parkinson. Dapper, bow-tied and possessed of an infectious enthusiasm for his subject, Parkinson showed me the panels last November, when they were cased in wood and glass, ready for removal to their new gallery. They were stacked in a museum basement store which held other Egyptian artefacts, including a series of panels dedicated to a chief treasurer, Sobekhotep. Think of him as the 18th Dynasty's answer to Alistair Darling, a politician who controlled the nation's wealth and economic destiny. Yet the panels commemorating him are thin, lifeless and provide little feeling for the man's life or times, or any sense of artistic sensitivity. By contrast, the artwork that celebrates Nebamun's life bursts with energy. In one panel, he stands on a papyrus skiff at the head of a hunting trip into reed-covered marshes filled with tilapia and puffer fish, Egyptian red geese, tiger butterflies, black and white wagtails and an exquisitely painted tawny cat that is helping itself to the birds being brought down by Nebamun. The cat is a product of particularly grand draughtsmanship, in which stripes and dots have been delicately assembled to produce a magnificently whiskered tabby. Scales on fish, feathers on ducks and soft folds in the clothes of the Nebamun retinue have also been created this way. It is an extraordinary evocation of Egyptian life, its vitality undimmed 3,500 years later. As for Nebamun, in the hunting panel he towers over proceedings, his wife Hatshepsut beside him and their daughter at his feet. Wearing a black wig and a great collar of beads, he strikes a pose that is assured and proud, almost regal. Yet Nebamun was really just a bean counter - or to be precise, a grain counter whose job was to make sure the wheat stores in the temple of Amun were properly controlled. So how did this middle-grade civil servant acquire the services of one of the greatest painters of ancient Egypt while his superiors had to make do with second-rate artists? "These are the greatest paintings we have from ancient Egypt," Parkinson says. "There is nothing to touch them in any museum in the world. Yet they were created for an official too lowly to have been known by the pharaoh. It is quite extraordinary." Parkinson does, however, have an intriguing explanation. The "Michelangelo of the Nile" who created these great tomb panels was almost certainly working on another project in the neighbourhood of Nebamun's tomb at the time. This building or burial complex would have been constructed, and decorated, on a far grander style for a far more important figure. Nebamun merely slipped the artist and his team some extra cash and they stole off to paint his own panels. In short, the secret of his tomb and its great painting lies with one word: backhanders. "Life then was not that different from today," says Parkinson. Ironically, the artist's main project was no doubt a finer work, but it has disappeared, looted and trashed like the vast majority of ancient Egypt's great treasures. The Nebamun panels are the only record we have of this genius. We have therefore good reason to be grateful to Nebamun, one of life's perennial opportunists, but an astute collector of fine art just the same. As to their purpose, the paintings were intended to make Nebamun appear important in the afterlife. They would have covered the tomb's upper level, while his body was interred in a chamber below ground. Friends and family would have visited the upper part of the tomb, left gifts and held feasts to commemorate Nebamun's life. "This was where life and death merged," says Parkinson. Thus the paintings were not buried and hidden away but established a link between the living and the dead. Hence their importance to Nebamun's family. They were to be appreciated, leisurely, after the man's death as reminders of his achievements. They were certainly not created at a leisurely rate, however, as Parkinson has found in his investigations of the paintings. Once the tomb's stone walls had been erected, they were covered in straw and Nile mud mixed together into a squishy paste. Then, when this was dry, a thin layer of white plaster was added. As that started to dry, the artist and his team began to paint, using soot from cooking pots, desert stones for red, yellow and white pigments, and ground glass for blue and green. Rushes, chewed at the end, would have acted as brushes. Squashed into the dark, narrow upper tomb, the painters would have had to work by lamplight before the plaster dried. The results are almost impressionistic in the freedom of their execution. "I think Nebamun had all his paintings done for his tomb-chapel walls in three months," says Parkinson. "Yet the draughtsmanship was quite wonderful. The thing is that although the artist and his team may have done them in a few weeks, I have now spent a quarter of my life studying their handiwork." The panels' importance to modern eyes is clear. They tell us a great deal about ancient Egypt and its everyday activities, and about differences and similarities between life then and now. "The straw crates in which geese are sold at market - you see these on just about every street corner in Cairo," says Parkinson. "And the women's jet-black hair and skin colour are just the same as we see in Egypt today." However, Parkinson warns about drawing too many parallels between modern life and the scenes depicted in the panels. Objects and animals are often included because they had great symbolic importance. That great hunt scene is more than a depiction of everyday life: the birds and cat are symbols of fertility and female sexuality, and Nebamun's expedition can also be seen as "taking possession of the cycle of creations and rebirth", as one scholar has put it. Certainly, visitors should take care when trying to interpret the panels' meaning. Nevertheless, the paintings repay detailed inspection. On several of them, you can see where d'Athanasi's grave robbers had started to crowbar a panel from a wall only to find it cracking, ready to split. They would then move on to splinter open the panel at a new spot. "Only 20 per cent of the panels survived these attacks," adds Parkinson. "Only sections that would appeal to British audiences were taken: the ones with naked dancing girls and scenes from gardens. Perfect for our taste, in short." One or two other fragments did end up in other museums, including several that are now kept in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. Evidence also suggests that a handful of fragments may survive elsewhere. For example, records from the Cairo Museum show that, just after the second world war, a few sections from the tomb were about to be exported from Egypt, a move that was opposed by its government - so officials had the panel pieces photographed and stored in the great vaults below the Cairo Museum. And that is where they rest today, though their precise location has been lost. All that is known is that among the tens of thousands of other ancient treasures kept in the museum's store, the missing Nebamun panels are today gathering dust in a dark, lost corner. It is a strange fate and it invites - irresistibly - a comparison with the fictional resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, dumped in a mammoth warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. In short, a fantastic end for some fantastic art.

Treasure Trove!

From the Jewish Community Voice, published by the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey December 31, 2008 Ancient coins found in Jerusalem STRIKING GOLD… A cache of ancient gold coins was discovered at a Jerusalem archeological site. More than 250 coins, thought to be 1,300 years old, were found in the excavations at the Givati car park in the City of David. Archeological excavations under the auspices of the Israel Antiquities Authority began in the area two years ago. The coins were discovered on the site of a large seventh century C.E. building that is being uncovered. Since no other pottery vessels were discovered near the hoard, it is suspected that the coins were hidden inside a niche in the building's wall, according to Dr. Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, the directors of the excavation at the site on behalf of the Antiquities Authority. "This is one of the largest and most impressive coin hoards ever discovered in Jerusalem—certainly the largest and most important of its period," the directors said in a news release. (JTA)

"Fires of Vesuvius" by Mary Beard

Historian Mary Beard has a new book on the market, fascinating in its approach to telling us (average readers) what archaeology can - and cannot - tell us, even in this day of modern technological miracles and analysis. From The St. Petersburg Times Review: In 'Fires of Vesuvius' by Mary Beard, Pompeii's ruins have much to tell By David Walton, Special to the Times In print: Sunday, January 4, 2009 “Everything is not as it may at first seem," historian Mary Beard says of today's Pompeii, the Roman city buried by volcanic ash in an eruption of Mount Vesuvius on Aug. 27, 79 CE. The destruction of Pompeii is one of the best-remembered incidents from ancient history, not just for its drama, but also because an entire city "frozen in time" offers a unique glimpse into everyday life in the ancient world. Graffiti is still on the walls, bodies still in the postures of dying. But, as Beard points out in her wonderfully comprehensive The Fires of Vesuvius, Pompeii has two histories, one that ended with the eruption, another that began with the excavation. Throughout the 19th century people dug, reconstructed, speculated and theorized and, as millions today do, toured the site. Beard's book is, first of all, an excellent account of what the ruins of Pompeii can and cannot tell us. Archaeologists can now determine from preserved seeds and pollen exactly what plants grew in Pompeii's gardens. They can measure the plaque on the victims' teeth. Yet we cannot be sure what the upstairs rooms of houses were used for, or for certain where people slept. Nor can we assume that objects were in their ordinary locations. Rather than a city frozen in time, Pompeii was, Beard says, a city in flight — evidenced by the comparatively few bodies found. Especially misleading is the "austere modernist aesthetic, uncluttered, even uncomfortably empty," of reconstructed homes. Furniture and doors were burned away, leaving only bone hinges, bronze fittings and outlines of furnishings. Early visitors entered Pompeii through its cemeteries, which by Roman custom were outside the city. Victorian visitors were entering a city of the dead. We today enter through a Visitor Center — but the distinction goes beyond commercialism. For Beard, drawing on the latest archaeological findings, Pompeii is a living city. David Walton is a writer in Pittsburgh.
The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found By Mary Beard Harvard University Press, 360 pages, $26.95

Hastings International Chess Congress

IM/WGM Jovanka Houska is hanging tough with the leaders after 7 rounds of the Masters Tournament at the Hastings International Chess Congress (December 28, 2008 - January 5, 2009) with 5.0. Her round 8 matchup will be a tough one, as she is outranked by nearly 200 ELO points. Eek! 3 HOUSKA,Jovanka 2399 (5) - HOWELL,David 2593 (5) 20 3 A relative hand-full of other chess femmes are also playing in the Hastings Masters (104 entries): HAGESAETHER Arne, NOR, 2181 FLEAR Christine, FRA, wim 2092 WILSON Alexandra, SUI, wfm 2026 NORINKEVICIUTE Rasa, LTU, wfm 2005 JUCIUTE Einora, LTU, 1815 DALE Hannah, ENG unr Houska is the currently reigning British Women's Chess Champion.

Rilton Cup

Several chess femmes are playing in the Rilton Cup (December 27, 2008 - January 5, 2009) - here are their standings after R8: 10 GM Cramling Pia SWE 2550 5,5 34 WIM Boric Elena BIH 2292 4,0 43 WGM Sammalvuo Niina FIN 2249 4,0 72 Agrest Inna SWE 2215 1,0 (in last place) Leader: 1 GM Wojtaszek Radoslaw POL 2599 6,0
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