Monday in Amarna

And yet more time goes by. Does it ever seem like it goes faster the older you get?

On Monday this week, physically I sat in the Hillsborough County Courthouse awaiting to fulfill my civic duty as a juror. The room was too cold, the seats uncomfortable, but I was happy to bear the burden of my duties as a citizen- it really is one of the finest and yet remaining cornerstones of our government, more so, I begin to believe, than even voting or writing letters to our congresspersons and senators.

But before I go off on a rant because I just cracked that door open- the corruption, lack of foresight, lack of sound judgment, greed of our elected representatives and the corporate media, etc etc ad nauseum...I can see it through the crack, I recognize it, and it repulses me no end. Others have expounded on this far more eloquently than I could (thanks Andi), and so I will slam that door and say only that on Monday, I did my part, even if it was only to warm a seat for 7.5 hours and then be sent home without deciding any of my peers' fates.

But really, I must be honest here and say that altough my pinstripe-skirted bottom sat in an institutional chair, my heart mind and soul were across the globe and a few thousand years distant in Akhenaten and Nefertiti's city.

The Saturday before Jury Duty, I discovered the Old Tampa Book Company, a little gem of a used/rare/out-of-print bookstore in downtown. I dug through the stacks, feeling quite at home, delighting at the smell of old books. There is really no smell quite like it- comfortable and just the slightest bit musty, the smell of a collection of minds upon dusty shelves. And upon one of these shelves, I found a book by the irrepressible Mary Chubb called Nefertiti Lived Here.

Come Monday, I escaped the drudgery of jury duty along with the Miss Mary. The book itself, its physical dimensions, typeset, paper, are charming. A hardback, it is small enough to read in bed, and lightweight. Its cover is a delightful recreation of a painting of ibis among lotus plants taken from an Amarna pavement painting. As I read, I delighted not just in Miss Mary's retelling of her experience, but also in the wide margins, old fashioned typeset (1954), and pen/ink illustrations that are charmingly reminiscent of St Expery's The Little Prince. Best of all, the paper itself has some sort of sparkle in it so that when the light shines on the paper, it glows.

Page 75 has an upside-down 'j' in the word 'just'. I am well over half-way through the book now, and so far, that upside-down letter has been the only mistake. The book once belonged to a John Morris of 57 Blake Court, South St. Gosport, his inscription tight and unobtrusive under the jacket cover on the outer left corner of the front cover.

Nefertiti Lived Here is a memoir of Miss Chubb's time at an archaeological expedition to Amarna in 1930. Her memoir opens after a year of secretaryship at the Bloomsbury Egyptological Society; she is bored beyond compare and dreads yet another day in the dreary offices of the Victorian restored house trying to make sense of the archaeologists' field reports and accounting records. In the basement on a rainy Tuesday in February, she discovers a tile from Amarna that likely hasn't been touched since it was brought back from Egypt.

That one little tile, as it spills Egyptian sand through her fingers, suddenly clears the clouds in her mind and she is completely hooked. As she writes:

"I don't suppose any one of them [archaeologists] would have said, 'I saw a beautiful thing made by an ancient Egyptian, and that was enough for me to decide on this for a profession.' but something, some accidental chance even, had once set that self-same nerve thrumming, so that there was nothing for him to do but go back in space and time and search patiently for the truth."

I almost wept as I read that line.

She finagles her way into accompanying the next expedition to Amarna as the field secretary, and the rest of the book is a lighthearted, highly readable but intellecually luminous recounting of her adventures as part of the dig to uncover the mystery of the Heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten and his lovely Queen Nefertiti.

And here's the amazing part: I bought this out-of-print edition for $6.50. I did an amazon.com search for it, and the out-of-print version was listed for $99- and one not in as good a condition as mine. Holy Heiroglyphs Batman, what a steal! It's a priceless little gem I am proud to have added to my new and growing Egypt library (what Charles has taken to calling my "book binge". HAH. If only he'd looked at my amazon.com Wish List, he'd know what a real book binge looks like).


Blogger andi said...

what an awesome find!!!!!! i hope some day i get to see it - the thought of sparkly pages is just too tempting!

i have been called to jury duty next week, what a co-inky-dink.

my current read (after another jaunt through Clive Barker's Imajica) is Ursula K. LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven. I'm hooked.

8:10 AM  

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