East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Alone with the Pharaohs


IMG20150227093001810_900_700Even the best laid plans…
Summer is here, and I had been planning a one day vacation for a while.
The idea is simple – ride the 7 am train to Turin, get th the Museo Egizio di Torino, and spend a whole day exploring the new layout of the museum.
It would have been a good thing for the Mana Brothers, and having my brother along – who studied Egyptology when he was in university – would have been a boon.

But my father’s health further deteriorated, and right now me and my brother can’t take a day off simultaneously – someone has to be at hand 24/7.

Which means that, if I will do it, I’ll go alone.
Just like when I was a kid.

Back when I was a kid I used to skip school and go to the Egyptian Museum instead.
Back then the collection was still in its old setting.
The Savoy House Egyptian collections had been piling up in Turin since the mid 18th century – the result of a mix of antiquarian and esoteric interest on the Savoys part – and the building in which they were housed had been specifically designed for the display of Egyptian antiquities.
It was dark, cool, almost deserted on week days, and quite spooky.


The entrance hall, like a big black cavern filled with huge statues of ancient gods and pharaohs was impressive.
Then one moved on to the exhibition rooms, with the creaky wooden floors and the shelves and glass cases filled with scarabs, cat mummies, everyday tools.
There was a full tomb, belonging to old architect Kah, and quite a selection of mummies.
It was a mysterious, magic place.

And the cats!
The place housed a healthy population of strays, that obviously considered the courtyard and the whole building their own, and tolerated the presence of the humans.
When in the mid-90s the new museum manager entered the building for the first time, the cats were expecting him, a long line of cats of all sizes, sitting patiently and looking at the new guy.
The director looked at them and blurted

We’ll have to suppress them all.

The news spread and I think he never recovered from the bad press and the popular outrage he caused.
Cat-hating ignorant fool.

Museo egizio-6

And so, say once a year, starting when I was about thirteen, I normally skipped one day at school, boarded the number 18 tram, and visited the mummies.
And just in case – my family knew, and they thought it was all right… I told them beforehand and they knew I was not in any immediate danger.

Well, not often – there was the time I was stalked by a raging junkie through the deserted center of town. I was probably sixteen.
He tailed me as I got out of the museum and he kept harassing me and shouting for about half an hour.
I kept walking – stopping at the bus stop was unthinkable.

But apart from that, I spent a lot of time alone with the Pharaohs…
Later, when I was in university, I kept going to the museum.
In a few instances I also gatecrashed Egyptology conferences – I remember a very nice lady talking with me for about one hour, in the lunch break between lectures, reminiscing about the time when she studied Egyptology.

Such interests do rub off – and my brother, when he was studying Oriental Languages took two courses in Egyptian Archaeology.
At that time we both decided we’d like to join the Friends of the Museum.
We spent months trying to locate the office where we could fill in our membership. Nobody knew anything, and the official seat of the Friends was always closed.
When we finally managed to find the place open and walked in, and expressed our desire to join the club, a very elegant, bejeweled lady looked at us like we were bums and in an extremely embarrassed voice said

But you are… I mean, you can’t…

When we asked what the impediment was, turned out they were all out of membership forms.
Like, forever.
When we left, she was obviously relieved.

And now, that the Museum has been completely redesigned, I wanted to get there with my brother.
But we can’t.
So in the next few weeks I’ll find a day, skip school, and be again alone with the Pharaohs.

I’ll post the photos.
Ah, back in the day they did not let us take pictures.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

4 thoughts on “Alone with the Pharaohs

  1. The new layout of the Museum is pretty awesome (but not spooky at all anymore – although the mummy of a woman called Tama, with her preserved hair. is fuel for nightmares)
    Also, one of the first rooms now features original forniture from the 19th century museum.


  2. Pingback: The Egyptian Loaf | Scribblings

  3. Pingback: I caught the Pulp Fiction Bug | Karavansara

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