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FayumBWWhile reading this great post about the Egyptian Museum in Turin, I was assaulted by memories of my own about the place.

I was there only once, many years ago. Nearly thirty years ago, actually – which makes me feel considerably old. As a young girl I once spent a week in Turin with my parents. My father was there for Army reasons, and my mother and I tagged along, and were foisted upon a young officer*, who showed us around. Under his guidance we also visited the Egyptian Museum. The place was quite impressive – more than a little cave-like, with its cavernous rooms and scant lighting… I remember especially the great hall with its procession of statues emerging from the gloom, a glass case containing a pair of mummified hands the colour of parchment, and the haunting eyes of the Fayum mummy portraits. I was an easily spooked child, and I remember lying awake the night after the visit, thinking of those hands and eyes… PaneEgizioBW

And yet, the most lasting impression was made by something else. Something as small and ordinary as a loaf of bread. It had been put in a tomb, and resisted through several thousand years, and there it sat, in a glass case – one of several round, flat loaves, the sort you might find in any bakery to this day, still bearing the imprint of the hands that kneaded it…

I think I have already said that my love of history grew through a series of smaller and bigger epiphanies. Well, the Egyptian Loaf was one of them. I could imagine so well this long-dead baker kneading the dough, shaping it, baking it in the oven – just the way we do it, or as little differently as it makes no odd – and… Shall it sound dreadfully fanciful, if I say “and handing it to us, as if through a window across the millennia”? Because this is what it felt like, back then, in the cool, shady rooms of the Egyptian Museum in Turin. An overwhelming sense of things unchanged – or very little. A sudden sense of kinship with a dizzyingly distant past that, three decades later, still manages to give me a shiver.

 

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* I call him a young officer now, but back then he seemed quite old to me. He must have been in his thirties… Did I mention I’m feeling old at the moment?

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