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Tuesday, January 9, 2008

Getting on the bus

Mark, Cassandra, and Margaret head to the bus as we leave Cairo and head toward Alexandria. The weather is unseasonably cold and rainy and unfortunately promises to be the same on the Mediterranean. But everyone is looking forward to seeing monuments of the later era of Egypt’s history, especially after having seen the numerous great pyramids and tombs of the Old and Middle Kingdoms. Our guide Tarek had to leave us in Cairo, and we reluctantly said good-by to him.  We have a new tour guide today, Yasser, who introduces the city of Alexandria to us as we ride.

Yasser, the guide

Reading assignment
Reading assignment

To prepare everyone has been given reading assignments that provide historical, geographical, and site information about Alexandria in the period between 323 and 30 BCE. Jen is reading the Penguin guide to Ancient Egypt with its description of the major monuments, while Harvey is learning about the history of the Ptolemaic era by reading the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Later on the activity turns to other endeavors, and we see Margaret, Yasser, Eden, Jen, and Megan playing cards in the rear of the bus. Believe me, it was a noisy game, but I can’t really say who won.

Playing cards

Welcome at the hotel in Alexandria

We arrived in Alexandria at our hotel – a lovely old building right on the water with quite beautiful public rooms. Unfortunately its age also showed prominently in the plumbing. You see the group having its welcome drink (a fixture of hotels that everyone seemed to like). Jen, Fornati, Megan, Nina and Eden are toasting each other upon their Alex arrival, and afterwards we headed off to lunch before a trip to the National Museum.

At lunch

At the National Museum, Alexandria
At the National Museum, Alexandria

The museum is a revelation! The entrance area is dedicated to the remarkable underwater finds from the harbor, including the great Thutmoside era (ca 1500-1400 BCE) large black statue head from a king’s statue. You see Ashlyn, Sarah, and Alex, and Laney looking at this wonderful object, and we were only sorry that we could not yet see the underwater remains. In the museum’s main galleries are numerous works of art, many transferred from Cairo and elsewhere in order to create a truly comprehensive collection. Betsy spoke with students as they wandered through, answering questions and sometimes pointing out specific elements to look for. You see her pointing to a group of statues dedicated by nobles of Egypt’s 25th to 30th Dynasties (ca 750 to 525 BCE) describing types of statues, their functions, and elements that can help to assign a date to the work (short of being able to read ancient Egyptian).

At the National Museum, Alexandria
Leaving the National Museum

Nina, Megan, Eden and Fornati out in Alexandria

Nina, Megan, Eden and Fornati went out after our museum visit to learn about their environment. Unfortunately it was cold and rainy, but they visited a bakery and looked for internet cafes before returning for our first evening meeting.

Class meeting    Class meeting

Class meeting

Class meeting

We met in a fancy banquet room for our first meeting where we talked about what we have seen and what we have read. Hopkins students are always such a pleasure for faculty, and I can only underline that fact here. These meetings were a treat for me, because always there were highly perceptive comments made by the students that indicated how entirely engaged with the program they were. We had our provocateurs – Margaret, particularly, and sometimes Shaina – and we had our orators --  Sarah without a doubt – but everyone participated and contributed, whether we discussed ancient or modern Egypt.  This first meeting set a very bar that continued whenever we gathered.  Just look at the level of involvement on the faces such as Meredith, Fornati, Shaina and Mark as they listen to Megan, Jen, Eden, and Shaina, as they listen to Sarah, and Margaret and Laura adding their thoughts.

Class meeting
Class Meeting
Class meeting

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