Tuesday, 18 October 2011


I went to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge the other day. It's completely free (apart from the cost of the plane ticket from Australia, of course) and it is full of treasures. The first things to catch my eye on this visit were these:

Look at the dates. Staring at these objects, I feel that there's almost a direct line back through time between me and an individual who sat quietly somewhere, making them with patient skill. (And don't let's even get started on what's going on in Sudan these days.)

And as for the glass how did it survive at all? By not passing through my butter fingers I suppose.


  1. I was amazed that the first one wasn't modern. It looks like something from some artsy metropolitan gallery. Really cool.

  2. There's a museum near here with shelves of Mayan (I think they are) pottery pieces, some of them painted with twisting monsters, cats, symbolic animals, water creatures, gods and people -- wonderful things. The signs will tell you that "This whatever-it-is was an important figure in Mayan death rituals" (or in medicine or birth or protection from evil), but the information is rarely longer than that, and I look at the paintings and wonder what this thing, or cat, or bird, was doing in the death ritual; where did it sit in that ritual's ecology? In one case the sign gets more explicit and explains that the bowls I'm looking at have holes in them because they (I don't remember who "they" were in this instance, Mayans or their neighbours or someone else) used to put a bowl over the face of each fresh corpse and knock a piece out of the bottom so that a spirit would be freed from the clay and fly away to help the spirit of the dead, up and out, holding, perhaps, its hand.

  3. Chris - it is something I would love to have.
    Umbagollah - I just read a long article about the travails of present day Las Vegas and wondered, not for the first time, what exactly has brought you there. I've decided you are in the implosion business (the article said buildings are imploded all the time there), so I'm guessing you snuck off, after a successful implosion, to inspect this museum - or perhaps you inspected it just before imploding it. How do they know about the hole and the spirit, I wonder. And, of course, the ultimate question - who thought up the bits of the ritual and who decided that, yes, they would be allowed to become part of the ritual?

  4. They've got a spare blank wall with a stack of post-it notes on a tiny shelf in front, and a sign above asking visitors to recommend a new display for that wall, and I've been toying with the idea of writing, "Tell us more about the backgrounds of those rituals, explain --" what you've just suggested there. Why did one person's bowl have a picture of a fish and another person's bowl have a bird? And, yes, how did they figure out that this was the reason for all those holey bowls? And -- everything.

    We're here because it was the only place in the US where we could find work. The level of unemployment in this city is actually rising, but we were lucky.

    Unhappily not in implosions, but if someone offered me the chance to push a plunger and watch a building go whoompf I wouldn't say no. The next casino scheduled for demolition would be a place called O'Shea's across the road from Caesars Palace. They're going to replace it with a shopping area and a ferris wheel. (The universal reaction has been, "But they have beer pong!" Beer pong will be shifted to another property, promises the management company, owner of more than one casino. "But what about the midgets who dress as leprechauns?")

  5. Each team tries to throw ping pong balls into the other team's beer.

  6. Oh, I see (she said, mystified - It sounds messy and presumably a lot of beer gets wasted: but each to his own, I suppose.)