Sunday, April 5, 2009

Contemplating the Visit to Egypt...

Tomorrow is intended to be the highlight of our trip: Africa, Egypt, Cairo, and the Pyramids!

This makes me nervous. And, no, not for the reason(s) you think.

I started actively thinking about this after reading a very smart article in Art in America by Susan Tallman about the role of originality, reality, and locality in our appreciation for, and understanding of, works of art. In that article, the author wrote of a unit (termed the “Bennie”) for measuring the impact of experiencing a work of art first-hand. This got me to thinking: would the Egyptian Pyramids—the last remaining Wonder of the Ancient World—score high or low on my personal Bennie-ometer?

You see, expectations are very dangerous things.

In particular, I've found that my expectations are often smacked down by abject reality.

A common example cited by many people involves viewing Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa at the Louvre. It's a masterpiece. Sure. But in reality, the painting is also rather dark in tone and small in scale. And, it's utterly surrounded by a sea of tourists, many of whom ignore, as if completely devoid of sight or on some sort of “big game” hunt during a cultural safari, innumerable spectacular works en route to this sole painting. Worse yet, the image is so utterly familiar and so frequently reproduced that the “real” work is diminished (at least for many of us). Its iconic stature and frequent reproduction has, ironically, made the actual work—the real thing—rather small and common.

Of course, expectations cut the other way too. For example, a few years back we flew to Prague on a bit of a lark. As children, we grew up at the end of the cold war. We expected nothing... probably less than nothing... of this city and country that once lived behind the iron curtain. I think that, as ridiculous as it sounds, I half expected the country to be painted in an achromatic palette, just shades of gray under dark and brooding skies. Of course, this wasn't so. In reality, Prague is a beautiful city. The Czech people are wonderful. And, it's turned out to be one of our favorite places in Europe.

What will my impression of Egypt be tomorrow? I really don't know. But, I'm certainly hoping for something other than a “Mona Lisa in the desert” moment.

1 comment:

  1. There was a great special on Discovery Sunday evening. It gave a lot of interesting insight. It made us even more anxious to see Egypt.