Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Egyptian Art and Chronographs

An easy agenda this morning, the Osiris exhibition at the Rietberg Museum and a dry run of our train departure tomorrow.
One of the nicer things about booking your Air BnB just up the hill from your host (on the exquisite tram system) is how easy it is to connect. It helps of course that the tram system is Swiss and runs within 30 seconds of the posted schedule. We hopped on at Zolikerberg at 9:22 and dragged Chris about at Rehalp at 9:27.
After a nice Americano and croissant (finally called “cornutti,” I’d been looking for that all over Italy, coming the closest in Milan with “brioche”) second breakfast we caught another tram around the lake and over into an as yet unexplored area of Zurich. Leafier, a bit fancier, this district is home to the Rietberg Museum. In 1949, the citizens of Zurich voted on turning the Villa Wesendonck into a museum for the collection of Baron Eduard von der Heydt which was to be donated to the city. In 1952, the Museum Rietberg of the City of Zurich opened its doors to the public.
The villa has an interesting past, including a period in which Richard Wagner was a guest of Otto and Mathilde Wesendonck who had moved into their villa in 1857. Patrons of the arts, they often hosted well-known and rising talents. Wagner had fled to Zurich in 1849 after narrowly avoided arrest for his participation in the May uprisings in Dresden. Wagner and his wife Minna lived in a small cottage on the grounds, but judging from his letters of the time, he was completely smitten with his hostess, so much so that he presented Mathilde with the libretto of his opera “Tristan and Isolde” on New Year’s Eve 1857.
This caused a crisis, Minna left Wagner, returning to her family in Dresden, Wagner abandoned both of them and fled to Venice in August of the following year and the Wesendoncks sold their villa and moved back to Germany.



But the real purpose of our visit was not to follow in the footsteps of Wagner, but rather to partake of the Osiris Exhibition, a superb collection of 16 centuries worth of Egyptian artifacts recovered from the sunken city of Thonis-Heracleion over the past 20 years.
In 1992, the IEASM (Institut Européen Archéologie Sous-Marine) began a project to discover and investigate the site of Thonis-Heracleion, a city in the Nile Delta that had spanned more than 3000 years of habitation. The area had disappeared beneath the Mediterranean by the end of the 8th century, due to subsidence of the soil by way of a bad combination of water-logging and big stone buildings. Whether a tidal wave, tidal phenomenon or earthquake contributed is up for debate.
Nonetheless, using ancient Christian texts describing a thriving Greek and Roman city on the spot, archeologists began investigating, finally discovering it in 2000. The resulting finds were spectacular, due mainly to the preservation afforded by the sea and silt.
The exhibition offers more than 300 artifacts, from the Age of the Pharaohs to the Greek Ptolemaic Period and concluding with the Roman Empire. From stone sphinxes, all the way down to tiny Greek coins. Very well presented and described, it was truly a world class show. No pictures allowed sadly, so I stole this one from the web. Depicting Taweret (hippo/lion goddess) and carved in graywacke (a dark, coarse grained sandstone,) it was so incredibly detailed and smooth that we all stood and stared and tried to understand how it was made.

The permanent collection includes many outstanding Chinese porcelains, and carvings including some that were clearly lifted from the Norther Wei Dynasty sites I’ve visited in Luoyang and Datong. Another vast collection of Tibetan and Indian religious art resides in the main villa. Their modest set of Japanese woodblock prints from the Hiroshige period reminded me why I would love to collect them.
We spent a few hours soaking up all that culture and then caught a train back to the Hauptbahnhof to have a look at how we will catch our train tomorrow morning. Like every other station, this one has its nuances and we figured why not have a look without our suitcases. Having a good idea of how to proceed we left and walked up Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s fancy shopping street. Because, well, I wanted to window shop for watches.

In my experience, watches are sold (retail) in two ways – a big watch emporium in a place like New York, Paris or Beijing, or independent brand focused stores, also in big cities. The latter are usually tiny, and sometimes sited in relationship with equivalent brands. Here, we here is different – huge, one floor on a city block, devoted to a single brand, stores. In other words, Candyland for me. We crisscrossed the street, fast-walking from Breguet to Rolex to Chopard to Omega to Vacheron so I could stop and drool in front of every window. It was simultaneously wonderful and more painful than I can describe. Because while I might be able to convince myself that I have the means, I certainly don’t have the will. So, I left it at imagining just how beautiful that Blancpain Steel Flyback Chronograph Grande Date Léman with black dial would look on my wrist.



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