Monday, September 20, 2010

All That Glitters

Today I went with three of my colleagues to a gold jewelry establishment in Alexandria to buy the quintessential Egyptian gift…the cartouche. For those of you who know your Pharonic history, a cartouche is the section of hieroglyphic drawings found on ancient temples, pyramids, papyrus scrolls and probably bathroom stalls, enclosed in an oblong with a straight line at the bottom which symbolizes the name of some member of the royal family or, in my case, some foreign tourist. Apparently, the idea was first concocted by Pharaoh Sneferu (not to be confused with Pharaoh Snafu whose reign was a total screw-up) who liked to circle his name to make it look bigger and more important than the other words. His wife was opting for the heart shape, but he thought the oblong looked manlier.
The historic importance of cartouches became apparent in 1799, after a bunch of Napoleon’s henchmen tripped over a big rock in Rosetta, Egypt and, since they were not yet into their second bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, said, “Mon dieu, nous avons découvert quelque chose!” They called the shapes cartouches, apparently because they looked a lot like the powder cartridges the soldiers used when they were taking pot shots at the nose of the Sphinx. Of course, this being the Napoleonic Wars and all, the Brits and the French tussled over the stone for a while, with Thomas Young (the Brit) recognizing that some of the hieroglyphic symbols had similarities to the Greek text while Jean-François Champollion (le Français), figured out that everything found in the oblong was a name, with each symbol representing a different letter. And, voila! The world could now read all about that harlot Cleopatra, the boy King Tut, the first cross-dresser Hatshepsut and the Ramses boys. And gold merchants could sell every royalty wannabe a piece of jewelry with their name preserved for time immortal just like the Pharaohs. From here on out, we shall refer to ourselves as Queen Kathryn, Ruler of the Cat Box, Empress of the Email, and Guardian of the Blog.


  1. Not so much wine drinking here, although now that Ramadan is over, I believe it is easier (but very expensive) to obtain. I need to take a trip and go through Duty Free to build up a stash (as if it would stick around very long!)