A Blog to Keep the Lizards Away. It's about posting and sharing the things I'm into. Hope you enjoy the show!

Friday, 29 April 2011

The Curse of the Mummy


Egyptian boy pharaoh Tutankhamen's travelling exhibition "Gold of the Pharaohs" has opened in Melbourne for a sell-out season. And once again the perennial "Curse of the Mummy" myth has surfaced. There are some strange circumstances that give breath to the myth but like all things the truth is in the eye of the beholder.

3,275 years ago when Tutankhamen's tomb in the Valley of the Kings, on the West bank of the Nile at Thebes [now Luxor] was sealed, the High Priest Ay placed an inscription above the door. Loosely translated from ancient text it reads, "Death will come on swift wings to whoever toucheth this Pharaoh."
On the 26th November 1922, Lord Carnarvon [above] and his archaeologist Howard Carter broke the seals and entered Tutankhamen's tomb for the first time. Five months later Lord Carnarvon was dead.

Exceedingly wealthy, Lord Carnarvon from Highclere Castle in Scotland, sponsored the excavation of the royal tomb. When he and Carter opened the tomb they exposed treasures unsurpassed in the history of archaeology.

Some months later, after Carnarvon had finally obtained permission to start clearing the tomb, he was bitten on the cheek by a mosquito. That night he returned from the tomb to his suite in the Winter Palace Hotel, on the East Bank at Luxor, Carnarvon accidentally cut himself shaving over the mosquito bite. His cut-throat razor could have been rusty. The cut became infected. Carnarvon returned to the Continental-Savoy Hotel in Cairo to recuperate but he died of blood poisoning on 5th April, 1923.

Co-incidentally, minutes after Carnarvon died, his prized pet dog, a cute little Terrier called Suzie, left behind in Highclere Castle, rolled over and also died. Thus the curse was born.

Lord Carnarvon's partner Howard Carter, the first to enter the tomb, defied the curse to live to a ripe old age. However, despite being the world's most famous egyptologist, Carter was never officially recognised for his achievements and died a broken old man. 

His last years were spent sitting on the outside steps of Luxor's Winter Palace Hotel, hoping to earn a few pounds by recanting his story of how he unearthed the greatest archaeological discovery of all time.

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Ultimate MotorSport

Here is a pic of my now restored Speedway bike. It's a 1949 JAP 500. I found the motor in New Zealand and had to scrounge around for the rest of the bits. If ever you went to watch the Speedway years ago then this is what they were riding. The ultimate form of motorsport. All the bikes were identical. 500cc. One Gear. And No Brakes! You had to be really brave and have huge testicles!

Speedway racing first started in Australia in the 1920s, at Maitland near Newcastle, in NSW. Australian champion Lionel van Pragg won the first ever World Solo Title at Wembley Stadium in 1936, becoming the world's first motorsport champion. Most of our good guys then went to England every year to race in the local Speedway League.

And this is how they ride them. Elbow to elbow into the turns, fully sideways at over 100 kph. If someone fell in front the only way to stop was to pull your bike down as well and hopefully skid to a stop without hitting anything or anyone. 

One of the most successful riders ever was New Zealander Ivan Mauger. He won 15 World Speedway and Long Track titles and was presented with a gold-plated bike at the end of his career.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

James Dean is 80!

If James Dean was still alive he would be 80 years old. He died in 1955 aged 24. Born James Byron Dean in Indiana in 1931, he was orphaned at age 11 and suffered at the hands of a local pastor. James Dean only ever made three films - East of Eden in 1956, Rebel Without a Cause with Sal Mineo in 1957 and then Giant with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor. He received two Oscar nominations for his work in Rebel Without A Cause and Giant.

James Dean was killed in a car crash. He was driving to Salinas in California to race his new Porsche 550 Spyder when he swerved off the road and died instantly. He became the symbol of a generation and an icon to rebellion. Buddy Holly once said, " Death can be a great career move."

Pyramid Secrets

The Great Pyramid of Cheops [Khufu] 2551 - 2528 B.C. is over 4,500 years old. It was already over 1,000 years old when Tutankhamen was born. Built on the Giza plateau, cased in white limestone polished to a glass smooth finish and embellished with a brilliant real gold tip, the Pyramid glittered in the desert like a gigantic glass prism. Was the Great Pyramid an astronomical observatory? Was it an almanac? A geographic marker? Was it a tomb?

In 900 A.D. when Al Mamun, the Caliph of Cairo, forced his way into the pyramid for the first time he found nothing! No gold. No statues. No Pharaoh's mummy. The sarcophagus empty! In fact there is absolutely nothing on the outside or inside of the pyramid to say who it belonged to. All the surfaces, even in the King's burial chamber are polished smooth with no decoration whatsoever.

The only way we know it belonged the Pharaoh Cheops came to light in Napoleon's time, when an inside foundation stone was exposed to reveal a small dedication to the Pharaoh from the workers who fashioned the block. What happened to his mummy? Was he ever buried in the pyramid?

Unlike the Middle Kingdom pharaohs who were interned with everything they needed for the after-life and decorated the walls with scenes boasting their achievements, Al Mamun the Caliph found the burial chamber completely clean with no evidence of a previous break-in and robbery. Even today we still don't know the answer.

There are enough secrets surrounding the Great Pyramid to drive pyramidologists crazy.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Gaudi Genius

Antonin Gaudi [1852-1926]

An Incomparable and Unique Genius

“The straight line is the line of Man, the curve is the line of God” Antonin Gaudi

Some years ago I made a special trip to Barcelona just to see the incredible work of Antonin Gaudi, Spain's most famous design architect. Gaudi left his footprint all over Barcelona and you can easily spend a fascinating day visiting the sites.

Gaudi's Amazing Casa Batllo Apartment Building [1904- 1906]

This is the exterior of Casa Batllo, Barcelona, an apartment building designed entirely by Gaudi and considered his masterwork.

Inside Casa Batllo is just as amazing. A wonderful, incredible example of Nouveau free-flowing style, exquisite stain-glass windows, beautiful woodwork and ceramic decoration. The degree of detail and design has to be seen to be believed. Every single aspect of this building is conceptual right down to the buttons on the elevator panel. And check out this picture of Gaudi's skylight design!

Casa Mila, Barcelona  [1906-1910]

Casa Mila [also known as La Pedrera - or The Quarry]. It was built for the married couple, Roser Segimon and Pere Milà. Roser Segimon was the wealthy widow of Josep Guardiola, an Indiano, a term applied locally to the Catalans returning from the American colonies with tremendous wealth.

Gaudi's La Sagrada Famile Cathedral. 

Easily the highest form on Barcelona's skyline, this building is still being completed 85 years after his death. After finishing work one night Gaudi was hit by a tram outside the Cathedral and killed. Fortunately he left behind a scale model allowing todays craftsmen to interpret his design. The whole building is a seething mass of melting shapes and sculptures which have to be seen to be believed. I was lucky enough to be allowed up into the highest spire. One of the builders took me up in the bucket of a crane. Very scary but the best view of the surrounding city imaginable.

Up close detail of the carving covering the entire La Sagrada Famile Cathedral.

Gaudi's apartment blocks have an incredible variety of Chimney Stacks. Every set totally unique.

The Gaudi wrought iron gates of a Goverment building.

A ceramic tiled Gaudi fountain in Barcelona's Guell Park.

Gaudi's Crypt stained glass

Major Works of Gaudí
Cooperativa Obrera Mataronense (1878–1882) Mataró
El Capricho (1883–1885) Comillas
Casa Vicens (1883–1888) Barcelona
Sagrada Família (1883–1926) Barcelona
Güell Pavilions (1884–1887) Barcelona
Palau Güell (1886–1890) Barcelona
Colegio de las Teresianas (1888–1889) Barcelona
Episcopal Palace of Astorga (1889–1915) Astorga
Casa Botines (1891–1894) León
Bodegas Güell (1895–1897) Sitges
Casa Calvet (1898–1900) Barcelona
Bellesguard (1900–1909) Barcelona
Parc Güell (1900–1914) Barcelona
Casa Batlló (1904–1906) Barcelona
Artigas Gardens (1905–1906) La Pobla de Lillet
Casa Milà (1906–1910) Barcelona
Church of Colònia Güell (1908–1915) Colònia Güell (Santa Coloma de Cervelló)

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Bigger Than Elvis!

He is bigger than Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, The Beatles and Michael Jackson. He is the biggest Dead Celebrity Earner and he died over 3,000 years ago! The boy Pharaoh Tutankhamen is the biggest box-office attraction of all time. In 2007 a travelling exhibition "Golden Age of the Pharaohs" featuring 50 objects from Tutankhamen's tomb started touring the United States. The Los Angeles Museum of Art pre-sold 250,000 tickets and then another 500,000 tickets in the first 30 days. Fort Lauderdale hosted 707,534 visitors in 4 months. Philidelphia sold 1.3 million tickets and Dallas sold 600,000, making it the biggest exhibition in U.S. history. In London at the 02 Dome they sold out 2 million tickets immediately.
Tutankhamen then went across Europe and is now opening in Melbourne. Tickets sold across the world to date exceed 14 million, earning hundreds of millions of dollars for the Museums and Egypt's Council of Antiquities.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Mosaic Masks of the Aztec Gods

 I recently visited the British Museum, mainly to see the Egyptian antiquities. Whilst the vast Pharaonic display did not disappoint, what I found fascinating was the Museum's incredible collection of Aztec and Mayan objects. This jade mosaic ritual mask of Tezcatlipoca [above] had me hypnotized. Tezcatlipoca was one of the Creator Gods from central Mexico's 15th-16th century AD Aztec civilization.

This Tezcatlipoca image is called "the Skull of the Smoking Mirror." Tezcatlipoca created the Gods, Warriors and Sorcerers and he is said to have carried a "magic mirror that gave off smoke and killed his enemies." When you look at this skull the "mirrored" eyes seem to engage you and follow you in a very disconcerting manner.

 This is the mask of Quetzalcoatl "the feathered serpent" another Mesoamerican deity in Mayan and Aztec civilizations, first appearing around the time of Christ.

Quetzalcoatl developed into the patron god of Aztec priesthood, learning and knowledge. Here he is as the "feathered serpent" and part of a frieze on an Aztec temple wall.

This photoshop construction was tagged Quetzalcoatl. Some misguided enthusiast has gone to a lot of trouble in visualizing a "feathered serpent." I'm not sure the Mayans would think much of this.

Red Bull's Hangar 7 Museum

 Here's something to put on your Bucket List. You must see the Red Bull Hangar 7 Fluegzeug Museum - Air and Art Museum. It's next door to Salzburg Airport in Austria. This is where Red Bull's billionaire owner keeps his toys - and its one amazing shed! Housed in an award-winning design glass hangar structure this display of vintage and modern planes, jets, helicopters, F1 cars, GP bikes, Nascars etc is incredible. And Hangar 7 is also an art space showing first release and touring exhibitions.
 A North American B25 Mitchell has been buffed to perfection.
 Sebastian Vettel's F1 racer is one of many current race cars on display.
A Viewing Bar and Lounge - the owner can look down and admire his collection. Hangar 7 also hosts the world-class Ikarus Restaurant where some of Europes best chefs take turns feeding his distinguished guests.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Hair Today Gone Tomorrow

This young guy worked on a stall in Luxor's tourist market district. Everyday I would walk past and he would have a different complex hair style. Everyday equally as intricate as this day. Great imagination and way too much time on his hands.

Bernini's Masterpiece

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was born in Naples in 1598. He grew to be a master sculptor, painter and architect and an outstanding exponent of Italian Baroque. One of his greatest masterpieces is often overlooked. The bronze columned canopy over the high altar in St Peters Basilica in Rome is extraordinary. Carved from four massive ebony trunks which are dressed in bronze, the columns are punctuated with carvings of small gold bees. The scale in the overall space is imposing without being overwhelming. He was a genius.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Ramose the Nobleman

18th dynasty nobleman Ramose and his wife

On Luxor's West bank, between the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, the Tombs of the Nobles nestle quietly in the mountain range, above the Village of el Qurna. These tombs belong to the new kingdom pharaoh's royal court officials. The architects, administrators, treasurers and personal staff who were rewarded in death with a privileged burial and a peaceful afterlife, surrounded by their worldly goods in an elegant tomb.

Nobleman Ramose and his wife's Theban tomb [TT55] is perhaps the most majestic. All of the tombs are beautiful but this one is spectacular in it's size and quality of construction.

Ramose was Vizier to both Amenhotep 111 and his son Amenhotep 1V [Akhenaten]. A Vizier was the highest post within the Administration. The simplistic design and workmanship illustrate the exquisite style of the 18th dynasty. The tomb is lined in white alabaster, a perfect palette for ancient sculptors and painters. The artistic work is a mix of Amenhotep's precise form and Akhenaten's natural Amarna style that went on to influence Tutankamen's reign.

For over 400 years, the tombs of the Nobles were watched over by residents of the el Qurna village. The Qurna villagers started by living in the entrances to the tombs and over time new generations expanded these makeshift homes into quite large mudbrick houses. They lived off the tourists and were known to deal in mostly fake antiquities, they claimed came from the tombs behind their houses.

The Qurna village has all but gone now, in the name of progress the villagers were evicted and their houses razed. They now live in New Qurna, a desolate site in the desert, in new but much smaller government houses, already crumbling after only three years.

Seti 1 at Abydos

Seti 1 and the Goddess Isis share a tender moment in his Temple at Abydos. 145 klms North of Luxor, Abydos was the chief seat of the worship of Osiris, Lord of the Underworld. This temple is the most beautiful and one of the best preserved in all of the Ancient world. The quality and style of it's decoration is unsurpassed.

Ancient Evenings

Rameses 11 guards the gates of the Luxor Temple against a background of the Goddess Nut's Astrological ceiling in Hathor's Temple at Dendera. Sometimes double exposure works.

Rameses 11 again. This time against the giant Hathor columns in the Dendera Temple's Hypostyle Hall.