Nov. 26, 2009

In Sickness and Health

by Alicia Suskin Ostriker

My friend whose husband
will soon succumb to cancer
loves to lie next to him at night

to smell him and feel the warm
stomach and flanks through his pajamas
the two of them are glad

he can still walk the streets of New York
still get tickets to the Philharmonic on impulse
they never fight any more

"In Sickness and Health" by Alicia Suskin Ostriker, from The Book of Seventy. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Thanksgiving Day, the day Americans express gratitude for their good fortune by eating one of the biggest meals of the year. As early as 1621, the Puritan colonists of Plymouth, Massachusetts, set aside a day of thanks for a bountiful harvest.

It's the birthday of the cartoonist Charles Schulz, (books by this author) born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1922. On October 2, 1950, "Peanuts" made its national debut.

It's the birthday of the novelist Marilynne Robinson, (books by this author) born in Sandpoint, Idaho (1943), whose first novel, Housekeeping (1980), was nominated for the Pulitzer. Robinson seemed to have come out of nowhere, and people couldn't wait to see what she would write next. But instead of writing another novel, she wrote a book of nonfiction about nuclear waste in England, and a collection of essays about philosophy and theology. She took a teaching job in Iowa and worked on the side as a deacon at her church. It took her more than two decades to write her second novel, Gilead, which came out in 2004, and it won the Pulitzer Prize.

It's the birthday of the science writer Jonathan Weiner, (books by this author) born in New York City in 1953. In the late 1980s, global warming and climate change weren't talked about very much, so Weiner wrote a book to help ordinary people understand these issues. It was called The Next One Hundred Years: Shaping the Fate of Our Living Earth (1990). Then he wrote The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time (1994), which won the Pulitzer Prize.

It was on this day in 1922 that archaeologist Howard Carter and his patron Lord Carnarvon became the first people in more than 3,000 years to enter the tomb of Egypt's child pharaoh, Tutankhamun.

The tomb was located in a place along the Nile River known as the Valley of the Kings — near where the ancient city of Thebes was and the modern city of Luxor is. In the early 20th century, the prevailing wisdom among Egyptologists was that all of the ancient pharaohs' tombs had been found. But Howard Carter was convinced that not all had been discovered, and he kept searching. His benefactor, Lord Carnarvon, grew impatient after years of financing Carter's fruitless expeditions and announced that he was cutting off Carter's funding.

Then, in early November 1922, Carter was supervising archaeological diggers sifting through debris above some ancient workers' huts when a young Egyptian boy bringing them jars of drinking water uncovered a limestone step. The workers dug up the debris and stones and uncovered an entire staircase, which led to a tomb. In the plaster that sealed the door the tomb was the seal of the royal necropolis police from the 18th dynasty, which lasted from 1555–1305 B.C.

Lord Carnarvon came to Egypt from England, and on this day in 1922, Carter broke the sealed door and he and Carnarvon entered the tomb of King Tut, the first people to do so in more than 3,000 years. Carter later recounted:

"At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold — everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment — an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by — I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, 'Can you see anything?' it was all I could do to get out the words, 'Yes, wonderful things.'"

Inside were golden chariots, funeral beds, little ships for the pharaoh's journey to the otherworld, plates shaped like lions and cows, a gold throne, gold statues, jewelry, and the child pharaoh's toys. There was also the sarcophagus, used at the funeral to house the corpse (from the Greek, "flesh-eating"), a solid gold coffin, and the mummy of King Tut. It was the greatest array of treasures ever discovered in an pharaoh's tomb.

Most of the items from the tomb, including the iconic gold funerary mask, are housed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Parts of the exhibition occasionally travel, and right now 50 of the objects buried with Tutankhamun are on display in San Francisco, at an exhibit at the de Young Museum that lasts through March. King Tut's mummy is still located in his tomb at the Valley of the Kings along the Nile River, and it and his coffins and sarcophagus have never left Egypt.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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