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Has mass cultural tourism gone completely mad?

The cruise ship pulls into port. Everybody gets off and heads down to the designated museum or art gallery. They see the landmark painting or sculpture, take a selfie and tick it off the list. As they enter and leave – they completely ignore a host of other great works of art as they stampede towards that one well-known object.

I was at the Louvre in Paris last week and made a film – which you can see below – of the mass of people cramming in to see the Mona Lisa. Over the years, I’ve popped into the Louvre to see the enigmatic lady with her strange smile. In the old days, you could wander over to the Mona Lisa pretty quickly, have a look and then take in some other fine compositions.

But now – it’s the main event. You have to queue for ages to take your selfie. And there’s certainly no spiritual atmosphere or moment to linger and appreciate. This is a conveyor belt approach and you get your moment to admire the brushwork of Leonardo da Vinci and then move on.

Question I’d like to put is – does this matter or is it a problem? My only feeling is that for the museums and galleries, it’s a great money spinner. In effect, the Mona Lisa is subsidising everything else the museum is doing. But for the visitor – the tourist – it’s a very narrow view of a great institution like the Louvre.

Your views? And now – watch the film!

Ancient Egyptian spoons – four thousand year old cutlery!

In recent years on visits to museums I’ve been more and more taken by everyday items used by our ancient ancestors. This week, I was at the Louvre in Paris looking at the treasures of Ancient Egypt. But it wasn’t the mummies or sarcophagi that caught my attention – but the spoons!

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Ancient Egyptian spoons are intriguing!

In one cabinet, behind glass, were some exquisite spoons. One shaped as a woman being pulled along by a bird, possibly a swan or a duck. Another depicted a servant carrying a large sack.

I think it’s objects like these that give us real insights into the lives of people in Egypt under the pharaohs. And the state of preservation of tableware going back millennia is surprising.

Some of the spoons had a rather modern look about them. I put this down to the influence Ancient Egypt had on the 1930s art deco movement. The lady and the bird spoon could easily have graced a fashionable table in 1932 AD when in fact it dates back to around 1500 or 2000 BC.

The emergence of knives, forks and spoons is fascinating – honest! There’s nothing that dictates we MUST use utensils like these. I studied Japanese for several years and went to live in that country to practice my linguistic skills. I also had to use chopsticks 24/7.

And once you use chopsticks for a while, it becomes obvious that there are different ways of eating that are perfectly fine. By the way, if a Japanese person says ‘you are skilful at chopsticks’ – then my teacher warned me they’re just humouring your terrible form at the table.

Back to the ancient Egyptian spoons! Apparently, no spoons have yet been found in pre-dynastic Egypt – that is before the pharaohs. But they do pop up afterwards. Now I’ve read one academic paper stating that they were not used at the dinner table. In fact, no cutlery at all. Food was served and you dipped in with your hands. Please correct me if I’ve been misinformed.