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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Oh Kolkata! (Sorry, it had to be done.)

Everyone else in my group was sad to leave Kerala, but I'm thrilled to be back in a city. I sure wish I had a penpal here, because it's really clear I could use a guide as I bumble around the hotel area, under constant siege from vendors and taxi- and rickshaw-wallas. Today two guys made the clever approach of just coming up and talking to me like we were actually having a conversation (rather than "madam, madam, look, please look, very nice, very cheap"), saying "It's very hot, isn't it?" Where I come from that's the kind of thing you can say to strangers perfectly innocently, even if you have no intention of getting them to buy stuff from you. Last night Debbie and I went exploring for dinner and in the hour and a half we spent outside the hotel, we saw a grand total of two other women. That's right, two. One middle-aged woman on the street and one twenty-something in the restaurant we went to. Every other person we saw was male, which is an experience I have never had before. I'm glad I was with Debbie, that's for sure - she's a lot more savvy than I.

More on museums. Please know that I am desperate to find out from someone (preferably someones) who work in museums here about what's going on in the field in general. I readily admit that there is so much I don't know. But I can't just stop thinking about this. I have to think about it, process it, especially as we keep going to museums. I simply cannot turn off that portion of myself. I've bought two books on Indian museums, one by one of the speakers we had in Delhi who was an amazingly sharp woman whose views on culture and heritage I really dig, but I mailed the books home, so that will have to wait.

Today a bunch of us went to the Indian Museum, just a few blocks from our hotel. I forgot to say on my previous post about museums that overall I find the collections in Indian museums to be simply amazing and completely fascinating (at least, I assume they're fascinating, as there are no labels to confirm or deny any information I already have about them or answer any questions I have...grrr...anyway). So it's not a question of the quality of the artifacts themselves (although I've heard the argument put forward that the British and other European-types took the very finest things away years ago). I couldn't believe all the beautiful sculptures I saw, and again there was an utter lack of information about them. There were more general context labels here than in most museums, but what text there was was not engagingly or clearly written. Typos I can forgive; boringness I cannot. Pigeons as well as artifacts are at home in this museum, and some of the sculptures had the evidence, if you know what I mean. Ewww. And the natural history section was like stepping into a different era completely - like it had been set up in the late 19th century and not touched since. (A lot like UIUC's old Museum of Natural History, but moreso.) Interesting note: the only room that was air conditioned was the Egyptology section, and I think that was because it had a human mummy. I guess it's not good hospitality to bake other people's cultural heritage?

Okay, off to experience more Kolkata. Or watch movies on tv. Hmmm....


At 7:41 AM, Blogger Kim said...

"I guess it's not good hospitality to bake other people's cultural heritage?"

Gawd, I love that line. Gonna have to steal it.

When you are in the museums, do you see guided tours going on? If so, who is on the tours? Are there self-guide books/pamphlets at the entrance? Or are you dependent upon labels alone?


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