Friday, November 2, 2012

National Museum of Ethiopia, May 20th

After the late night at Fendika drinking honey wine (tej) and listing to Ethiopian beatniks, I crashed hard at the hotel after enjoying (yet another) hot shower. Drinking is hard work, you know, and it was hot in the club, surrounded by drinking, dancing, and flowing creativity.

The next morning, I woke up and, after taking another shower, called up my friends Addis and Azeb, whom who I had met the night before after being e-introduced by Bob Holman of Bowery Poetry Club fame. He had been in Addis a few months prior and made some good friends at Fendika, so when he heard I was in town he connected us immediately.

Morning tea, my favourite tradition of the stay.

I had a serious day of museuming planned, so a little bit of morning tea was in order. After a light breakfast of porridge, cream, and jam, the spiced shai hit the spot and completed my Ethiopian morning routine. We walked to the museum to be greeted by a large cannon, and a larger mosaic.

Cannons, the anthesis of preservation! Better put one in front of the museum!

Museums in Ethiopia are different than those in America or Europe. Unlike our massive museums which tend to offer wide surveys of a subject, many of the museums in Addis are smaller, subject specific, and somewhat shady. I suspect that most tourists who come here don't do it for the museums. Many of the display lights were misdirected, broken, or dirty. It was a shame, considering the quality of some of the pieces.

The National Museum contains artifacts from the many cultures of Ethiopia's past, both ancient and modern. As might be expected, fertility and virility symbols played a large part. Seems to be a common theme, huh?

Venus, rising.

She seemed unusually similar to the Venus of Willendorf in both aesthetics and execution. The similarities between the traditional art of cultures is a constant source of amazement for me.

This throne is even funnier when you consider that Haile Selassies head barely cleared the cushions.
Dude was the size of a child.

The layout of the museum was a bit odd; Haile Selassie's throne is in the room next to the ancient Abyssinian sculptures and is divided from the rest of the museum by a case of European rifles on one hand and imperial hats and crowns on the other.

Ancient bronze oil lamp...

...which featured a hunting dog catching an ibex.

Menelik II's hat.

And his crown.

Haile Selassie's crown. Clearly made with an eye towards subtlety.

As soon as you go downstairs, you run into a bunch of signs for Lucy. This is the one part of the museum that seems to have any thought put into it. The signage is clear, the specimens are well lit, and there were even interactive touchscreen kiosks. It was almost like being in a museum back home, except it was only a single room.

Hello there.

Cousin! It's been so long!

Upstairs is a gallery of modern and contemporary Ethiopian Art. Their sensibilities are a little different, but some of the craftsmanship was beautiful.

Lion of Judah, the national symbol of sovereignty.

Cat eyes.

On my way out, I ran into some ancient stone and clay sculptures that I had missed on my way through the first time. They were poorly lit and hidden in a dusty corner, but I am glad I found them as they turned out to be some of my favourite specimens in the entire collection. I wish I could have taken them home with me, but alas, there was no gift-shop. Apparently the Disney model has not reached Addis Ababa yet.




On my way back to the car, I passed by an outdoors archaeology exhibit. Unfortunately, it was trashed. Quite literally.

Pride of a nation.

It troubled me that a nation and people so connected and proud of their history could treat their own museums with such disrespect. When I asked my driver why there was litter in the museum, he told me that everyone did it.

On his way back from the museum, he threw his empty coffee cup out the window.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


I hate to start the blog back up with bad news, but I guess that is just the way things are going to work.

As many of you have heard, 17 hives from the Brooklyn Grange Beekeeping Apprenticeship, which I co-founded with Chase Emmons and the financial/logistical backing of the Brooklyn Grange, were destroyed Monday night/Tuesday morning by Sandy's 14 foot storm surge.

While the hives survived the first high tide, they were not so lucky the second time, and most, if not all, were swept away by the rising water. While some of the woodenware was recovered and may be salvageable, essentially all the comb was contaminated/ruined and the bees were drowned.

Drowned brood. The bees probably drowned trying to protect it, but were swept away when the hive broke apart.

scha·den·freu·de - noun, \ˈshä-dən-ˌfrȯi-də\:
enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others
see: yellow-jackets

Drowned bees just don't have the same charm as the living ones.

A survivor.

Trying to keep warm and protect the hive to the very end.

All my favourite hives were swept away. If anyone finds a very nicely built top-bar hive, or a piece of wood with a Shaolin-style Winnie-the-Pooh, please drop me a line.

On a higher note, the hives my girlfriend and I maintain in Fort Greene seem to have survived with nary a scratch. The survivor I found at the Navy Yard came with me into the car where I warmed her up and fed her some fresh honey that hadn't been contaminated with polluted salt water. When I was checking on the hives that survived, I popped her right in. With a full belly of honey, she'll be welcomed into the hive, and maybe even be of some use.


Verizon product placement. Ignore the last one. That's Sprint.

So where do we go from here?

I don't know, or at least I'm not sure yet.

A lot of time, a lot of work, and a lot of love went into maintaing those hives over the last several months, both on my part and those of my amazing beekeeping apprentices. They grew in experience and knowledge just as the hives grew in population and production; watching them do so was a humbling experience for me. Seeing their hard work washed away overnight is incredibly sad and incredibly frustrating.

There were as many bees in those hives as there are people in Staten Island; almost half a million (down from an estimated 1 million in the summer, when hive populations are larger.) Obviously bees as individuals have nowhere near the intrinsic value of even the meanest human (debatable?), but the loss of so much life (and potential for life) so senselessly is a horridly heavy burden and I cannot help but wonder if it might have been avoided.

P.S. I posted the video to the Apprenticeship page on Facebook already, but it still makes me laugh.

Apropos, no?