Monday, February 2, 2009
Bonaparte in Egypt
There's an exhibit at the Institute du Monde Arabe about Napoleon's campaign in Egypt and its aftermath and I went over the weekend for the second time. Since my first visit was an hour and a half guided tour in French, I focused my full powers of concentration on what the guide was saying and as a result, I felt like I hadn't spent nearly enough time looking at the exhibited objects. As luck would have it, I'd bought my husband a copy of British author Paul Strathern's readable Napoleon and Egypt for his birthday and was able to snag it off his nightstand while he was busy reading about the history of money. Two weeks and several hundred pages later, I was better equipped to enjoy it and to act as interpreter for my nine year old who's been studying ancient Egypt in school.
Napoleon's sojourn in Egypt was pretty much a debacle -- his entire fleet was sunk in Aboukir Bay by the British, both cutting off his supply lines and stranding him in the Middle East; he lost soldiers by the thousands to massacres, the plague, and other privations; and he was unable to hold onto any of the military victories he had there. He even lost the Rosetta Stone, deciphered by a Frenchman, to the British Museum. But the man was a genius when it came to public relations. He came back to a France hungry for a military hero and its people, worn out by revolution, corruption, and war, pretty much ended up handing him the empire. His adventures there became legend and the fascination with all things "oriental" defined styles in furniture and fashion. And his decision to bring along a team of savants, experts in science, mathematics, and the arts, meant that there was a lasting legacy of new knowledge about a world long mysterious to Europeans. The exhibit closes at the end of March.