May 16, 2021 | Andrew's Blog

Elgin Marbles

Over the last 40 years I have been privileged (uh oh there's that word) to work on some of what I consider the most beautiful furniture in the world. My experiences in Europe gave me the opportunity to visit some of the most hallowed cathedrals of style and creativity. Way out of my depth at the Louvre and in awe at the comprehensiveness of the British Museum in what is the eye bulging epicentre of collections, London...

How fascinating to watch the bulging eyes of tourists when they are informed of the price of a pie or feel my own eyes bulge at the sense of being in a giant decompression chamber and feel the pressure release enough to allow breathing as 4 passengers disembark the London tube train, immediately replaced by 43 more. When pondering what happened to the British Empire, the answer comes at Pal Mal station as another ninety people board the train, they all came and lived here. If the world is becoming smaller than the English Channel is becoming narrower. At the British Museum I witness the bulging eyes of those protesting for the return of the Elgin Marbles.

image courtesy of...

Isit down with my Athenian lunch companion Spiros, the protest manager who explains the delicate path of the Elgin Marbles issue. His colleague, an Outrage Consultant by the name of Sandy whose previous assignment was with the Canadian pronoun movement, explains how the controversy surrounding this issue is always an economical way of generating interest in Athens as a tourist destination. With the British Museum acting as a rent-free tourist bureau with a qualified audience of well to doers likely to visit the home of these remarkable artefacts after viewing some highlights in London. The accommodation chains in Athens always prefer the influx during winter and with the current bad press regarding Turkey, this year's Elgin protests seem to have Athens booked out until March Spiros tells me. Whilst the British Museum pay the insurance costs on the marbles the accommodation costs for protesters is still a bone of contention with the price of a room in London contributing to this impasse.

Horse sense is what is needed in order to make sure things don't get out of hand resulting in the marbles actually being sent home Spiros informs me.

The fourth person at our luncheon, Derek Smits from the British Museum, informs me that ticket sales for the week are up thirty two percent on the back of these well publicised protests and he too insists on paying for lunch. Red wine and souvenir sales always treble in our cafeteria during the Elgin rush he informs me. The marbles work for the museum much as a loss leader does at a supermarket sale, but rather than a shopper in search of a cheap loaf of bread proceeding to purchase their weekly groceries we have newcomers to the world of antiquities view the marbles then proceed to the rest of our collections, they then inform their friends on social media about the experience without us having to lift a finger says Derek.
With fine weather forecast for the rest of the week the Times are talking front-page headlines for the protest rally planned for Wednesday afternoon, this always brings the locals in Derek insists.

Figure identified Iris, marble statue from the West pediment of the Parthenon (West pediment N), about 438-432 BC, British Museum ©Carole Raddato

As Spiros and Derek talk about their recent Marlin fishing trip to Queensland Australia we are joined by Theo who is the protest coordinator and has much on his hands with having to organise what he was told would be around two hundred and fifty protesters but has eventuated to be closer to five hundred.

Catering for these events is the hard part as half of the protesters are French and Italian they always insist on percolated coffee and cake after the main meal says Theo. Theo had a phone call from Inspector George Cotton at London Metropolitan Police this morning who are sending forty two officers down to the Wednesday protests. Inspector Cotton asked Theo to make sure none of his protestors are wearing orange at the Wednesday kerfuffle, as this would be confusing from a photography point of view, as it'll be a front pager. Things were so much simpler when newspapers were black and white muses Theo. George seems to think he has a bloody mortgage on orange because it's a safety colour quips Theo. As it turns out London Police are using the same caterers as we are, so George's concern is of his lads smiling at cameras when they find out there's percolated coffee and cake.

Two Horsemen, Elgin Marbles at the British Museum via Wikimedia Commons

Looking exhausted our Egyptian friend Pepe arrives at the table fresh from his negotiations with the British Museum. With a new Egyptian section planned for the Museum Pepe's concern is that his new Patek Phillipe gold watch may be mistaken for a copy back home in Luxor or that his boss may recognise it as genuine and ask who paid for it. Pepe has been toiling for months with flights back and forth between Cairo and London. Just how much cultural misappropriation outrage is the right amount seems the issue, with the British on one hand insisting the more the better in the interests of building public awareness for the gala opening night of the collection, but concerned at the prospect of the media turning it into a protest story rather than a cultural misappropriation story. Back home in Cairo the Egyptian government have their own ideas on how to scream outrage at the British on the grounds of cultural misappropriation for the never previously exhibited Egyptian antiquities they sold to Britain in July. With an upcoming election it's a delicate issue says Pepe as on the one hand the Egyptian Government need to scream rape at the Brits in order to bolster local party support for their upcoming election but not to the degree that it discourages British tourists from a visit to the pyramids. In any case Harry Stone the curator of collections at the British Museum has suggested the idea of him publicly promising the return of two mummies to Egypt the day before the election. The mummies have been on display in London for 50 years but are forgeries in order to keep air conditioning costs down at the museum. Money doesn't grow on bloody trees states Harry. Besides, forgeries makes more sense in Egypt than London, what with the heat in Cairo and the cost of electricity. All this left only one problem. Who got to pay for lunch.

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