Tombs, Scarabs and Negotiating in Egypt!

In ancient Egyptian religion, Egyptians viewed the humble dung beetle as a symbol of renewal and rebirth, they used scarab amulets to protect the living during daily tasks and the dead as they journeyed to the afterlife. The scarab (kheper) beetle was one of the most popular amulets in ancient Egypt because the insect was a symbol of the sun god Re.

Since my first African Journey, I’ve been fascinated and somewhat infatuated with dung beetles. Their lifestyle is not particularly attractive, Scarabaeus sacer are known for their peculiar habit of rolling balls of dung even larger than their actual size and depositing them in their burrows. Once there, the females lay their eggs inside the dung balls that would serve as nourishment for the larvae. Once totally consumed, young beetles would emerge from the ground suggesting they came from nowhere. In Africa, they are enormous bugs with striking iridescent bodies, awfully intent on rolling the dung ball up and down hills and through fields.

In Egypt, the beetle was associated with the divine manifestation of the early morning sun, Khepri, whose name was written with the scarab hieroglyph and who was believed to roll the disk of the morning sun over the eastern horizon at daybreak. 

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62)

The ancient Egyptians believed that these beetles came from a spontaneous birth from the burrows. This made the populations worship them as the Khepera or “He who came forth” – an aspect and function associated with creation god, Atum. One needs a degree in Egyptology or a detailed spread sheet to keep track of all the Egyptian gods. I’m certain our very informed guide, Haytham, frequently detected glassy gazes when he enthusiastically inquired ‘do you remember this God, Horus who…?’ Tracking the deity, Kings, Queens, mothers of, is mind boggling, particularly on 8-hour tour days in the hot Egyptian sun.

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) Beetle hieroglyph in left panel

Oddly enough, these critters do indeed have impressive celestial powers. Dung beetles, like the scarab, are astonishing navigators that actually use the sun as guidance when moving their dung balls. Rolling the dung ball along, the beetle will periodically stop, scramble atop its prize, look around to orient itself, and climb back down and start pushing the ball once more. Part of my fascination in watching them in the bush. They are frankly proud creatures which is evident if you observe them.

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) Beetle hieroglyph in upper left panel

I knew the tombs in the Valley of the Kings would have an abundance of scarab hieroglyphs. While touring the museums and temples, I was on the prowl for scarabs and ultimately when ascending into the important tombs, we spotted many. I hoped to find an extraordinary scarab memento. In an alabaster factory near the Valley of the Kings, appropriately named Hapi Alabaster, it was chock a block with objects, some rare, some not so much. Egyptian shop owners are slightly assertive; however, I take my time, contemplate and evaluate. Wandering with our group, the shop owner asked if I would like to visit the room of antiquities – at this point in conversation, any seasoned traveler should depart! A guide will always negotiate, and one understands the guide will also profit for delivering a customer. The firms we work with are particular about tourist shopping, I tell our teams – we want authentic items, and for most trips, never a rug shop! In the ‘antiquities’ room behind a closed door, I discovered an exquisite bronze Anubis canopic box, the sides adorned with vivid lapis scarabs, a jackal sits regally on the sliding top; uncover the lid to discover four small urns with animal heads used to hold body remains in mummification. Frequently seen in the tombs and museums, canopic jars were used by the ancient Egyptians during the mummification process to store and preserve the viscera of their owner for the afterlife.

The canopic jars were identified and protected by four different gods who were the sons of Horus. The names of the Sons of Horus were Imsety, Hapy, Duamutef and Qebehsenuef. The canopic jars were four in number, each for the safekeeping of particular human organs: the stomach, intestines, lungs, and liver, all of which, it was believed, would be needed in the afterlife. There was no jar for the heart: the Egyptians believed it to be the seat of the soul, and so it was left inside the body. It’s important to remember that the Egyptians understood their cosmos in terms of cycles, so death was necessary for regeneration and life to continue.

I was besotted with the bronze Anubis canopic box with the lapis scarabs, however, I didn’t want to reveal my enthusiasm, I made a small mound of chosen objects to ponder. The owner asked, would you like to see the secret room, my late father’s private collection? Did I mention depart when one hears certain phrases?  I exclaimed: you are selling your father’s treasures? Calling to one of my travel friends, come to the secret room!  We entered another closed-door storeroom; poking through a cardboard box, I unearthed a small scarab. A hand carved bone scarab wrapped in silver, with carvings on the back. I’m ready to depart, time to negotiate!

Anubis canopic box with lapis scarab

Our brilliant guide, Haytham, began the negotiations– i.e. shouting at the shop owner to gift me the scarab and lower the price of the box – she owns a high-end travel firm, she will send her clients – that’s all I deciphered from the negotiations – in the end, I received the little bone scarab as a gift and paid for the Anubis with blue lapis scarab canopic box. Our small group of agency owners stood agape at the ‘transaction’ some were also purchasing and Haytham again shouted, they own agencies! When exploring Cairo a few days later, a local guide told me the scarab was a fine piece of jewelry, she had never seen such a lovely scarab… I love it and was thrilled to have a professional endorse my diminutive scarab.

Bronze Anubis canopic box with the lapis scarabs

The beetle itself was a favorite form used for amulets in all periods of Egyptian history. Scarabs may be made from a variety of materials including carnelian, steatite, lapis lazuli, basalt, faience, limestone, schist, turquoise, ivory, resin, turquoise, amethyst and bronze. Hundreds of thousands of these artifacts have been excavated in Egypt.

A winged scarab might also be placed on the breast of the mummy, and later a number of other scarabs were placed about the body. Perhaps my little scarab will be entombed with me, not certain if the Canopic jars are practical though, I will leave that up to my son!

Bronze Anubis canopic box with the lapis scarabs – the canopic jars from inside the box

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) Anubis Black Dog Jackal Egyptian God of Underworld 

Anubis is known as the god of death and is the oldest and most popular of ancient Egyptian deities. The ancient Egyptians revered Anubis highly because they believed he had tremendous power over both their physical and spiritual selves when they died.

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) Anubis Black Dog Jackal Egyptian God of Underworld

Crosby Street Hotel – Welcome Back!

July saw the reopening of the Crosby Street Hotel in New York. Kit Kemp’s London and New York properties are high on our list of favorite hotels. At Crosby Street, step into the light and airy lobby, home to Kit Kemp’s art collection, including works by Callum Innes and Jaume Plensa.  Firmdale Properties has two iconic properties in New York, besides Crosby Street their Midtown property is The Whitby Hotel. I frequently recommend and stay at Crosby Street Hotel set back off the Soho cobblestone streets and I always recommend it to my client families…teens can wander and shop, plus endless dining nearby. Firmdale Hotel Group is owned by Kit and Tim Kemp, their roster of properties includes eight stylish hotels in London. An interior designer, Kit Kemp creates all the interiors for their properties.

Crosby Street Hotel library

Besides marvelous dining spaces and friendly beyond helpful staff, I adore the whimsy of the eclectic design in all of the Firmdale properties. Attention grabbing design tempting you to linger.  Kit Kemp mixes patterns and colors like a genius sorcerer and I feel is impossible to duplicate! Turkish rugs, Jim Thompson fabrics, Mexican Otomi embroidery – the rooms and public spaces are a riot of color and texture that beautifully blend into a cohesive look. Charm is a touchstone Firmdale characteristic and they have it down to a science, a charming idiosyncratic science.You should know, the hotels all have the trademarked steel Crittall windows, enormous floor to ceiling windows unlike any other hotel windows, allowing brilliant light to flood the room. The rooms are similar in style to their other properties in the sense that Kit Kemp is a master of pattern mixing with a myriad of colors, yet it looks sensational and unique.

Kit Kemp's - Design Thread

Design Themes. From the latest Kit Kemp newsletter, where she provides background on her inspiration.

DON’T be afraid to make a statement. Found fabrics come in many forms, depending on origin, technique or era. Often, found textiles feature delicate and pretty designs, but sometimes you might be lucky enough to find a punchy and powerful design, like this traditional Mexican Otomi embroidery.

DO use the fabric as your starting point. When you have a fabric you love and want to bring it to life in a scheme, it’s always a good idea to pick colors from the textile itself. Think of the fabric as the blueprint for the rest of the space and grow the identity from there. Carefully building on the colors will help to create a cohesive and balanced room. 

DON’T shy away from mixing and matching. The joy and beauty of using found or vintage fabrics is that they can have imperfections that make them feel more unique. Play into the imperfect by using a combination of similar fabrics. Kilim rugs are one of my favorite fabrics to collect. One afternoon, whilst browsing our design library, I realized I had a small collection of hot pink and orange pieces. I had just enough to cover my dining chairs at home, so they went straight off to the upholsterer. It doesn’t matter that they are all slightly different, the mix and match creates intrigue.

DO pay homage to your fabric. Play into the origins of your antique textiles to create a scheme that tells a story. This beautiful antique needlepoint on the ottoman is wonderfully traditional and tells a tale of age-old craft techniques. In another celebration of traditional techniques, we used this Bogolan mud cloth textile from Mali on the little chair in Crosby Street Hotel‘s lobby. Paired with the Ardmore sofa from South Africa, it brings together different references as a small celebration of the African continent.

The library, Crosby Street Hotel

DON’T overlook the potential for wear and tear. Using antique textiles often means the fabric might be fragile. There could be embroidery, embellishment, or the textile itself may have lost its luster over time.

If it is a more delicate fabric, we recommend using it in a location that will get less wear and tear. My trick is to always use more intricate fabrics on accent chairs in spaces where people are only passing through.

In the lobby at Crosby Street Hotel we have two antique Suzani textiles on our wing chairs. They are real statement pieces and although they get occasional use, they are safe from the weathering of a drawing room chair. More Kit Kemp design advice.

Crosby Street Hotel lobby

I love a story behind hotel properties and every one of the Firmdale properties express multiple stories. I feel I am in a very exotic location in each hotel. Kit Kemp’s design sense involves an explosion of patterns, colors and textures. She is an expert at making remote acquisitions work in her varied interiors, and she possesses an enviable flair for interspersing collectibles, like an 18th-century Swedish cupboard or an antique Suzani into her projects. From one of her books, and I have all of them: pieces that tell a unique story—maybe of a person or a time in history, of a particular handcrafted technique, or even just something with a combination of color or pattern.

My first impulse in a Firmdale property, is to kick off my shoes and plop into one of the plush chairs or hop atop the extremely comfy sleep inducing Beautyrest bed, layered in colorful multiple patterns, sensory overload perhaps, but eclectic design with immense style. The rooms envelope you, blissful fun, distinctive style combined with luxury and excellent amenities, a gallery in a sense. The bathrooms are quite large; and most have massive stand-alone silver soaking tubs and oversize double sinks. Small well-lit walk in closets eliminate your travel detritus and contain a well-stocked mini bar.

Traditionally, Firmdale properties are designed in the style of a stately English country home, I realize those are opposite terms; the sitting rooms and libraries for guests are designed in the style of ‘to the manner born’, however, the décor is cozy and comfy and very inviting. Imagine a private guest space i.e. the drawing room with an honor bar, merely write down on the pad that you were the one who quaffed the Perrier chilling in the ice-bucket…Brits who appreciate common courtesy and expect honor.

Many years ago, my stay at the Crosby Street Hotel included hosting my local friends in between their son’s high school graduation events. The grand ‘library’ of the Crosby Street was the picture-perfect place to flock, staff replacing bottles of bubbly, passing scrumptious snacks, peeking in often to see if we needed care, I’ve never felt more at home.

The Library, Crosby Street Hotel, New York

Full service, including suggestions for what to do, where to go in the neighborhood! Crosby Street Hotel.

Welcome back Crosby Street Hotel, when we are allowed to travel again, New York fall weather will beckon me back.

Crosby Street Hotel, New York. Crosby The Cat 12-foot bronze cat sculpture from the Colombian figurative artist and sculptor, Fernando Botero.

Art at Crosby Street Hotel