Thursday, November 1: On my last day in Addis, Ed has to go to work at the embassy all day. He arranges with his guard to have a friend of his drive me around all day for around $35. The guide, whose name I’ve now forgotten, is such an easy-going and likeable guy, I end up having a great time.
He begins by taking me to the Makush Art Gallery. I’m determined to buy a piece of Ethiopian art. Yesterday morning, while I was twiddling my thumbs at the embassy, someone told me this is the place to go. I find out very quickly that Makush is an upscale gallery and the prices are quite high. This trip hasn’t cost me much money and I still have $200 left in my budget. I end up spending all of it on two pieces from this gallery.
Tossing my two paintings into the back seat, we drive through the streets of Addis, teeming with dusty and obviously poor residents wearing colorful but mismatched clothes. The streets are dirty and slightly chaotic. Corrugated tin stalls line up along every street; people are trying to eke out a space to make a living. It seems there is no rhyme or reason to the layout of this city. There seems to be no center of town. It’s just urban sprawl everywhere.
We arrive at the octagonal St. George Cathedral, conceived to commemorate the 1896 defeat of the Italians in Adwa. It was commissioned by Emperor Menelik and was dedicated to Ethiopia’s patron saint, St. George. With the help of Armenian, Greek and Indian artists, the cathedral was completed in 1911. It’s neoclassical style contrasts sharply with the colorful murals inside.
Adjacent to the cathedral is the museum with its large collection of ecclesiastical paraphernalia including crowns, hand-held crosses, holy scrolls, and the coronation outfits of Empress Zewditu and Emperor Haile Selassie, both of whom were crowned here in 1916 and 1930, respectively. Sadly, we’re not allowed to take photos in the museum.
Next we drive to the Ethnological Museum, set in Haile Selassie’s former palace, and surrounded by the lush grounds of Addis Ababa University. Right outside the entrance to the museum is a spiral staircase that leads to nowhere. The Italians placed one step here for every year that Mussolini held power, beginning from his march to Rome in 1922. The symbol of the Ethiopian monarchy, a Lion of Judah, sits atop the stairs, a symbol of the eventual defeat of the Italians by Ethiopia.
Ethiopian artifacts and handicrafts are displayed in the order of the human life cycle, beginning with Childhood with themes of birth, games and rites of passage, followed by Adult themes of beliefs, traditional medicine, war, hunting and even pilgrimages. Death and Beyond showcases burial structures and tombs.
Also preserved intact in the museum are Haile Selassie’s bedroom, bathroom and changing room.
On the 2nd floor is some amazing religious art, especially diptychs, triptychs, icons and crosses.
In another cave-like room sits the collection of musical instruments, put in the dark to preserve them from the ravages of light and to showcase them in an ethereal way.
We eat lunch at the Lime Tree Restaurant. After lunch, my guide convinces me to try the wheat grass juice. It doesn’t sound very appealing to me, but he assures me it will improve my health considerably. I try it and am surprised to find it’s actually quite delicious. And I have to say, I feel much better for the rest of the day, and throughout my long overnight trip back to Muscat. 🙂