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Bactrian Gold

I don’t often use the word “beautiful”. Overuse of a word ends up draining it of all importance and weight. But “beautiful” is exactly the right word to describe the Afghanistani treasure currently residing in New York’s Met until the end of September. I have been to a lot of museums in a lot of cities all over the world. I have never seen gold like this and, believe me, neither have you.

I first heard about the melding of east and west in one-time Bactria, current Afghanistan, in a biography on Alexander the Great. That fusion exists in its art, recently recovered and thought lost and destroyed by the Taliban. A king rides a chariot pulled by a dragon. A dagger is topped by the figure of a dancing bear. Curled mystical beasts provide round knobs to top spears. Aphrodite is dressed like a Greek, has a mark on her forehead like an Indian, and sports wings. It’s something new, the way all these styles were used by an artist in a single piece.

The exhibit is small and buried on the second floor next to the modern art. I did not get the audioguide as I was still smarting from the $20 entrance fee. Thanks to that book on Alexander and a symposium I went to by staff of the Kabul museum, I wasn’t entirely lost. The unfamiliar may need to get the guide ($7).

Coming up to New York from Philadelphia is harder and more expensive than it has any right to be, but things like this are worth it. I’m eating Greek food at a restaurant I read about on Serious Eats (thanks Ed and Robin). It’s fitting.

Afghanistan is in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. This small, spectacular exhibit puts its rich past front and center. Like the gold of the jewels, it will never tarnish and never fade, no matter if it’s the Russians, the terrorists, or the Taliban. Some things always go on.

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