Okay, so two things I’ve always had a special fascination with are film and history. And when I get to combine these two passions – or when they kind of collide – it can be such a fun thing!
That’s what happened on my first mini field trip of 2023!
While it’s never been my occupation, studying history – especially the ancient world – has always been a preoccupation of mine. The very first college course I ever walked into was “Classic Archaeology”. And sitting in that classroom with my notebook and ancient writing tool of a pencil, I mainly wondered what the test questions about these historic sites would be – the notion of seeing them in person just felt like wishing upon a star. But I’ve ended up being lucky enough (as I always have to stress!) to journey to many of the places I studied in my textbooks – places like Egypt where I got to stroll among the Great Pyramids and gaze into the face of the Sphinx!
I also adored “discovering” remarkable treasures that weren’t on the archaeology mid-term or the final – like this slightly more travel sized Sphinx that was found peeking out of a sand hill not far from Cairo in the city of Memphis:
And shifting dunes are still revealing secrets! Afraid I was so amazed by this find that I forgot to include anything in the frame for perspective…:
Why is this last artifact not like the others though? Well, it was actually unearthed (unsanded?) in California near the town of Guadalupe – that’s where Cecil B. DeMille directed his silent film version of “The Ten Commandments”. Rumor had it that a century ago when the movie was completed, some of the sets were simply left buried there in the dunes (littering on a Biblical scale…). I drove a few hours up the coast from LA to visit the Dunes Center in Guadalupe where I got to see first-hand that, yes – the rumors turned out to be true!
Living in LA amid film studios and the locations they make iconic, I’ve gotten used to (though still starry-eyed about!) seeing the lines between reality, illusion, time and context get all blurred – like when Guadalupe was transformed into the Egypt of Moses and Rameses. On the street outside my apartment, I’ve seen a guy dressed as the Mandalorian cruising past on an electric skateboard and, of course, cradling a little Grogu! I’ve also observed that with the right connections, you can have a Trojan soldier (not an ancient one, but a USC one) ride up on a Trojan horse (not a wooden one, but a real one named Traveler) and salute you on your birthday!
While history’s brought to life in the studios of LA, the area’s also full of architectural nods to the past – sometimes with a decidedly filmic spin! I’ve had an up-close view of ancient structures atop the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, including the Erechtheion with its delicate (albeit replica) Caryatids who help hold up one section:
I learned back in that first college class about Doric, Ionic and Corinthian types of columns – but until I visited the Walt Disney Studios, I never knew there’s also the, um, Seven Dwarf-ic type?
Even familiar features can have a slightly different meaning in the context of an LA landscape. Like water towers. It’s true, they’re not necessarily relics from the past but, in LA, they don’t tend to be about water either – they’re kind of synonymous with major film studios, each of which seems to have its own. The companies used to maintain their own water supplies so they could respond fast to emergencies on their stages. I’m not sure how many of these towers actually still have water in them – but they definitely represent some of the dreams that I’ve dared to dream…
On the subject of Hollywood “context”, I can’t help including some statuary that I came across in the oft-depicted little burg of Beverly Hills:
This little family is waiting for its close-up in front of a replica of the store front of Giorgio of Beverly Hills which, according to a commemorative plaque, was “Beverly Hills’ most distinguished shop for well dressed men and women” between 1961 and 1998. Never having been accused of being well dressed, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the tableau.
But I do know that in the Ancient Greek city of Ephesus (now in Turkey), when it came to incorporating statues into the stunning facade of the Library of Celsus, they went a slightly different way:
I wish this library were still open because I’ve been trying to be sure what qualities each of four statues (copies too) peeking from amid the columns is meant to personify – but since I’m finding different interpretations online, and since my Greek is a little non-existent, I’ll have to cherry pick a bit. I’m going to say they’re something like: Wisdom, Bravery, Knowledge and Insight.
Without a doubt, these are noble traits to which one might have aspired back then in Ephesus – but, honestly, they don’t hurt these days either when you’re on the hunt for a good bargain!
And all this isn’t to say that history always gets the “Hollywood treatment” in LA. Here are just a couple of what might be considered more “traditional” recognitions of the past:
The mighty ship the USS Constitution which saw action in the War of 1812 may be moored in Boston – but in Downtown LA, you can find one of its cannons installed in Pershing Square as a monument to US Vets.
And these are the foundations of the adobe structure that once stood at Campo de Cahuenga (I wrote a bit about it last year in Cahuenga Pass: The Ways and Delays Bit):
This little park right next to the Universal City/Studio City Metro Station preserves the place where in 1847, the Treaty of Cahuenga that ended hostilities between the US and Mexico was signed by John C. Frémont and Andrés Pico. After making it official, did the two maybe pop just across the street to take the Universal Studios tour? Alas, history doesn’t record it…
Anyway, that day at the Dunes Center, I did really enjoy the other displays about the area’s history and ecology. But I have to say it was the most fun to find that bit of intriguing Hollywood history – big bits of it, in truth – where I sure wouldn’t have expected any to be!
Again, can’t say enough how privileged I feel to have gotten to travel abroad and see some of the world’s great historical places! Dramatic experiences like those were always my heart’s desire, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything – but as Dorothy would probably agree, I think discovering the filmic history in my own backyard can be pretty special too!
I mean, getting to catch Sphinxes on the Giza Plateau and on the California coast? Well, those are wild and wondrous dreams that really did come true!
Here’s a little info from the Dunes Center about its “Ten Commandments” connection: Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center – The Lost City of DeMille
What an interesting post – a great tour of the unexpected!
Thank you, thank you!
Really fascinating read and images!
Many thanks! It was great fun to put together!
You’re more than welcome 🙏💙🙏
I loved this post, especially once you got to all the Egyptian remains in California! Filmset archaeology is a whole new academic discipline. Who knew?
Thanks very much! Yes, things can happen here that don’t occur everywhere! Just now recalling that one October, the police were called to my neighborhood when someone discovered a human skull. It turned out to be a bit too authentic- looking film prop that someone had put out for Halloween…
Looks like you’d just finished declaiming at Pluto’s Corner. 🙂
Ha! Yes- just getting ready to take my bow! 😃
Very exciting! I remember a university professor showing me a 1000 years or more female hand that he excavated in Egypt. Unbelievable but carbon dating has been factually proven. I do love Ancient Egypt and the old Inca and Mayan ruins. Have a great day.