In your travels of Chicago, you will undoubtedly be drawn to such famous sites as Navy Pier, Michigan Avenue, Buckingham Fountain, and the Earwax Cafe. But no visit is complete without stopping at the Oriental Institute Museum, located conveniently in the middle of nowhere on a street not unlike the Bermuda Triangle on the campus of the University of Chicago on the city’s near south side.
We don’t know why it’s called the Oriental Institute, housing many artifacts large and small in random time periods in a big jumble from both ancient Palestine and North Africa, among others. We didn’t even think the term “oriental” was couth anymore, except when referring to rugs and lamps. Nevertheless, you’ll find many treasures to delight you as you explore ancient artifacts like a prehistoric stogy, a hair clip of no obvious utility, and the world’s first whoopie cushion (be careful, it’s sharp). But while you fight your inner urges not to touch the huge stone artifacts and the smaller plaster casts of real artifacts stored somewhere where you must actually pay to see them, a larger problem may exist for the typical Tuesday hater. Of course, the artifacts are littered with birds.
All is not lost, though, and happily apart from the giant bird with the golden beak and a few obscure references in carvings, the birds do not play a pivotal role in your “oriental” experience. Many super-glued glass and pottery items tell the story of Bible times, mingled confusingly with 2000 B.C. income tax receipts and an ancient schoolboy’s failing math homework. At long last, you will encounter one true bird – but someone has already thoughtfully taken care of things for you.
No doubt part of an ancient pagan ritual, one can truly appreciate the exquisite detail of this mummified waterfowl, preserved for “eternity” (as if birds will be in heaven! sheesh!) by a gratuitous smearing of resin, a linen wrap and a form-fitting little birdie coffin. While we don’t promote such extensive care for the departed of bird-kind, we can appreciate at least that this bird is – as all the best birds are – quite dead.
Overall filled with genuinely interesting exhibits and a lot of broken pots, you’ll find something to enjoy about the Oriental Institute Museum, if you can find it from your nearest public transit. We trust that all references in statues and reliefs to actually living birds was merely an oversight of the curator, soon to be corrected. Also on the plus side, artifacts with daisies (which Tuesday haters ardently support and admire) are at least as prevalent.
We think you will enjoy this visit even more than your perfunctory stops at the Sears Tower Skydeck (as it will continue to be known), the nation’s first multi-level parking garage, and the indian atop the cigar store on 63rd and Pulaski. But really, be careful not to lick things, even though the signs are limited to excluding you from touch. And if you must touch the cavernous nostril of the giant bull statue, be sure that nobody is looking.