“Dr. Clorice! It is a pleasure to see you again, as always,” Greeted Bishoy. “Are you here just for the archaeology conference or to work?” he said with a broad wink, his middle-aged, deep-dark 85% dark chocolate brown eyes crinkling in delight.
“Both!” Clorice said with a grin, a gentle nod of her seductive waist length, henna-enhanced auburn-haired head, palms and eyes facing upwards, implicitly acknowledging that she would be conducting a bit of archaeo-sleuthing.
“I have not seen you for the past few days. Were you on holiday?” Clorice inquired.
“I just came back from a family get together in Upper Egypt. Where will you be working this time?” asked Bishoy.
“Beautiful country. The real Egypt! Most of my family live in a small town near Asyut which is where I am sure you will be fueling up and buying supplies before you drive westward into the desert.” Bishoy lowered his voice a few decibels lower than his normal discreet soft-level and added “I will give you the name and cell phone number of my older brother, Amides, just in case you are in need of some assistance – with anything. Amides knows the broad strokes, if not the fine details, of our past work together and can provide you with similar services as myself if the need should arise.” Raising his voice, his eyes twinkling with conspiracy, Bishoy then asked Clorice what she would like to order.
“Can you please bring me a dish of koshary with extra fried onion. I know it is not a menu standard but I have been wanting it since I was last in Egypt. And a really cold bottle of Stella?” asked Clorice hopefully, her stomach profoundly pontificating on the thought of this heavenly, although simple, national dish.
“For you, Dr. Clorice, whatever you wish is always on the menu,” Bishoy, with impeccable Egyptian good manners, acknowledged her request, gently bowing his slightly balding head, careful not to knock off his anachronistic black-tasseled red, truncated cone-shaped tarboosh, and went to fill her order.
Clorice was seated in a secluded booth near the pulsating heart of the Taverne. The bar hummed with the sounds of American jazz, played on a black lacquered full-grand piano by an Asiatic man wearing a crisp white linen suit with a cigarette clenched in his teeth. Listening to her favorite genre of music in the background, Clorice inconspicuously observed the wheeling and dealing between expatriates, rich locals and archaeology conference-goers amidst billowing blue clouds of American and European cigarette smoke, while nursing an already not-so-cold Stella beer, and picking at what little was left of a once heaping plate of super garlicy koshary.
As any good spy knows, one of the best ways to gather foreign intelligence is to read the local papers, get chummy with carefully chosen nationals, expats and foreign workers, preferably with an untouched drink or an increasingly trendy molecular mocktail in hand, and listen very carefully to what is said.
Clorice loved archaeological conferences. To her, the concept still evoked images of rugged, horny, beer-drinking men and women in flannel and denim, trowel-bearing, note-taking adventurers, who sweat and make love to, and on, the earth. It conjured images of abandoned pueblos, Mississippian mounds, rich Egyptian and Mayan tombs, exotic Japanese Jōmon pottery vessels, curvaceous fertility goddess-dominated megalithic temples in Sicani-occupied neolithic Malta, and half-naked jungle-living Panoan tribes in Brazil, the Tasaday on the Philippine island of Indanao, the birdman cult on Easter Island and the endocannibalistic Ya̧nomamö tribes that live in the Amazon rainforest on the border between Venezuela and Brazil. She never failed to be intrigued by the difference between her National Geographic-inspired mental image, which she couldn’t shake, although she really did know better, and the reality of a slightly-on-the-autism-spectrum “special” bunch of suits! Serious pickle-up-their-ass academics draped in Italian designer suits (and Chinese and Vietnamese bespoke clones), spouting Marxism and other poorly understood politically left -isms and -ologies, all while making six-figure annual salaries.
She could not help but be amused by the circus of one-upmanship of her academic colleagues…
“Have you seen my most recent paper on Moche masturbatory techniques in MesoAmerican Antiquity? I think it may be relevant to your research. (I have more publications than you have).”
“Yes, indeedy-doo! I believe I cited it in my current submission to Nature: Archaeology. (I might get published in better international peer-reviewed journals than you do).”
“Ah, well, you know that I’ll be returning to that area next year with a much larger crew – probably about forty. (So what! I got a bigger grant than you got).”
“Really? At Oxford I have several colleagues interested in participating in my field work next season. (My institution has more ivy on it than yours does!).”
“Wonderful! Perhaps one of my graduate students could join you? I’m having such a hard time finding suitable topics for all of them. (But only if I really don’t like them and want them to find a cure for curiosity).”