[First post in this novel: Dedication]
[Previous post in this novel: Chapter 1:V]

After Archie departed, Clorice went to pay Bishoy at the bar. Tucked under her bar receipt was a gold embossed business card with his brother Amides’ work co-ordinates in Assiut, the largest city in Upper Egypt. Clorice told Bishoy that she would be checking out of the hotel and staying at the Canadian Egyptology Institute in Maadi that evening, and would then leave for the Kharga Oasis in the morning.

On the way to her room, Clorice stopped to watch and listen to an Incan Band that had set-up shop in the hotel lobby. They really were very good. Clorice could not conceal her smile. It seemed that no matter where you went in the world – from Iqaluit to the Bikini Atoll, and from Palma de Mallorca to Toronto, you would find the same six-man band which included: a singer, a guitar, charango, cajón, quena and zampoña players – playing El Cóndor Pasa.

No matter the weather, the band members always wore the vibrantly colored traditional Incan ponchos and hats, and recycled tire ayotas sandals. Forget about UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, and even the elusive whereabouts of Atlantis (was it really destroyed by a tsunami near Cadiz?). How what seemed to be the very same band could be in all places at any time was truly the most curious of the unexplained mysteries of the modern world. Von Daniken, eat your heart out.

As per standard operating procedures, Clorice winked at the zampoña player, and touched her Canadian Flag patch on her knapsack/travel purse with her baby finger. Once the band had finished their set, Señor Zampoña handed Clorice a musical recording on a USB key, and Clorice paid him $1000 American. Cash. It was understood by all who used the non-musical services offered by the International Incan Band Espionage Messaging Network that they would only accept payment in American currency, no matter which country you found them in.

Clorice put the USB key in her knapsack. She would look at its contents later when she was in a private place, once she was well rested, and had time to digest its contents.

Clorice took the elevator up to her room. It had been a long day, and would be an even longer evening. In preparation for what was to come, she indulged in what would be her last long hot shower for a number of months. After drying herself in a fluffy, crisp, white towel, Clorice looked at her face in the mirror: flawless skin, and – oh no, a zit! She aimed her pointer fingers, squeezed, and then wiped the offending evidence off the tip of her nail with her thumb. She mused that it would be many months until she would be able to look at her reflection in a well-lit mirror.

While Clorice rarely wore makeup or perfume, particularly in the field, she couldn’t help herself when she had seen sampler sized ‘Cleo Mini-Morceaux’ sets for sale at the airport’s gift shop. The price of Cleo products was so far out of her economic league that that she wouldn’t have even bothered remembering the name of the company. But just the other day her dear friend and academic colleague Franco, who was really into this type of stuff, had mentioned Cleo within the context of putting together a lecture for his graduate level marketing course, Luxury Items and Niche Marketing, at the university.

According to Franco, Cleo had one of the most interesting luxury marketing business models in the world. Cleo advertised in all the fashion magazines from high-end to low-end, offering fashionistas around the world tantalizing whiffs of their wares on their scratch-and-sniff, make some people cough and have asthma attack pull-out adverts. This very in-your-face-and-nostrils advertising developed a global recognition and desire for the product. However, potential product clients could only buy Cleo in extremely select high-end stores in the Middle East, and at one hoity-toity shop on the chi-chi Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris and another one in the Knightsbridge district of London. No mail orders were ever accepted. In fact, Cleo did not even have a web-site with correspondence coordinates. A potential retailer needed to be contacted directly by a Cleo sales representative to have the privilege of carrying their product. This “don’t call us, we’ll call you” marketing policy increased the need-to-haves’ desire to obtain this tantalizingly elusive product. The key Cleo target market demographic was the bored princess set, whose primary job was to shop and reproduce heirs and who wouldn’t think twice about buying precious metal and gem-encrusted Stuart Weitzman stilettos, Cartier watches, and Ginza Tanaka purses to go with their evening French or Italian haute couture ensemble –  and a dab of Cleo.

Clorice wondered if the sale of ‘Cleo Mini-Morceaux’ at $580.00 USD for eight 1/16th oz, unlabeled, albeit numbered, hand blown glass droppers, at a plebeian airport gift shop, was perhaps a sign of the economic times, or a hint of a marketing change to come. The beyond-plain packaging and the price made les Mini-Morceaux drop-for-drop even more expensive than Clive Christian’s Indian jasmine, mandarin and sandalwood scented No.1 perfume, which came packaged in handmade Baccarat lead crystal bottles with an 18 carat gold collar, set with a five carat diamond solitaire.

Having hung around Franco for a long time, Clorice had become quite sensitive to marketing techniques. In fact, she considered them in her own research in a multidisciplinary lateral thinking sort of way. No linear iterative incremental thinking for her! She became fixated on the idea that perhaps what Cleo Inc. was trying to do was create the next generation of wearable, non-labeled, but clearly recognizable, and obscenely expensive pop-art. The pop-art movement’s poster children such as London’s Independent Group in the 1950s, John McHale, Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, Keith Haring, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami and Martin Kippenberger epitomized Andy Warhol’s now famous utterance “good business is the best art.” Magazine scratch-and-sniffs made Cleo, and it’s male counterpart Ptolemy, globally recognizable scents… no label needed. Rarity made the product more desirable to the only people who mattered… those who could afford it! Plain packaging took “high-end” and “green” marketing techniques to new consumer heights. When Clorice thought about it in the abstract, wearing her admittedly poorly-educated marketing lens, les Mini-Morceaux did not even have a Cleo label on the recycled cardboard box. The only brand mark was the barely visible hand-calligraphed label on a simple index card made of recycled paper glued to the cardboard display-case. Clorice made a mental note to herself to tell Franco about her observations when next she e-mailed him.

Clorice silently justified her extravagant expenditure on the slim chance that she would be meeting with official antiquity and cultural mukity-mucks during her stay in Egypt.

Turning from her pseudo-intellectual musings back to her toilette, Clorice brushed her hair, then tied and pinned the voluminous mid-back-length wavy auburn mass into a classic messy French knot, the style in which her notable mane would stay for the rest of the field season. Then she delicately touched a single drop of the exquisite Cleo Mini-Morceaux Numero six, which smelled of citrus, cinnamon, leather, amber, frankincense and myrrh, and which in her mind’s eye was now super trendy pop-art, behind her ears, wrists, nose, and tip of her tongue. After completing her ablutions, Clorice put on her favorite skin-tight jeans and a white pleated wing collar men’s tuxedo shirt (which she had purposely failed to return to her former boyfriend when they broke-up), without a bra, which was far to cumbersome and hot in the desert climate.

[Continue reading the next post in this novel: Chapter 2: II]


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