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July 08, 2007

Cairo Calls

Nefertiti2_2 I'm sitting in the office of Zahi Hawass, chief of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, in Cairo. His office, in the SCA headquarters on the island of Zamalek, is a garden variety Egyptian bureaucrat's bland mix of tan walls and oversized stuffed furniture. (Happily, the wireless Internet works.) But there's a curious thing in the lobby. In a large vitrine, the famed bust of Nefertiti -- see it at left -- sits in a place of honor. Strange because this is a copy, and Egypt has no end of authentic artifacts to show off in the lobby of its antiquities service. The bust has not been in Egypt since its discovery in the first part of the 20th century. It now lives in Berlin, and is prime on Hawass's list of requests for loan in 2012. Berlin has responded that the statue is too fragile to travel. Hawass does not accept this argument, and continues to push. It's Sunday, and he has been entertaining a steady stream of work-related visitors, all the while writing the introduction to a new Tut catalogue on yellow legal pads on his desk. In between, one of a handful of industrious female American interns/assistants/students traipse into his office and take requests, procure signatures or advice on a letter . Throughout, a godawful banging comes from below, where renovation -- or perhaps excavation -- is ongoing.