Nefertiti Meets Uncertainty

Nefertiti has been in Germany for nearly a century. It’s a curious sight, at least in pictures. Her bust is kept in a glass frame with the rest of her forgotten…perhaps still lying in Egypt. Meanwhile throngs of people pay homage to her. They travel miles away from where she’s from to catch a glimpse of her tiny, radiant face. Time has looked kindly upon our remaining memory of her. Three thousand years later she is still as lovely as the day she was crafted by Egyptian hands in a place so lost to us now.

I found this image on Tumblr and immediately realized that we’re all strangely drawn to it. But how could we know it when it’s hardly what we remember it to be anymore? And what is this memory that we have of it? Where does it come from? Friends who’ve seen it acknowledge just how touristy it feels to walk through Giza. It’s a souk and every guide is a merchant–but it’s hardly what we imagine it to be.

Yet, there’s something about Egypt. Something about the way it serves as a portal into a place both magical and real. The appeal of Egypt lies in this recollection we all have of it. We were pharaohs and queens in past lives and though I know precisely what kind of trap I’ll fall into by saying these things, I cannot shake off the feeling. The pleasure and the affect is much too great.

Nefertiti came to mind because of a Filipina model described as an exotic mix of both male and female. Androgyny here doesn’t bother me but ‘exotic’ does. She is desired because she is the Other–it’s an asymptotic thing when one is neither here nor there but acknowledged as something possessed by whoever acts to gaze. Said describes this assimilation in Orientalism and here is when I know for sure that something’s amiss when I think of my reasons for loving Egypt.

I  love it in spite of this. For how could you not think of Egypt (or any other country where your eternal heart resides) and regard it as something far from that which you are?

*I don’t know why this is all spewing out of me but since it is, I’ll listen and write anyway. All of this is just a reaction to Maira Kalman, I think. She reminded me of this belief I have that perhaps living here in this time is some cosmic joke the universe is playing on me. I really don’t get why I’m here a lot of times and this is exactly the premise of this wonderful book. Because of it, I feel less likely to excuse myself for certain habits. I spend countless hours in the library and online looking at ancient things and reading what exists at present through an old lens which I cannot be bothered to clean. In Kalman’s book I find solace in her habit of collecting and documenting that which is past–that which belongs to the realm of the forgotten. All items, people, places and things which we might never have known (or always knew of deep inside) come alive in her colorful drawings and beautiful captions (if you can call them that).

Everything that was once lost finds a place in her book. And is it not the same with us? Aren’t we all relics, broken and forgotten, waiting for people to pick us up and recognize the pieces that form our own intricate wholes? In the meantime, of course the world takes a shape and form known to us as well. We live by it because it is what we have and there is magic here too. But for the most part, I think Kalman is doing a good job keeping one foot in the door and leaving another one step behind her–in some far away land where anything and everything certainly takes place.

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