Quentin turned to exchange his empty wineglass for a full one, and I gave him a nod as I walked away. Nina blew him a kiss and followed me.
"That's the guy who's running this show?"
"Worked with Spielberg for twelve years. He's absolutely ingenious at designing interactive materials and futuristic movie images. Makes inanimate objects look like flesh and blood. He sees things in ways that nobody else does."
"That much was obvious to me." I stood on tiptoes, looking over heads and shoulders for any sign of Jake. "Did the big guns at the Met and Natural History ever meet Quentin before today?"
"You think we wouldn't have done a deal if they had?"
"Have you lost your mind? This museum was founded by old men. Very rich, very white, very Presbyterian. Natural History was pretty much the same. The good old boys may be dead and buried, but this place isn't exactly run by the most diverse crowd in town."
"Somebody on the project did his homework. Our advance group managed all the hands-on work to get this event up and running. Probably the preppiest-looking film team I've ever seen west of the Mississippi. Hired a white-shoe law firm here to handle the contract work. Saved the outing of Quentin for tonight's gala, the big announcement."
"How'd that go?"
"Listen to the buzz. The trustees, the press, the upper crust -- whoever these people are, they seemed thrilled about the news." Nina steered me to the small recess at the center of the taller building, the gateway to the Temple of Dendur. She was looking for a quieter place to tell me about the presentation that I had missed.
"Do you know Pierre Thibodaux?" She pointed to the podium, where a tall, dark-haired man was being led away from a small group of museum officials. He motioned to his colleagues with a raised finger and stepped into the adjacent corridor.
"Only by reputation. New guy in town." Thibodaux had replaced Philippe de Montebello as director of the Met less than three years ago.
"He's taken all the meetings with our advance crew himself. This show is his baby. Brilliant, mercurial, handsome. You've got to meet him -- "
"Ladies, you can't be leaning against the building, y'all hear me?" a security guard said.
We walked out of the narrow opening and searched for another quiet nook.
"Let's get out of this wing so we can have a normal conversation. There are as many living, breathing jackals in here tonight as there are limestone ones standing sentry over all the Egyptian galleries. I somehow think poor Augustus didn't foresee when he built these monuments that they would become the most prized cocktail space in Manhattan."
I could tell that Nina was annoyed with me, as she tried to follow me back down the steps.
"Who's Augustus? What the hell are you talking about? The temple is Egyptian, right?"
I had been coming to the Met since my earliest childhood, and knew most of the permanent exhibits pretty well. "Half right. It was built near Aswan, but by a Roman emperor who ruled that region at the time. Augustus had it erected in honor of two young sons of a Nubian chieftain who drowned in the Nile. I hate to dampen your enthusiasm, Nina. I've just been around too much death today not to wonder why we find it appropriate to organize our festivities in and around the tombs of all these ancient cultures. Wouldn't people find it offensive to have the next cocktail party at Arlington Cemetery?"
"Sorry they're not serving scotch tonight, Alex. Take it easy, will you? We can leave any time you'd like. Who's the old dame hanging on to Jake?"
He had spotted the two of us and was making his way to the foot of the platform on which we stood. A silver-haired woman with lots of dangling sapphires -- from earlobes, wrists, fingers -- had grasped Jake by the arm and was bending his ear about something. I stopped on the bottom step and fished in my purse for some coins to toss in the moat.
Copyright © 2003 by Linda Fairstein
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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