Tell al-Amarna, Egypt, 23rd May 2014
When I get into trouble, it's usually for pursuing beautiful women. Mostly triumphs only of hope over experience, but I'm not alone amongst watchmakers in this weakness. Or physicists, for that matter. Just ask girls who have known Daniels, or Feynman.
Today the chase begins early. At four in the morning. And I surprise myself by going after an older woman for a change. Three and a half thousand years older. Nefertiti. Even her name means "perfect beauty".
After a six hour drive alongside the Nile, I get to Tell al-Amarna, deep inside the no-go Governorates, and thankfully after only two police detentions. Wherever I travel, I try to learn at least ten words or so. Here, I can usually get by in English or French, and so only have had to learn four: Salaam. Shukran. Insha'Allah. Baksheesh. "I haven't been up here for years," says my driver. "None of us have."The animal-centered cycle of life along the Nile hasn't changed in ten thousand years. A dusty goat. Swallows. Scarab beetles. A dusty goat swallows scarab beetles, probably. It's the dog days of the Egyptian summer, and I find a shady table. The café owner beings me chicken. At my feet, a clutch of motherless chicks roll in the dust.
Nefertiti. Ever hopeful, I feel you are nearly in my clutches. Nefartiti, Queen to the rebel pharaoh Akhenaten, who kicked out the priests and declared there was only one god, Aten. And all this while Moses was in town. What went on, Nef? Did you hear that conversation?
Nefertiti. Leader of an exodus from Thebes to found Tell al-Amarna, where you were first châtelaine and then, after Akhenaten's death, you became the pharaoh Neferneferuaten.
Nefertiti. Step-mother to Tutankhamun, who after your death submitted to the priests and restored the old order at Thebes, leaving all that you had built to turn to dust. Tut tut, Tut.
Nefertiti! I run my fingers along your curves and want you so desperately it hurts. Yummy Mummy.
Nefertiti. What magnet draws me to you? Your art. Here, deep in the Sahara, 3500 years ago. What happened, Nef? While your husband was casting out the gods, you were busy casting out artistic styles handed down over generations. Replacing them with unique, stunning creations. It's as if you'd recruited Piranesi, Lorrain and Escher back in time to build your husband's tomb.
And, Nefertiti, such adventures in jewellery! The profound union of gold to the deep blue of lapis lazuli, most famously in your step-son's death mask. And with the closure of his tomb, the end of it all. To be almost totally forgotten. The fragility of all that you created makes me want to cry. What happened, my love?
Nefertiti, I shall never forget you. I have always sworn never to put jewellery in my timepieces. But maybe, in bittersweet memory of you, some lapis lazuli. For you.
And so on to your north palace. I sit, feet dangling over the edge of the pool you used to swim in. As-tu nagé nue, ma cherie? I cast in a grape and it erupts in the dust where once you could have caught it in your mouth.
I'm not a religious person, Nefertiti, you know that. But I pray to you. Grant me just one wish. Oui, mon amour, je sais qu'on doit faire attention ce qu'on souhaite. I beg you, grant me one wish.
And so another six-hour trek, to Thebes, to the King's Valley. One final act of desperation. To KV35, where you rested for so long. But you're not there now, are you? Where are you, Nef?
Wherever you are, requiescat in pace, Nefertiti. Slipping between my fingers forever.