The Temple of Isis from Dendur
Egypt, ca. 15 AD
There’s a party tonight at the temple. The guests have all arrived: a few hundred of FranzBank’s highest employees. They mingle with the ancient statues and sarcophagi, sipping champagne and munching canapes, celebrating record profits. The uniform for the evening is sober ties and dark suits for men and simple, extravagantly-priced dresses for women. There’s the usual schmoozing and maneuvering. Everyone’s trying to get a little closer to the bank’s directors. Eyes keep leaving conversations to glance over at these five tall men, whose suits are especially somber, and whose heads are all slightly inclined as they listen to a small silver haired man with dark rimmed glasses and a floppy multicolored bow tie. This is Federico Rossi, FranzBank's chief art advisor.
“For me, it was a question of instinct, however I still had to make the necessary investigations.” Federico gestures gracefully and speaks with a Milanese accent. His silver hair rises back along his head in waves, like the upper tiers of the Chrysler building. He’s talking to them about the risks of forged artworks. He’s just unmasked one of the bank’s Modiglianis—a long-necked, vacant-eyed nude who’d been reclining up in the 20th floor boardroom for as long as anybody could remember—as a fake. “We can see this as yet another reason to focus our energies on Contemporary art, where we can be more assured of authenticity.”
They are standing not far from the temple’s entrance, by a shallow fountain that glistens with coins. In the shadow of a seated pharaoh, a bored, tuxedoed trio plays My Funny Valentine. There’s a cut-glass sparkle to Federico's eyes he’s able to turn on and off at will, depending on how important he thinks a person or a work of art is. His eyes sparkle now at the Bank’s Director of Risk, a balding Bavarian with a fleck of goat cheese on his lower lip.
“…all this liquidity…medium term...” Federico gestures on, “...international market...collateral...robust returns…”
The directors lean towards him as they listen, as though he were revealing some secret knowledge. He talks about taking them to Basel, to Venice, about the excitement of the coming year.
Standing next to Federico is his assistant, May. She’s the only person who isn’t paying any attention to him. She’s as tall as the bank directors, olive-skinned, and wearing a shimmery, backless green dress the other women at the party will still be talking about tomorrow but will never figure out where to buy. She grips her champagne glass tightly and her eyes wander across the room. Her job at these parties is to stay near Federico and appear aloof and exotic, another precious artifact he’s managed to acquire, like the metallic Murakami sculpture he just secured for the New York office’s main lobby. She’s gotten good at this, even if at first it didn’t come naturally to her. Now she knows to give only cryptic remarks rather than explanations. Leave the talking to a person with a gift for it, like Federico. The less known about her the better. When people asked where she was from she might say, “I went to school in Switzerland,” or, “My parents were diplomats,” in bored, a matter-of-fact way, so that to try and pin her down would seem rude.
Tonight she’s even more absent than usual. She takes a final sip from her glass, sets it down and takes another from a passing tray. She finishes half of it in one sip, and Federico, without stopping talking, reaches over and touches her elbow gently. She takes another glass from the next tray, and finishes it just as quickly, setting it down on the lid of a sarcophagus.
She’s about to take another when her cell phone rings. This stops conversation. Federico and the directors turn to look at her as if something inconceivable has happened.
“Excuse me,” May says, and reaches into her purse. Federico smiles and touches her back and the directors, relieved, smile also. Then, to everyone’s surprise, she takes the phone to her ear and walks off.