By David Maher
(Editors Note: We loved David Maher’s memory of his late wife Carlotta, the Egyptologist who received the first James Breasted Medallion from the Oriental Institute for her service, and who for many years split her time between the OI and its research center, Chicago House, in Luxor. A true Audrey Hepburn-like sprite as well as skilled archeologist, she could unearth “breakfasts at Tiffany’s” anywhere. Maher, a lawyer, served as the founding chairman of the Public Interest Register and was very involved in the evolution of the Internet.)
Carlotta Maher with Hilary and Chelsea Clinton at Chicago House at Luxor
When I was courting Carlotta and we were both in college, I used to visit her during the summer in Parkville, Missouri, where she lived with her mother (Parkville is a suburb on the fringes of Kansas City suburbia). We often stopped at a Katz drug store on the highway to the big city. At the time, Katz was a regional chain of pharmacies in the Midwest, with stores that offered a lot of miscellaneous merchandise like our local CVS and Walgreen’s. Our favorite Katz store always had a bargain counter of cheap jewelry, and I would pick out a pair of dangly ear–rings of the type that Carlotta favored. As I recall, I never paid more than one or two dollars, but Carlotta loved them and had a large collection.
Carlotta and David Maher
Fast forward to 2007. I was on one of my round the world trips for Internet meetings and had included a stop-over in Cairo. Carlotta flew from Luxor to spend a few days with me, and we did a lot of the usual touristy things like visiting the pyramids, the great mosques, and so on. One day Carlotta persuaded me that we should spend some time in the Khan el—Khalili the great bazaar that has offered all kinds of treasures and souvenirs for over 600 years. I was not too concerned about a meltdown of our credit cards because Carlotta was being paid a salary in Egyptian pounds for her work in Luxor. The source of the money was a United States aid program to support archaeology. The conditions of the payments were that the pounds could not be converted to dollars and could not be deposited in a bank. Also, the good news — they were not taxable either in Egypt or the U.S.
Carlotta in the field
As we were walking down one of the narrow streets, open only to pedestrians, we came to a grungy looking shop that appeared to be about 15 feet wide. Carlotta pointed it out and said, “That’s where the Aga Khan gets his diamonds.” I recalled that the Aga Khan, the Imam of Nizari Ismailis, is given his weight in diamonds by the faithful on some jubilee occasions.
Carlotta said, “Let’s go in.” I could hardly say no.
We opened the door and entered a space with just enough room for a desk, a couple of chairs, and an impressive-looking door that appeared to be guarding a large vault.
The Egyptian man, seated at the desk when we entered, jumped to his feet, spread his arms in a welcoming gesture, and said “Madame Maher!”
Clearly, it was not Carlotta’s first visit. I thought of Parkville, and the Katz Drug Store. How the times had changed.
Carlotta Maher with Egyptian heads