City and Western

American Artifacts Behind Glass

American Artifacts Behind Glass

The turquoise and silver Navajo squash blossom necklaces are draped artfully on the sun-bleached skull. Untrained in recognizing cattle, especially after not only the spirit but the flesh has departed, I class it as a steer. The empty eye sockets stare out onto a increasingly posh stretch of lower Broadway. The brilliance of the blankets glow behind the plate glass window. An 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper taped lower on the window forbids smoking in the immediate vicinity.

How have these artifacts of the so-called American West made their way to Manhattan? Well, the same way that we all have. Bussed, flown, driven, steamed, freighted in – by truck, subway, car – most all of us, from the construction technicians shouldering up another sleek glass condo, to the convenience store clerk selling beer in his sleep, to the customer service representatives pushing endless stylish racks of sweatshop clothes and the office dwellers, absorbed by tiny computers in their hands. Not to speak of those of us trucked in in crates, shoved up next to our neighbors, bruised but still juicy – sold 8 for $1.99, to be dessicated into fresh squeezed orange juice in the back of bistros.

We all arrived recently, relatively, onto this slip of island rotted through with subway tunnels and sewage labyrinths. Even those born here are constantly arriving, leaving, commuting, increasingly being made to vacate.

International tourists can leave this store with authentic cowboy boots, a Navajo blanket, a turquoise cuff, and other mementos of their time in the states. Passersby attracted by the glow of the blankets can be transported for a moment by indigenous colors and irrefutable proof of ancient techniques of dying yarn still being practiced. The more original America – pre-Columbus, pre-conquest, pre-forgetting – a flicker of a reminder behind the glass. A carefully arranged diorama, part-sacred (just like us) in a city ruled by the profane rules of finance.