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  • Writer's pictureTessa Pacelli

Dark Thoughts on Sparkly Rocks

The newly renovated Hall of Gems recently opened at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) after a much delayed renovation and it is exactly as promised: a big bright sparkly showcase for big bright sparkly rocks:

No clouds in my stones, uh-huh

We have a budding rock / mineral collector in the family and a more seasoned one too, so there was much excitement. Everyone ooohed and aahed at the beautiful pieces:

And So did I .

Kind of.

To be honest, the whole experience left me cold. Part of that, to be fair, is just me. I don’t like “new” so much. I like old, I like character, I like quirks and unique one-of-a-kind charm and wrinkles. We’ve been AMNH members for ages and I loved the old Hall of Gems. It had this absolutely amazing 70s vibe - shag carpets (yup, in a museum), that dull sepia palette of old photo albums, gloopy steps that were like the inside of a malfunctioning lava lamp:

When I was 7, my babysitter's mom actually HAD a malfunctioning lava lamp!

The lighting was redolent of the inside of a disco club - dramatic spotlights Gloria Gaynor would be proud to step into and belt out “I Will Survive".

At first I was afraid ... I was petrified ...

The old Hall was a favorite of NYC mommies with crawlers and early walkers (because: carpet). Bring a friend, a latte, your baby and some Purell and you were good to go!

But all of that is nothing more than nostalgia. Literally "pain from an old wound". (Thanks, Don Draper). Indeed.

Getting back to the darker thoughts - even though it was brand new, the entire mentality of the place was, to me, somewhat, maybe … dated and regressive. Lots of wealthy Western men "discovering" deposits, with many of these beautiful specimens coming from areas of the world with colonial, brutal histories: South America, Africa, Southeast Asia. I mean, it doesn’t have to be a blood diamond to have arrived here in blood, right? And yet, no significant mention of -

The mineral wealth that might have been stolen from indigenous populations over centuries of exploitation …

The miners who yanked this stuff out of the earth under perilous conditions, some of whom likely suffered and died in the process …

The environmental impact of mining, not only globally but how in some cases it destroyed local livelihoods and resources ...

It's the Hall of Gems, I get it, not the Hall of Environmental Activists, but still. Awareness is a precursor to action. All of the above still happens today. I've seen a few articles and documentaries recently on how some of the metals for iPhones are procured. It's enough to make you tape string to a few toilet paper rolls and go from there.

Look, I like sparkly rocks as much as any girl. But as I get older, I feel a need - a pull, really - to do better, to open my eyes, my daughter’s eyes, to not just la di dah through life and ooh and aah over sparkly rocks.

Perhaps this is what “they” call “maturity”???

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