Thursday, October 09, 2008

These vagabond shoes

Four years ago in October, on a visit to DC, I went to the recently-opened National Museum of the American Indian. Since it was still new I thought it was really well done. And because I also am bizarrely fascinated by museum cafes, I thought the idea behind the NMAI food court was really cool too. What I found really positive was the emphasis that what happened to various peoples (oh, say, annihilation by disease or massacre, forced reservations, broken treaties, etc.) significantly shape but do not solely define who they are. So the Museum highlighted various ways that different Native peoples are empowering their communities.

That was Columbus Day weekend in '04. To come full circle, it's Columbus Day weekend again, and the irony of my visiting the New York branch of the NMAI is not lost on me. I didn't actually intend to go to this particular museum, but now I'm really glad I did.

The "Chinatown bus" got me from Boston to New York in a shocking 4 hours, so I had an extra two hours to kill before meeting my hostess. Wandering around Battery Park across the street, I noticed the Museum had large banners advertising free admission, so of course I went inside.

The main exhibit was Native Women's dresses in the nineteenth century. I learned a hell of a lot! I can't stitch worth beans, so the art of sewing and making clothes is lost on me. But the thing I'll walk away with is the differences between one-hide, two-hide, and three-hide dresses, which were also regionally based, to some extent. (For the spatially challenged, there were computer aids to diagram exactly how the number of hides is made into a dress. I had to study the digital aids frequently...)

The exhibit also showcased dozens of gorgeous, intricately detailed dresses from across the continent. (At one point, when I was stooping down to examine the beadwork on one dress, a security guard came over and offered to shine his flashlight so I could see exactly how extraordinary the handiwork was.)

Lesson learned the hard way #1761: The bottle of wine you bought for your hostess does indeed show up in a museum security detector.
"Miss? Do you have a bottle of wine in his bag?"
Blink, blink. (I'd forgotten.)
"Wine? Do you have any in this bag?"
Blink, blink. (Travel fatigue.)
"I see a bottle of wine here. Is it open?"
"Oh! OH! No, it's not. Open. I didn't open it. It's a gift for a friend...."

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