Tales of a
21st Century Gypsy

February 1, 2006. Tucson, The Gem Show

Tucson was hosting a gem show when I happened to arrive. The town was filled with people from all over the country, all for the massive display of rocks. Okay, not rocks – they are minerals, gems, and fossils. And the Tucson Standard, the local paper, told us all about the difference in their Sunday special section about the show.

It’s a huge event, the major one of its type in the US, if not the whole world. There were separate shows all over town, in hotels, convention centers, shops, parks, everywhere. It’s mostly for the trade, rock dealers from all over the country stocking up on items that I suppose they sell in their shops, and wholesalers from all over the world selling rough stones, sparkling geodes, shining cut gems in tiny trays, huge crystals transported with forklifts, whole

petrified trees, polished spheres of rhodolite or turquoise or malachite, jewelry, thousands of strings of beads, gold from India, and, in a bit of a change, carpets and incense and paraphernalia for those who see stones in a spiritual light.

I definitely don’t need any rocks – and jewelry even less! – but I figured I’d check it out. Sunday I cruised over to the closest part of the show, a few hundred dealers who had set up shop at a string of motels along the I-10 corridor that runs through

downtown Tucson. That was just a small bit of the show, but it was still overwhelming. The streets, lobbies, motel rooms, and parking lots were all crowded with items for sale and people buzzing in and out, talking shop, poring over the merchandise. Just in that one small area there were thousands of vendors and millions of pieces of stone.

In a parking lot outside a strip of motel rooms, a girl perched on a wooden table unwrapping small quartz crystals and laying them out in flats. I overheard her talking to another girl who walked by – the second girl wanted to know how to get a job at the show, and the first was encouraging her to just ask around, as she had. It turned out she had come from Florida for the show because she “loves the earth, it just has so much power,” and picked up a job working for one of the wholesale vendors. I don’t know where she was staying in Tucson; even the hostel had jacked up its prices for the gem show, and it was full anyway. She hoped that she’d earn enough to buy a car soon. Judging by appearances, I told her about Burning Man, and she said she hoped she’d be able to go there. It sounded awesome.

In another parking lot, a Vanagon circled around and came over to talk to Matilda, while I talked to the people driving it. They were from Taos, a place that’s a bit like Tucson only much more so. Lynn Wozniak sells drums, covered with hide, stitched with thongs, and painted with kokopellis or buffalo women or native sun symbols. They are made by residents of Taos Pueblo, who find in their rhythm a response to the beating of the heart. Lynn started her business as a form of healing, and calls it Sweet Medicine Drums. She was a warm, enthusiastic woman, an aging hippie in flowing skirts and long dark hair. I was surprised when she backed away from my camera, claiming that one should never photograph a woman over fifty from close up. It seemed unlike her to care.

I didn’t need a thing, but of course I ended up with lots of them. For my mother, a sparkling sphere of pyrite that I knew she would love. Utterly useless, but utterly enchanting. For my friend Susanna’s fiftieth birthday, a slice of petrified wood cut right out of a tree, polished and gleaming, with crystals nestling in a hole that ran right through it. And for me all kinds of trinkets – a pale blue opal set in a silver ring, a copper pendulum that now swings inside my van, a marble-sized sphere of turquoise that fascinates me though I'll probably lose it before I figure out what to do with it. A sharp round file that might be for drilling stone – I thought I’d use it to enlarge the holes in beads so I could string them more easily. Two strings of coral beads, because I like them so much that even though I’d already bought one I couldn’t resist the second. I looked at lots more things, but had the sense not to indulge even more. Had I been there another week, though, and gotten to other parts of the city, I hate to imagine what I might have landed up with. Nothing I needed, but all of it fascinating.

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All text and photos on this site © Joy E. Hecht.