Monday, February 23, 2009
Signs of the Times
On CNN's website today there was a little photo essay on bad economic times in New York; the pictures all happened to be from our neighborhood. It wasn't exactly news, as lots of the places pictured -- a Mexican restaurant, a magazine shop, a store that sold Fifties stuff -- had been gone a while, but there were some new ones, too. The pictures had the double effect of making me a bit homesick and also suggesting the strange emptying-out of public spaces that's going on around us. That was still on my mind when I walked to downtown Palo Alto, down to the drugstore, and came upon a shop going out of business -- the Z Gallerie, a place that sells flashy home accessories. Palo Alto is usually an arena of restraint and a certain social severity. I've been noticing lately that people go to some lengths not to make eye contact with one another here. New York has a reputation for that but it's actually not true; New Yorkers look at each other constantly. Paul's theory is that here in Silicon Valley people wish to appear complete, as if they need nothing, and to look in someone else's eyes might suggest you wanted something. Whatever the case, there was not much of that usual cool in evidence inside Z Gallerie; people were excited about the 75% markdown and considering big mercury glass hurricane candle holders, faux horn candelabra and waist-high glass vases in zebra patterns. People were actively jostling others aside and talking exuberantly about the merchandise. Whatever gloss the stuff once had by virtue of display seemed to have leaked out as it was pawed over and piled about. The one thing that didn't seem to be touched was a display of skull-patterned stuff in the back: plates, stemware, cereal bowls emblazoned with silvery-black skulls. Rhinestone skull napkin rings. embroidered skull napkins, skull placecard holders. It seems that skulls, in the new depression, are over and done with.