Reading in Blue…The Anthropology of Turquoise

The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky by Ellen Meloy

Why a book on turquoise?  Published in 2002, The Anthropology of Turquoise was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist.  It got terrific reviews from newspapers and magazines and established authors.  But I was first drawn to the tube of turquoise paint on the cover.  I like anthologies and essay collections.  I liked the idea that the author skipped around from place to place — the desert, the mountains, the Caribbean.  I flipped through and saw that each chapter began with a quote.    I read a few and liked them.  Sold!

A mix of memoir, natural history, and adventure, the essays are full of poetic descriptions, insights, and interesting information all loosely attached to turquoise — the color and the gemstone.  I’ve followed my “stars” and “dog ears” through the book to share some notes and quotes:

In “Swimming the Mogave” the reader gets to swim across the desert, one blue hotel pool at a time.

“In ancient Rome women were inclined to wear nothing but pearls when they swam in the sea.”

A basket made more than a century ago by a Yokuts Indian woman has the “soul of the Sierra Nevada” in its weave.  “In a Yokuts basket dancing with geese and rattlesnakes, I see my ancestral landscape.”

Turquoise is “the stone of the desert…the color of yearning…the wealth of the nomad…”

In “A Wilderness of Monkeys” the author is listening to mariachi music.  It “flows into Place with the snug fit of irony.  It is a musical map of revolution and love.  Sugar-sweet love.  Monumental love.  Monumental grief.  Betrayal.  Machismo…”  (I love mariachi music — even when the boys hit mostly wrong notes and the outfits are ultra tacky!  It’s still feel-good, get-up-and-dance, live-a-little  music.)

“The pastoral nomads of northwestern India stitch tiny mirrors into the fabric of their skirts…to scare away tigers…even though their people have not seen tigers there for over eight hundred years…”

In “Azul Maya” the “sound of the Yucatan Peninsula is a low hum…”  There are jacaranda trees, blood-red hibiscus, burnt-orange blossoms, yellow-gold birds…and turquoise sea.   The sky is rose and lavender.  “On the beach the shrill, high-pitched whistle of a great-tailed grackle in a coconut palm…” (If you’ve been there, done that, you’ll smile at the memories; if not, you’ll get a free mini vacation to a  very special place.)

In “Heron Bay” the author searches her own family’s roots in the Bahamas, discusses Shakespeare’s, The Tempest, and reflects on the “paradoxical contrast and affinity of redrock desert and turquoise ocean.”

So much to learn, so much to “see” in the mind’s eye from the lush and vivid descriptions, so much to ponder.  It’s a great book to read from start to finish or one occasional essay at a time.



  1. […] Reading in Blue…The Anthropology of Turquoise […]

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