In Alaska, no matter how hard you try to maintain your sense of “civilization,” ultimately the natural world overwrites the man made world: snow and ice cover up the lines on the roads and drivers follow the grooves left behind by braver pioneer drivers; parkas, hats, gloves, and scarves cover up whatever fashionable or hideous clothing you have on underneath; snow blankets both the pristine and the unkempt lawn; and even the nicest of cars gets pretty ugly come spring break up.
In a recent conversation with the Hot Boyfriend (he’s smart too) about contemporary Alaskan Culture, he remarked that at its heart, Alaskan culture is about giving one another space. I’m inclined to think that this has more to do with the number of folks living in cabins with no running water, which creates a unique “musk”, but really, I think HB is right. Apparently, there was once an attempt to start one of those “Jackets Only” supper clubs back in the 70’s. I find this hilarious. If there is one consistent truth about living in this place, it’s that Alaskans wear whatever the hell they want, whenever the hell they want to wear it. You want to wear dirty CarrHart overalls and Bunny Boots into the nicest restaurant in town? Go right ahead. How about that ironic Cap’n Crunch t-shirt with your skinny jeans and bomber hat in church? No one will bat an eye, and more importantly, no one will think you are “hip” to anything other than the local second hand store. Only novel, never-before-seen cold weather gear (like the snow skirt I saw recently) will get you a second glance and maybe a question or two. This freedom extends to houses: neighborhoods in this part of the world are a hodgepodge of McMansions, what we call Handi-Man Specials (houses cobbled together by a do-it-yourself-er (usually with some combination of spray insulation and blue tarps), rustic cabins, a gutted out trailer, and maybe a duplex or two in between.
“Space” is a concept that we Alaskan extend to one another as well: everyone here has a story, and I swear to all that is Holy, that every story is interesting. You are safest in assuming that no matter how boring an Alaskan seems on the outside, the stories she will tell you after a few beers will blow your mind. As a result, the idea of “hipster” really has no bearing here. You can dress like a hipster, think like a hipster, and talk like one, but that will only get you labeled as a Lower-48er, an outsider, a temporary Alaskan.
And lately I’ve been thinking about the “Foodie” (thoughts inspired by the screamingly funny episode of South Park mocking the Foodie), but I think maybe that label doesn’t hold much water here either. Those kinds of labels, Foodie and Hipster, only arise after some subset of like-minded people begin to think they are a special subset of people, that they are entitled to elite status as a result of their maniacal interests and obsessions. Once I came out of the closet about my obsession with food (it’s become hard to hide it) I realized how many other Fairbanksans have something interesting to say on the topic. Fairbanks has always been, and remains by economic necessity, a locavore community. Who hasn’t had moose tacos or salmon cheese cake in these parts? The muskox stew a friend (let’s call him the Mathematician) served at a dinner party one night was to die for. On my very first date with the Hot Boyfriend we gathered gallons of blueberries and a mutual friend made a blueberry pie for desert, after we ate a stir fry made from vegetables that still had dirt from his garden on them. I know more than a handful of people who raise and kill their own chickens and not because they’re Locavores, but because this is a place where raising your own chickens makes sense. In reality, this is Foodie Heaven, but you can’t call yourself a Foodie, because there is no subset. We’re all foodies here.
Your idea of the Civilized Self gets overwritten, just like the lines on the road, by your life here in Alaska, which is inevitably tied to the unique geography of the place. So, yes, I’d love to commit to this label of Foodie, and eat out every weekend at the restaurant of the hottest Rock Star Chef in town, but the chef at the Lemongrass is the same chef that was cooking great food there 10 years ago. I’d love to make a fig compote and serve it to elegantly dressed dinner guests, but I can’t get any damn figs here and most of my friends are too busy chopping wood or hauling water. And really, the more I think about it, Alaska may have overwritten me… urban life seems foreign to me now, an exotic life. There’s a saying around here: Fairbanks never really grows on you, it just makes you unfit to live anyplace else.
- Cabin Curry: How to Avoid the Outhouse at -25F. (tartlittlepiggy.wordpress.com)
- Where Can I Get Durian Fruit In Fairbanks, Alaska? (tartlittlepiggy.wordpress.com)
- You Can’t Go Home Again: Part III in a Series on Thai Food in Fairbanks (tartlittlepiggy.wordpress.com)