Thursday, October 18

Trip to the big city

Mountains near Anchorage
May 2007

About 12 years ago, I arrived in this country with the honest intention of staying just for one year. My first culture shock episode happened inside of a supermarket. I was used to small privately owned stores, and I believe there was only one supermarket chain that had opened in my hometown at the time, which I didn't use very much anyway. Here in the US, on the other hand, the great majority of the supermarkets are enormous stores where you can find at least 100 different brands of cereal. Who on Earth needs one hundred brands of cereal? I thought it was ridiculous and unnecessary, a perfect example of the obscene abundance that characterizes this country.

In the little rural Alaskan town I live in, we have a supermarket where there is probably not more than 5 brands of cereal to choose from. A store where prices are too high, vegetables look too much like plastic, and there is lots and lots of dust. We use it basically to buy eggs, those sprinkled with who knows how many types of hormones and antibiotics. And that is just because it would be hard for eggs to arrive safely in the mail or in our luggage. The rest of what we eat and otherwise consume we buy in the city.

Once every two or three months, just like we are doing now, we come to Anchorage. It's the closest city and the biggest one in Alaska, though it's not the capital of the State. This is also something that has always been interesting for me about this country. The biggest and best known city in the State is never the capital of the State. Completely the opposite of the Spanish logic, where the majority of the capitals have the same name as the provinces they are in, and in most cases they are also the largest cities. One would imagine, coming from Spain, that New York would logically be the capital of New York State. But no, it's Albany. And who has ever heard anything about Albany?

Anyway... since there is no other possible transportation from Aniak, coming to Anchorage implies an hour and a half flight over tundra, rivers, lakes, mountains and glaciers. A simple shopping trip then turns into quite an adventure. We spend hours and hours running from one place to the other buying wholesale food, tools, construction materials, clothes and everything else we will need in order to spend a few months in the bush until the next upcoming trip to the city. Then we have to pack everything you bought into boxes and take them to the Post Office or one of the cargo business at the airport. Mind you, there are very long lines at the Post office usually. And we finally go back home loaded with huge coolers full of fresh vegetables and fruit, as well as refrigerated and frozen items we could not send through the mail. This shopping style is called here "guerrilla shopping." It is a true pain in the ass and pretty stressful, believe me.

On the other hand, a trip to the city also implies the possibility of going to a restaurant, getting a cup of coffee or a drink, going to a park with the kid, walk into a store just because you feel like looking around, driving a car... Many things that you take for granted living in the "civilized" world and that nowadays are an amazing luxury for me.

I would have never imagined that walking into one of those huge stores that scared me 12 years ago, say a Safeway, would feel so comforting. Yes, a Safeway, comforting!! And I don't just get this feeling when grocery shopping. I get it even when experiencing most of those things that I have always disliked from the cities: traffic, noise, concrete, people that pass by without looking at you, or the innumerable straight lines in the urban landscape.

The peace that you get from that which is familiar is something truly powerful. Regardless of it is supposedly "good" or "bad" for you.


Irreverens said...

The last sentence is the clue of the whole post.
What we are used to is what make us feel like home, never mind wether it is something horrible or delicious.

I undestand you perfectly well.

Selene said...

You write very well.