Saturday, January 7, 2012

in the land of the ice giants

I've been visiting the castle of the Ice Queen in the land of the Ice Giants. Anthropologists do things like that.  Spend time. Get to know the natives. Learn the language. But this time, it's a language made up of primarily vowels. O's with lines through them, and the like. My mouth can't capture the language at all.

The castle is tall, and I feel like Alice. Need to drink a bottle of grow-me in order to reach the kitchen cabinet for a cup or a dish. The plates weigh at least three pounds each. The bowls are papa-bear bowls.
And there are all these machines I have no idea how to use—but that's not to the point.

Everything's in black and white and chrome. Scandinavian designs or with a capital D as well. Sleek bleak and shiny. White paint. Black leather. Shiny chrome fixtures.

Anthropologists love such places. Cultural identity on every surface. And in the frig and freezer. The Ice Queen knows who she is. She celebrates her identity. Maintains it in this Nordic diaspora. Even her sweaters speak to her identity. The ring upon her royal hand. Her— well, her everything.

In this, she's just like me.

But I'm a short Jewish person. With short Jewish icons in my house. And short Jewish foods. Like yaprakas (stuffed grape leaves). Doesn't get any shorter than that.

We both eat lox, however.

So. Here's the deal. Anthropologists are committed for the long haul, despite the impossible vowels. But what we want is to immerse in the other in her native ecosystem. That would be: delight in the land of the ice giants. Participant/observation in the castle of the Queen. I mean, how lucky can you get to have a gig like that? I myself am used to peasantry.  Short peasants. Not that dissimilar from me.

While we anthropologists have long observed that there are no pure cultures (or not any more, at least) (and likely never were) (diffusion, and all) (and trade) (etc etc) this comes as close to anywhere I've been to studying an intact culture.

And, miracle of miracles—she's basically doing the same with me.

Mutual exotification.

She laughs when I call her exotic. She's more used to hegemonic. Blonde and blue eyes and white and all that goes with it. Guns and alcohol and hunting-and-fishing. And baseball hats. And Christian of a certain persuasion. In my book, she's a rare species of bird.

I laugh when she calls me exotic. I feel more the global norm. Dark. And dark. And darkness. We peasants ought to stick together, right? But no. I'm drawn to the Ice Queen.

You know the old adage. It's straight out of Fiddler on the Roof. Tevya. Get the lilting accent right.

"A fish may love a bird, but where would they live?"

We're okay, if she's the native and I'm the anthropologist. We're okay, if the Ice Queen's slumming it down here where the short Jewish peasantry resides.

But build a home together?

Disrupt and taint pure systems?

The only way to even think about that is with a sense of humor. Whimsy, crinkly eyes, and a great appreciation for the eclectic. Celebrate diversity, and all that. Syncretism. Heterosis. Mix it up and depurify.

It's the dream I had when I first learned about genetics and evolution. Fifth grade, as I recall.

All the people of the world would blend together. No more pure-bloods. No more this-land-is-my-land/this-land-is-your-land. Lift the borders, mix it up.  And we'd all be merely human.

But that would mean no more ice giants, no more Ice Queen, and no more short and zaftig Jews.

I've never been able to figure it out. Have appreciated those who know their own identity. Who celebrate the intactness of their heritage. How wonderful, right? But I've admired more those who have the courage to let go. Not the ones who steal indigenous ways and take them for their own. But those who bring together the best of multiple ways—and live it.

I'm balled up inside the argument. Ambivalent at best. Pure systems lead to prejudice and outrage. But syncretism makes a mess.


  1. Ice giants don't wear baseball caps. That's an adaptation to the unnatural sunniness of this foreign land. Ice giants in their more natural northern American habitats wear feed caps, even uglier baseball-like caps with mesh backs, agrobusiness-logoed fronts, and a propensity to perch awkwardly in a way that guarantees dorkiness.

    We're both already syncretic. You, Sephardi with Ashkenazi; me Norwegian with German and perhaps Jewish. You, German shepherd and cat; me, labrador retriever and cat. You, anthropology and (shudder) religion; me, music and (shudder) technology. You, a warm-climate native who feels hot in the cold of the inner sunset; me, a cold-climate native who feels cold in the warmth of the east bay. You, a Jew who likes bacon; me, a Viking who makes latkes and gefilte fish.

    You want tricky, try colonizing in the land of the olive orchards:

  2. Dearest Viking— Your response at your website was completely hysterical. Oh, and they all look like baseball caps to me. Except the ones actual baseball players wear.

  3. Baseball players? You've seen baseball players?!

  4. Apparently I've even seen some "important" games. The kind of games people still-talk-about. I'll ask Marc (someday) what on earth they were, and write them down for you. I've even gone to two games in the last two years. As I understand it, attending baseball games is a bonding ritual of kin groups among the Nacirema.

  5. I understand baseball as an opportunity to get a sunburn while freezing to death, while eating garlic fries and drinking beer. Pretty good as sports go!

  6. All of which is beside the point here where matters of consequence have been so heart-rendingly considered !!