Thursday, April 06, 2006

Frazier on Places

At work, I see a lot of magazines, some of which I never subscribed to but get sent to my attention anyway. If seeing random magazines was a perk, this would be a job perk.

One such magazine is called Stop Smiling, and this month it features an interview with Ian Frazier. If you've been paying attention -- like, here and here -- you know I'm a fan of his. Since I can't be the blogmaster I'd like to be this week, I thought I'd let Ian take up some space with two answers that tickled me. Here you go:
Stop Smiling: Your research seems to involve a lot of time on the road. What are the differences between living in a place and spending time there?

Ian Frazier: You don't know a place until you have been really deeply bored there -- the kind of boredom that you have in a Midwestern small town when you say, "I'll kill myself, it's so boring." When you're in Ohio in a small town and you're thinking, "I'm leaving this town," somehow, to me, that's the authentic experience for being in that place. For many people, getting really bored in it and vowing to leave is sort of a key experience. But there are places that are so heavily influenced by passing through that passing through itself is the experience of that place. New York is an obvious example, but I'm doing this book on Siberia, and I've passed through it a number of times and read many books by people who have passed through it, and it now strikes me that that's really what Siberia is about. There's a level of Siberia where that's all it is -- just an area of transit people pass through.

Stop Smiling: Is it possible to write about a physical location without writing about the people who live there, or the people who used to?

Ian Frazier: One thing that I noticed when I traveled the country is that places look the way people who see them feel. If you go to Reno, it looks like somebody who's gotten a quickie divorce. What goes on in the place just affects it. The Pine Ridge Reservation, you know -- people are bummed out. What you're seeing is an external expression of their frame of mind -- the frame of mind of the people. You can go to a monastery or a religious site of faith that you have no affinity with, or any understanding of, or you don't share, but still you can see that an intangible, indefinable religious frame of mind is being expressed in this place. That it looks like people pray here. Where I get off the bus -- the Port Authority bus -- it looks the way you feel in your brain when you have just gotten up in the morning and you're on your morning commute. There's a mundane tiredness to the Port Authority bus terminal that is exactly the mundane tiredness of the commuter internally.


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