08 March 2009

Cicely, Alaska

When was the last time you visited Cicely, Alaska? It is one of my favorite places in the United States, nestled in my consciousness so securely that even Sarah Palin’s Alaskan presence can’t really displace my affections for Cicely.

Of course, Cicely, Alaska exists only as the location of the television show Northern Exposure, a series from the early years of the nineteen-nineties. Joel Fleishman, a Jewish doctor from New York City, committed to serve several years in Alaska (he thought Anchorage, where several kosher delis operate successfully) in return for their scholarship help putting him through medical school. But Anchorage has no need for his services, and so they station him in Cicely, a town without, among other things, a kosher deli. (In one of the earliest show, Joel sends for bagels from Zabars, an Upper West Side Food Emporium. No one, least of all Maggie, who thinks she is flying emergency supplies to the Doctor only to discover she’s transported several dozen bagels, is impressed. Besides, there was no cream cheese.)

Anyway, it is the people of Cicely who attract me. Of course there is Joel, who exists in a constant state of culture shock but who slowly over the seasons becomes affected by the place. His antagonist is Maggie, a young, attractive woman who has escaped the high pressured life of the States and a somewhat domineering father, to settle in Cicely as a self-employed pilot taxiing people and supplies between Cicely and the rest of Alaska. She and Joel desire and reprove each other; Chris: a free spirit, hippie-ish young man who runs the radio station and who reads aloud on his program (Chris in the Morning) Whitman’s poetry, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and, for Valentine’s Day, love poetry. Ed, a native American whose great hero is film director and actor, Woody Allen. On the episode I screened today, Ed received a kippah once owned by Woody Allen’s grandfather. Does it get any more multi-cultural?
But no, I don’t feel like summing up the characters in such brief vignettes, nor do I feel like exploring them in greater depth now. Suffice to say, each is complex, interesting and humanly, wonderfully vulnerable.

And what I adore about the show is the ease with which each of the characters lives her or his life. Their unquestioned acceptance of difference and alternative lifestyles is not practiced as blatant political statements, but rather, as a way of unquestionable life. Difference is what makes Cicely, but it is the people who make Cicely so wonderfully livable. Only cruelty and selfishness and meanness are not permitted residence. And whatever doesn’t harm anyone else is welcome to town. And shame is never permitted entry. What the characters are primarily interested in is the content of their characters, and everything else follows naturally from this wonderful ethics of not tolerance, but acceptance. More: it is as if the citizens of Cicely expect difference rather than merely tolerate it. More still: it is not mere acceptance: in Cicely, difference though it is real is hardly noticeable. It is a simple life in Cicely, Alaska, but a lovely complex portrayal of life. I think I watched it from its debut in 1990 or 1991, but am revisiting Cicely these days through Netflix. Today, just as the duel between Alexei and Maurice was about to begin, Joel broke out of the story and sought alternatives to the deadly duel. It was happily achieved. Détente won out again, and the superpatriot Maurice sat down in peace with the Troskyite Alexei.

Only in Cicely, Alaska. I love the place. I would live there—have sought Cicely everywhere.


Blogger Akis-Aigio said...

I just bought all the seasons of Northern Exposure from Amazon. I hope that I will visit this place someday in the future. Regards from Greece.
P.S. And sorry for my bad English

23 March, 2009 10:47  

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