For an outdoorsy people, Minnesotans sure stay inside a lot
By Konstanze Walther
In a 2009 movie called "Daybreakers," vampires grow to be the majority of the world's population. They become accustomed to living normal lives, with the important difference that they cannot step outside because sunlight is still dangerous to them. But they have devices to help them cope. If they need to visit the countryside, they drive cars with deeply tinted windows. If they want to visit a nearby office or apartment, they use a tunnel system that connects every house in the city. The remaining humans are bred indoors to provide the necessary supply of warm blood.
It is not a very good movie, but I couldn't help thinking of it during my first 10 days in the Twin Cities.
I am a visiting fellow with the World Press Institute and an Austrian native. Austria is a small country in the middle of Europe, with a lot of mountains and rivers. We have a climate that is very similar to Minnesota's — heavy snow in winter, heat waves in summer. When the first glimpse of sun arrives, usually in April, we are so deprived and hungry for it after five months of winter that we stubbornly sit in outdoor cafes all the time, dressed in downy winter jackets and scarves. As the temperature rises we rejoice, throwing nearly all our clothing off, and we try to soak in every drop of heat and sunlight. Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.
Minnesota is one of the most beautiful states. It prides itself not only on its 10,000 lakes, proclaimed on every license plate, but also on its being outdoorsy. People bike and run and go fishing and water-skiing and swimming and canoeing and God knows what. But once they are in their natural habit (as in: not involved in a sporting activity), they tend to be indoors. All the time.
The streets of St. Paul and Minneapolis are eerily similar to the ones in Daybreakers — devoid of people. In the business districts, people use skyways to get from building to building. A lot of shops and restaurants are on the skyway level. The skyways, meant to protect the populace from the very bitter Minnesota winter, are also crowded in summer.
"People here tend to departmentalize their lives. It is either sports and outdoors, or it is indoors," said a German immigrant who has been living here for 20 years. "It is really strange," she added.
A man who works in real estate told me he doesn't like the skyways. "They drive people away from the streets," he said.
The conversations took part at a dinner party on a beautiful summer evening. A door led to an adjoining garden. The door was locked. We were all stuck in the room, with industrial lighting. The air-conditioning was on. Nobody was enjoying the sunset, when the light turns yellow and red and the air gets the refreshing touch it only has at nightfall.
I don't actually think Minnesotans are vampires. On the contrary, they are very warm people, much warmer than the Austrians. But maybe they needed to develop that extra warmth, to fight off the air-conditioning.