Sunday, September 30, 2001

I keep forgetting to write about my stalker story, which goes something like this:

A couple of weeks ago, my mobile phone rang and on the other end was a voice speaking in low tones, and about all I could understand were the words ''Daniel'' and ''hetalinjen.''

I said, jag tror att du har ringt fel* and the voice went on and I soon had to switch to English, I just couldn't understand the whispering voice.

It turned out that this Daniel seemed to think that we had talked on the previous Friday and I had given him my phone number. I said that I would not likely have been talking on any, er, hotline given that I was on my way from Athens to Stockholm then.

But, he asked me, you are gay aren't you?

And I said, well, yes I am gay, but that has nothing to do with this. (Did my voice give it away or what? O, the shame... and then the shame at being ashamed because that is surely internalized homophobia, dammit!)

On the other end there was a silence, laden with disbelief that I was denying that I had talked to the insistent Daniel.

Nonetheless, he did finally get off the line.

The husband was not amused. Neither was I, actually, it was rather unnerving. My first thought was that it was a prank played by M. But the husband found this very unlikely. And actually, it seems a bit too nasty and not funny enough for him. So, we went to bed.

Then, to my horror, the next morning there was an SMS on my phone: CALL ME I,AM GAY YOU ARE GAY LET,S METT.CALL 55 55 55 DANIEL.

I had a stalker. Yikes!

I immediately sent an SMS back saying that I was happily married, that I wasn't interested, to leave me alone.

He has. But he's still out there, somewhere. The weird thing is how did he get my number? I see three possibilities: first, someone else could have pulled my number out of thin air, a mere coincidence; second, it could still be a joke, though no one's admitted to that as of yet; third, it could be someone actually trying to get between me and the husband. (I do think it's probably the first, he sounded awfully young and scared.) But I've got his number, literally, so if he calls again it's straight to the police (that's what my friend Å. said, ''straight to the police'' were her very words).

The Swedish word for the day is läskigt, which means creepy.

-by Francis S.
*I believe you have the wrong number.
Oh, and here is a much more useful lesson in Swedish than you will ever find at this site, courtesy of Emma at Miramis, sister domain of Not My Muse, which also hosts Tread Softly. (There, that covers all the bases I hope for Anja, Lexi, et al.)

-by Francis S.
This blog twin thing seems kind of clique-y and, well, not being a member of any of the cliques that seem to exist in the blog world, adding my URL isn't likely to get me anything, and I'm not sure what the purpose of it is anyway except to get some extra attention. But, I shamelessly added my name anyway - I guess I still in my (assuredly pathetic when it comes to this kind of thing) soul want to be famous to 15 people, or famous to however many it takes to be declared a twin, although I can't for the life of me imagine who I could possibly be twinned with.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, September 29, 2001

The regular fixed-line phone - as they say in the business - (as opposed to the mobile phone or cell phone, if you're reading this in the U.S.) is not working for some reason. Not that we're good about using this phone... I finally put a message on it saying that the caller should ring us on our mobile phones because we never listen to the message on the regular phone. (There will be an entire lesson later on Swedes and the use of mobile phones sometime in the near future.)

Anyway, when I woke up from my wool-tortured slumber at A.'s apartment last night, I noticed there was a message on my phone, which turned out to be my beloved little brother (who is, well, considerably bigger than I am, just littler in age, I guess) who had run into my ex on the street in D.C. They'd had lunch and now the ex wants my address in order to send me a letter. Which I suppose I will allow, since I'm curious as to what the hell he has to say to me. Our last communication was a letter from him that consisted of one sentence, - ''This is it.'' - and a check in payment for the grand piano that I'd sold with great difficulty because he wouldn't let me in the house in Dupont Circle, where the piano stood in the bay window, nor would he cooperate to be there at any specific time so possible buyers could stop in and see it. The whole thing was supposed to be negotiated through the next-door-neighbors, although I put my foot down on that and he finally relented. That particular letter seemed to succintly denote that, well, I shouldn't expect any more letters or send any of my own. Which was fine with me, if a little harsh in tone.

So, what the hell is he going to say now, more than five years after we split up?

And what the hell did he talk about at lunch with my poor little brother, who lived with us on several occasions and has, at best, rather ambivalent feelings about the ex, I'd suspect?

- by Francis S.
The weekend tastes so sweet after a long week - one of our two main English-language copyeditors was over here so I spent the week running meetings with her and every last damned editor at the office, first here in Stockholm and then down in Lund. This on top of the regular work that then has to be crammed in around the edges, including a session with a fellow invandrare - immigrant/ foreignerwho's only lived in Sweden six months and seems to be in a state of shock for a host of reasons, one of these being the deceptive similarity of Stockholm and its inhabitants to Anglo - U.K., U.S., Australian, Canadian, New Zealand - cultures: they are not the same at all, though they do appear quite similar on the surface, what with the excellent English-speaking skills, the t.v. programs from the U.S. (''The Sopranos'' and ''The West Wing'' and countless others), the music. That he doesn't need to prove himself in the way he's trying to prove himself, that he needs to tone it down in fact because in Sweden it's quite important not to seem to make yourself seem better than anyone else, and in fact its not at all the goal of people to become boss. I also had to make sure he realized that I'm not going to fire him because he's going through some kind of personal crisis and it's affecting his work.

Anyway, that was the week, in small part.

Then, when I arrived back from Lund at Arlanda airport, whisked the copyeditor and her husband into the train, got them checked back into the hotel, went back to the office at 5:30 and sent out some emergency e-mails because I hadn't had time to call a few people while I was down in Lund... after all this, we rushed off to A.'s apartment for dinner, which included S. and her new husband I., the son of Kurdish rebels (though he grew up in Sweden). I, quite rudely, zonked out on the couch shortly after the meal was finished (I blame the red wine), though I did manage to have some chocolate cake and dip into the huge bowl of godis that was put out (and I blame these very same godis and all their little cousins for the fact that S. commented that I seemed to have, ahem, gained a little weight in the general stomach area. I guess I need to get my sad ass to the gym).

Apparently, after I fell asleep, there ensued a huge argument about Israel, complete with namecalling (''you zionist, you'') and threats of making people read Noam Chomsky, all carried on in unfriendly tones and breaking all Swedish etiquette rules that forbid the discussion of politics (I blame this rule for my utter lack of comprehension when it comes to Swedish politics and the seven political parties represented in the Riksdag).

When I woke up, those damned wool trousers I was wearing making me feel extremely itchy and hot, A. said ''Did the shouting wake you up?'' She was very amused when I said no, it was, er, those damned wool trousers.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, September 25, 2001

It's time for another lesson in Swedish culture. The subject is food (inspired by yami, proprieter of green/gabbro, a blog that is some kind of fifth cousin twice removed to this one). Sweets, to be precise.

2. Goodies. Swedes have an endearingly childish love of candy. Having a sweet tooth myself, I find this a very attractive trait. The word for candy is godis and it is pronounced just like the word goodies except that the final -s- really does sound like a soft, unvoiced -s- and not like the harder, voiced -z- sound (i.e. in English, it sounds like goodeze, but in Swedish it sounds like go-diece). There are candy stores all over the place and in fact, two of them within a half block of my apartment, including one that has been there since the husband was a little boy. These candy stores have bins of candy of many different types, sometimes a hundred or more, and everyone helps themselves using large plastic spoons, pouring the candy into paper bags which are then weighed at the checkout. (You can also find these candy bins at seven-eleven, at the grocery store, the movie theater, the video rental store, and I'm sure other places I'm forgetting). It's a common sight to see adults walking around with yellow-and-red-clown-patterned or pink-and-white-striped bags of candy.

The candy falls into several categories.

There's chocolate, of course, although most of that is not of a very good quality. My favorite chocolates are in fact the Finnish chocolates made by Fazer - little bite-sized pieces wrapped in paper; Geisha is the best, it has a hazelnut cream filling.

There are also a lot of wine gum/ gummi bear/ gumdrop types of candy. They come in all the usual flavors such as lemon and orange, as well as favorite Swedish flavors such as pear. They are shaped like a child's pacifier, or pieces of fruit, or frogs, or simply little discs or lozenges.

My favorites are the sours. Most of these are a variety of the wine gum/ gummi bear/ gumdrop type, and they are shaped like fish, or soda bottles, or keys. They also have sour chestnuts, which are fruit- flavored hard- on- the- outside- soft- on-t he- inside lozenges, sort of a cross between an overgrown skittle and a sourball.

Then there is the licorice. There is sweet licorice - most notable are the licorice rats - and there is salt licorice.

Since I first arrived in Sweden and tried turkisk pebar, I've wondered who first decided that this was a palatable combination, and how did they in fact convince a whole nation that salt (and not just regular salt, I think I could handle regular salt, this seems to have some horrible ammoniac quality to it) and licorice go together like, uh, the pope and a shit in the woods. Or something like that.

So, the final point of this lesson is, unless you know what you are doing, do not be convinced by some laughing Swede to sample any candy that looks suspicious (i.e. nasty little hard greyish-brown dusty disks, grey nubbly gum-droppy things, grey discs with a salty peace sign on them, you get the picture).

- by Francis S.

Sunday, September 23, 2001

When I was in Greece, I was reading Down There on a Visit by Christopher Isherwood. He's an excellent memoirist, most of the books of his that I've read are very autobiographical, and he's written much about Berlin in the early thirties. But as I read this book, lying on a beach next to the husband and who knows how many others reading their own books or sleeping or talking, I thought to myself how the world today is so much a smaller place, people are so much closer together that the kind of war - and build up to it - that he writes about wouldn't happen now. I thought how different those times were, and wondered if he lived with a sense of foreboding as to what might happen, and thought how I live absolutely in a time where I have no sense of foreboding about anything other than the next week's work, that life these days is so sure. And now, of course, the surety is gone, at least in part. Just how much, that is the question.

The Swedish word for the day is kriget. It means the war.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, September 22, 2001

I've started a novel here. It has no real title yet.

- by Francis S.
It's kind of heartening to read that at least some people in the States seem to be more than just ambivalent about starting a war, of bombing Afghanistan or any other country, that people are so skeptical about anything so brashly called ''operation infinite justice.''

It would be hard to tell that this is true, reading the news or watching it on television here, be it Swedish television or CNN, listening to George Bush. It's so hard to guage from here, when I really talk only with my parents (who seem to move further and further left with age; they are decidedly more active on the whole gay-rights issue than I am, for instance. To think that my father voted for Barry Goldwater in the 60s. Jesus...), siblings and friends, all so decidedly dovish.

The Swedish word for the day is överhuvudtaget, which literally translated means something like a grab of the head, but is an idiom that would mean on the whole.

- by Francis S.

Friday, September 21, 2001

You'd think that being a model in Paris for Christian Dior would be, well, fun. Living in the city of light just off the Champs Elyseé. Travelling to all kinds of great places like the Seychelles, Buenos Aires, Capetown, Bali. Being able to wear anything and look like it was made for you (because, in fact, it was). Having stalkers send you CDs they've made themselves, CDs filled with songs about how great you are: "A.'s so beautiful, I wish she were mine. Mine, mine, mine, mine, all miiiiiiiiinnnnnnneeeeee..."

Uh, stalkers aside, it's hard to convince me, no matter how hard I imagine the long days of photo shoots, the dieting, the pressure to look beautiful, that this is not some kind of ideal life.

Then again, A. is really sick of it. And at last, it looks like she's going to be able to move back to Sweden permanently. It looks like she's got a job working in television production and she is ecstatic. She certainly deserves all of it, no matter how beautiful or smart she is. After all, I love her - not like I love the husband, but she's been a great friend ever since the day I met her, when I first visited Stockholm.

(They're not going to give up the apartment in Paris, thank god.)

The Swedish word for the day is äntligen. It means finally.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, September 20, 2001

What makes all university towns seem somehow alike?

I just got back from a night and a day at a meeting in a village outside of Lund, in Skåne, the southernmost province of Sweden where the dialect is particularly strong and, to me at least, difficult to understand (it sounds gargly in a very Danish way, not surprising considering Skåne was part of Denmark for centuries). Lund is where Sweden's second university is situated (Uppsala, just north of Stockholm and founded in 1477, is first).

And while it has an interesting and old cathedral (built on top of an old pagan temple), and the charming half-timbered and brick buildings characteristic of southern Sweden, it is the intense feeling of being a university town that strikes me most.

Is it that youth of a certain age (at least in the west) confer a certain energy to the air? I suppose it's more likely that the place just dredges up memories of my own college days, the liberating feeling of first independence, of smoking cigarettes and drinking endless cups of coffee, of having a crush on life and all its possibilities, the feelings of intense love and intense loathing that anything and everything inspires.

Cheap nostalgia, no doubt, is at the bottom of all of this.

The Swedish word for the day is längtan. It means longing.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Those wacky CIA operatives! What will they do next? (Credit goes to David, one of the editors working for me who showed me the article in the Guardian by Julian Borger from which this excerpt is taken).

    In another snapshot of folly offered by the new files, a memo dated 1967 on "Views of Trained Cats" looks into the possibility of surgically inserting microphones and transmitters into cats and using them as walking bugs. The operation was codenamed "Acoustic Kitty" and was a resounding failure. Having wired their first trained cat for sound, they released it near a park with strict orders to eavesdrop on two men on a bench, but the poor animal was run over by a taxi before it had taken more than a few steps towards its target. The CIA researchers came to the conclusion that they could train cats to move short distances, but that "the environmental and security factors in using this technique in a real foreign situation force us to conclude that for our (intelligence) purposes, it would not be practical."

Oh, yes. The Central ''Intelligence'' Agency is always on the cutting edge of, uh, intelligence. (The full article is here.)

The Swedish word for the day is märklig. It means funny peculiar (not funny ha ha).

- by Francis S.

Monday, September 17, 2001

My parents are good farm stock, raised in the Iowa countryside. Thank god, they got out before we, my brothers and sister, were born. When we were children and took the car trip from Chicago to my grandparents' homes in Sully and Pella, we used to refer to it as a visit to the planet Iowa.

Of course, it's charming if you're not from there and related to no one from there.

If you are, well, too bad for you. Everyone knows everything about everyone else, like for instance that you weren't in church on Sunday, or maybe that you went to the ''liberal'' (yeah, maybe liberal in comparison to Attila the Hun) Fourth Reformed Church instead of the all-powerful and always-packed-to-the-gills Second Christian Reformed church where you're supposed to go.

My sister recently pointed out to me that Gourmet magazine has discovered the subtleties of Iowa cooking, something I never really grew to appreciate much: my grandmother's secret-recipe grape juice - add grape kool-aid and sugar to give the grandkids a real kick; the stack of plain white wonder bread served with every meal; tough little porkchops that, with a simple shoelace and a little gumption, could easily be converted into nunchuks. Although to be fair, my grandmother did make a mean coconut cream pie.

A recent article lead off with a story on the Coffee Cup Cafe, a place where my grandmother who didn't make coconut cream pie worked after my grandparents had retired and moved into town (Sully, Home of the White Marigold, pop. 331 at that time, now it's grown to something like 900), and after my grandfather died.

You can also read about the Olde Town Eatery in Pella, a restaurant I must admit I've never heard of in all my visits there, (I guess they forgot to add the -e- that's supposed to go on the end of -town)-.

The Swedish phrase for the day is dålig mage. It means weak stomach.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, September 16, 2001

I guess I better mention Athens and the wedding, before I forget the small details, such as the two men - handsome, sunbaked, lean as cats, matching grey trousers several sizes too large for them, a sad craziness about them, looking for all the world like some double Greek version of Hazel Motes without the intensity - walking back and forth and playing accordians on the median on one of the main roads leading out of Athens. Or the startling newness of Athens - most buildings look to have been built in the 60s or 70s - as dirty and choked with traffic as I'd been told, a sort of European version of Bangkok.

As usual when traveling with Swedes, it was important to find the watering holes of the beautiful people and then stay out, night after night, drinking too much and laughing and dancing until dawn, then sleeping late and getting up just in time to go to the beach/go shopping/eat a very late lunch/have a drink for a few hours.

So we went to these clubs in Piraeus (''all the good clubs are in Piraeus'') on the sea, everything was white, white, white, including the clothes of all the beautiful people inside (except us, we tended toward fashionista black). And in the day we went to the beach (Scinia)/went shopping/ate a very late lunch/had a drink for a few hours, depending on the day, followed by going back to our various hotels and apartments to nap and bathe and dress and preen in preparation for another evening.

The day at last arrived for the wedding, which was held in a new Greek Orthodox church up in the hills somewhere. The service itself was barely understandable, being in (probably old) Greek, a mix of chanting and recitation involving three priests, the bride and groom, a best man (who was, er, a woman) and a second witness, along with the two families and various still and video cameramen, including press who were there because the groom is a well-known sportscaster in a country where sports is the No. 1 topic of conversation among males (followed by politics, family and sex, so it was said).

We had been warned to stand throughout the service, but after about five minutes we noticed that most of the Greeks had taken their seats, so we followed suit, although there were intervals in which everyone stood. But mostly, they sat and kept up a non-stop chatter that rather shocked the Swedes, who found it a bit disrespectful. (We were told later that in fact the chatter had been less than usual, in fact normally the priests have to shush the congregation several times throughout any given wedding. The bride said people talk because they're bored, but someone sitting at our table at the reception said that in fact it is a very deliberate sign of disrespect, or rather an assertion that the very powerful Greek Orthodox Church is not going to run their lives).

At about three-quarters of the way through, 13-year-old girls walked slowly past the pews, passing around baskets filled with rice for everyone to take a handful. A short time later, after the best woman passed over the heads of the bride and groom two diadems tied together by a ribbon, everyone stood up and threw their rice as hard as they could at the bridal couple. The service seemed to continue, but the Greeks lost interest after this and the chatter grew to a low roar and everyone started making their way to the back of the church until finally, some five to ten minutes later, the service was finished and the bride and groom walked out.

The reception itself was on another hill somewhere not too far away, at the Jockey Club, with some 200 Greeks and 25 Swedes (or pseudo Swedes such as myself) eating dinner and making constant speeches.

The bane of any Swedish wedding or birthday is the long list of mostly formal speeches which usually take up a good hour and a half's worth of time, of which nearly a full hour is actual speech. And you're not supposed to eat while someone is speaking - it always seems as if you've just managed to spear a small potato on your fork but before you can get it up to your mouth, another long and tedious speech has begun, starting with the details of a rarely humorous childhood incident and ending with a toast, all of it in careful doggerel. Which means it's rare to actually eat a hot meal at such an event in Sweden.

The toastmaster (another important feature of formal Swedish parties), poor man, was in rather a difficult position because the Greeks had a dual reaction as the speeches went on and on - some began to leave while at the same time others, realizing what this whole speech thing was about, were determined not to be outdone by the Swedes and all of a sudden wanted to make their own spontaneous speeches, which is a breach of Swedish etiquette: all speeches must be made via a request made to the toastmaster before the wedding.

Then the Swedes pulled out a couple of Swedish flags and got up (me included) and sang the Swedish national anthem, ''Du Gamla, Du Fria.''

It's odd, Swedes and their flag. Hanging a flag in your window in Sweden is a sign of nationalism to most, and just about everyone I know finds it more than distasteful. But this is the second time I've seen the Swedish flag hauled out at a foreign wedding like this. (Is it the same in the U.S.? I have such ambivalent feelings about the U.S. flag as well. Well, maybe not so ambivalent. The fight about the flag-burning amendment - an amendment which would, in effect, take away people's right to show respect for the flag because it would be illegal to show disrespect to it - has turned it into an unfit symbol of what I think is worth being patriotic about the U.S.)

The national-anthem singing was not my favorite part of the wedding, it felt quite odd to me. And, of course, afterwards the Greeks had to sing their national anthem. It felt a bit tense to me, especially with one of the best friends of the bride complaining loudly about how most of the speeches from the Greeks were in Greek and not English, the language the Swedes had chosen as a lingua franca. When she got up to make her speech, which was to be the final speech of the evening, I found to my great relief that rather than a speech, she made the bride and groom play a game wherein they were blindfolded and had to choose which was their spouse among various legs and/or noses presented to them. All of this to the great amusement of the Greeks.

At long last, the dancing began - including a period where the bride and groom danced rather suggestively on top of a table during which the groom's friends tried unsuccessfully to rip his shirt off - and lasted nearly until dawn, at about which time the Swedes were quite drunk and the father of the groom, perhaps drunk himself, threw a glass onto the dancefloor, smashing the glass into a thousand pieces in celebration (his two young nephews, gleefully following their uncle's example, threw their glasses as well). And the Swedes (and the few Greeks left) continued to dance on top of the shards of glass, laughing, the long skirt of the dress of the bride ruined by the dirt and glass.

- by Francis S.
Good god, I'm glad I'm not in America. Not because Americans seem to be a greater target for, uh, terrorists than do Swedes. At least at the moment. (Not that Sweden hasn't had its moments, such as the murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme).

No, I'm glad that I'm not there to have to look for the voices of reason amongst the overwhelming nationalistic bombast and bellicose rhetoric that is surely inescapable throughout all fifty states, in every city, in every suburb, in every small town and country village. I think I would probably be dead from a stroke on account of my blood pressure going through the roof. It's exhausting enough being here and reading about it or watching it on Swedish television.

Thinking back, I'm awfully glad that when the attack happened, the hotel in Mykonos we were at had BBC World and notCNN. Moments ago, the husband had left the t.v. here on CNN and I overheard voices calling in from New Jersey or Texas or Alabama or somewhere and I realized I couldn't stand to hear what these people might be saying.

The thing is, I greatly fear that people here are misunderstanding what I assume the U.S. leaders are thinking, not to mention the public.

Last night at dinner, the television producer, M., stayed until the wee hours after a vaguely unsettling meal with him and the priest and her sister - their father is in Uzbekistan for the next couple of weeks, refuses to come home and the family is, well, nervous, Uzbekistan being one of those countries immediately adjacent to Afghanistan - as well as the priest's boyfriend, the policeman, who is on call this weekend to protect embassies or the mosque or what have you. We talked mostly about this mess, things such as Sweden's observing a minute of silence on Friday - people had some mixed feelings about this, mostly that many, many more minutes of silence should be observed for events that are far more cataclysmic in terms of death than the recent U.S. attacks and that the motivation for it was as much economic as it was about it being some sort of attack on the so-called ''democratic way of life.'' We talked about what this war on terrorism might or should mean in places like Northern Ireland, Spain and the Basque country, Chechnya, whether these things then will possibly be resolved and by what means and by whom. Then the priest said that she thought the appropriate punishment for Osama bin Laden would be to force him to be a permanent fixture at Disney World for the rest of his life.

After everyone had left and the husband had gone to bed, M. sat and he drank his white tequila while I smoked cigarettes, and he told me that the positive thing about all this is that this has made the U.S. see that it is part of the rest of the world, that things like the Kyoto Treaty are small potatoes and the U.S. wouldn't be so petty any more about signing such a thing. He was, as he said, ultimately optimistic.

Me, I am ultimately pessimistic on this point. I cannot remember reading anything or hearing anything about the U.S. being part of the rest of the world - in the way M. means - from the parade of politicians, former politicians, security or Middle East or disaster relief analysts who have spoken or written words over the past five days. I may be mistaken, I hope I am terribly mistaken, but it seems to me that the U.S. doesn't really have any concept that the rest of the world wants this. That they want the U.S. to stop being a bully who runs away and won't play if he can't get his way. They want the U.S. to be a co-leader working hand-in-hand with its allies, and that here in Sweden at least, most people seem to want this group to function as policemen of sorts but only in so far as this means working to ensure people around the world everywhere are allowed to live their lives without fear and with fairness and justice. (Not that there aren't people here in Sweden physically attacking Muslims just as in the U.S. - the government does have an armed guard posted outside the mosque here in Stockholm. Despite this, the general sentiments seem to be as I said a sentence ago.)

My fear is that Western Europe has just said it will stand by the U.S. come hell or high water and the U.S. leadership can only take this as carte blanche to do whatever it decides is best, and current leadership is, well, not one that I really trust to do the proper thing, to act in what I think are the best interests of the world, but rather to work in the best interests of the Republican Party (I couldn't stand to watch Congress ''spontaneously'' singing the Republican National Anthem, ''God Bless America.'' On a nearly completely different tangent, for some strange reason the only time I cried was when I heard the guards outside Buckingham Palace playing the ''Star Spangled Banner,'' although perhaps that's not so strange, given that I'm living outside the U.S. so it's perhaps closer to my life somehow).

I hope I am very wrong on this, either on what the best interests of the Republican Party are (after all, Rudy Guiliani was quite amazing during all of this, surely people have already begun talking about a brilliant political future for him, code words for presidential material) or on how this will be handled by all these leaders who happen to be republicans. The president himself just seems in a daze, wondering why he ever ran for president and if there's any way he can take it back. Poor man. Poor in most senses of that word except in its meaning of lacking lucre.

I think those in the U.S. don't understand, when a taxi driver in Athens tells me that he thinks this is a CIA plot, that what this at heart means is that people in a lot of places outside of Palestine or Iraq just do not trust the United States.

And frankly, I don't blame them. I sure as hell don't trust the CIA either. Not of course that I believe this would ever be committed by them. I just don't trust them.

The Swedish word for the day is rädd. It means afraid. Strangely enough, the verb rädda means to save.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, September 15, 2001

We're back, tanned but exhausted and dazed, overdosed on the bad news. And I seem to have lost all sense of proportion and place. Everything feels too emphatic or too subtle, the colors a shade or two off.

I'm not altogether sure that trading the blue and white and dust-colored summery dry islands of the Aegean for the grey and green autumn-sodden islands of the Baltic will make it seem any less that people are going about their daily business a little too tidily, given the circumstances.

It was so strange, eating dinner rather mechanically in a taverna on the beach on Wednesday evening, surrounded by Europe enjoying itself - Germans and French and English and Greeks - and me feeling as if everyone else is ignoring the uneasy feeling they surely must have in their stomachs. Then feeling as if I'm just being melodramatic, feeding into all the hyperbole I've been hearing all day. Then making mental notes for a magazine review of the taverna. Then chastising myself for making the mental notes, then chastising myself all over again for being melodramatic. Stupid, that.

And now we're back, and I still don't know what to think, or even how to sort out all my strange emotions about these airplanes, these hijackers, this rubble, these dead people, these politicians, this teetering economy, these countries whose citizens have an intense distrust and hatred of the United States.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, September 05, 2001

Fifteen-hour work days can really do a guy in. I hate how it seems to take two-days worth of work in one day to actually go on vacation in order to not set yourself up for disaster on your return.

Off to Greece, and not nearly soon enough. (It's Mykonos after the wedding in Athens. Apparently that's where some of the husband's friends are going to hang out. O, the glamor.)

We'll be back in 10 days.

The Swedish word for the day is jättetrött. It means tired as all get out. - by Francis S.

Monday, September 03, 2001

Well, we're soon off on yet another jaunt. This time to Greece, for the fourth wedding of the year. (This is why everyone should live in Europe, because you can just jaunt off like that on account of it's inexpensive to fly, you have six weeks of vacation, and it doesn't take too long to get there.)

It's funny, all these marriages all of a sudden. First it was the editor marrying his voluptuous girlfriend, now wife, in the south in Ramlösa, the place where they get the water that comes in the light blue glass bottle. A relatively small celebration, but choice.

Then it was the wedding out in the country somewhere, and we were supposed to dress formally but we didn't although I did wear a dark blue frilly tuxedo shirt made out of some kind of synthetic fabric or other. And we hung out with our friend the priest, who married us and was now marrying this other couple. She left right after the dinner, after smoking a pack or so of cigarettes with us. And then the husband's ex was there all the way from Shanghai, with his American boyfriend (strange coincidence, that). And we all got really plastered.

Then it was the wedding in the mosque where I couldn't get comfortable, sitting cross-legged on the carpet. I guess I'm getting too old. And the bride had to have her hair and arms covered despite the fact that her dress had huge see-through panels in it and the cloth she used to cover her arms and legs was completely sheer. She actually looked pretty damned fabulous. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the women covered themselves with these white scarves that are, to be generous, unflattering. That is, unless you want to look like someone poking their head painfully through a tent flap. Or maybe more like one of those people in old photographs sticking their heads through a cardboard painting of a crescent moon to become the face of the man- (or more likely woman, in this case) in- the- moon.

So now, time for the wedding in Athens that ought to be quite the thing. We leave on Wednesday morning. It will be too many people no doubt, but a reunion of sorts among the group that made the trek to the wedding in Malaysia of the friends from London - the Wallpaper editor and her husband the photographer. And then afterwards we'll go by ourselves off to one or another of the islands for some chalky- white- village- perched- above- the- water- and- maybe- a- beach time alone. Oh, yes.

And it's two-for-one day today, with a second Swedish word of the day: bröllopet. It means the wedding.

- by Francis S.
I was trying to find a picture of a dog harness on the net just like the one I keep seeing on this pug-type critter that is always out being walked when I'm on my way to work, or today, on my way home. The harness has a sort of handle on it, so you can pick the pug up and use it as a kind of hairy featherduster, for instance. Or maybe you could put things in its mouth and use it as a purse.

The thing is, I couldn't find any pictures at all. But I did run across plenty of interesting philosophical questions, such as ''Is the prong collar an instrument of torture or a universal trainingdevice?'' and interesting facts such as that while the Gun Dog Supply Company still sells collar replacements for the ''bark eliminator,'' the ''bark eliminator'' is no longer available. However, you can still purchase the ''bark limiter.'' The copy doesn't really spell out what exactly the ''bark limiter'' does, except to note that the ''low level'extended momentary' stimulation eliminates unwanted barking'' and that the ''small, inconspicious collar fits dogs of all sizes except toy/miniature breeds.''

Which makes me very curious about what ''extended momentary'' could possibly mean, not to mention ''low level [sic] stimulation.''

The Swedish word for the day is aj!. It means ouch. - by Francis S.

Sunday, September 02, 2001

Hmmm. It sounds like, according to the New York Times, one of my most-trusted authorities when it comes to all the news that's fit to print*, the figures for the percentage of the population that identifies itself as homosexual in the U.S. - 2.8 percent for men, 1.4 percent for women - are significantly lower than the numbers bandied about by all our favorite gay rights organizations. I suppose the old Kinsey figures are pretty suspect. And I think those gay rights organizations would have a bit more credibility by using better numbers, maybe less political and social clout, maybe not, but at least more credibility.

The question is, why do nearly twice as many men identify themselves as gay as women identify themselves as lesbian? Odd, that. Seems to point to a fairly profound difference in male and female sexuality, regardless of the orientation. - by Francis S.

*One of the few complaints I have about the NYT is that they have no sense of humor. None. My ex once helped a friend write a letter to the editor suggesting the Olympics™ revert back to the practice of athletes competing buck naked. The whole purpose of the letter was to include a pun on the newspaper's slogan - the punchline of the letter was ''all the nudes fit to sprint.'' So they printed the letter - which was a feat in and of itself, not an easy thing to achieve - but without the punchline, for chrissakes. Talk about stuffy and self-important.

And yet, despite the pole- up- the- ass routine, the NYT is tops, I gotta admit there's no doubt about that.
Last night we had dinner with H., the husband's aunt of sorts - she's known him since he was 10 or so. It was a farewell dinner for her daughter, who's moving to Manhattan to work for the Swedish delegation to the U.N. in New York.

At the dinner was Sweden's version of Barbara Walters. Well, she's maybe a bit more sophisticated than old Barbara, but she does interview all kinds of bigwig types, from the maudlin - Elton John - to the vilified - Qaddafi. And, while I could follow the conversation, mostly, and throw in a few comments here and there, and answer questions put to me - ''Är dina fördäldrar religiösa?''* - still I was unable to take full advantage of the situation, what with my fumbling Swedish.

I couldn't ask the Swedish Barbara Walters about, well, I don't know, what is it like interviewing all these people, for instance. Who is most interesting? Who is a boor and who is a bore? Is it hard to maintain some semblance of subjectivity all the time? Who has infuriated or disgusted you? Who has charmed you against your will?

I suppose even if I could ask them, I still would have felt as if I was imposing, asking such questions. Swedes hate to appear nosey, it's very bad form. Plus, the Swedish Barbara Walters is a reporter after all, and most reporters get really uncomfortable when someone else starts asking the questions.

Still, she talked some about herself - happy months spent in Cuba and Colombia studying Spanish where she didn't really learn a thing but loved the people, for instance, or that Leonard Cohen was very intelligent and charming when she interviewed him. Yet she was curiously unassuming but with a certain commanding presence.

In short, I liked her considerably.

These dinners with H. used to be my sole real practice in speaking Swedish because H. is my only friend here who doesn't really speak English, it was no doubt difficult enough for her to learn Swedish when she moved here 20 years ago from Chile. And she understands English reasonably well, she just doesn't quite speak it.

When I first met her, we spoke Spanish but somehow despite my clumsy grammar and lack of vocabulary, we soon switched to a peculiar mix of Swedish and Spanish, and then to Swedish alone as I've gotten to the point where while I can still understand quite a bit of Spanish but if I try to speak it, that pathetically inept part of my brain responsible for languages other than English will only allow Swedish out of my mouth.

Anyway, the dinners used to consist of my speaking English to everyone but H., and everyone speaking English to me. Then sometime over the past six months I finally made the switch over to speaking Swedish with everyone. And if I'm hopped up on enough red wine, I can get pretty chatty.

Last night was not one of those nights, however. - by Francis S.

* ''Are your parents religious?''

Saturday, September 01, 2001

It's time for me to answer (for myself) the question: what the hell is this about, or rather, why am I writing this, why does anyone write these online diaries, why would anyone read them or want to read them, why do we (me and the other people who write these things) have such exhibitionist tendencies?

At the beginning, I told myself that I was writing this to keep a record of my painful struggle to learn Swedish, that I would be motivated to keep it up if I did it so publicly and with the attendant rewards of being read by people I don't even know. How that is supposed to be a reward, well, I guess anyone reading this would understand.

Anyway, I started this with a modicum of self-doubt. How could I be interesting without revealing too much? It seemed to me that the most interesting stuff to read is the most personal, provided it's not too pathetic, too repetitive, too banal. Plus, the husband is way too connected to the people who fill the gossip rags of Sweden for me to be too forthright, at least about a some things. I keep worrying that for the right person this could be a sort of journal á clef, so I don't put anything particularly juicy or maybe even interesting about anyone in here.

So, I thought briefly about writing the whole thing in the third person, but decided that was just not in the spirit of a journal. So I picked a tone, and dove in, knowing next to nothing about the psycho-sociological philosophical semiotics of this blogger stuff.

But now as I stumble about, I happened on a page from this guy who used to shepherd something called the Metalog Ratings at!, both apparently now defunct. And he wrote:
    I lost interest in weblogs. They were never a great passion; over the last year or so they've become much less interesting, and much more, well, precious. Make me care about you and your weblog; don't assume that I do. Junk the "mystery" links, the cutesy lines, the breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.

And I realized, Jesus, I've been writing breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. I've been, well, maybe not precious exactly but definitely a tad on the arch side. Cutesy lines? I'm not sure exactly what he means by cutesy.

The only trap I seemed not to have fallen into is peppering my posts with mystery links. Well, maybe just accidentally touched it with my big toe without actually falling all the way into the trap.

Which brings me to the question, why would anyone want to read this? I honestly don't know. I don't know if I would read this. And, while I know I would like to have people read it, on some level it doesn't matter. So, maybe I can just skip to the next question.

Which is: why am I such an exhibitionist? I guess it's an American thing. Andy Warhol and the whole ''15 minutes of fame concept,'' which the Internet seems to have changed into ''famous to 15 people who would normally not know you.''

The Swedish word for the day is kändisar. It means famous people. - by Francis S.
Those Mufti people of Aden sure knew a good thing when they tasted it: ah, coffee. ''I love coffee, I love tea, I love the java jive and it loves me...''

Now, if only we weren't out of espresso, I could've just whipped up a cup in the machine in no time instead of having to empty the dishwasher in order to get the dirty dishes in the sink out of the way so I could actually get proper access to the water tap, water being an essential ingredient of coffee. But it was a good thing I did the dishes, it being takeout Indian food last night from Indira, the McDonald's of our block (Farmer Street), takeout because we're a couple of lazy slobs.

Er, I'm a lazy slob, the husband is just lazy. Well, actually he isn't, he worked one of those nasty 13-hour days yesterday, starting at 7:30 a.m. (And he's working again this morning. Ah, the painful life of being an arbiter of fashion). Me, I just didn't feel like cooking because, well, I didn't feel like cooking.

The thing about Indira food is that, like McDonald's, it has a rather insistent stink about it that is extraordinarily appealing as you remove the chicken pista korma and chicken butter masala and naan bread from the various containers and paper bags and heap it all on your plate. But once eaten, that stink loses its glamor. And especially if you consumed a bottle of really good 1995 Chateauneuf du Pape over the course of the evening as well, the combined odors of oil and stale wine the next morning are not pretty.

All of which is to reiterate that it was a noble thing doing those dishes. - by Francis S.