Wednesday, October 31, 2001

What is your family like?

My family, well, I've always secretly been vaguely ashamed that my family is so wholesome, so happy with each other, so lacking in neuroses. Of course, when I started therapy after I split with my ex, I found myself talking not about him or my relationship, but about my family. They definitely have their faults. But on the whole, they could be described as Waltonian. Although my ex's own therapist, who had never met me nor my family, described us as ''having an agenda of narcissistic entitlement,'' which my ex dutifully reported back to me. I responded with annoyance by writing a rather bad poem. I'm at a loss as to what that says about my relationship with my ex. And his own family was a frightening combination of New York City Aggressive-Aggression (as opposed to passive aggression) married to honest-to-goodness Southern Gothic Nuttiness straight out of Flannery O'Connor. They were not a healthy set of people.

But, getting back to the subject of families, the family in which I grew up - as opposed to my post-nuclear family, the one that includes my husband and myself - consists of six persons, including me.

There is my father the engineer, a stoical man of 67, who I remember as being infinitely patient when I was a boy. In later life, he has unfortunately developed a severe case of Attention Deficit Disorder and, like a shark, dies if he stops moving. Or rather, falls asleep. He is now Mr. Hyper Project Guy, and it's very hard to get him to focus on anything outside of his current projects. These are rather substantial, to give him credit, such as being in charge of building a house for Habitat for Humanity. He is most lovable.

Then there is my mother, who married my father when both of them were 21. They started dating when they were 15. They still seem to be happily married, for the most part. This is probably a key part of the whole Waltonian element to the family. My mother is a nurse. She has calmed down considerably from the Mom I remember as a boy, who was a touch on the, er, angry side sometimes. Like my father, she believes that action is very important. My parents were not too keen on the whole gay thing when they found out about me when I was 18 (I'm not going to tell you that story). But, over the years, they've changed a bit, and they happened to be living in Colorado when that whole nasty Proposition 2 thing was going down, which politicized the both of them. So my mother is big into gay rights. She is currently organizing a P-FLAG organization in Oak Park, Illinois (I was rather surprised to hear that there was none in existance).

Then there is my older sister, who is a saint in all the best senses of that word. Just one examle of this would be that when I was five, I wanted a Barbie Doll for Christmas (yeah, yeah, no comment, I had to work hard to shed my girly-boy image as time went on) and my mother, who found this a threat to her masculinity, was not pleased. My sister, who was only eight at the time, defied my mother and got me one. And that is why I am the person I am today. Right. Well, actually, there is a great deal of truth to that statement.

Next is me, the oldest of The Boys.

Then comes my younger brother (as opposed to my little brother). My younger brother is only a year and a half younger than me, and was always a year behind me in school. We never fought much, not really. He's an engineer like my father, only he's much smarter. Not wiser, but smarter. And he was wild when we were teenagers. He always did his homework, but he most definitely was wild. For instance, the school newspaper did a survey on drugtaking in our school - this would have been 1979 or so - and one of the classes they surveyed was the Calculus class. The results of that test went something like this:

  • Percentage of people who have tried marijuana: 15% (which included my brother)
  • Percentage of people who have tried hallucinigenic drugs: 3.2% (which included only my brother)
  • Percentage of people who have tried cocaine: 3.2% (my brother)
  • Percentage of people who have tried amphetimines: 3.2% (my brother)
  • Percentage of people who have tried barbiturates: 3.2% (uh, guess who?)

Of course now he's married and has three kids and lives across the street, but directly across the street from my parents, is a VP at some big consulting firm, and plays golf with his 10-year-old daughter and my dad every Saturday, weather permitting.

Finally, there is my little brother. He is not littler than me. He is five years younger, but he has been bigger than me since he was about 13. Then again, I was a scrawny guy for years. Those were the good old days. He was always the most handsome, the most popular, the nicest guy who had one steady girlfriend after another from the time he was 10. We weren't particularly close. Strangely enough, we are quite close now. And he's changed a lot from when he was 13. He's a lot more shy these days, even if he does dress up as Hedwig for halloween, he's had his ups and downs. He's getting married to a friend of mine that he met when he was here in Sweden for my wedding. He's moved to Washington to be with her - it's funny to think that he's now living where I lived for so long. I wish he lived here, though. It would be awfully nice to just see him whenever I wanted.

So that is my family. And we mostly get along, although we do drive our various spouses crazy when they are unlucky enough to be with us when we are all together. We basically like to sit around and laugh at each others' stupid jokes, tell stupid stories, teach the next generation how to tell stupid jokes and stories, and generally just loaf about.

I suppose part of why we do get along is that we don't, mostly, live near each other. We take each other in infrequent overdoses.

And now I'm wondering if I just haven't given support to Tolstoy's comment about all happy families being alike, i.e. not worth writing about.

The Swedish word for the day is tråkigt. It means boring.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Fall has descended so rapidly, all wet leaves on the ground and dark by 4:30. It happens quickly this far north, I suppose. For some reason, it made me pull out a CD of Britten's Ceremony of Carols. Probably because it would have been about this time of year that the choir I sang in as a boy would have begun our preparations for Christmas in earnest.

I had a nice clear soprano when I was 10. It has deteriorated into a gravelly bass that gets even deeper if I smoke too much. No more (nearly) effortless high Cs for for me anymore, no more solos ("Dark midnight was my cry, dark midnight was my cry, dark midnight was my cra-a-ahy... give me Jesus. Give me Jesus, give me Je-e-sus! You may have all this world." - it sounds dreadfully like melodramatic and bad religion, but it was such a bittersweet and moving spiritual.) I can still more than hold my part in a group, though.

This choir that I sang in as a boy was undoubtedly the high point of my life for a good five years. It was small - 15 or so voices - but choice. And the director, oh, the director, he was my favorite adult in all the world and I loved him. Joe Brewer was his name.

He called us all "young man" and "young lady." A black man, he was rather an anomaly in the presbyterian church I grew up in. The church itself was an anomaly, situated in what was then a mostly Jewish suburb of Chicago.

He was a consummate musician and taught me how to love music, what to love about it, what good music was. We sang everything from Orlando di Lasso and Heinrich Schutz to Michael Haydn to Zoltan Kodaly.

And he also taught us spirituals wherein instead of learning the music by reading it, we listened to him sing our parts and we then sang it back to him until we got it right, and he would accompany us with a rip-roaring gospel piano.

He was my great boyhood role model - he died nearly 15 years ago or so, when he was only 50. They said it was a heart attack, but I sometimes wonder if it was AIDS, because though I never knew it when I was a boy, he was gay. He lived with his boyfriend, a trumpet player, in Lincoln Park in Chicago. The whole choir visited him there once. I'm sure my parents must have known. He came over to our house for dinner several times, including one time where my father was renovating the dining room and we had written with magic markers all over the walls. He signed his name, ''Giovanni Brewer.''

He was so interested in us, so firm and kind, so vivacious and tough, small but muscular and athletic, wearing the red sweater we gave him one year for Christmas.

Thinking of him gives me a great sense of longing and loss - the loss of my once beautiful voice, of my childhood, of him. But thinking of Joe Brewer mostly makes me smile.

- by Francis S.

Aw, shit. I realized I was whining on and on about Daylight Savings' Time and I got it all wrong. We are now back on regular time, so in fact Daylight Savings' Time does actually give you more evening light, but just in the summer.

My question now is, why don't we just shift the time altogether? It's not like there is some kind of supreme clock that we need to abide by or God will punish us with famine, pestilence and bad television.

The Swedish phrase for the day is dum i huvudet. A slightly loose translation would be dumbhead.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 29, 2001

Where exactly did the phrase ''Daylight Savings' Time'' come from? I vaguely recall that the concept was instituted during the War (WWI or WWII, take your pick) to help farmers by giving them more time to work in the fields. Although the only extra time it would seem to give is to the poor farm children who need daylight to do chores before going to school. I don't see how it saves daylight at all. And while it was nice to get that extra hour of sleep yesterday, it's so dark now. Daylight Savings' Time seems, at this point, mainly to benefit people who for some strange reason like to be up early in the morning.

I don't understand.

The Swedish phrase for the day is klockan 6.59, which is the time the sun rose this morning in Stockholm. This particular time could be expressed in several ways, one of them being en i sju - one before seven - or sex-femtio-nio - six fifty-nine. The pronunciation is even more interesting, but I'm not so good on proper phonetic spelling, and the proper pronunciation of the word sju here in Stockholm is nearly impossible to describe: the sj is sort of like an sh spoken through slightly more clenched teeth and with the tongue low in the mouth and almost touching the lower teeth as opposed to more raised, rounded and touching the sides of the upper teeth. It also requires blowing more, and making almost a wh sound as well. It's probably the most difficult Swedish sound for an English speaker.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, October 28, 2001

I adore my little brother.

Halloween is no big thing here, it exists, but they tend to celebrate it on the wrong day, and people are a bit confused by it. For instance, my friends J. and R. had little kids in masks ring their doorbell last year. ''Did you want something?'' J. asked them. They merely shrugged. She gave them some cornflakes.

So, I have to get a halloween fix vicariously (not that I ever went all out with a crazy costume when I lived in the States, but I did usually go to a party or two).

This is where my little brother comes in. He went to a party last night, dressed as Hedwig. And his girlfriend went as Tommy Gnosis.

You must understand, of course, that my little brother would make a great football player. He's one big barrel-chested muscular guy.

''My friends said I was scaring them,'' he said. ''Maybe it was the bad glitter makeup. And the players from the women's soccer game that I was the ref at earlier in the day kept on coming up to me and wanting to have their pictures taken with me.''

Scary indeed. I can only imagine, what with the blonde wig and a star-spangled outfit with a leather cape reading ''Yankee go home with me.''

He said he was very hungover this morning, but managed to get to his soccer game at nine a.m. and even score a goal before the end of the game.

''I'll tell you more later,'' he said.

The Swedish word for the day is lillebror. It means little brother.

- by Francis S.

Friday, October 26, 2001

We're about to toddle on off to have a glass of birthday wine with a friend, H. It'll be me and the husband and a bunch of Swedish music industry people. One of the nicest things about Sweden is that is has such a different attitude about famous people. No one goes up to famous film actors and asks for an autograph, rock stars don't get mobbed by crazed fans. People who are famous in Sweden pretty much get to go about their lives undisturbed, buying their groceries at the local grocery store, having a beer at a neighborhood pub. And if you do ever meet them, they tend to be pretty normal down-to-earth people. (I guess to be fair to stars in the U.S., it's hard to be down-to-earth when you're constantly surrounded by over-the-top adulation.)

The Swedish word for the day is ödmjuk. It means humble.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, October 25, 2001

A new store (it's cooler than it looks from the Web site) has opened at last in our apartment building on the Farmer Street. They make nice things out of wood for one thing. It had been under construction for more than half a year.

Now, if only they'd hurry up and finish the renovation of the rest of the building. It keeps getting dragged out longer and longer. They already messed up in our bathroom and have to redo things, and they haven't even laid the tile yet. And the new radiators, which they also had to redo because they somehow managed to hang them unevenly, are sort of working - they're warm on the sides. But, it sounds like something between a bubbling brook and a leaky faucet in the bedroom, a constant and somehow unpleasant sound of water running haphazardly through copper pipes.

The Swedish word for the day is att gnälla. It means to whine.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Well, Melinda. This post is for you.

Are you sure you want to be an editor for a magazine? It definitely has its good points. One of them being the satisfaction of getting the finished magazine. Of course, I'm too much of a coward to actually read the magazine once it comes back from the printer (maybe sick of it, too.) I only leaf through it, barely glancing at the pages, waiting for somebody else to find the typos and mistakes.

Not that I'm above torturing those people who are brave enough to do it.

When my friend Å. had the first issue of a new magazine she was doing come out, my friend G. and I decided to play a little joke. Å. had just been at the printer in Finland and came back regaling us with stories about the stacks and stacks of porn next to the presses at the factory in Tampere. So, we cut out near-pornographic photos from fashion magazines (a sleazy guy in a bed; a naked ass bisected by the string of a string bikini) and carefully pasted them over the actual pictures. When the receptionist, who had been in on the conspiracy, delivered the doctored magazine to Å., she about had a heart attack.

Å. tells us that revenge is a bitch, and it comes unexpectedly.

And now you're probably saying to yourself, ''That Francis guy sounds like a jerk.'' But I'm not, I'm not! I just like a good joke now and then. Just ask Å. (The whole thing was G.'s idea, I was merely an accomplice.)

This is what adults do when they work at magazines.

The Swedish word for the day is skratta.. It means laugh.

- by Francis S.

I guess I'm conservative when it comes to, uh, design. Minimalist, too. And I seem to not like change all that much. Although I'd like to put in a vertical rule between the journal part and the links and about-the-author section, I just can't figure out how to easily do it, my HTML skills being extremely pathetic (please don't look at the frightening HTML behind this site, I beg of you.)

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, October 23, 2001

Please bear with me as I mess around with a new layout.

The Swedish word for the day is hopplös. It means hopeless.

-by Francis S.

Monday, October 22, 2001

I guess I need to do a little renovation around here, a bit of site consolidation - reduce, reduce, reduce.

The Swedish word for the day is banta. It means diet.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, October 21, 2001

Riding horses seems to be a fun thing. Not that I really rode any horses this weekend. Oh, I sat on top of one, and was led around by the 17-year-old girl who owned the horse. I even wore one of those black velvet hats. But I wouldn't exactly call it riding. I felt like a little kid taking a pony ride as I was walked around the grounds of Steninge Palace in the far reaches of Stockholm. In fact, I couldn't quite meet the eyes of all the people wandering around the gardens. That stupid black hat didn't help. And then as I was walked on country roads outside the grounds and we met people who were really riding horses - by people, I mostly mean 15-year-old girls - horses that were moving fast because no one was leading them by a rope, I felt even more silly.

At least I didn't have to ride a pony, as crazy E. did.

Of course, we got to do some other fun things for our 500 kronor (each). For instance, we got to clean out the horses' stalls (you don't have to get every last little clump of shit out, apparently. Or maybe I just decided that myself about the time I started wondering why I had paid 500 kronor to clean up horseshit instead of someone paying me). We brushed the horses. We cleaned the dirt out from under their hooves. I even got to clean the shit out of one of the horse's tail with shampoo, water and a plastic brush.

And yet, it was completely satisfying and only made me feel that it could be fun to learn how to ride a horse. They seem to be high-strung, horses, but it sure looks like it's a thrill to ride them. I don't want to own one, no, but I wouldn't mind really knowing how to ride a horse.

(And of course it helped that the weather was perfect fall weather on Saturday, and Steninge Palace - which I seem to recall was built by some Swedish nobleman who was having an affair with Marie Antoinette and wanted a nice place to bring her for a little of the old in-out in-out, although the style seems a little old for that so maybe I'm wrong - is a charming spot with lovely lawns leading down to the water and typical Swedish baroque buildings, all painted yellow.)

The Swedish phrase for the day is jävla idioter, which means damn fools.

- by Francis S.

Friday, October 19, 2001

The Swedish phrase for the day is tack så hemskt mycket, which means thanks awfully much to Choire, co-proprieter of and son of Jackie. The thank you is for paying to get rid of that annoying advertisement at the top of the page. You could say he's one of those men who go around all day doing nothing but good deeds that we call... good deed doers. But then again, if you read his blog, you would know this to be untrue. In fact, he seems to be a date goer.

Tonight we're off to the hinterlands of Stockholm to go spend a weekend together with crazy E. and her boyfriend. We'll be riding horses, which is something I've never done before, but I've been assured will give me aching muscles. No doubt there will be something to be said about this at a later date.

- by Francis S., thankful

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

I'm sitting here with a piggelin - a pale green pear-flavored popsicle, a real Swedish classic - trying to write with some logistical difficulty. I'm eating this traditional summer treat for children because it's soothing to my throat, which is bit raw from coughing all day. And, of course, because it's very tasty and satisfying. And because I need a little comfort.

For some reason it reminds me of the time I was stung by a bee when I was five. My mother kissed me and sat me in one of those round plastic wading pools, giving me a peeled cucumber to eat. So I sat in the pool, cried a little, ate my cucumber and felt better after awhile. It really did the trick.

The Swedish word for the day is tröst, which is a false cognate. It means solace and not trust. Förtroende is trust.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 15, 2001

It's remarkable the long shadow the attacks in the U.S. have cast.

We now have a pilot in Sweden refusing to fly unless Middle-Eastern-looking men are removed from the plane. (Sorry, the story is only in Swedish.)

And Sweden always seemed so tolerant to me.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, October 14, 2001

Just call me Lars.

At A.'s parents last night, we partook in a Swedish tradition that calls for a strong will, a strong stomach but a weak sense of smell: Surströmming. Which translates to something like rotten fish that smells like babyshit. Er, at least that's how I would translate it.

I should preface this all with the observation that to an American, Swedes have rather odd palates when it comes to comfort foods and important feast days such as Christmas and Midsummer. These holidays are connected with the eating of lots of cold preserved fish, herring mostly, in various sauces, served with plain boiled potatoes, knäckebröd - crisp bread - and cheese. At Christmas they generously add plain boiled ham and something called Janssons frestelse (which translates rather grandly into Jansson's temptation, rather a misnomer I would say considering it is sliced potatoes baked with cream and anchovies). No matter the holiday, however, it is important to include lots and lots of snaps, of which the most popular flavor would be caraway, I'd say.

There's also another lesser food holiday not universally celebrated and with no fixed date, a kräftskiva, or crayfish party, which is crayfish boiled with dill, served with knäckebröd and strong prästost (priest cheese), and of course snaps. This is usually held in mid-August when the crayfish are first in season.

The thing about these feasts is that there is nothing comforting about them to me. They are, um, okay I suppose, but a meal centered around cold fish just doesn't shout ''indulgence'' to me. My favorite is the kräftskiva... it's a lot of work and your fingers end up covered in small painful cuts, but while you're partaking, it's fun and tasty (as compared to eating herring).

But surströmming is rather another thing.

It is legendary in Sweden, coming from the north. The fish are kept in tin cans that tend to expand as if they were harboring enough botulism bacteria to poison the earth. When I saw them last night, the bulging cans were shouting ''danger'' and ''get out while you can''to me, but the Swedes just snickered and tried to make me open the can myself, warning me that it can actually explode and essentially ruin someone's kitchen. Because, of course, as soon as some air escapes from the can, there is an overpowering stench that smells remarkably like, well, shit from a killer baby.

So, I was fumbling with the can opener (they don't have can openers with handles that you twist, for some reason - everyone has these primitive things that require you to stab the can with a powerful blow, and then just keep gashing until you get the damn thing open somehow), a plastic bag over the can to prevent the foul liquid from spraying all over the kitchen, and of course I couldn't manage it. Finally, they took it away and opened it up themselves, giggling at the horrendous smell and everyone looking at me, their hands over their mouths.

Well, the smell is nasty, but it's bearable in fact. I mean, it certainly doesn't smell like anything edible, but it doesn't make you cough. Well, maybe just a little. But I felt like everyone was expecting me to react quite negatively somehow, confirm the horribleness, and so I said ''It smells like shit.''

Which seemed to be the appropriate response.

''He says it smells like shit,'' they laughed.

Well then the next step was to eat it. The fish was put on the table, next to the husband, who looked rather pale, and we were to make sandwiches of it with tunnbröd - a flat soft bread - or knäckebröd, and tomatoes, chopped onion, gräddfil (a thin sour cream) and tiny little pieces of the fish, which we deboned and cut up ourselves on our plates.

In fact, it tastes a bit like it smells, pungent and overripe, but it's not horrible by any means.

And of course, after five minutes your brain refuses to acknowledge that it's smelling something bad, provided the smell is continuous, so you kind of get over the stench and just eat.

''Oh, is it too bad?'' A.'s mother asked me.

''No, it's not too bad,'' I said.

''He says it's not too bad!'' they all said, and they laughed some more, but they were secretly proud of me, and proud of themselves, that they had fed me this rather peculiar but very traditional meal, that I had said it smelled as bad as they told me it would but I had eaten it readily. Everyone had played their proper roles, and played them well.

''Next time you'll eat two sandwiches!'' they said. ''You're a real Swede now!''

- by Francis S.

Saturday, October 13, 2001

''The bells of hell go ting-aling-aling, for you but not for me.
And the little devils how they sing-aling-aling, for you but not for me.
O, death where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling? O, grave thy victor-ee?''

(WWI trench song.)

It's invariably wonderful to have dinner with the priest and her boyfriend the policeman. You sometimes learn some interesting facts, too. For instance, among many topics for the evening, death was discussed by these two people whose jobs require them to deal with death on a regular basis. A difficult client, death is. But sometimes more bizarre than frightening.

For instance, the priest told us very briefly about speaking at the annual conference of Sveriges kyrkogård- och krematorieförbund, which roughly translates to Sweden's Cemetery and Crematorium Association, which is apparently a society of funeral directors.

The priest gets asked to speak all the time by various organizations, to be interviewed by television or newspapers, gets called on to sit on community panels, etc. because they're always looking for a priest who's not an old white guy. Of course, she happens to be a personable, thoughtful and natural speaker, which is why she keeps getting asked over and over.

Anyway, the funeral directors wanted her to speak about the church's current thinking on funerals or something along those lines. Instead she talked about what it takes for people to work with death all the time.

''They seemed to like what I said even though it wasn't what they asked for,'' she said. ''But the scary thing was, they all looked so waxy and pale. They looked like corpses themselves.''

And, though there were various, uh, ancillary products at the conference, such as pencils with ''Sveriges kyrkogård och-krematorieförbund'' printed on the side (she took one, of course), those attending the conference were, er, dead serious.

''I don't think they ever joke about death,'' she said.

Her boyfriend, the policeman, who had had to spend a day at the morgue as part of his training, said that the atmosphere is rather different there.

''Yeah, they joke around all right,'' he said. ''It's the only way to handle it. But the worst thing is the smell, and it stays in your clothes.''

The Swedish phrase for the day is begravningsentreprenör. It means mortician.

- by Francis S.

Friday, October 12, 2001

The letter that I'd been expecting from the ex has arrived.

It was mostly what I thought it would be: full of apology and regret, an unspoken request for some kind of absolution, all underpinned by the fact that five and a half years after our breakup, he hasn't yet let go of it. Of us.

A reply is necessary, but it will be difficult to balance giving him what he wants, accepting responsibility for my own role in the whole thing, and telling him to get on with his life already, which in part means leaving me alone.

If we'd been in touch all along, things might be different. But it hasn't been that way at all. He was pretty nasty the last contact we had, and that was three years ago.

I can tell I'm going to proscrastinate on writing this letter.

- by Francis S.
Ouch ouchity ouch ouch ouch. What a week of negotiating contracts, dealing with, er, personnel issues, making sales presentations, rewriting articles, assigning last- minute photos, setting up yearly budgets, and constantly putting out countless fires of one sort or another. Which all seems a bit pointless if something big and nasty is going to happen, as the FBI assures us is certain.

But at least the main magazine I edit got a great review in a big Swedish trade weekly - they said it was hip, mouth-watering (!), tough, American (which was a compliment, I guess), thorough. Happiness, indeed.

Now we're off to dinner with the priest and her boyfriend, the policeman. In true Swedish fashion, it should be a most cozy end to the week, complete with candles, lots of cigarettes and lots of red wine.

The Swedish word for the day is full. It means drunk, among other things. It should not be confused with ful, which means ugly.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, October 11, 2001

I have just read the funniest thing I have ever read on a blog: a riff on moms and blogs, which I got to via an equally funny riff on, well, just plain moms. The gist of the first one was a sort of nightmare fantasy about one man's mom's blog.

Unfortunately, my own mother could not possibly compete. Her blog would no doubt look something like this:

posted by sylvia at 10:04:15 AM

posted by sylvia at 10:04:31 AM

posted by sylvia at 10:04:48 AM

posted by sylvia at 10:05:01 AM

posted by sylvia at 10:05:23 AM

The behind the scenes one-sided dialog accompanying this would sound something like this:

''I keep writing but it keeps disappearing!''

''Shit!'' (said in such a voice that you know the speaker isn't comfortable using such language)

''I know I'm doing it right, but this computer is so stupid...''

(gutteral and explosive sounds of disgust)

''These things don't make any sense! How can people use these things?''

''You couldn't make me touch this thing with a ten-foot pole! I'm never doing this again, never!''

(loud knocking around and shoving of the chair roughly into its place under the desk)

The Swedish word for the day is hysterisk. You could probably guess that this means hysterical.

- by Francis S., who loves his mother

Wednesday, October 10, 2001

I've never been nervous about flying, although for awhile there I was a little superstitious in my own peculiar way: Whenever I was in a plane during takeoff, I convinced myself that the only reason this huge hunk of steel was rising into the air was because I was willing it to rise by sheer force of my personal belief that, yes, it could fly. I knew this wasn't true, rationally, but I had to tell myself this. That is the definition of a superstition, I suppose.

I don't do this anymore, and I don't think I'm going to start again. And, as I said, I'm not nervous about flying. I used to have a sort of morbid fascination with plane crashes, however, nothing more than most people have. But now I just feel sad when I hear about crashes like this (an English-language article is here). And of course, living in a little country such as Sweden, I know someone who knows someone who was on the plane. Then again, I knew someone who knew someone who was on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center, not to mention knowing someones who knew someones who were in the buildings themselves. Which gets at the real reason, I suspect, that this makes me feel sadder than usual. It's disaster happening on top of disaster. It's all wearying.

The Swedish word for the day is olycka. It means accident.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, October 09, 2001

I've noticed in the past few days an extraordinary number of people with an .edu extension visiting here. Which is odd. Is the name of the site misleadingly educational sounding (uh, probably)? Did this site mistakenly end up in some kind of Swedish-language resource list for university students? What is it? Not that I'm complaining... just curious is all.

- by Francis S.
It's creeping up again, the smoking. After the usual New Year's quit-smoking resolution I managed to really cut down the smoking so that it was merely an accompaniment to alcohol, basically to ensure when I'd actually consumed too much alcohol that my hangover would be really nasty - there's nothing like a hangover from red wine and cognac augmented by about 15 cigarettes and, as a special touch, a cigar.

But during the trip to Greece I suddenly found myself smoking just any old time. I vowed to stop when I got back, but I didn't really and I've starting having one after lunch on a regular basis, not to mention one in the afternoon, one before dinner and several after dinner... the road from after-lunch smoking to before-breakfast smoking is frighteningly short. And once you've reached the point of before breakfast, you're going to have to start from the beginning again.

The first Swedish word for the day is suck. It means sigh. The second Swedish word for the day is suga. It means suck.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 08, 2001

One day when I was 13, my eighth-grade social studies teacher, Miss Eytalis, drew on the blackboard a long line with a large dot marking each of the ends. She then said, "One solution to the world's hunger problem would be for America to get rid of all its pets and to send all their food to the countries who need it." I remember she was just barely smiling, it was a dark, hooded smile. "I'd like you to go up to the board and put a mark on the line as to how much you agree or disagree that this would be a good idea to help the world," she said. "The point on the left is for completely disagree, and the point on the right is if you completely agree."

This would have been 1974, a time when children were posed these kinds of questions in the eight grade, when you could take a class called ''Emerging Nations'' in your freshman year of high school, a time when no self-respecting person even knew when the senior prom was supposed to take place, a time when I was learning about the system of checks and balances, and who the cabinet secretaries were (Earl Butz was Secretary of Agriculture!) as the president of the U.S. was resigning because of a break-in at the Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate hotel.

Well, as we each took our turns putting a mark on the blackboard, it rather quickly became apparent that every last damned one of my classmates had put their marks on the far left - completely disagree - and I was the sole person to put my mark elsewhere, which was exactly in the middle of the line. And Miss Eytalis was no help either, I don't remember her saying much of anything.

I do remember my disbelief at this, and my inability to get anyone to see my point of view at all, and how they all thought I was some kind of barbarian.

Of course, my parents grew up on farms where the philosophy was that animals belonged outside. Perhaps this colored my opinion. But I was incredulous that they thought animals were more important than people.

What this has to do with anything, I don't know. I just suddenly remembered it.

- by Francis S.
It's so odd to read that Iran's government is working behind the scenes to somehow alleviate the current situation, despite its public rhetoric condemning the latest bombing in Afghanistan (not that I, uh, condemn them for condemning...). It makes me want to cry, somehow, reading this. Of course I'm anthropomorphizing a country, turning it into a bad little boy who really wants to be good underneath but has been pushed too far, yet suddenly manages to do something constructive. Still, it gives me a sudden rush of hope, deep but fleeting.

- by Francis S.
Okay, so now there's been a retaliatory act of war. Tit for tat, although it's not entirely clear to me that this, uh, tit is being dropped on the same people who committed the tat. Or what good exactly this is supposed to do. Especially considering that the U.S. seems totally unprepared to protect itself on its own turf, the Office of Homeland Security (why ever did they pick such an Orwellian name?) being such a new agency and all.

There is no Swedish word for today.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, October 06, 2001

It's peculiar how different cultures handle words, feel about them, and even stranger, how they incorporate words from other cultures.

For instance, we just watched ''Tillsammens'' (Together), a movie that came out last year and was probably the most popular Swedish-made movie over the past 12 months. In short, it's about people living in a group house in Stockholm in 1975. The movie goes to great pains to accurately recreate the past (the husband was extremely impressed that they found the proper beer cans, for instance). We hadn't seen it because I really wanted to see it with English subtitles, but we could only find DVDs with the usual Nordic subtitles - I finally said let's get it, I'll use the Swedish subtitles (which did work just fine). I liked it, it was even somewhat evocative for me, reminding me of when I used to visit my sister in Ann Arbor when I was 14 and she lived in a group house.

Of course, it wasn't nearly as evocative of that time for me as ''The Ice Storm'' - Cristina Ricci wearing a knit poncho and riding her bicycle with its banana seat, all those huge wooded lots with cold glass houses, the built-in furniture with uncomfortable coire carpeting, that is exactly what it was like where I grew up in suburban Chicago.

But I'm straying from the original topic. ''Tillsammens'' was directed by Lucas Moodysson, who also directed a movie that was released in the States as ''Show me love.''

Interestingly enough, the movie had a different title here: ''Fucking Åmal.''

Which brings me to the question of language. Swedes do have their own swear words - some of the expressions are rather endearing as they like to say things such as ''fan också'' or ''skit också, which translate respectively into ''damn, too!'' and ''shit, too!. People seem to find these somewhat effective and don't find them, well, sort of cute as I do. But, they are much more impressed with words like ''fuck.'' And ''knulla,'' the Swedish translation, just doesn't seem to cut it for them.

But what is most interesting is that Swedish swear words are used all the time on television. So are English swear words, for that matter. Swedes just don't seem to find this kind of language improper for television. They don't find nudity improper either - but then, they seem to separate nudity from sex here, not that they find sex necessarily improper for television either (well, not graphic sex of course).

In fact, the main thing they find improper for television is violence.

All in all, a rather healthy attitude if you ask me.

If you feel you need further lessons in swearing in Swedish, try this site.

- by Francis S.

Friday, October 05, 2001

The city shines right now, lovely with that soft sideways golden light of the late afternoon, the buildings making showy reflections in the Baltic, the cobblestones and the castle muted, all of it soft perfect imperfection as seen through the ancient watery glass of the windows of the office.

It's strange, glass. It seems so solid but it actually isn't, it's slowly being pulled by gravity as if it were liquid, and the top parts of the glass in old windows is much thinner than the bottom parts, a fact I just learned in the past six months. And I've already forgotten who told me.

The Swedish word for the day is skönhet. It means beauty.

-by Francis S.

Wednesday, October 03, 2001

I'm home sick with a nasty cold, trolling the Net and perusing old blog entries. I realize I've hardly written about the husband, except in passing and to note that he is a true arbiter of fashion here in Sweden.

Of course, there's nothing ickier than reading about requited love or happy marriages - or happy families, for that matter; as Tolstoy said, all happy families are alike, although I'd be willing to take that one on sometime.

No one wants to hear that I still marvel over my husband after three years (I admit, that isn't very long - I was 13 years with the ex), I marvel at his beauty, all his handsome Mediterranean features, those perfect lips and striking green eyes, the dark hair on his arms and his small hands. I love that he is wise and kind and thoughtful and yet a perfectionist, that he loves things of beauty himself - he has to in his business - and yet he's never taken in merely by the surface of things.

Otherwise he wouldn't be with me, an extremely average-looking person who is eight years older, who can't buy clothes unless he's with me, who is sloppier (but our apartment is spic and span, if you ignore the hall which is filthy from workmen, and the fine coating of dust in the kitchen, also courtesy of the workmen - it's mostly my desk at work that's a mess), who is a good 10 kilos more than when we met at a club in Barcelona when he was on vacation and I was living there (well, I was too skinny then anyway, but not 10 kilos too skinny).

And thank god he looks beyond the surface because I am wildly in love with him.

The Swedish word for the day is kärlek. It means, of course, love.

-by Francis S., hopeless sentimental

Monday, October 01, 2001

I don't want to go home. Mainly because our apartment is still being worked on. We have no heat (and it's somewhere around 10 degrees farenheit outside), no shower and no toilet in the apartment. (The shower and toilet are on the ground floor, actually, and we share it with the rest of the building. You'd think it would be great exercise, going up and down those cold, hard, stone steps all the time, but I don't seem to have lost an ounce.)

Of course the contractor says that they are running late. But are they allowed to leave us without heat when it's this cold? Surely there is some Draconian Swedish law that prevents this from happening - maybe one that puts bad contracters into work-release jail sentences wherein they have to fix the cobblestones in the old town, Gamla Stan, using rusting and ancient equipment that sounds like a thousand claws on a chalkboard.

The Swedish phrase for the day is att frysa ihjäl. It means to freeze to death.

- by Francis S.