Friday, November 30, 2001

My best buddy, K., is in town.

I'm finally over my hangover resulting from a) forgetting to eat both lunch and dinner yesterday; and b) drinking too much beer with K last night.

K. used to work with me, sitting at the desk next to mine. I love her because we have almost the exact same sense of humor, a sense of humor that relies heavily on needless repetition, utter idiocy and wanton hyperbole. Who would have thought I would move to Stockholm and find a fellow American who thinks the same stupid things are funny as I do? Not me, not me.

She moved back to the States about a year ago, although she's been back here in Stockholm for a total of three months since then. Still, I hadn't realized how very much I missed her, as we sat in the window in Kleins, smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes apiece (yeah, yeah, I know, I quit) and having a field day with all the shit that has happened to us over the past 6 months or so. Like her breaking up with her boyfriend. Like me explaining yet again why I've decided I can be happy not having kids, and then for the first time in 10 years thinking, hell, maybe I've changed my mind. Maybe I do want to have kids after all.

Of course I haven't had a chance to mention this revelation to the husband because he was sound asleep when I stumbled in the door last night at 11:45.

The Swedish word for the day is bebis. It means baby.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, November 29, 2001

I've now added two blog-related links in response to World AIDS Day.

But, isn't that an awful name for it? Didn't it used to be World AIDS Awareness Day? It makes it sound too much like it's a celebration, a holiday, a feast in honor of AIDS, rather than an observance. And worse, it sounds as if the whole world and all the people in it should aspire to getting AIDS.

Oh well.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

The Christmas trees are up in Stortorget, Kornhamnstorg and Mosebacke torg. Greenery and white lights are hanging from the second storeys of the houses lining the winding streets of Gamla Stan. The big department store, NK, has gone all out, as usual, with its own greenery and lights. On Skeppsbron, they've even put together the huge live tree (pieced together somehow from parts of smaller trees, it's very barbaric but the result is a picture-perfect hundred-foot tree). And last but not least, my favorite, the julmarknad - Christmas market - is up in Stortorget as well: two rings of red wooden stalls selling glögg, pepparkakor and cheap little wooden trinkets.

So now it's time to learn one of the two Swedish snaps visor - drinking songs - that I can actually sing, one especially popular at Christmastime:

    Hej, tomtegubbar slå i glasen och låt oss lustiga vara!
    Hej tomtegubbar slå i glasen och låt oss lustiga vara!
    En liten tid
    Vi leva här
    Med mycket möde och stort besvär!
    Hej, tomtegubbar slå i glasen och låt oss lustiga vara!

And dammit, I can't find a real translation, but my own version, taking many liberties with the language, would go something like this:

    Hey, goblins, toss back a glass and let's have fun.
    Hey, goblins, toss back a glass and let's have fun.
    We only live here a short while, and life is full of awful hardship and terrible trouble.
    So, goblins, toss back a glass and let's have fun.

As you can see, the Swedes have a rather grim sense of humor.

I love it.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Woo-hoo. Another language milestone has been passed. My first (heavily edited) article in Swedish will be coming out in one of the company's magazines, a sort of Swedish Gourmet produced for the company that makes Absolut vodka.

I've contributed before with short restaurant reviews that I wrote in English and then were translated, but this one - on a surreal meal I ate at a restaurant in Mykonos shortly after the beginning of the nastiness in the United States - I actually wrote myself in Swedish.

Which isn't to say that I'm not still a big fat sissy when it comes to speaking Swedish. It's just that it's a lot safer to write it.

The Swedish word for the day is stolt. It means proud.

- by Francis S.

Monday, November 26, 2001

Talk about self-referential experiences. I just got back from seeing Moulin Rouge - movies come late to Sweden, although to be honest this has been out for awhile - and the movie theater we saw it at is called the rödda kvarn, which means red mill. Which is what moulin rouge means, of course. Then to top the whole thing off, the actual red curtains in the theater do some strange elaborate choreographed number, going in and out of each other, then finally opening properly, immediately followed by the opening of the movie, which consists of red curtains opening behind a tiny conductor.

The whole thing was mind-boggling.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, November 25, 2001

Being a tourist gives one such a strange impression of a place. Lisbon, for instance, seems to be a place that has never quite re-achieved the glory of its golden age before the big earthquake hit. That was, oh, 250 years ago. Everything is imbued with a sense of former greatness, of sadness and longing, of brutality, of dust and smoke.

But I suppose it's hard not to get such an impression if you spend your days visiting the ruins of castles perched on hills, reading that where the current national theater sits at one end of Rossio square used to sit the palace of the inquisition, and that the center of the square was a popular site for countless numbers of everyone's favorite public spectacle, the auto da fé, which was quite the trendy thing in its day. Nothing like burning people alive when it comes to thrilling spectator sports.

We visited museums filled with Persian velvets and portraits by Rembrandt, we saw various summer palaces in Sintra, fishing villages perched on cliffs tumbling down into the Atlantic, and we watched the sun set at the point furthest west on continental Europe at Cabo da Roca. We ate cod and wild boar and cheese pastries. We took wild tram rides up and down the hills of Lisbon. From the balcony of our hotel, we watched the town of Cascais turn an uncertain pink with the dusk, the fishing boats moving ever so slowly like black cows grazing in the water, the lighthouse at last flashing as the dark finally took over.

And yet it feels so wonderful to be home in good old Sweden at last.

The husband is overjoyed to be ridding everything in the apartment of the thick layer of dust that the workmen managed to leave although they weren't actually supposed to be even doing anything, anything at all.

The Swedish word for the day is bekväm. It means comfortable.

- by Francis S.

Friday, November 16, 2001

This morning is one of those sublime winter mornings. Strangely, although the sky is mostly blue there were stray snowflakes tumbling down as I walked out onto the street from the apartment. Then, walking down the steps on the bluff at Mosebacke, spread below me was Gamla Stan, the old town, lit by that strange, glancing winter sun, picking out the fancy brickwork and lacy iron on the spire of the German church and making it look even more beautiful than it is.

The husband and I are off to Lisbon tomorrow morning first thing. I can't begin to describe how badly I need this holiday. We'll be back in a week, bringing with us tales and veritable sonnets from the Portuguese (apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, whose poems had nothing to do with Portugal but rather referred to a nickname of hers).

The Swedish verb for the day is att resa. It means to travel.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, November 15, 2001

I wonder if I've been eating so much sushi - lunch and dinner yesterday, plus lunch today, none of it my choice - that I am in danger of getting parasites. How much sushi does it take, statistically, to get some kind of nasty wormlike thing living the high life in one's intestines, inviting its friends over for all-night keg parties and puking all over the, uh, front lawn, so to speak...?

The Swedish word for the day is fisk. It means fish.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, November 14, 2001

When I lived in Barcelona, I told all my friends in the United States that I had no intention of becoming an expatriate, that I was American through and through. Which I suppose I believed.

''Ex-patriots are such an unhealthy lot,'' I said. ''They hang out in incestuous little groups and drink too much, complaining about the country they live in, having untidy affairs with each other and regretting it.''

And I had planned all along to go back at the end of my stay, which I did. But in-between I met the husband, and ended up despite my best intentions, an expatriate up in the far north reaches of the world.

I try very hard not to complain about Sweden, and I try very hard to avoid sundry groups of alcoholic expatriates that most definitely do exist, even in Stockholm.

But it does feel odd sometimes, not that I ever really miss the States. And of course there is an assumption made by certain other people that I won't stay. For instance, I just got a letter from the moving company that shipped my things over from the New World to the Old. The letter was in English of course, and noted that most people who move to Sweden only stay a couple of years, and wasn't I thinking of moving, and they would be happy to move me if, as most people, I was about to move since my two years were up.

The husband was quite insulted by this letter. It didn't bother me much. I think the reality is that most people don't stay.

Me, I'm in it for the long haul.

The Swedish word for the day is tålamod. It means patience.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

I've just snuck away to my desk, escaping from an office party for the company's customers. There is nothing worse than this kind of party - the schmoozing, the smiling and laughing, the unfortunate choice of entertainment (a fake talk show with some well-known Swedish journalist), the mediocre finger food, the dirty napkins, and the people, oh, the people. I'm going to have to go back in a minute. I absolutely loathe it.

The Swedish word for the day is bajskorv. Literally, it means something like poo sausage, but a better translation would be poop. It's a little kid cuss.

- by Francis S.

Monday, November 12, 2001

Oh, and happy anniversary to America's favorite gay ex- roommate bi- coastal bloggin' not- really sweethearts, Choire and Philo of

If you want to forget the latest hell going on in New York, I highly recommend Choire's novel in progress, all part of this write- a- novel month or whatever exactly the long, proper name is, otherwise known as November. The novel started out tarty enough, but now seems to have taken a turn for the outré, making me laugh out loud (I think it was the animal- rights fanatic deprogramming camp that did it.)

The Swedish word for the day is grattis. It means congratulations and should not be confused with gratis, which means free, as in ''along with your 15-piece ginsu knive set, you get this free key chain cast from Ari Fleisher's actual lips.''

- by Francis S.

Oh, poor New York City.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, November 11, 2001

I just bought four Garbos tårar - Garbo's tears - at Gustafssons Konditori. I wonder who first thought up the idea of naming pastries after fascinating women? Swedish pastries definitely follow the named- after- famous- chicks rule, with pastries called "Tosca." Or "Garbo." Although I'm not sure that Garbo would have had such sweet chocolatey raspberryish almond- pastey champagney tears. Her smiles, now those were meltingly beautiful, but I would imagine her tears to have been much more bittersweet.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, November 10, 2001

I think I've surely forgotten to mention that I could really use a cigarette.

- by Francis S.
I think that doctors have something in common with contractors: Both are completely immune to the discomfort they cause you. And in the case of contractors, I marvel at their ability to remain totally unfazed when you - or, to be honest, your husband, who has been dealing with the contractor all along - become hysterical because they still haven't bothered to buy any of the tile that you requested four fucking months ago and so it looks like you are going to be without a bathroom for an additional month while the tile is being shipped from France.

It is also amazing how this problem with contractors seems to cross all cultural boundaries. At least in my experience from having lived in three different countries.

I am so very sick of this renovation.

- by Francis S.
The husband and I are going to Portugal in a week for a brief holiday, meeting an old friend of mine, E.A., from Washington - she is a great traveler, we first became good friends when traveling on business together for a month in thrilling places like Columbus, Georgia and Jacksonville, South Carolina, not to mention the great republic of Panama.

In the summer the three of us (and possibly her girlfriend as well) had planned on going to Egypt at this time, but in the end opted for Portugal, given the, uh, war going on.

When I was living in Barcelona, I always planned on going to Portugal, but in the end, I hardly saw even much of Spain aside from Barcelona and a week-long trip going south along the coast down to Valencia and then Denia, with a detour to a lovely tiny walled town, Morella, perched below the ruins of a castle on a hill. Then Cuenca with its gorges, then to another small town with a cathedral and intact castle, Siguenza, before the trip was cut short and I ended up in Madrid, taking a train back up to Barcelona.

At any rate, any suggestions on what to do or where to eat in Lisbon or places to see within driving distance (we're staying in Cintra for a couple of days also, I seem to recall), are welcome.

- by Francis S.
Did I forget to mention how much I'm longing for a cigarette?

- by Francis S.
The comment function is now back up and running at long last, after a switch from Reblogger to Blogback. Let's hope this does the trick, for awhile at least. Now you can comment to your heart's delight.

- by Francis S.
The Swedish word for the day is McBengt. I bet you would never have guessed that it means a double hamburger with cheese, lettuce, roasted onion, mustard, ketchup and mayonnaise.

(Okay, it's not really a Swedish word but rather some bizarre American- cultural- imperialistic corporate concoction dreamed up, no doubt, by Swedes, but by no means Swedish. Still, I thought it was funny.)

- by Francis S.

Thursday, November 08, 2001

It's snowing great fat smeary flakes. They didn't stick to the cobbles and paving stones of Gamla Stan - the old town, where my office sits, smack dab in front of the royal palace - but once I reached the sluice on my way home, the snowflakes seemed to be painting the sidewalks white as I passed, so thick and wet that my gloves were soaked through just brushing the snow off my overcoat when I came in from the cold, at our apartment building.

I love the first snow of the winter. It makes me feel like a little kid again.

The Swedish word for the day is snögubbe. It means snowman.

- by Francis S.
Did I forget to mention that I would kill for a cigarette?

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, November 07, 2001

Hmmm. Just looked at the picture of my brother from Hallowe'en. He didn't really look like Hedwig from the movie ''Hedwig and the Angry Inch,'' but he did look great. I've decided he's the only one to do my makeup in the future.

His girlfriend, now, she did look more or less like Tommy Gnosis, Hedwig's sometime boyfriend and protege.

- by Francis S.
This morning I had a long conversation with the new Non-Swedish guy at the office. Or rather, it wasn't so much of a conversation as it was him telling me what he thinks about the United States. That this bombing is only going to do the opposite of what it's supposed to. That he had to read Marx for his government classes at university and that he's no Marxist but maybe Marx was right when he said that capitalism will implode because of inequities between rich and poor, and the U.S. is failing to recognize that perhaps that's what is going on, not in one country or another, but on a worldwide scale. That the U.S. needs to change its policies and act in a more just fashion.

And, well, I do agree with him mostly.

But I found him awfully shrill. It's peculiar how it doesn't bother me, usually, when Swedish people criticize the U.S. But being criticized by the new Non-Swedish guy, well, I felt rather bullied and lectured, although he probably didn't mean it that way.

Perhaps if he wasn't quite so fond of the sound of his own voice...

The Swedish word for the day is självbelåten. It means self-satisfied.

- by Francis S.
Did I mention the fact that, yet again, I am dying for a cigarette?
- by Francis S.
What the f-? Reblogger is down yet again... I suppose I should switch, uh, comment providers, but I'm too lazy.
- by Francis S.

Tuesday, November 06, 2001

Have I mentioned the fact that I am dying for a cigarette?

- by Francis S.
Policemen are your friend [sic].

Well, maybe on another planet, but not here on earth. Not even in Sweden. Oh there are exceptions of course. There is, uh, my friend the policeman, who is a wonderful guy. And I had policeman for a boyfriend when I was 19 and in college in rural Illinois. He was a good guy, too, even if he drove me crazy.

What is so upsetting about this story - smalltown policemen catch two teenaged boys drinking in a car, accuse them of being fags, boys admit it's true (at least according to the police) and police threaten to tell their parents; police finally let them go and one of the boys goes home and kills himself - is that this is merely another example, albeit a bit extreme, of the routine betrayal of kids who happen to be gay. I give schools a lot of credit for stamping out all manner of racial slurs, but it upsets me to no end that most schools don't act the same way when kids use anti-gay pejoratives.

Language is all-powerful, and one thing I am proud of as a citizen of the U.S. is that Americans are awfully good at not only recognizing the power of words, but at balancing freedom of speech with the responsibility it calls for. If only schools recognized this more.

As for the police, well, I don't have much hope there.

The Swedish word for the day is grisar. It means pigs.

- by Francis S.

Monday, November 05, 2001

Rather than go on and on about how unpleasant it is to quit smoking, I think it's time for another short but in-depth lesson on Sweden.

3. The mobile phone (or as they say in America, the cellular).
Everyone in Sweden has a mobile phone. Babies and daddies and big sisters and little brothers. Great Aunt Åsa Britt. The man behind the ticket counter at the subway. Everyone riding on the subway. I think mobile phones are issued at birth - babies are sent home from the hospital with a box of plastic diapers, a terrycloth blanket and a little tiny blue or pink mobile phone with little pink or blue pre-paid cards that already have money on them so baby can call grandma whenever mom and dad are refusing to cooperate.

When I first arrived, I resisted getting a phone. Though they seem to issue them to babies, they don't actually give phones to foreigners - invandrare - when they arrive, interestingly enough. But I was offered one at my job. It wasn't until I got stuck on the subway (that damned green line is the absolute worst subway line in the world, ask anyone from Stockholm, it just stops for 15 minutes at a time with barely a message from the conductor) one too many times and missed business meetings and realized that if I just had had a mobile phone, I could've called Anna Carin and explained why the hell I seemed to have not shown up.

So I gave in, and got a mobile phone. Which in effect made me much more a full member of Swedish society. I suspect that owning a mobile phone is more important than speaking Swedish, when it comes down to it.

Because in fact, society assumes that you have a mobile phone. You don't have to plan in the same way if everyone has a mobile phone. For instance, you can switch gears at the last minute when it comes to what bar you're going to meet your friends at because the first one is too full, too smoky, too uncomfortable. Or, you can easily locate your husband at the airport when he's somehow missed you coming out the international arrivals gate.

Then there's the handfree thing. When I first arrived nearly three years ago, it was disconcerting to see perfectly normal-looking people walking down the street and yakking away to nobody, or worse, my thinking they were trying to say something to me as they walked along when in fact they were just using a handsfree device to talk on the phone without holding it to their ears (and possibly avoid frying their brains with microwaves, although it's debatable about whether these things help or actually make it worse). I did rather quickly realize they were talking on phones, but it still occasionally gives me a bit of a shock.

And then there's the whole SMS thing - short messaging service. Which Americans think is stupid with a capital D. But it isn't. Basically you use your phone to send short messages typed using the keypad, messages that cost almost nothing. I'm almost embarrassed to say what I use it most for - sending unbearably cute little messages to the husband when he's at work: du är min lilla pussgurka. Which means you are my little kiss-cucumber. Yes, it loses something in the translation, but that is a good thing, believe me. Uh, I also use it for other things, like when I forgot to say bon voyage to one of the people who works on the team I manage - she was going on her honeymoon. I knew she was in the air already but she'd get the message when she landed.

The final thing about mobile phones is that once they become such a part of life, they mostly cease to be so goddamned annoying. Yes, people talk too loudly on them in inappropriate places sometimes. Yes, people forget to turn them off at the movie theater or the opera (in movie theaters, for instance, along with the trailers they run a little piece telling you to shut your phone off, so actually it isn't so often that phones go off during a movie). But there's no prestige attached to owning one (well, maybe a little. My first phone seemed hopelessly huge and old-fashioned within months after I bought it. But I've had my trusty Ericsson T28 world for about a year now, and I'm quite in love with it. It's very sweet.) And usually, they manage to make life, well, easier.

Geez, this sounds like an endorsement, which I don't want it to be. I'm really just trying to explain how it works.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, November 04, 2001

So we spent last night with The Boys - A.'s boyfriend the photographer, the music producer and the t.v. producer. The hit of the evening was definitely the water pipe purchased from Beirut Cafe on Friday by the husband in honor of our quitting smoking. This water pipe comes with strange apple-scented tobacco pellets that throw off sparks like a tiny firecracker when you first light them, and the smoke itself is curiously benign. Although the whole smoke-on-the-water thing gave me some weird uncontrollable flashbacks to the drug-hazed days of my last two years of high school. Well, maybe not real flashbacks, but close enough. Yee-haw.

We got to hear about how the music producer got his start - he was 14 and took the train into the city from suburban Sollentuna and saw these boys breakdancing at Sergelstorg and after watching for three hours, he told them he wanted to be their manager. ''They went through all the one-crown coins and ten crown notes and shit that people dropped, and I got 10 percent of everything'' - and other exploits of his early youth - ''I was coming home at like 7 or 8 or 9 from some fucking party one night when I was 18 and I saw Expressen and on the cover there was some shit in big fucking letters about these guys who ripped all these teenagers off and I bought a copy and I looked inside it was all pictures of, like, me but with my face covered by a black dot and shit.'' He explained to us that he hadn't ripped anyone off, but he signed some paper for someone else who did rip everyone off. ''I never trusted the media after that,'' he said.

He also talked about how it shocked him when he went to Africa for Unicef. It was because one of his stars is involved with Unicef. What disturbed him was how he had always thought of them as the good guys but here they were, spending a lot of money entertaining them when the people in the surrounding villages were so desperately poor. ''And they had all this data, how many children, how many had HIV, how many died. They knew every fucking thing about statistics,'' he said. It made him feel that they were doing just enough to help a bit, but not really more than that. He wondered if they were really just trying to control the population.

''That sounds like a conspiracy theory,'' I said. Not that they probably aren't trying to control the population. I just don't believe it's a conspiracy. And of course I'm used to thinking of Unicef as some great benevolent organization as well.

''Yeah, maybe,'' he said. I guess I can't be too hard on anyone for believing in some conspiracies because in fact some very underhanded things have happened that I would say fit into the category of conspiracy. Besides, I like this guy, he's funny and he's smart and some of this stuff he's just throwing out on the table just to get us all talking at the top of our voices.

And thus began a long evening of talk about America, money, who runs the world, and other things. ''Like the fact that the U.S. is more like a big corporation than a country,'' the music producer said.

And of course this quickly degenerated into a discussion of what the hell is going on with this so-called war on terrorism, and what's going to happen next and why. It's amazing how a night's entertainment is no longer complete without touching on the topic, no matter how frustrated everyone feels afterward.

Me, I don't know what the hell I think anymore, other than not really trusting people to do the right thing.

The Swedish word for the day is samtal. It means conversation.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, November 03, 2001

Happy Swedish Halloween.

We're celebrating by having a boy's night out - the husband, A.'s boyfriend the photographer, the music producer, the t.v. producer and me.

Actually, last night was a boy's night out for me also, for that matter - I met G. for, uh, six beers at a Czech restaurant a couple blocks from the apartment and he told me all about getting down on his knee in a dingy hotel room in London to ask his girlfriend to marry him and now she wants to get married in the hotel made of ice up in Jukkasjärvi, a 20-hour long but romantic train ride from here.

I'd never really heard of the concept of a boy's night out before. A tjejmiddagen, a girl's night out, is quite the popular thing here, but I'd never heard of a boy's night out.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, November 01, 2001

When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipped, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl, "Tu-whit,
Tu-who!" a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian's nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl, "Tu-whit,
Tu-who!" a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

(Love's Labour's Lost, 5.2.908-25)

My mother used to recite this.

Oh, it feels like winter to me, and the thermometer hasn't even hit zero yet. Å. just came back from Tampere, though, and it snowed all day there yesterday.

The Swedish word for the day is skitkallt. It means fucking cold.

- by Francis S.