Wednesday, December 25, 2002

Wolcum be thou hevené king,
Wolcum Yole!
Wolcum, born in one morning,
Wolcum for whom wesall sing!

Wolcum be ye Stevene and Jon,
Wolcum innocentes every one,
Wolcum Thomas marter one.

Wolcum be ye good Newe Yere,
Wolcum, Twelfthe Day both in fere,
Wolcum, seintes lefe and dere,

Wolcum Yole!

Candelmesse, Quene of bliss,
Wolcum bothe to more and lesse.

Wolcum be ye that are here,
Wolcum, wolcum, make good cheer.
Wolcum alle another yere.

anonymous; 14th century

The Swedish phrase for the day is god jul. It means Merry Christmas.

- by Francis S.

Monday, December 23, 2002

M., the t.v. producer, is back from London. It felt, as we lolled about on the sofas in the living room, he with his usual whiskey glass of white tequila, neat, as if he'd never left. But he's only back for the holidays, but back full of stories and snickering.

He's sharing a flat in Notting Hill with the brother of E., the friend in London. It apparently took some doing to get the flat.

"They won't rent to two straight guys," he told us. "You have to be a couple." Apparently, it took several, uh, incidents wherein real estate agents were happily showing the two of them flats until the agents realized that they were a couple of grubby hets who didn't give a flying fuck about order and cleanliness, at which point the agents clucked their tongues and told them "sorry, homosexualists only need apply."

M. then tried to convince E.'s brother that they had to start lying to the agents, saying they were big-time homos and ever-so-much in love. But E.'s brother didn't want to say that he was gay. At this point, M. noted that the story would be better if it were true that E.'s brother had internal conflicts and couldn't bring himself to say that he was a big-time homo to anyone; the truth is that E.'s brother thought it ridiculous that real estate agents would rent out only to homosexualists and he was unwilling to lie. M. persisted and coaxed and cajoled, however, and finally E.'s brother gave in and promised he would lie.

The day came when they saw an appealing flat advertised in the window of a real estate agent, and they went in and were told they would have to go look at the flat immediately. They jumped in the car with the agent, but the timing wasn't great because M. was supposed to be in a phone conference with all these various executive types in Sweden and the U.K. and the States. The agent didn't mind, and M. sat in the back seat doing business while E.'s brother sat in the front seat with the agent, who had just started out in her job.

"So," she said to E.'s brother. "How long have you two been together?"

M., who was supposed to be paying attention to his phone conference, was suddenly all ears, watching E.'s brother struggling in the front seat.

"We're. Not. A. Couple," E.'s brother finally said, barely able to get the words out, knowing he'd failed to do as he said he would.

The real estate agent stopped the car and M., desperate, called out from the back seat "I'll be gay any day!"

Which caused quite a stir at the phone conference he was participating in.

M. and E.'s brother did eventually get the apartment, after promising the real estate agent, who was worried that she was muffing her first job, that they would avow their alleged homosexuality to anyone who asked.

Do you think we are entering the golden age of homosexuality?

The Swedish word for the day is diskriminering. It means discrimination.

- by Francis S.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Remember when you were a little kid and you woke up in the middle of the night, frightened, and called out to your mother or father and they came and got into bed with you until you fell asleep?

One of my co-workers told me that it works the other way around. Whenever she can't sleep, she crawls into bed with one of her sleeping sons, and the smell of little boy's hair and sweet breath soothes her insomnia and she forgets what she's been worrying about and falls asleep.

It sometimes works for me to put my arm around my sleeping husband, but I don't think he's quite as effective as a soporific.

The Swedish word for the day is natti-natti. It means night-night.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

The American editor and his wife have gone down to Helsingborg for Christmas. They'll be back on December 28. Tomorrow, M., the t.v. producer, arrives from London.

The house feels empty. But it's only for a day.

The Swedish word for the day is gäster. It means guests.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

When I was a child, and well into adulthood in fact, 364 days a year were merely a build-up to Christmas. When school started in September, I began planning, although it wasn't until after Thanksgiving that my mother allowed me to actually bother anyone else with my planning.

When at last everyone else recognized that it was time to begin preparing, there were the batches and batches of almond and chocolate spritz and gingerbread cookies to be made and decorated, russian teacakes and bourbon balls to be rolled, fudge to be cooked and tested with the candy thermometer to make sure it was at the right stage to be poured.

There were presents to be made as art projects in school, and Christmas assemblies to attend - although my elementary school was 90 percent Jewish, we sang half Christmas songs and half Hannukah songs, although I do remember dancing the horah in a huge circle one year - and school would be let out for the holidays, children running outside with their winter coats open and positively feverish with excitement.

There was the shopping to do, hours and hours spent choosing presents bought with my 25-cent-a-week allowance saved up over the year.

There was the tree to buy, and then decorating it with the ornaments pulled from boxes that were kept in the basement during the year, a collection that grew so much over time that they no longer all fit on my parents' Christmas tree.

At last, all my anticipation would come to a head when my mother would pack us all up and off to church. The children's choir I sang in had already been rehearsing for months by then, learning complicated and sublime Britten and Kodaly and Buxtehude and Haydn carols and anthems and anonymous spirituals for the Christmas Eve service at church, and we would sit in the choir stalls in our red robes, standing for the six or seven times we were allowed to let loose our pure vibrato-less voices. It was the absolute crowning of the year. In retrospect, bigger even than Christmas day itself with all its presents and turkey with stuffing.

And so it feels nice to be singing Christmas carols in a choir again at last, after four years of sabbatical. Of course, I've only had two rehearsals and the concert is on Saturday, but it brings it all back to me.

The Swedish word for the day is kör. Pronounced with a hard k, it means choir; pronounced with a soft k, which sounds like an sh, it means drive as in to drive a car.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

When I was a child, I used to love to pore through my grandmother's old photo album - my grandparents were poor farmers and there were no more than a hundred photos in the album, black and white pictures of women in thin cotton dresses squinting grimly into the camera, men sporting five o'clock shadows dressed in their Sunday best, little girls with dirty hands holding on to curious speckled balloons, a few hand-colored high school graduation pictures.

I still like looking at photos, but I don't care to take pictures. I'm wary of the photo replacing the actual memory of what happened at that moment in time. I'm sure that some of my memories aren't memories, they're simply picture recall.

It's foolish, really. What will my grandchildren have to look at when I'm old if I never take photographs?

The Swedish word for the day is fotograf. It means photographer.

- by Francis S.

Monday, December 16, 2002

On Sunday, we walked with the American editor and his wife past Nordiska Kompaniet - NK, Stockholm's grand old department store on Hamngatan - and I don't know whether I ever noticed before that, just like the Marshall Field's in the downtown Chicago of my childhood, the store windows are all decked out for Christmas with animated displays and parents seem to bring their children to look at them.

As a child, I would have been scared out of my wits by the Santas in the windows at NK, however. Each window featured a larger-than-life animatronic Santa with huge veiny hands, and a face that seemed to bear the marks of a lot of hard drinking. Very creepy.

The Swedish word for the day is risgrynsgröt. It means rice pudding, something Swedes eat for breakfast on Christmas.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, December 15, 2002

We met up with the priest and the policeman and their baby to see an exhibit of photographs and have coffee.

They spent two days in the hospital last week. The whole family. They thought something was wrong with Signe, the baby, but it turned out she just had an innocuous virus. The truth was, the priest and the policeman were exhausted, the policeman had the stomach flu and it was just too much for all of them. Well, maybe not Signe, she was fine. But the rest of the family was seriously sleep-deprived.

"How come no one talks about this before you have a baby?" the priest wanted to know.

I think they should have special clinics where parents can go and sleep and relax while someone takes care of the baby for a few days.

The Swedish verb for the day is att fika. It means to have a coffee.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

The American editor and his wife arrived from the States yesterday in the midst of the Swedish Christmas hullabaloo that is Lucia, Sweden's own festival of lights. I'd started the day on the subway, hungover after a night of Czech food (sausages, sausages, sausages, schnitzel, more sausages) and bohemian beer with colleagues, rudely awakened to the harsh reality that is life as I sat waiting for my train in the subway and I could hear caterwauling somewhere behind me, which once I'd boarded the train, turned out to be Lucia hooligans - grown men and women got up in white gowns and Santa Claus suits and candles on their heads or those pointy duncecaps. They were all hopped up on early morning glögg and singing loudly yet somehow tentatively, "Gläns över sjö och strand."

Once at the office, the celebration continued and for once, I was happy to be served wine for breakfast. It turns out that there is nothing like a little morning hair of the dog that bit you to ease the pangs of too much Bohemian beer the night before.

Later in the day, I ran off to go meet the American editor and his wife, who hadn't been back to Sweden in nearly a year and half. They had been picked up at the airport by R. and J. who had also come to Stockholm, so I also got to meet Hannes for the first time, his face round like his father's, his nose like his mother's, but in general very much his own little pink squirming self (although he rested quietly in my arms for, oh, at least three minutes - he didn't even really complain when his mother and I put him into his little snow suit).

Then it was running back to the office, then off for more glögg at a party in Kungsholmen, then back home again to pick up the American editor and his wife and go down to the apartment of L., the chef, and a party with more glögg.

I am glögged out. But oh, it's wonderful to have the American editor and his wife back. It's going to be like a great big sleepover from now until the 12th day of Christmas, as our apartment fills up with friends and family.

The Swedish phrase for the day is hos oss. It means, more or less, at our place, hos being an equivalent to the French word chez, more or less.

- by Francis S.

Monday, December 09, 2002

I haven't had my hearing checked in years, but I suspect I am, like my father, slowly going deaf. Although he's quite a bit further along the way than I am. It is, I have little doubt, a genetic thing.

What's strange is that it's not like I don't hear things, it's more that the background noise moves forward and I can't pull out the foreground noise from it. It feels not like I'm going deaf, but rather that I just can't quite pay attention hard enough. It drives the husband mad. He thinks that I don't listen.

My question is whether this is deafness, or late onset Atttention Deficit Disorder?

The Swedish phrase for the day is Vad sade du? It means, more or less, Excuse me, what's that you said? Except the Swedes leave out the excuse me part.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

Saffron means Christmas in Sweden. It's found in pastries and snaps and any number of other savory or sweet things this time of year, imparting a strong yellow color and singular spicy taste.

At the grocery store, one has to ask the cashier for saffron, which is kept in little paper packets and held in the cash register with the money, being worth more than its weight in gold on account of it being picked by hand from crocuses, each of which has only three strands, small but powerful.

We bought some at the Christmas market in Gamla Stan yesterday. It was only a dollar or so per gram, an incredible bargain. Saffron is in fact poisonous, and if we'd wanted to spend twenty dollars, we could have purchased a lethal dose.

I think dying by saffron could be a strange and spectacular death.

The Swedish word for the day is läcker. It means tasty.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

Last night, A., the assistant director, regaled us with tales of her former life as a model in Paris.

"Once, I worked on this job where they filmed us on a roller coaster in Barcelona," she said. "The camera, which probably weighed about 300 kilos, was bolted onto the first seat, and the other model and I were in the second seat with a bunch of extras behind us. After the first couple of times we went around, they told me that I actually didn't need to scream so much and that no one wanted to see my tonsils.

"The other model was getting married in two weeks and he'd never had sex with his fiancée before. 'Please God, don't let me die,' he kept saying and he so regretted that he hadn't had sex with her before. 'Why?' he kept saying and well, I was wondering why I'd taken the job, too. I mean, think about it, the camera was just held in place by a few bolts!

"At least they let us stop when we started to feel sick. They didn't care about the extras though, and they were throwing up. I think we went around 67 times or something."

A. survived it all, and was now having dinner with us.

A. and C., her fiancé the photographer, went home at about 2:30, leaving the cats with us (the cats had spent the day at C.'s studio). So, the husband and I crawled into bed at about 3 a.m. and tried to sleep with all kinds of strange and noisy cat games going around us in the dark, games that involved the sound of claws skittering wildly along the wooden floors and unknown objects crashing to the ground.

The Swedish phrase for the day is berg- och dalbana. It means rollercoaster.

- by Francis S.

Friday, December 06, 2002

As a boy, I was always small for my age, smaller than my brother who was a year and a half younger for as long as I can remember. And I grew slowly - my voice changed when I was 15. Until I was 30 or so, I always looked younger than I was.

Then the grey hair started to appear.

Then, even worse, it started to disappear, or at least recede a bit.

Now, I would say I look at least as old as my 41 years. Definitely middle aged. My brothers and sister seem to look quite a bit like they have looked since their early twenties, definitely older and perhaps not as skinny, but more or less like they always looked. Me, well, I look much less like I did 10 years ago.

They disagree with me, of course. "You don't look more different than we do!" they insisted over Thanksgiving, and I even think they believed it. But it simply isn't true.

I am mostly resigned to looking middle aged, but it's hard to ignore the cultural equation that youth equals beauty, or more important, its corollary that the older one is, the more unattractive one is. I sort of deny it, and sort of get annoyed with myself for being bothered by it. And, I sort of don't care although, to be honest, that's actually a very small and insignificant part of me. Mostly, I do really care.

The Swedish word for the day is vårdhem. It means nursing home.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

My niece, the beautiful Princess I., is seven years old. She is in the first grade and learning how to read and write. She's great at phonetic spelling: "ornjs for sal" she wrote on a little piece of paper and put it next to the bowl of clementines sitting in my mother's kitchen.

Her mother (my sainted sister) told me that the other day the Princess I. brought her a piece of a paper and handed it to her with a wicked smile.

"These are your points," she told my sister. The paper had three columns. The heading for the columns were "Princess I." "Daddy" and "Mommy." Under each column was a number - 1,000 under the Princess I., 100 under Daddy and one measly point under Mommy.

Raising children is a thankless job.

The Swedish word for the day is systersdotter. It means niece.

- by Francis S.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Arriving back home in Stockholm from Chicago, all bleary-eyed and faintly nauseous despite having upgraded to business class, amazingly it is the darkness that is so comforting. I suppose it is because it was deep midwinter when I first arrived here to live.

The thing about the weather in Stockholm is that if the summer is glorious with lots of sun and heat, the winter can be magical, with the sideways sun glancing over the city covered in snow, and inside the smell of saffron and cinnamon and wax from a candle extinguished, a dream of Christmas.

On the other hand, if the summer is cold and dark and wet, no amount of charm can make up for months of muffled darkness. It took awhile, but I have an inkling how weather can drive one to suicide.

Now, to slough off the jet-lag before I start work again tomorrow.

The Swedish word for the day is kanel. It means cinnamon.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

What Francis almost couldn't bear was Edu's flat aspect. The weariness in the eyes and voice, the depletion of effort to be his usual emotional, almost theatrical self. Of course he understood, and he also felt he understood, at least in part, Edu's insistence that he wanted to tell only a few of his closest friends, he didn't want people to know because he didn't want to be treated with kid gloves, he didn't want to become The Victim.

Francis wasn't sure how he himself would act in the same situation, perhaps he would revel in the attention, acting as people expected him to act, be brave and charming and self-effacing about it and accept what pity he could, take the leaway granted him. He suspected that would be the route he took if he himself were sick.

But Edu had balked at the sudden kindness of the nurse, of the secretary who let him use the phone to call the main hospital to make an appointment to have more bloodwork done. It was funny, in a way, to hear Edu complaining about such kindness when his complaint about Barcelona was that people were pigheaded, stupidly stubborn and mostly, they were blindly unkind, unkind as if being kind cost them money, and oh, how Catalans loved money, Edu said.

(from a Barcelona journal, 1998)

It is World AIDS Remembrance day. Think, and link.

The Swedish word for the day is ibland. It means sometimes.

- by Francis S.

Friday, November 22, 2002

Last night we had dinner in Östermalm at a little trattoria. Perhaps it was a bit elegant - eight tables with white tablecloths, simple candles and menus with fancy script - to be called a mere trattoria, I suppose it was more of a real restaurant, where we celebrated the birthday dinner for P., the father of the friend from London and the closest thing I have to a father-in-law.

We sat, eating perfect vegetables - my mother claims that a restaurant should be judged by its vegetables - and talking all at once, the husband and I, P. and his wife E., and the friend from London who was here to do a photo shoot for H&M.

"Ingrid is 76 and she lives all by herself," P. told me, speaking about one of his neighbors on the island where the family summer house is, formerly the farmhouse of his grandparents. "She has no indoor plumbing - she still uses an outhouse, and she gets her water from a stream. She hasn't been to the city in five years."

I am astonished, as P. has hoped I would be, that there is still at least one Swede in the year 2002 who lives without running water.

Tomorrow, we leave at 10:30 a.m. on a plane that will take us to Chicago, where we will arrive at noon, nine hours after we left. We'll be back in a week.

Happy Thanksgiving.

- by Francis S.
The Swedish word for the day is Hannes. It is a boy’s name, rather uncommon, and happens to be the name of the son of R. and J.

Hannes will be 12 hours old today at 3 p.m. central European time. Go ahead, read more about Hannes and his parents and leave your own birthday greetings.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Have I mentioned that the husband and I are time optimists?

Have I also mentioned that the husband and I are, in fact, time idiots?

Yesterday, the husband had to be up early to go deal with some carpenters at work, who would be coming at 7 a.m. He set the alarm for 6:15, and got up without too much prodding from me. He left the house in the usual late-Fall pitch darkness, and made it there by 6:45. After nearly an hour of waiting, furious, he called up the foreman and got an answering machine. It was at this point he looked at his phone and noticed that the time, an hour after he’d arrived, was 6:45.

He had forgotten, for some reason, that he’d failed to set his alarm clock back when the time changed. Three weeks ago.

Time idiots, that’s us. Or maybe just lazy idiots.

The Swedish phrase for the day is kvart i sju, which would be written numerically as 6:45.

p.s. those bi-coastal wonders, East West, are back up and running in a new magazine format.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Last night, we met the guy from the Goethe Institute and his husband the South African publicist, as well as A. the assistant director and her fiancée, C., the photographer at a crowded table at Il Tempo, a restaurant the husband has been trying to get me to go to for years. We toasted to the promotion at work of the guy from the Goethe Institute, then off we ran to go see Hable con ella.

It always takes some emotional preparation to see an Almodóvar film, although I am inevitably impressed once I actually see it. Last night was no exception. It was melodramatic, strange, desperate, moving, a bit overwrought and had the usual perversely hopeful ending. Interestingly, he’s dropped the camp completely, which, depending on your perspective, allows for more subtlety of emotion. And he seems to have stopped giving the city of Madrid such a flamboyant role in his films as well – the hot oranges and pinks and reds are considerably toned down. Instead you have the Argentinian actor Darío Grandinetti, who is superb, his eyes and mouth constantly betraying a terrible and profound sadness, but ultimately not an inconsolable sadness.

It was Almodóvar who made me want to live in Spain. And although I hated and loved it all at once, I definitely was not disappointed when I finally did live there.

The Swedish phrase for the day is rörd till tårar. It means moved to tears.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Swedes seem to have an innate love of California, particularly Los Angeles. It is, no doubt, the promise of such endless sun. (Me, though a Chicagoan by upbringing and nature, I have the east-coast horror of L.A., a place which seems to value the buffed and tanned surface of things and deplores the intellectual. I'm a terrible snob when it comes to L.A. and obviously don't mind pissing off a good many people by saying so.)

Unlike Swedes, the promise of endless sun scares me. I love the changing of the seasons. Like the tremendous Frankenstein Christmas tree - put together from smaller trees - that is being put up on Gamla Stan's waterfront, a meter away from the spot where we played boule the past summer with the husband's agent: a perfect juxtaposition, icon of summer next to icon of winter.

The Swedish word for the day is strålande. It means radiant.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Sex makes the Internet go round. And you love to read about sex, don't you? I know I do. Even when I'm shocked when someone like Jane announces to the world that, in a fit of debauchery and after perhaps a few too many bottles of wine, she kissed a man for the first time. And then slept with him. (Uh, well, she only really did sleep with him, nothing more.)

Which put me in mind of my own days of debauchery. I did have a girlfriend when I was in my last years of high school. And we did sort of, well, get naked together. Which was fun, actually, although not nearly as fun as it was, and still is, to get naked with some guy, which these days would mean my husband, if you don't include the visits to the doctor, which actually are not more fun than being naked with a girl.

The last woman I got naked with was a certain MJ, when I was 22. I was supposed to be at home with my then-boyfriend. Instead, I got drunk with MJ and ended up at 7 a.m. the next morning hungover and smelling like sex. With a woman. My then-boyfriend was not amused. He never quite forgave me for it, not in the 13 years we were together.

So, my pretties, it's really easy for us homosexualists to write about crossing the line into decency and respectability, our fellow homosexualists are rarely shocked by such revelations. And, I am ashamed to say, I am in fact unduly proud of the fact, as if it made me more of a man. (I hate it when I exhibit this kind of vague internal homophobia, but what the hell. It's how I feel.)

Now it's your turn. Fess up. I want to hear about the last time all you big girls and big boys crossed the line, whichever line it may be for you.

Be brave.

Be honest.

Be really explicit and dirty. C'mon, titillate me. I could really use some entertainment these days.

- by Francis S.
Yesterday, as the husband and I were out shopping for clothes, for presents to take with us to America, for CDs and books and generally enjoying the fact that we had gotten up and out of bed and onto the streets before ten on a grey Saturday morning, we ended up in a kitchen store looking at monstrously large white salad bowls and chargers and coffee cups. Which gave me the idea of having a dinner party with all this outsized china and silver serving spoons and forks and knives. Wouldn't it be fun? The trick would be coming up with food that takes up volumes on a plate, but is reduced to nothing in the stomach. Soufflés? Rocket salads? Turkey drumsticks?

The Swedish verb for the day is att duka. It means to set the table.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, November 16, 2002

The husband and I brought dinner to the priest last night: chicken paprika and rice and a batch of chocolate chip cookies all carefully laid up in plastic containers. Her husband, the policeman, was working the night shift, so she was alone with the baby for the second night of her life.

"I'm learning how to do everything with one hand," she said. "But it isn't easy." She's also learning how to deal with sleep deprivation, which isn't easy either, apparently. It is truly amazing how this little animal, three weeks old, can be so dependent, can demand so much attention, she said.

The priest is a worrier. She's worried that Signe will inherit her own worrying view of the world and not the sunny outlook of the policeman.

She will undoubtedly be her own person, I said. And I, who have a sunny outlook similar to the policeman's, happen to find worriers awfully interesting people.

"Yes, well, it may look interesting to you but it's no fun for me," the priest said, laughing. "And I certainly don't wish it on Signe."

The Swedish word for the day is föräldraskap. It means parenthood.

- by Francis S.

Friday, November 15, 2002

She sent me an e-mail saying that we should meet for a drink. It took weeks for me to answer, but when I said yes, it turned out that she knows the South African publicist, who she said could vouch for her good character.

So I sat in WC Bar (the toilet, she called it) and waited, smoking a bit nervously.

I had no reason to be nervous.

"I feel as if I know you," she said the moment she arrived. "I don't usually meet people from the Internet. Uh, I mean, I never have before."

She laughed. She made me laugh. We told how we ended up in love and in Sweden, which were connected of course. The drink turned into dinner at one of my favorite spots, Little Persia, where the service is abysmally slow but the food worth the wait. The husband joined us midway through the meal.

"I am Filipino-Hungarian," she told us. She said she is, in fact, a rare animal. "I think there's another one in the Northwest Territories in Canada somewhere."

It's fun meeting people from the Internet.

The Swedish word for the day is vänskap. It means friendship.

- by Francis S.

Monday, November 11, 2002

The city is dusted with snow and the Christmas tree is up in Mosebacke Square, albeit bereft of lights.

Tis the season? It's only November 11! And I thought Americans were bad about jumping the gun on the biggest consumer event of the year.

The Swedish phrase for the day is grattis på födelsedag, mamma. Which means happy birthday, mom.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, November 10, 2002

There is no middle ground with Björk for most people, it's either love or hate. Me, I like the idea of her. Brilliant, intellectual, primal, uncompromising, challenging, musically sophisticated. But she's more fun to listen to than to listen to - I mean that what she says about what she does is easier to take than what she actually does, mostly.

"Mediterranean passion has been well documented, but nordic passion hasn't," she has said. She says Nordic passion is like a submarine, it runs deep.

A fascinating thought, that. My friend, the guy from the Goethe Institute, claims that it's hard to pick out gay Swedish men passing on the street because Swedes as a whole act so terribly asexual - his gaydar is useless here. Which doesn't contradict what Björk says, although apparently the passion runs too deep for my friend's tastes (or abilities).

I think what's so confusing for the outside world is that Swedes are just practical about sex, there's nothing mysterious about it to them. Which isn't to say that they can't be passionate. It's just a different kind of passion, as Björk says.

The Swedish word for the day is andra. It means second or another.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Some cities have a color. Morocco immediately springs to mind, where Marrakesh is pink, Meknes is a faded ochre, and Fez is all green roofs. Paris is grey as in grey stone, Washington is white as in white marble and Boston is red as in red brick.

The color of Stockholm is yellow, some of it like cream, some of it like mustard, but yellow nonetheless, although some may argue that it's more a narrow palette of yellows, pinks, reds, greens and browns. But if you ask me, if I try to picture it in my mind's eye, Stockholm is yellow, yellow and yellow.

The Swedish word for the day is färg. It means color.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

I'm not really a fan of r&b or pop music, but I am a fan of R. She's smart and kind, self-assured and unpretentious. Her latest album just came out on Monday. And since I am American, I am allowed to indulge in hyperbole and say that I just love it. It's got a weird '80s Tom Tom Club-esque clava track and a sly Lesley Gore-ish '60s girl singer track, and a nasty ode to her ex which made me laugh, all of it produced to the point where it's just shy of being over the top. Which is the place to be. Perhaps I like it because I actually know her. I wonder what the critics will say.

The Swedish acronym for the day is KFUK-KFUM. It looks vaguely obscene in English, but it merely stands for YWCA-YMCA.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, November 03, 2002

M., the t.v. producer, left for London today. The husband is off working, so I saw M. into his cab, feeling sombre in the cold and dark afternoon. We'll see him again at New Year's since the husband decided that we'll have a grand New Year's feast at our apartment with all the best of Stockholm society - the usual crew of photographers and producers and models and actresses and cultural attachés and priests and policemen and editors. Including M., of course. But no one knows when or if he'll ever be back for good.

So I'm wallowing in my melancholy, listening to Handel's Judas Maccabeus even if today is more appropriate for listening to a Requiem, considering it was All Souls Day on Friday. (I'd even gotten a last-minute invitation from Linnéa to go see the Verdi Requiem, but I needed to see M. off instead). As I'm listening, a soprano starts singing about "pious orgies, pious airs" and I can't help laughing at the thought of pious orgies. So I get myself some ice cream, which is as close as I get to a pious orgy.

I have to resort to vanilla with chocolate sauce on account of we have no real chocolate - I belong to the chocolate camp as opposed to the vanilla camp when it comes to pious orgies.

What's your position on pious orgies?

The Swedish phrase for the day is rest bort. It means gone away.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, October 31, 2002

There is a certain type of Stockholm restaurant that has 6- to 7-meter-high ceilings with lovely murals dimmed by decades of smoke, big windows of clear and lavender and pale green glass, and the original Jugend-style tables and chairs from circa 1910, the whole place disarmingly evocative of a bygone era. The food is invariably husmans kost - meatballs with mashed potatoes and lingonberries, or veal hash with an egg on top and beets on the side - in other words, good old-fashioned stick-to-your-ribs Swedish food that was assuredly as popular when the restaurant opened, nearly a century ago, as it is today.

Pelikan is my favorite of all these graceful old restaurants. Which is where the husband and I sat last night with A., the former model and aspiring producer and her fiancé, C., the photographer.

"They didn't give me exactly the salary I asked for, " A. told us, in between bites of potato. "But I'm going to take the job anyway."

A. is no longer an aspiring producer anymore. She has been promoted to assistant director.

Here's to you, A., the assistant director.

- by Francis S.
In case you were thinking of sending me an e-mail, I thought you should know that I have a new e-mail address.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

I am a time optimist. If it's really important, I'm there on time. But if no one will be insulted or think I'm unprofessional or there's no plane to miss, I have trouble getting there exactly when I think I will.

So the husband, who had the day off, arrived armed with a lasagne and a princess tårta at the apartment of the priest and the policeman 20 minutes before I did. He was only 40 minutes late.

We are quite the horrible pair of time optimists.

By the time I'd arrived, the lasagne was half gone because the baby was fussing and hungry and her mother the priest wanted to get in her own meal before serving up another one.

After everyone was fed, the baby lay squirming against her mother's cheek, as newborn babies squirm. "Aren't her ears just so, so - I wish I could keep them in my wallet!" the priest said.

The Swedish word for the day is babybjörn. Swedes claim it's a Swedish invention - a baby carrier that allows you to strap your infant comfortably to your chest. Of course baby means baby, and björn means bear, as in the animal.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 28, 2002

Signe's mother is a priest, her father is a policeman. She's three days old today.

Happy birthday, Signe, three days late.

The Swedish word for the day is välsignelse, the word from which the name Signe is derived. It means blessing.

- by Francis S.

Friday, October 25, 2002

Some two and half hours north of Stockholm by train stands a manor house outside an ancient iron works. If you're lucky enough to be a guest of one of Sweden's large paper mills, you'll get to stay in the house, which is owned by the mill and has been restored to within an inch of its quaint 250-year-old life, all painted ceilings and reconstructed wallpaper and Gustavian chairs painted grey-green. But not so authentic that the bathroom floors aren't heated.

If you're even luckier, you'll be taken out into the woods some 70 kilometers north, where a guide who is Sweden's version of Crocodile Dundee - shall we call him Moose Svensson? - will usher you into a frigid nursery where hundreds of thousands of tiny fir trees sit under dim lights and dripping ceilings, and your guide Mr. Svensson can pour an entire forest's worth of seeds into your open palm.

Then, the charming Mr. Svensson can drive even further into the wilderness, past a line where everything goes from being silvery with frost to being covered under a foot of snow. Deep in the woods, Mr. Svensson will hit upon real old-fashioned lumberjacks. Except these lumberjacks drive monstrous machines that clutch and saw and strip a tree in seconds, so that you can't help but feel sorry for the tree while still remaining utterly fascinated by the diabolical cleverness of it.

Then your Mr. Svensson can haul out rolls with soft cheese and chrome thermoses full of hot soup with the gamey rich taste of moose meat. And he can build a fire in the snow and make coffee that tastes like mud over the fire, and there will be a hardy nordic mosquito or two that have, to everyone's horror, survived the snow.

Then, the girls who are with you can scream, not because they've seen a bear or a moose, but rather a mouse. And you can make a silly Swedish English joke about seeing a mus, which sounds pretty much like moose, and tell it to all the girls who laugh at you. And to Mr. Svensson of course, whose eyes twinkle in a most delightful way and laughs like the best of them, as he takes you back to the mill and the train that will bring you home to the city.

The Swedish word for the day is plantskola. It literally means plant school, which brings all sorts of funny pictures to mind of little trees learning how to become the proper shade of green and grow upwards instead of sideways. However, the proper translation of the word would be nursery.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

We sat holding our collective breath in the first balcony in the dark of the Stadsteatern, one of Stockholm's two great public theaters, waiting for the scene toward the end of the second act in A Doll's House where the poor maid gets slapped for no reason, no reason at all.

We'd been prepared by my friend the actress, who plays the maid.

Apparently, during one of the early performances, the actress who plays Nora, a renowned Swedish diva of sorts, had slapped my friend but good and hard. "That really hurt," my friend said to her afterwards. "Why did you do that?"

The diva of sorts went all apologetic. She was having a bad day, or someone was mean to her, or someone had slapped her, or something.

The next day, however, in anticipation of the slap, my friend flinched.

The diva of sorts hasn't done it again, although last night's slap looked pretty damned realistic to me.

We - M., the t.v. producer, A., the former model and aspiring producer, and a gaggle of A.'s friends who had all been schoolgirls together in gymnasium - were so happy when our friend the actress came out for her bows with the huge bouquet of flowers we'd sent to her dressing room, a bouquet far bigger and lovelier than the pathetic red stalk or two of gladiolus that the diva of sorts had.

It is, I have no doubt, the beginning of what will surely be a spectacular career.

My poor darling husband missed it all on account of he was working. And then he was too tired to join us at Café Beirut afterwards, where we stuffed ourselves on an embarrassing amount of little dishes of spicy sausages and eggplant salads and savory pastries and artichokes soaking in garlic and lemon. Then for dessert we smoked strange perfumey tobacco from a tremendous water pipe as we lolled about on silk cushions, stuffed to the tips of our ears down to the ends of our toes.

I guess I didn't last very long this round. I bought a pack of cigarettes at lunch this afternoon.

The Swedish phrase for the day is stor succé. It means great success.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 21, 2002

The good thing about getting sick is that it always induces me to quit smoking. So it's been five days and I'm still not longing for a cigarette, not even with the unbelievable stress at work.

The Swedish word for the day is högmod. It means pride, and not in a nice way.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

The heavy arm of autumn dropped roughly on all the chestnut trees in Stockholm very early Saturday morning, before the leaves could even change color. So we walked briskly to the subway on Saturday evening through piles of chestnut leaves, still green but crisp and shining with frost. We ran into friends as we walked, making us late, later, latest. We were on our way to a birthday dinner at the apartment of the guy from the Goethe Institute and his husband the South African publicist.

When we arrived, who should be sitting in the living room but the American ballerina and her husband the sailor.

Which wasn't in fact a surprise: We knew they'd be there. (But it was a suprise when at lunch with the guy from the Goethe Institute several weeks ago, he and I somehow figured out that we had a mutual friend in the American ballerina. Stockholm is such a teeny-tiny place.)

We ate all sorts of lovely courses with white truffles and cheese and tomatoes and peppers and chicken with South African spices. And we talked about sailing beautiful wooden boats from the '30s across the Baltic, eating sheeps' eyeballs, and cutting one's hair.

"It was so strange when I cut my hair," the American ballerina said. She was remembering when she retired from the dance company and she had had her long hair cut short. A symbolic act, since ballerinas apparently are supposed to have lovely long hair pulled up into a tight bun.

"It was amazing how heavy the hair was when I held it in my hand," she said. "And it was strange not to be able to roll my neck and feel it brushing my back nicely."

I wondered if she had kept the hair that had been cut off, as a souvenir.

No, she said. She'd given it to one of the Stockholm theaters or theater schools to be made into a wig or glued onto some poor actor's chin as a false beard. "Asian hair is very good, strong and easy to dye," she told us, fifth-generation Chinese American that she is. But her hair had not always been strong.

"When I was 15, my hair was too thin to pull back like a proper ballerina, so my grandmother gave me her hair," she continued. Her grandmother had apparently not given away her hair when she had had it cut. So the American ballerina had pinned the thick braid to her own hair when she danced, wound into a thick bun.

How strange and how poetic, to dance at 15 with your grandmother's hair pinned to your own, giving your grandmother a chance somehow to dance with the legs of a 15-year-old again.

The Swedish word for the day is ett hårstrå. It means a hair.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, October 19, 2002

M., the t.v. producer, has decided he's moving to London. He sold his production company more than a year ago, and Stockholm is too small a pond for him to get anywhere further, so he's going to try to hit the bigger time in a bigger place.

So, to soften the blow for those of us who will remain here (uh, that would be the husband and I), he's spoiling us by spending the evening with us every couple of days.

Last night, I made a lasagne and we sat and watched movies and talked.

"Jesper and I decided that all men are gay," M. said, tucking into the lasagne. "I mean, every man spends an awful lot of time touching a penis, right? So shouldn't that mean that they're gay?"

I won't go into M. and Jesper's further revelation about men and their mothers.

The Swedish verb for the day is att tvivla. It means to doubt.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

As I was walking from lunch, my phone rang just as I was about to enter the building.

"Hey, what's up?"

It was my buddy, R., in town on a one-day business trip from Helsinki.

"I'm getting my haircut at 1:30," he said. "I've got to catch the train back to the airport at 4:30. How's about it?"

So he stopped by the office with a co-worker at about 3:00 and I said that we should get the hell out of there. We meandered on over toward Stureplan, popping in at the bar of the Lydmar Hotel but leaving because a band was doing a soundcheck. We eventually settled in at Sturehof, R. and his co-worker taking beers, me with a coca-cola on account of I've been sick for the past three days and my stomach is a bit tetchy.

R. wanted to pay for the coca-cola, but I gave him a 20-kronor note, telling him it was for the Hilda fund.

"I have to tell you guys," R. said. "Remember how I bought a guitar in February and then I had lessons in March? Well, my guitar broke and I brought it in and they gave me a new one. So then I spent the summer playing the one song that I know, "Proud Mary" and Jessica, the most patient girlfriend in the world, telling me maybe it would be a good idea to learn one more song, just one more. But then when we got back from two weeks in the States, we walked into the kitchen and the guitar was leaning against the wall and the part that holds the strings was completely broken off again. Well, I finally brought it back because I got it in Stockholm and I go into the store and this guy Stevie is standing there talking about how he was on tour and his guitar got all smashed up. 'Can I help you, man?' the guy behind the counter said to me. And I showed him the guitar. 'Aw - what should we do, Stevie?' the guy said. Stevie said to give me another new guitar, no questions asked, and I didn't even have a receipt."

R. was triumphant.

"I love those kind of places with a guy named Stevie and where they trust you enough that they don't even ask for a receipt!"

The Swedish word for the day is konto. It means account.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, October 13, 2002

When I lived in Barcelona, I had a tendency to set my life to music.

I would walk home empty-handed and a bit disappointed at 7 a.m. from a club to the heartachingly lonely sound of Mompou and his Cancion No. 5 playing mournfully (yet sweetly) in my head.

For some reason, these days I don't have the distance to accompany myself with a soundtrack. But if I did, I suppose it would be Prokofiev's "Arrival of the Guests" from Romeo and Juliet, all deep harsh strings hacking away at the air.

What's on your soundtrack these days?

The Swedish phrase for the day is fattiga riddare. It literally means poor knights, but an American would call it french toast.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, October 12, 2002

After a week of work which weighed more heavily on me than any other week of work I can remember, it was all I could do yesterday to drag myself through the cold streets of Stockholm and up the five flights of stairs to the apartment where the husband was preparing an impromptu dinner party.

I didn't want to have an impromptu dinner party. I wanted to moan and bitch and lay about. I wanted to sink on the couch and wallow in the laziness that is my due, considering the circumstances. I didn't feel like chatting with anyone or listening to an evening of Swedish.

"Hello," M., the t.v. producer said in his crazy cartoon voice when I unlocked the door of our apartment and poked my head into the hall.

Somehow, I made a mental about face, and after a couple sips of cheap but tasty shiraz from Australia and a cigarette, I realized that a night with all my favorite people was in fact the perfect antidote to the emotional hangover that I had just about given in to. I was so very happy when A., the former model and aspiring producer came in - it seemed like weeks and weeks since I'd last seen her.

I ate my salad of rocket and beets, and my stew of just about every root vegetable one could imagine, and I actually enjoyed every bite even though I've never been overly fond of beets or turnips or parsnips or those strange sticky black carrot-shaped root things that the husband so loves. Especially those strange sticky black carrot-shaped root things.

I savored the figs and ice cream.

People ever so politely asked me if they should speak English and I told them to continue in Swedish, and although the wine got the better of me somewhere during dessert and I lost my focus a wee bit, all the dreadful meetings in Swedish earlier in the day were forgotten and somehow it didn't weary me at all to continue in Swedish, not even the gargly southern Skånska accent of the football player - the boyfriend of A.'s little sister.

"How do you translate kuf?" A. asked. I don't remember how we got on the subject, I only remember that A. didn't agree with the very British-sounding dictionary definition - odd customer, rum fellow - or my own interpretation - oddball, weirdo, strange guy, eccentric. "No, it's not so negative; Albert Einstein was probably a kuf."

But, at A.'s request, kuf remains the Swedish word for the day, although apparently I don't have a proper definition. Perhaps someone else does?

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 07, 2002

The first snow of winter fell this morning, a few random flakes, and then a brief flurry. After such a glorious summer, I feel as if I could take on all the snow in the world.

The Swedish word for the day is omedelbart. It means immediately.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, October 06, 2002

They all do it. Or as Mozart preferred to put it, Così fan tutte.

At Folkoperan, what they all do is spend time in the WC. That would be in the staging of the opera I saw last night with the guys. And that would be M., the t.v. producer, the guy from the Goethe Institute and his husband the South African publicist. Following the overture, the opera began with three of the footlights rising from the stage to reveal clear tubes of bubbling yellow water and the three male leads unzipping to use the shell-covered lights as urinals as they sang the opening trio, complete with realistic crotch-adjustment and droplet-shaking gestures.

It was not as cheap as it sounds.

In fact, the plot of Così fan tutte is so awful - and sexist - that the best way to redeem it is to turn it into farce as they did at Folkoperan, which somehow contrasts wonderfully with the sublime duets and trios and quartets and quintets and sextets of the opera (there are a few arias, but not many - the opera is mostly a series of shimmering ensembles).

As the guy from the Goethe Institute said, "Mozart would have loved it." As did I.

All that onstage sexual romping set the tone for much of the discussion of the rest of the evening: broad innuendo, mostly from M., who is in his element eating dinner in a crowded brasserie surrounded by a bunch of amused homosexualists. Although I'm not altogether sure what the German friends of the guy from the Goethe Institute thought of M., or of any of us for that matter, all of us talking so loudly, laughing at the stupidest things, our mouths open and showing tiny packets of snuff jammed between our teeth and upper lips.

The Swedish verb for the day is att flörta. It means to flirt.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

The Madman Drawn Quickly

You can see the lack of balance in his eyes, a pale blue ring around the contracted irises, the eyes of a feral dog. Then there is the endless flitting about, an effort to escape the helplessness of standing still in one place. Action and distraction are what he supposes he needs. He cannot listen, but he can talk. What he says suddenly, over and over, is that he cares, but everyone knows he's lying. His is a loud desperation, willing to take everything and everyone down with it.

The Swedish word for the day is tokig. It means crazy.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

My mother and father spent the weekend at a conference for people who love and want to make things better for homosexualists like myself.

P-FLAG. Or Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, if you dislike using acronyms.

My parents received some helpful hints.

"I talked to a woman who told me that every time she gets a call from someone selling something, she asks them if their company has an anti-discrimination policy and if they give partner benefits to gay couples," my mother said. "She said that she doesn't give up either, she asks to speak for their supervisor. Isn't that great?"

She was jubilant, and I could feel her smile these thousands of miles away.

Yes, Mom. That is indeed great.

While the lovely Miss X made a request for a Swedish phrase of the day involving Ericsson and possible future layoffs, I regret that I am such a chickenshit that I don't want to incur the wrath of the company. So instead, Jacqueline, I give you jävlar, satan och helvete. The literal translation would be devils, satan and hell, but a better coloquial translation might be fuck, fuck and fuck were it not for American cultural imperialism and the fact that the Swedish word for fuck has become, well, fuck.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, September 29, 2002

Whenever I'm back in the States, the most dismaying experience is that everyone speaks English and I can understand every single word everyone is saying and I can't help thinking most people should keep their voices down and think more before they say all those awful things they're saying because, well, everyone can understand and aren't they embarrassed?

The second most dismaying experience is going to a grocery store. The husband goes into an orgiastic ecstacy at the staggering choice of items, but I become a tower of doubt. How do I possibly choose from among 30 different kinds of strawberry jam? I go into a trancelike state and have to be dragged from the aisles to the checkout by one of my siblings or my father, the husband happily trailing behind.

However, Sweden beats American grocery stores when it comes to one item: bread.

Yeast breads and flat breads, rye breads and whole wheat breads, Danish breads and Finnish breads, sweet breads and heavy breads, dark breads and that awful white bread for toasting. And then there are the crisp breads: breakfast and whole grain and sport and bagatelle and thin, Wasa and Leksand and at least four or five other common brands.

How can I ever choose?

The Swedish phrase for the day is för sig. It means individually.

- by Francis S.

Friday, September 27, 2002

I have a very low tolerance for anything that gives off even the slightest hint of a new age stink. I am skeptical, and I don't plan on changing any time soon. So, I worry that the husband drinks a shot glass of foul-tasting aloe vera juice every morning. This kind of homeopathic remedy for nothing in particular makes me worry that in fact it's probably damaging the husband's liver or something. A little research eventually assuaged my fears that it could be somehow harmful, but did nothing for my native skepticism.

So it is with some surprise that I found myself this evening lying on a rubber mat with the husband at my feet and our neighbor, L., the chef, to my right, listening to a yoga instructor melodiously instruct us in various yoga exercises, the Sanskrit names of which I can't remember for the life of me.

It's harder to be skeptical in Swedish, I've found. Plus, who am I to argue with thousands of years of Indian culture?

It felt great, but I still have my doubts about clean versus dirty sweat, kidneys heating up and poisons being leached from the body, and the existence of two spiral thingamajigs that circle the backbone.

It's the breathing and concentration that do it for me.

The Swedish word for the day is rimligt. It means reasonable.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, September 26, 2002

I've only ever read one short story of hers - "A Dream of Winter" - and I've looked and looked for her book Dusty Answer but have never succeeded in finding it. Rosamund Lehmann, how could they let you languish like this?

But wait, I've spoken too soon. It seems Virago Press has kept her in print...

The Swedish phrase for the day is för mycket jobb. It means too much work. I'm so tired.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Cleanliness is next to godliness. Or so my mother has trained me. Which means that when I come home and smell that the husband has just mopped the floors with some kind of Swedish soap that smells just like the Murphy's oil soap my mother used to use, my sense of well-being is instantly lifted.

The smell of Murphy's oil soap doesn't have quite the impact on me that Proust's famous madeleine dipped in lime twig tisane had on him. But then my life isn't quite as lapidary as Proust's was.

The Swedish phrase for the day is påminnelse. It means reminder.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, September 22, 2002

I write to discover what I think. I write fiction to discover what happens next.

The Swedish word for the day is framtiden. It means the future.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, September 21, 2002

The rasta record shop on Farmer Street below our apartment is open later than any other shop on the street. Sometimes there's a decided, uh, ganja smell, and occasionally the music is loud, but the fact is, the owner is best of all the shopowners on the street at keeping the sidewalk clean. And whenever I see him I say "hej" or "tja" and he always says "bless."

I like being blessed. A little prayer for me from the owner of the rasta record shop.

The Swedish word for the day is gräs. It means grass, in both senses of the English word.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

"...the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells..."

The first wristwatch I owned was given to me on my 8th birthday. I lost it within three weeks.

It wasn't until I was 26 and working at my first real job that I bought one myself - my second wristwatch. Since then, I feel as if I couldn't possibly live without one. As I suppose the majority of the people I know feel.

And so it is curious that I love the tolling of the bells in the neighborhood, instinctively counting each knell to see what time it is. The bells I can hear from my window here are rather hollow and unmelodious, although not nearly as hollow and ancient-sounding as the bells I used to hear from my apartment in Barcelona. In Washington, the bells I could hear from my house pealed with quite pure tones - they were no doubt much younger than the bells here in Stockholm or the bells in Barcelona, and rang as if they were much too proud of themselves.

Isn't it marvelous that we continue to mark the hours of the day with an angelus, though we hardly need to anymore?

The Swedish word for the day is klocka. Interestingly enough, it means both bell and clock.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Interviewing someone you know for a feature profile is so much easier than interviewing a stranger. You know all the right questions to ask to make for an interesting story:

"Is it true that when you interviewed for your second job and you were asked if you would sleep with the cooks, you said 'only at Christmas parties...' And you still didn't get the job?"

My neighbor L., the chef, would have to answer "yes" to the above question.

Of course I've already figured out how to work her new pink refrigerator into the lead of the story.

The Swedish verb for the day is att svara. It means to answer.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Swedes, in characteristic modest fashion, are too quick to say that Stockholm isn't really a big city. In my book, if it has a subway, it's a big city. And like Tinka, I belong in the city. I am a city boy. Which is not surprising, given my status as a homosexual. It's more comfortable for us homo types in a city, in general terms.

But though I grew up in the suburbs, I've nearly aways wanted to live in a city, even if when I was eight, that meant thinking that it would be fun to have an apartment uptown in the business district of the Chicago suburb I grew up in.

Now the husband, he has always lived in Stockholm, in the very apartment we live in now. He is suddenly making noises about buying a great big house in the country somewhere. I don't know how serious he is, but he says that he doesn't know what it's like to live outside the city and he thinks he might like it.

I have my doubts.

"I guess you never talked about this before you got married," said A., the former model and aspiring producer.

Why do I love the city so much and what is it that makes someone a city person anyway?

The Swedish word for the day is, of course, storstad. It means metropolis.

- by Francis S.

Monday, September 16, 2002

I voted yesterday for the social democrats.

It's funny how powerful one feels voting. Powerful and responsible. Powerful and responsible and in my case, worried that I could be voting for some idiot, considering that I was not familiar with a single name on the ballots that I cast. My only excuse for not knowing is that Swedes are kind of peculiar about politics. It's not considered a terribly polite topic of conversation, I'm told, and supposedly there are many a husband and wife who have never revealed to one another how each voted. This political closed-mouthedness is not characteristic of my friends, who have freely told me who they've voted for. Which doesn't mean that I really understand the politics here. All I know is that the social democrats have been in power - aside from the public's one-term flirtation with the Moderaterna - since the Great Depression, and that isn't a good thing. And it feels a bit like following the herd to vote for the social democrats, and that isn't a good thing. And the whole political spectrum is yards to the left of U.S. politics, which makes it hard to figure out what exactly everyone stands for, and that isn't a good thing either, for me.

It's just plain hard for us poor Americans, with only two parties to choose from, to understand parliamentary politics and coalition governments and a system with seven different political parties.

Yet, as far as I can figure, the social democrats - not the Left Party (former communists) and not the Green Party, and definitely not the Christian Democrats, or the Center Party or the People's Party or, of course, the Moderates - most closely represent the things I believe in, and the way I think things should be run. I don't believe in privitization, I believe in a social welfare state, and most of all I think the social democrats, for all their faults, have built up quite a society with the backing of the Swedish population.

And that's as much politics as I'm able to manage, after voting for the first time in this country that I have adopted. Or more rightly, has adopted me.

The Swedish word for the day is rött. It means red.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, September 15, 2002

Autumn has arrived at last, nearly a month behind schedule, bringing rain and chill and a general mustiness. Time to break out the candles and the soup.

Much more than Spring, Autumn represents starting over for me: unsharpened pencils, notebooks filled with hundreds of blank sheets of paper and lots of promise, crayons smelling like wax.

It's time to buy new clothes - courderoy trousers and striped shirts and wool sweaters, and a pair of brown shoes.

The Swedish word for the day is årstiderna. It means the seasons.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, September 14, 2002

Dinner last night was below what I consider acceptable standards from a cook: The lamb chops were overcooked, the risotto was flavorless with too little parmesan cheese in it, the focaccia was pale and the figs were a bit mealy. I guess I need to brush up on my culinary skills. Of course no one complained, but I was a bit disappointed, especially considering the guests.

It was a dinner for the parents of A., the former model and aspiring producer.

"I've only been in New York once," said A.'s mother toward the end of the evening. "We were there for two hours, so we got in a cab and we just thought of a street and then said 'take us to Fifth Avenue.' But the cabdriver said 'where on Fifth Avenue?' and so we thought some and then said 'Bloomingdales!' But the cabdriver said 'which one on Fifth Avenue?' and we said 'any one!'" and she laughed.

"So he drove us to Bloomingdales and we got out and went in the big set of doors. There we had to go up a wide set of steps and at the top we stopped in our tracks and just stood there with dropped jaws in front of the ladies selling cosmetics. 'Can I help you?' someone asked. We just stood and pointed at the Dior perfume counter and the huge photo that was the first thing you saw when you came into the store. 'That's my daughter!' I said."

That is indeed your daughter, I thought. As beautiful as she is clever and kind, but no matter how big the photo, she is never bigger than life.

The Swedish word the day is syfte. It means purpose.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

We rode to the wedding in Dalarna with the heiress. Her Norwegian boyfriend drove the car. The heiress, who happened to be the sister of the groom and a person we had never met before, has that dark-blonde vulnerability frequently mistaken for brittleness in heiresses. There is nothing light about her, save for her lithe frame and pure skin: She is a person to be taken seriously and very much of her class. But she was very attentive, and I found her tremendously engaging and took a great liking to her.

"You're doing fine," she told me, laughing as I danced with her cheek to cheek, me all bumbling and stiff and square and not remembering a single second of the dancing classes I had to take when I was thirteen.

I never managed to dance with the bride's sister, who was just as lithe and blonde and vulnerable, but melancholy and impatient and tender, her English spoken with a pleasing vague Irish burr learned from the estranged father of her 7-year-old son. The night before the wedding, she had been so petulant and worried whether her tightly wound and pinned hair would be sufficiently curly the next day, demanding attention as if she were a bit jealous of the bride, even if it weren't the case. But at the reception itself, as we drank rum and galliano with lime, I saw that she was in a kind of heaven, a respite from whatever she didn't like about the rest of her life, and she just about purred as if she were a cat.

As for the bride herself, her hair bedecked with tiny roses and cascading down her bare back, she was in her element, all charm and coyness and ravishing beauty, pulling at her train as if she wore one every day of her life.

Me, I felt a bit out of place among all the football players and financiers, seated several chairs away from the husband, who was flirting madly with the heiress as only a homosexualist can. The whole thing wasn't terribly ostentatious by American standards, aside from the setting (Dalhalla) and the details (a fleet of fabulous old cars hauling us from hotel to church to reception, elegantly printed invitations and programs and menus that all resembled top-notch advertising, a 2:30 a.m. fireworks display that would rival the fourth of July displays of my childhood.)

But for Sweden, it was about as far as one can go without breaking the boundaries of good taste. A great success by all accounts.

I'm still recovering.

The Swedish word of the day is seg. It means weary.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

Tomorrow we're off to another wedding, this one in the heart of the country, the veritable Ur-Sweden known as Dalarna. The dales of Sweden, all little wooden houses painted red with white trim, miniature farms with only one cow, one pig and a chicken or two. And on Saturday afternoon, a bunch of guys in tuxedos - smoking they call them here in Sweden - and girls in designer gowns.

Me, I hate tuxedos. I used to have to wear one when I was a waiter on Capitol Hill. It brings back memories of smarmy brown-nosing congressional aides who took pleasure in pushing waiters around to curry favor with their bosses: "Make sure the congressman's bread is hot enough to melt the butter." There was a particular congressman from Tennessee, Rep. Boner (his actual name)...

The Swedish word for the day is val. It means election.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Francis found a certain charm in Edu's half-belief in something most Americans would call magic, superstition, the powers of a curandera. Americans were fond of believing in things, but they were at heart a nation of rationalists who discounted the non-scientific. They pursued any number of fads, but such fads were invariably backed up by what they thought of as science, albeit all too often a spurious science. Americans felt they understood certain inexplicables, and ignored the rest. UFOs with an aura of science they believed in, ghosts they didn't. And so Francis was enchanted when Edu told him, after the floor in the dining room had been cleaned with ammonia, "I shouldn't have cleaned the floor, I felt a bad spirit there, in the corner. Something bad happened there, I know," and then he washed it with vinegar, which his grandmother had taught him would exorcise ghosts. Francis didn't not believe such things, it was just outside of his experience, and contributed to his feeling that Spaniards - or more accurately Argentinians - were curiously sophisticated and childlike at the same time. He wanted desperately to believe in ghosts, but he had been too mired in America for it to really work. Ghosts only lived outside the United States, he knew they would disappear once he got back home.

from a Barcelona diary, 1998

The Swedish word for the day is trolleri. It means magic.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Swedes are great world travelers. It is in fact dangerous to say nasty things in Swedish to your husband about the American tourists sitting at the table next to you in a sleazy bar in Krabi, Thailand, because the chances are all too high that the table on your other side, the table you haven't been paying any attention to, is occupied by Swedes.

(The above is not a true story. But it could be, it could be!)

Which means that if I compare myself to Swedes, I am unduly proud of my own world travelling.

That would be 22 countries (excluding airport layovers) - Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Panama, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Thailand and of course, the U.S.

Plus I can't forget, for all of us Americans, 38 of the 50 states of the U.S. - Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

The Swedish phrase for the day is var har ni rest? Which would mean where have you travelled?

- by Francis S.

Monday, September 02, 2002

If I were someone who likes to jump on the, uh, meme bandwagon, I could write 100 things about myself. Or I could write four truths and one lie.

Instead, just because I think he's a superb diarist, I am going to be a Peter copycat and write nine things that aren't true about me, along with one that is. Meaning you have to guess which one is the truth. So here you go:

1. Although I've tried, I've never managed to finish the Lord of the Rings trilogy. And I seem to about the only person who thought the movie was considerably less than wonderful.

2. I don't like calf's liver with bacon and onions, and I don't like liver paté, but strangely enough I don't mind chicken livers. Fried in enough butter, that is.

3. I saw the Ramones play at the University of Illinois in 1980. It hurt my ears.

4. I don't own a television. It corrupts your mind and makes you fat.

5. Despite being terribly scared of heights, I like carnival rides that go fiercely around and around, making me dizzy.

6. If I could change one thing about my physical self, it would be to not have grey hair. But wait - what am I saying. I could dye it, couldn't I? The idea of dyeing it sounds just too fussy to me.

7. Although I had both my ears pierced, I let the holes close up when I moved to Sweden. I don't look good in earrings.

8. My first car was a white 1975 Chevy Nova hatchback that had been my mother's car. I gave it to my younger brother a year later because it was a piece of shit.

9. Although I lived in Washington, D.C. for 15 years, I never once went into the Capitol building. Shame, shame, shame.

10. When I was five, we moved to New Jersey and although it was the end of June, the first thing I did was run and look up the chimney of our new house and ask my mother "Do you think Santa Claus can fit down there?"

So, which will it be? Don't be shy.

The Swedish word for the day is val. It means choice. And whale. Your, uh, choice.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, September 01, 2002

It hasn't rained in Stockholm for weeks and weeks. Lovely, if freakish weather. Me, I don't mind snow or sub-zero nights or humid days or merciless sun; but rain, no matter how necessary it is, I have never liked.

But Swedes are used to rain; they don't mind it a bit. And obviously they miss it when it fails to appear.

So, when the skies over the Birds' Island clouded over yesterday afternoon, and drops were unleashed followed quickly by a torrent, A. the former model and aspiring producer and her step-daughter O. ran out in the rain, holding hands and dancing on the rocks round about their summer house, soaked to the skin.

When the husband and I got back to the city, however, it was obvious that no rain had fallen to wash away the uncharacteristic stickiness of the streets of Stockholm. One can hardly believe that by rights it should be autumn in Sweden by now.

The Swedish word for the day is vädret. It means the weather.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

The phone rang. It was M., the t.v. producer, calling from the street.

"Hallo," he said in the cartoon voice he always uses when he calls me on the phone. It's you, I said. I asked him if he was close, if he'd like to come up.

"Sure," he said.

Three minutes later, the bell rang.

We sprawled out on the sofas in the living room, me on one and him on the other. I yammered away about my job and soon the husband was calling from his meeting, giving M. instructions over the phone to order chicken butter massala from Indira, (the McDonald's of Farmer Street, or at least that's how I think of it, only the food is much better) and he would pick it up on his way home, to open a bottle of wine to let it breathe, to set the table.

"Uh-huh," M. said. "Uh-huh, uh-huh."

He got off the phone.

"So this is what it's like, huh, " he said, laughing. "Does he talk to you like that all the time? You guys sound so, so married. He makes me laugh. He sounds so much like, like a husband."

Well, yes. He is a husband. My husband.

The chicken butter massala was delicious.

The Swedish phrase for the day is smaklig måltid. Waiters always say it when they serve your food - it means something like enjoy your meal.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

I never managed to say how absolutely remarkable it is that a woman, seven-months pregnant and herself a priest of the Church of Sweden, can be married to her boyfriend by another priest - who happens to be a lesbian - in the Church of Sweden, with no one batting an eye. People would be absolutely apoplectic in America over such a scene. It's exactly this kind of thing that makes Sweden a most remarkable country.

And I did get to meet Jonas Gardell, author of one of the four books in Swedish I have read. I gushed, fanlike, in my American way. He, a bit elfin and blinking madly like a rabbit, said "I thought you were Anders' brother."

Oh, no, I said, I'm much too old to be Anders' brother.

"One is never too old to be Anders' brother," he cackled.

And that was witty repartee.

The Swedish word for the day is snack. It means small talk.

- by Francis S.

Monday, August 26, 2002

In the east of Stockholm lies a green island, Djurgården, the site of the grand residences of ambassadors, a zoo and an amusement park. Next to the amusement park stands a quaint little white church that began life as a schoolhouse in 1820.

On Sunday, the policeman and the priest were married in the quaint little white church on Djurgården. Wrapped in grey silk and with purple sweet william in her hair, looking a bit shaky and serious and lovely and very much seven-months pregnant, the priest stood in front of the altar with the policeman. So tall and blond and handsome, the policeman barely got his vows out, his voice cracking and hardly under control. An accordian played a bit mournfully, and a clarinet joined, and then a woman sang, not quite sweetly but deeply and pleasingly, of halves becoming wholes and of love. Everyone watched and listened in the swelter of an unseasonably warm Sunday in August, and the women cried.

Me, I cried too. How awful it is to get so sentimental as I grow old.

Then, the psalms sung and the gospel read, we followed the bride and groom out of the church and posed for pictures on the stairs outside, and finally wended our way in twos and threes to the heart of the island to eat dinner in a garden, Rosendals trädgård.

In the midst of bowery green allees and beds of sunflowers and cosmos, we sat in a glass house, eating endive and wax beans and potatoes dredged in rosemary, all from the garden. We laughed and were entranced by the brides' sisters, and listened to speeches and sang songs and toasted the bride and groom with glass after glass of red wine.

In between the toasts and the speeches, the charming woman to my right told me she was a singer. But wasn't it awfully difficult making a living as a musician, I asked.

"Yes, I suppose it is. I guess we're just lucky, my boyfriend and I," she said. And as we continued to talk and she revealed bits and pieces of her life, it dawned on me that there I was again, talking to some nominally famous Swedish person whom I'd never heard of before and hoping that I hadn't made a fool of myself, that this particular famous person was finding me naively amusing and not an ignorant American oaf.

After she offered me a cigarillo, and after someone put on a recording of "Pomp and Circumstance" while we stood on our chairs throwing streamers and honking on noisemakers and singing at the top of our lungs from pieces of paper with crazy words of praise and humiliation to the bride and groom, the singer told me I had such a nice voice, that I should be in a choir.

What could I do but blush?

In the end, the husband and I ran to catch the midnight ferry back to Södermalm and our apartment on the Farmer Street. The ferry keeper waved us on board, telling us we could pay another day, and as the boat chugged over the smooth black waters of the Baltic under a moon newly snipped after a day or two of being full, the husband and I told each other we would never live anywhere else on this fair earth.

The Swedish word for the day is välsignad. It means blessed.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, August 24, 2002

My earliest memory that I know is my memory and not merely something manufactured from photographs or stories recounted by my sister or my parents, is a dream.

I was sleeping feverishly - I'm quite sure I was sick at the time - and I dreamt I was outside playing in a sandbox under a tree (I loved that sandbox; I used to eat the sand I remember, or rather I might be remembering it or I might just be remembering the many times my parents have said that I liked to eat it).

Suddenly, the tree wasn't a tree, but a big green leafy dragon. I ran inside, successfully eluding the monster and went up with my brother to our bedroom in the attic of the little box of a house we lived in then. Suddenly, everything was covered in purple spots, including my white pajamas, and there were jolly and benign little cackling witches everywhere. And instead of a light switch, there was a black telephone mounted on the wall. Which I deemed a huge luxury, being that in 1965, nearly everyone had only one phone, including us.

What is your earliest memory?

The Swedish word for the day is pojke. It means boy.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

When we stepped into the movie theater, instead of sitting in the seats designated on our tickets, we sat close to the seats designated on our tickets. There were only three other people in the theater, so what difference could it make?

Soon enough, there were 10 more people, and then fifteen. And of course the girl in the ticket booth had chosen to cram everyone into three rows. Before we knew it, around us hovered a group of twenty-somethings all confused and knocking into each other's knees. An angry Danish boy glared at us, and my friend Å. had to explain in a guilty voice and a heavy Jönköping accent that, in fact, we weren't in the proper seats. The Dane grumbled a bit, and Å. grumbled a bit, but eventually everyone managed to settle down a bit indignantly in their wrong seats, and the movie began.

The idea of having reserved seats at a movie theater is a bit odd for us Americans. I suppose we don't have reserved seats because it's undemocratic or something. And we certainly don't have different prices for different seats, depending on where one is seated. Something that is not done in Sweden either, although it makes sense to me.

But why on earth did the girl in the ticket booth have to put everyone all up in each other's personal space like that?

"They only have to clean up three rows that way," Å. said.

So I was so tempted to leave my empty popcorn box and paper cup on the floor in front of my seat. But I was brainwashed by the pre-movie clip of the movie usher in full movie-usher regalia with a big old white guy over his knees, spanking him for not cleaning up after himself in the theater. I cleaned up after myself.

I am, indeed, such a good Swede.

The Swedish phrase for the day is personutveckling. It means personal development.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

The future wears clothes made of tight-fitting and synthetic materials, right? At least it usually looks that way in movies. Strangely enough, as far as I can tell, the future will look like what it looked like thirty years previously. That is if history is any judge. It scares me a little, makes me laugh a little, that all the clothes that everyone wore in 1971 when I was ten - hip-hugging bell-bottomed trousers, marimekko dresses in loud prints, bluejean skirts and peasant blouses with shag haircuts - are in fashion again. And have been for the last couple of years, in fact. I remember well how ridiculous we found those clothes by the time I graduated from high school in 1979.

Are we condemned to repeat the past out of nostalgia, or lack of imagination? What goes around, comes around - but is it a curse, or just the natural order of things?

Unfortunately, clothes, unlike whores and buildings, do not become respectable with age, they just go out of fashion. Fast, but not forever.

The Swedish word for the day is kläder. It means clothes.

- by Francis S.

Monday, August 19, 2002

Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis Aaron has left the building.


- by Francis S.
The height of civilization is not Einstein's theory of relativity or Mozart's operas, not riistafel or the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh or even The Simpsons.

The height of civilization is sitting for hours and hours in a café on a warm summer's day in a European capitol, say, Helsinki, and watching the people go by on the elegant tree-lined Esplanade, sipping cafe latte and eating rhubarb cake slowly with a spoon.

Amazingly enough, all the romantic notions I had as a 16-year-old American living in the suburbs of Chicago are absolutely true when it comes to sitting in a café on a summer's day.

As for Helsinki, there is a small grandness to it, a green-ness, a great charm and a faint Russian flavor. My favorite Finn and the lovely and pregnant J. walked me round and through the city, pausing and peering in at libraries and churches and markets and theaters, and I was duly impressed. We drank pear cider and on Saturday afternoon stood in a sea of runners, waiting for a friend who was taking part in the Helsinki marathon. We worried that we had missed him somehow, and we listened to the four or five 7-year-old boys next to us having a grand time, high-fiving any runner willing to slap their hands, and very tunefully singing a song of their own composition:

    Parhaita ootte, kultamitalin saatte,
    Parhaita ootte, kultapokaalin saatte

    (You are the best, you'll get a gold medal,
    You are the best, you'll get a golden trophy)

They were still singing it even as we left once we'd found our friend and given him congratulatory hugs and handshakes and sent him on the rest of his 27-kilometer way.

There are of course lesser heights to civilization, some of them nearly on a par with sitting in a café near the Esplanade. For example, an obtuse conversation with a nearly falling-down-drunk chef at the weekend's party (I'm not sure what exactly the topic was, but it was important), the ride on the streetcar to Temppeliakio (I am in love with all forms of train travel; alternatively, I rather loathe buses); even the hamburgers at Hesburger Carrols, Finland's homegrown answer to McDonald's.

My favorite Finn and the lovely and pregnant J. sure know how to make a guy feel at home.

The Swedish word for the day is Helsingfors. Which is the Swedish name for Helsinki.

- by Francis S.

Friday, August 16, 2002

And now off to Helsinki for the weekend to visit my favorite Finn.

The Swedish word for the day is, um, finnjävel. It's a rather unkind word for a Finnish man, meaning something along the lines of Finn devil.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002


All about him, all about Edu.

First, he is small.

This might explain a good deal, making up for his size as he does by the extraordinary amount of space he seems to occupy... is it because he moves so much? So restlessly, endlessly cutting his way neatly through the apartment like a little sailboat tacking across the sea. He appears so efficient as he mops the floor with fierce sopping strokes, back and forth and back and forth. And yet, he is not efficient, the cleaning and rearranging of the apartment, moving plants from one balcony to the sink and then the other balcony for instance, is more of a ritual, a kind of purifying eucharist. (He is in fact inefficient with his cleaning, with his time, his money, his energy.) But the movement only explains in part, the space he occupies. The rest is all emotion.

His hands. The nails are chewed to the quick, the skin rough and dry, the fingers small as the rest of him. His hands are, I'm sure, older than the rest of him, so much a part of him but with their own peculiar life, a pair of well-trained swallows doing and not doing his bidding. The singularity of those hands, like as not, with a cigarette, an inch of ash at the tip, tucked carelessly between any two adjacent fingers or thumb, it doesn't seem to matter which two. I laugh, just thinking of it, at how he claps his hands together like a very little boy, his fingers splayed, palms bouncing.

His eyes, not blue, and not green or brown but somewhere midst the three colors, are rimmed in short, very black lashes that, like any good picture frame, are pleasing in and of themselves while calling attention to the art they encircle. Edu's eyes seem to be the source of all his happiness and woe, taking in what is given and sending it fiercely back out, honed and polished and sometimes ugly, but always steeped in that great overwhelming emotion.

His teeth are white and perfect except for one missing incisor, his nose small and slightly hooked, a distinguished Italianate nose from his father's side of the family. His dark hair is cut close to his scalp.

His limbs, those skinny arms and legs of his, are just as tough as they look. Edu has a certain physical strength, he can lug an ungainly and ugly easy chair up the seven flights of stairs to his apartment, and, after Pepa the cat has pissed in the same chair one too many times and nothing will remove the smell, well, he can lug the chair back down the seven flights and onto the street, where he found it in the first place.

But these are mere physicalities. It would take a book to capture him to the full.

(from a Barcelona journal, 1998)

Eduardo Destrí
b. May 19, 1960 - Buenos Aires
d. August 9, 2002 - Barcelona

I am heartsick.

- by Francis S.