Thursday, January 31, 2002

The husband is attending a meeting about telephone services at this very moment. One of his clients got him all hot and bothered about a new telephone operator in Sweden with really cheap rates. The hitch is that you're supposed to sign up for the service and then try to sell it to your friends, who should sell it to their friends and the more you sell the more you make and the cheaper the rates will be.

"My friend isn't even working anymore, all she does is sell telephone services!" the client exclaimed.

Apparently they've never heard of Amway in Sweden. And Swedes are so addicted to mobile phones - not to mention regular phones - and rates are so expensive that they're willing to try anything to lower their payments. My poor innocent husband. I wonder how long it will take for the government to shut the thing down.

I told the husband that under no circumstances is he to agree to or sign anything.

The Swedish word for the day is blåögd. It literally translates to blue-eyed, but it means naive.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Yes, Peter, it is very, very cool to smoke. And it is especially cool in America because people are so smugly self-righteous about not smoking. I remember visiting my sister in Minneapolis right after I moved back from Barcelona (you can smoke even in department stores there!) and before I moved to Stockholm (you can't smoke in department stores, but at least no one seems to think that smokers make Jesus weep). I was sitting on a 15-foot-long bench in a park and at the other end was a woman who gave me a sour look.

"Can you please move, the smoke is really irritating me," she said.

Uh-huh. The smoke was bothering her outside, 15 feet away.

I repeat, smoking cigarettes is way cool.

The Swedish word for the day is lögnare. It means liar.

- by Francis S.

Monday, January 28, 2002

When I was in the third grade, my teacher, Mrs. Provus, read Pippi Longstocking aloud to us in her whisky-and-cigarette tenor voice, a couple pages every day until we finished. I liked the book well enough, and I even read it myself when I was in the fourth grade. But it was never one of my favorites. And in Sweden, the Pippi Longstocking books are not the favorite Astrid Lindgren books either. The husband, for instance, prefers Bröderna Lejonhjärta, a story which has been described to me as the tale of a boy who sacrifices his life for his younger brother. It apparently makes children weep uncontrollably. No wonder it's so popular here, but nearly unknown elsewhere. I guess I should try and read it.

Sweden's most beloved author died today. Her death is above-the-fold front-page news. I take that back, a huge picture of her is the onlything above the fold. In every newspaper in Sweden.

So, remember that awful Pippi Longstocking song from the movie? Or maybe you're too young to remember. Anyway, it sounds a lot better in Swedish:

Här kommer Pippi Långstrump,
tjolahopp tjolahej tjolahoppsan-sa
Här kommer Pippi Långstrump,
ja här kommer faktisk jag.

Har du sett min apa,
min söta fina lilla apa.
Har du sett Herr Nilson,
ja han  heter faktisk så.
Har du sett min villa,
min Villa Villekullavilla
Vill å vill du veta,
varför villan heter så ?

Jo, för där bor ju Pippi Långstrump
tjolahopp tjolahej tjolahoppsan-sa
där bor ju Pippi Långstrump,
ja, där bor faktisk jag.

Det är inta illa,
Jag har apa häst och villa,
En kappsäck full med pengar
Är det också bra att ha.
Kom nu, alle vänner,
Varenda kotte som jag känner,
Nu skal vi leva loppan,
Tjolahej tjolahoppsan-sa

Här kommer Pippi Långstrump,
tjolahopp tjolahej tjolahoppsan-sa
Här kommer Pippi Långstrump,
ja här kommer faktisk jag.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, January 27, 2002

I've been paranoid about writing about food ever since I read a nasty diatribe from a prominent member of the Ex-Ex-Weblogger Ministeries, complaining about how blogging has become too precious and full of breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. It's sometimes difficult to hold back on talking gastronomy, since preparing a suitable meal is my chief therapy these days. It's hard not to mention last night's chicken fricasseed in a classic vinegar, onion and cream sauce, and the lime mousse for dessert - oh so buttery and tart.

The friends from London are in town again. Dinner was a success. We ended up talking about Egypt and how Sharm al-Sheikh was a sleepy one-road village ten years ago and now there are 90 huge resorts being built there.

"Isn't it great?" the Egyptians said to my husband and C., the photographer, when they were there last year on a photo shoot.

No, C. and the husband thought, it is not great. But for the Egyptians, it's the surest way to protect their territory in the Sinai against their worries about Israeli agression: If they build it up, it will be a lot harder to destroy. And no doubt, it brings in cash to the country as well.

"It's like Thailand," said N., the Wallpaper* editor. "It's horrible now, all built up. Did you know Ao Nang is just awful now?"

Which was a little sad to hear. The husband and I became engaged on a beach near Ao Nang. I would hardly have called it unspoiled - there was a huge new resort being built on one of the beaches - but it certainly felt removed a bit from civilization. It was easy to find a beach where one could feel alone, visited only by a woman arriving in an afternoon boat laden with bottled water and freshly cut pineapple, carefully prepared in such a way it could be eaten by hand without getting all sticky. And the funky little hotel we stayed at - cheap but full of charm, with small bougainvillea-covered courtyards with odd sets of steps going here and there, a cafe overlooking the beach - is no longer about the only thing on the road, according to N. (or little, from looking at the website.)

Yet, despite it sounding much less attractive to go there, I would think that places like Thailand or Egypt mostly benefit from tourism, despite the obvious problems caused by hordes of pasty-white garbage-strewing, mai-tai swilling, suntan lotion-slathered Europeans and Americans. So, complaining about these countries becoming spoiled is, well, the opinion of the spoiled and privileged.

The Swedish word for the day is stranden. It means the beach.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, January 26, 2002

Isn't it odd that the queer contingent is the only minority group with its own category in the Bloggies, that is, unless you consider Europeans as a minority group. It seems that the gay ghetto is the only segregated neighborhood on the Web. (I know, I know - I hate the term "gay ghetto" too, it's so very Tales of the City; but it worked really well for my little metaphor so I just bit the bullet and used it anyway.)

Is this a good or a bad thing?

- by Francis S.
Last night's party was, as expected, a combination of the two. That is, with some awful tedious and/or embarrassing parts, and with some awfully fun parts. There were the usual endless speeches, the usual singing routine by five of the birthday girl's best friends singing along with their own words to some bad Swedish pop song, the usual guests raucously drunk and insulting the hired help before the main course had been served. There were games intended to humiliate the honoree (everyone had a green "yes" card and a red "no" card at their place, and were asked at one point to vote on whether a series of things were true about the birthday girl - everything from whether she'd lived in Australia, to whether she owned a dildo.)

Did I have a good time? Better than I expected.

Was I glad that we were the first to leave, about 45 minutes after the dancing started? Oh, yes.

The Swedish phrase for the day is vi ses. It means see you later or we'll be in touch, more or less.

- by Francis S.

Friday, January 25, 2002

Damnation. The husband and I have another Swedish 30th birthday party extravaganza to attend. At least we don't have to pay 500 crowns just to attend, which is the usual arrangement for these things. And, it's only a sit-down dinner for 80 people somewhere out in Lidingö, in the near suburbs.

The last 30th birthday party we went to was 500 kilometers away and we had to stay at an expensive hotel with a hundred other partygoers. Worse, after I had gone up to bed - I can't keep up with the Swedes when it comes to vodka tonics and bottomless bottles of red wine and I hate the way that once you're married, Swedish etiquette dictates that you can't sit together and I always end up next to some 75-year-old widow who lived in New Jersey sometime in the '60s and has all sorts of frightening anecdotes about America - the husband had gotten into a big row at 4 a.m. with one of the birthday boy's friends who had made a drunken speech that included a phrase along the lines of "we used to be tough when we were young but now we go out and eat shrimp and act all gay." The husband was very displeased at the implication that there is something wrong with eating shrimp and with being gay. Apparently, when he pointed this out to the inebriated speechgiver, things heated up a bit followed by a calamitous chill that stopped the festivities cold.

The next morning, there was an air of discomfort everywhere, stinking up the place. But I was happy, and very proud of the husband.

The Swedish word for the day is hård. It means tough.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, January 24, 2002

It's time for A Night at the Opera - the ticket is a Christmas present from A., the former model. We're going alone, since the husband doesn't particularly care for opera. Best of all, it's perhaps my favorite - certainly the one I know best: The Magic Flute. Utterly idiotic storyline, boundlessly sublime music.

An interesting bit of opera trivia about the Swedish Royal Opera - it was founded by Gustav III, who is the subject of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera; the plot of that opera originally was about the murder of the King at a masked ball, although due to political unrest in Europe at the time of the opera's composition, the libretto was changed so that it takes place in colonial America instead of Sweden. Which is interesting that people seemed to think it was fine to have it take place in a backwater second-tier wannabe country. Oh how times have changed.

The Swedish word for the day is sångare. It means singer.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

So the boss asked me last weekend at dinner, "Why did you get married by a priest?"

Which is an interesting question. The husband, who was raised in a cult that masquerades as a scary quasi-Christian denomination, is very down on organized religion of any sort.

Me, I was raised by deeply religious parents who are nonetheless probably further to the left than I am on the political spectrum. Which isn't to say they're Marxists, but they're pretty damned liberal for Americans. My parents also allowed my brothers and sister and I a certain amount of dissent: while we all had to go to communicants' class, for example, none of us caved in and actually joined the church. Despite this personal ambivalence, the right kind of church feels pretty comfortable to me - one light on the theology, heavy on the spiritualism and strict about having only top-notch music. In fact, not too many churches fit the bill. And yet, I kind of like church and I would even consider myself a non-Jew for Jesus... he was a good guy but I wouldn't say he was any more divine than the rest of us, even if he did have some good ideas and a great marketing machine.

So, I got married by a priest because I wanted my marriage to not just be about the legalities of being a couple - and I'm not knocking them, the legalities are necessary - but I wanted the marriage to be about declaring one's love publicly in a profound ritual that has lasted over time because the words are fraught with meaning and they are beautiful, patriarchy or no patriarchy. I have no doubt that for a homosexualist like myself, such a marriage ceremony also takes on fresh meaning when it occurs between two men.

And so, in front of 130 people, we got married by a priest who oversaw the ritual and despite having known us for only a short time, gave it great depth and feeling, setting the tone for the wedding itself, and for the marriage. Everyone seemed drunk with joy, and I don't think it was merely my own happiness.

As for the husband, well, he wanted to get married by a priest simply to show respect to my parents. But he's never regretted it, not ever.

The Swedish word for the day is, of course, äktenskap. It means marriage.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, January 20, 2002

K., the husband and I had dinner with my boss, the CEO, last night, a dinner that lasted until 3:30 a.m. and feels as if it consisted of about a pack too many cigarettes.

We talked about religion - "why did you get married by a priest" asked my boss - and the world, inevitably lapsing into a discussion about war, with an eventual segue into the topic of life. It was at this point that the husband made the observation that a life of 90 years consists of 30,000 days.

How is it that 30,000 days sounds so damned short?

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

- by Francis S.

Saturday, January 19, 2002

welcome to the
My Way Blog Awards™ for 2001

If I’d known so many people were going to vote, I never would have created these damn My Way Blog Awards™. But, create them I did, and I felt obligated to tally up the votes, even if almost no one offered any bribes or cast brown-nosing votes for, well, me (I did get voted Weakest Link as a defensive move though).

There were some clear winners in terms of favorite category, as opposed to favorite nominees: People were most fond of voting for Best Porn Star Potential, proving that we are all obsessed with sex. Which is why I created the category to begin with. (Oh, and there was a clear winner in that category, too.)

People definitely had a least favorite category as well – Weakest Link. As Jackie of Surblimity put it “That’s mean, I can’t vote for that.” Apparently plenty of other people thought it was mean as well – less than half of all voters nominated a blog in this category. I guess we can all just get along. Or something like that. Of course some people didn’t have any trouble pointing out, er, the shortcomings of some bloggers: “Whinge, whinge, whinge, please try saying something interesting. Please?” or “He's not as funny as he thinks he is. And he hardly ever updates. Oh, and his site is ugly-looking.” Or how about “Ewww... look at the feeble attempt at video humor on the 3rd of Jan!!” or “How can we miss you if you won’t go away?” There was also a lament for the long absence of The Everlasting Blogstalker by someone who voted for him “not because I don't love him, but because he hasn’t posted in over two months. Maybe this would wake him up.”

There were some other unusual weather phenomena that rose to the surface. For instance, some people had very strong feelings for one member of a couple while having very strong feelings against the other member. And then, wham, the next voter had the opposite feelings - for the very same couple.

Interestingly enough, in most of the categories there was a clear people’s choice and I felt no need to do any ballot-tampering. In most of the categories. However, I did feel the need to add a few additional categories to cover some, er, poverty in thinking when it came to the original creation of the awards.

So, without further ado, may we have the envelope please…

My Way Blog Award™
best sylvia plath impersonation

So Sylvia Plath was a little neurotic – she was still a great writer. Apparently her closest latter-day incarnation in the blogging world is Jeff the Tin Man of Tinmanic. He's neurotic all right, but he’s a lot tougher than old Sylvia. I'd give him a testimonial - a heart-shaped watch on a chain of popcorn - if I could. Hurray for the Tinman.

My Way Blog Award™
"izzy fosco" ted hughes memorial prize

A corollary award that goes hand in hand with the Sylvia Plath Award, this prize is awarded to the blogger who has caused the most neurosis, as opposed to the blogger who is neurotic him or herself. I think Izzy Fosco would like this to be awarded to Melinda of Reality Sandwiches. I’m not sure that she’s actually caused much drama, and she is definitely neurotic herself. But, like Ted Hughes, she is a survivor. And who knows, she may become poet laureate of the U.K. one of these days. She’s certainly an excellent writer. And she makes a mean tofurkey.

My Way Blog Award™
best i-mom

I originally vowed to tamper with the ballots in this category, but then my own Mommy Dearest of choice actually received the most votes in this category. Now that’s what I call noetic justice. Congratulations, Aaron, Sacramento’s own 8leggeddj, you are not just my favorite, but everyone’s favorite I-Mom. As one voter put it, “He's as warm as a tray of freshly baked cookies.” (And, well, he did get at least one nomination as Best Porn Star Potential, so maybe he’s a mom in a rentboy’s body.)

My Way Blog Award™
best i-dad

All those religious right organizations have undertaken lots of very scientific research that shows that two parents are best, one of each sex of course. So I thought I’d better add an i-Pop category, just to be on the side of God. So, make room for Daddy, I mean Tinka (she may not have gotten the most i-Mom votes, but as Rasmus said, "she would hate me for doing this. Besides, she does have certain Momish qualitites. She will hate me even more for that." She was definitely a contender, competing against the likes of the only real celebrity nomination, Rupaul, who definitely sounds like he would make a great mom slash dad.)

My Way Blog Award™
best porn star potential

Okay, Jonno, you win hands down. And you didn’t even have to give me a marker for that courtesy fuck you promised. You, in fact, received the most votes of all for any category. Apparently everyone wants a lot more, uh, explicit writing on your part and definitely more pictures of the graphic sort. “Mmmm. Hump-a-licious,” according to one voter. Now get out there and live up to your award, you cyberstud, you.

The “Fluffer” certificates of merit are awarded by the judges to those porn aspirants who deserve special mention for individual performances that have helped to increase our appreciation of the important role sex plays in making the Internet profitable.

My Way Blog Award™
"fluffer" certificate of merit

Yami of Green/Gabbro wins a “Fluffer” certificate of merit for her frank discussions of her hair fetish and her constant inadvertent references to scroti. Keep up the obsessions, yami.

My Way Blog Award™
"fluffer" certificate of merit

Nancy of the World of Jill Matrix wins a “Fluffer” certificate of merit for her product endorsement of, uh, Swiff. Despite the controversy behind the actual product (is it nice or nasty?), her stunning nude testimonial is the kind of thing we need to see more of.

My Way Blog Award™
"fluffer" certificate of merit

Finally, Tek of wins a “Fluffer” certificate of merit for the graphic and unexpurgated posting of his private parts.

My Way Blog Award™
weakest link

Hmm. No one could agree on which single person is not holding his or her weight, is past his or her sell-by date, is far beyond his or her 15 minutes of fame. So I wrote the names on little pieces of paper, put them in a hat, closed my eyes and randomly chose the winner. Oddly enough,the winner doesn’t seem to have a blog that I’m aware of, but he does have trouble with pretzels that make him choke, faint and hit his head, resulting in huge bruises below the eye. Let’s just leave it at that.

My Way Blog Award™
best in show

I love this category. This is where I found at least one completely new blog – - that I’ve since found rather addictive. Plus, a few of the winners in other categories – Jonno, Tinmanic, Melinda, Tinka, and Nancy, to name a few - made appearances here. And some of my regular addictions also made appearances – David of Swish Cottage and Peter of secret kings, for example. But the bloggers who got the most votes were those bi-coastal, bi-polar but not bi-sexual (at least not that I've noticed) wonders of the blogging world, Choire and Philo. They have such nice, shiny coats and a spring in their walk, their tails are always held high and they almost never bite… they are the Best in Show.

Francis Strand, Chief Judge, My Way Blog Awards™

Friday, January 18, 2002

I guess it's possible to have too much rhythm. Or in my buddy K.'s case, too much circadian rhythm. Her internal clock is refusing to adjust to Stockholm. Of course, this won't stop us from going out for beers after work tonight and getting sloshed.

It's us. It's what we do when she comes into town.

(I think the Swedish romance with alcohol is rubbing off on me. I guess I need to work a lot harder at absorbing the language and to ease up on absorbing some of the more interesting cultural habits.)

The Swedish word for the day is bakis. It means hung over. I hope this is not a self-fulfilling prophecy.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, January 17, 2002

It is now almost definite that our company offices will move out of the building we are in now, a 17th century mansion in front of the royal palace, a prime spot with a superb view in the middle of Gamla Stan, Stockholm's old town.

It depresses me to think of leaving this spot, it's such a pleasure to walk here each day, the city spread out in front of me as I walk down the mosebacke steps on the bluffs of Södermalm, the southern island of the city.

The Swedish word for the day is otrevligt. It means unpleasant.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

My good old buddy old pal K. is here yet again from the States; she just can't seem to stay out of Sweden.

She's already regaled me with stories about having to remove her boots for a security check at Logan Airport in Boston (they took them into a separate room where she couldn't see them being interrogated:

    Good cop: "I just wanna make things easy for ya, ya look like a decent, God-fearing pair of boots - ya can tell me if ya been cramming explosives up ya little boot butts, I promise we can work out a nice cushy deal for ya, maybe even get ya a new pair of heels that actually don't look slutty like the ones ya got now...

    Bad cop: "If yer don't play nice with us, we're gonna separate yer body from yer pathetic sole(s) so even the focking devil won't recognize yer, yer dried up piece of cow stomach...)

She did get her boots back eventually. The security workers apparently also made some poor Indian woman remove her sandals until someone higher up on the security food chain reminded them that sandals are not a security risk.

The Swedish word for the day is säkerhet. It means safety.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

(In case you've been wondering, I haven't forgotten the My Way Blog Awards™. The judges are in conference as we speak, and the winners will be announced by the end of the weekend.)

- by Francis S.
I used to think that Lorrie Moore was too glib for her own good, too prone to pun. But then I read 'People Like That Are the Only People Here" in the New Yorker, and I changed my mind. The story, of a woman dealing with the horror of her baby having cancer, is full of desperate dark humor, and the whole thing cuts like a knife so that one can only believe that it must be based on experience. The story is brilliant and hurts like hell. What made me think of it was reading this wonderfully written description of parents dealing with their newborn baby's tenuous grasp on life. I don't think there can be much that could cause more pain than the death of one's child, and I suppose the fear of a child dying is a worry that lurks somewhere in the back of all parents' minds. I'm not sure that if it happened to me, that I wouldn't buckle under the sorrow.

The Swedish word for the day is sjukhuset. It means the hospital.

- by Francis S.

Wow. No one corrected my repeated misspelling of the word "hierarchy" in a post below. Everyone is too, too kind. And me, I'm a nasty schoolmarm bitch when it comes to proper grammar and spelling.

I thought it looked kind of strange.

- by Francis S.

Monday, January 14, 2002

Last night we watched "When good plastic surgery goes bad," one of those voyeuristic cautionary tale shows, not unlike "When good pets go bad" or "When good weather goes bad" or "When good cops go bad" or "When good bosses go bad" or "When good babies go bad" or my favorite, "When good milk goes bad."

The husband loves these shows.

What I fail to understand, however, is why anyone would allow a so-called doctor to have at one with something called a pickle fork. Or go back to the same quack (whose medical instruments include a kitchen spatula) five more times to allow him to try to repair the mistakes he already made because he is, in fact, not an MD but a Cuban used car salesman who speaks seven languages.

The Swedish word for the day is misstag. It means mistake.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, January 13, 2002

Time for another longer Swedish lesson.

#4. The Hierarchy of Nordic Countries (from a Swedish point of view). Swedes seem to have some definite views about the countries around them. Or rather, the husband does. I like to think that in this respect, he reflects typical Stockholm thinking. Warning: If you are a citizen of one of the Nordic countries, you may find the following offensive and want to hit me with a large stick. These are not, I repeat, not my own opinions. I have no opinions on this topic.

Denmark belongs on the top of the hierarchy, well, along with Sweden of course. It's part of the European continent, as opposed to the Nordic peninsula, which makes it a cooler, hipper place with a (possibly) better culture than Sweden. Of course, it is half the size of Sweden so it loses some points there for being smaller. Swedes also generally have trouble understanding Danish - it sounds rather like someone talking Swedish and gargling at the same time, in my opinion - but embarrassingly enough, Danes almost always understand Swedes. So, Denmark both gains and loses points on the language issue.

Norway could be considered the boring country cousin of Sweden. They have oil and lots of money, yeah, and the scenery is pretty, but they're hopelessly provincial and hey, they were part of Sweden until 1905 (to be fair, they were only part of Sweden for about 100 years or so; Norway, Denmark and Sweden have a long history of taking over bits and pieces of each other so Norway has been part of Sweden on other occasions as well). They're dowdy but okay, sort of. Definitely beneath Sweden on the Nordic hierarchy.

Finland is the barbaric little brother of Sweden. Looked down on because of its lack of manners and tendency to carry concealed knives, Swedes nonetheless have a grudging secret admiration for the Finns because they are tough. And of course, Finland was part of Sweden for a lot longer than Norway was part of Sweden, so despite some longstanding resentments (Finns traditionally learn Swedish as a second language and the upper classes in the west of Finland speak Swedish as a first language) and some big cultural differences (Finland is not a Scandinavian country, for instance; the language is related to Estonian and Hungarian, outside the Indo-European language group in fact), Sweden and Finland have a most interesting love-hate relationship. Some Swedes would say Finland is on the bottom of the Nordic hierarchy, despite its having more famous architects, artists and classical composers than Sweden.

Iceland is just plain weird, an anomoly. Iceland seems to be a last remnant of the Vikings, a kind of parallel Nordic world with cute little hairy horses and Björk. Iceland sits alone on the side in the Nordic hierarchy, unclassifiable.

Sweden is really the alpha dog, although no one in Sweden would say this out loud.

I wonder what people in the other Nordic countries think, and do they resent Sweden for thinking of itself as the U.S. of the north? Or do they really not give a shit what Sweden thinks...

The Swedish word for the day is kartan. It means the map.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, January 12, 2002

"Do you feel left out if you don't participate in the latest meme or web survey to make the rounds? How compelled are you to follow the pack and do what everyone else is doing?"

If Jimmy Jones down the block jumped over a cliff, would you jump over a cliff, too?

Apparently, I would jump over that cliff.

And so I have gotten my own semi-personal blogger code, courtesy of Ron:

B2 d- t- k+ s+ u- f i o++ x- e- l c+

- by Francis S.

Uh-oh. Comments are gone again, and I managed to leave up for some 12 hours or more a nasty and annoying HTML error before coming home from the office (I aso managed to leave my keys at the office as well and had to run back and knock on the door until someone let me in. At least I didn't accidentally set the alarm off.)

I guess it wasn't the best of days yesterday.

The Swedish word for the day is jobbigt. It's hard to get the real meaning across with just one word, it's such an oft-used and well-worn Swedish expression - it means something along the lines of difficult and pain in the ass and not much fun.

- by Francis S.

Friday, January 11, 2002

And I always thought Scandinavia was so very anti-clerical, so downright atheistic slash agnostic, so down on religion.

But obviously Scandinavians are not so down on religion that they don't have a magazine about getting confirmed in the, uh, church. It has lots of fashion spreads with 13-year-old Britney lookalike nymphets provocatively posed in white dresses, plus party tips and plenty of advertising to give kids good ideas for what kinds of very expensive presents to ask for when they get confirmed.

No mention of God though, as far as I can tell with my bad Danish.

Now this is an idea whose time has come. Why didn't I think of it?

- by Francis S.
Damn. Go away for a day and a half, all hell breaks loose.

I've gotten links to the My Way Blog Awards (go to the link only if you want to read the categories) from some of my very favorite folks who I think are definitely A-list bloggers, no matter what anyone else thinks. And then the stupid form doesn't work because naturally I didn't read the fine print about the form accepting only 50 responses in total (I hadn't expected much of a response anyway, to be honest).

So, I guess this means that the ballots are closed, whether I like it or not... although if you still want to nominate someone, just send me an e-mail.

I'll announce the winners by the end of next week. There are definitely some front runners, but as I've said from the beginning, I make the rules. Which means there could be some very interesting results.

Now, I just need to get the fucking i-Mac to work at home with the new service provider so I can have some server space which will allow me to, at long-last, post some graphics here for the award winners (not that I'm about to start posting lots of graphics, I'm a word-lover and don't like to clutter up the space with a lot of interesting and funny photos and pictures, and cool graphic elements.)

The Swedish phrase for the day is jävla dum. It means fucking stupid.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, January 09, 2002

Amsterdam, here I come.

Too bad it's only for a day.

Amsterdam is such a marvelous place, not because of the "coffee" shops or because it's Europe's answer to San Francisco, homosexuality-wise. It just is lovely on such a human scale - all those step-gabled houses with huge windows on the canals, and the people are so blunt, so warm, so friendly.

My grandparents or great-grandparents or great-great grandparents - it depends on which side how far back you have to go - are Dutch on both my mother's and my father's side. I remember how startling it was after I'd been to the Netherlands the first time, realizing that what I had always thought was a rural brogue in my grandmothers' speech was in fact a faint Dutch accent, although both of them had been born and lived their whole lives in Iowa.

I was also startled by how familiar the interaction between people was - this was how my parents relate to people, this easygoing forthrightness. Ethnic recognition. I wonder if genes play any role in this at all, or is it purely stubborn socialization passed down through the generations that makes me feel so at home in the Netherlands?

The Swedish words for the day are farmor and mormor. They both mean grandmother - although the former refers to a paternal grandmother and the latter to a maternal grandmother.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, January 08, 2002

I think I've been reading too much of The Lord of the Rings.

I feel a little embarrassed to be re-reading it (I'm on page 150 or so of the last book). I started just because I kept making plans to go see the movie but we could never get tickets.

I read all three books once back when I was 14 or so - well, more or less. I got bogged down when Frodo and Sam were stuck in those dreary marshes and skipped the second half of The Two Towers.

Last night the husband brought home barbecued spareribs. Which are not my favorite, but I used to like them well enough. However, as my teeth ripped into the stringy flesh on the bones, I kept thinking of various fictional critters from those books ripping into the flesh of various other fictional critters and I found I could barely eat it. It felt so primitive, and not in any free-your-mind back-to-nature kind of way. And here I always thought those books were kind of, well, adolescent. But they sure have some kind of power over me.

It was almost enough to make me a vegetarian.


- by Francis S.
Oh, and don't forget to send in your nominations to the My Way Blog Awards.

If you're having trouble with the form, just e-mail your nominations complete with URL directly to me (yes, you will lose your anonymity, but do you really care?) in the following categories - see the form for a full description.

    My nominee for the Best Sylvia Plath Impersonation 2001 is...
    My nominee for the Best Porn Star Potential 2001 is...
    My nominee for the Best i-Mom 2001 is...
    My nominee for the Weakest Link 2001 is...
    My nominee for Best in Show 2001 is...

Thank you for your good citizenship.

- by Francis S.

Men are standing on snowy roofs everywhere in Stockholm, tapping and ridding them of snow and lethal icicles - yesterday a 14-year-old boy was killed on Drottninggatan by a hunk of ice (sorry, the link is in Swedish). It's strange that I grew up in Chicago and I never remember having to be scared of icicles, but here it seems everyone lives in fear of them.

Can you imagine being killed by an icicle, having to tell your friends and family, being interviewed by the news? "Oh, yes, it really hurt," you tell them. "It came out of nowhere. No, it's not funny, it killed me for Chrissakes."

(I was woken from my feverish sleep this morning by a workman ringing the bell and coming in to knock the icicles from the scaffolding outside the kitchen window. Apparently, we could've been killed every time we walked into the courtyard of the apartment to throw out our trash or do the laundry.)

The Swedish word for the day is, of course, istapp. It means icicle.

- by Francis S.

Monday, January 07, 2002

I am a subway person, as opposed to a bus person. It seems odd to me, because most of all I prefer to walk, so you'd think I would want to be above ground where I could see everything go by. But I hate buses. And more, I am entranced by trains. In partic ular, I am fascinated by train stations, especially those built during the Belle Epoque, the robber barons' answer to a cathedral. The marble-floored waiting rooms with soaring ceilings, and the wrought iron and glass covering the platform where the trains leave. The cold and the smell of departure and arrival, a sort of intoxicating mix of tobacco and perfume, oil and sweat and leather.

An airport feels hardly different from a shopping mall, and all airports are virtually interchangeable. But a train station, a real train station like Union Station in Washington, D.C. or the Central Station in Antwerp, has its own pulse and countenance.

I remember when I was 13 or so, I used to take the Chicago and Northwestern train from Highland Park to Evanston once a week to my piano lesson at Northwestern University. I would buy two bars of cadbury chocolate (with hazelnuts) at Kip's delicatessen. Then, feeling very grown up, I would board the train, slowly consuming one chocolate bar tiny bite by tiny bite, saving the other for the trip home. I could never read or write for long, because I felt impelled to look out the window at the same scenery going by each week, imagining all those lives going on behind all the windows in the houses and offices, entranced by old brick factories and secret paths through small and nameless woods.

The actual process of getting there was more important than the getting there itself.

I haven't changed much since then, not when it comes to trains and train stations at least.

The Swedish phrase for the day is pendeltåg. It means commuter train.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, January 06, 2002

It's the end of the Christmas season, at last. Epiphany. The twelfth day of Christmas, and my true love gave to me some peeled carrots not half an hour ago.

Tomorrow, it's back to the old hamster wheel. I know I'll be fine once I return to the 500 e-mails that await me, the deadlines that I allowed reporters to extend, the extra sources I still need to track down, the re-reshuffling yet again of staff, and the extra meeting I need to set up for Thursday's one-day trip to Amsterdam for an editorial meeting.

I've got one of those sweaty, greasy, stomach-grinding, teeth-clenching nights ahead of me, I just know it.

It's strange how difficult it is to not worry about things that it really does no good to worry about in the first place. It's not as if I could do anything about any of this now.

I think I'm getting a cold.

- by Francis S.
We just had breakfast - bran flakes with filmjölk, which is some kind of vaguely yoghurt-like dairy product peculiar to Scandinavia I think, and boiled eggs with kalles kaviar.

How do I explain kalles kaviar? The ingredients claim that it contains choice fish roe, preservatives, sugar, vegetable oil and tomato paste. It comes in a blue tube, not unlike a huge tube of toothpaste, and on the cover is a picture of the Swedish Ur-boy, blonde and blue-eyed Kalle.

As for the taste, think fish eggs with a dash of sugar.

I like it with a boiled egg. And if I'm really hungry at the office because I've forgotten to eat lunch, I'll have some on a piece of knäcke bread.

Something tells me that most of you Americans would not find it terribly palatable. For Swedes, however, it's the kind of thing they search out in a foreign place when they're feeling homesick.

It is, in fact, not unlike peanut butter, in that no one seems to see the appeal outside of the country of origin.

It is also a topic that makes the Swedes not want to be part of the EU; it seems that someone somewhere (most likely someone in France) has complained that it is not caviar and must be renamed, or not sold in Europe, or something along those lines.

Absolute heresy.

The Swedish word for the day is frukost. It means breakfast.

- by Francis S.

p.s. The polls are still open for nominations for the My Way Blog Awards. It's too late to vote early, but not too late to vote often.

Saturday, January 05, 2002

One of the great things about Sweden is that everyone gets five weeks of vacation by law. My company gives us six weeks, and as someone who has reached the grand old age of 40, I also get an extra week according to the union rules that our company abides by. That's seven weeks of vacation. Nearly two months a year.

I just love the social welfare state, it's fabulous.

So, since I get seven weeks of vacation, I've taken the last two weeks off. Which means I now have those same back-to-school jitters I used to get after Christmas vacation when I was a kid, and it's only Saturday early afternoon.

To think, just last week I was complaining to the husband about not being able to relive the enchanted Christmases of my childhood. What a fool I was.

- by Francis S.
Just as a reminder, the My Way Blog Awards are still open for nominations. Vote early and vote often.

If you're of a different bent, so to speak, perhaps you prefer the pornolized name - My "Bust-a-Cunt" Way Blog "Ball Buster" Awards. (Hats off to Simon for the link.)

- by Francis S.
Okay, 'fess up.

Who put a link to this site on Metafilter? It wasn't me... I think I've browsed around there once or twice at the most, but suddenly I find the Metafilter URL in my referral logs, and now of course I'm curious as to what was linked but I can't find it amidst all those endless comments on each post, and a search did no good either.

The Swedish word for the day is förvirrad. It means confused.

- by Francis S.

Friday, January 04, 2002

I've noticed that people are starting to give out awards and such for blogging in 2001. And I thought to myself, no one gives out the awards I would give out, why not make up my own?

So here they are, the My Way Blog Awards. Vote early and often. The results will be posted whenever I get enough responses to make it worth posting.

- by Francis S.

According to my friend the priest, one of the most hated little rhymes- with- a- moral told by generations of Swedish mothers to their children is: Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder. It means there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. Me, I find it cute, but I suppose it's not hard to find the annoying smugness underneath. And if my mother had said it to me when I was a kid, I would loathe it too. Why is it that a mother's advice can be so off-putting?

- by Francis S.
Tinka's got a new site. With comments, at long last. Yay, Tinka.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, January 03, 2002

So I decided that it would be better for my marriage if I actually helped my husband in his quest to Clean The Entire Apartment and Rid It of Useless Flotsam and Jetsam (especially the mess under the bed).

So among other sundry tasks I ended up sorting old photos - it seems that the part of my physical life I brought to Sweden with me was mostly books and old photos - and I was going to write something profound here about how I love and hate photos. I love to look at them, but I worry that my memory of any one situation becomes replaced by the photograph if there is a photograph taken. (Perhaps I am still too fascinated, as I was in my early 20s, with Susan Sontag's On Photography).

So then my intentions were totally derailed when the neighbors invited us down for a celebratory glass of champagne (we have created a monster in our neighbor, L., Sweden's Woman Chef of 1999 - she is now addicted to Louis Roederer champagne because we fed it to her on New Years Day and now she can't get enough). I am now completely tipsy and in no kind of mood for anything (is that some kind of weird double negative?).

So how did we manage to smoke an entire pack of cigarettes in an hour?

Oh, my poor sad blackened lungs.

The Swedish phrase for the day is ingen aning. It means no idea.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, January 02, 2002

Yikes. A google seach on "Learn Swedish" turns up, gulp, this page as the No. 1 site.

Not that there are, uh, even a hundred people each day looking to Learn Swedish on the Web, but I suppose those that do find this site must surely be disappointed.

Still, the name is very self-explanatory.

- by Francis S.
I am a lazy sonuvabitch. I piddle around on the Internet (piddle is one of my mother's words, and should always be intoned with a mixture of disgust, disappointment and just a scoche of anger) while the husband is working hard, filling in with plaster the cracks in between the tiles in the kakelugn - tile stove - in our bedroom. (We have three of those nice old Swedish tile stoves in our apartment. They are all white, but the one in the dining room is quite plain and round with a somewhat intricate cornice at the top; the one in the bedroom is also round, but the details and the cornice at the top are picked out in a sort of faded wine color; the one in the living room is much bigger, rectangular and with lots more detail, picked out in green and pink, especially the elaborate cornice at the top.)

A profound difference between the husband and I is my ability to be a layabout, while he needs to be doing something constructive for at least a good part of the day, otherwise he feels bad.

Still, I suppose some people would say that Internet-piddling doesn't belong in the general category of layingabout behavior.

I'm not sure where I stand on this.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, January 01, 2002

It was a snowy and glittering welcome to the new year, with plenty of glasses of Louis Roederer champagne and a party full of beautiful Swedish people - former models, actresses, television personalities, famous fashion photographers, (well, here in Sweden at least) - plus the hoi polloi (me), all of us dressed to the nines. The physics behind A.'s red pumps was completely beyond me. I think that A. could stand, not to mention walk, on shoes with such teeny-tiny toothpick-thin 5-inch heels, simply because she doesn't know it is mathematically impossible. Me, I was dressed in a ruffled tuxedo shirt of some shiny dark blue synthetic material and my black suit with the long coat, the husband was dressed in a ''Manchester'' - courderoy - suit of dark green. Oh, such victims of fashion we are.

Unfortunately, we only got to savor the whole fabulous event until about 5 minutes past midnight because my poor dear husband was overcome by a migraine. We left in a rush and were forced to take the subway (not an empty cab to be found in all of Stockholm), me dragging him past hundreds of partygoers tottering in their best out in the snowy streets, a glass of champagne in one hand and firecrackers in the other, the whole city a noisy burst of sparks, block after block. The subway itself was filled with drunken 16 year olds, trying their best of prove to the world that they can be as adult as the adults, ignoring the adults around them trying to act like they think 16 year olds act. And of course, there we sat, me trying to comfort the husband, who didn't want me to leave the party simply because of him.

"But I won't have any fun without you," I said. "I'll just be worrying all night."

Still, it was fun while it lasted. And, the husband has recovered after a good 16 hours of sleep.

The Swedish phrase for the day is tack och lov. The closest translation would be thank god.

- by Francis S.