Friday, March 29, 2002

Four years ago today, going by the calendar, I was living in Barcelona in a flat not far from the great unfinished Church of the Sagrada Familia. I was so skinny then, on this particular night wearing a skintight club shirt of shiny 100-percent artificial cloth of one sort or another, dancing wildly, drunkenly in a club called Arena, a bit unsure of myself, looking for love or even just some sex, and being disappointed.

Five years ago today, going by the feast days of the church, I was chanting the part of the evangelist in the passion gospel of John at the noon good Friday service at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. On one side of me was the man chanting the part of Jesus, on the other side was the man chanting the part of Pilate. The congregation likewise stood.

In the order of service, an instruction was given that all should kneel when the story first mentions Golgotha. But, several lines before then, I had to chant about a place called Gabbatheh, and my diction obviously wasn't clear enough because everyone knelt then, although they realized their mistake when, a minute later, I chanted about a place called Golgotha.

I remember how difficult it was to chant for the five or more minutes it took to finish, but also how moving it was. I was nervous when I started, but the nervousness left me after the first couple of lines.

After I finished, they turned the cloth on the alter table over to red, and there was no more music in the service, and would be none until Easter morning.

It's odd what one remembers, the sacred and the profane.

The Swedish word for the day is Långfredag. It means Good Friday.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, March 28, 2002

It's amazing how many religious holidays there are in this seemingly secular country. Easter, for instance, is a four-and-a-half day affair. Sadly for me, I'm stuck coming into the office tomorrow because I can't get a hold of an interview subject to set up an interview, I still need to write a brief, and I have to make phonecalls to the U.S. And I should have had the day off especially since it's my birthday tomorrow. (I'm going to have to change my brief bio to read "41" instead of merely "40.")

Whinge, whinge, whinge.

At least the friends from London are coming into town, so we'll have dinner with them. And then Saturday morning we'll traipse off for two days in the Stockholm archipelago on Birds' Island at the country house of A. the former model and aspiring producer, and her boyfriend, C. the fashion photographer. I hope today's sunny weather holds.

The Swedish word for the day is stackan. It means poor thing. Yeah, that's me I'm talking about.

- by Francis S., in such a mood of self-pity that he can barely blog

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

I wonder why I never seem to retain the knowledge that a vacation involving family in some form or other is not a vacation for the husband. He is stuck hearing about ancient family history, dim family friends best forgotten, and sad little jokes as well as my parents' amiable and constant bickering with each other (which is strange to me as they never fought when I was a child, they were always such a united front).

I explained this to K., who was back again from the U.S. and staying in our apartment while we were gone before she left again on a jet plane this morning.

She told me that I shouldn't feel guilty about doing this to the husband.

"You moved to Sweden for him," she said. "I think it's a fair exchange that he puts up with your family every so often."

Which would be true if he didn't need a real vacation badly, complete with beach and sleeping until noon. Not to mention us needing a nice romantic vacation together. If only I didn't enjoy my family so much, I wouldn't be tempted by cottages on Lake Michigan and stone houses in Tuscany.

The Swedish word for the day is förlåt. It means sorry.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

We got back from Tuscany late last night, back from the land of former brutal city-states now reduced to an idyllic gold and green and romantic adult Disneyland of leaning towers, Uffizi galleries and Pitti palaces, tree-covered walled cities and charming many-towered villages. My mother was obsessed with the blooming of the wisteria growing outside the little stone house where we stayed in a little stone village tucked away in a valley that looked out toward Lucca on one side. My father drove like an Italian maniac, making my mother gasp. The husband and I fought over bringing home an obscenely large salami that I know we'll never eat.

We're home.

I only received two calls from work while I was there. Everything's a mess at the office. Our company was bought by another, my favorite employee is moving back to Finland and taking his girlfriend and highly competent co-worker with him, and the new magazine that we're starting in record time has gone to hell and I'm going to have to pull it back up to the land of the living.

I sometimes wonder if vacation is worth it.

The Swedish word for the day is tillbacka. It means back again, more or less.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, March 14, 2002

I so want to find a picture of the latest advertising campaign for - er, I don't know what it's for. All I know is that it asks the question "Jobbar du naken?" - do you work naked - and the ad, at every bus shelter in Stockholm, features a blond lad big as life with perfect milky skin and a perfect untoned but fit body with perfect rose-pink nipples and a perfect Mona Lisa half-smile playing on his lips, a chef's hat on his head, standing naked in a kitchen surrounded by other clothed cooks, a pot strategically placed in front of his wee jimmy, or as I like to think, his not-so-wee jimmy (what is it about a large penis that is so aesthetically pleasing?).

I wanted to find this picture so this post could be the seventh in-depth lesson on Swedish culture, which would say something along the lines of the fact that, although there are no naked Swedish chicks, or naked chefs for that matter, lounging around on street corners (contrary to popular belief), Swedes do have an interesting open attitude about sex being a natural thing, and nakedness not being dirty or necessarily connected to sex.

But alas, I guess this isn't to be.

Instead, I'm going to write about how awful my day was (why ever did I allow myself to become good at solving problems with staff, customers and impossible deadlines?) and how happy I am to be traipsing off with the husband to Tuscany in a mere 36 hours or so. Of course, the whole present-for-the-husband thing still needs to be solved. I have yet to figure out what to get him, and I had no time today to even think about it let alone do any shopping, on account of spending an inordinate amount of time solving endless irksome problems at work.

So, I'll be back the Monday after next. If you're looking for something to read, I recommend you go check out Tinka's defense of impenetrable yet meaningful language (no, that's not really an oxymoron although it pretends to be).

In the meantime, you can meditate on the Swedish word of the day, which is åtminstone. It means at least.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Damn. The husband's birthday is Friday - the Ides of March - and as usual I don't know what to get him. He almost always gets me lovely expensive presents - Prada backpacks or 40 red roses from Holland that have all the women in the office sneaking down to my desk to have a look and then bemoan that their husbands and boyfriends would never be so romantic.

The problem is that I don't trust my own taste anymore because he has so much more than I do. Taste, I mean.

The Swedish phrase for the day is ingen aning. It means no idea, haven't a clue.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

The Swedish government (link in Swedish only, sorry) has recommended to parliament that homosexual persons, such as myself, be allowed to adopt children. Parliament has until June 4 to respond to the government's proposal.

The biggest hitch is that the vast majority of adopted children are from outside Sweden and none of the countries Sweden has agreements with allow gay men or lesbians to adopt children (Liberal attitudes toward abortion are apparently one of the main reasons so few children are in need of adoption within Sweden.)

But what's great about it is that once Sweden decides this, homosexual persons who decide to adopt children, such as myself or Aaron, will get all the same fantastic rights and privileges that other parents get here in Sweden - mainly a year and a half off of work at 80-90 percent pay, and universal daycare.

And now, it looks like the United Kingdom is likely to approve gay adoptions as well.

The Swedish verb for the day is att orka. It's one of my favorites. It isn't directly translateable, but more less means to have the will to, and is more often used in the negative - jag orkar inte - which would mean I can't get up the energy to... or something like that. My friend D., the editor who moved back to America this past summer, used to say "I don't have the ork for it."

- by Francis S.

Monday, March 11, 2002

The bar of the Lydmar Hotel in Stureplan is one of Stockholm's trendiest spots. You can barely squeeze yourself in amongst all the smoke, the music and the beautiful people on a Friday or Saturday night. But on a lazy Sunday afternoon, it feels luxurious to slouch about on a black leather sofa at the Lydmar and drink a beer with A. the former model and aspiring producer, and her boyfriend, C. the fashion photographer.

A. was exhausted, but happy.

"Three different couples had sex last night, so it was a very successful weekend," she said. She was talking about the show, "Big Brother," for which she works.

The Swedish word for the day, by request of A.and C., is torped. It means, among other things, hit man.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, March 09, 2002

Over coffee yesterday with the priest and her boyfriend the policeman, the priest said that she had run into a girl who had bullied her when she was young. The priest had just moved back to Sweden from Africa, where she had spent her early childhood, and she was the strange new girl in school.

"Petra?" the priest asked when she ran into the bully.

Yes, it was Petra, who was now working as a waitress at Gondolen, a fancy cocktail bar and restaurant on Söder overlooking Stockholm harbor, not a mile from where the priest lives.

"And what are you doing, now?" Petra had asked.

The priest said that all the old feelings came rushing back and it felt strangely as if in that sentence, Petra the Bully was trying to assert herself all over again.

This isn't surprising, really, because one of the priest's great strengths is her vulnerability. She lays herself open when she leads, which gives her tremendous power because one can't help but believe in her deeply. But at the same time, I know that she finds it exhausting to be so vulnerable.

"I may be wrong," she said, "but I feel like I can always pick out people who were bullied when they were young."

I wondered how she could see this.

"They have a certain sensitivity about how other people feel," she said.

I asked her if she could tell whether I had been bullied or not.

"Well," she said, "With you I can't tell whether it's because you grew up in a very kind family, or because you were bullied. I think maybe it's a combination of both."

She laughed.

She was right.

The Swedish word for the day is of course mobbing. It means bullying.

- by Francis S.

Friday, March 08, 2002

Vi ses på Nangijala, Astrid...*

They held the funeral for Astrid Lindgren today in the Great Church. All day the streets of the old town have been swarming with children holding bouquets of flowers and little old ladies in black. Lindgren's funeral cortege - four stallions drawing an antique carriage holding her coffin, a young girl leading a riderless, unsaddled white horse - wound through Stockholm from Adolf Fredrik's Church and ended at the Great Church next to the Royal Palace, which just happens to be directly outside my office. She was buried in the church, witnessed by the king, the queen and the crown princess, as well as numerous dignitaries and friends.

The frustrating thing of it all, however, was that the journey from church to church took about half the time expected, so I missed it, horses and all. As I was walking up Bollhusgränd with a sandwich, an old woman came from the other direction and said to me "förbi" - past. The cortege had gone ïnto the church already, a full 20 minutes before they said it would.

I didn't get a chance to pay my respects. So here they are.

- by Francis S.

* We'll see each other in Nangijala... A phrase on everyone's lips in Sweden today. Nangijala is the name of the land after death in Astrid Lindgren's Bröderna Lejonhjärta or The Brothers Lionheart, which happens to be one of the two books I've read in the original Swedish.

Thursday, March 07, 2002

Someone told me that we are now gaining more than five minutes a day of daylight, some 40 minutes per week. It's a bit disorienting and my sleep patterns are all awry. But it's wonderful nonetheless, no matter how much I love the winter, to be tantalized by this frantic push toward summer.

The Swedish verb for the day is att lova. It means to promise.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, March 05, 2002

Walking through the nasty blue-tiled and filthy passageway under the road at Slussen - the sluice - I noticed graffito that read:

    Long live proletarian feminism
    Down with bourgeois feminism

I'm not sure what the difference is between the two. But it reminded me of my two favorite pieces of graffiti from my days in Washington, D.C.

The first one, which was on the Ellington bridge for years, read: Rich people will fall. Someone added an over at the end of it. Seeing it always made me laugh.

The second was on the side of the building that years ago was the site of the Cuban restaurant Omega, once a Washington institution. Last time I saw it, there was a tiny neighborhood grocery on one side and a Persian rug store on the other. Back in the days of the Omega, there was graffito on the side of the building that read: Paul Volcker sux. Paul Volcker was Alan Greenspan's predecessor I think. Only in Washington could one see such graffiti. And I love the way the writer spelled it s-u-x. The whole thing was all so post-modern. Bourgeois feminist as well, undoubtedly.

The Swedish words for the day are röd, grön, blå and gul. They mean red, green, blue and yellow.

- by Francis S.

Monday, March 04, 2002

Things change, no matter how much it seems the world keeps sliding backwards and to the right.

The husband and I watched a fascinating television documentary last night about Jin Xing, a former Chinese military officer who has become a woman and is now one of China's most celebrated modern dancers and choreographers - her stagings of "Carmina Burana" and "Shanghai Tango" were apparently wildly successful. (She's also played the part of a Lara Croft-like heroine in a Korean action flick, among other movies, and owns her own nightclub and performance space in Beijing. She's a veritable culture maven.)

I guess with the Chinese government supporting her, you can't really call Jin Xing a sexual outlaw anymore.

The Swedish word for the day is hoppfull. It means, of course, hopeful.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, March 03, 2002

Yesterday, I spotted rhubarb among the pathetic display of fruits and vegetables at the ICA grocery store on Folkungagatan. Pink as a pink begonia and with even a few leaves on the stalks, it was a sure sign of spring, despite the five or so centimeters of lingering snow outside.

So I bought it and made a sort of rhubarb cobbler to have for dessert with creme fraiche.

C. the fashion photographer came over with his two children, and M. the television producer came with his laughing sexual innuendo, and R. the popstar came with her goddaughter, who at nearly three is quite the actress and capable of easily commanding the undivided attention of four adults and two teenagers with merely the slightest display of her dimples.

"Was the rhubarb cobbler good?" I asked the husband afterwards.

"Oh, yes," he said. "But it wasn't enough food."

Maybe he was right, but his own mother is of a generation where one should always serve four times as much food as needed on the table at any given occasion. Because that's what hospitality means, an embarrassment of riches so no one ever feels worried about taking second or third helpings.

"And I didn't get so stressed fixing the food, did I," I said to the husband.

He looked at me skeptically. Then he laughed.

I guess I didn't do a very good job hiding it. I'm definitely not a team player when it comes to cooking. I want to be alone when I'm fixing food.

The Swedish word for the day is vår. It means spring, as in the season of the year.

- by Francis S.

Friday, March 01, 2002

Reading about sex education that preaches abstinence makes my blood pressure sky rocket. And makes me sad. It sounds like Victorian attitudes toward sex are back in favor in the United States, not that they've ever really disappeared. Worse, organizations such as SIECUS, seem to be worn down on fighting this battle against dangerous prudishness.

I am incredulous at the stupidity of adults trying to convince teenagers that sex is bad except when one is married. Is it the intention of U.S. government policy to create a generation of sexophobes? Do these policymakers and administrators honestly believe that teenagers will really buy this argument, or should buy it? There is so much love and pleasure to be derived from sex, why turn it into something scary and evil? I first had sex when I was 15, real sex as opposed to childish sex play, and it was wonderful and exciting and taught me many things about how to treat other people in all sorts of situations that have nothing to do with sex.

I still don't understand what the big deal is.

The Swedish word for the day is vanlig. It means normal.

- by Francis S.