Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Today is Valborg Afton - Walpurgis Eve - when all of Sweden is outside lighting bonfires in the street to welcome the Spring. Supposedly, the festival of St. Walpurgis or Walburga was also the time for a traditional witches' sabbath, so people lit bonfires to keep away the witches.

Unfortunately, I feel like the witches have already had their way with me - I'm sick with a cold and a fever while the husband, that lucky dog, is out having dinner with A. the former model and aspiring producer and her boyfriend, C., the fashion photographer. They've probably lit their own bonfire somewhere up in Vasastan, in the northern part of the city.

Fortunately, tomorrow is a holiday not just for St. Walburga - it's the first of May. Which is when most of the world celebrates labor day - International Workers' Day. But there are vague communist overtones to the first of May, and so of course the United States has to have its own separate labor day to avoid any appearance of looking even the least little bit pink. It sounds so old-fashioned now.

The Swedish word for the day is vänsterpartiet. This - the Left Party - is the current name for what used to be called the communist party in Sweden.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, April 27, 2002

I don't care how balmy the spring is here in Stockholm, I wish I were in New Orleans. I would pay good money to see the latest opus of Richard Read, written with his paramour, that pornstar up-and-comer Jonno D'Addario, and their buddy Flynn De Marco. Er, I would pay up to $15 at least. To be able to say you've seen a play called "Hell's Belles" is worth the price of the ticket alone.

I wish I could write campy movie parodies in the vein of Charles Ludlam and Charles Busch, I could at least entertain myself. Stockholm doesn't seem to be the place for such divine kitsch. It's really an American thing, the stuff that makes the U.S. great, the part of the States that needs protection from terrorists and the reason why George W. Bush is so bellicose with the axis of evil - you know without even asking that that damned axis of evil absolutely loathes Charles Ludlam.

The Swedish word for the day is teater. I think you don't need my help to figure out that it means theater.

- by Francis S.

Friday, April 26, 2002

It's marvelous to take a day off in the middle of the week. It makes the end of the day on Friday seem like an unexpected gift. I wish I never had to work on Wednesdays.

The Swedish word for the day is onsdagar. It means, of course, Wednesdays. (Which makes me wonder, why are days of the week proper nouns in English? Is it a holdover from German, where all nouns start with a capital letter?)

- by Francis S.

Thursday, April 25, 2002

Damnation. The Stockholm bourse (link in Swedish only, sorry) has fallen for the seventh day in a row, helped along by Ericsson's announcement on Monday of its latest mammoth savings and cutback plan.

This is what happens in the stock exchanges of small countries: When big companies go down, they take the bourse with them.

We bought our Ericsson stocks after they announced the previous set of big cutbacks, when I thought the value of the stock couldn't go lower. But oh, no, they are now worth half of what we paid for them.

The Swedish word for the day is ned or ner ("ned" goes with verbs of movement, "ner" with verbs where no movement is implied). It means down.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

The husband and I just made a mad dash to the SAS ticket office at Stureplan. We are the worst procrastinators about some things and we had yet to get our tickets for my beloved little brother's wedding, which is in less than a month.

The nice lady at the counter managed to squeeze us into flights to and from Chicago, but we have to leave on a Wednesday and come back on a Monday, so it'll be nearly two weeks in America.

I haven't been back since Sept. 11, and frankly I'm a little frightened. Not of terrorists, but of the rhetoric and empty but unnerving security measures. I wonder how much things have changed, or if they really haven't.

The Swedish phrase for the day is övriga frågor, which means miscellaneous questions.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

My friend R., who also happens to be my favorite employee, is moving back to Finland after more than four years living in Sweden. It was a blow to learn that he was leaving, not just because the company has a hiring freeze and we can't afford to lose good project managers. It's also a blow to morale, mostly mine because I count on him to inject energy, keep us all honest, and send me 10,000 e-mails a day.

We started talking about the whole expatriate version of the you-can't-go-home-again theory, which says that after about four years outside The Fatherland, the likelihood of your being happy living back home is rather slim. Of course, moving back and forth between Finland and Sweden is rather like moving back and forth between Canada and the United States - the countries share an awful lot of culture, so the difference is less pronounced than it might be between other countries.

"I think it would be hard to go back now," I said to him.

"Maybe. I guess I'll find out," he said.

Then again, it would be hard to stay here if I weren't with the husband. Still, the idea of moving back to the States is very strange. Unnatural even, and I can hardly say why. Except that life seems too easy there. And in fact, it doesn't matter because we are not planning on leaving Sweden in the foreseeable future.

The Swedish word for the day is enkel biljett. It means one-way ticket.

- by Francis S.

Monday, April 22, 2002

Oh, and don't forget to check out Raising Hell, the new "so-called" parenting magazine by Mig, Michele and a few other parent-type people. It's all anyone'll ever need to know to raise a kid, believe you me.

- by Francis S.

My beloved little brother has asked me to sing a song at his wedding... something to get people to stop chit-chatting in the hall and move into the room where the ceremony will take place. I've decided to do it in Swedish, singing a summer song called "Uti Vår Hage."

Uti vår hage där växa blåbär,
Kom, hjärtansfröjd!
Vill du mig något så träffas vi där.
Kom, liljor och aqvileja,
Kom, rosor och salivia.
Kom ljuva krusmynta,
Kom, hjärtansfröjd!

Which means something like:

Out in the meadow, where blueberries grow,
Come, heart's desire!
If you want to tell me something,
then meet me there.
Come, lilies and aqvileja (I have no idea what it is)
Come, roses and salvia,
Come sweet mint,
Come heart's desire!

(It's lovely and poetic and vaguely sad in Swedish; my translation leaves something to be desired unfortunately.)

- by Francis S.

Sunday, April 21, 2002

I'm a writer. I came to Europe to write a novel, which turned into a series of vaguely autobiographical interconnected short stories. Then, after saying I could never become an expatriate, I ended up staying on this continent but leaving the novel behind, not even trying to get the finished bits published.

I sometimes get the urge to write fiction again - it plagues me when I'm trying to fall asleep on a Sunday night - but mostly my job takes up whatever writing desire I have. Oh, and then there's this journal. Which I sometimes blame for my not writing fiction anymore.

But the truth is that my life is perfectly satisfying without the extra writing - it's too full to fit in the fictional, I suppose. Yet I'm sometimes a wee bit jealous of my friends who've written successful novels or books of poetry. I still tell myself that I'll go back to it, one day.

The Swedish word for the day is författare. It means writer.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, April 20, 2002

K. left this morning, flying back to Boston through Reykjavik as she always does. I helped her drag her heavy bag down the five flights of stairs and into a taxi.

"See you in two weeks," she said, and I kissed her on the cheek and she was gone.

Then I felt guilty for not spending the rest of the day outside in the balmy spring, even if we did at least eat a late lunch at a table outside a cafe with M., the t.v. producer. It's amazing how the guilt induced by my mother - "how can you kids waste the day inside watching t.v.? Get out, now!" - still lasts to this day.

But really, what's so great about the outside anyway, especially when you have a reasonably good book to read and a delightfully deep and comfortable sofa to lie on?

The Swedish word for the day is deckare. It means detective story.

- by Francis S.

Friday, April 19, 2002

Today, one of the women who coordinates the translations of magazines at our office asked me about a particular sentence she wanted to make sure was correct.

"In Swedish, they use the phrase 'business ethics and morals,'" she said. "And they translated it that way, but then the American editor changed it to just 'business ethics.'"

Yes, I said, the American editor was right. We Americans don't talk about business having morals. Businesses are generally amoral at best, and immoral in most cases. They have codes of conduct - ethics - imposed on them by the law. But morals, no. They basically do what they can get away with.

Swedish companies, on the other hand, are expected to not only obey codes of conduct, but to know the difference between right and wrong; they are expected to act in the best interests of everyone and not just in their own interests. Whether they do or not is another question, but society expects it of them.

I wonder how long Sweden can hold out against the tide of Americanization on this particular issue.

The Swedish word for the day is beteende. It means behavior.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

I've got that damned nicotene monkey on my back again. Drooling in my hair and breathing down my neck, it's an ugly sight.

It's the stress. And of course K. is a terrible influence. She goes cigarette crazy whenever she's here. She keeps sending me monosyllabic e-mails (her desk is on the floor above mine) such as "cig?" or my personal favorite, "fag?"

The Swedish word for the day is apa. It means monkey.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, April 16, 2002

My beloved little brother is getting married on May 19. The invitation came yesterday. He met the bride at my wedding here in Stockholm, in fact - she's my friend the Rebel, the chemistry PhD slash patent lawyer (why is it all my friends can only be described in long phrases that by rights should require hyphens?). I would never have imagined when I met her over dinner some six years ago at a restaurant in Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. - I had recently split up after 13 years with my ex, she'd recently split up with her husband, the asshole - that not only would we hit it off so well, but that in late May 2002 she would be related to me, at least by law. It makes me grin from ear to ear.

I'm going to go with the Swedish tradition of never-ending speeches and get all sentimental while still trying to embarrass both of them. I think.

The Swedish word for the day is hjärta. It means heart.

- by Francis S.

Monday, April 15, 2002

The days are getting longer, and walking home from work with the husband, we decided to take the Katarina Hissen - the old elevator by Slussen that takes one up to the heights of Södermalm and on into Mosebacke Torg. At 8:15, the sun had just made it below the horizon and turned the sky all rosy blue, the various towers of the city - the German Church, The Knight's Church, the city hall - all burnished and rightfully proud of themselves. (Oh, but I love the pathetic fallacy.)

"Sweet boy," the husband said. He calls me sweet boy because I call him that. I've never told him that it seems hardly fitting to call me sweet boy, with my gray hair and grizzled old face. Not that that would stop him.

The Swedish word for the day is skymningen. It means the dusk.

- by Francis S.

Friday, April 12, 2002

At long last, I'm coming up for air.

It's hard to keep up the weblog when one is working 16-hour days. And there are a few people who, if this world were fair and just, would be getting slapped right now, but good.

The Swedish phrase for the day is mer senare. It means more later.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, April 07, 2002

My review for Rasmus' Peer-to-Peer review project:

Name: Bingbowden's rants 'n' stuff - while this reviewer has a problem with the use of 'n' instead of the full word and without irony, the weblog mostly avoids similar stylistic errors.
First entry: Feb. 2, 2002.
Biographical information on the writer: 21-year-old male living in Bristol.
Promises: "some cracking links and heartfelt (and occasionally
controversial) opinions."
Lives up to promise: uh, well, maybe a little with the links.
Music links: this reviewer knows nothing about current music and is not in any position to judge these.
General links: mainstream press and a small mix of vaguely left-wing non-profits, plus a link to My eBay shop thrown in for a little capitalist greed.
Other weblog links: nicely avoids the a-listers. Mostly Brits, from the inane to the okay.
Links within the blog entries: a mix of oft-linked tests, articles from The Guardian, lots of Mark Thomas, and a decent smattering of random links to other websites, of which a reasonable number are interesting.
Spelling and grammar: careless. But then, this reviewer is probably overly sensitive when it comes to proper grammar and spelling.
Writing style: brief and conversational.
Politics: left.
Voyeuristic appeal: not much. Little, if any, sex, angst or anger.
Comment: The writer seems an amiable enough fellow. It's possible that the weblog would appeal to laid-back twenty-somethings who are interested in Radiohead and other similar music, have vague left-ish feelings about politics and the world, and don't seem to be interested in too much else. Unfortunately, the weblog was not this reviewer's cup of tea.

(I hope my tone isn't too elak. That would mean, uh, cruel or mean.)

- by Francis S.

Saturday, April 06, 2002

My friend K. is coming back again to Sweden. She'll be here tomorrow.

She just can't seem to stay away.

Well, actually, it's because I keep asking her to come back to manage projects at work because she's so good at it. She'll be here for a month this time, staying with us. Which will be much nicer a year from now because we will have more space: the co-op board of the building at long last has said that we will be able to buy at least 70 square meters of the attic above our apartment, and the bank has said they will give us the money to buy it.

This is brilliant, amazing, wonderful news.

We will expand our apartment so that it is on two levels - build a terrace, and a great big bathroom with a sauna (you have to have a sauna here in Sweden), and extra bedrooms, and turn the dining room into a library, and the big bedroom into the dining room and open it up to the living room.

We will have a huge apartment (by Swedish standards at least). We will be spoiled rotten. Our lives will be even more complete. Er, not exactly, but we'll have more space in which to make our lives more complete. Or something like that.

The Swedish word for the day is ovän. This is at the request again of A., the former model and aspiring producer. She was asking me last night if there is a comparable word in English, and there isn't. It means one who is not a friend. Not an enemy, just not a friend. This can be someone who was a friend before, or someone who on first acquaintance is immediately not a friend. When it comes to words that don't translate from Swedish into English, this is almost up there with my favorite, kissnödig.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Happy birthday, beloved little brother. Ja, må han leva uti hundrade år! (may he live to be a hundred!)

- by Francis S.
The priest is pregnant. And now she hates the cult of motherhood, a phenomenon she never realized existed before. At least, that's what she told me.

She doesn't like that she's not supposed to have any ambivalent feelings about the whole thing, that everyone expects her to be all gushy about it. She doesn't like that for most people, her usual priestly self has been replaced by another being: the vehicle for The Baby. She finds the hap-hap-happy attitudes at the pre-natal clinic insufferable, and she doesn't like that there doesn't seem to be any room there for her boyfriend, the policeman, - the cult is about motherhood, not fatherhood.

She's also feeling a bit of pressure from her boss. The Swedish church may be liberal, but not so liberal that it's keen on, er, unwed mothers.

"He keeps asking me, 'do you need a priest for the wedding?'" she told me.

The priest and the policeman had planned on getting married in October, but this puts a crimp in things.

"I hope I stop feeling sick soon," she said.

The Swedish word for the day, of course, is gravid, which means pregnant.

- by Francis S.

Monday, April 01, 2002

The year is recklessly using up its appropriate weather chits. First, New Year's and the tail of the Christmas season were crisp and snowy. Now, Easter weekend has been all balmy and sunny and on the verge of green. I'm worried that the rest of the year is doomed to foul weather.

This is what Sweden reduces one to becoming. A weather obsessive.

At least I don't have to feel guilty about not taking advantage of the blue skies and warm temperatures. The husband and I woke up early Saturday morning, despite having had a grand dinner the night before with the friends from London, and the television producer, and the parents of the friends from London. Well, the parents of the photographer, that is, not the parents of the Wallpaper* editor. It was all food smothered in the olive oil and parmesan cheese we brought back from Lucca, and salami and pecorino from Lucca too, as antipasti.

Aside the parents, and me (who stayed up only until 2 a.m. because I had to work the next day), everyone else was horribly hungover from staying up until 5 a.m. Thursday night talking and drinking vodka - the husband has no brothers, so the photographer and the television producer are his surrogates, whom he doesn't get to see so often. So when they do get together, it's a celebration.

Which all means that we were awfully tired at 7:15 on Saturday morning when we got up to catch the ferry out into the archipelago, groaning all the way, not even trying to look out the filthy windows of the boat, instead reading the paper and sleeping fitfully all the way there.

But when we arrived, it was worth it all.

The husband was suddenly wide awake, and spent the afternoon helping C., the fashion photographer, cut up a fallen tree, rake up the scattered branches and leaves and burn it in a heap, all in a most manly fashion. The husband has always lived in the city and thus finds raking leaves romantic, somehow. I grew up in suburban Chicago and find raking leaves a big fat pain in the ass.

Me, I took my usual walks in the civilized paths through the woods of the island, which seems to have finally let out its breath after holding it in all winter. It hasn't quite relaxed into flower and leaf yet, and the sea is still leaden. But the birds are giddy, a parliament of fowls all talking and laughing over and under each other with no sense of decorum.

This particular little island allows no cars, and there are some two hundred houses or so, but only one year-round inhabitant. The island is crisscrossed with well-laid paths of gravel with functional names like "västväggen" and "mittelväggen" - the west way and the middle way.

There are several great meadows in the middle of the island - now cut to the ground and covered by bleached and straw-colored clumps of dead hay and grass. The meadows are ringed by plots of land with carefully tended green lawns and as many as four small buildings - main houses and guesthouses and boathouses and pavilions and greenhouses and sheds - and gardens with nothing to show for themselves but freshly overturned dirt. I don't much care for these houses.

Further toward the edges of the island are the places I like, the plots of land that are all lichen- and moss-covered granite rock, the houses perched with views to the sea on one side or the other, all looking much less soft and domesticated, a bit tougher, and a lot more expensive no doubt.

After walking round one of the meadows, and then through the path that bisects it, I end up between two rocky outcroppings and then down into a low marshy area now muddy but during the summer is filled with raspberry canes and sea grass and a million buzzing bees. I take the path on up into a shallow wood and up onto lejonklipporna - the lion rocks - and sit, alone, with my feet dangling a few meters above the frigid waters of the Baltic, watching the sun trying and failing to burn the haze from the sea and the surrounding islands.

I find it all such pleasingly digestible nature, and so terribly romantic. Everything a city boy wants from a couple days in the country.

The Swedish phrase for the day is smultronställe. It literally means a place where wild strawberries grow, but is a metaphor for an idyllic spot on earth.

- by Francis S.