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.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Sunday, 11:21 a.m. - began reading En Komikers Uppväxt (A Comedian's Growth).

Monday, 1:37 a.m. - finished reading En Komikers Uppväxt.

A new milestone: reading Swedish novels as if they were a bag of cheese doodles after a day without lunch. Not unlike my English reading habits.

The one sentence review: It's a bit funny, a bit poetic, a bit sad, a bit sentimental, a bit melodramatic and I liked it.

And maybe I'll get to meet the author, Jonas Gardell, at the wedding of the priest and the policeman. The husband says he might be there on account of he's a friend of the priest.

The Swedish phrase for the day is ost bågar. It's kind of fun to translate this in my mind into cheese boogers, but in fact it means cheese doodles.

- by Francis S.

Monday, August 12, 2002

It's time to come out of the closet.

The fact is, I'm insecure. You see, the husband's ex has moved back to Sweden after some six years in Shanghai and Hong Kong. He's bringing his American boyfriend along with him. Both of them are so tan and handsome and fit. And when I met my husband, I was tan and thin and fit and, well, four years younger. Now I'm pasty-white, have less hair in places that should have more, and more hair in places that should have less, and I could stand to lose a good 10 pounds. Or at least tone up the extra 10 pounds that I have.

I'm not jealous or worried, honest. I just wish I had taken the time to shape up so that the husband's ex couldn't possibly think that I'm "a nice enough guy alright, but he's gotten kind of flabby - they may be happy together but at least I've kept my looks..."

Is it true that marriage means one inevitably loses ones' shape?

The Swedish word for the day is viktväktarna®. It means weight watchers®.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, August 11, 2002

We've all looked at our blog families.

Now it's time to look at our blog neighborhoods (hats off to John O'Keefe for the link.)

Now, if only I can figure out what it means exactly.

- by Francis S.
As we sat in our dining room with the neighbors, the remains of dinner on our plates, fireworks broke out in another part of the city.

The fireworks weren't supposed to start until 10:30, said L., the chef. According to my calculations, someone had started them a good seven minutes early, which is so like the Swedes.

We half-watched them as we smoked strange Turkish tobacco with a waterpipe, the fireworks crackling and popping and fizzing and booming in the reflection of the window of an apartment across the courtyard. It was a peculiar sideways view, looking through the frame of our window into the reflection of the fireworks, framed by another window.

What were they celebrating, I wondered.

No one knew. Not even L., though she had known there were supposed to be fireworks.

"We met each other four years ago today," L. said, referring to her and her boyfriend, P. the guitarist. "Or was it the 8th?"

Ah, I said, so the fireworks are for you two it seems.

Yes, indeed. So we smoked more Turkish tobacco and put old Madonna CDs on the stereo and turned up the volume and danced madly on the bare wood floors.

The Swedish word for the day is fyrverkeri. It means fireworks.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, August 10, 2002

At dinner last night out in the stinking rich suburbs of Stockholm with the guy from the Goethe Institute and his husband, the South African publicist, we somehow got cajoled into gossiping.

"Everyone loves gossip, you can't believe anyone who says they don't," the South African publicist said. And he's right, of course. He gleefully, guiltily said that not only does he love gossip, he is completely unable to keep it to himself, mentioning an incident with a politician, tailored shirts, and someone else's boyfriend.

My own husband is actually full of first-hand celebrity gossip; he's quite respectful of privacy and rarely mentions any of it to anyone, including me. And yet, among other things, when asked by the publicist he answered that so-and-so t.v. personality is not gay, which disappointed our hosts. But the disappointment was immediately quelled when it was revealed that at least so-and-so t.v. personality has a big dick.

"Wait, but if he's not gay, how do you know that?" asked the publicist.

The husband replied that the information came from trusted and reliable female, uh, sources.

"You know, " said the publicist, "if it's such a burden carrying these celebrity secrets around, you should just tell me. I'm from South Africa and I don't even know who any of these people are and who am I going to tell?"

Who says homosexualists are shallow and interested in only one thing?

We were, in fact, utterly charmed by the two of them.

The Swedish word for the day is skvaller. It means, naturally, gossip.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

I bet my family beats your family. If we're talking numbers, that is.

You see my parents both grew up on farms in Iowa, not 15 miles from one another, born at a time - 1934 - when it still made sense for farmers to grow their own farmhands. And so my mother has three sisters and six brothers. And my father has three sisters and six brothers. Which makes 18 aunts and uncles who are blood relations.

Then, each of these aunts and uncles got married at some point, which means that I have 36 aunts and uncles. Well, had 36 aunts and uncles; the number is dwindling, sadly, inevitably. And then each of my aunts' and uncles' families consists of an average of 4.27 children. Which means I have 77 first cousins. There are cousins who are opera singers, cousins who are preachers, cousins who are mayors and cousins who are garbage men. There are cousins who home-school their children (and shouldn't!) and cousins who are ex-cons. There is even at least one cousin who is a fellow avowed homosexualist (he's had kind of a tough time of it, though, poor guy.)

As for the next generation, I couldn't begin to count. We're talking more students than attended my junior high school. We're talking the population of a small town. Hundreds and hundreds. And we're not even Catholic.

I'd make a crack about whether this fecundity has any relation to improper use of prophylactics and low intelligence quotients, but I've recently learned that my parents read these pages and I don't want to offend anyone.

The Swedish word for the day is kaniner. It means rabbits.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Grownup girly-boy that I am, there are still places stinking of testosterone that send fear neurons bouncing from synapse to synapse throughout my body. Places like barbershops with red and white twirling barberpoles. Or the locksmith and model railway shop that used to be on 14th just above P Street in Washington.

The problem with these places is that I suddenly revert back to being nine years old, and I can't help thinking that I am a pathetic excuse for a male and that I will be the last one picked for the team (or if we're going to judge by history, second-to-last). I worry that I will be found out, somehow. So, I loathe these places. My soul cannot be convinced that no one is going to refuse to give me a haircut, or a new set of keys, because I don't pass the male test. Whatever that may be.

Are there equivalent estrogen- and progesterone-laden locations that have the same effect on you female-types?

The Swedish word for the day is manlig. It means masculine.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Miguel is the bee's knees.

I asked him to say "hi" to America from me when he was doing the whole family visit thing in the States, and he got America to say "hi" back.

The Swedish phrase for the day is du är en klippa, Mig. It means you are a rock, Mig, in the best way.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, August 04, 2002

Happy birthday, dear diary, you demanding old thing.

Considering the day, I suppose it's only appropriate to acknowledge its geneology and give credit to the parent who inspired it, that pithy and fascinating potential pornstar who is Jonno, sadly now on hiatus.

The Swedish phrase for the day is ett år gammal. It means one year old.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, August 03, 2002

This is a good year for mushrooms. Not that I know from personal experience. I've never actually hunted for mushrooms. It sounds so Hansel- and Gretel-ish. So Baba Yaga-ish. So very Brothers Grimm. And while I would dearly love to hunt mushrooms in a dim forest somewhere, I haven't, but at least I'm reaping the benefits of someone who has.

The husband is standing over the sink with a brush and big bowl of golden chanterelles that a friend gave him, gently ridding them of the remnants of the dirt they grew in.

Wait, no, now he's cooking them in butter.

The smell would be intoxicating, if we weren't still recovering from being intoxicated last night. The husband's marvelous agent invited us to dine at Pontus by the Sea. One definitely doesn't eat at Pontus by the Sea, one dines. And has bottle after bottle of very expensive champagne, apparently. And talks about how it wasn't long ago - ten years - that one could still find apartments in Stockholm where one's toilet was in a separate building out back. And smokes cigarettes even though one hasn't had a cigarette in weeks and weeks. And then when the last lamb chop is stripped clean and the final drop of espresso drunk and the last remnant of cherry tart scraped from the plate, one takes more bottles of champagne and glasses and drunkenly plays boule, the grand old buildings of the old town on one side, and on the other the waters of Stockholm harbor, black under a sickle moon. I don't remember who won.

It turns out that chanterelles cooked with onions in butter are quite good for a hangover.

The Swedish word for the day is, of course, kantareller, which means chanterelles.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, August 01, 2002

I had lunch earlier this week with the guy from the Goethe Institute, one of my fellow students from the Swedish class I took earlier in the summer. He told me that he doesn't understand the Swedes.

"I've lived in South Africa, in Romania, in the States," he said. "I could basically figure them all out. But the Swedes - "

They are an enigma to him. He said he can't figure out what makes them tick.

"Some guy, a Swede, said to me once that Sweden is what America would be like if it were socialist," the guy from the Goethe Institute said. "Now that made sense to me somehow."

I didn't tell him that while George W. Bush would never admit it, the U.S. is in fact rather socialist around the edges. Still, the idea of Sweden as a socialist version of America makes sense to me, too.

The Swedish word for the day is skär. It means pink.

- by Francis S.