Friday, May 30, 2003

We walked through Vitabergsparken yesterday with the priest, the policeman and their daughter Signe, putting our ears up to a birch to better hear a woodpecker yammering away inside the hollow tree. We uprooted tiny maple saplings for the priest to take home and try to turn into bonzais.

"Have you ever flown Cambodian Airlines?" the priest asked us. Amazingly, none of us had.

"The seats aren't bolted to the floor," she said. "That's so they can move them for the sheep. There were a lot of sheep on the flight I took."

We're leaving in a couple of hours, off to Birds Island until Sunday. We are not taking Cambodian Airlines to get there.

The Swedish word for the day is träsmak. It literally means taste of wood, and is used to describe how one's butt feels after sitting on a hard surface, as in I can't sit on this hard Cambodian Airline seat anymore, my butt's getting a really good taste of wood.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

It's post-Easter Christian holiday time again in this quite secular country. Tomorrow is Ascension, and most of the country is taking an extra day off on Friday and making it a four-day weekend.

We're going out on friday to Birds Island in the archipelago to help A., the assistant director, and C., the fashion photographer, paint their summer house. Apparently, we're going to have to dab every single knothole in the pine panelling with some stain-blocking paint before we get down to business. Lucky us.

The Swedish word for the day is vit. It means white.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

I've gone Swedish when it comes to mobile phones, or cells as they say over in the, er, Brave New World.

My beloved ancient T28 world phone died a couple of months ago, and I was given a nasty dirty white T29 from our office IT guy as a replacement. The nasty dirty white T29 literally had a screw loose, which couldn't be screwed back in and snagged on everything. After one snag too many, I finally nagged the office IT guy enough that he told me to go get a new one. Which is a Sony Ericsson T68. I have the biggest crush on my T68, even if the husband thinks it's old-fashioned looking. He is not the least bit jealous.

When we ran into our friend I., the former back-up singer for David Byrne, I started crowing about my newfound love.

"I have the same one," she said to me. "I got it from Vodafone. It takes too long after you hang up. But you can have pictures on it that you can take with a camera attachment. When my boyfriend rings, I have it set up so that a photo of his dick shows up on the screen. Do you want to borrow the camera attachment?"

As I've said before, Swedes like taking pictures with their phones.

I'm wondering exactly what kind of picture I should have appear when the husband rings me up, and exactly how difficult it could be to explain during a meeting with a client if I forgot to turn my phone off and he rang me up.

The Swedish word for the day is snopp. It means, um, willie.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, May 24, 2003

The cycle is relentless, unstoppable: death and birth. Today is the baptism of Signe, and the husband and I will stand in front of the altar at Kungsholmskyrkan and take turns with her parents, holding her while a priest recites words that have been passed down for at least a few generations. And then, after she's been sprinkled with water, I will read my own blessing over Signe, stolen from Walt Whitman's 1955 preface to Leaves of Grass:

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men - go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families - re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.

When I wrote to the priest, Signe's mother, that I wanted to read this as my blessing, she wrote back: "Please read it on Saturday and later help us to teach her to do all the things in the poem. It´s full of very good advice..."

I suppose it won't be easy, teaching all these things.

The Swedish word for the day is dop. It means baptism.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

When I am laid in earth,
May my wrongs create
No trouble in thy breast.
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.

Dido's lament, from Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas, libretto by Nahum Tate

This morning, Thursday, May 22, my friend Alma Eklund killed herself. She was funny, childish, warm, odd, cat-like, startlingly beautiful, an actress just at the beginning of her career and so sure of herself on stage in front of the audiences at the Stadsteatern.

She could be so tenacious. But she wasn't tenacious enough in the end. None of us are, when it comes down to it.

The Swedish verb for the day is att sörja. It means to mourn.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

When I was 18, my mother gave me an address book for my birthday. I've hauled it from apartments in Champaign, Illinois to Atlanta, from Chicago to New York and to some nine separate apartments and houses in Washington, D.C., finally dragging it to Barcelona and now Stockholm, not to mention countless holidays here and there. It's ragged, and some of the pages are so full I have to put new addresses under people's first names. But I'm unwilling to get a new one because I can't bear to throw away the addresses of the dead.

The man who I helped take care of who died of AIDS in the late eighties. My crazy roommate in Barcelona. My best friend's first lover. The director of the Washington Mozart Choir. My first love. All my grandparents. My uncle Ed, my uncle Gerald, my uncle Wilbur. A guy I hardly knew from film school.

Suicides, accidents, illness, old age.

It's a memorial, and a memento mori, my address book.

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

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

We never made it to Ithaca.

Instead, we spent our days racing about in our little car looking for stony beaches around the island, which was nothing like those bone-dry, whitewashed and blue-doored village dotted islands of the Aegean, islands that one can imagine haven't changed much since the time of Alexander and the age of heroes and capricious gods and goddesses. Instead, Lefkas is green and mountainous and mediterranean and has spectacular and terrifying views in place of charm.

But, we did spend the early afternoon at one empty beach hemmed in by huge krasts in the water where A., the assistant director and the husband waded into the calm sea but were nearly smashed into the rocks when swells suddenly appeared from nowhere, forcing us to grab our clothes and run back up the bluff. We figured that whatever minor god ruled that beach wanted to be left alone. Maybe the age of capricious gods and goddesses hasn't yet ended, at least not on the island of Lefkas.

"It was really scary," the husband said. He and A. had been in the water for only about a minute.

We brought back huge five-liter tins of Greek olive oil, and suntans that had no trouble surviving the plane ride home.

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

- by Francis S.

Sunday, May 04, 2003

Tomorrow morning, we leave for the Ionian islands, off the west coast of Greece. Maybe we'll even make it to Ulysses' home:


When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
Do not fear the Lestrygonians
and the Cyclopes and the angry Poseidon.
You will never meet such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your body and your spirit.
You will never meet the Lestrygonians,
the Cyclopes and the fierce Poseidon,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not raise them up before you.

Then pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many,
that you will enter ports seen for the first time
with such pleasure, with such joy!
Stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and corals, amber and ebony,
and pleasurable perfumes of all kinds,
buy as many pleasurable perfumes as you can;
visit hosts of Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from those who have knowledge.

Always keep Ithaca fixed in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for long years;
and even to anchor at the isle when you are old,
rich with all that you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would never have taken the road.
But she has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not defrauded you.
With the great wisdom you have gained, with so much experience,
you must surely have understood by then what Ithacas mean.

C.P. Cavafy, 1911 (translated by Rae Dalven)

Ah, Cavafy; one of the great gay poets.

The Swedish phrase for the day is när och fjärran, which would be translated as far and near although the words are transposed in translation. It happens to be the name of a travel program on Swedish television.

- by Francis S.