Monday, June 30, 2003

First the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Bowers v. Hardwick. Now Nancy and Philo have started a one- stop- all- the- homo- news- you- could- ask- for- web- source called Queerday and it looks pretty damn fab.

Things are looking up for us poor downtrodden homosexualists.

- by Francis S.
Saffron is a favored spice in Swedish cuisine, the empress of the kitchen if for no other reason than the fact that it is ridiculously expensive. In summer it is occasionally used to flavor ice cream, which some people find disgusting, but I find a great luxury. So, today I inaugurated a four-week stint of vacation by eating saffron ice cream in a café on Nytorget with the husband, and the priest and the policeman and their baby Signe.

All hail the glory of Swedish law, which mandates a minimum of five weeks of vacation for all. Me, I actually get seven.

The Swedish phrase for the day is lugn och ro. It means peace and quiet.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Breaking news: at last, the U.S. Supreme Court knocks down sodomy laws.

It's about, er, fucking time. One small step for homosexualists, one great leap for justice.

- by Francis S.
Hannes is in town, flirting indiscriminately with men and women alike, showing off his movie-star white teeth, wearing a cool blue-jean hat and jacket, and generally being irresistible.

Oh, and he brought along his parents, J., and her boyfriend, my favorite Finn.

"It will be strange to hear Hannes' first words in Finnish," J. said. She mentioned an Estonian acquaintance of ours who lives here in Stockholm and speaks Estonian with her own 2-year-old daughter, but the daughter replies in Swedish.

I suppose it could be a little worrisome, in some small private way, when one's own child speaks another language. Will he understand the subtleties of what I say, will she be hampered somehow or torn between two languages, will he resent me or be embarrassed because I speak Finnish or Swedish or English with a strange accent and can never know it as well as he can?

The Swedish phrase for the day is rädda barnen. It means save the children.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

The best thing about living two floors above a great chef is the leftovers.

"I'm down at L.'s," the husband said on the phone. "She has something good for you, a little surprise." The surprise turned out to be hot glögg stirred with a stick of cinnamon, and tiny gingerbread men topped with blue cheese and fig jam and slices of fresh fig.

L., the chef, had been filming a pilot for a television series for channel four - a cooking show, of course. They'd filmed her in her apartment preparing for a party with her own version of glögg and gingerbread. Everyone's trying to copy the success of that guy who claims to cook naked but in fact never seems to take his clothes off, dammit. Sweden does have its own increasingly popular home-grown female version of Jamie Oliver, but I think L. could do better. She's a curious mix of funny, serious and enthusiastic, and she's already done well on cooking segments of some of the morning magazine programs.

The Swedish word for the day is pepparkakor. It means gingerbread.

- by Francis S.
Every day I pass various sets of kiosks with advertisements for a local mobile telephone company that sells pre-paid cards, advertisements featuring teenagers drinking piña coladas and speaking into a phone "yes, Dad, I'm having fruit every day" or a girl slipping under the covers with a boy, saying "yes, Mom, I'm going to bed early." But the one that intrigues me most, naturally, is the one with the naked teenagers (you can see one of the guy's pubic hair!) playing miniature golf, the boy on his phone saying "yes, Mom, I'm wearing a hat."

Why wasn't there nude miniature golf when I was a teenager? Not that I probably would've been able to play, on account of my teenage tendency toward, um, priapism. Hell, I guess I would've just settled for advertisements of naked teenagers when I was 16.

Hurrah for nudity. Go, Sweden! (If you're up for a little Swedish conversation, check out what the remarkably observant and always enlightening Erik Stattin has to say about a slightly more controversial advertisement that can be seen here around town.)

The Swedish word for the day is trottoar. It comes from the French and means sidewalk.

- by Francis S.

Monday, June 23, 2003

The husband and I are doomed to yet another summer of rising early. It's because workers arrive every morning at 7 a.m. to blast and pound rocks in the courtyard of our building. It is astounding how much noise is required to lay a circular pattern of rough granite paving stones, checking and rechecking everything with sticks and metal rods and measuring tape in some undecipherable ritual devised to ensure that all the stones will fit properly in their places in the end. At least that's what I hope it's all about.

The Swedish word for the day is morgonpigg. It is an adjective that describes those annoying people who are, for some reason, all perky and chipper in the morning.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

It was, and it wasn't a proper midsummer.

We took the ferry, a charming old wooden one that creaks and lets in a little water around the edges, and we sat in the corner at a table, happy to have gotten a seat since the ferry was as full as the crew will let it get.

We arrived at Birds Island, and we ate herring out on the porch under the overhanging roof, which protected us, mostly, from the drizzle. We drank vodka and Dutch gin, and we sang a few meager drinking songs appropriate for the occasion, all proper midsummer.

But we were too comfortable up at the house and having fun talking, and it was too cold and wet out in the meadow to bother to jump like little frogs around the midsummer pole out under the grey sky, or to gather seven different kinds of flowers to make midsummer wreaths to wear on our heads. And then we had dinner too late to go out and dance two-by-two on the jetty, although sometime after 1 a.m. I did bring the architect from San Francisco out to my favorite spot at the rocks at the end of the island to sit and watch the sea while the sun prepared to rise.

Late in the evening, O., the 16-year-old daughter of the fashion photographer, was trying out different ways of signing her name, as 16-year-olds sometimes do, and soon we were passing around our own signatures.

"What is that?" A., the assistant director said. They all wondered at the letters I wrote as they watched me sign my name.

"We don't use capital letters like that," said the actor, who had once played Jesus Christ on the stage. Apparently, sometime in the seventies, Swedish schools stopped teaching children how to write upper-case letters in cursive script, and now they are taught only the lower-case letters.

They made me write the entire upper-case cursive script alphabet.

"What about å, ä and ö?" the actor asked. I told him, silly, we don't have those letters in English, but he made me write them anyway.

The Swedish word for the day is handskriven. It means handwritten.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Midsummer is nearly here, the holiday that along with Christmas brackets the Swedish year, each feast day sitting solidly in its season and marking off its territory with nearly the same food: cold fish and boiled potatoes and hard alcohol. Of course, to a Swede the food is vastly different, but it all looks frighteningly similar to me, even if I have gotten to almost like herring. Almost.

"It's all downhill from here," I said to C., the fashion photographer. "After Saturday, winter is on its way."

C. laughed a weak little obligatory laugh.

We take the 11 a.m. ferry tomorrow out to Birds Island.

It's supposed to rain all day, and Saturday as well. The sun should come out on Sunday, however, about when it's time for us to leave.

The Swedish word for the day is sommarlov. It means summer vacation.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The heart of the city is the most desirable place to live in Stockholm. Which is unlike most cities in the States. Bereft of a middle-class, the typical American city is filled mostly with the poor, plus a smattering of bohemian-types with no children, a few odd rich people and a bunch of gay men. America just doesn't seem to care much about its cities, with huge chunks of urban America left to rot. So, it's nice to live in a place where people think the city is just great. I rarely cross the city lines.

But every so often, I have no choice. Such as this evening, when I had a work function which entailed venturing into the far reaches of Stockholm, a good 15 kilometers from town.

What was so disturbing was not the distance, but that the house I ended up at seemed to fit some bizarre Swedish version of the American dream of a house in the suburbs, complete with two-car garage, a lawn as carefully manicured as the fingernails of Miss America, and a flagpole with one of those long thin triangular Swedish flags.

Have I completely misread the Swedes and what they think is important?

Worse, is this what people really want, the world over, a house with a two-car garage in the suburbs?

I fear that I'm a terrible snob. I sound like a college sophomore.

The Swedish word for the day is kinkig. It means difficult to please.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

One way of trying to understand the nature of a city is to reduce it to a gender: Paris is a woman, New York a man, for instance.

Stockholm is hard to place, all water and ochre buildings and opened like a heliotrope in the summer sun, but falls on the feminine side of the spectrum by my reckoning.

Now, off to catch the ferry out to the archipelago.

The Swedish word of the day is stadsbo. It means citydweller.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Yesterday evening, I went with the architect from San Francisco to see the Naked Chef give a cooking demonstration. The architect had originally gotten the tickets because his husband, the Dutchman, wanted to go. But the Dutchman was in Berlin, and my own husband was working, so it ended up just the architect and I.

The chef was, of course, neither naked nor really demonstrating. He was putting on a show, which seemed to be geared toward the vast majority of the audience: 15-year-old girls. He did cook a little bit, but he also sang, and played the drums, and flirted with the audience (strangely, he did this somehow shamelessly and shamefully at the same time), and didn't seem altogether comfortable on stage.

"What did you think?" the architect asked me as we fled the auditorium.

In typical Swedish fashion, I was circumspect in my judgement. It wasn't what I like, I told him, but it was, in its way, entertaining. And it gave both of us a terrible craving for curry. So we went to Koh Phangan where the decor is authentic Thai - all crazy bamboo and palm thatching and colored lights and the noise of crickets on a tape loop - and the chicken in paneng curry is about as satisfying as it gets.

The Swedish word for the day is kokosmjölk. It means coconut milk.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

When we arrived at the jetty at Skeppsdal to go to Birds Island on Saturday, C. the fashion photographer was sitting in the little motorboat trying to get the engine to do more than just rev and die. He’d just barely made it over from the island to pick us up, but now it was hopeless and we weren’t going to get anywhere fast. So, we filled the boat with bags and packages, and he set off with the husband, the two of them taking turns rowing awkwardly in a boat not meant to be rowed, with the wrong oars and no proper place to sit.

Nearly an hour later, A. the assistant director and I at last stepped into the taxi boat to make our way to the island. We’d gone maybe a sixth of the way when we could finally see C. and the husband struggling against the shore of some other island, still far from being even halfway home.

When we arrived at the island, A. left with the neighbor in another boat to find them and tow them home.

“We saw the Finland ferry coming up and we were so scared, we just rowed and rowed toward whatever shore we could find,” the husband said afterwards. The ferry, which looks like a skyscraper floating on its side in the water, is no doubt a lethal weapon in this type of situation.

They were exhausted, but escaped with only minor blisters, bruises and scrapes.

The Swedish word for the day is hjältar. It means heroes.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Three years ago today, a group of people from Chicago, New York, Washington, Paris, Barcelona, London, Athens and various cities in Sweden gathered to watch a couple of guys get married with the blessing of a priest in the library of the Van der Nootska palace. Then they all ate and drank and made toasts and sang and danced, until the party moved on to Riche.

It's hard to believe it's already our wedding anniversary again. Boy, does tempus ever fugit.

The Swedish word for the day is tredje. It means third.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Great. Google is changing me over to the new and improved Blogger. Which means all my previous posts are gone, as well as the archives, and it published today's post twice, plus there's a great big white space at the top.

Hooray for new and improved.
Do you think that in the future we'll write our own novels, make our own movies, design our own games, and record our own songs, all for our own entertainment?

It would be a bit like going back into the past, before radio, when average human beings were inclined to create their own fun - charades and theatricals and singing at the piano - purely because there was little choice in the matter.

I ask only because my brother gave me a CD with a song that he wrote and recorded and mixed himself. A song complete with guitar and bass and drums and synthesizer and background vocals. A song about his middle child:

They're all sitting in the teacher's colored office,
Mommy sniffles at Daddy's tirade.
They're all looking over your latest test scores,
And they're wondering why you don't get better grades.

Torture me more, just keep on talking.
If I shut up we'll go home soon.
I do enough to get through this little school,
I've got stuff I'd rather do.

He's got a lotta potential.
There's nothing that he can't do.
If he would just work real hard,
he could be great one day.

I'm happy the way I am.
Just let me play my game.
Just two more minutes and I'll have a high score.
Why don't you leave me alone?

Your food's getting cold sitting on the table.
Your math homework oughta be all done by now.
Mommy calls you down to dinner once again,
She has to pull the power cord to wake you out of your trance.

I could just kill her,
She didn't let me save my game.
Three hours of my time just flushed down the drain.
I'm not even hungry,
I hate her nasty porkchops.
I've got stuff I'd rather do.

He's always known that the world will need his help.
Someday he'll be great, a hero among men.
The dream of glory burns warm in his mind,
But for now he's just trying to get through level nine...

There's more to the song, but you get the gist.

I suppose you'd have to hear the music and know my brother and my nephew in order to appreciate it all: my brother's pride and understanding and love for his 10-year-old son. But even that probably wouldn't be enough, you'd have to be me. Which is what makes the song so much more satisfying than the mass-produced kind.

I think it would be wonderful if, in the future, we wrote our own songs for our own entertainment.

The Swedish word for the day is självständig. It means self-sufficient.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

I've never been one to take photographs. I tell people that I don't like to take photographs because I'd rather remember things in my head, but I do in fact enjoy looking at photographs. Maybe I'm must kidding myself. Mostly, I think I don't take photographs because I never remember to bring a camera.

But then C., the fashion photographer, sent over photos that he took in Greece. And there, in the middle of some 36 artfully shot black and white photos, was a picture of a slightly chubby middle-aged guy with grey hair, lying in lounge chair on a beach, reading. A picture of me.

O, the indignity of aging. I can't help thinking that not having a camera is a good thing. But, will the 65-year-old me, if he manages to exist, look at the picture and wonder why it seemed so bad at the time?

The Swedish phrase for the day is fruktansvärd hemskt. It means, more or less, horribly awful.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

When I lay my head on the pillow at night, I think of my friend Alma. I'm disappointed in her, that she never became a renowned actress that I could brag that I knew her before she was famous. It's small of me, I know, and selfish.

Alma was probably disappointed in some measure as well, and no doubt had the same aspirations for herself; but more likely most of the time she was just trying to make it through the day and through the night.

I'm disappointed in myself. I didn't do enough for her. I never told her how much I admired and respected her.

The Swedish word for the världsberömd. It means world famous.

- by Francis S.

Monday, June 02, 2003

The days are now deliciously long, and the night never gets completely dark. Stockholm is at its balmy best, all blue sky and golden buildings and sparkling water. It's taken me four years to feel for myself the metamorphosis one undergoes when summer hits Sweden. Talk about being born again.

Sunrise: 3:46 a.m.; sunset: 9:47 p.m.

The Swedish word for the day is beslut. It means decision.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Did you know you can eat the bundles of spring-green needles that pine trees sport on the ends of their branches this time of year?

"Try them, they're kind of sour," said A., the assistant director, as we walked along the paths of Birds Island.

The needles did taste sour, and not surprisingly, a bit like rosemary. But I can't seem to find any recipes using pine needles, not that the taste was particularly inspiring. I'm surprised that if humans can figure out that olives are edible (have you ever tried to eat a raw olive?), there aren't any recipes that use pine needles, other than for tea. Somehow, I imagined that there must be a restaurant in California somewhere that serves a salad of new pine needles, but I suppose that's too ridiculous even for Californians.

However, I did find some information about flour made from the bark of pinetrees, made by Lapps no less. Eating bread made from pinebark flour doesn't conjure quite the same picture as eating pine needles, however.

The Swedish word for the day is juni. It means June, which was busting out all over Birds Island, all waxy sweet scent of apple- and cherry- and pearblossom, mixed with lily-of-the-valley, lilac and various unidentified bushes with tiny white flowers.

- by Francis S.