Sunday, August 31, 2003

They arrived with wedding dresses in their arms, and shopping bags full of white shoes with precipitous heels, and real jewels worth tens of thousands.

Just an ordinary dinner, chez Francis Strand.

I suggested that we each wear one of the dresses while we ate, but no one seemed to care for the idea, especially not the haute couturier, who had designed the dresses in question. And the husband and C., the fashion photographer, who had spent the day taking pictures of models wearing the dresses, seemed singularly disinterested in them.

It was 9 p.m. when we finally sat down to eat - A., the assistant director had been slaving away in the kitchen on a new recipe she'd found for salmon crusted in carrots and sesame seeds.

"You know what?" said O., the 16-year-old daughter of C., smiling invitingly at the haute couturier, "you should design the clothes for a costume drama."

And of course, you would star in it, said O.'s father.

"Well, yes," said O. "I am an actress and I have to think of these things."

We all laughed, and I thought about how at 42, I still have the same kinds of hopes and dreams for myself. Rather along the lines of writing a wildly successful novel. Or something like that. But looking around the table, it was hard to ignore the fact that the rest of the adults had already achieved success on a public scale.

I wonder how old I'll be before I give up?

Before they all left, somebody pulled out the tiara with real diamonds. It glittered wickedly. No one dared put it on his or her head.

The Swedish word for the day is äkta. It means authentic.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

It was me and the beautiful people, all of us drinking too-sweet pink or blue drinks and Veuve Clicquot, eating tiny sandwiches and puff pastry with gorgonzola and lamb sausages with figs and bread with tapenade, all of us looking at one another, everyone very much on display and the room as noisy as a birdcage in a zoo. It was a party of sorts in honor of my husband's great friend, the haute couturier, complete with models forcing their way through the crowd before making turns up on a dais, a Finnish violinist, and a pop band (we left before they hit the stage, however).

Everyone there was a fashionista of one sort or another, even A., the assistant director: Her modelling days in Paris may be over, but she still sets the style, standing like a madonna in Manolo Blahniks and a bluejean skirt and trying to convince me to give her the bracelet they gave me when I came in the door, which could be redeemed for a surprise present that was bound to be makeup or some other girly thing.

The husband had dressed me beforehand in careful non-style (I had almost made the grave error of wearing the type of crinkly linen shirt that all the non-fashionistas of Stockholm are wearing these days) and as we stood in line waiting to have them check to see that our names were on the list before letting us in to the party, I was ever so thankful I have someone to arbite my taste for me. And to think, before I moved to Stockholm I used to think I had a sense of style.

"You see why we never go to these things?" the husband said to me, looking so very handsome standing next to me in his suit.

Yes, indeed, I told him, I did see. And was it tacky of me to be eating little sandwiches at the same time I happened to have a little packet of snuff stuffed in a corner of my mouth?

"No," he said. "You're just being Swedish."

The Swedish word for the day is kille. It means guy, as in just an ordinary guy.

- by Francis S.

Friday, August 29, 2003

New York is one of the great cities for grand experiences on the cheap. Not to say that you can't have a great time and spend wads of cash, but the fact is you can have as much fun for nearly nothing. A few favorites of mine when I was at university in Manhattan in the mid-eighties were dim sum in Chinatown or kasha and varnishkes at any of a number of Ukrainian restaurants in the East Village. A ride on the Staten Island ferry or a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

But it sounds like these days the Brooklyn Bridge may not be such a good idea.

O, the perils of a deteriorating infrastructure.

Poor New York.

The Swedish word for the day is expedit. It means cashier.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

What with two weeks of non-stop weddings, birthday parties (for children ranging in age from one to 50), farewell brunches, miscellaneous dinner parties to give or attend (including two in honor of my becoming a Swede), various evening work functions (not to mention nighttime last-minute pageproofing) and a late-evening coffee with the priest, the policeman, their baby Signe and a bunch of presents for me (a tiny Swedish flag, a good two kilos worth of brochures about the Swedish government, a ridiculous furry blue-and-yellow Vikingesque cap, and a pen, all of which I forgot and left in a bag at their apartment), life seems to have taken over and made it nearly impossible for me to write about it.

I think I've caught my breath.

The Swedish phrase for the day is vad hände? It means what happened?

- by Francis S.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

One of the most difficult subtleties of the English language to explain and comprehend is the idiomatic verbal form used to versus the verb to be used to. In the simplest of terms, the former is a sort of past tense of the latter. A better way to differentiate between the two might be to say that the former means to have been in the habit of doing something that one is no longer in the habit of doing as opposed to the latter, which means being in the habit of doing something that one is ostensibly still in the habit of doing.

Can anyone describe this in simpler terms? I'm not even completely sure what kinds of verbs these are...

The Swedish word for the day is förmodligen. It means presumably.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

I know all you big boys and girls out there know everything about a Town Without Pity. But did you know about P'town Without Pity?

Talk about nasty, salacious and gut-wrenchingly funny dish. I think this is my new favorite site. (courtesy Rittenhouse Review, also worth a regular read.)

The Swedish word for the day is camp. It means camp. Go figure.

- by Francis S.

Monday, August 18, 2003

The Swedish phrase for the day is jag har faktiskt blivit svensk medborgare. It means I've actually become a Swedish citizen. The papers came today.

"Isn't it funny that you have a paper proving you're a Swedish citizen, but we don't have any papers like that even though we were born here," the husband said to the divorcée from Malmö as we sat eating dinner in Indira, across the street from our apartment.

Actually, it's much more funny that with the Swedish postal service having handed over half of its duties to local shops and grocery stores, I can truthfully tell people that I got my Swedish citizenship at the Vivo, the local equivalent of, say, Safeway.

Tomorrow I'm going first thing to the police station to get a Swedish passport.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

When my beloved little brother was six or seven years old, he made up a phrase that quickly became his favorite thing to say: sabi doo. It seemed to mean everything from "yeah, yeah, do it!" to "is that so?" to "goddammit all to hell!"

I'm not sure if he ever used this phrase outside of the confines of the family, but he sure said it a lot in the house - sabi doo, sabi doo, sabi doo all over the place.

Of course, it didn' t take too long for my other brother and I - four and five years older than him respectively - to do what older brothers do best: torture little brothers mercilessly when they do things that easily lend themselves to torture from big brothers.

"Sabi doo?" we would ask him, our eyes all exaggeratedly concerned, our voices unbearably bright with sarcasm. Which would make him fly into a rage.

My poor little brother.

Did you make up words when you were a child? Or were you more the type to torture your little brothers mercilessly because they said "sabi doo" all the time?

The Swedish phrase for the day is är det tillräckligt bra? It means is that good enough?

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Did you know that the gothic writer, illustrator and set designer Edward St. John Gorey and the poet Frank O'Hara were roommates at Harvard in the 1950s?

What a strange conjunction of persons.

The Swedish word for the day is Lettland, which is what the Swedes call Latvia.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

One would think from the Reuters' headline - "Six Degrees Experiment Proves It's a Small World" - that Duncan Watts' experiment has proved the idea that there are just six steps of friends and acquaintances between any two citizens of this little planet. But a closer read shows that out of 61,000 people who signed up, only 384 actually completed the task of connecting to a target person chosen by Watts.

What I'm curious about is whether the sequence of senders I was part of - it started with Jonno and I passed it on to my favorite Finn - was one of the 384 that were completed. I think the target was a professor in Georgia or the Ukraine or one of those former soviet republics.

The Swedish word for the day is kedja. It means chain.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

My favorite Finn flew in from Helsinki for the day to interview some Swedish television executive. So I treated him (the Finn, not the television executive) to a sushi lunch, and we sat by a church in a park with our chopsticks and soy sauce and wasabi and pickled ginger.

I yammered on about being in San Francisco, and George W. Bush, and how I would probably be going crazy if I were living in the States, given the political situation and the domestic policies of the current administration ensconced in the White House. When I finally stopped, I asked him how things were in Finland.

"It's a small country, with small problems," he said. "The biggest thing now is that this guy who used to be a wrestler in the WWF in the States, and he's a boxer too and he has two lines in the latest Terminator movie, got elected to parliament but a little while ago there were gunshots from his apartment and his wife called the police and they found him passed out on the sofa, choking on his own vomit, and he'd shot holes in the ceiling and the papers now are all writing about if he'll ever fully recover and I wanna know, recover from what exactly?"

What I wanted to know was whether this was Finland he was talking about, because it sure sounded like something that would happen in, say, Minnesota.

The Swedish phrase for the day du är inte klok. It literally means you are not smart, as in you're crazy.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

This is the food of paradise- 0f Baudelaire's Artificial Paradises: it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies' Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR. In Morocco it is thought to be good for warding off the common cold in damp winter weather and is, indeed, more effective if taken with large quantities of hot mint tea. Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; ecstatic reveries and extensions of one's personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected. Almost anything Saint Theresa did, you can do better if you can bear to be ravished by 'un evenouissement reveille.'

Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of stone dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of canibus sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient. Obtaining the canibus may present certain difficulties.... It should be picked and dried as soon as it has gone to seed and while the plant is still green.

So reads Alice B. Toklas' recipe for haschich fudge, of which she wrote "anyone could whip up on a rainy day."

There's no better read than a well-written cookbook.

The Swedish word for the day is mellanmål. It means, more or less, snack.

- by Francis S.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Happy second birthday, you old blog, you. Old as far as blogs go, I suppose.

- by Francis S.
I like to think of Sweden as a kind of tolerant utopia, but I'm forced to rethink things when neo-nazis show up and throw rocks at a bunch of homosexualists - we knew there was something wrong when the parade was held up and suddenly seven or eight police cars come whizzing by.

I guess there is no such thing as a tolerant utopia.

The Swedish word for the day is besvikelse. It means disappointment.

- by Francis S.

Friday, August 01, 2003

I think I missed my calling. I should've been a drag king. I could definitely make people believe I was a man, oh yes.

Sadly, I don't think I could quite carry it off as a woman anymore, not that I ever could. Although once, when I was 19, I did get up in drag and showed up with a friend at a Denny's restaurant in Urbana, Illinois. Another friend of mine happened to be there on a first date with a guy he had the hots for, and my other friend and I did it just to make him crazy. It was a most bizarre experience because I definitely looked like a 19-year-old college boy dressed up as a woman, and everyone stared at me and although I didn't notice it at the time, afterwards I was told that every single waitress in the joint took turns waiting on us.

The Swedish word for the day is stolthet. It means pride, and is not considered a particularly desirable thing to have, which may be why Stockholm Pride is not Stockholm Stolthet.

- by Francis S.