Monday, September 29, 2003

There's been a massacre in Kungsträdgården, the park in the center of Stockholm that was once a royal garden. Fully a quarter of the linden trees in the northeast corner have been cut down. It made me gasp to see it. The husband told me they cut them down more than a week ago, on account of the trees were diseased.

Strange how one can feel so deeply for trees.

The Swedish word for the day is sjuk. It means sick.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Imagine that Santa Claus were gay. Imagine that he was thirty years younger, that he was completely bald and he'd shaved off his beard leaving a five o'clock shadow, that he wore only black, that his ho-ho-ho's were a good octave higher. Imagine that when he was a little boy, he used to come with his grandmother into Stockholm every other year when she would trade in her old furs and be fitted for new ones, watching her surrounded by furriers and loving every minute of the experience. Imagine that he knew more about style than Tyler Brulé, put together.

Imagine if Santa were fabulous, and you get some idea of what J. is like, living in Stockholm again for the first time in seven years and regaling us at a dinner party last night with stories about bringing an entire fashion photo shoot entourage out for a night to a Manhattan strip club that specializes in an act that involves a pool table and a bunch of Hispanic go-go boys - "The director thought it was fabulous and decided we must do a shoot with a model in a bikini lying on the pool table with all the boys around her, in their shorts of course..." - and telling us how all receptionists think his name is Fiona when he calls - "Well, everyone I work with knows it's me when the receptionist says that there's a Fiona on the phone. I wish my voice was as deep as my mother's..." and finally, giving us the lowdown on working in Turkey with some model who is the biggest thing there, at least that's what she says - "We were at this resort where only Turkish people go and we would be walking down the street and she would say 'Take my arm, J. You want to be in Turkish gossip papers, yes? Is good for your career in Turkey!' and sure enough, there would be a million paparazzi taking our picture. The worst was when we were sitting out at a restaurant, her in one of the many outfits she wore each day, smiling at the cameras while I was stuffing myself with a hamburger and french fries. Yeah, that will be great for my career in Turkey, pictures of me all over the gossip papers, stuffing myself with a hamburger."

The Swedish phrase for the day is långt bortifrån. It means from a long way off.

- by Francis S.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Observations that deserved a write-up over the past week, but there just wasn't the time.

Item: You know how oysters are the culinary embodiment of the sea, an ocean reduced to a mouthful? Well, I think chantarelle mushrooms are the culinary embodiment of the forest, all earthy, musty, perfumey goodness.

Item: This past February, my parents were due to take a month-long trek to Ecuador and Peru, but my father broke his ankle and the trip was postponed until September, at which time my parents duly went and as they walked down some canyon near the eco-resort they were staying at in the middle of the mountains a five-hour drive from Quito, my mother broke her ankle. Apparently, there is some ankle curse associated with Ecuador and Peru that I was previously unaware of.

Item: Swedish horse chestnuts are as comforting to look at and palm as the American horse chestnuts of my boyhood in suburban Chicago.

Item: If you're going to steal someone's identity, it pays to do a little research beforehand.

The Swedish phrase for the day is tyvärr inte. It means I'm afraid not.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Did you know that both the mayor of Berlin and the mayor of Paris are gay?

I think New York should be next. How about Choire Sicha, Gawker's new editor, as the next mayor of New York? He's already the president of New York, and I don't think being mayor should necessarily be a step down, if he can find the time with his busy new schedule.

The Swedish word for the day is skvallerspalt, which means gossip column.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Over the weekend, A., the assistant director, worked for the BBC translating and making phonecalls and handling anything that required a knowledge of Swedish for the barrage of reporters sent over to report on the euro referendum.

In the middle of it all, she rang me up. I'd been expecting her to call me up at some point to ask some extremely arcane question about the English language.

"Well, I'm here with the BBC," she said, breathless. "It's so exciting. You can't believe how noisy they all are, they are so loud. Thank god I have a pad of paper. I just walk back and forth quickly, writing, and everyone thinks I'm doing something extremely important. I think it would be so much fun to work with the news."

She had no arcane questions about the English language.

I should hear more behind-the-scenes gossip when we go to the theater on Friday, A. and me and the husband and C., the fashion photographer.

The Swedish word for the day is suveränt. It means superb.

- by Francis S.

Monday, September 15, 2003

As I sat waiting for the subway train at the Karlaplan station, the businessman sitting next to me - dark, handsome, very pointy shoes, conservative grey suit - offered me a chocolate marshmellow cookie.

"It's more fun when you share," he said, smiling at me.

No, but thanks anyway, I told him, grinning ear-to-ear.

The Swedish word for the day is vänlig. It means friendly.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

I'm teaching myself the words to the Swedish national anthem - Du Gamla, Du Fria - but it was easier to learn the words of the drinking song I taught myself this summer after hearing it sung at midsummer:

Jag är en liten undulat
som får för dåligt med mat,
för dem jag bor hos,
för dem jag bor hos,
de är så snåla.

De ger mig sill varenda dag,
men det vill jag inte ha,
jag vill ha brännvin,
jag vill ha brännvin,
och gorganzola.

(I'm a little parakeet,
who gets bad food,
because the people I live with
are so stingy.

They give me herring every day,
but I don't want to have that,
I want vodka
and gorganzola.)

The Swedish word for the day is snapsvisor. It means drinking songs. The second Swedish word for the day is valvaka. It means sitting up to watch the election results come in, as in, for instance, a referendum on whether to join the European monetary unit.

- by Francis S.

Friday, September 12, 2003

As New York and the rest of America woke up to its own day of mourning and memory on September 11, I had begun my morning six hours earlier in Stockholm after a bad night’s sleep. Because on September 10 at 4:15 in the afternoon, Sweden’s popular foreign minister Anna Lindh had been stabbed viciously while shopping at Nordiska Kompaniet, Stockholm’s grandest department store. A heavyset man with bad skin and dressed in grey sweatshirt and baseball cap had slashed her arm and cut her deeply in the abdomen and chest.

As a passport-bearing Swedish citizen of less than three months, the shock I felt was more than I expected – after all, I haven’t yet been able to untangle the knotty political system, with its seven major parties and sometimes bizarre alliances. But I did know who Anna Lindh was, with her ready smile and blonde bob, always in the thick of things and the most credible banner-bearer for the yes-side in Sweden’s referendum on whether to jettison the crown and replace it with the euro.

As I went to bed that night, Lindh was still under the surgeon’s knife and in critical condition, being tended to by more than 30 doctors and surgeons.

Then at 8:45 in the morning on September 11, Prime Minister Göran Persson announced at a press conference that after more than 10 hours of surgery, Lindh had died at 5:29 a.m. He was barely able to keep his composure. She was, as the Swedish press now writes, his chosen crown princess and the politician most likely to succeed him as prime minister. But she was closer to people’s hearts than merely being a possible future leader of the country. Swedes were proud of Anna Lindh, because she represented Sweden to the outside world just as they wished the outside world to see them: She was ready with a smile but strong, not afraid to take on the foreign ministers of the larger countries of the European Union, while at the same time an ordinary mother of two young sons, and a wife. She showed to the world a picture of Sweden that Swedes treasure: a progressive country that sticks to its principles, a country that is down-to-earth, that is tough without being violent.

But her assassination brings up the issue of violence in ways few other acts can. The country is questioning its open system, and wondering how the assassin could have escaped so easily in the middle of a crowded department store in the afternoon. It dredges up painful memories of the still-unsolved murder in 1987 of Prime Minister Olof Palme.

I dearly hope that this doesn't signal a change in security policy, the end of an open Sweden. Making a country more secure is impossible, it only worsens the quality of life for everyone and those who want to commit acts of violence still will commit them, they just have to try harder.

We cried, the husband and I, and we lit a candle for Anna Lindh, letting it burn down to nothing by the end of the evening.

I can think of no appropriate Swedish word for the day.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Sweden's foreign minister, Anna Lindh, has been stabbed and seriously wounded. It happened in NK, Stockholm's grand department store.

I'm a bit in shock.

It is no doubt because of her support for the euro. And this undoubtedly, despite the intent of the person who stabbed her (whom they haven't found yet) will help the yes side in the referendum on whether or not to join the European monetary unit.

The Swedish word for the day is oro. It means anxiety.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Leni Riefenstahl, everyone's favorite Nazi film director, is dead.

I've never been too keen on the image rehabilitation of history's villains. Especially self-rehabilitation. Take Leni, for example. She never owned up to doing anything wrong, not really. And while her guilt is problematic - she claimed she never joined the Nazi party, her great films were made before the war broke out - I find it hard not to be repulsed by her and her art, no matter how brilliant.

The Swedish phrase for the day is fräls oss ifrån ondo. It means deliver us from evil.

- by Francis S.

Monday, September 08, 2003

No one's ever been able to adequately explain, confirm or deny a gut feeling that I've had, although last night the policeman tried hard, but we just didn't have enough time (that, and his 10-month-old daughter, my god-daughter, was shamelessly flirting with me and I really couldn't resist allowing myself to be distracted by her little seven-toothed grin):

In the U.S., I'm pretty much your run-of-the-mill pinko faggot. I believe that aspiring to be more like Sweden would do the U.S. a lot of good, as opposed to aspiring to be like, uh, say, Queen Victoria's British Empire, on which the sun never set and which seems to be just one of several models for the current administration in the White House.

But Sweden can't aspire to be more like Sweden.

I'm so used to the uphill battle in the U.S. for a more progressive society, it feels somehow wrong to be in the majority even if the majority believes, for the most part, in what I believe in.

Have I been wrong all these years, and it turns out I'm merely a contrarian?

And the gut feeling I haven't been able to shake is that it's possible that the right in Sweden plays the role that the left plays in the U.S.

I wish I could explain it better so someone could give me an answer.

On Sunday, I'll go with the husband to cast my vote on whether to trade the crown for the euro, and then we'll sit and watch the returns of the referendum at a small party at the apartment of the priest and policeman.

I don't understand Swedish politics, not at all.

The Swedish word for the day is ogräs. It literally means un-grass, but the proper translation would be weed.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

I always think it will be fun to have some chunks of serious time to myself, to do whatever I want. But when it actually happens, inevitably I eat utter crap, I'm bored after an hour or two and don't know what to do with myself yet I manage to stay up to an ungodly hour.

The husband is in Spain, and I'm baching it.

The Swedish word for the day is öken. It means desert.

And sorry about the lack of comments. I tried to install a new commenting system, but it just fucked the template, but good. So I regret to say that there probably won't be any commenting possibilities until Sept. 8. In the meantime, feel free to send me e-mail if you simply must say something. I promise to reply.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Some modern dance takes all its energy from the earth - feet rising and thighs pounding, all muscle. But Akram Khan's dancing belongs to the type of modern dance that seems to be pulled from the ether, all fingers in the air pulling invisible threads and writing elaborate script, hands snapping against bodies with heiroglyphic gestures. Tonight at Dansens Hus, there was also a short actressy interval where one of the dancers writhed about on the stage, and then another brief moment where Akram Khan rolled his head in his arms like some kind of kinesthetic Henry Moore.

I've never cared much for ballet - it's too fussy and precise for me - but I do like modern dance. Like good poetry, good dance can be appreciated without interpretation.

It did hurt to watch, the fierceness of it.

Then again, the pain may have something to do with my starting training at the gym for the first time in my life yesterday. My poor aching legs, I'm walking around like a little old man.

The Swedish word for the day is ball. It means super or great.

- by Francis S.

Monday, September 01, 2003

The dancefloor was so packed it was certainly a fire hazard, and there was no way anyone could dance except by swaying in place. Not that people had come there to dance particularly. They'd mostly come to the bar up at Mosebacke at the Södrateatern to hear the R&B star give a concert for 200 or so of her closest friends.

I'm more of a Bach cantata kind of guy, but I was moving and swaying and clapping and singing along with the best of them. There's something about a live concert that hits me smack dab in the solar plexus of my soul, even if I had to strain to see over the big heads of the three guys standing in a line in front of me.

The R&B star even invoked the husband's name in the middle of one of the verses of her latest hits.

I was sweaty with pride, dripping all over the poor woman in front of me.

Then A., the assistant director, was suddenly kissing me and whispering in my ear. Some guy in a hat with grabby hands was putting the moves on her. "Pretend you're my boyfriend," she whispered frantically, trying to laugh in an intimate fashion which just turned into real laughter because it didn't seem to do much good. Me, I had no problem pretending that I was the consort of the most beautiful woman in the room. We great big homos have a great appreciation of gorgeousness, not to mention a penchant for being a beard.

The guy left after a couple of minutes, unable to either score with A. or score a better spot to see the stage.

The Swedish word for the day is gubbsjuk. It is a phrase that doesn't have a nice clean one-word translation, but is an adjective referring to someone who's a dirty old man.

- by Francis S.