Saturday, December 25, 2004

"People, look east, the time is near
of the crowning of the year..."


So, east we go. Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia call.

Back in three weeks, although I may check in if we hit on any WiFi hotspots.

The Swedish word for the day is bortrest. It means gone travelling.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The latest item in the Amazon database: blogs, complete with a "People who visit this page also visit" section, which in my case includes A-listers Ernie and Tom Coates, plus some folks on the list at left, and some folks who should be on the list at left but aren't.

Go ahead, find yourself. (Click on the "site information" button after the URLs listed in the search results.)

Now I'm off to go write a review of Torill Mortenson's "Thinking With My Fingers," where I first read about this whole Amazon phenomenon.

The Swedish word for the day is sökmotor, which means search engine.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Sunrise in Stockholm, Dec. 21, 2004: 8:44 a.m.
Sunset in Stockholm, Dec. 21, 2004: 2:48 p.m.

This is as dark as it gets.

Tilt, little planet, tilt.

The Swedish word for the day is vintersolstånd. It means winter solstice.

- by Francis S.

Monday, December 20, 2004

"Thinking opera is great is kind of like thinking heavy metal is great," the R&B star said as we swilled beers and lolled about on the sofa in front of a roaring fire, exhausted from a day of Christmas baking.

I understood immediately what she meant.

Foolishly, I tried to prove otherwise, that anyone would find certain music sublime no matter what their taste. Naturally, I failed utterly by insisting on playing a soprano aria from Bach's Christmas Oratorio. Then dug the hole deeper with a little Mozart.

"I hate it when their voices go 'uhahuhahuhah,'" said the husband, imitating a wobbly-voiced vibrato-afflicted tenor with the worst case of the shakes.

Dammit, I thought to myself, they're not overwhelmed. It's true. Heavy metal is the rock equivalent of opera.

Then I bit into a saffron bun and put the Flaming Lips back in the CD player.

The Swedish word for the day is U-sväng. It means U-turn.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Beside my bed lies a pile of books on the floor: The Stories of Paul Bowles, Homage to Catalonia, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, The Leopard, The Catcher in the Rye, Love in a Dark Time, Foucault's Pendulum, The Piano Teacher. Some are presents, some I bought here and some in the States. Some are already read, some I can't seem to make any headway into, some are meant for browsing. Each of them has the stub of a boarding pass as a bookmark: Houston to Austin Aug 17, Stockholm to Chicago Nov 27, Stockholm to Turku July 1. Et cetera.

What do you use for bookmarks?

The Swedish word for the day is förlag. It means publishing house.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

During lunch, I wandered through an exhibition of Andy Warhol paintings with my friend the former punk star. Her boyfriend used to work at the museum, Liljevalchs Konsthall, so she had gotten us free tickets.

As we wandered from room to room - her favorites were the toy paintings, mine were the piss paintings - her 7-year-old son called on the phone.

"What song is this," he said, and he la-la'd his way through a short melody.

She didn't hear it properly the first time, but even after he told her it was the song played during the end credits of The Incredible Hulk and sang it again, she had no idea what it could be.

What do you do when it turns out that your mother doesn't know everything? Move on to the next thing, I suppose.

We sat drinking cappucinos in the basement of the museum, surrounded by Warhol photos.

"There's a picture of Joe D'Alessandro naked here somewhere," my friend said, and sure enough, she found it. She may not know every tune sung under the sun, but she sure knows where to find the important stuff.

The Swedish word for the day is 60-talet. It means the '60s.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The New York Times says bloggers can get six figure advances for books these days.

The Swedish phrases for the day are jag väntar på and säg till and ring mig bara. They mean I'm waiting and let me know and just call me.

- by Francis S.

Monday, December 13, 2004

I forgot that today was Lucia until I saw that the paths of the two parks I pass on my way to work, Humlegården and Karlaplan, were lined with blazing tins of sterno every three meters or so. It's a magnificent sight to see. Then we got saffron buns and gingerbread with blue cheese at the office, along with some mulled wine.

Still, I can't help thinking that it's strange that the Swedes have latched onto a Sicilian saint who was typically painted during the Renaissance offering her eyeballs on a plate to the viewer, a heartwarming and Christmassy vision if there ever was one.

I think it mostly has to do with her name, which is associated with light. Lux aeterna luceat eis, wouldn't you agree?

The Swedish phrase for the day is det stämmer. It means that's right.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Tangerines are the very smell and taste of midwinter to me.

In the morning, in the soft sultry chamber, sit in the window peeling tangerines, three or four. Peel them gently; do not bruise them, as you watch soldiers pour past and past the corner and over the canal towards the watched Rhine. Separate each plump little pregnant crescent. If you find the Kiss, the secret section, save it for Al.

...

After you have put the pieces of tangerine on the paper on the hot radiator, it is best to forget about them. Al comes home, you go to a long noon dinner in the brown dining-room, afterwards maybe you have a little nip of quetsch from the bottle on the armoire. Finally he goes. You are sorry, but -

On the radiator the sections of tangerines have grown even plumper, hot and full. You carry them to the window, pull it open, and leave them for a few minutes on the packed snow of the sill. They are ready.


from Serve It Forth by M.F.K. Fisher


And...

At the end of the meal, Archer gave me a piece of his own bar of chocolate, and then began to skin pigs of tangerine very skillfully and hand them to me on his outstretched palm, as one offers a lump of sugar to a horse. I thought for one moment of bending down my head and licking the pigs up in imitation of a horse; then I saw how mad it would look.

We threw the brilliant tangerine peel into the snow, which immediately seemed to dim and darken its colour.


from "When I Was Thirteen" by Denton Welch


The Swedish word for the day is smaksinne. It means sense of taste.

- by Francis S.

Friday, December 10, 2004

America, land of the orthodox and home of the duped: A recent Newsweek poll shows that a whopping 40 percent of the Americans polled favor teaching creation "science" instead of evolution in public schools.

Okay, so this news is five days old, but still.

I can't possibly express how disturbing I find this. Can the U.S. really be so backward? Is there any future for such a country?

I am ashamed.

The Swedish word for the day is ofattbar. It means incomrehensible.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Who ever thought that cherries in liqueur and covered in chocolate was a good thing? Why do confectioners bother to put them in boxes of chocolate, bearing a disturbing resemblance to my idea of what eyeballs in cough syrup must be like, sitting uneaten in their gold wrappers until one day, sick of seeing them languish in a little bowl on top of the sugar canister, I am forced to eat them, one by one?

The Swedish word for the day is besserwisser. It is stolen directly from German, I have no doubt, and means know it all.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

At 5 a.m. this morning, an apartment a mere block or so away from here just, well, blew up (link in Swedish). We never heard a thing.

Strangely, the man who lived in the apartment had just been released from jail - he'd been there for allegedly stealing from his employer: He took rare books from the Royal Library, Sweden's answer to the Library of Congress.

Our current guest living in the spare bedroom, the crazy music producer who is a firm believer in all kinds of conspiracies, thinks the guy was done in by the people he sold the books to.

"That's what happens when you start dealing with those kind of people," the crazy music producer said. "In a way, you gotta admire them. They just blew the guy up, nice and clean."

There's something Jasper Ffordeian about the whole thing. I guess you just can't trust thugs. Librarians, either, for that matter.

The Swedish word for the day is sprängämne. It means explosives.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

On Saturday, the husband had invited a hunter over for dinner. I don't think I will ever be likely to actually pick up a gun and shoot something, but I've never been against other people hunting, although in Sweden it seems to be associated with the upper classes rather than with men like my mother's brothers, who hunt and are good old boys to the core and of the hardworking farmer class.

So the hunter came, with a hunk of deer, which he cooked and we ate: great big unwieldy slabs of venison, with black currant jelly, and mushroom sauce with port and cream, and brussels sprouts, and lots of red wine. I felt manly, even though I hadn't shot dinner myself. Manly, and then uncommonly full.

But what do you do with the leftovers? Bambi tetrazzini doesn't seem right, somehow.

The Swedish word for the day is viltkött, which means game.

- by Francis S.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Someone has decided that the little statue of an adolescent girl on Karlavägen must have been cold. They've given her a coat. I have no picture, but you'll just have to take my word for it that she looks all warm and snug now. Giving statues clothes is apparently a Stockholm thing.

(Walking to work has endowed me with a statue fetish, it seems. I guess it makes sense, since I must walk past some 15 statues during the 30-minute walk.)

The Swedish words for the day are halsduk and vantar. They mean scarf and mittens.

- by Francis S.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Every Friday is clinking green bag day in Sweden. Green being the color of bags used by the state liquor monopoly, the clinking being the bottles in the bag. And I've certainly done my part today, joining what looks to be about 25 percent of the adult population.

Now, off to a dinner party.

The Swedish word for the day is vinet. It means the wine.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Getting myself into the Christmas spirit means having reindeer and chantarelle mushroom lasagne for lunch. (It's just like celebrating Easter with a traditional seafood and bunny rabbit paella.)

But the real meaning of the season came to me some four hours later as I waited for the No. 42 bus.

The small girl wreaking havoc next to me began to sing, to the tune of "Jingle Bells," something that sounded suspiciously like djungel bajs (which would be jungle poo). Then she switched to "Deck the Halls" but all I caught was the word fröken, which means miss and is what small children call their female teachers, further confirming my growing suspicion that she was singing Swedish versions of all those charming traditional Christmas carols we sang as children: "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells" and "Deck the Halls with Gasoline" and "We Three Kings of Orient Are, Smoking on a Rubber Cigar" and "Joy to the World, the Teacher's Dead."

Then her mother told her to shut up.

The Swedish phrase for the day is fy på dig! Which is what the little girl's mother said when the little girl pushed her sister into the bicycle racks after her mother told her to shut up. It means shame on you!

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Truman Capote was a peculiar character, with his carefully cultivated bitchiness, his social striving and success and failure, and his superb writing - In Cold Blood continues to have a huge influence on everything from reporting to books to television.

Someone has unearthed a full manuscript of Capote's long-lost first novel, now available to anyone willing to pay an estimated $60,000-$80,000 to Sotheby's.

The Swedish word for the day is brott. It means crime.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Well what do you know. I was going to surprise the husband before he arrived home by hanging the advent star - no Swedish home is complete without one at this time of year - but the window is so high that I couldn't reach it when standing on a chair. I ended up dragging the desk from the study, cussing the whole way, hammering a nail in the woodwork, cussing some more because I kept dropping the damn star on account of it didn't want to stay put on the little metal thingamajig that the lightbulb dangles from and that keeps the star together.

In the end, I think I scared it into staying in place.

Merry Fucking Christmas.

(Have I mentioned we're going to Thailand for three weeks, leaving on Christmas day? Have I also mentioned that, cussing aside, I've always been sentimental about yuletide, even when I was really too young to actually be sentimental about anything? I do like Christmas, I do.)

The Swedish phrase for the day is lägg av. It means cut it out already, will ya!

- by Francis S.

Monday, November 29, 2004

It's a new year, liturgically speaking: out with the old Jesus, in with the new.

From Rosh Hoshana to Chinese New Year, it's fascinating how many times one can mark the passing of 365 (more or less) days if one wants to. We celebrated by riding nine hours in a plane from Chicago to Stockholm.

Amazingly, reading the Chicago Tribune every morning turned out to be more exhausting than a nine-hour plane ride could ever be. It was a daily overload of bad and worse news, numbing in its awfulness.

"You have to pick your battles," my mother replied when I asked her how to handle it.

The war on "terror"? Creationism getting equal time with evolution in textbooks? Sex education that doesn't mention birth control or sex outside marriage? Taxes that favor the rich? A right-wing Supreme Court?

My devoutly religious parents have chosen to tackle poverty and fight for the right for same-sex marriage. Which meant the husband and I were exhibit A at an adult Sunday school class on how to effectively respond to people who oppose the right of gays and lesbians to marry other gays and lesbians.

It turns out that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, that Paul's problem with homosexuality stands right alongside his problem with women, and that "church tradition" when it comes to marriage has changed so much over the centuries that it isn't really a tradition. There is no consistency in any shape or form. Yet, everyone in Sunday school seemed to agree that despite the fact that there's no sound basis to argue against gay marriage in either scriptural or ecclesiastical terms, you're not going to be able to quote the bible to convince someone who thinks gay marriage is the road to eternal damnation. The only thing that changes hearts and minds is an actual experience to the contrary.

It's gonna be a long fight.

Later that week, my dear sister-in-law asked if it's better to live in Sweden or the U.S. It's no contest, not really.

The Swedish word for the day is på hemväg. It means homeward bound.

- by Francis S.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Over the river and through the woods, and onto the highway and into the airplane and across the Atlantic, and out of the airplane and onto the highway, and over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go. To paraphrase a song Mrs. Uhlenhope used to make us fourth-graders sing at this time of year back at Indian Trail Elementary School in 1970.

(Although it's not grandmother's house, it's more my parents' house, at least to me. But my nieces and nephews consider it grandmother's house, no doubt.)

The U.S. beckons with one finger, as always, friendly seeming until you realize that it's not beckoning, it's telling you to fuck off.

Chicago, here we come.

The Swedish word for the day tranbär. It means cranberry.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

I'll know I'm old when the first snow of the year fails to thrill me. Even if the first snow of the year is a slushy, sticky, bone-chilling and wet mess. Beautiful and thrilling, though.

The Swedish word for the day is barndom. It means childhood.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

It feels peculiar to sit in a room with 130 other people listening to speakers talking about why right-wing bloggers outnumber left-wing bloggers in Sweden (the left is more consensus-driven and averse to the individualism that characterizes blogs? The left dominates the media already so it already has an outlet that voices its opinions?) or what it will take for blogs to become a full-fledged medium comparable to existing media (a disaster wherein other media are unavailable and people naturally turn to blogs for information?).

It feels peculiar because, well, I'm just used to seeing these kind of conversations on a computer screen and not in real life.

Which is not to say it wasn't a very good thing, because it was great, in fact.

What really made it seminal, though, was that there were about 130 people there and that members of the "mainstream media" were there covering it.(Yep, mainstream media still calls the shots.)

It feels nice to have been in the vanguard.

But my 43-year-old grey-haired white self couldn't help wondering: Who were all those grey-haired 60-year-old white guys sitting in the second row?

Then afterwards, the initial awkward greeting of people whom you feel as if you know already from reading what they write, but you don't really, which slides into something more comfortable and well-oiled after a couple of beers, and you even end up feeling a bit frustrated because you don't get quite enough time to talk as much as you'd like with all these interesting people around you. In fact, I completely lost track of the time.

Well done, Stefan. Erik.

(Now, can someone tell me what Steffanie is saying about speculation that I didn't really exist, that I was a woman, that I wasn't an American? My grasp of German is a couple of notches below tenuous, and I can't help wondering what exactly she and Martin are talking about, other than julmust.)

The Swedish verb for the day is att anta. It means to assume.

- by Francis S.

Friday, November 12, 2004

There's nothing like a good genderfuck. It's bracing, like a shot of vodka or a naked roll in the snow straight out of a sauna. It makes me laugh for sheer joy (link courtesy Pontus).

Or, as in the case of the person I occasionally see on the No. 42 bus - genetically a man, no doubt, but wearing discreetly masculine women's clothes - it impresses me like nothing else. It is about the bravest and truest act I can imagine.

The Swedish phrase for the day is hur stark som helst. It means as strong as can be.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

I'm not a meta kind of guy, although I am occasionally a sucker for metablogging. I'm interested in it mostly when people get cranky and start in on the bitch-slapping, which seems to be happening for the first time in the Swedish blogosphere as far as I can tell. Although for all I know, this happens all the time because I don't read nearly as many blogs in Swedish as I should.

What's happened is that Observer, a Swedish company that monitors media (press-clipping service, etc.) has announced it has begun monitoring blogs. A short item on this appeared yesterday in the Swedish national newspaper Dagens Nyheter. Included was a list of the ten blogs Observer monitors, because they are "the most important," which is not explained further, leaving the public - that is, the Swedish blogosphere, mostly - to speculate on the criteria for what makes a blog, er, important.

There are no women on the list, and the majority of those on the list are "right-wing" in their politics according to Observer and many of these have ties to think tanks. But Erik Stattin was No. 1 on the list, so by my accounting they got at least one thing right.

Nothing creates a round of feisty sniping and introspection like publishing a list of the popular kids. (Sorry, most of the links are in Swedish. If you want to know what they say, just e-mail me and I'll do my best to translate.)

All of which has gotten me all hot and bothered.

Well, not really. But I must be the least influential Swedish blogger with the most technorati source-authority (um, I don't think that's a real term, source-authority. Or maybe it is by now.)

Sniping aside, what this really means is that the Swedish blogosphere has passed a new milestone: it is literally worth being paid attention to, and I'm talking money here.

Long live the Swedish blogosphere.

The Swedish word for the day is uppmärksamhet. It means attention.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Silver lining to the recent George v. John (link courtesy daysleeper) debacle: The dollar is so weak right now - barely seven Swedish crowns to the dollar - the husband and I will no doubt be seized by fits of shopping when we hit The New World. Capitalist pigs, the two of us.

Thanks, George.

The Swedish word for the day is grinig. It means whiny.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Times have changed
And we've often rewound the clock
Since the Puritans got a shock
When they landed on Plymouth Rock.
If today
Any shock they should try to stem
'Stead of landing on Plymouth Rock,
Plymouth Rock would land on them.

from "Anything Goes" by Cole Porter


Actually, anything doesn't go, contrary to Cole Porter's assertion. If Puritans landed on Plymouth Rock today, no doubt they would be greeted with open arms by a coven of televangelists with camera crews.

One of the things that I like so much about Sweden is the matter-of-fact way sex is treated in the culture: It's a natural part of life, nothing to be fearful of or snicker about or repress. American culture, still weighed down by the centuries-old influence of Puritans, acts as if sex is something dirty and only really useful for either a) making babies or b) selling just about everything. Apparently, it's so frightening that it shouldn't be researched. And students need strict reinforcement on what marriage is about (the only state in which sex should occur).

The Swedish word for the day is pryd. It means prudish.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

The yearly drama of dwindling daylight was kicked into full gear last weekend with the changing of the clocks back one hour. The sun is moving further and further south, its obligatory daily visits shorter and shorter as if we were a disagreeable family of second-cousins it can't altogether avoid but is loathe to spend time with.

It's only the beginning of November, but it's already dark by 4 p.m., and all I want to do is curl up and take a nap.

The Swedish word for the day is sömntablett. It means sleeping pill.

- by Francis S.

Friday, November 05, 2004

This is how conspiracy theories get started: American forces successfully attack terrorist breeding ground; blue-state dissident school children's anti-Americanism dealt a blow as war plane strafes Little Egg Harbor Intermediate School in New Jersey.

Michael Dupuis, president of the township school board says: "I feel confident that the military has done and is doing everything it can to safeguard against any occurrences of this nature."

It appears that Bush isn't wasting any time on punishing the half of the country that didn't vote for him... um, I mean, reaching out across party lines.

(It would be funny, if it weren't so pathetically inept and frightening. Homeland security at its best.)

The Swedish word for the day is metafor, which means of course, metaphor.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

There must be reasons why Osama bin Laden has so generously pointed to Sweden as the type of country that has not been a target of Al-Qaeda.

Well, of course. Stefan knows.

- by Francis S.
What is it about this day that makes everyone seem to view it as apocalyptic?

Bush evokes a visceral disgust in me, but it's not like I didn't feel the same about his father, or about Ronald Reagan. Because really, if I think about it, Ronald Reagan was the one who started it all. He started the headlong rush backwards in the direction of rewarding the rich for being rich, blaming the poor for being poor, getting the government out of the business of making people's lives better and into the business of enforcing a morality straight out of evangelical fundamentalist Christianity, convincing people that we should let corporate America do whatever it wants because it won't in fact screw everyone over with low wages and bad or non-existant benefits while ripping off the public and giving astronomical bonuses to those at the top who have been behind the cheating.

The current administration just behaves in a way that is a logical extension of this original thinking, playing out this irresponsible and infantile selfishness in a more global fashion.

Do I sound bitter?

The fact is, the United States gets what it deserves. (Too bad the rest of the world has no say in what is bound to affect it as well.)

Happy election 2004.

There is no Swedish word for the day.

- by Francis S.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Sweden, which was pretty poverty-stricken until the 20th century, never really went for rococo excess. Partly, no doubt, because they just didn't have the money for all that ormolu. So, the country's answer to spas like Bath and Baden-Baden was a place like Loka Brunn, which is decidedly unpretentious and a bit humble, even if it once was the playground for people like Sweden's party king, Gustav III and Christine Nilsson, a long-forgotten opera singer who sang at the opening of the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1883 (although she lives on in dubious glory as the model for the heroine of The Phantom of the Opera).

And us, of course.

We were there for a wedding, and for the first time I had my doubts about the Swedish practice of having a toastmaster run things (even though, in my experience, it sure takes the pressure off the wedding couple): We were harrassed belligerantly throughout dinner by a man banging on a pot with a spoon, reminding us that there would be another speech "in three minutes." I wondered if someone had slipped a couple of pounds of anabolic steroids into the guy's champagne. It was like slipping into a warm bath when we at last made our way to the dancefloor and let loose, dancing until we were soaked to the skin.

We arrived home the next day to the big news in Sweden: "the cake man" who after getting laid off, gave his co-workers cannabis-laced cheesecake as a special farewell, only he neglected to inform them that what they were eating was going to make them hungrier and start wondering about the deep meaning of the pattern in the rug. The other big news is that apparently American citizens in the Nordic countries and around the Baltic are in danger of a terror attack, or at least this is what the U.S. government is saying. Which everyone here seems suspicious about. And I'm not talking suspicious about terrorists here.

The Swedish word for the day is skämt. It means joke.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Göran Rosenberg, a relatively prominent journalist here in Sweden, currently has an interesting three-part TV series on the political state of the States.

This week, he interviewed a laborer who was a union leader, first finding out that the guy thought homosexuality and gay marriage were evil. Later, he asked him which candidate would better represent his interests as a worker, and the guy said that this was what made him undecided on how he would vote.

Unfortunately, Göran Rosenberg didn't ask the question that I wanted to know the answer to: Which affects your life more, your job and related job issues - healthcare, retirement, etc. - or two men getting married somewhere? Does the fact that two men get married have any impact on your life, in fact? I don't understand how people could actually vote so strongly against their own self-interest.

The worst part of the show, however, is that the camera crew seems to be a security threat everywhere it goes, with everyone from police to highway tollbooth workers suspiciously demanding that they turn off their cameras. The heavy security reminds us that the new rules for getting into the U.S. mean that I will not be able to go through passport control with the husband, he's going to have to undergo the whole picture-taking and fingerprinting bit by himself. And we've got a November 20 trip to Chicago on the books.

"If they treat you like that, why bother? It's not as great a place as it thinks it is. It really makes me not want to go," he said.

Of course he will go, but I'm already dreading that part of the journey where I follow the green line and he follows the blue.

The Swedish verb for the day is att uppskatta. It means to appreciate.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Ever wondered why there are never any openings for ragpickers these days, no "ragpicker" section in the help-wanted ads, no ragpicker training courses you can sign up for?

Actually, I always wondered why there was any market at all for rags, back in the days of Nell Trent: What the hell did they do with them?

It turns out that up until the late 19th century, most paper made in Europe was produced using pulp from linen and cotton rags. In the year 1800, Britain alone used a total of 24 million lbs. of rags in paper production. It wasn't until the 1880s that wood pulp became a primary source for paper.

This explains why no one seems to pick rags anymore.

Now, what about costermongers...?

The Swedish verb for the day is att syssla. It means to work with as in an occupation.

- by Francis S.
I'm not going to miss this: a forum on blogs here in Stockholm on Nov. 15, coordinated by Erik Stattin and Stefan Geens, two of my favorite writers in the Swedish blogosphere.

- by Francis S.

Friday, October 22, 2004

"Did you see the bird downstairs?" the husband asked me last night when he arrived home.

Yes, I had seen it.

Someone had painted a picture of a magpie in the entrance of our building. A magpie perched on a balcony.

A host of painters and carpenters are restoring the entrance and stairwell to some semblance of what it probably was when the building was built, in 1902. Along with the magpie, there is faux grey marble and the woodwork - all the double doors of the apartments, plus the door to the elevator and miscellaneous flourishes here and there - is being painted to look like, well, wood.

It all sounds kind of tacky, doesn't it? I've never been much of a fan of full-out restoration, I much prefer the slovenly charm of New Orleans to the fussy preserved perfection of Georgetown in D.C. I think it's perfectly fine for a place to look its age, not unlike human beings.

But I like all this elaborate painting in the hallways of our building. It isn't too much, it suits, in fact.

The Swedish word for the day is trapphuset, of course. It means stairwell.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

When I was 13, I read Sentimental Tommy, a rather peculiar book by J.M. Barrie, whose most famous creation is Peter Pan. My mother was a great fan of another book of Barrie's, The Little Minister.

Sentimental Tommy rather unnerved my 13-year-old self, but I was forever changed by one of the characters declaring that you can't trust a man who breathes through his mouth when he sleeps.

I had to get over the claustrophobic sense of not getting enough air - could it be that my nostrils are too small? - but I immediately trained myself to be a man who breathes through his nose when he sleeps, something I do to this day. Just so anyone doesn't get any ideas that I'm not to be trusted.

The Swedish word for the day is trovärdig, which means of course trustworthy or credible.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

We know the how's of so many things, but the why's are a different story.

For instance, we know how to bomb a country until it is uninhabitable, but we don't know why leaves change color in the autumn.

The Swedish word for the day is kolsyra. It means carbon dioxide.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Sitting on the No. 4 bus, I wondered what it is that prevents Valhallavägen from being a nice street - it has beautiful apartment houses lining one side, rank after rank of linden trees in the middle, and the Royal Technical College and the Stadium on the other side, but it somehow is too traffic-filled and the proportions are all wrong, making it a place to avoid.

We had just stopped where Odengatan intersects with Vallhallavägen when 50 pregnant women got on the bus, giggling and forcing the rest of the occupants to all give up their seats, a massive game of musical chairs in a moving bus with people not knowing whether to grumble or laugh along with the women.

Actually, it was only one pregnant woman, and no one got up to give her a seat.

But, I thought, wouldn't it have been funny if it had been 50 pregnant women instead of just one?

And then I got off the bus.

The Swedish word for the day is ändhållplats. It means the end of the line.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 18, 2004

While watching a TV program about overweight children on Swedish television last night, an American researcher on nutrition recommended watching less TV to help keep kids thinner (adults too, although he didn't specify). Which didn't make us get off our fat asses.

Then, we watched a show about self-recognition. Apparently, the ability to recognize ourselves - via a test with secret dots and mirrors - begins somewhere when we're 18 months to two years old.

But far more interesting was another test done with mirrors. Children aged 9-11 were rewarded after a test by being told they could take one piece of candy from a dish, which happened to be in an empty room. About 30 percent of the kids took more than one piece. But, if the bowl of candy was placed in front of a great big mirror, the number of children taking extra candy dropped to only 10 percent.

It seems that seeing ourselves about to do something we're not supposed to do is enough to stop us. It's as if we're our own mothers, frowning and giving ourselves the eye.

But wait, it gets worse. The program went on to say that having a big mirror in a room in the office where people are supposed to take a coffee break prevents lingering.

What it all comes down to is that our own reflections seem to be as effective as Judaism and Catholicism at inducing guilt.

This could explain why in this apartment with 45 doors, there are only two little mirrors. I guess I'm not very good at dealing with guilt.

The Swedish word for the day is nolltolerans. It means zero tolerance.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

They came on Thursday just to make my acquaintance, the women from the Spanish Embassy. Instead of eating dinner we nibbled on manchego and chorizo and drank way too many glasses of wine, the husband constantly getting up to heap logs on the fire to keep it at a roar.

The evening was a comfortable blur of Spanish and Swedish and English all spoken in mad running dashes, and the woman who has known the husband since he was a little boy asked: "Don't you want to have children?"

This is a question the husband and I often get.

I told her that the thing is, if we wanted to have a child, it would take vast amounts of perseverance and patience and scrutiny by others, on account of we're a couple of queer guys. If all it took were a fuck, well, we'd have been fathers some time ago. Despite the fact that I'd decided years ago my life could be entirely fulfilling without becoming a father, contrary to what I had always thought. I was cured of certain romantic notions by spending a week with a six-week-old baby. The amount of work that little eight-pound animal required was mind-boggling. I decided then that I just needed to use up my paternal energy on my nieces and nephews, and live my life with all the freedoms I got in return for not being responsible to someone who would extend my existence by passing on my genes, whom I would love unconditionally, whom would hopefully take some responsibility for me when and if I became old and doddering.

"So what are you going to do since you won't have anyone to remember you after you die?" asked the woman who had known the husband since he was a little boy.

Well, write a book maybe, I said.

"Of course!" she said, and she laughed. "With children who knows how they'll turn out. This way, you'll have much more control over what you leave behind!"

The Swedish verb for the day is att ärva. It means to inherit.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Picture this: As I'm on my way to lunch with the ex-punk star, she stops me mid-sentence and points to an island off the island in the middle of the city we happen to be walking on.

"Are those herons?" she asked me.

They were, three of them roosting on a branch overhanging the water, looking gloomy under the yellowing and drooping leaves.

Then today, on the very same island outside of a house (if you squint and look in the left side of the picture you can see a white blob that is in fact the house I'm talking about) that is beautiful but surely haunted, a murder of crows stood in my path, scratching their way awkwardly across the road before taking off to circle in the air and for all the world acting like a premonition of all the Hallowe'ens to come.

Maybe Daphne du Maurier was onto something.

The birds are taking over.

The Swedish word for the day is skräckfilm. It means horror movie.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

There are 45 doors in this apartment - front doors and balcony doors and closet doors and pantry doors and double doors (10 sets), each and every one of them painted white.

That's a lot of doors to hide behind.

N., the former Wallpaper editor, who arrived last night, has only one door to deal with in the room she's staying in, however. It's the only room in the entire apartment with only one door.

The Swedish word for the day is hemlig. It means secret.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Do you think that the Roman soldiers who crossed the Rubicon with Julius Caesar in 49 B.C. realized they were witnessing something that would be remembered 2000 years later? Or what about the audience at the Globe theater in London in 1599 watching Shakespeare's Julius Caesar for the first time?

It makes me wonder whether I've witnessed anything that will be remembered 2000 years from now. I have my doubts. I'm not sure whether I've even been an eyewitness to any of the more minor pivotal events of my lifetime.

There was the 1987 March on Washington, in which I remember strutting past the White House and chanting "2-4-6-8, Ronnie thinks his son is straight." Then there was the time when I happened to be looking out my office window overlooking Connecticut Ave. in Washington, and I saw Gorbachev's motorcade stop amidst a huge crowd of people, an impromptu security nightmare no doubt, and Gorbachev shake the hands of all those adoring Washingtonians.

Could Stephen Spinella's performance in Angels in America, (when the angel came down, it was heart-stopping), or Mark Morris dancing with great wit in Dido and Aeneas be treasured past my own lifetime and memory?

What are the grand and defining moments of our age anyway?

The Swedish word for the day is sekel. It means century.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

It hasn't been proven yet in humans (apparently there's a problem in finding volunteer subjects), but scientists have suspected for awhile now that if you're willing to half-starve yourself and swear off sugar, you could live to be very, very old. They're not entirely sure why this is.

But I don't get it. Doesn't half-starving mean, well, half-dead? And frankly, who wants to live in a world without rhubarb pie?

The Swedish word for the day is efterrätt. It means dessert.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

"The world's his oyster, with an R in every month." (My favorite line of Cary Grant's in The Philadelphia Story, because it's so goofy and because I didn't understand it when I first saw it when I was 13 or so.)

One of the consolations of the return of months with an R, is eating mussels (steamed in wine with garlic, thyme and butter) and french fries.

The Swedish word for the day is citat. It means quote.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Firewood. As of Friday, we've got a great big stack of it, maybe even a cord (one of those measures I've always wondered about that turns out to be a pile 4 by 4 by 8 feet, which sounds much more exact than it could possibly be). We've been burning it as if it were freezing and the furnace was on the blink, sitting on the living room sofa and staring aimlessly into the fire, telling each other how lovely it is to have a fireplace at last and getting up periodically to poke and prod and fan the flames.

Think, I said to the husband, of what it must've been like in this apartment all winter when they had to keep fires going in seven tile stoves (now long gone).

"That's what they had maids for," he said.

I wonder if they used wood, or coal, I said.

"Wood I think," he said.

I'm not so sure about that, but whatever they used, it must've taken a lot more than a cord of wood. Where do you think they kept it all?

(Which brings me to a stupid thing I loved to irritate my brothers and sister with when we were young, repeating to them endlessly "there's something nasty in the woodshed, there's something nasty in the woodshed" for no reason, no reason at all.)

The Swedish word for the day should be ved, which means wood, but it's not. Instead, it's eventuellt, which although it looks like it should mean eventually, does not. It means possibly, more or less.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

In 1973, a really cool movie called American Graffiti hit the theaters. At least I thought it was cool when I was 12. It evoked an earlier age of innocence, when the music was all golden oldies and people dressed dopey and the cars were great boxy boats. That would be the year 1962, some 11 years previous.

Some 11 years previous to now is 1993. I can't imagine feeling that kind of easy nostalgia for 1993. Things barely look as if they've changed to me, hair-, clothes-, car-wise. Of course maybe it's just that I'm getting old and unable to read cultural markers anymore, and the cultural shift between 1962 and 1973 wasn't any greater than the current cultural shift. Hell, maybe someone is already working on a movie to make people long for 1993 as an age of innocence and quaint habits.

Come to think of it, there have been planes crashing into buildings, a "war on terror" has begun which is somehow supposed to be connected to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, unemployment is high, the national debt is astronomical, the rest of the world despises the U.S. and the social contract has all but been done in.

It seems like there should be a big shift, but I can't feel it. Maybe our culture was past its sell-by date already in 1993?

The Swedish phrase for the day is beträd ej gräsmattan. It means keep off the grass!

- by Francis S.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Various entities are wondering about a decidedly lesbian-ish blog supposedly belonging to Maya Keyes, daughter of Illinois Senate candidate Alan Keyes, who blasted U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter, Mary, for being a lesbian (links courtesy Queerday, natch). Is it real or a hoax?

Me, I wonder how many blogs are in fact not what they appear to be.

For example, Mig, who tries to convince us all that he is a vaguely shy, self-deprecating, funny, angst-prone middle aged expat who is learning to play the cello, is in fact a 17-year-old St. Louis school girl with a 240 IQ, a penchant for Cheever, an encyclopedic knowlege of Austria, a desire to somehow manufacture the understanding father she never had, and is learning to play the cello.

Jeong-A is not a charming globe-trotting Korean lawyer who just quit her job in Hong Kong, but is actually a middle-aged Australian professor of semantics whose wife left him because he spends all his time chatting on the computer with what he thinks are young women, but are in fact middle-aged men like himself posing as young women.

Eeksy Peeksy doesn't live in Poland. He is in fact the PhD thesis of a University of Iowa writing workshop soon-to-be graduate. Marn is the group project of a sociology class at McGill University. Andrew Sullivan is a libertarian "branding" experiment gone haywire (well, maybe you've actually seen pictures of him, or even the man himself, but that doesn't mean anything).

And Zeke, who pretends to be a comfortingly neurotic guy who's ended up after eight years away, living back at home with his parents and taking over his father's company (does it sound like a sitcom, or what? Everybody Loves Zeke) is actually, um, a comfortingly neurotic guy who's ended up after eight years away, living back at home with his parents and taking over his father's company.

Okay, people. It's confession time. Get in that line. Step up to the little wooden cubicle, speak into the grate. Who are you really?

The Swedish word for the day is sanningen. It means the truth.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Swedish phrase for the day is chokladbrulé med hallon. It means chocolate crème brûlée with raspberries.

Before she left for the Gothenburg Book Fair last week, our former neighbor, L., the chef, sent over a copy of her cookbook. Complete with recipes for, among other things, chocolate crème brûlée with raspberries, plus dangerously enticing photos and a nice inscription to us, (we even merited a mention in the credits).

Sadly, as we are no longer neighbors, our days of being recipe guinea pigs are over as there don't seem to be any chefs living in the apartment building on Odenplan.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Ten years ago today, the huge ferry Estonia sank in the Baltic, taking with her more than 800 Swedes, Estonians and other folk.

In a small country like Sweden, I guess it's no surprise that nearly all of my friends know at least one person who died that night.

The Swedish phrase for the day is vad har hänt?. It means what's happened?

- by Francis S.

Monday, September 27, 2004

First it was the little bronze man on Karlavägen. Now his horse and wagon chariot-thing is missing as well, plus a bunch of rusty iron silhouettes at Ericsbergsparken have disappeared, leaving a solitary flat figure and flat dog.

Is it thievery or maintenance? Or is there a statue shepherd on the loose, herding the statues of Stockholm to some distant place where they can live the rest of their statue lives with others of their species - happy but segregated - instead of being stuck out in inclement weather being fondled inappropriately by random children and adults, and being shit on by birds?

The Swedish phrase for the day is vi skiter i det. It literally means something like we shit on it, but a better translation would be we'll forget about that, more or less.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

The night bus that runs from the far suburbs into the city is full of desperately glad teenagers and powdered and rouged little old ladies in low heels and glassy-eyed immigrants under the influence of something untoward and lesbians with toy poodles. Everyone seems secretly worried that if they look back, they'll turn into pillars of salt, or be sent back to hell, or have to live the rest of their lives under the unnatural lights of the bus, or that something else nasty and epic and biblical will happen. I certainly felt that way, my legs all tense, my arms crossed tightly across my chest, talking in a low voice with the husband every now and then as I looked out the window, full of wist.

We'd just been to dinner for the birthday of the husband's nephew.

I merely let loose a tremendous sigh of relief when we got to Odenplan, deciding that the ground was too filthy even for me to kiss.

I think I was around 12 or 13 when I realized that I was meant to live in the city, any city in fact. (Well, maybe not any city, although surely Houston or Phoenix or Orlando don't really count as cities anyway, they're just sprawl.)

I'm a terrible snob when it comes to cities.

The Swedish word for the day is förort. It means suburb.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Chatting over drinks at Tranan with the engaging and erudite Stefan Geens - beers for me, vodka lime for him - I seemed to get my mojo back, bloggerly speaking (blojo definitely does not conjure up the right images, so I won't try for any neologisms here). I felt downright born again. Though he might deny it, and it probably isn't intentional, the man is an evangelist. He's got plans, and he was talking all about New York blog cliques (for good and bad), and that he's changed his mind about thinking that it is silly and contrary to the medium for bloggers to meet in person, and that it would probably be better if George W. Bush got re-elected so he could really make things so bad that Americans would be cured of their penchant for the right wing (well, he admitted maybe it wouldn't be so good for Americans and a few random Muslim countries in the short run, plus there is always the possibility that it could cause irreparable damage supreme court-wise, for instance).

Talking politics was fun, of course, but I'm usually not into meta-thinking when it comes to blogging. But it got me chewing on how this huge public writing phenomenon will evolve, seeping into god only knows what parts of our lives, individually and collectively.

Agog with it, I felt like Tom Hulce in that scene in Animal House where he smokes pot for the first time and he's doing the "whole universe in an atom of my fingernail" routine.

Then again, the next day I realized it wears me out to think of all this stuff, and it humbles me to have to face the fact that my own intellect is rather sad, small and flabby. I guess I'll just leave it to the big brains.

The Swedish verb of the day is att tröttna. It means to tire of.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Sweden is pretty tame when it comes to natural disasters: no tornadoes or hurricanes or monsoons, no tidal waves or uncontrollable forest fires or volcanoes. There is the occasional flood, but that seemed to be about it as far as I could see.

How wrong I was.

Today, southern Sweden was rocked (well, maybe rocked is too strong a word, lightly shaken?) by an earthquake - the epicenter was in Kaliningrad. According to Dagens Nyheter, it was the strongest quake in Sweden in 100 years.

I guess there just is no security in this world.

The Swedish verb for the day is att skaka. It means to shake.

- by Francis S.

Monday, September 20, 2004

For lunch, I met a friend and former co-worker whom I hadn't seen in six months. She'd gone from blonde to brunette (gentlemen may prefer blondes, but she's more into the rugged he-man type) and I almost didn't recognize her. At Grodan, we spent too much of our lunch bitching about the current state of the U.S. and not enough on gossip. Probably because she already had all the gossip from the office, and I seem to be totally lacking in imagination these days. My creativity is all pure consumption - books about imaginary places are a favorite, or movies.

(Which reminds me, Bad Education is the usual Almodóvar feast: what should be desperate, sensational and lurid is moving instead, filling me with longing and hope. There was even a little boy singing "Moon River" in Spanish with a priest theatrically miming an accompaniament on guitar, and two of the main characters went to see La Bête Humaine as part of an alibi. And current "It" Boy Gael Garcia Bernal pays his dues in high heels and takes it up the ass like a man.)

The Swedish word for the day is raggmunk, which is a potato pancake, which Grodan prepares to perfection, served with lingon and thick bacon.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

As if to make up for the fact that Sweden tends to get Hollywood dreck six months after the States and the rest of Europe, Almodóvar's latest movie, Bad Education, is premiering here tonight, two months before it's due to premier in New York. And the husband and I got our invitations today in the mail (after a close call in which we almost missed out on the opportunity) to see it tonight at 9 p.m., a week or so before it opens to the general public in the theaters of Stockholm.

I'm shivering in anticipation.

Will it continue the trend of being even better than the last one?

(Almodóvar, besides being hot shit, holds a special place in my heart as being, albeit indirectly, responsible for my living in Sweden. In short, it was first seeing Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown with the incomparable Carmen Maura and the outlandish Rossy de Palma and all those red-hot, pink-hot and orange-hot colors and emotions that Almodóvar paints Spain with that made me think that I had to go to Spain, and years later, it was when I was living in Barcelona that I met the husband.)

The Swedish phrase for the day has to be dålig uppfostran, which is how they've translated the title of the movie. I would translate it as bad upbringing rather than bad education, however. I could be wrong about that - what do you think, native Swedish speakers?

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Some cultures don't care much for candles - the Spanish associate them with churches and death, it seems. But here, lighted candles are the embodiment of coziness, which is the highest state of being in the Swedish psyche.

It's candle weather again. The sun is setting earlier and earlier, autumn is bearing down with winter at its heels, and there's nothing cozier than candles burning everywhere in the apartment.

The Swedish word for the day is mörk. It means dark.

- by Francis S.

Monday, September 13, 2004

As the bus turned onto Birger Jarlsgatan, we passed a man on a motorcycle with a little wire-haired terrier, complete with leather bomber hat, sitting in between the man's legs.

"Det var kul," the mother sitting in front of me turned back to me and said. Which means that was nice.

Meanwhile, back in America, instead of cute dogs on motorcycles, you get chilling irony. Does anyone else find it incredulous that the same president who created a Department of Homeland Security [sic] has also, along with a republican congress, allowed a ban on assault weapons to lapse? Isn't homeland security supposed to be about America not being a source of weapons for terrorists, let alone, um, alienated teenagers aching to go on a rampage through their local high school?

The Swedish verb for the day is att garva. It means to laugh hysterically.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Almost exactly 25 years ago, I packed a suitcase full of clothes, a stereo and an electric typewriter into my parents' sad little white Vega hatchback, and my younger brother drove me the four hours it took to get to university. It was time to become an adult, which I sort of did, but not right away.

I was horribly lonely in that vast dormitory those first weeks, stuck with an indifferent but vaguely boorish roommate and his indifferent and vaguely boorish friends, who talked about sex in sneering and smutty fashion, no doubt in part because none of them had ever managed to actually do anything more than a bit of frantic groping in a car somewhere. I was a skinny little wimp with braces still (I didn't get them removed until the end of the year), and unbeknownst to them a queer boy as well, but I was far more experienced than they were when it came to girls.

Within the first couple weeks, I found my friends and had little to do with my roommate, and by Christmas I no longer even slept in my dorm room but instead spent all my nights with a much older man - 27! - who had already taught elementary school for five years and was there at university just for a year, getting a masters in education degree.

My roommate was mystified, I think. However, at some point over the winter, he read some of the letters I'd gotten from one of my high school sweethearts (the one who was a guy, not the one who was a girl, natch) and figured the whole thing out. In a sort of revenge, he ruined my electric typewriter that my parents had bought me as a high school graduation present. I never said anything to him, but rather in passive aggressive fashion, I told all my friends what he'd done, and they more or less joined me in despising him.

The next year, Milena Maglic and I claimed we were married so that we wouldn't have to stay in the dorm and instead lived in a roomy and cheerful and dirty apartment where we walked around naked and laughed and fought like mad dogs.

It's been 25 years, but I still don't feel like I'm an adult exactly and all I can wonder is, where has the time gone and how long does it take?

The Swedish word for the day is utveckling. It means development.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

"Heterosexuality isn't normal, it's just common."

said by Dorothy Parker, who used to answer the phone with "What fresh hell is this?"


The Swedish word for the day is oss. It means us.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Apparently, Paris is full of holes left by those excavating Romans - Lutetia they called the place - and these holes have been built over, naturally, leaving all kinds of tunnels and caverns, like the catacombs for instance.

Now they've discovered a fully equipped modern movie theater decorated with mystical symbols in one these holes. When they came back a second time to check it out, the power had been cut and there was a note: "Do not try to find us."

It's Phantom of the Opera meets the Da Vinci Code.

Don't you love it when life imitates, um, "art"?

The Swedish phrase for the day is underjorden. It means the underworld.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The man - about the size and shape of a piece of firewood with stray branches someone forgot to snap off, only made of bronze - is missing from his place on Karlavägen. He used to be standing behind an equally rough and firewood-like horse of bronze. I could never tell if he was supposed to be a farmer with a wagon, or a charioteer with a racehorse. But now he's gone, and the horse is just standing there by itself, looking twitchy and half-baked.

Wouldn't you know it, the husband is gone, too. A week in Spain, family matters and a bit of business to take care of as well. And I just realized that I actually agreed to let him go off with three of the four pairs of mutual jeans we own, as if he'll use them all and I won't need an extra pair here. The upsides and the downsides of being a couple of homos who are more or less the same size, although he is a bit shorter than I am and not quite as broad in the shoulders.

He only left yesterday, but as usual, I'm bored already.

The Swedish word for the day is ärlig. It means honest.

- by Francis S.

Monday, September 06, 2004

She was wearing a pink shirt with black polkadots, the girl getting a manicure at one of the thousands of hair salons in this little city, and I thought she looked like an antibiotic.

For some reason, those colors reminded me of a high school biology experiment in which we were given tabs of various antibiotics - erythromycin, tetracycline, and god knows what else - all scary yellows and pinks and greens with black markings on them, which we put in petrie dishes filled with agar. We put the tabs in four quadrants of the dish, marked them off, then rubbed cotton swabs into our throats, then dabbed the swabs into the agar. Two days later, we could see how the antibiotic had prevented bacteria from growing. And all I could think of was that the antibiotics looked dangerous, like angry bees somehow; even the names sounded like they could sting you.

The Swedish phrase for the day is säg till, which means, more or less, let me know.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

At dinner last night, H., the carpenter, told us that he has a fear of fruit.

"If I'm on the bus, it's like I have a sixth sense," he said matter-of-factly, but with a twinkle in his eye. "I can hear someone opening a paper bag and I can tell it's fruit. They stick their hands in the bag, and I can tell how heavy the fruit is, like, it's too heavy to be a plum it must be an apple, or even heavier, a banana. Then I can hear that little "chunk" when they break off the stem, and pull down the peel and then I smell banana, and I get all sweaty and uncomfortable."

I looked and looked, but I couldn't find the greek word for this fear of fruit. Karpophobia? Froutaphobia? It doesn't seem to exist.

The Swedish words for the day are rädsla and frukt. They mean, of course, fear and fruit.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

I dreamt that I was eating dinner at a crowded and vast table, elbow to elbow with Queen Elizabeth, and although I was trying very hard to be dainty, I accidentally brushed against her with my arm.

She went ballistic, screaming at me "no one touches me!"

What the hell was that all about?

The Swedish word for the day is matsal. It means dining room.

- by Francis S.

Monday, August 30, 2004

A., the TV director, got tickets to see Farenheit 9/11, which the husband and I, as well as C., the fashion photographer and his children and even A.'s parents all duly went and saw in a sold-out theater.

Everyone was a bit disappointed as we sat down to dinner afterwards.

"It was so unsubtle," said C.'s daughter. "They made George Bush look stupid in such a stupid way."

"I didn't get the part about the Bin Ladens," said C.'s son. "Who cares?"

"I don't think that European audiences will like it so much," said A.

I said that it was made for Americans, so it's not meant to be subtle, it's supposed to play on people's emotions. Although it probably won't convince anyone of anything.

Still, we all agreed that the important point was that the war is mostly about money, in the end.

"So, do you think Hillary Clinton will become president?" A. asked me.

No, I said, she's hated by too many people.

"Which do you think will be first, a black president or a woman president?" A. asked.

Hard to say, I answered.

"Did you know Chelsea Clinton is in Stockholm right now?" A. asked.

No, I hadn't known. (I wonder if Chelsea is as fucked up as those poor Bush girls.)

"Is it really true that Bush could get re-elected?" they all asked me.

Depends on what happens in the three weeks before the election, I said. And they were all astounded and I found it very hard to explain that Americans aren't stupid and gullible.

Then the husband and I walked home, and when we got there, we turned on the TV, only to find a show about a pair of wacky Swedish guys spending an entire day with Monica Lewinsky, who got one guy to get his hair permed and the other guy to get an "M" shaved onto the side of his head.

She's kind of charming, Monica, a little lonely and sad, and very well-spoken yet terribly unsure of herself, but charming in a way that does not conjure up blowjobs and semen on skirts. But not charming enough to keep me watching once they went to the Kabbalah Center.

The things Swedes think about America.

The Swedish word for the day lurad. It means tricked.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

"Here," the husband said, handing me a grimy packet of chewing gum, cinnamon-flavored, my favorite.

Where did that come from, I asked.

It turns out he'd brought it back from New York when he was there in April and he'd unearthed it from a bag somewhere where he'd forgotten it.

The strange thing in Sweden is that there is no cinnamon-flavored candy of any sort. They much prefer licorice that has been laced with ammonia-y salt.

And now, as I start thinking about fixing a curry for tonight's dinner party - a mix of caraway seed, cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cardemom, fresh ginger, garlic and onion, turmeric, saffron and ground cashews - I'm wondering what makes a culture choose to love a certain spice above others? Why wasn't I raised to have a sweet tooth for caraway- or saffron- or ginger-flavored chewing gum?

Interestingly, chewing gum doesn't go stale, sitting in a bag somewhere for five or six months.

The Swedish word for the day is, of course, kanel. It means cinnamon.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

I'm going through some kind of strange memento mori stage: As I walk down the street, I look at all the handsome young men and for some reason I can only see what they'll look like when they're, say, 75. All burnished and balding and sagging a bit.

What would Freud say?

The Swedish word for the day is knasig. It means wacky.

- by Francis S.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Last week, we went to a funeral, a woman who was the beloved grandmother and mother of close friends of ours. In Sweden, men wear black suits with black or white ties and everyone carries a flower or bouquet - in most cases, a single white rose - that is laid on the coffin one by one as each mourner walks past and pays respect toward the end of the service.

Though I hardly knew her, I shed a few tears, mostly at my friends' pain.

The way we mark death is so peculiar, invoking God with a few weakly sung psalms, and then coffee and sandwiches and sherry and small talk. Death has been so removed from life, we really don't know what to make of it. Not that I have any decent alternative to what we do.

Maybe getting good and drunk and accidental rending of garments?

The Swedish word for the day is tvärtom. It means on the contrary.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

This explains everything. George W. Bush as a prep school brat playing at gangbanging: "People dying right now 'cause I said so, that's my work. Fuck New York. This apple aint so big." (hats off to Kip for the link.)

The countdown has started. Only one week until the Republican National Convention.

The Swedish word for the day is protest. It needs no translation.

- by Francis S.

Friday, August 20, 2004

I wonder if The Tinkerbell Hilton Diaries will ever be released in Sweden? And will the author, madman and wag about town Dong Resin, be coming to Stockholm on a worldwide book tour?

Nah.

The Swedish phrase for the day is ett visst antal. It means a certain number.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

If it's raining in the morning, or I'm just too tired, instead of walking I take the bus. Even if I have to wait a bit, I take the No. 42 instead of the No. 4, even though the No. 4 is one of those buses that bends in the middle. It's that the No. 42 has a nicer route, taking Karlavägen, with its row of linden trees in the middle, its bronze statues (nearly all women in some stage of undress, but there is one naked man with an enviable physique), snobby little shops and cafés, and troops of little old ladies walking tiny dogs of one sort or another.

The Swedish word for the day is alldeles. It means completely.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

It's a great big slumber party over here: The priest and the policeman came home from a month in Finland to find their apartment flooded, so while everything is being fixed, they're here for a week, complete with toddler and crib, camping out in the spare bedroom.

I know how fun and exhausting it is to hang out with someone who's been on this earth for, oh, about 20 months. But I forgot that I would look forward to coming home from work so much, the sound of the little feet of my goddaughter come running when I unlock the front door, to see that grubby little face and that waddling kind of diaper run she does, to hear her calling out to see if it's me.

Or to be honest, calling out to see if it's the husband, not me.

This could have something to do with the fact that the night before, as she sat on my lap while we ate sushi, I failed to notice that she had grabbed a great gob of wasabi from my plate until she started screaming after she'd stuffed it into her mouth.

I think she's going to have a lifelong fear of green gooey stuff, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

But me, what kind of godfather am I?

I just found a little half-eaten cheese and butter sandwich tucked away on a low shelf in the old maid's room.

I'm in love with her, my goddaughter.

The Swedish word for the day is trotsålder. We call it the terrible twos in the States. She's got less than four months to go.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Fashion trend or unpleasant coincidence? In the past week I've seen four different people, four, wearing black shirts with vivid orange flames, shirts that look exactly like the "uniforms" the kids behind the Burger King counter wear.

Maybe I'm just hopelessly out of sync with what's hip.

The Swedish phrase for the day, pommes frites, is actually French. Americans call them french fries, the Brits call them chips.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

"Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft tea-cakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum."

As if to make up, in just a couple of days, for all the cold weather we had during the summer, it's turned hot, truly hot. And when it's hot like this, I can't help conjuring Harper Lee's sentence in my mind, about the ladies as sweat- and talcum-frosted tea-cakes. I think ever since I read that, when I was 11 or so, I've kept that image in my mind, of what hot really is.

I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird a couple of weeks ago. It hasn't lost any of its bittersweet punch, it still stings the heart.

The Swedish word for the day is intryck. It means impact.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

The Oracular Vagina takes her place among world leaders.

It's probably easier to understand if you start at the beginning, and work your way to the top. Probably.

The Swedish word for the day is hårvård, which may look like an Ivy League university with a couple of extra circles, but in fact means hair care in English.

by Francis S.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Though I've been damned neglectful for the past months, it would be a shame if I didn't bother to mark the day.

Happy third birthday, blog.

The Swedish word for the day is tveksam. It means hesitant.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

The summer's come and gone. To be more accurate, it never really quite arrived. There were no stretches of sunshiney days, everytime it seemed to start, it would be cut short by grey and cool and melancholy weather that helps one understand the problem of high suicide rates in this country. Not that I mind now, exactly. The dreariness of the summer will hit me in November.

So I sit, with a stubborn cough and a book (bad-boy book critic Dale Peck's Martin and John which, in the British edition I just bought, has been titled Fucking Martin, a change that I can't even hazard a guess as to the reasoning behind it), lolling about on the sofa in the library in our apartment while it rains outside. Remembering last week when I showed my beloved little brother how we were sitting, on the library sofa in the apartment, at exactly that obliquely angled point on the map where Odengatan runs into Odenplan.

Bizarre, how pleasureable it is to sit on a sofa in a shallow curve of windows that one can point to so directly on a map and say "we are sitting exactly there." Or here.

The Swedish word for the day is ont i halsen. It means sore throat.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

While searching among a raft of old e-mail, I came across a message from my friend Edu, sent a year or so before he died.

How peculiar and unsettling a feeling it gave me.

I was unable to make myself read the mail, although my first thought was to reply.

But what to ask or say? "I think of you often" or "Are you still out there, somehow?" or "Are we sad and loathesome animals, when seen from afar, or pitiful, or beautiful?" or "Can one still be full of emotion, longing, wit, and irrational after death, really?"

In the end, I didn't send anything, nor did I read the mail.

The Swedish word for the day is själ. It means soul.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The way to Korpo Island in the vast Finnish archipelago begins with a flight into Turku. Roughly the equivalent of say, Providence, Rhode Island, Turku has an equally faded if a far more glorious past. A cursory 45-minute stroll in grey summer drizzle, the cheap Swedish brands in the tired shops clustered around the main square, the desperate-looking stalls in the middle of the square, everything exudes that cranky, weighed-down feel of a minor provincial city, the people somehow more suspicious and unfriendly than in a place more cosmopolitan and sure of itself.

You can take a bus from downtown Turku to get to Korpo, or if you happen to be going to a wedding, you can hitch a ride with fellow wedding guests whom you've never met before, who were given a description of you by the bride and told to look out for you, which in fact one of them did, asking you to join them.

In the car, a trans-Atlantic mix of Spaniard, Brit, Canadian, Swede, it will take a ferry ride to Nagu Island, and then a second ferry ride before you'll reach Korpo, the occupants of the car pre-occupied with getting there on time and catching up on the details of what has happened in their lives since they last saw each other, some of them nearly a decade ago. You will listen politely, putting in a word here and there when appropriate.

Korpo itself will be far greener than you expected, farms and cows and cottages and the sea, side by side by side by side. The church on Korpo, stone and some 800 years old, is more ancient than you had imagined, the bride even more beautiful and the priest, your good friend, will be no longer nervous about getting everything perfect for her little sister the bride, which somehow then makes everything perfect even if the organist has surpassed the awfulness of the organist at a wedding you were at in Malaysia once, playing very badly an ugly Finnish march by an obscure Finnish composer called Melartin, a march that lasts some five minutes longer than it takes for the bride and groom to make it to the altar.

Afterwards, you will be charmed by the old manor house in which the reception takes place - pink on the outside and rough and elegant on the inside, the room in which you eat dinner sporting a column with a visible bullet hole from a long-past civil war, and at one time having been the scene of Jean Sibelius playing the piano. There will be no electric lights, only candles, giving the scene an impossibly romantic and painterly and antique air, though it gets no darker than early dusk at the darkest point of the evening, everyone's eyes glittering and cheeks flushed and outlines cast in deep shadow.

You will be exhausted by the length and number of the speeches, which make the dinner last some six hours, but your dinner companions make up for it - a young woman from Amsterdam on your left who makes your favorite speech of the evening, and on your right the aunt of the bride, a retired war correspondent from Prague who in the early seventies studied film for four years on a Fullbright Scholarship at your Alma Mater, New York University.

You'll marvel at the crowd, a curious mix of upper-middle class Swedes - lawyers and bankers and high-level political advisors like the bride - and upper-middle class Finland-Svensk Finns of a certain left-ish, idiosyncratic and intellectual bent. Plus a bunch of upper-middle class foreigners like yourself.

You will drink too much red wine, and talk about what it is to live in a country that is not really your own, how no place is home anymore, how difficult it is to maintain a social welfare state. You'll laugh as your little goddaughter waves down the table at you, everyone thinking she's waving to them but you alone knowing that it's you and no one else.

Then you'll dance with great fervor and laugh at the bride doing her famous Britney Spears dance routine (danced not with her husband, but with your friend the Policeman). You dance so much and talk with so many interesting people that you'll somehow manage, through bad luck mostly and by 4:30 a.m. now in a decidedly foul mood, to end up sleeping beside the bride's other sister in her messy room at the family compound of the bride's family rather than in the best room at a lovely seaside hotel - painted wooden floors, windows onto the tiny harbor - on Nagu, an island away.

You'll wake up two hours later in your suit, sweaty and greasy and cold all at the same time, unable to see because you took out your contact lenses before passing out, and your friend the priest walks you up to the road where you can catch a bus back to the hotel, and she fills you in on all sorts of family gossip that helps to make sense of some of the night before.

The bus will take you back, and after a shower and a change of clothes, the whole dreamlike ending of the night before will no longer be annoying but rather, you're sure, become a great story to tell, especially after the hotel gives you a discount on account of you didn't mess up the beds.

After the brunch with the rest of the pale and hungover guests at the family compound (which, with your contact lenses in you can now see is unsurpassingly beautiful, a whole bay they have to themselves, somehow more melancholy, more full of soul than the islands off Stockholm, which are what make it more beautiful), and all the driving back and forth on roads and ferries into Korpo, and then back again to Nagu and finally into Turku, and the plane ride home - a propeller plane, your first in years and years and years - you will be happy to be home, to your own bed and your own husband.

The way to and from Korpo is long and complicated, but it is well worth every second.

The Swedish word for the day is äventyr. It means, of course, adventure.

- by Francis S.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Summer has begun - cloudy, cool, tenuous - all the hard work preparing for the weeks and weeks off is done.

My parents, who were here for a visit, have come and gone. As has midsummer, which we celebrated out on Ornö, a perfect day with sun and all the proper accoutrements: birch branches cut from trees in a wood above a little inlet on the island, the branches wired to the midsummer pole while flowers were wrapped into wreathes by my mother and the editor from Wallpaper, who was in from London without her husband, who was shooting pictures for a magazine in Australia; there was herring and more herring, and snaps and me leading most of the singing with the few drinking songs I know, and then the putting up of the pole and the dancing around it and the games. The island showed itself off to perfection for my parents, and the guests were charming and full of stories.

Along with midsummer, we gave dinners and went to dinners and drank bottles and bottles of red wine. We climbed through the attic and up to the top of the tower at Nordiska Museet and saw Stockholm from on high courtesy of a friend who works at the museum, me clinging to the walls and afraid to grab the railing and look down. We shopped at the market at Hötorget where my parents bought flowers to put in boxes on the front balcony. We heard a lecture at Sofiakyrkan, and my parents met the husband's nephew, the priest and the policeman and their daughter who is our goddaughter. My father fixed countless doorhandles, the front door, the lamp in the dining room and hung a heavy piece of art on the wall.

They left yesterday morning, leaving at 6 a.m. in a taxi.

The husband and I are alone in the apartment for the first time, as the lodger is at a wedding in the States. We spent the day inside, watching movies, hardly bothering to look for the sun between the clouds.

Summer has begun.

The Swedish phrase for the day is det samma. It means likewise.

- by Francis S.
 


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