Sunday, February 29, 2004

February 29. A day to remember that everything takes a bit of compromise, that if you don't fudge things around the edges, dire consequences are in store. A day to remember that every four years, we're forced to add a day to prevent summer from becoming winter over the centuries.

I'm definitely a compromiser. Perfectionism is not one of my vices. I believe a thing worth doing is a thing worth doing in mediocre fashion. In fact, no one is likely to notice if each drizzle of red wine sauce is symmetric and that the chicken breast is placed in exactly the same spot on each plate. It's okay to be a centimeter or two or three off, as it will look just as pleasing and taste just as good.

I suppose February 29 is an affirmation of my way of doing things.

The Swedish word for the day is skottdagen. It means, of course, February 29th, although my dictionary translates it as leap day, although I don't recall ever actually using that term; the dictionary also gives a nice Latin term that I've never heard of either - intercalary day.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Because he's funny and perceptive and human, because he makes me gasp at his neverending flood of wit, his ability to just knock off post after post of top-notch writing that is introspective without ever crossing the line into indulgence. Because he embodies all that is best about confessional writing. Because he is what differentiates the amateurs from the pros. Because, god only knows why, he wants to hit the Blogdex top 100 list.

Because he's always worth reading, see what Mig has to say today, and take a look at all the various Bug stuff he's got on offer.

The Swedish verb for the day is att beundra. It means to admire.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The subway was filled this morning with people carrying shopping bags from the various booksellers in town: Today is the start of Sweden's countrywide yearly book sale, a practice that began in the 1920s when publishers wanted to get rid of remaindered books.

In a land where about 40 percent of the population reads a book for an average of 55 minutes on any given day (according to statistics from the Swedish Writers' Union), this sale is a big thing. But we're not talking huge numbers - in a market of some 9 million Swedish speakers, a book that sells 10,000 copies is a best-seller, more or less.

But, you gotta love a country where a book sale is eagerly awaited by nearly half the population.

Me, I haven't bought a thing. All my money is going to the new apartment.

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

- by Francis S.

Monday, February 23, 2004

The most difficult thing about leaving this apartment will be leaving our neighbor the chef behind. At least for me that will be hardest. She's working on a cookbook due out in the fall, and the husband and I are lucky guinea pigs testing, say, four different pasta dishes - asparagus and bacon, roasted broccoli and blue cheese and walnuts, cherry tomatoes sautéed in butter and sugar with sunflower seeds, lentils and orzo with oranges and rucola - or desserts like ice cream sandwiches with toasted gingerbread and clementines in anise syrup.

I don't think she's going to be at all interested in hauling these meals halfway across town just to be nice to us.

(They've finished sanding and oiling the floors; they've now started spackling the walls... we've only a month to go before we move in and whenever I stop by to see how it's going, it feels more and more like home, despite the mess.)

The Swedish word for the day is skrattkammare. It means funhouse.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Some people jet from San Francisco to Los Angeles just for lunch. Me, I jet from Stockholm to Helsinki for coffee and a chat with my favorite Finn. Of course jammed in before the coffee (not actual coffee, it was more kind of metaphoric, with a lot of talking) was an interview with a Japanese designer who has worked for Marimekko for the past 30 years.

When I was 13, I was the shit in my striped Marimekko shirts, purchased by my mother at what must have surely been one of the first Crate & Barrel stores, located in a tiny strip mall off Sheridan Road in Winnetka.

It was so oddly nostalgic to be wandering around in an office and factory I'd never been to before, watching them print cloth in patterns that I remember as being the hippest thing when I was a kid.

I got some interesting swag, too: books with some nifty photos of all those familiar patterns in various forms, from bedsheets to beach hats. Amazingly, this stuff has all come back into fashion again and achieved a kind of classic status. Um, I think.

The Swedish word for the day is formgivare. It means designer.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

I thought I'd left Chicago behind years ago, but we came home from an afternoon birthday party only to find our street blocked off and lit up by klieg lights, a bunch of big old American cars parked here and there, some garbage cans artfully placed beside a restaurant and a Chicago Tribune newspaper dispenser outside the secondhand clothes shop.

It seems I moved to Sweden only to find myself in Chicago again. Even stranger, it's pouring rain on one side of the building, while the courtyard is clear and filled with snow.

(It was those Finnish fun-boys The Rasmus, filming a music video on our narrow street, the Farmer Street, which apparently looks like Chicago to your typical Swedish music video director.)

The Swedish word for the day is stjärnor. It means stars.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Most days, I take a lunchtime promenade up one side of a canal, cross a bridge and then walk back down the canal on the other side, which is an island that, if I'm not mistaken, still officially belongs to the king of Sweden (who is currently mired in controversy over remarks he made about Brunei being a sort of paradaisical land of the free and home of the brave, despite the fact that the Sultan of Brunei has absolute power. Of course the Prime Minister is now also in trouble because the government didn't prepare the king properly before the visit, apparently. Unfortunately, I can only find Swedish links to this story, except for this short from Swedish Radio where you have to scroll down a bit.)

There, not far from the Nordic Museum, stands a statue of Jenny Lind in crinoline skirts and crossed ankles, all ladylike with a green patina sitting amidst a little stand of birches. It always makes me so cold to look at her.

The Swedish phrase for the day is in honor of Dong Resin, who invariably makes me laugh out loud: Var finns biblioteket någonstans? It means where is the library?

- by Francis S.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Swedes aren't so big on marriage. They seem to get married only when they really want to make a big statement, say, after a couple has been together for 25 years and their children are grown. Since the laws surrounding common-law-marriage do such a good job of protecting people, including children, there's no legal or social advantage to tying the knot. It's a bigger deal to people, so they don't do it as lightly.

"It's a desire not to make promises you can't keep," says my friend the priest, who was recently quoted in an article in the Baltimore Sun.

But it doesn't mean that people split up any more often than they do in the States, or even that there are more single parents. Yet conservatives still love to point to the high rate of children born out of wedlock in Sweden as an example of the failure of liberal sex education, which is utterly ridiculous - these children's parents aren't married, but they're as together as any married couple in the States.

I've had it with all the rhetoric about marriage.

The Swedish verb for the day is att lova. It means to promise.

by Francis S.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Language amazes me:

In English I can tell my son: "Today I talked to Adrian," and he won't ask: "How do you know you talked to Adrian?" But in some languages, including Tariana, you always have to put a little suffix onto your verb saying how you know something - we call it "evidentiality." I would have to say: "I talked to Adrian, non-visual," if we had talked on the phone. And if my son told someone else, he would say: "She talked to Adrian, non-visual, reported." In that language, if you don't say how you know things, they think you are a liar.

From an interview with linguistic researcher Alexandra Aikhenvald conducted by Adrian Barnett in the January 31 issue of New Scientist.

So, if the lingua franca of the world were Tariana, what exactly would this mean for George W. Bush and Tony Blair if they had given speeches about attacking Iraq because they had heard that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? I wonder if there are enough suffixes in Tariana to convey believability in this particular case.

The Swedish verb for the day is att överskatta. It means to overestimate.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Groundhog day was a mere two days ago, but with the thermometer hovering at nearly 8 degrees celsius, it feels disconcertingly like spring has arrived already in Stockholm.

But in Ohio it's deep and darkest winter for great big homo types like myself: There's nothing quite like a bit of mean-spirited anti-gay legislation to give one the chills. I wonder how many states will follow in Ohio's footsteps?

The Swedish word for the day is baklänges. It means (facing) backwards.

- by Francis S.

Monday, February 02, 2004

As Blogger gives, so give I: at last, a site feed. Over there after the links and before the archives.

- by Francis S.
Less than a hundred years ago, the general public picnicked on the White House lawn whenever it wanted to.

Apparently, the general public can still picnic on the lawns of the various royal residences of Sweden. You can even wander aimlessly on the grounds of, say, Uriksdal Palace late on a Sunday evening, in the dead of winter, clutching a bottle of champagne and searching desperately for the greenhouses where a birthday party is going on.


The Swedish word for the day is trädgård. It means garden.

- by Francis S.