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.