Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Today, as the number 4 comes crashing down on top of the number 3 in the 1970s vintage radio alarm clock that is my life, I've been pondering my existence and other deep shit. I've come to the conclusion that the key to my having a satisfying life is to be happy at whatever geographic coordinates I find myself at during each and every moment, as opposed to wishing that I were somewhere else out of regret or anticipation.

In practice this means sitting outside and squinting in the chilly sun as the ferry I am taking makes its way through the icy Stockholm archipelago, instead of sitting inside reading with a scowl until I make it to my destination much sooner than the boat's captain said we would arrive. The water is all ice floes, big and small, with only periodic stretches of open water held impossibly still by the ice so that the reflection is nearly flawless of the sky and the black outlines of stone and trees that are the islands. It is, in fact, so beautiful that I nearly miss my stop altogether and come running out just as the ferry is about to pull away from the jetty.

It also means that when I decide to leave my husband behind at his insistence, alone and sick and grumpy, I should enjoy the company - A., the TV producer, C., the fashion photographer, various random and not so random teenagers - and shouldn't spend the weekend worrying about him even when I call and he sounds awful and I know he isn't eating properly and I decide to go home early but discover that the only boat of the day has already left and that I'll just have to take the first boat the next day.

Of course this be-happy-at-your-geographic-coordinates advice only works provided you are not stuck in some kind of hell that you have never had nor ever will have any chance to change without superhuman effort of some sort, which come to think of it, is a major part of just about everyone's life, on and off.

On second thought, this all sounds like some annoying and nasty Panglossian gloss on life. What's wrong with wishing you were still in bed as you wait for the bus on a rainy March morning, huh? Fuck it all.

So, tell me 44 is a good number, a special number, a great age to be.

I hate birthdays.

The Swedish phrase for the day has been supplanted by a Finnish phrase for the day that is in fact mostly in English: management by perkele. It means management by fat sick bastard. Or maybe management by fucking asshole. Take your pick.

- by Francis S.

Friday, March 25, 2005

I've been waiting for this book, Mother of Sorrows, for ten years or so.

It will only make me cry, no doubt. But in a good way.

In the meantime, we're off to Birds Island for the first visit of the year on this long Easter weekend. Apparently there is still enough ice to go walking on the waters of the Baltic, provided one wears a special device with plastic lines and metal spikes that can be whipped out in case the ice breaks and one falls through into the freezing sea. Of course, I'm already wondering why I would want to participate in any activity in which one needs to know what to do in case one falls through ice and into a freezing sea.

The Swedish word for the day rör ej. It means don't touch.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Man about Leith, the redoubtable Peter of Nakedblog (naked as in naked truth as opposed to naked bodies) sponsored the actual prize for the Bloggie award that I got: a boxed DVD set of episodes from the Australian high-brow historical and all-round classy drama series "Prisoner Cell Block H."

Unfortunately, it is available only in a version with that damn region 1 coding for the U.S. market.

Instead he's given me an Amazon.com certificate worth 40 dollars.

But what should I get with the low-production values, the camp and high-drama of "Prisoner Cell Block H" so I can at least keep to the spirit of the prize as Peter intended?

You decide.

The Swedish word for the day is Skärtorsdagen. It means Maundy Thursday. Interestingly enough, most Swedes seem to at least know the name for this day despite their overwhelmingly secular attitudes, whereas I'd reckon that in God-fearing America maybe 2-3 percent of the population could tell you that today is Maundy Thursday.

- by Francis S.

Monday, March 21, 2005

I used to worship at the altar of the subway - dimly lit, with plenty of rats and filth, it all seemed so very gothic. But I've made a full conversion and I've been washed in the blood of the No. 42 bus.

Washed in the slush kicked up by the No. 42 bus, actually, to be more accurate. But, you get the idea.

I can't really account for the change, except to say that suddenly the subway seems so limiting and stuffy, even if you do get to ride on actual trains when you take the subway.

But on the big buses, the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 buses, the kind with a fold in the middle, there's a section in the very back where the passengers sit as if on three sofas arranged in a U. The living room, I call it. Let's sit in the living room, I say to the husband whenever we take the No. 2. He hates it when I say that.

Yesterday, we sat in the living room of the No. 2 bus with the policeman, the priest and one of the priest's sisters and another friend - we were on our way home and they, lucky dogs, were on their way to see Eddie Izzard wearing spike heels and eye shadow and rambling gloriously on and on. At least with any luck, he would be wearing the heels and makeup. We had just eaten way too much meat in celebration of the priest's birthday (she's 37, at least I think she's 37) at some steak restaurant, and we were feeling all full of iron and muscle.

As soon as we had taken our seats, congenially facing each other and three total strangers, the friend of the priest said to everyone: "Hi, my name is E. and I'm an alcoholic."

"Hi, E.," we all sang out, especially the strangers.

Who says that Swedes are shy people with no sense of humor?

Hail to the bus. And the bus driver.

The Swedish word for the day is begrepp. It means concept or notion.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

"Hey, angelface! Glad you could make it."

O, how we've missed him. It's been years.

Give us a kiss, Aaron.

The Swedish phrase for the day is välkommen tillbaka, which means welcome back. Not to be confused with välkommen åter, which literally translates to welcome back, but is used more to mean come back soon.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The funny thing about growing up in the '60s and '70s as a girly-boy in the Great Midwestern States of America, you develop a love-hate relationship with being picked first, and beauty contests.

On the one hand, you hate the whole idea of the two most popular boys - the two most handsome and gregarious and athletically gifted boys, real boy's boys - being singled out nearly every day to be team captains and then asked to choose, in turns, which other less handsome and less gregarious and less athletically gifted boys will be on their respective teams, until there are only a handful left and it's down to the dregs and you, being anything but a boy's boy, are invariably the second-to-last to be chosen. The penultimate girly-boy, that's you.

On the other hand, once a year you eagerly watch as some 50 bathing suit- and evening dress-clad girls who want to bring peace to the world with their ferocious smiles are winnowed down to one Miss America, who stands weeping in her high heels, your mother wincing in the next room at your intense interest in things so very unmanly.

So, more than 30 years later, it's hard not to take pleasure in being picked first and winning that beauty contest. But I worry about gloating.

I can't be sure that I'm being altogether logical here, being that I'm pleasingly drunk. But I guess you get the gist of what I'm saying.

The Swedish phrase for the day is min man fyller år idag, which means today is my husband's birthday. The sancerre was delightful.

- by Francis S.
So, while I've got your attention, I thought I'd follow in the footsteps of arch-blogger and current lifetime achievement Bloggie 2005 winner Tom Coates and put in a few plugs for some excellent reads culled from the Bloggies 2005: Mike, Siobhan, Genia, Toddy, P.A., Joey, David, et al and of course, the inimitable Zed.

Over and out.

Swedish word of the day to come later, I promise.

- by Francis S.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Hot damn! Validation.

- by Francis S., where the "S" stands for "Speechless"
One of the worst tortures I have ever undergone was the week I did thirty interviews at a conference in Cannes and had to sit in the editing room listening to myself say the same inane things over and over as the producer edited my pieces into webcasts. I was trying to pull together written pieces to go with the webcasts, and I had to sit in that same room.

All of which is just to make the point that I can't stand the sound of my voice.

Despite this, I've done a podcast with Steffanie over at Broken English, extolling the virtures of slightly-off-the-beaten-path areas of Stockholm to visit. Mosebacke torg is the first stop. According to me, it's charming (I called it charming three times. Three times! This is why I try to stick to writing. It's much easier to avoid repeating yourself and sounding fatuous.)

It's chatty, it's meandering, it's all over the place.

It's way too much Francis and not enough Steffanie at Mosebacke, on Broken English.

The Swedish word for the day is besvärad. It means self-conscious.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Scandinavia of my imagination is something like the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershøi - the light cold and pure and blue, everything really just a set of vast and elegantly minimal rooms opening onto each other, lonely in a way that aches but is quickly remedied by a kiss on the back of the neck - you really must see the actual paintings to understand fully what I mean. It's a vision that I coddle a bit and encourage in myself, and really, I do live in an apartment that is a set of minimal rooms opening onto each other, and on a Saturday in winter, the light is just as cold and pure and blue. I first hit on this feeling of delicious northern loneliness when I was 15, looking from an airplane down into a wilderness of black-green pinetrees against the snow outside Gander in Newfoundland.

Sometimes, I think to myself, this life must surely be just a dream. However did I get here?

The Swedish word for the day is konstnär. It means artist.

- by Francis S.

Monday, March 07, 2005

I gave her Cakes and I gave her Ale,
And I gave her Sack and sherry,
I kist her once and I kist her twice,
and we were wond'rous merry.
I have her Beads and bracelets fine,
And I gave her Gold down derry,
I thought she was afear'd till she stroak'd my Beard,
and we were wond'rous merry.
Merry my hearts, merry my Cocks, merry my sprights,
merry merry merry my hey down derry,
I kist her once and I kist her twice,
and we were wond'rous merry.

Today is the 346th birthday of Henry Purcell, who seemed to know all the cool or important people of London at the end of the 17th century - Dryden, Pepys, Aphra Behn. Naturally, he makes me feel inadequate, being that when he was my age, he had been dead for eight years but had already managed to write more than 700 pieces of music.

The Swedish phrase for the day is sakta men säkert. It means slowly but surely.

- by Francis S.

Friday, March 04, 2005

When I moved to Sweden some six years ago, I was surprised to find that cell phones were ubiquitous. They weren't nearly as popular in the States at that time. In fact, people were still using pagers. (Does anyone use pagers anymore?)

Then, after a couple of months on the job here, I was offered a free cell phone at work. Stupidly, I balked at the thought of being always reachable. But only for a month or so. Within half a year of arriving in this country, I had joined the rest of Swedish society, from 10-year-olds to the most ancient of great-great grandmothers.

What I liked best about the phone was that I could program it to play my very own song as the ring tone. I sat, punching in buttons until I got a nice approximation of the opening phrase of Domenico Scarlatti's Sonata in g minor, K. 450, the keypad substituting poorly for a keyboard: creativity reduced down about as far as it will go. But better than nothing.

Since that first phone, I've programmed the same tune into two succeeding phones. But with everyone younger than 35 having more or less real music as their ring tones, and everyone over 35 eschewing ring tones for the much more polite vibrate signal, which can only be felt by the person holding the phone, I know I'm on the wrong side whichever way you look by keeping this quirky little ring tone. Even if it does somehow makes people la-la-la along with it more than any other tune I've ever heard coming from a cell phone.

(I think my favorite thing about it is that I always fumble with the phone and never get it on the first ring, so it repeats the little phrase, just as it is repeated in the original music, a stupid private joke that pleases me, for no reason at all.)

So, now that my trusty 68i seems to be in need of a trade-in, the question is: Will I still be able to program twinkly, tinny, electronic-y Scarlatti into whatever phone I can get these days?

The Swedish phrase for the day is lämna ett meddelande. It means leave a message.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

On Wednesday, an early birthday present from my parents arrived for the husband: a DVD of La Mala Educación. Which I couldn't resist watching late last night by myself while the husband slept, staying up until 2:30 in the morning.

After a third viewing of the movie, I have concluded that the one thing that would get me into drag would be a sequined dress by Gaultier that mimics and exaggerates and adores and mocks the naked body, all the way down to gloves with red-sequin fingernails. If I could have that dress, and Gael Garcia Bernal's face, of course.

The Swedish word for the day is kvinnlig. It means feminine.

- by Francis S.