Saturday, April 30, 2005

When I was a boy, Saturday lunch was tea - Constant Comment, which tasted of cloves and orange peel - poured from a white porcelain teapot with blue stripes, a wedding present given to my parents, the little china cups that had no handles had long since been broken except for one. My father had tongue sandwiches, and the rest of us had Dutch cheese on rye bread with caraway seeds, or maybe bread that my mother had just spent the morning making. Occasionally, afterwards I would watch the Children's Film Festival with Kukla, Fran and Ollie to see the foreign films that made up most of the program, disturbing stop-action animations from Hungary and badly dubbed short features from Russia or Japan or somewhere else exotic and foreign. I always had the most peculiar feeling in a sensitive organ, peculiar to me and me alone, that rests somewhere between my heart and my adam's apple. I felt a great sorrow for the children in the films - the films were nearly always unbearably sad - and I longed to be these children.

The Swedish word for the day is lördagar. It means Saturdays.

- by Francis S.

Friday, April 29, 2005

At noon today, there were pale girls in their bathing suits, laughing and kicking their feet in the water on a dock by the Djurgården canal. The air was maybe 12 degrees celsius, god only knows how cold the water was. It's barely spring yet, the trees are still only thinking about turning green, but girls are in their bathing suits.

I don't understand Swedes.

The Swedish verb for the day is att promenera. It means to take a walk.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

In 1941, Herbert Matter was the designer for a book - The Crafty Linotyper or the Ballet of the ABCs - that seems to have been a coloratura display of the lost art of typesetting a book with hot type: all flourishes, mannerism, tics, clever references and play. The book is a bit thin on content, though, as far as I can tell by reading about it (as opposed to actually reading it). But the flourishes and play are the real content anyway, the storyline is just a framework for showing off. It all seems so innocent, so Algonquin Hotel Manhattanish. As if people in 1941 were any more innocent than they are now.

Kind of like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: a collection of bits and set-pieces, all flourishes, mannerism, tics, clever references and play. The meaning lies in the bits, as opposed to being found in the plot. Exactly my kind of movie.

The Swedish word for the day is regissör. It means director.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Seen from an ocean away, things look awfully grim for gays and lesbians in the U.S. these days. From Alabama trying to ban books mentioning homosexuality from all public libraries, to Justice Sunday [sic] with its goal of ridding the country of "activist judges" (As Bill Maher said to Jay Leno: "'Activist judges' is a code word for gay."), to the Pentagon reiterating its stance that it will prosecute soldiers engaging in sodomy (despite the Supreme Court having struck down sodomy laws), to the barrage of mean-spirited referenda "protecting" heteosexual marriage passed on top of "Defense of Marriage" laws already existing in many of these states (most links courtesy the excellent Queerday).

It's difficult to interpret this tidal wave of activity seeking to denigrate gays and lesbians as anything but loathing. As Patricia Todd told an Alabama House committee on Wednesday during a public hearing on the above-mentioned bill: "I feel you all hate us."

I've never before believed that homosexuals have had to face anything near the fear, hatred and discrimination that African-Americans have had to face, but I'm beginning to have second thoughts.

Why aren't there any non-gay groups that deplore discrimination - churches above all - rising up against those who are sowing such divisive hatred and spite?

Now is the time for massive demonstrations of civil disobedience.

Yeah, I know, there are already plenty of people doing this; and yeah, it's easy for me to say this living here in Europe, where gay rights trends are moving in the opposite direction; but it seems that things are deteriorating so rapidly, and I feel so utterly helpless in the face of such power aimed at crushing a group of people.

(I was going to write about going to the Spring concert at Danderyd Gymnasium to hear the son of C., the fashion photographer, singing Irish songs in a choir, but I've gotten myself so worked up about this other issue.)

The Swedish word for the day is förtvivlan. It means desperation.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Lars. Anders. Johan. Three common Swedish names that the husband mixes up frequently, referring to Lars as Anders, or Anders as Johan. How is this even possible? I just don't understand and no one has been able to adequately explain it to me.

"They're just the same kind of name," the husband responds when I ask how he can mix them up. It's like mixing up the names Tom, Greg and Steve, I tell him. It makes no sense.

"But what about when people don't look like what their name actually is?" A., the TV producer has also thrown back at me when I've asked her about this apparently common Swedish phenomenon of mixing up names that sound nothing alike phonetically.

Apparently, an Åke looks one way, and a Marcus looks another way; an Åsa looks nothing like an Anja. In fact, some Swedish babies will go without names for weeks (even months, I've heard) until the parents decide on a name that really fits the baby, rather like a tailor-made suit. Although there don't seem to be very many babies whose personalities scream "Ragnhild" or "Hjördis" these days.

I've decided that this somehow has to do with the fact that the pool of Swedish given names seems to be pretty small, so people have cultural associations with many names.

Or maybe Swedes are just funny about names.

(It was Monica who got me going by writing about this, from the Swedish perspective of course.)

The second Swedish word for the day is ansikte. It means face.

- by Francis S.
In the latest blogging popularity contest (link in Swedish, but I think you can get the gist without knowing a word), I received two more votes than Margot Wallström, Swedish EU Commissioner and the woman who could be described as brand manager for the European Union. Whatever that may be. Not a job I would want, that's for sure.

Scary, aint it? Especially since Margot Wallström's blog is actually quite good in that it is personal enough that it feels as if she writes it herself. And there are plenty of comments, many negative. It feels true, somehow. And what she has to say could affect people's lives, well, at lot more than what I have to say at any rate.

The Swedish word for the day is förresten. It means furthermore.

- by Francis S.

Monday, April 18, 2005

She stood, dancing in her vaguely gypsy slash square-dancing sort of adult little girl dress, holding a blue velvet and silver pump in her hand as if it were a mic, singing along zig-zaggedly to her own song, while the extremely drunk guy in the pink sweatshirt who I could've sworn was gay (oh, no, the husband told me), was bouncing against some girl with her hair in her eyes and letters drawn in magic marker all up her arm, the guys in the living room were playing Grand Theft Auto or something, and her former manager, (our own former badboy boarder), was making the rounds and full of the jitters about soon becoming a father, his girlfriend tall and calm and beautiful and about as pregnant as one can be, in the background. I, being oh-so-grown-up sitting in my corner, was watching it all as if it were a show, the husband next to me gossiping with the video director and the woman who did the makeup, empty plates of Lebanese salad in front of us, the long-awaited new CD playing fiercely above and below and around us, the rest of the guests crammed onto the balcony, smoking.

This is what a party is like.

The Swedish word for the day is lansering. It means launch or release.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

On Tuesday, I arrived home to find a mysterious package lying between the two sets of double doors leading into the apartment; someone had pushed it through the mail slot.

Actually, it wasn't so mysterious. It was a bag from Akademibokhandeln containing a book, The Shadow of the Wind, and having just discussed the book with C., the fashion photographer, I knew it was from him, which a phonecall confirmed. He had seen an English copy of the book and had bought it for me; a true friend, C.

It isn't a particularly profound book, and while it's translated from the Spanish - the book has been a huge success in Spain - I doubt that even in the original is the language terribly compelling. It's a convoluted love story that curls in and in and in on itself. It's a love letter to Barcelona as well as a love story.

That is what gets me, the way it evokes the city, even if the translation uses the Castilian instead of the Catalan names for the streets. Carrer Ferran, Carrer Balmes, Carrer Escudellers, Carrer Princesa, the main post office on Via Laietana, Santa Maria del Mar, Barceloneta, Els Encants flea market, Parc Guëll, Plaza de San Felipe Neri, Mompou and Puig i Cadafalch. It's all there in the book, and it hits me like cold water. I lived in Barcelona once.

Do you have a city that is tied up with all the most difficult and painful and wonderful things you know and feel about yourself, a place that just in and of itself fills you with great yearning and makes your pulse quicken, that you love like no other, and hate like no other?

I have Barcelona.

(The book is making me crazy, but in a good way.)

The Swedish word for the day is längtan. It means longing.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A week ago, I spent a long day of endless meetings in Amsterdam, where from the window of the cab to and from the airport I could see that things were starting to turn green. I was jealous, knowing that we are weeks behind. But today, walking past Diplomatstaden, I saw a whole lawn of crocuses.

Spring is here, all sticky fingers and rough manners.

The Swedish phrase for the day is passar mig bra. It means works for me.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

"Filipin, filipin, filipin," I thought to myself as the husband and I walked from Odenplan down to Dansens hus. We were on our way to meet A., the TV producer and C., the fashion photographer, plus the pop star and a whole host of other people. It was to be a Japanese dance performance, but all I was thinking about was making sure I would say "filipin" before A. could say it to me.

Imagine my disappointment when I was told that A. was home sick with a headache and would be missing the performance. Except, a few minutes later, she came running out of nowhere, screaming the first syllable of "filipin" before I could get the word out myself, me grabbing her so that half of her glass of wine spilled down the front of my overcoat, the whole lobby trying not to stare at us.

"Cheater," the husband said to her.

"There is no cheating in filipin," she said loudly, triumphant.

It would be difficult to adequately describe how very pleased she was with herself. It almost made up for losing the game.

It did not make up for the bad Japanese "dancing," however. When the sound had reached a certain decibel, the walls shaking, I had thought I was going to spit up. But I didn't.

Dinner afterwards did make up for it. There's something to be said for a place jam-packed with people, waiters like ants on important errands scurrying through the crowd, the tension delicious, likewise the food. A much better show than the dance.

The Swedish word for the day is fusk. It means cheat.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

In low-slung cities, where the apartment buildings rarely reach higher than seven storeys, there is undoubtedly a style of stairway preferred by the many architects that have built them.

In Stockholm, the steps themselves are almost invariably of grey limestone - small children are fascinated by the fossil nautiloids petrified in swarms on the surface of the stone - and curve their way gently in a half-oval up the back of the building in rather grand fashion. In Barcelona, I remember that the stairs tended to be open and rose in a kind of cut-rate Piranesian fashion to the rooftops, more terrifying than elegant.

What are your stairways like?

The Swedish word for the day is steg. It means step.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Daisy Fellowes, socialite and heiress to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, described her three daughters, Princess Emmeline Isabelle Edmée Séverine de Broglie, Princess Isabelle de Broglie and Princess Jacqueline de Broglie: "The eldest is like her father, only more masculine. The second is like me, only without the guts. And the last is by some horrible little man called Lischmann."

Her aunt, the Princesse de Polignac (who overcame, with the benefit of lots of money, the handicap of being given the unfortunate name Winnaretta Singer), on Virginia Woolf: " look at [her] you'd never think she ravished half the virgins in Paris."

Could someone who knows Todd Haynes please let him know that he needs to do his first sweeping costume historical biopic extravaganza on the whole Singer family? (I haven't even mentioned the paterfamilias, who lived his later life in France and England on account of he never made it into New York society due to his tendency to have more than one wife, simultaneously and often without knowledge of each other's existance. He had 22 acknowledged children.)

Correction: Feb. 25, 2006 - It seems that I've gotten it all wrong. Singer had 24 children and not 22, Daisy Fellowes had four daughters and not three, and it was Virginia Woolf who made the comment about Winnaretta Singer, Princesse de Polignac, that " look at [her] you'd never think she ravished half the virgins in Paris..." and not the other way around. Thanks to Professor Sylvia Kahan for pointing this out.

The Swedish verb for the day is att hälsa. It means to say hello to.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Among the awful things that the cynical, arrogant and Bible-thumping Bush Administration is guilty of, and they are legion, undoubtedly the most immoral is its unrepentent use of torture.

It's not just immoral, it's stupid. Any information obtained by torture is likely to be highly inaccurate, and rather than intimidating anyone it gives people reason to hate us and strike back with any means possible; plus, it encourages the rest of the world to treat our own military and mercenaries (who now make up a huge part of the occupation of Iraq) in the most horrendous fashion.

And it just keeps going on and on - with more secretly held prisoners that no one seems to be accountable to anyone for:

"A former senior intelligence official said the main reason for the secrecy was to prevent information about where the prisoners were being held from being publicly disclosed. Such a disclosure, the official said, would almost certainly cause host governments to force the C.I.A. to shut down the detention operations being carried out on their soil."

There are so many things about the story that bother me, I wouldn't even know where to begin.

The Swedish word for the day is avsky. It means disgust.

- by Francis S.

Monday, April 04, 2005

There is a peculiar little Swedish game wherein if one cracks open an almond and finds two nutmeats inside, one eats one of the nutmeats and gives the other nutmeat away. The next time the two people who've eaten the two nuts from the same shell meet again, whoever says filipin first, wins. (Filipin somehow refers to the Philippines I think, although I have no idea what this has to do with the game.)

Aren't Swedes just the cutest darn things? It seems so very 19th century, somehow.

A., the TV producer, decided she wanted to play with me, to hell with bothering to find a nutshell with two nutmeats inside.

"I'm gonna beat you," she growled at me as we made our way on Friday with the husband and C., the fashion photographer, to relive our weeks in Thailand by eating at Sabai Sabai (if you say the name fast over and over, it sounds in Swedish as if you're saying bajs bajs bajs bajs which, hee hee, means poo poo poo poo. Needless to say, my 8-year-old anally fixated grey-haired self loves the name.)

So, all weekend, while the husband was working 24 hours straight on a music video for the R&B star's new single, I kept reminding myself to say "filipin" as soon as I see A.

Don't let me forget, okay?

I guess, by default, the Swedish word for the day is bajs, and you already know what it means.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Requiescat in pace, Karol Wojtyla.

Which is more than you ever wished for me. I would like to be able to say "you weren't my pope" but sadly, I had no choice. You were everybody's pope, and you used your position, to the very end, to allow the Roman Catholic Church to promulgate hatred toward me. You were supposed to intercede with God on my behalf (because of course it takes an intermediary for this kind of thing), but instead you said I should expect people to hurt me physically. You, more than any other person in my lifetime, have been able to turn hearts against me and I hold you accountable.

Do I sound angry? I'm seething. But I grit my teeth, and wish you peace, knowing full well that the next pope will be just as bad. Dostoevsky sure had it right: If Christ came back today, the Roman Catholic Church (not to mention any number of other churches) would do everything in its power to see that he was crucified.

The Swedish word for the day is helvete. It means hell.

-by Francis S.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Stephanie has made a list of all the Swedish words and phrases for the day from this site, without my asking or even knowing about it!

I personally think that there is nothing wrong with having an obsession with making lists - listomania is definitely a good thing.

What Stephanie hath joined together, let no man (or woman) put asunder.

The Swedish word for the day is tacksam. It means grateful.

- by Francis S.