Sunday, October 30, 2005

"Oh, I forgot to tell you," the husband said casually over dinner with A., the TV producer and C., the fashion photographer. "I bought a lamb."

Not some lamb, or even lamb. A lamb.

"It's organic," he said. "It's coming next weekend. You guys get half and we'll keep the other half. Although we need to get someone to cut it up for us, or maybe we can do it ourselves."

No, I said, we can not cut it up ourselves.

A. protested, saying they had no room for it.

I myself was thinking about a freezer full of lamb brains, stomach, kidneys, liver and pancreas. Somehow, the idea of making my own haggis has never appealed to me, and I've never particularly liked leg of lamb, it's a bit too woolly for my taste. But I could see visions of lambchops and tagines dancing in the husband's head. Which immediately brought to mind a dancing lamb's head. Surely they won't give us the head...

Ecce agnus, goddamit?

I guess I'm living under delusions of gastronomic grandeur: I'm a meat sissy, when push comes to shove.

The Swedish word for the day is tjänst. It means service.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Each night, after dinner, my father went downstairs to his workbench to build birdhouses, which he fashioned from scraps of wood left over from pine-paneling our basement. He was a connoisseur of birdhouses, my mother said.

Those are the first sentences of Mother of Sorrows. It's a string of pearls, that book. Read it, and tell Richard McCann how much you love it.

The Swedish word for the day is hjärtat. It means the heart.

- by Francis S.

Friday, October 28, 2005

When I was a little kid, it was always the college kids who were protesting things: the Vietnam War, mostly. Of course, I did a bit of protesting myself when I was in college and afterwards - about issues like abortion rights, gay rights, that kind of stuff.

It's strange how things have changed.

Now it seems that it's old people doing the protesting: My 71-year-old parents are driving down from Chicago to Fort Benning, Georgia in November to protest against the School of the Americas, the States' own training school for, um, "enemy combatants."

When I grow up, I want to be just like my parents.

Well, maybe not just like them. But I have such admiration for the way they live out their beliefs: They spend most of their time helping people who need help. Tutoring poor kids. Volunteering at a shelter. Building a Habitat for Humanity house (actually, my dad is in charge of his second house). Teaching teachers what it means to be sensitive about gay issues in school.

If people ask me what's good about America, I should tell them: my parents.

The Swedish noun for the day is en troende. It means a believer.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Whoa. Researchers are apparently concerned that sex in space could cause conflicts on a mission to Mars.

I wonder how they ever came to such a conclusion.

Apparently crews in space stations "often pair up in 'bachelor marriages' that last the length of their stay" the article from New Scientist contends. Medical anthropologist Lawrence Palinkas says "if there are instances of sexual conflict or infidelity, that may lead to a breakdown in crew functioning."

On the other hand, sex or masturbation could help alleviate boredom and anxiety on the long, lonely journeys through space, according to Carol Rinkleib Ellison, a pyschologist.

"Bachelor marriages," masturbation, sexual conflict?

I thought space travel was all about being macho and outwitting devious computers, saving the planet and eating freeze-dried ice cream from a straw.

Where do I sign up?

The Swedish word for the day is rymdskepp. It means spaceship.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

So I'm back from Budapest and I've got stage fright.

The problem is, I got my name in the paper, and now I'm scared to write anything, um, pointed about Swedish travel habits, on account of the thousands of Swedes that are suddenly reading this.

Do I dare mention that Swedes, who are a well-travelled people on the whole, are surprisingly squeamish about dirt (and sometimes don't seem to realize that what may at first glance look like dirt is merely age), and are unnecessarily picky about their food and wine (even though most actually don't really know a good wine from a bad one... not that I know any better myself)?

Still, they are hellbent on having a good time, and usually succeed. I can't come close to keeping up with the drinking and dancing into the wee hours, three days in a row. Especially when I'm suffering from the tail end of a nasty flu.

Sadly, the old Turkish baths in Budapest that I wanted to go to were being renovated, so I ended up going to the Gellert baths to cure my aching lungs.

(Coming back into Stockholm on the airport train, I noticed that they've changed the message that comes on over the loudspeakers as the train approachs Centralstation - it was a welcome from, god help us, Swedish personality and grade B-celebrity, boxer and "politician" Paolo Roberto. Strange, that.)

The Swedish word for the day is kändisar. It means celebrities.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Off to Budapest, to the Turkish baths. Back on Monday.

The Swedish word for the day is Östeuropa. It means Eastern Europe.

- by Francis S.

Friday, October 14, 2005

They've turned off the water and drained the fountain in Karlaplan, a sure sign that autumn not only isn't going away, but winter will soon be here.

I've always been rather fond of autumn: By virtue of its being the season in which a new school year starts, it seems much more about new beginnings to me than spring, which is supposed to be the season of starting afresh. But spring, my least favorite time of year, is unpredictable and, inevitably, disappointing and raw and rangy and trying way too hard to convince everyone that it is what it isn't: summer.

But autumn doesn't pretend to be anything but what it is: a grand letting go, no longer bothering with keeping up appearances. It's the second-chance season, when you've got a lot more confidence because you're wiser and older and you've no expectations to be dashed, like you had for spring and summer.

The Swedish word for the day is höstlik. It means autumnal.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The priest asked me yesterday after dinner: "So, what are you thinking about children these days?"

I told her:

On the No. 42 bus, which seems to be the setting for all the drama in my life these days, I watched a father - long scruffy hair, mutton-chop whiskers, very hip and young - with his two children. They got on the bus, and he stood with the baby in its pram in the middle where there are special slots for strollers and prams, while his daughter, probably four, ran and sat in the back of the bus.

Just as they were nearing their stop, the father called out to the little girl: "I never said you could open that!"

Which didn't come anywhere near stopping her from continuing to open the plastic bag she had in her hand.

I couldn't see what it was she was opening, exactly, but after they got off the bus, I craned my neck and watched as he knelt down in front of her, looking very serious, face to face, saying something about obedience, no doubt. She, however, was not in the least bit serious. She was, in fact, gleeful as only a four-year-old can be.

Looking at them, I felt a pang of envy, so sharp it almost made me cry.

That was what I told the priest I was thinking about children these days.

The question is, do all of you parents romanticize my childless state the way I romanticize parenthood?

The Swedish word for the day is manick. It means thingamajig.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Walking past Johannesplan, my ear was caught by faint voices, a choir singing, of all things, "Soon ah will be done with the troubles of the world." Tucked away up behind downtown, the square is really just the churchyard for the vast red brick Church of St. John, from which it was reasonable to assume the sound was coming from.

My hearing is wretched - I'll be quite deaf by the time I make it to 70, if I'm lucky enough to live that long - but I was once a choirboy with a fierce soprano but terrible breath control, and I have no doubt that despite my impending deafness, I can pick out a choir a mile away.

Sure enough, when I poked my head in the door, there was a small group up at the altar, voices clear, the basses singing out "I want to meet my mother" with a faint Swedish accent. Strange, that. But sublime.

Then they moved on to a Mozart litany (or was it vespers?), and I left.

The Swedish word for the day is änglar. It means angels.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

British composer Edward Jessen on transcribing laughter into musical notation:

Unlike speech, which generally has a decipherable pitch, laughter seemed to be ecstatic, more like the sound of forced air and involuntary pitchless spasms. Therefore, with each example of laughter I resolved to take impressions of the vowels, the speeds, and curvature in the way that a court artist might quickly sketch a villain during a big murder trial - not the deepest likeness, yet not unrecognizable either.

from Cabinet magazine, issue 17

All trills and triplets and glissandi, Jessen has scored vigorous baby giggles, a dirty titter, a rising cackle, a short, disingenuous male chortle and a forced party laugh (among others) so that you, too, can perform them.

The Swedish verb for the day is att le. It means to smile.

- by Francis S.