Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Peer pressure combined with the Calvinist version of guilt - "God frowns on a man who shirks his duty" - have an unfortunate effect on me. Just tag me for a meme, and I can't sleep at night if I fail to respond.

So, the somewhat mysteriously named "xoom" has pushed my buttons, asking me to write five things you don't know about me. I'm not sure I can really take this to the limit, since by this point everyone from my parents to random unknown people at my office read this, which means it's pretty hard to come up with things that no person who reads this doesn't know about me. So I'll stick to things that, as far as I can remember, I've never mentioned in the five plus years I've been rambling on in this particular corner of the digital world.

1. I don't like beets. I try to like them, I even eat them pretty much whenever they're put on the table. But the consistency is like biting into layers of boiled crayons. And the color should be pleasing, but it's not.

2. I am the biggest baby about someone sticking me to get blood. Whenever I have to have a blood test, I need to lie down because if I don't, I am in serious danger of fainting. I've fainted three times when I was sitting up and actually almost fainted once when I was lying down. The nurse had to peel the paper off my back when I finally sat up from the examining table, because I'd sweat so much.

3. I haven't voted in the last two U.S. presidential elections. I have a good excuse, though. I'm registered in the District of Columbia, so it doesn't make a bit of difference, since Washington is like 90 percent Democratic, so the electoral college votes always go to the Democrats. And I don't even have a representative in either houses of Congress, so why should I bother? On top of that, Congress is always being nasty and manipulative, using the poor District of Columbia as an ideological punching bag, forcing the city to spend money to change subway maps to reflect that National Airport was renamed Ronald Reagan National Airport (don't get me going on that one), or messing with D.C.'s handgun ban, for example. Still, this is all just an excuse and even if my vote makes no difference, I feel guilty about this (see note above). But not so guilty that I've bothered to get an absentee ballot.

4. If I had been born a girl, my parents would have named me Mary Ann. And they're not even Catholic. Go figure.

5. My husband keeps bugging me to renew my Swedish ID, which is expired but I use anyway. For some reason I keep putting this off. I don't even know why. It makes him so crazy he won't even talk about it.

I've never been very into passing on chain letters, so the buck is going to stop here on this one. Sorry, xoom.

The Swedish word for the day is fem. It means five.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hallå? I said into the phone. I was calling A., the TV producer, but every time I called, I kept getting connected to some place with lots of French people talking in the background. Just what I needed as I was trying desperately to keep up with Christmas, which seems to be leaving me breathless this year with all the venison dinners, madrigal concerts, rock concerts, glöggs, Lucia processions, and shopping that have taken over my life in the past two weeks.

Five minutes later, A. called.

"Did you just try to call me and get connected to a French bakery?" she asked me.

Well, yeah, I guess that's what it was, I told her.

She laughed an evil little laugh. "I have my phone set up to forward to a bakery in Paris when it's someone I don't know," she said.

But you know me, I said, indignant.

"I just couldn't get to my phone fast enough," she said. "Isn't it funny?"

It's kind of mean, I told her.

"I know," she said, ignoring the fact that I was speaking in my sourest voice. "I have this side to me that sometimes I can't believe I have," she said. And she laughed that evil laugh again, forcing me to laugh with her. Because, well, it is kind of funny.

The Swedish phrase for the day is jag skulle vilja prata med.... It is a most formal way to begin a phone call if you don't know who you are talking to, and means I would like to speak with.... The appropriate way to answer the phone - unlike in the U.S., where one simply says "hello" - is to simply state your fullname, or even just your surname. I think my favorite way of answering the phone is the way the Italians do it, with a "pronto."

- by Francis S.

Monday, December 04, 2006

We stood outside Kungsholm's church in the dark in our overcoats - although the weather was unseasonably warm, it wasn't so warm that we didn't need overcoats. Then a man with a grey beard handed out torches to us, even to the little boys - although not to the littlest - and we lit them, and the priest began the procession through the streets to Saint Erik's chapel. We straggled along singing, and a few people stopped to look at us, but mostly we walked the eight blocks with little notice. It's amazing how Swedes will pay little attention to a curiously medieval-looking band of children and adults carrying torches and singing as they walk along the street at 5:30 p.m. on the first Sunday of Advent. (The whole Swedish Christmas-time obsession with burning lights is actually suspiciously pagan, if you ask me.)

When we got to the chapel, it was full to overflowing. Which was no surprise, considering there were 11 little boys singing in the choir, each little boy with parents and grandparents and brothers or sisters or cousins or what have you who had come to see the service. And they sang sweetly, although according to the husband they didn't all pay strict attention, and of course at least one little boy was singing about a fifth below the other little boys, and there was only one mishap when one of the little boys knocked his head against the altar and after several minutes the priest noticed that he was bleeding and his mother took him out. But we kept on valiantly - the priest referred to us men as "aspiring choir boys" - and eventually the little boy with the banged head reappeared, seemingly none the worse for the wear (little boys are pretty tough creatures).

The whole thing was quite informal, the sermon simple, the readings familiar, the candle-lighting brief and we the choir sang and sang and sang, all the favorite Swedish advent songs, with a single scoop of Vivaldi and a double scoop of Bach on top.

For someone like me, steeped in religion from childhood, it was altogether quite an appropriate First Sunday of Advent, which it seems, is second only to Lucia in terms of favorite Swedish Christmas rituals, Christmas services themselves being held way too early on Christmas morning for most people to bother with in this secular country.

The Swedish word for the day is ankomst. It means arrival.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Are you superstitious? I'm not terribly superstitious, but I do have a few little quirks that amount to superstition. Like with the rip-off-a-page calendar sitting on the desk next to the computer I am writing this on, for which I feel it is tempting fate to rip off a page before I've actually completed the day, as if it could contribute somehow to an untimely death. My untimely death, mainly. I suppose I should be more worried about being killed from all the cholesterol in the food I ate yesterday - we celebrated our Thanksgiving yesterday, cooking all day to feed 16 people with the whole nine yards, turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes and cranberries and pumpkin pie and pecan pie and 72 homemade rolls. I'm still full.

The Swedish word for the day is vidskeplig. It means superstitious.

- by Francis S.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Isn't it great that despite the fact that individual states are passing nasty anti-gay marriage referendums left and right, and the Catholic church is reiterating the usual garbage about homosexuals having a disorder, gay people are creating a hodge-podge of families in sometimes rather creative ways in the US? It's a regular gay baby boom. I know that my own nieces and nephews in both Chicago and Minneapolis refer quite casually to hanging out at the homes of friends who have two moms.

You can even feel it here in little Sweden, where our goddaughter goes to daycare with at least one kid who has two mommies, and one of her sometime playmates not only has two mommies, but two daddies (a classic case of a creative family group).

According to a fascinating article in the New York Times Magazine, the 2000 US census showed that some 22 percent of gay men are raising a child under 18 at home, and for lesbians it's 34 percent. That's pretty amazing.

What I wonder is how much people realize that all these children are hurt at least as much as their parents are by anti-gay marriage laws, and far worse, by laws that forbid any recognition of gay relationships.

I wonder how many kids it's going to take to tip the balance?

The Swedish word for the day is elak. It means mean or cruel.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

How is it possible that a city that lies at a latitude of 59° 17' N could be unprepared for snow? Sure, we'd had a long summer that drifted into a mild autumn, and the leaves were still mostly green and few had fallen. But still, it was the first of November, and the meteorologists had been predicting snow since the weekend, so I failed to understand how so many buses could have crashed, the roads could have been at a standstill, the trains could have been shut down and the subway could have been all gummed up. I didn't really care, though, looking down at the traffic in Odenplan from our warm-as-toast apartment, playing Bach fugues on the piano in perfect accompaniment to the wildly blowing snow.

Winter is here, and it's only November 2nd.

The Swedish word for the day is krock. It means crash.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Did you play with dolls when you were a little kid? I did. I was given a baby doll, which I never liked much, when I was probably two and my sister had gotten a big plastic doll the size of a toddler with long hair and little dresses and plastic shoes, a doll that I really wanted for myself and that a little rubber baby doll was little consolation for not having. I'm pretty sure that it was at this point suspicions were first planted in my mother's mind that I was not your usual little boy. Although I did like matchbox cars, too. I just liked dolls better.

Flash forward to 43 years later, to the husband and I in a store buying birthday presents for our goddaughter, the only child of our good friends the priest and the policeman. She was four on Wednesday, and one of her numerous birthday parties was yesterday. We got her glitter crayon things (they were actually more like big lipsticks) and glitter magic markers and horse stickers. And then we went to the store with children's clothes next to my office building, the store with the bright pink little workboots in the window.

Naturally, all those little clothes were irresistable. The husband and I can never go in a place like that and just buy one thing, we end up getting whole ensembles (and I don't think the husband is one of those guys who ever played with dolls when he was a child, he was a manly little boy I suspect, even if he's Mr. Fashion Guy now). It's like getting even for my sister having the fun doll with the clothes and me having the baby doll with diapers and a blanket.

Our goddaughter now has a fall coat with matching gloves, hat and scarf, along with a pair of matching little pink workboots. I was worried that she wouldn't like everything because it was brown and pink - another friend of mine's six-year-old daughter refused to wear a dress that was brown with pink polka dots, because "it's not pink!" - but after the guests had gone, and the five of us had eaten a spaghetti dinner, our goddaughter put on a brief fashion show with all her new clothes.

The question remains, are we becoming a bad influence on her?

The Swedish word for the day is rosa. It means pink.

by Francis S.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

It was Francis' first husband's therapist who pinpointed exactly what it was that gave Francis his edge, that had helped him survive his childhood with all his fears, his lack of appropriately boyish attributes, his being called names, his timidity, his overall goody-goodiness.

"A narcissistic agenda of entitlement," was what the therapist had said to Francis' first husband, who had duly reported it back to Francis, as if it would change Francis for the better.

Francis found the use of the adjective "narcissistic" an exaggeration, but he freely admitted that from an early age, he had been endowed with a strong sense that the things he considered life's necessities were his for the asking.

Want to know more? You'll just have to buy the book Boys to Men, a collection of coming of age stories edited by Ted Gideonse and Rob Williams that happens to include an essay called "Five Stories about Francis."

The Swedish word for the day is barndom. It means childhood.

- by Francis S.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A couple of weeks ago Sweden voted in a center-right government (for you Americans, center-right in Sweden means to the left of the Democrats). As part of the regime change, they've put in new people at the top, naturally, including a new Minister for Culture (can you imagine having a Minister for Culture in the U.S.? What would such a person do?). Unfortunately, Cecilia Stegö Chilò, the new Minister for Culture, hasn't made a very good impression - critics seem to think that her background working at a conservative think tank means she doesn't have much experience with cultural issues such as art, theatre, music - and it recently came out that she hasn't paid her TV license fee for 16 years (can you imagine having a TV license fee in the U.S.?), which at a minimum means she's a scofflaw.

"They asked her what books she has on her nightstand, and she said she has five but then she couldn't name any of them," the husband told me.

Could you name the books on your nightstand?

I actually had to go look and confirm: The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist (which I just finished and liked immensely but wouldn't recommend to anyone); Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco (I should just toss the book, every time I try to read it I realize I can stand neither the style nor the subject), What Love Means to You People by NancyKay Shapiro. I had forgotten two books that have been sitting there forever: The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald and The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek, neither of which have turned out to be my cup of tea.

But the sixth book, which I did remember, and which is my cup of tea but for some reason I keep letting it get superseded by other books, is My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk.

And now he's won the Nobel Prize for Literature. It's time to pick it up again and finish - it really is fantastical and charming and fascinating and dark all at once.

The Swedish word for the day is läsare. It means reader.

- by Francis S.

Friday, October 06, 2006

How did I not know that Annie Liebovitz and Susan Sontag were a couple? Where the hell have I been? At this rate, I'm on my way to losing my homosexualist credentials!

(I think I'm going to have to buy Annie Liebovitz' book, A Photographer's Life 1990-2005.)

The Swedish word for the day is avslöjande. It means revelation.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

One of the bad things about living in a minor European capital is that movies usually arrive months after they open in the States. Like The Squid and the Whale, which came out more than half a year after it was released in the U.S. Of course, it has been playing here for four months and we didn't get around to seeing it until last week. The reward for waiting so long was that we ended up being the only people in the theater, so we stretched out, bought extra candy and felt free to chatter throughout the movie, which improves the viewing experience, believe me. And it was a good movie, but would have been a great one if Jeff Daniels had given us a small bone of sympathy, something to make us feel even just a fleeting moment's empathy and sorrow for his character. Still, Jesse Eisenberg playing his teen-aged son was superb.

But not all is bad when it comes to movies in Stockholm. For one thing, when you buy your tickets you get assigned seats. But the biggest advantage Stockholm has over New York when it comes to movies is that we get Almodóvar first. From the first seconds of any of his movies - the overwrought music and the jarring titles - I'm hooked like I am with no other director. I want to take the next flight to Madrid. I want to eat peppers chopped by Penelope Cruz, I want to hold hands with Rossy De Palma, I want to lick Fele Martinez' neck.

Volver didn't disappoint. The usual vivid colors, strong women and extreme situations that somehow seem normal, horrible deeds that are humanized, all reminiscent of 1950s melodrama but with an underlying toughness coupled to tenderness that can be found in no other movies. And shots like the overhead view of a mourning niece being noisily kissed by a swarm of village women with fans, everyone in black. And the glorious Carmen Maura was back again, even though she once said she would never work with Almodóvar again.

Still, as A. the TV producer said, it wasn't as complex or compelling as his previous film. "I don't want to go out and see it again right away like I did with Bad Education," she said.

I feel ungrateful complaining though, as if it weren't brilliant anyway.

The Swedish verb for the day is att återvända which is how they've translated the title of the film into Swedish. It means to return.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ballet, like opera, is an aquired taste. I've never cared much for classical ballet, it's too rigid and prissy for me. Modern dance is more easily digestible. Not easier to understand, just a lot more fun to watch. So it was on Thursday when we went to see Sweden's great modern dance company, Cullberg Baletten. Two pieces, one playful and one political, full of life and always eye-catching, if a bit inscrutable. Well, not really the political one; it was a little heavy on the message, but mostly managed to still be interesting rather than being weighed down by the didactic.

Still, what struck me most as we sat there was that seven years ago, when I moved here, the husband knew about half of the dance company. But a few have left, and most have reached the age of 40 and retired. Really, I was amazed by how young the dancers were. And then I thought how I still consider myself young and with my creative life ahead of me.

Hell, I'm 45.

What have I been thinking?

Still, I suppose in order to keep going, everyone must feel that they have lots of life, or at least worthwhile time, ahead of them.

The Swedish word for the day is konst. It means art.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

On Thursday, as I sat eating lunch in the Haymarket, my phone rang. It was M. from London.

"Where are you?" he asked.

It turned out that he was also at the Haymarket, having arrived from London the day before, so we walked down Kungsgatan and stopped and had coffee at a cafe, and he told me all about his brother and his movie and our mutual friends, and we decided that he should come to dinner on Friday.

So, I left work at 4 p.m. on Friday and bought everything I needed to make eggplant parmesan for eight people, and rushed home and chopped tomatoes and an onion, and cut eggplant into thin slices and fried it, and made bechamel with plenty of nutmeg, and grated cheese and kneaded dough and tossed salad, and as the guests arrived, put on the finishing touches and wiping sweat from my forehead and cursing the husband for showing up after all the guests, at last took a glass of wine along with M., and C., the fashion photographer and the sea captain and the children's book author.

Then A., the TV producer and I walked around the apartment, and she showed me how she could turn on the lights with her toes. She has, thankfully, very clean toes, the nails laquered a rather vivid orange.

"Dammit," she said when she'd finished. "I wished I'd bet you that I could do it."

Feh, I said. I would've known better than to make a bet with her. She always wins.

Then we sat down to eat, three conversations going on at once coalescing into one loud canon on politics, everyone a bit hot under the collar despite the occasional breaks to go out and smoke cigars on the front balcony, and when R., the pop star showed up, she was shocked to see we were only eight and not 20, because when she had talked to the husband on the phone before she arrived it had sounded a real cacaphony from her end of the receiver.

And even though I tried to steer the conversation away from politics by standing up and telling people to shut up already and listen to M. tell us about his movie, it just devolved into a conversation about religion. Which was just as bad.

But really, everyone survived.

The thing is, I've been thinking that what I'm best at is being the perfect host. Even if I can't get people to stop arguing about politics.

Too bad I can't get paid for it.

The Swedish phrase for the day is maten är klar. It means, more or less, dinner is ready.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Do you remember what it's like to be 13?

I realize, looking back on it, that as I shamed my 13-year-old nephew by retelling for the 10th time the story of how he threw up on an amusement park ride, that I've surely forgotten.

I had a grand time with the niece and nephew. They're funny and fun, a bit shy sometimes but not terribly self-conscious on the whole, and they didn't complain once about a single thing.

Then again, we went all out, with touristing around the old town and watching the changing of the guard, a visit to the Modern Art Museum (to assuage their mother, although the revolting Paul McCarthy mechanical pig was worth a good ten minutes of gaping), a ferry trip out to the archipelago and a weekend on an island, a concert, laser tag, fishing for crayfish in the middle of the night, the Stockholm Pride Parade, and lots of shopping and walking and dinners and meeting of various friends. Plus the ill-fated visit to the amusement park, which they didn't seem to hold against me.

But how could I have forgotten what it's like to be 13? It was a horrible year for me. And really, to remain a member of the human race one should be required to remember what it's like to be 13, just to keep one humble and aware of how awfully tender and easily scraped we humans are, in constant need of emotional bandaids.

The Swedish word for the day is nöjesfält. It means amusement park.

- by Francis S.

Friday, July 21, 2006

For most Swedes, summer is more than half over, with a little more than a week left in the month-long holiday that is July. A fickle month here, you can't really count on July for anything. When July decides to show its best side, you don't want to miss it. But the chances are about even that it will bare its teeth and spit at you, and if you have been unlucky enough to choose to spend your summer holiday in Sweden, come November you'll be a wreck and unable to face the onslaught of dark winter.

This summer, though I've spent most of it working, has shown July to be in a most sunny disposition. I don't mind, and every weekend we've made it out to the archipelago, usually on the ferry where we've encountered Spanish women from the Canary Islands, complete with fans, and 90-year-old Swedish women who were in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil war, and lesbians with babies, along with hosts of garden-variety Swedes, each of them with a beer in hand it seems.

Today, however, we are being chauffered by the sea captain and his boyfriend the children's author, in their little powerboat, which should get us to Birds Island in about an hour. We have a full weekend of relaxation planned. Which will consist, I hope, mostly of lying around in the sun, periodically looking up from a book or conversation to gaze at cruise ships like upended skyscrapers moving silently past in the distance.

Then on Monday, I need to prepare for the onslaught of my brother's two oldest children.

Lord help us, may they not be bored to tears by me and the husband. I fear that I'm woefully out of touch with what's fun if you're 13 or 15.

The Swedish word for the day is tonåringar, which has surely been the Swedish word for the day before. It means teenagers.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

On the grounds of Drottningholm, the palace where the royal family of Sweden lives, there stands a little baroque theater, built by a Swedish queen with the unfortunate name of Lovisa Ulrika. Through chance, the fickleness of fashion and political change, and through the benefit of nearly 150 years of complete neglect, the theater survived intact with some 15 complete sets of original scenery, including all kinds of pillars and trees, clouds and machines for making thunder noises or delivering gods from the skies.

It is a charming place, and even more charming to see the dress rehearsal of an opera there, the theater so intimate you feel you can reach out and grab the hands of the singers when they implore, or help them up from the ground when they fall down in a poisoned faint, or protect them from an evil sorcerer in black inciting human sacrifices in an elegant and rich bass voice.

The orchestra is tiny but muscular, just like the director, who sways and bounces his way through the score, batonless, clapping the beat in frustration at the chorus who do not keep time crisply enough for his taste as the third act (or was it the fourth act?) finishes and they are playing the part of writhing demons pressed downstage to the very edge of the proscenium, threatening the audience with all kind of evil and mayhem and making the hairs raise on one's arms. Even the dance, which I usually detest, is enigmatic and Mark-Morris-but-in-high-heels-ishy quirky, all heiroglyphic gestures and oddly graceful.

And despite having only the faintest grasp of the plot and no grasp of the language (except for the constant repetition of the word "amour" and the odd word, such as "peutetre" here and there) and being unable to read in the dimly authentic lighting, I was enchanted by Rameau's Zoroastre.

The Swedish word for the day genrep, which is short for generalrepetition. It means dress rehearsal.

- by Francis S.

Friday, July 07, 2006

It's difficult not to be discouraged by the latest news from the U.S.: The New York State Court of Appeals ruled, in a 4-2 decision, that gay people don't have the right to get married.

But what puts me in a black mood isn't the decision, which isn't surprising even if many hoped that it would have gone the other way. What's really awful is the rationale behind it. As Patrick Healy wrote in the New York Times: In particular, ...one section suggesting heterosexual couples need marriage to be preserved as a way to shore up their faulty relationships and protect their children who might suffer in broken-home situations.

Can these judges really believe this to be true? The logic escapes me. And this is supposedly one of the most liberal states in the union. And now every other state court will cite this in their own rulings that will, sometimes subtly and sometimes harshly, say that not only are gay people unworthy of having their relationships recognized, but having them recognized will somehow ruin the relationships of heterosexuals and destroy the lives of children.

The same article rightfully says that the ruling is a shocking insult to gay people.

As for me, I give up.

The Swedish word for the day is teokrati. It means theocracy.

- by Francis S.

Monday, July 03, 2006

I'm baaaaaack.

Well, actually, I didn't go anywhere much. It was my parents who came to visit, and I'm still recovering from their busy social schedule: Along with midsummer, which was spent out in the archipelago with A., the TV producer and C., the fashion photographer and select members of their families, we managed to have dinner with some group or other every single night my parents were here, except for one Sunday, in which we had brunch with the husband's nephew and girlfriend and baby. Oh, and the Thursday before they left, when they went out to Lidingö without us to have dinner with the guy who was a Swedish exchange student living at our house back in the early 1980s, when my beloved little brother was still in high school and I was away at university.

The thing is, everyone always wants to see my parents, and I thought about having one huge dinner party, but then I knew some people would be hurt not to have time alone with them, so it ended up being a week of hosting dinners.

It was grand.

But isn't it embarrassing when your mother and father have more of a social life than you do, in your own city, thousands of miles from where they live?

The Swedish words for the day are mamma and pappa, which are of course what most Swedish people seem to call their mom and dad, and even, strangely, how I refer to my mother and father in Swedish to other people (and which I accidentally used with my parents once or twice, shamefully, when the evening involved a lot of translating and back and forth between English and Swedish.)

- by Francis S.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Uh, this is the 21st century, isn't it?

Does anyone with a grain of intellect in 2006 believe anymore that women are inferior to men?

Because really, no matter how you cut it, any objections to the Rt. Reverend Katherine Jefferts Schori as Primate of the Episcopal Church in the United States boil down to a belief that women are second rate and only worthy of being spiritual handmaids, and not ecclesiastical leaders. But obviously, according to an article in the Guardian, there are people out there who think this:

The Rev Martyn Minns, a British-born conservative evangelical who has been active in opposing the church's leadership over its support for homosexual clergy, particularly its election three years ago of the gay bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, issued a statement saying: "It is sad. She will bring into sharp relief the difference between being an Episcopalian and being an Anglican. It is not clear how she can do anything other than lead the Episcopal church in walking apart from the rest of the communion. She has my prayers."

Wow. I guess I'm glad for once to be an American Episcopalian and not a British Anglican. And I was shocked to see that the Anglican church still hasn't resolved the conflict over the appointment of women as bishops.

Just as bad, but less surprising, is that the Roman Catholic Church has been bullying and threatening the Anglican church to sever ties with it if women are appointed as bishops.

Uh, did I miss something, but wasn't the Anglican church formed because some king didn't want the Pope telling him what to do?

This whole thing makes my blood pressure go up. It's bad enough that gays get bashed by "christians," but hell, I expect it. Can we really still be arguing about whether it's appropriate for women to be bishops?


The Swedish word for the day is kyrkan. It means the church.

- by Francis S.

Monday, June 12, 2006

It's time to make amends. Because I've been sadly shirking my duties. I was interviewed awhile back on Schlockholm, and I failed to put in a link. Tsk, tsk.

And now I've been, uh, probed again, this time by Nathaniel of the blog film experience, with a bunch of movie questions, natch.

The hardest part was when he asked me who would play me in a movie of my life. Not only was the husband stumped when I asked him, but after I called up A., the TV producer, she couldn't come up with anyone either. It was her fiance, C., the fashion photographer, who finally hit on the right person: John Malkovich.

So, who would play you in the movie of your life?

The Swedish word for the day is frågetecken. It means question mark.

- by Francis S.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The difference between men and women:

Merck had originally hoped to get the vaccine approved for use in boys. But although women have routinely allowed swabs to be taken of their vaginal cells, the company found that men rebelled against the use of emery boards to collect cells from their penises. Researchers eventually discovered that jeweler's-grade emery paper effectively removed cells without alarming men and were able to complete their studies.

("U.S. Approves Use of Vaccine for Cervical Cancer", New York Times, March 9, 2006.)

The Swedish word for the day is gynekolog. It means gynecologist.

- by Francis S.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Who would have guessed it? The biggest threat to U.S. citizens isn't the war in Iraq, terrorism and security breaches, or even high [sic] taxes. It is hosts of crazy people burning the flag and great big homos who want to get married. At least according to George W. Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who have been spouting off on measures on each of these issues that will be voted on in the U.S. Senate this week. In speaking of the proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution to restrict marriage and the rights of marriage to heterosexuals, Frist was quoted in the Hartford Courant as saying: "[Marriage], more than any other [institution], concerns the well-being of our future, of our children, of the states that my colleagues and I represent - indeed of this country."

The Swedish word for the day is skamlös. It means shameless.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I used to despair at trying to explain the phenomenon of the Eurovision Song Contest to Americans, it just seemed to defy description.

But my new friend, the children's book author, reminded me that this is no longer true.

"American Idol," he said.

Now why didn't I think of that? Because really, if you imagine it in terms of countries instead of people brimming over with insecurity, delusions of grandeur and a warped sense of self-worth and what is worthy of attention, trying their best to manufacture something that can be sold to the greatest number of people possible, well, there you have Eurovision.

To my surprise, this year the contest was won by a joke: Finland's, uh, "heavy metal band," Lordi. As we sat with A. the TV producer, her sister, C. the fashion photographer, the former football player and A.'s parents, everyone thought that it was sort of nice that Finland won, but they hated the song, everyone except the minor royal who thought it was all great.

I was, after the fact, disappointed not in the Finnish song, but that a much funnier joke, Iceland's "Silvia Night," didn't qualify for the finals. Especially after the actress playing the part of Silvia referred to Sweden's slightly scary born-again Christian contestant as ugly, old and a fucking bitch.

The Swedish word for the day is schlager. There is no real translation in English, but it is a word no doubt stolen from the German, and is a certain type of cheesy pop song that occasionally transcends its kitschness so far as to become indelibly printed on the culture.

- by Francis S.

Friday, May 12, 2006

I called my beloved little brother the other day to confirm the rumor that he and his wife had bought an apartment on the Upper West Side, and in the background, amid the noise of the baby and the household, I could hear a police siren: a slow long wail, as opposed to the more rapid quacking of the police sirens here.

Swedes love the way police sirens in the U.S. sound. Someone, I don't remember who, once said to me: "When you go there and hear them in person they sound exactly the way they do on TV!"

Yes, I said, they certainly do.

Aren't Swedes just the cutest things?

The Swedish word for the day is hörselskadad. It means hearing impaired.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Is euthanasia a good thing? As with all complicated issues, the answer is finely shaded with grey. And let's be realistic, how much is life really worth, should no expense be spared to keep someone alive? Is it really worth more than 9000 Swedish crowns to revive our ancient (that would be nearly four years old) iBook?

Only a fool would say yes.

Pollice verso: Death it is.

The Swedish word for the day is dödshjälp, which means euthanasia.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

If you set aside the people behind technology (the telephone, television and computers, automobiles and airplanes) and medical researchers (the discoverers of antibiotics, any number of vaccinations, and birth control), I would argue that the person who has had the most effect on our lives is Sigmund Freud.

Can you believe he was born as long as 150 years ago, one of the great fathers of modernism? It's easier for me to think of it this way: He didn't die until 1939, so my parents actually could have met him when they were small children, if they hadn't been living on small farms in the middle of nowhere at the time. Or if Freud had been hanging around the Christian Reformed Church in Sully, Iowa instead of 20 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead, London.

The Swedish word for the day is psykoanalytiker. It means, of course, psychoanalyst.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Spring has been so cold and graceless this year, it wasn't until this past weekend that we made it out to Birds Island for the first time for the season. It was windy and raw on the island, but here and there little purple anemones had bravely sprung up in the woods, about the only sign of spring that I could see.

When I walked out to the end of the island on Monday morning, I came upon the smoking remains of a bonfire from the night before, a celebration of Valborg, one of those witchy pagan holidays that Swedes have kept right alongside the more familiar Christianized and political ones that the rest of Europe also celebrates.

Back in town, it was just as windy and raw, and there had been a big gathering of kids just outside our apartment on Odenplan, a group called Reclaim the City. I'm not altogether sure who they want to take it back from and who they then want to give it to, but they are supposedly against motor traffic, violence, racism and other bad things, but also apparently believe that windows need to be smashed in order to redistribute sporting goods to needy athletes. Which they did at Sergels Torg and not at Odenplan, for which I am thankful.

But really, why ever did I think that Stockholm was a laughably safe place to live? It seems that Odenplan is a magnet for the more, um, energetic Swedes in Stockholm.

The Swedish word for the day is kravaller . It means riots .

- by Francis S.

Friday, April 28, 2006

In the middle of grating ginger for dinner, I was startled by shouting out in the courtyard. I dried my hands and walked into the dining room and looked down. There, sitting with their backs against the wall, were some 30 young men in orange jackets, sweatshirts and t-shirts, along with some 15 policemen pacing back and forth, occasionally brandishing a billyclub or asking one of the young men to stand up to be frisked.

I ran to the library to look outside to the front of the building, where traffic was stopped by a swarm of 30 policemen and several orange-shirted men being roughly escorted into two of the five police cars that were blocking the street.

Just as I was returning to the dining room windows, the phone rang.

"What's going on? I'm stuck in traffic on Odengatan and there are all these police outside your building!" a friend said, breathing hard into the phone.

I told her the hell if I knew, but that there were 30 guys in orange being held by the police in the courtyard. Wait, no, I told her, they've brought more guys in. It looks like about 50 guys.

An hour and a half later, after the last of the orange-shirted guys had been marched into a bus (where they would be brought to the edge of the suburbs out in the middle of nowhere and left to walk back into town, which would likely take a good hour, according to my friend the policeman), the drama was over.

It turns out the guys in the orange shirts were hooligans, although they were amazingly quiet for hooligans. At least that's as far as I could make out, there was nothing in the paper or on TV about it that I've seen, despite all the people taking photos. But someone told me they heard there'd been hooligans at St. Eriksplan, which isn't so far away.

What I want to know is, why did the police decide to herd them into our courtyard, huh?

The Swedish word for the day is lugn och ro. It means peace and quiet.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

So a group of, uh, religious personalities (that's like TV personalities, except instead of being famous for being famous, they are famous for not only knowing God personally, but for letting the rest of us know what God thinks) have decided to boldly come out against gay marriage. They call themselves the "religious coalition for marriage," which I don't understand, because they are obviously not for but against marriage, except in certain cases.

Interestingly, one of the persons behind this is everyone's favorite Pennsylvania Republican Senator whose surname, curiously, is also the word for that frothy mixture of lubricant and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.

All I can think is: Poor God. She must be awfully sick of having these smug bullies throwing her name around all the time for the most ludicrous of things.

The Swedish word for the day is arsle. It means asshole.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Authoress Marie Corelli, 19th century lipstick lesbian and the Gilded Age's answer to Dan Brown, once wrote: "Let me be mad...mad with the madness of Absinthe, the wildest, most luxurious madness in the world."

A., the TV producer and C., the fashion photographer arrived back from a week in Spain with a bottle of poisonous green absinthe for me and the husband.

Apparently, all that ranting about absinthe being a dangerous drink that will unhinge you is just a bunch of hooey.

How terribly disappointing.

The Swedish word for the day is sprit. It means alcohol or spirits.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

It wasn't until we were out in the hallway getting our coats to leave the party that I realized that the person we were making small talk with and who'd called a cab for us was Anakin Skywalker's mother.

The force was with us as the cabbie made his way through Kungsholmen, Stora Essingen and back to Vasastan to leave us breathless and pleasantly tipsy outside our apartment at Odenplan.

The Swedish phrase for the day is Stjärnornas Krig. It means Star Wars.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

As we sat in the dining room - me and the husband, A., the TV producer and C., the fashion photographer and a few others - guzzling wine and laughing and eating filet mignon, potato gratin and salad prepared by L., the chef, (the ultimate luxury is having someone come and fix a glorious meal for you), someone started telling the story of her recent amorous escapade with an electrician who came to work on her apartment and how put out she was when he just up and left as soon as his, uh, work was done.

The husband left the room and came back shortly, brandishing two pairs of handcuffs. "You should've used these to handcuff him to the bed, then he couldn't have left," he said. He had gotten them long ago for a photo shoot, he explained. "They're actually real!"

The dinner quickly degenerated into an orgy of handcuff jokes and storytelling and the men in the party rolling around on the dining room floor, trying desperately to slide their handcuffed hands from behind their backs, over their asses and their feet so that the cuffs were in front instead of in back.

Sadly, I couldn't even get my hands past my ass. In fact, my skinny husband was the only one who succeeded.

"Remember the one about when our friend the policeman as a joke handcuffed his wife the priest one morning before work and then couldn't find the key, and she nearly had to go to a meeting with her boss or the bishop or someone, with handcuffs on?" the husband said.

Oh, yeah, I remember that. That's my favorite handcuff story.

The Swedish word for the day is handklovar. It means, of course, handcuffs.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Time for the annual change to the biography column at the left.

The Swedish phrase for the day is tiden går. It means time passes.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

As I sat in the dentist's chair at 8:15 this morning, the left side of my mouth not quite numb enough to prevent me from feeling the dentist's drill and nearly flying out of the chair and seriously injuring the dentist, but managing to restrain myself to a pathetic whimper, the kind you make when your mouth is full of dental instruments and your eyes are tearing, I thought to myself how interesting it is that torture seems to be all the rage on American TV these days, and how curious a mirror television is, held up to American culture.

Of course, by all the rage, I mean one episode of a TV show that we saw a couple of weeks ago: A character whose backstory is that of a former Iraqi military officer forced to torture a fellow Iraqi officer by his American captors, tortures another character in a situation in which TV viewers are nudged into thinking that the torture is probably a good thing under the circumstances.

Isn't TV wacky?

Anyway, it gets my conspiracy-theory juices flowing, making me wonder if the producers of "Lost" have been hanging out with Alberto Gonzales, the latest in a long line of nutcase- uh, I mean, outstanding Republican U.S. Attorneys General that would include John Ashcroft and Ed Meese (who famously said in the 1980s: "I don't know of any authoritative figures that there are hungry children. I've heard a lot of anecdotal stuff, but I haven't heard any authoritative figures...I think some people are going to soup kitchens voluntarily. I know we've had considerable information that people go to soup kitchens because the food is free and that that's easier than paying for it...I think that they have money.")

Actually, it doesn't really get me thinking conspiracies, it gets me thinking that there really is no excuse for torture. That's why they call it torture.

My mouth is still kind of sore.

The Swedish word for the day is häftapparat. It means stapler.

- by Francis S.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Woe is me.

Five days ago, they closed a Stockholm institution, the Lydmar Hotel. Kinda funky, definitely hip in its way, nice lunches, great for afternoon drinks, and we put up my family there when they came for our wedding.

According to the husband, the bank that owns the building wanted the space for offices, or something like that. Which is typical bank behavior, actually.

Why wasn't I notified?

The Swedish phrase for the day is vad trist. It means, more or less, how depressing.

- by Francis S.

Monday, March 13, 2006

It is amazing how a little 12-pound human package that basically drinks, sleeps, shits, cries and smiles can create so much work while simultaneously making you fall profoundly and hopelessly in love. And I got the worst case of uncle-tourettes, saying my two-month-old nephew's name over and over (Owie, Owie, Owie!) just because it cracks me up, and repeatedly telling his parents that he is going to grow up to be a cowboy (on account of his initials are O.K.) while doing that really annoying thing where you point your fingers as if they were guns and then blowing away the pretend smoke.

In between perseverating on my nephew's name, feeding the boy countless bottles of breast-milk (those breast pumps are pretty scary devices) changing a diaper (I only had to do that once when I was babysitting alone), eating dinner at two very fancy schmancy restaurants, freaking out while sitting in Washington Square Park and eating a falafel from Mamoun's (it was altogether too much like some creepy drug-induced flashback to my college days at NYU), going to the doctor so Owen could get his first vaccinations (which was a big deal due to his hemophilia, but which came out fine), attending a naming ceremony at the gay synagogue that my beloved little brother and his wife belong to (why they belong to a gay synagogue is a story for another time), watching the Oscars at an apartment on the upper east side somewhere because my brother doesn't own a TV (we left before seeing Brokeback Mountain lose to Crash) and taking Owen for his first big art experience, the Met, through which he dutifully slept while my brother and I checked out room after room of Greek urns and drinking cups, (while being checked out ourselves by countless fellow artgoers who obviously had decided that Owen Has Two Daddies), I managed to have drinks and dinner and more drinks with the marvelous Mr. Justin Kerr Sheckler, who instantly became a friend (it was a case of extreme like at first sight), and having a brief coffee in Union Square with Eric, who is not only a high-quality individual, but wonderfully like his writing (I somehow never got around to telling him he really should try to write for money) and has scary stories about Danes.

New York has definitely not lost the ability to boggle the mind (You can get any food you want delivered just about anytime you want it!) The only bad thing about the whole trip was that in my mad rush to get to the airport (after an afternoon of walking around and last-minute shopping, we arrived home ten minutes before the car was due, and I hadn't packed yet), I somehow managed to leave my phone at my brother's.

The Swedish word for the day is parenteser. It means parentheses.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

How many times do you think one can play Bach's English Suite No. 2 in A minor on the piano before one has completely squandered the good will of the neighbor who slipped the note under the door saying "I'm always so happy when I hear you playing the piano when I walk past your door," not to mention the goodwill of the neighbors above, below and next door?

It's a lovely thing, the suite, but forcing it on everyone within hearing distance once a day for a month is probably cruel and unusual punishment. And whoever wrote that note is no doubt wondering whatever possessed her to write it, and sending a wide range of colorful curses in my general direction.

The Swedish word for the day is besatt. It means obsessed.

- by Francis S.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Sometimes, no matter how hard I try to suppress it, the testosterone just gets the better of me.

So I end up doing things like watching my first hockey game in, uh, 35 years.

But we won.

"I love it when you say 'we' when you talk about Sweden," A., the TV producer said, as she jumped up and down and screamed, along with the husband and C., the fashion photographer and me.

We won!

You have no idea what it means when a little inconsequential country like Sweden manages to kick some hockey butt in front of the whole world.

I think surely 6 million out of Sweden's 9 million inhabitants must have been watching and cheering just like us.

Goddammit, we won!

And then, as I was walking home from the office today, who should come down Sveavägen but the whole winning team, complete with loudspeakers announcing that it was them, their faces grinning from the bus window, the people on the street clapping and shouting "hurrah!"

(Okay, I admit it. I'm a hockey opportunist jump-on-the-bandwagon kind of guy. But hey, we won. Maybe I should watch more often?)

The Swedish word for the day is guld. It means gold.

Addenda: I was reminded by my local hockey expert that good sports always mention the competition, in this case, the Finnish team, who played an excellent game, at least as far as I could tell.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

One week and five hours from now, I'll be in the air on my way to Manhattan to meet the newest member of the family.

I haven't been to New York in nearly a decade. I guess it's changed a bit.

I can't wait.

The Swedish word for the day is lillebror, which had been the Swedish word for the day before. It means little brother.

- by Francis S.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Correction: The Internet is seething mass of information and misinformation, and it seems I've done my part on the misinformation front.

Remember back, oh, 11 months ago when I wrote about the crazy family of Isaac Merritt Singer? It seems that I got it all wrong. Singer had 24 children instead of 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 "...to look at [her] you'd never think she ravished half the virgins in Paris..." and not the other way around.

How do I know that I was perpetrating a pack of lies and calumny? Because I got an e-mail telling me so from Sylvia Kahan, pianist, professor and author of Music's Modern Muse: A life of Winnaretta Singer, Princesse de Polignac.

I asked Professor Kahan how the hell she happened on my falsehoods, and she replied that she periodically does a web search on "Winnaretta."

So, the moral of the story is, on the one hand, you can't trust the internet and we all do our part to make sure bad information is a gift that keeps on giving; on the other hand, there's a lot of room for self-correction and when you do lie, Professor Sylvia Kahan will definitely find you.

Now, if only we all had a Sylvia Kahan to keep us on our toes. I think she's the bee's knees.

The Swedish word for the day is förtänksam, which is the closest translation I can find to the English word circumspect. If you take the word apart, it literally translates to something like thinking aheadful, more or less, and seems to be more accurately translated as prudent.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The husband and I had lunch with the priest last week at a peculiar restaurant with three counters for three different types of semi-hemi-demi fast food. "Pinnar eller bestick?" the girl behind the counter asked, and I held up the line for a minute, unable to decide whether to go for chopsticks or regular utensils (there, you've got your Swedish phrase for the day). Which was stupid, because wooden chopsticks always work so much better than plastic forks and knives for eating just about anything.

We sat down to our little cardboard cartons of food and dug in, and the conversation meandered onto the subject of funerals.

"The most horrible are the ones where it's just me, the organist and the funeral director in the back or outside smoking cigarettes," the priest said.

The husband and I were taken aback. Do they even have a funeral for someone if no one comes?

"Yes," she said, and sighed. "All the time. I just had one yesterday. It's unbearably sad. Instead of speaking to the people who have come, I speak to the person who has died. It's one of the worst parts of my job. And I think I couldn't stand it if I didn't believe in God."

We sat silently for just a second or two, among the clatter all around us. And then we moved nimbly on to the topic of the husband's trip to Spain, or the book I was reading, I don't actually remember what it was.

by Francis S.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

It's time for the second annual Satin Pajama Awards, given out by the folks at Fistful of Euros. Last year, I won for best writing. This year, among other things, I am nominated for a lifetime achievement award. I guess that means that four and a half years of blogging means I'm ancient , if you're counting in blog years. Holy mother, sisters, cousins and aunts of god.

I stand among some of many of my other favorites: Stefan, Jill, Zoe, P.A., Curiosa, Veronica and especially Mig, who is definitely the most unappreciated of bloggers.

The Swedish word for the day is populär. It means popular, surprisingly.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Don't be afraid, be ready! (via the illustrious Mig.)

The Swedish word of the day is rådjurshagel, which is how my Swedish-English dictionary translates the word buckshot, although I'm skeptical about how accurate that may be.

Francis S.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Sometimes, melancholy is a good thing.

Depression, grief, heartbreak, these are never good things, but melancholy is something else altogether.

There's something heartrending but terribly satifying about seeing a movie where people betray true love, and themselves, and the objects of their love, and that moment where they realize the terrible thing they have done and the regret is almost too much to bear. Like when Timothy Bottoms comes back to Cloris Leachman at the end of Larry McMurtry's The Last Picture Show, and first she curses and throws things, and then, she breaks down and comforts him, holding his hand, and he can't even look at her, his eyes the saddest brown eyes in the whole world.

Shamelessly manipulative. But to every thing there is a season and a time, and there is definitely a time to be shamelessly, but oh so wonderfully manipulated. Just lay it on thick, and let me wallow in the melancholy.

Somehow, it doesn't surprise me that Larry McMurtry wrote the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain. I think Heath Ledger must have the second saddest brown eyes in the whole world.

The Swedish word for the day is cowboy. I don't think you need me to translate that for you.

by Francis S.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

I should have known: The voiceless palatal-velar fricative, voiceless dorso-palatal velar fricative, voiceless postalveolar and velar fricative, voiceless coarticulated velar and palatoalveolar fricative are unique to the Swedish language.

In other words, no other recorded language uses this weird sound - spelled with an sk, sj or sometimes even skj - which to my best reckoning is like trying to say an English sh and w at the same time. It is, undoubtedly, the most difficult thing to approximate when you start learning to speak Swedish. And plenty of people never master it, I suppose, opting for a plain old sh, which is more or less how upper class ladies (at least they would describe themselves as ladies) from Stockholm's upper class neighborhood pronounce it.

I've long gotten over the voiceless palatal-velar fricative, though. Strangely, it's the vowels that still get me sometimes - being consistent with my long and short vowels (or is that vowels before long and short consonants?).

The Swedish phrase for the day is sjuttiosju sjösjuka sjömän sköttes av sju sköna sjuksköterskor, which means 77 seasick sailors were nursed by seven fair nurses.

- by Francis S.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The kind of earwax you have is controlled by the ATP-binding cassette C11 gene, according to Japanese researchers.

Who would've guessed? And here I always thought the ATP-binding cassette C11 gene was so innocuous.

And who knew there were two types of earwax?

And who starts to feel a little queasy just contemplating the whole earwax phenomenon?

The Swedish word for the day is forskning. It means research.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Happy New Year.

The Swedish word for the day is hundåret, which means a dog of a year, say Hanna and Ban~ken. As opposed to hundens år, which means the year of the dog.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

If anyone asks me if I believe in ghosts, I tell them it's not that I believe in them, it's more that I just don't not believe in them.

But the truth is that my heart, the irrational part of myself, most definitely believes in them, no matter how skeptical the rest of me is. I remember when I was nine or ten, I would play the piano and wonder if the ghost of Bach was listening, and if he was insulted. Or if I played well enough would he appear and tell me how good I was (he never showed up, definitely a testament to my poor fingering, overuse of the damper pedal and tendency to play so fast that the notes would get all tangled up in knots and I'd have to start over again, which drove my father mad).

Just last weekend, when the husband was in Gothenburg over Saturday night, as I finally turned out the light and pulled the covers up tight to my chin, feeling very alone in bed, I wasn't worried about someone breaking into this vast apartment, I was actually worried that I would open my eyes to find a nasty spirit floating above me. Or something like that.

Not that I've ever actually seen a nasty spirit floating above me, or for that matter, a spirit of any kind above, below or beside me.

The problem is that no matter how hard I try, I can't will myself to really not believe, no matter what I say about not believing and not not believing.

I think it's time that I just give in and tell people, well, I've never seen any but yes, I suppose that I believe in ghosts.

Do you?

The Swedish word for the day is Spökslottet, which is the name of a mansion not far from Odenplan, and means the ghost castle.

- by Francis S.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Miscellaneous item No. 1: Walking to work in a heavy pair of work boots, my ankles and shins aching from the extra weight on my feet, I was suddenly wafted back to junior high school when it took a couple of days for my feet to get accustomed to my winter boots, and the day Deborah Newman threw one of my boots into the girls' locker room after school in a mad fit of 7th grade flirting. Sadly, it's been more than a week and my ankles and shins haven't adjusted.

Miscellaneous item No. 2: Yet another friend has jumped onto the blogwagon: Billy. Like me, he's having to face up to the fact that the only hairstyle available to him for the rest of his life involves the shortest setting on an electric razor. Stop by and leave a comment.

Miscellaneous item No. 3: The food was great, but the more I think about it, the more I find it disturbing that I ate at a trendy restaurant called "Döden i Grytan" - which means "Death in the pot" - along with the husband and P., another fashion photographer and I., the former backup singer to David Byrne. The fact that the name is Biblical in origin only makes it worse.

Miscellaneous item No. 4: Does having a black chandelier put you at a 6 on the Kinsey scale?

The Swedish verb for the day is att banta, which means to diet, which is something I've decided I really must do, after looking at holiday pictures.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Swedish phrase for the day is så lyckades Birgit Nilsson hålla sin död hemlig. It means how Birgit Nilsson succeeded in keeping her death a secret.

I knew Birgit Nilsson was one of the world's great opera singers, but I didn't know she was actually able to manipulate things from the grave - obviously, she's not just a fabulous soprano, she's also a zombie.

(Cue magic fire music.)

- by Francis S.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Can there be anything more harrowing than parenthood?

Not that I can figure.

The thing is, when my little brother and his wife brought Owen home from the hospital to start his life in the big bad outside world, the doctors and nurses told them to watch out because he seemed a little jaundiced. And then, after a couple of days, he had become even more so, and the pediatrician said that he better go back in the hospital. And it turns out that Owen, poor little baby, is a rather severe hemophiliac. Which is quite treatable. But that is poor solace.

My brother told me they cried, they felt guilty, and then they had to face it; a three-step process that no doubt will be repeated for the rest of their lives. And me, I just felt sick and all I could think of was Owen, and of something my sister wrote to me, about how becoming a parent changes your life not in the way you think, but more in that you become so very vulnerable just because your children are so vulnerable. I can only imagine, since I lay awake all night thinking about my brother and his suffering for his son, and worrying about Owen, who is so very little, so very vulnerable.

But, the first reaction in my family is to be stoic. When my brother called to tell me all of this, he sounded a bit hoarse, but his voice was steady.

"The doctor said he can never be a boxer," he said.

We laughed.

The Swedish word for the day is blödarsjuka. It means hemophilia.

- by Francis S.

Monday, January 02, 2006

My beloved little brother and his wife, the rebel, are the proud parents of Owen, who arrived propitiously, two weeks early and with all tax advantages, on Dec. 31 at 9:30 p.m. in Manhattan while all of us in Stockholm were drunkenly swigging champagne at 4:30 a.m. here, a good four and a half hours into 2006.

Welcome to the wide world, baby boy.

The Swedish word for the day is farbror, which is what you call a paternal uncle; morbror is a maternal uncle.

- by Francis S.