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.