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.