Thursday, February 28, 2002

I guess I've started a trend, if you can count one other person as a trend: The Dutch/Flemish word for the day over at Uren.Dagen.Nachten is overstroming, which means inundation or flood. In Swedish that would be översvämning, according to my dictionary.

- by Francis S.
Irritable male syndrome.

I think I have it.

This explains a lot.

The Swedish word for the day skitstövel. It means bastard.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

My friend A., the former model, is now working for the Swedish version of the television program "Big Brother."

She told me that every single one of the 2,000 or so female applicants who applied to be on the show stated that they were bisexual.

I had no idea that there were so many bisexual Swedish women wanting to make names for themselves in reality [sic! sic! sic!] television.

The Swedish word for the day is förvånad. It means amazed. (The Swedish word for the day should be something that would translate to incredulous, but it's not a word I know.)

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

It's a lie that everywhere outside the United States is a pharmocological utopia. Well, at least Sweden doesn't fit the profile. Spain, now that's a different story. Or a place like India - my friend the Indian novelist recently told me he stocks up on convenient family-sized bottles of valium whenever he goes home to Bombay.

But here in Sweden, I could almost swear you need a prescription to get anything stronger than paracetamol. And I'm almost out of that bottle of generic nyquil that the American editor and his wife left when they were staying with us last summer. Even with a prescription, they have nothing like nyquil here.

I hope I don't start coughing again as soon as I lay down tonight.

America is a nation of happy drug addicts, and they don't even know it. Lucky dogs.

The Swedish word for the day is narkoman. It means junkie.

- by Francis S.

Monday, February 25, 2002

They think my older nephew - the one who is eight and takes after me and always has to do things his own original, creative and often bizarrely funny way - may have Tourette's syndrome.

It sounds more like he's got a, uh, chronic tic disorder, but it's unclear to me whether full-blown Tourette's means having a small tic that one just can't help indulging. In my nephew's case, he has a funny little ritualistic cough that involves covering his mouth carefully for each cough, as he has been told to do by his mother.

I now realize the reason behind all those strange noises that used to come from one of my former co-workers. And I thought the constant coughings and throat-clearing and whistling was just another aspect of his horrific passive aggression and his general strange closeted behavior.

The Swedish word for the day is småningom. It means little by little.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, February 24, 2002

    Tommy: Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?

    Hedwig: No, but I love his work.

We just bought the DVD of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." The husband appreciated it so much more with subtitles. Plus the DVD included a documentary as long as the movie itself. I learned that the song "Wicked Little Town" is in fact inspired by Grinnell, Iowa. My Uncle Ed once had a farm outside Grinnell, Iowa. Not as unlike old Isak Dinesen and her farm in Africa as one might imagine. And yet, it does not surprise me at all that Grinnell would be inspiration for such a song.

- by Francis S.
Last night we had dinner with A., the former model and her boyfriend C., the fashion photographer. Moules frites - which is not fried mussels, but mussels with french fries, a tasty dish that must be the national dish of Belgium.

Their friends Annalie and Johan were there, and they had brought Vicky along. Poor Vicky is blind and deaf, and she takes anabolic steroids to help her walk, as her hips are not what they were when she was young.

Vicky is in fact an ancient toy poodle who wanders around in circles bumping into things and sniffing during the half an hour or so each day that she's not sleeping in her bed or cuddled in the arms of her owner, Annalie.

Ah, selfless love. I want someone to hold me in their arms like that when my hair is in uneven matted patches and I'm blind and deaf and my hips don't work like they used to.

- by Francis S.
Who would have imagined, but I read today in Dagens Nyheter that Marianne Faithfull is actually the daughter of Austro-Hungarian Baroness Eva von Sacher-Masoch. This means Marianne is a descendent of the famous Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, author of Venus in Furs and the man whose name is the root of the word "masochism."

All of which makes me think someone surely must have thought up a good joke about the difference between a sacher torte and a sacher-masoch torte, which begs you to eat it, brutally.

The Swedish word for the day is blått öga. It means black eye, although the Swedes consider it blue, not black; they also say gul och blå - yellow and blue - where English speakers would say black and blue.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, February 23, 2002

Have you ever been to Lucca? It's a small city of great charm in Tuscany. It has none of the history of nearby Florence - all those fabulous fortresslike palaces of the Medicis, the ghosts of Machiavelli and Savanarola - but then, it has none of the tourists, either. Well, at least I wasn't overwhelmed by the number of tourists in Lucca as I was the first time I went to Florence. Poor Florence seems to be populated only by tourists, as if it were just another Eurodisney; it can be awfully hard to appreciate all that art and architecture when every place is swarming with tour groups from nearly everywhere (except France, of course. I don't think the French care much for Italy.)

But, Lucca has charm. Walls encircling the city, walls covered with trees planted by Elisa Bonaparte - Napolean gave the city to his sister, who ended up being an able administrator who did well by the city, and the city by her. And a cathedral in a style similar to that of the cathedral in Siena - black and white with crazy corkscrew columns.

My parents have rented a house for a month somewhere outside Lucca. The husband just bought airplane tickets so we can go down and spend a week with them in mid-March. I can hardly wait.

The Swedish word for the day is spännande. It means exciting.

- by Francis S.

Friday, February 22, 2002

Language is all-powerful. Or at least I can't seem to get myself to feel - or worse, act - otherwise.

I had a dinner last night for all the staff I am in charge of. Eight of the 11 came (of those who couldn't come, one just had a baby, one was on her way to a funeral and one was teaching a class). And while I understood nearly all that was said, and it was even fun, I felt undermined completely throughout the evening by my poor Swedish conversational abilities, despite being bolstered by many glasses of red wine. And this was a completely casual evening, just for fun, no work involved, all-play all-the-time. I was just so terribly nervous, unnecessarily nervous. I nearly burned myself with a cigarette at the beginning of the evening, and my voice damn near cracked at one point. Oh, the horror.

The problem is, that I feel like I can't be a proper boss without my precious English. I feel I have no authority, and probably worse, that I have no control over whatever situation I'm in where I'm supposed to be the person everyone looks to, the man with the answers.

I hate feeling this way.

I must get over this or I am going to be one unhappy and unholy mess.

The Swedish word for the day is fegis. It means chickenshit yellow-belly coward.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

The stomatol sign is back on.

I walk every day from the island of Södermalm where I live, to my office on the island that is Gamla Stan, the old town. I walk down a long set of steps from my favorite little square in all of Stockholm, Mosebacke Torg. These steps take me down to the sluice that lets the water of Lake Mälaren flow into the Baltic.

On the way back home, just to the right of the steps, on the top of a building, there is an old sign of white and red colored lights, a four-meter long tube of stomatol eternally squeezing glittering toothpaste onto a giant twinkling toothbrush.

The sign was dark for weeks, maybe even months, it seems. But last night I noticed it's blinking again.

I wonder how many other people see it as the beacon that I do.

(Hats off to Susie for the link above.)

The Swedish word for the day is gubbe. It means old fart, more or less. It is often a word of affection.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

In an interview at the Actor's Studio in Manhattan, Anthony Hopkins was asked which swear word was his favorite. He answered in part by saying that he once asked a Jesuit priest what was the shortest prayer. The priest replied, "fuck it."

That is, the shortest prayer is more or less giving up and letting God, whatever God is, step in and take over.

I think "fuck it" is a great prayer.

The Swedish word for the day is hjälplös. It means helpless.

- by Francis S.

Monday, February 18, 2002

Not a week ago I was wondering whatever happened to Ulana Holubec.

She's a girl that I went to elementary school with.

It turns out that she lives in New York and she's an attorney. It also turns out that the person I should really remember is her sister, Diana, who is my age. Ulana is actually my beloved little brother's age.

The memory plays strange tricks on one. And the Internet plays even stranger tricks.

Walt Disney was so right when he said "it's a small world after all."

Or was that "it's a Duff™ world after all"... ?

The Swedish phrase for the day is vad som helst. It means whatever.

- by Francis S.
Not that he needs it considering that Blogger has posted about it, but I thought I'd put in my own plug for Rasmus' peer-to-peer review project.

It'll be most interesting to see the results.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, February 17, 2002

We're going to make preserved lemons, the husband and I. You take a big glass jar, pour a bit of coarse salt in it, then one by one you slit the lemons and pack them with more salt, stuffing them into the jar as tightly as possible, finally adding boiling water and covering the jar to let sit for three or four weeks. Preserved lemons add a lovely and odd flavor to the right kind of stew.

Normally, the husband and I are not really compatible in the kitchen. I need to cook alone, getting frantic in those last 30 minutes before the guests come and I realize I should have started cooking at least an hour earlier than I did. The husband has wisely learned to stay out of the way.

But I think we can work on this sour yellow fruit sweetly with one another, side by side.

The Swedish word for the day is tillsammens. It means together.

- by Francis S.

Friday, February 15, 2002

Hey, I won an award from that wacky Viennese comedian, Miguel of Feral living... I haven't won an award since I was in the 12th grade and the Highland Park Chamber of Commerce gave me some stupid social studies prize that consisted of a certificate and 50 dollars. So it's ironic that I won first prize in Miguel's first annual Feral Living Feral Valentine's Limerick Contest for a limerick I wrote when I was, well, in the 10th or 11th grade:

    Though his stomach protruded obtrusively,
    Sir John dressed in tight suits exclusively;
    With his mustache waxed dandy,
    equipped with mint candy,
    he'd molest the young children abusively.

(I think there's been enough homemade poetry slash doggerel on this site to last for several months at least.)

The Swedish phrase for the day, which undoubtedly has been a phrase for the day in the past, is tack så hemskt mycket. It means thanks awfully much.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, February 14, 2002

Soave sia il vento...

Love is like Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte, the music is sublime but the plot is a jumble of utter nonsense, crazy circumstances and despite occasional brief moments of profundity, is barely to be believed, for good or for bad.

The Swedish phrase for the day is alla hjärtans dag. It means St. Valentine's Day.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

I've never been terribly fond of business travelling - it was never as glamorous as it sounded when I was 12 and my father used to go to all kinds of exotic places, such as Kansas City.

But I rather like making my regular jaunts down to the company office in southern Sweden, where life moves at a more Danish pace. And the jaunt becomes infinitely more interesting when I can sneak away to have lunch in Copenhagen. The carpaccio and arugula with manchego was delightful, but it couldn't hold a candle to the infinitely more delightful company.

The Swedish words for the day are förtjusande and duktig. They mean charming and clever.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

I wonder whatever happened to my 7th grade girlfriend, Stephanie Berkowitz? I remember slow-dancing with her to Paul McCartney singing "Only My Love" in her basement at a party, and that she and her sister and step-sister all had copies of the April 1972 Cosmopolitan issue that had a Burt Reynolds centerfold (his arm strategically placed so that nothing really showed).

And I wonder whatever happened to all the little girls with strange names from my boyhood: Did Pye Squire live up to her promising beginnings at age 7 and grow up to be a very tan chainsmoking gamin? Does Ulana Holubec still have brown bangs and wear red tights? Does Hulya Oktaiktekin still have lots of freckles and a peculiar but not unpleasing high voice?

The Swedish word for the day is att undra. It means to wonder.

- by Francis S.
I'm going to Lund in southern Sweden this afternon, and then on Wednesday I finish in the morning, so I'll be taking a little sidetrip to Copenhagen, which is roughly 45 minutes away by train.

Tinka, here I come.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, February 10, 2002

Warning: saccharine and sentimental post ahead. Read at your own risk

The husband is now on a cleaning rampage through the house yet again. I feel guilty because I've only folded a few sweaters and he's going at it fullstop. I hate cleaning.

He drives me crazy sometimes, but I love him.

Right after I met him and we decided we were hopelessly in love and I came up from Barcelona to see him and visit Stockholm for the first time, I bought him an antique netsuke - one of those elaborately carved Japanese buttons, this particular one had two old men standing arm in arm. And I wrote a poem to go with it.

The netsuke and the poem still sit on the nightstand next to his side of the bed. And it's all clean now, after his cleaning rampage.


    Once on a time
    men lived lives so uncontainable,
    they were immortalized
    after a fashion:
    sent to the skies
    by some jealous god or another,
    as if it were an honor;
    Pollux and Castor,
    say, side by side,
    burning up for each other,
    but the black space between them impassable,
    so unbearably cold,
    so impossibly wide.

    You and I, well,
    we are at least
    as deserving of immortality.
    But I would choose
    nothing like a star.
    No, we should be something
    intimate, domestic, graspable;
    something to be held
    in the palm of the hand.
    After all, we are
    quite containable.

    A button?
    Yes, we could be a button
    of the Japanese sort,
    a netsuke, you and me,
    two old men carved
    from the same piece of tiny ivory,
    the dye almost rubbed
    from all but our smiles.

    Take it, my love,
    this button,
    warm it in the palm of your hand.
    We are hardly immortal,
    you and me.
    But this button,
    we can aspire to be the smiling,
    bald, thick, flower-bedecked
    old men who hold one another
    on this button.

Aren't the first throes of love heroic?

I know I should be embarrassed to show anyone this poem. But I'm secretly rather proud of it.

The Swedish phrase for the day is min stora kärlek. It means my true love.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, February 09, 2002

The week that was, was too much. And it's given me a hangover.

On Tuesday we had a colleague of the husband's - the divorcée - over for dinner. After an unpleasant meeting at work, I rounded off the day with beers with fellow managers and we sat and bitched and laughed. Then I ran home and frantically whipped up something out of thin air, and the divorcée was an hour late and arrived while the husband was downstairs yakking it up with the neighbors and I was stuck entertaining her. She's a little tightly wound, the divorcée, and she has the thickest of Skånska accents. I'm lucky to understand a quarter of what she says. It was not my favorite kind of entertaining.

On Wednesday, the husband had a board meeting in our dining room from 6:30 p.m. to midnight. I sat in the living room eating sushi while the fashionistas smoked pack after pack of cigarettes, drank wine and came to not a single conclusion about anything. At least I didn't have to participate, well, not much anyway - they did haul me in from time to time to ask my opinion about this or that, but only if it had nothing to do with fashion.

On Thursday, we had another one of those damned 30th birthday parties to go to. I ask you, what kind of person has a Thursday night bash for eighty people at some new club, complete with booze and buffet and the Swedish equivalent of a Broadway star live on stage belting out song after song (but doing a great job at it with no irony lost on the guests, who loved watching one gay man singing "No Woman No Cry" to another gay man)? It was fun, but please, not on a Thursday. I'm still recovering from all the cigarettes I smoked.

Then Friday came, the day I was dreading. Because I had to have five one-on-one meetings in Swedish with the five people for whom I am their new boss (there must be a less awkward way of writing that, I'm just too damned lazy to bother to fix it). So Friday morning I walked down the island of Södermalm, and took a ferry over to the other side of the channel at Hammarby. I walked into the office where my new employees are working. I went to the meetings and all was well and good. But it made my head hurt, and I had no time for lunch. I took the ferry back and on the way the husband called. He was at the neighbors, chatting it up. And silently, I cursed him because I just wanted one night to call our own.

But it all came out in the wash. We ended up with the neighbors and our friend M. the television producer, eating dreadful Swedish food, husmanskost - food of the people is how I translate it in my head: Macaroni in white sauce (no cheese, that would add too much flavor) and falukorv, a sausage that resembles an oversized and obscene hotdog both in looks and taste. It was satisfying. And we inadvertantly put on a little show for the neighbor across the way, who had earlier commented obliquely to the husband about our parties with people rolling, er, cigarettes. I wonder what she thinks of the part when we got out the handcuffs - the real thing! - and the 10 different pairs of glasses the husband and I own.

But oh, I need to recover from it all.

The Swedish word for the day is äntligen ensam. It means alone at last.

- by Francis S.
I have been reminded of my dereliction in describing exactly how to pronounce all the fascinating and useful Swedish words and phrases posted here. This is the second time in six months, so I figured people must be dying to know exactly how to say all those strange words.

While an actual phonetic transcription might be interesting to linguists, it is undoubtedly useless to us native-English speaking masses.

So, here's how I would phonetically transcribe the language:

A - either the short ah before double consonants (long consonants), or long awh before short consonants (sure, you say, I know exactly what you mean by short and long consonants, and I really care that ah stands for the short A and awh for the long A, and I also understand why you have an h at the end of awh and that that means it is more or less a pure vowel and I also understand completely what you mean by pure vowel).

B - same as English.

C - Only found in words that come from other languages really, and like in English can be a K or an S sound.

D - same as English.

E - this one is all over the place, it can be the old schwa, it can be a dipthong (it's a lie, I think, that Swedish doesn't have dipthongs) sort of like ee´-ah-uh, it can be eh, definitely not hard to pronounce but nearly impossible to get right, the only way to really learn it is by hearing how it works in each word.

F - same as English.

G - same as English before an A, O, U or Å; but before an E, I, Y, Ä or Ö it is pronounced more or less like a y; it's like in English before consonants, except when at the end of words such as berg or borg, where it sort of disappears as you almost make a y sound but don't really; the other consonant exception is when it comes before an N, such as in barnvagn - baby carriage - the combination of gn becomes like ngn. Finally, it sometimes doesn't follow these rules at all.

H - same as English.

I - sounds like ee, sort of, but in Stockholm at least, some people say it very far back in the throat and it sounds, well, kind of gargly. I can't possibly describe this and I can only pronounce it this way in one word, musik. God only knows why I can give it that upper-class Stockholm gargle in that one word.

J - sounds mostly like a y, but sometimes more like an sh only with your lips more rounded and with a lot more h and blowing in it.

K - follows the G rules somewhat in that it's like the English K before A, O, U or Å, but before an E, I, Y, Ä or Ö it sounds like an sh; then there are all sorts of other horrible subtle variations on the sh when the K is in combination with J or S or SJ; I cannot possibly describe these subtle variations accurately, but suffice it to say that if you don't do them properly you are in great danger of not being understood. And finally, K often doesn't follow the rules - such as in the word människa - which means human or person - in which the K is like an sh instead of a hard K... this is because the word comes from the German word mensch and so they've kept the German pronunciation even though it breaks the normal rules of Swedish pronunciation. Or so I've been told when I asked why this was so damned hard to get these K's right.

L - same as English.

M - same as English.

N - same as English.

O - more or less like English, a long O is like oo in gooey and a short O like augh.

P - same as English.

Q - like an English K, usually paired with a V and pronounced like KV.

R - more or less like English, but usually softer and occasionally more rolling. The English R is probably the most difficult habit to get rid of if one happens to be a native English speaker.

S - like English when preceding a vowel, except in Stockholm at least (but not in Skåne, for example) it becomes an sh after an R - this can be in a word that contains the two letters, such as Lars or it can be in two separate words, such as jag tänker så här; but sometimes they don't do it, such as in vi för se - we shall see - and I've never figured out any kind of rule for when they do the sh and when they don't. Before certain consonants, S also sounds like the soft K - when it is paired with K or J, or TJ, or KJ - and it sounds slightly different with each and I can't possibly describe the differences. S in one of these combinations was the most difficult letter for me to pronounce, hands down.

T - same as English, only usually softer. Also a few strange exceptions. See S.

U - short U sounds more or less like oo in wood, long U is like the French U or the German Ü, an exaggerated ew.

V and W - the same V sound as in English, the letters are basically interchangeable; Swedes have trouble sometimes remembering which is which in English and can say wery instead of very, but they are very aware that they can make this mistake and usually correct themselves.

X - same as English.

Y - except for in a very few foreign words like Yankee or yogurt, Y is only a vowel and is more or less pronounced like a long U, except with even more rounded lips - I never get this right.

Z - like an English S.

Å - sort of like oah in Noah, except the ah is much less obvious, more of an afterthought.

Ä - basically follows the rules for E.

Ö - like the German Ö. Kind of like a schwa but with very rounded lips.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, February 07, 2002

    The boys and girls of Millbrook
    Are on the train from New York,
    Wearing new hats,
    Shooting the shit,
    Deep in the heart of Dutchess County bounty.

I have now gotten to the state where I must listen to Rufus Wainwright's song "Millbrook" right before going to sleep. For some reason, the song conjures for me images of idyllic and halcyon days, and it calms me so that I fall smoothly asleep without the usual sweaty thrashing about and tossing and turning.

What's especially strange is that I only really like classical music. And my beloved little brother gave me this CD sometime not too long after I moved to Sweden, but I only just pulled it out last week when cleaning up the living room.

Rufus Wainwright is undoubtedly the sexiest man living (aside from the husband). Oh, that voice.

The Swedish phrase for the day is sov så gott. It means sleep well.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, February 06, 2002

My boss just told me not to stay so late working, she's worried about me. I didn't enlighten her to the fact that I am not working but surfing.

I think I'm getting way too much of my news - English-language news at least - purely from people's blogs.

It's a micronews world.

And, it's probably not the best way to keep up with what's happening in the world. (And I can't even keep up with all the blogs that I want to keep up with.)

The Swedish word for the day is skamlig. It means shameful.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, February 05, 2002

Fadime Sahindal was buried yesterday after a funeral in Uppsala Cathedral attended by thousands, including Crown Princess Victoria and various politicians such as the leader of the Folkpartiet, the Minister for Integration and the Speaker of Parliament. Archbishop Hammar led the service.

Fadime Sahindal wasn't famous. That is, not until she was murdered by her father for shaming the family name by dating the wrong guy. Her murder has caused an uproar in Sweden, adding fire to the debate of what to do about invandrare - immigrants, of which I am one, albeit one that is welcomed. Sahindal's family was Kurdish, although she was raised in Sweden. But obviously her family had held onto some, er, traditions from Turkey.

So Swedes are now asking themselves what they expect from immigrants, which is a difficult question for a country that since World War II has - out of guilt at being neutral during the war and letting the Nazis march through Sweden to get to Norway, I suspect - had strong policies encouraging immigration, particularly from war-torn parts of the world. But economically speaking, Sweden no longer needs these immigrants, which it did until the '90s. So there's a lot of tension around immigrants, yet people don't seem to want to go the way of Denmark. They just seem to want to do the right thing, whatever that may be.

The Swedish phrase for the day is utanför. It means outside.

- by Francis S.

Monday, February 04, 2002

Have I completely lost touch with my Americanness, or does the wording in this description of the Citizen Corps sound, er, Orwellian to you?

    The Citizen Corps will harness the power of citizens to help prepare their local communities for the threats of terrorism. The Citizen Corps will be a locally-driven initiative managed by the newly created Citizen Preparedness Councils (Councils), supported at the state level by Governors, and coordinated nationally by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

(link courtesy yami, who sounds just as creeped out by it as I am.)

The Swedish word for the day is farligt. It means dangerous.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, February 03, 2002

As we sat at dinner last night with our neighbors, L. the chef and her boyfriend the guitarist, I wondered how to describe the scene in such a way to convey this golden age in all its luxury. To make one long to taste the salad with endive and blood oranges - oh, the food we have on our tables from all the corners of this round earth - to make one yearn to sit on wooden chairs of perfect white geometry and the thinnest of stainless steel, surrounded by candles burning in old rusting filigree cages from Marrakesh. To make one wish to converse effortlessly about God and war and hating to wash the dishes. What it is to sate a refined palate with a refined palette in a candlelit apartment above a narrow street on one of the islands that make up the city of Stockholm.

It all feels so everyday, and yet we are impossibly, embarrassingly rich.

Will all this sound as romantic to someone born today as Gertrude Stein's descriptions of buying food in Paris during the '20s sounds to me?

The Swedish word for the day is svartsjuk. It means jealous.

- by Francis S.

Friday, February 01, 2002

Today's milestone: leading my first meeting in Swedish. With all the new members of my team, no less, some of whom I don't even know. I survived.

Now off to a big party celebrating the company's purchase of another company.

(Sometimes it seems that work is all workplay and no workwork. Which is not to say that these parties are fun, precisely.)

The Swedish word for the day is lederskap. It means leadership.

- by Francis S.