Friday, May 31, 2002

Goodbye to Gamla Stan. Goodbye to Slottsbacken and the Royal Palace. Goodbye to Bollhusgränd and to Köpmanstorget with its statue of St. George eternally slaying the dragon, which is a copy of a wooden statue, the original being in the Storkyrkan. Goodbye to Stortorget dressed up for winter with its Christmas market, and goodbye to narrow little Mårten Trotzigsgränd.

My desk is packed, my computer unplugged, countless old papers, magazines and photos thrown away. On Monday, the company starts the day in Östermalm on Linnégatan, in new offices. Sweden won't be quite the same for me. I miss the old office terribly, and it's only been an hour and a half. I know, I'm a sentimental fool.

The Swedish words for the day are farväl, adjö and hejdå. They mean farewell, adieu and goodbye.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, May 30, 2002

Have weddings in America always been nearly five days of feasting and fetes? Events of nearly royal proportions, it seems? Not that I'm complaining. I had a grand time.

First on the agenda was a small family dinner with one of my beloved little brother's oldest friends, who runs an eco-hotel in Ecuador - I hadn't seen him in nearly 10 years and amazingly, he is exactly the same as when I last saw him. Well, almost the same; perhaps a little more settled, a little more realistic, but just as kind. My youngest nephew fell in love with him. (The husband and I will definitely be going to Ecuador sometime in the near future.)

Then, there was the day where the bride, the groom, another old friend of the bride's, the husband and myself all spent the afternoon in the city getting pedicures and drinking champagne (the husband thought the pedicures were deplorably bad as pedicures go, but I'd never had one before so it seemed perfectly wonderful to me), yakking it up with people we'd never met before in an apartment across from the venerable old Ambassador West hotel, eating bad sandwiches at Cosí, some kind of new sandwich shop I'd never seen before that tries desperately to look funky and unique, serving toasted marshmallows that can be cooked over a can of sterno and with weird mismatched sofas. Except the same mismatched sofas can be found at every Cosí, of which there seem to be, er, at least more than 20 in Chicago, judging by the five or so we encountered in our brief wanderings.

Next, there was a dim sum lunch for 30 at Phoenix in Chinatown, with my sister-in-law officiating and arguing with the waiters in Cantonese while my beloved little brother made the rounds from table to table, introducing all the various factions of his life to all the various factions of his soon-to-be wife's life to one another.

Then, instead of a rehearsal dinner, my parents rented a bowling alley the night before the wedding, so 50 people spent the night drinking beer and bowling badly (I think I hit an 88 once). My favorite part was watching the various people under the age of 11, who had a grand time despite the constant announcements over the loudspeaker ("No walking in the lanes!" "The orange balls are for children only!" "Only one ball at one time in the lane!").

Oh, and then there was the actual wedding. The chuppah held up by among other people, my sainted sister and the husband; the very explanatory ceremony by the rabbi (she speaks Danish!?!); the breaking of the glass on the second try; my very bad singing (I was too nervous and too emotional); the bride's mother having a wee bit too much to drink; the fighting over the cakes (each of the ten tables had its own different cake and everyone wanted the gooey chocolate one); the karaoke singing ("Delta Dawn, what's that flower you have on?" was, perhaps, my favorite choice of song, sung by the voluptuous C. with great verve and gusto, if little understanding of the concept of pitch).

The Swedish words for the day are brud och brudgum. They mean bride and groom.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

I've been there and back again. The United States is still the same, just with more flags. And more god-bless-america. I guess everyone everywhere has already noted the irony of both sides of the war on terrorism invoking god as being on their side. Not that it surprises me, I just find if funny.

However, I was amazed that the airport security wasn't overwhelming. And unlike the previous visit, the person at passport control didn't seem to be extremely uncomfortable about the fact that the husband and I are homosexualists.

When we visited in August of the past year, the woman at the passport control desk asked us as we stood together in front of her, "How are you family?"

We told her we were married.

She said with disgust, "We don't recognize that in this country. Next time you come up separately, understand?" Which made my stomach lurch, and my knees nearly shake. I wanted to say something nasty, but passport control is one place where you can't win by saying something. The passport control police are all-powerful.

This time, however, passport control was nothing like that.

This time, though the husband went up first by himself, the man behind the desk gestured to me to come up once the husband said that he was traveling not alone but with his husband, namely me.

This time, the man behind the desk said "Have a good stay," as we left after he stamped our passports.

This time, the husband didn't ask me how the United States dares to call itself the home of the free.

The Swedish word for the day is onöjdig. It means unnecessary.

- by Francis S.

Monday, May 13, 2002

The New World beckons with a crooked finger. I could have conceived and bore a child in the time it's been since I was last there. If men could bear children that is. It's the longest time I've spent without going back. And I haven't missed it really.

Now, I just need to remember to give the husband plenty of space, and to grab some time alone just the two of us so that he doesn't drown in the too-muchness of my happy family. If there's one thing I learned from my ex, it's that it is important to show to one's spouse that they are No. 1 when it comes to family.

Rationally, it shouldn't matter: There is no contest between spouse and in-laws, it isn't a competition for my affection, I don't love one above the other, it's apples and oranges. But life on planet earth has little to do with rationality and everything to do with emotion. And wanting attention is in fact natural when faced with in-laws, no matter how well we all get along.

Chicago, here we come.

The Swedish word for the day is släktingarna. It means the relatives.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, May 12, 2002

My mother and father spent last night hanging out at a gay club in Oak Park, Illinois. It's not like the clubs downtown in the city, the men are less beautiful, more tentative, more real than at the big clubs in Chicago. But there were strippers - "They were really handsome!" said my mother with conviction - and a dancefloor and loud music - "My ears are still ringing!" said my father after they arrived home.

The reason they went was to raise money for the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays organization my mother started. Another local branch of the organization recommended it. My mother gave out hershey kisses in little bags tied together with rainbow ribbons with cards attached with a phone number and address.

"I kept telling your father 'our mothers are probably rolling over in their graves right now,'" my mother said to me. "But maybe your grandmother would understand, deep down."

I replied that I thought now that she's dead, my grandmother most certainly understands everything.

"Yes, I guess you're right about that," my mother said.

I keep envisioning my parents sitting there in that club, friendly and smiling and giving out chocolate kisses - as well as the real thing - to all these hundred or more gay men, listening as one by one they tell my mother about their relationships with their own mothers, my poor nearly deaf father unable to hear a thing but nodding amiably and sympathetically, both of them cool as cucumbers when the strippers come out. It about makes me burst with pride.

The second Swedish phrase for the day is Mors dag. It means Mother's Day, which is on May 26 in Sweden this year.

- by Francis S.
I can see on everyone's faces, feel it in the air: the promise of summer is almost too much to bear. April and May have been heaven-sent, sunny and warm and full of pale green leaves. But will the summer live up to this glorious spring? It's rumored that June and July will be hellishly cold and damp.

I would never have imagined living in a country where the collective national psyche is so dependent on the weather. Where one is forced to throw oneself into a warm and sunny day as if jumping from a high cliff into the unknown, where the ten lesser months of the year are mere preparation for a tenuous summer that could possibly never come.

Me, I'm as nervous as the next guy that today will be the end of the balminess, as the husband and I wander around the city, buying presents for the upcoming trip to the States for my beloved little brother's wedding to my friend the Rebel.

I'm sick of worrying about the weather, especially when it's this perfect. Perhaps this means I really am becoming a Swede.

The Swedish word for the day is sommaren. It means the summer.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, May 11, 2002

Dogs are allowed in Sweden. In shops and on buses. Just about everywhere except restaurants. So it was no surprise to hear strangled and asthmatic barking in the subway as our train pulled away from Central Station - dogs are allowed in the last car.

The question is, however, whether pig-dogs are allowed. Because what was making the noise was small and round and pink and white and indeed, the ugliest canine-type critter that I have ever seen. An albino pug with a few white patches on its back, the rest of it a rubbed-raw pink, its owner was visibly proud of its pathetic ugliness.

Is it possible to be so ugly as to be endearing?

The Swedish word for the day is husdjur. It means pet.

- by Francis S.

Friday, May 10, 2002

The husband and I celebrated Ascension day by ascending to the minimal, luxe and empty bar of the Nordic Light Hotel with M., the t.v. producer and L., a great friend of the husband's from the old days and a king of the Swedish fashion mafia, on account of his being about the only haute couturier in the entire country.

I say a friend from the old days because the husband and L. rarely see each other anymore. Though neither has, or would, say as much, this is no doubt on account of me.

I like L. tremendously, his voice so soft one has to lean closer to hear him, his elegant but unstuffy manners, his twinkling blue eyes. But he surely must resent me, even if he never acts in the least as if he does. I think the husband and L. were friends in some measure because they were both single, it was in part a bachelor cameraderie.

Why is it that when one pairs off, certain friends suddenly fade into the background, while others come into clear focus? It is true that most of the friends of the husband and I, but by no means all, come in pairs.

Is it because single people grow weary of hearing the word "we" all the time?

Interestingly enough, this is not the case with M., the t.v. producer. It is no doubt because he romanticizes the relationship of the husband and I all out of proportion. It would be a mistake to think the M. is not a hopeless romantic, just because he's fucked half of the most beautiful women in Stockholm aged 18 to 24.

"I love you guys," he always says grabbing us around the shoulders, especially after having had one too many sips of white tequila, served neat in a whisky glass. "You guys are my family."

And we love him, too, because he is indeed a part of our large and unwieldy but much beloved family, most of whom are not blood relations of any sort.

The Swedish word for the day is söderkis. It is a slang term for a boy who is native to the island of Södermalm, once a working-class section of the city that now likes to consider itself as Sweden's answer to Soho.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

The days are drawing near when my company leaves its offices across from the royal palace. It will be a blow to leave the old town behind, to no longer be able to walk to work, to be a bit off the beaten path.

At least despite its proximity, I won't have a view of the U.S. Embassy from my new window. (Not only do I find the embassy an ugly complex of buildings, I detest the place; the Department of Motor Vehicles can't possibly hold a candle to the supercilious attitudes of the staff of the U.S. Embassy: "Uh, are you stupid or something? Because why did you think you should pick up your passport at window F and not at window A where you dropped it off originally? Yes I know you've been waiting 15 minutes while I was yammering away on the phone with a friend, and that the sign above window F says 'passport pickup' but really, how stupid can a person be?")

I will now be taking a ferry from the sluice to Djurgården, an island with museums and a zoo and ambassadors' residences and Gröna Lund, that fabulous old amusement park with ancient rides like the blåtåget - the blue train - a scary ride for 6-year-olds; I love the blåtåget. I will then walk from Djurgården into Östermalm, where stand the new offices - which are actually old military barracks.

The Swedish word for the day is vad tråkigt. It means, more or less, that's too bad.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Wow. Last week was Valborg and Första Maj. Now this week we have Kristihimmelsfärd, otherwise known as Ascension. And the week after next it's Pingst - Pentecost. That's one holiday a week, three out of four weeks.

I love this anti-religious country that has so many religious holidays. Go, Jesus, go! Thanks for dying for our sins and giving us all these great holidays.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, May 05, 2002

I wonder when the first bureaucracy was created? Was it in China, with all its scribes, or was it under Hammurabi with his code of laws in Babylon, or under the earliest pharoahs in Egypt? I wonder further when the first satire of bureaucracy was written? There must be a writer who pre-dates Gogol and his Dead Souls, the oldest novel that comes to mind on the subject. Because if bureaucracy has been part of human existence for thousands of years, then human beings have suffered from it for just as long.

Take the friend of my beloved little brother. His name is, uh, "George." On his driver's license it states that his sex is "female." He is not, however, female. But getting this changed is apparently a Herculean task.

"I was just reading," my beloved little brother said, "about a lawyer who had the same problem." This lawyer apparently went to the Department of Motor Vehicles, where a clerk there told him that the only way to correct the error was to fill out a form saying that he had changed his sex. Which he refused to do.

"I'm a lawyer and I'll take this to the Supreme Court if I have to," he told the clerk. The clerk said fine, but between the six years it will take for the case to get to the Supreme Court, he will have to put up with a lot of security hassles in the New America Made Safe from Terrorism.

The lawyer broke down and filled out the change-of-sex form.

My little brother was gleeful, because "George" has some, er, personal issues he hasn't quite worked out: "He would go ballistic if he had to fill out a change-of-sex form."

The Swedish word for the day is tjänsteman. It means civil servant.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, May 02, 2002

Sweden is rich in square miles, poor in flowers. It's just too far north I think.

Oh, there are wildflowers and some flowering bushes like forsythia and lilac, and of course flowering fruit trees, but there don't seem to be gardens bursting with blossoms and no one seems to have vases filled with spring flowers picked from the backyard. I suspect that if people have flowers in the backyard, they're too precious to pick.

Instead, one clips bare branches from trees before they've started to bloom, sticks them in water and watches them slowly burst open over a weeks' time, perhaps. It's a lovely ascetic beauty, albeit one born of necessity more than anything else.

The Swedish word for the day is blomma. It means, of course, flower.

- by Francis S.