Saturday, June 29, 2002

Last night we sat up late eating caviar on toast and drinking white wine. Swedes prefer löjrom - whitefish roe, the best coming from Kalix up in the north of Sweden - to Russian beluga caviar. Our neighbor L., the chef, had styled food for a shoot with various caviars and while she'd given away the expensive Russian stuff to the photographer, she had saved the löjrom for us to have together.

We got to talking about self actualization, as we seem always to do with L. and her boyfriend P.

"When I moved to New York," L. said, "I was a bitch and stupid. I was such a perfectionist." She had worked at a renowned restaurant in New York. "They prepped the food way ahead of time on the weekend, and I would come in and say it wasn't good enough and throw it away. And this was to people who'd been working there for three years."

She was all of 21 years old when she had arrived. She had argued with the chef, who is well-known in Sweden because of his restaurant in New York. She had argued with everyone, and no one liked her.

Now, at the ripe old age of 27, she's learned that she was crazy when she was 21.

"I was crazy," she said.

She believes that she had too many unresolved inner conflicts then.

She believes that one of the problems with the world is that people expend too much energy trying to change things they can't change instead of fixing things inside themselves. That they worry about the Palestinians getting a fair deal, or a man getting stoned to death in Nigeria, instead of making their beds in the morning.

The husband wasn't buying this because in fact I make our bed in the morning, not him.

I told L. that I kind of agree with her; and yet it's sometimes hard to say how far our responsibilities to others extend.

And then we ate strawberries, without sugar.

The Swedish word for the day is ansvarig. It means responsible.

- by Francis S.

Friday, June 28, 2002

In one breath I claim I belong to no culture, in the next breath I'm getting all hot and bothered about religion rearing its ugly head yet again in America: the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of government subsidies of private - mostly religious - schools in the form of vouchers for parents who send their children to such non-public schools.

Does anyone else find it ironic that the Supreme Court has just decided that a bunch of priests and nuns deserve government handouts to molest, oops, I meant teach our children?

The Swedish phrase for the day is nu kan vi få betala, tack. It means can we pay now, please.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

I got those little-brother-left-for-Paris-yesterday blues.

The Swedish word for the day is bröllopsresa. It means honeymoon.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

"How do you find it living here?" asked F., the freelance art director, as we sat at a table or under a tent or on a rock sometime during midsummer.

After three and a half years living in Stockholm, people still ask me whether I like it here in Sweden. I always answer with a yes. I like it because I'm happily married, no doubt. And I like it because I have an interesting job and a life of my own outside my marriage. These are probably the three biggest factors.

But I also like it because Swedish culture agrees with me, or rather I agree with Swedish culture. Which is not to say that I am really a part of the culture. I feel rather outside the culture, but not in a dismaying or alienated way; I'm just not a Swede, and never will be. In fact, I feel outside American culture as well by this point. I'm a man without a culture, but I think being a homosexualist rather prepares one for living outside a culture (regardless of whether one believes in a gay culture or not, the vast majority of gay people live much of their lives as outsiders in many key ways).

Being without a culture certainly allows me to be lazy - I don't feel I have enough of a toehold in the culture to be able to make accurate and fair judgments about political issues, for example, and so I'm not burdened with having to make the effort of finding out more or trying to change things one way or another, something I most definitely felt when I had a culture. It makes me sound like a bum, though, doesn't it?

So, how do l find it living here?

Well, it's like, uh, life. (Apologies to Lorrie Moore.)

The Swedish phrase for the day is svårt att säga. It means difficult to say.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

On Sunday, we had paella at H.'s apartment out in Stocksund, a well-to-do suburb of Stockholm. Eating paella beside us was Sweden's answer to Barbara Walters - a bit more intellectual and far to the left of Barbara, she has interviewed everyone from Moamar Qaddafi to Leonard Cohen.

She had just gotten back from the States, where she was doing a story on Steve Lofton and Roger Croteau's fight to adopt their foster child, and a follow-up story to one she had done 11 years ago on a family of white supremacists in Georgia. Eleven years later, it had hardly changed.

"I think racism is getting worse," the Swedish Barbara Walters said.

I am an optimist on the issue of racism. I've always felt that, slowly but surely, two steps forward and one step back, we move in the right direction. Yes, it can be discouraging sometimes, with right-wing parties gaining a foothold in Europe because of their anti-immigrant stances. With the U.S. Department of Justice using the current climate of fear to do away with due process. And yet, we move forward, things are better than they were 20 years ago; it's just that positive change also brings out the worst in some people.

Am I wrong, is racism on the increase?

The Swedish phrase for the day is jag vet inte, faktiskt. It means, I don't know, actually.

- by Francis S.

Monday, June 24, 2002

Midsummer was what it was supposed to be: alternating downpour and sunshine, one meal ending only for another meal to start, endless conversations in English or Swedish or French about soccer and Palestinians and where to eat in Paris and how expensive it is to buy a flat in London. We even managed to learn and sing the chorus of a nonsense song in Bengali, which an Indian guest quite effectively made into a drinking song. (We couldn't come up with an appropriate American song - "A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall" just seemed a bit, well, long and puerile; at least the English and the Swiss who happened to be there failed to come up with English or Swiss drinking songs, so we weren't alone in our dereliction to sing.)

My beloved little brother earned his midsummer chops by standing in rain that was coming down like bolts of cloth unfurling, one in a group of four people soaked to the skin and desperately fastening birch boughs to the midsummer pole so that we could all dance around it later. Which we did, eight hours or so later, with great gusto and like little children.

I managed to scrape myself up good, stepping at 1:30 a.m. out from under the tent erected in the front yard of the farmhouse and sliding down a ditch and coming up the other end and smashing into the pavement. Oh the blood, oh my poor hands, oh my sore ribs.

The Swedish word for the day is fest. It means party.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

The dog days of summer are here:

1. My friend K., who lives in Boston, has become a pawn of the puppy Internet trade. She is now the proud mother of an adopted baby boxer named Alice. There was a chubby little boy in all the pictures of Alice that K. had been sent beforehand, but interestingly enough he was not in the cage with Alice when she arrived. K. was relieved.

"I guess he could have slimmed down with a lot of games of fetch on the beach," K. said.

And, K. did an evil thing that I told her not to. She sent pictures of Alice to the husband's e-mail account. I told her that I would remove all traces if I found them, but I wasn't diligent enough.

"I want one," the husband said when he read the e-mail, his voice all dreamy and wistful and full of pleading.

Me, I was raised by parents who grew up on farms, parents who believe that animals have a job to do, and that job is outside, be it a cow, a pig, a dog or a cat. I like animals well enough, but I've managed to inherit my parents rather, er, distant love of animals. I am not big on the idea of having a boxer in an apartment in the city.

"Hee hee," K. giggled when I confronted her. "It's just a good thing that he can't see Alice in person, because believe me, she is so cute he would need psychiatric care."

2. My beloved little brother and his wife the Rebel arrived last night, 30 kilo suitcase in tow and bearing pictures of the wedding (I liked them so very much because I looked so nice and thin even though I'm not nice and thin. Oh, and everyone else looked pretty good, too, especially the very photogenic bride and groom.)

As we sat up late, drinking wine and sipping gazpacho, the Rebel told me about her friend Karen and Karen's girlfriend Susan.

"They love their dog," she said. "And now it looks like they're going to pay a big wad of money to have one of the dog's lungs removed. The dog looks just fine but apparently this is not so. One of my friends said 'that dog is circling the drain.'"

Circling the drain?

The Swedish word for the day, of course, is hunden. It means the dog.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

On my way to pick up the husband from work, I passed through Humlegården - the bumblebee park - the park that surrounds the Royal Library. The park was filled with numerous groups of Swedes drinking beer and playing boule or kubb - an ingeniously simple game from the Swedish island of Gotland - under the trees.

All life has moved outdoors, and the nation can't decide whether or not to believe the weather forecasters who are predicting rain for Friday, which is midsommarafton - midsummer eve, arguably the most important holiday of the year.

My beloved little brother and his wife the Rebel will be arriving tomorrow night, and on Thursday we will make our way in the afternoon to Ornö, an island in the southern part of the Stockholm archipelago. Ornö is the site of the summer home of P. and E., the parents of the Swedish photographer who lives in London with his English wife.

P.'s grandfather was the schoolmaster on the island at the turn of the century, and P. still owns the farm that his grandparents bought in the twenties. There are three or four small houses on the land, and I think we'll be staying in the one that is haunted by the ghost of Mor Anna, who will only let you open the door to the house if she likes you. (She likes me, evidently, because I had no trouble opening the door when I was there last summer.)

P.'s grandparents moved up to Ornö from southern Sweden for some unknown reason; and sometime shortly after, the island became an arts colony of sorts - Strindberg lived there at some point in his life. The island has become more of a summer spot these days, although there is still a grevinna - countess - of the island, who can be seen buying ice cream in the small market down the road from the farm of P.'s grandparents.

As for midsummer, it will be a mix of some 25 English, Americans and Swedes, and I suppose that all who are familiar with the traditions of the holiday will have to do his or her part to train everyone else - the toasts, the singing of "små grodorna" and dancing around the majstång - maypole, the eating of herring, herring and more herring, the toasts, the wearing of midsummer wreaths, the OP and beskadroppar, the toasts, and the playing of games, for example.

So, what are we waiting for? Let's get on with it.

postscript: my friend A. tells me that the word for bumblebee is humla and not humle, which is hops. But bumblebees are so much more picturesque and appropriate for a park than hops are. I think I will start calling it Humlagården instead of Humlegården.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, June 16, 2002

I don't do memes, not usually. I hate the word, it sounds so Doctor Who-ish.

But it seems that Nancy, über-dyke and proprietess of, is trying - god only knows why - to win this blogwhore contest. And, well, I'm a sucker for Nancy.

So, here goes. A meme for Nancy:

"Five things that pick me up when I'm feeling blue. Now, how 'bout you?"

1. Saffron ice cream from Gunnarson's konditori down the block.
2. "Nur Ein Wink vom Siene Hände" from Bach's Weihnachtsoratorium, sung in the crisp and clear voice of the late Arleen Auger.
3. A big sloppy kiss from the husband.
4. Re-reading "When I Was Thirteen" by Denton Welch.
5. A hot bath, a la Blanche Du Bois.

- by Francis S.
You'd think that being queer, I would escape seeing Sweden lose to Senegal in the latest round of the World Cup. But no, the husband roused us at 8:15 this morning to watch the match, and then M., the t.v. producer, came over during halftime and watched the rest of it with us.

Oh well. Senegal did play a tougher and tighter game. They certainly deserved to win.

I hope I haven't just jeopardized my future chances at dual U.S.-Swedish citizenship.

The Swedish word for the day is förlorare. It means loser.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, June 15, 2002

In Europe, men wear perfume. Or in Stockholm at least. It's not considered a great big homo thing here. Plus, there don't seem to be any people in Sweden who find perfume abhorrant, demanding fragrance free zones, and suing people for wearing too much Eau de Love.

I never used to wear perfume in the States, but now it's Issey Miyake for me. The husband wears Bulgari.

The Swedish verb for the day is att dofta. It means to smell, and in a sweet way.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Those wacky Americans are at it again! What will they say or do next?

Take Texas. I guess Texas school children got a story quite different from the one I got when I was a child growing up in suburban Detroit and suburban Chicago. One of the things our teachers taught us in school was that those celebrity colonists in Plymouth - the "Pilgrims" of Thanksgiving fame - came to America because they wanted to be free to practice their own religion. "America was founded on religious freedom," our teachers told us. Fact or fiction, it was and is a noble idea.

Just don't tell the Republicans in Texas, though: "Republican delegates wrapped up their state convention Saturday by calling for repeal of the Texas Lottery, praying for an all-Christian judiciary and scolding Democratic gubernatorial candidates for debating in Spanish." (from the Austin American-Statesman.)

An all-Christian judiciary? Uh, doesn't this seem, at a minimum, anti-Semitic? And here I thought such public anti-Semitic statements were pretty much unacceptable in America these days. How naive of me.

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

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

I swallow.

Chewing gum, that is. Am I the only person in the world who does this? I've done it as long as I can remember, in part because my mother the nurse used to say: "That's a bunch of malarkey that it stays in your stomach for seven years, it just goes right through you." My mother used to like to use the word "malarkey" a lot.

I've never quite understood why other people find swallowing gum quite so disgusting.

Then again, my niece and nephews don't understand why I find swallowing fish eyeballs so disgusting.

However, I will admit that my swallowing gum - usually as soon as there is the tiniest hint of loss of flavor, that is, after about two minutes - is a reflection of some kind of, er, oral peculiarity on my part and having to do with a distinct lack of self-control.

On a completely different note, it turns out that my friend and former employee R., who moved to Finland last month with his girlfriend, is going to be a pappa. This is the kind of news that makes me swoon. I'm a real sucker for babies, for people having babies, for pregnant ladies, for people just thinking of having babies. I'm all excitement, empathy and envy rolled into a tight little ball smiling so hard it could break in two with the least provocation.

The Swedish verb for the day is, of course att svälja. It means, of course, to swallow.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Happy anniversary to me and the husband.

As of yesterday, we've been married two whole years. We had a little champagne, dinner of caviar and those delightful little potato pancakes, and indulged in reminiscing about how we met (at 3:30 a.m. in a club in Barcelona) and how we kissed the first time (minutes after meeting as we were dancing to "Ray of Light") and how we then talked for hours afterward, drinking water (in the only quiet place in the club). It was a most romantic beginning.

To gild the lily and ice the cake, in the mail was an invitation to the wedding of the priest and her boyfriend the policeman. It was sheer luck that we met her - another priest couldn't marry us when we wanted - and it has proven to be the best of luck, to be able to call her a friend, and a good friend at that.

I can still picture the three of us before the wedding - the husband, the priest and I - chainsmoking as we waited for all the guests to gather before making our grand appearance in the library of the Van der Nootska palatset.

The Swedish word for the day underbar känsla. It means wonderful feeling.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, June 09, 2002

Last weekend, climbing up onto the rocks overlooking the Baltic at Nacka, the priest said as we were scrambling up a path, "Once, the bishop asked me why I became a priest, what was behind it."

We stopped and caught our collective breaths, especially the priest who is just now starting to look pregnant with four months left to go.

"Everyone always thinks that it's faith," she said.

I nodded, her boyfriend the policeman waiting patiently in front of us, ready to keep climbing.

She continued, "But for me, it wasn't faith, it was fear." And then she laughed.

The Swedish word for the day is församlingen. It means the congregation.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, June 08, 2002

After a week of taking the ferry to the new offices, I feel so much more how the city of Stockholm is a city built on water, how the people of the city look to the water, that the city impresses most when approached from the water.

And then on Friday, it was even more apparent how Stockholm harbor is a grand highway. As we pushed off from the landing next to Gröna Lund, ahead of us the deadly and beautiful black-green water was a mad criss-crossing of ferries full of people making an early start on summer and going out to their summer homes on the islands of the archipelago. The enormous cruise ships to Finland, big as skyscrapers laid on end, were sliding into their spots to disgorge passengers and pick up new ones. Taxi boats skimming in and out and making their way to the sluice. A few of the tall ships from the 750th year anniversary of Stockholm were leaving at last, and the absurd reproduction of a Viking boat that is normally docked in front of the royal palace was whizzing along, incongruously without sails, a tiny motor boat tied behind it in such a way as to look like a put-upon child forced to keep up with its parent's swift gait.

The Swedish compound verb for the day is att åka på färjan. It means to go by ferry.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, June 06, 2002

Today is National Day in Sweden, and to top it off, the 750th anniversary of the city of Stockholm (the city was actually built to protect what is now a suburb of Stockholm, the city of Sigtuna). And as Aaron, whose birthday it is today, reminded me, on this day not only was the Swedish Constitution adopted in 1809, but in 1654 Queen Christina converted to Catholicism and renounced the Swedish throne.

Strangely enough, it is not what they call here a red day - that is, a bank holiday. However, next year it will be: Score one for nationalism over Jesus - we'll no longer get the day after Pentecost as a holiday.

The Swedish phrase for the day is Du gamla, Du fria, Du fjällhöga Nord.... These are the first words of the Swedish national anthem. They mean Thou old, thou open, Thou mountainous north...

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

The Swedish Parliament has voted to give gay and lesbian couples the right to adopt children (link in Swedish only, sorry). The vote was 178 to 31, with 78 abstaining.

The Swedish phrase for the day is vad kul!. It means nice!

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

The husband is on his way home from Barcelona now. At least, he's supposed to be. And his absence reminds me of my love and loathing of Barcelona, the city I have the strongest feelings for, and how when I lived there, without knowing the depth of it, I was desperately unhappy and uncertain and feeling loveless:

On the Apprehension of a Second Language in a Foreign City

Take a lover
who speaks no English,
they tell you,
you will learn Spanish
by the time
the affair is over.

In no time,
simple phrases, words,
come to you:
Egoistic verbs --
I have, I want,
I need... I am, I am;

Useful nouns --
what eyes! great sweater!
Modifiers --
most, very, better;
You sound like a child,
yet at least you make sense.

on the other hand,
is harder.
You often misunderstand,
when he is on the phone.

In the next room,
you lie in bed afraid
it is you
he meant when he said
cerda -- sow --
in the fiercest tone.

To the end,
adult conversation
eludes you,
done in by conjugation,
excepting the past imperfect.
can say, "I have gone."

Barcelona 1998
uh, and, while I'm at it, copyright 2002

Yes, yes, it's a little glib. Of course, the reality was that I had no lover, not even dates. One-night stands, yes, but no dates. That is, not until I met the husband in a club, Metro, at 3:30 a.m. on July 18. Interestingly enough, the misunderstandings and worry in the poem came purely from listening to my crazy flatmate yammering on the phone, I felt so shamefully and annoyingly dependent on his great kindness.

The Swedish word for the day is tillbacka. It means back again.

- by Francis S.
Nancy is Blogwhore.

- by Francis S.
Catch The Bug. Soon available in Swedish. Sort of.

- by Francis S.
So tonight, A., the former model and aspiring producer, got us tickets to see MacBeth. In Swedish.

Good thing I knew the plot: so-called "weird" sisters talk a lot of nonsense and predict man will become king of Scotland instead of merely a lowly Thane (what the hell is a thane anyway?), man tells his wife, who is, shall we say, a tad ambitious and she, using an equal dose of berating and wile (which included crotch-grabbing in this particular version) urges man to kill current king, which he does, making a bloody mess in the house, and then he kills lots of other nice people and makes a lot more bloody messes, then wife develops somnambulistic obsessive-compulsive disorder and can't stop washing her hands in her sleep which eventually kills her (who knew one could die of a somnambulistic obsessive-compulsive disorder?), then man goes out with a bang, Rambo-style, except instead of singlehandedly killing an English army with thousands of soldiers, he is killed, but pitifully and offstage.

I went because a friend of mine, the former model and ex-girlfriend of the new-age popstar, was playing Lady McDuff and one of the witches. The former model and ex-girlfriend of the new-age rockstar goes to Sweden's equivalent of RADA.

Naturally, I thought she was the best of the lot - she sure screamed when they slit her throat! In fact, she was the only one who really moved like she belonged on stage, everyone else was a tad stiff as they walked back and forth across the stage purposelessly, although I assume they were great elocutionists. Of course, since I have enough trouble following Swedish when it's not Shakespeare, perhaps I was paying too much attention to the movement and not enough to the words. It would be accurate to say that the first part of the play flew up and hundreds of feet over my head.

However, the second part - which is much more exciting and in fact, downright creepy if you ask me - well, I understood most of it. What helped, of course, is that all the great speeches are in the second half:

"...bort, förbannade fläck..." (that would be how I recall the out, damned spot speech - when I try to find a translation on the web, all I come up with are detergent sites) and the "Imorgon, och imorgon, och imorgon..." speech (er, I bet you could guess that that means tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow).

It's so nice that my friends are making sure that while the husband is away, I'm being taken care of - not only did we see the play, but A. and her boyfriend C., the fashion photographer and his daughter, O., and me had dinner afterwards at my favorite Thai restaurant down the block, Koh Pangang (they write your name on a board when you come in because they don't take reservations and you almost always have to wait for a table; the Swedish King came to the restaurant once and they even made him write his name on the board and wait like everyone else. Now that's Sweden for you. I love that story.)

But the husband is back tomorrow, and despite wishing I could be with him, part of me thought that it would be kind of nice to be on my own for a little while. Yet as always, I think it will be fun - I'll read and write and watch t.v. and not feel guilty about being a slug but I end up bored after one evening and by the time I'm ready to go to sleep that night, I'm wishing he was there beside me in bed.

Which he will be tomorrow.

The Swedish phrase for the day is Shakespeare- tragedi. I'm not going to bother to translate that, because if you can't figure it out, you shouldn't be reading this in the first place.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, June 02, 2002

I've taken to sleeping with a sleeping mask on and I feel like Joan Crawford in The Women. Next thing you know, I'll be both talking on the phone and eating chocolates while in a bathtub overflowing with bubbles. Although to be honest, the mask is a cheap one given in the packet they hand out to you in business class flying from Stockholm to Chicago on SAS. And the reason I'm wearing it is because of the invincible sun, which comes driving through the thin blinds relentlessly and in full blinding force by about 4 a.m.

It happens so quickly this time of year. Already, I noticed that the sun was hovering just below the horizon at midnight last night as I walked home from dinner with A., the former model and aspiring producer and C., the fashion photographer. We ate at PA's, which turns out is a photographer hangout, and the two of them seemed to know just about everyone in the place. I felt hopelessly unfashionable and unaware, the waiters and waitresses bringing in more and more chairs to jam us all in.

"The swordfish carpaccio is good," said the man sitting next to me, who I'd met several times before but I can't remember his name, or the name of his new wife.

"There's Staffan over there," A. told me. "He's getting married soon and they have to plan his svensexan." (A svensexan is an all-day bachelor party in which the groom-to-be endures a day of humiliation and increasing drunkeness that should properly end in soul-wrenching vomiting and a three-day hangover.)

"Say hello to New York from me," A. said to a thin and pretty girl with a supercilious gaze, sitting and holding court with an Englishman amidst a crowd of Swedes talking madly in English and Swedish all at once.

"Oh, you're an American," said the 50-year-old dapper Swiss-Irish man with the wheezey tobacco rasp and the pipe, his laughing eyes barely in focus behind his Ari Onassis-lite glasses.

We left in a flurry of handshakes, air kisses and promises to see each other in the morning, as all but me seemed to be going to a party at 11.30 a.m. to watch Sweden play England in the World Cup.

As I walked home, the city crowded and overjoyed at it being summer, Skeppsbron was lined with tall ships docked for the 750th birthday celebration of Stockholm, teenagers were streaming from the boat that comes from Gröna Lund, the ancient amusement park two islands away, and me, I was regretting that the husband wasn't there walking with me, but at least happy that he hadn't been crying when he had called me while I was waiting for my dinner.

The Swedish phrase for the day is öppet dygnet runt. It means open 24 hours.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, June 01, 2002

It's time for another in-depth Swedish lesson - this one in the form of a test.

7. Swedish attitudes about Americans. Although it seems unfair to generalize about the attitudes of all Swedes, I don't care. I work with them, live side-by-side with them, hell, I'm married to one, so I like to think I know a bit or two about what Swedes think about Americans. (For the sake of brevity, I'm using the term "American" to refer to citizens of the United States. My apologies to all those Canadians, Mexicans, Brazilians and other residents of North and South America out there.)

Leave your answers in the comments so everyone can see. Oh, and this is an open book test.

a. Swedes themselves are humble people and while they do have opinions about Americans, they assume that Americans don't give a damn about the opinion of the people of a sparsely populated country with an obscure language. Swedes agree that Americans are notorious for being a bit isolationist and not caring what anyone thinks of them. But in fact, we Americans have a terrible inferiority complex when it comes to Europe. We have no royalty, we have no roots, we have no class. We do care what Europe thinks, and it hurts our feelings.

Do Americans feel lacking somehow when it comes to Europe, true or false? (Yeah I know, this question is about American attitudes. Gotcha!)

b. Swedes are completely confused by Americans' attitudes toward guns. "I read that a governor was trying to pass a law that allowed people to buy one semi-automatic weapon a month!" a friend said to me once. I regretted to inform her that the law in question was in fact a gun control measure trying to lower the current limit.

Do Swedes believe that everyone owns a gun in America, true or false?

c. Swedes are horrified that America still has capital punishment. "No country in Europe has capital punishment anymore. Isn't that against the Geneva Convention or something?" they ask.

Do Swedes believe that Americans are barbaric on account of their support for the death penalty, true or false?

d. Swedes believe in a concept called lagom, which is usually translated as the middle way. It basically means everything in moderation or doing things just enough, but not too much. Swedes also travel extensively, and almost everyone I know has been to America, and they always comment about how Americans do everything in excess. For instance, they think the portions of food served in restaurants is definitely not lagom, but way over the top. "No wonder people are overweight," they say.

Do Swedes believe that almost everyone in America is fat, true or false?

e. Despite their criticisms of America, Swedes are somewhat unique in Europe in that they don't have love-hate feelings toward America. It takes no scratching below the surface to determine if they like the place, they are in fact quite open and unambivalent about it. "It's a great country," they say.

Do Swedes devour American culture with avidity, albeit not without some picking and choosing, true or false?

- brought to you by Francis S.
I woke this morning with a fitful headache and hungry. I stayed up too late, and the husband has gone to Spain. His mother has had a heart attack, and all the messiness of his poor family rises to the surface, his difficult sisters, his father's untimely death in 1972, the horrible cult masking as Christianity that he was raised in lurking in the corners always.

He called me at one in the morning crying because the doctors are so awful, because he doesn't want his mother to die or to be in pain, because his mother is frightened, because he heard a man dying in the next room, the heart monitor sending out a horrible drone marking the fact.

"I don't ever want to grow old," he told me. "I want to die before."

There was no comforting him, at the other end of the phone, at the other end of the continent. Not that it would help for him to be here; he doesn't take well to being comforted. At least not in the ways I selfishly want to comfort him: taking him in my arms, kissing his tears, stroking his head with the utmost tenderness and gently. Instead, what he wants is for me to sit quietly as he chain smokes, moving throughout the rooms of the apartment putting away stray magazines, polishing the mirror in the bathroom or fishing his passport out of the chest of drawers in the bedroom, his sense of purpose vestigial but persistent somehow.

It hurts to feel as if one is unable to give any sort of solace.

"I wish I was with you," he said to me last night, sobbing. "I can't sleep at all, I keep waiting for the telephone to ring and tell me she's died."

Don't smoke too many cigarettes, I told him. Have a drink. I love you more than anything in the world, I said, and I wish I was there with you, too.

So this morning I was listening to Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. And although Tatiana Troyanos has a lovely voice, I'm always disappointed that the witches' chorus sings its part straight and not as a pack of cackling hens as in the recording I had when I was young.

"Harm's our delight and mischief all our skill," the witches sing, but beautifully. And beautifully, it doesn't convey the same evil intent.

The husband won't be home until Tuesday at the earliest, if things don't change for the better or the worse.

The Swedish phrase for the day is jag saknar dig. It means I miss you.

- by Francis S.