Friday, December 19, 2003

And now, before signing off for a week as the husband and I prepare to evacuate the country of Sweden for the teeming shores of Chicago, I leave you with a profound Christmas thought from the pen of Trey Parker, a little something guaranteed to offend just about everyone:

The Virgin Mary was sleeping
When Angel Gabriel appeared...
He said, 'you are to be the virgin mother'
And Mary thought that was weird..
Mmm mmm mmm mm mmm m mmmmmmm,
M mmmmmm m mmm mmmm mmmm,
But then Gabriel said to Mary,
'My child, have no fear'

Mmm mmm mmmm mmm mmm mmmm mmm mmmm
And still be a virgin, Mary...
mmm mmm mmm mmmmm mmm
And still not be considered flawed...
Mmmm mmm mmmm mmm,
Mmmm mmm mmm
But you're still a virgin
In the eyes of God!

from "The Most Offensive Song Ever" from Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics

I'm so puerile sometimes.

The Swedish phrase for the day is god jul och gott nytt år. It means, of course, merry Christmas and happy new year.

- by Francis S.

Monday, December 15, 2003

From an interview with Tony Kushner in Mother Jones:

TK:... I have great admiration for the essayists and writers on the left, but the left decided at some point that government couldn't get it what it wanted. As a result, it's a movement of endless complaint and of a one-sided reading of American history, which misses the important point: Constitutional democracy has created astonishing and apparently irreversible social progress. All we're interested in is talking about when government doesn't work.

MJ: When was the last time that a belief in the system paid off?

TK: It was the day they got that fucking Ten Commandments monument out of Alabama. ...

I've always felt that it was the right who had convinced Americans that government was evil, and that rather than making it do what you want it to do, everything should be privatized and that the pressures of the market will fix everything that's wrong with schools, with social services, what have you.

So I shudder to think that Tony Kushner might be correct, and that the left has likewise turned its back on government. But, sadly, I think he's right.

Am I some kind of fool to think that the government isn't an evil entity, that we should put our efforts into making it work better rather than just giving up on it? I guess Tony Kushner wouldn't think so.

The Swedish word for the day is gärna. It's not directly translateable, but my Swedish-English dictionary defines it as with pleasure.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

We went on Saturday and saw "Matrix: He Died for Your Sins" with A., the assistant director and her fiancé, C., the fashion photographer. And then we went on Sunday with the H.R. director from work and her husband to see Handel's "Messiah" in the Great Church.

I've never been too keen on Christ stories ever since they made us watch "Cool Hand Luke" every year in English class when I was in high school. (Yeah, it's a classic movie, and Paul Newman looks damn hot, but I hate it.)

Handel definitely has it way over the Wachowski brothers. All that wooden acting, deplorable dialogue, and way too many of those squid things, "Matrix: The Crucifixion" just doesn't cut it.

Give me a baritone ripping his way through "Why do the nations rage so furiously together" any day, no matter how hard those pews are at the Great Church. Handel wins, um, hands down.

The Swedish word for the day is präktig. It means, appropriately, splendid but according to O.P., it is more often used to describe someone who is a boob.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Despite the days being veiled in grey, the city has put on all its Christmas finery. There are glittering lights strung everywhere, Christmas markets on various squares, and on Skeppsbron stands the huge, perfect Christmas tree that has been carefully pieced together over the past couple of weeks, the live branches hung on a massive trunk and the whole thing covered in a net of tiny lights - it's so terribly Swedish to want to have a real live tree but to have it perfectly shaped at the same time, then to make the effort to do something so elaborate that ends up with such simple, yet satisfying results. That tree amazes me every year, I feel like a giddy little kid every time I walk past it.

The Swedish word for the day is utmaning. It means challenge.

- by Francis S.

Monday, December 01, 2003


I thought your illness a kind of solvent
dissolving the future a little at a time;

I didn't understand what's to come
was always just a glimmer

up ahead, veiled like the marsh
gone under its tidal sheet

of mildly rippling aluminum.
What these salt distances were

is also where they're going:
from blankly silvered span

toward specificity: the curve
of certain brave islands of grass,

temporary shoulder-wide rivers
where herons ply their twin trades

of study and desire. I've seen
two white emissaries unfold

like heaven's linen, untouched,
enormous, a fluid exhalation. Early spring,

too cold yet for green, too early
for the tumble and wrack of last season

to be anything but promise,
but there in the air was white tulip,

marvel, triumph of all flowering, the soul
lifted up, if we could still believe

in the soul, after so much diminishment ...
Breath, from the unpromising waters,

up, across the pond and the two-lane highway,
pure purpose over the dune,

gone. Tomorrow's unreadable
as this shining acreage;

the future's nothing
but this moment's gleaming rim.

Now the tide's begun
its clockwork turn, pouring,

in the day's hourglass,
toward the other side of the world,

and our dependable marsh reappears
-- emptied of that starched and angular grace

that spirited the ether, lessened,
but here. And our ongoingness,

what there'll be of us? Look,
love, the lost world

rising from the waters again:
our continent, where it always was,

emerging from the half-light, unforgettable,
drenched, unchanged.

Mark Doty, 1995

December 1, World AIDS day. Think about it, link it.

There is no Swedish word for the day.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

On Thursday, the husband and I went to see a friend dance at Kulturhuset.

The performance started off with a cheap but effective trick: One of the dancers came out and told the audience that another dancer had gotten hurt during the rehearsal and there would be no performance. After a bit of jostling and sighing and disappointment and dismay and putting on of scarves and gloves and overcoats, the performance started in earnest.

It certainly raised hopes, dashed them, and then after planning for a minute what one would do with an evening now free, put one in a state of confusion.

I can't say I approve of such patent manipulation, but the dance itself - exhaustingly athletic, funny, witty, breathtaking at times - didn't disappoint.

The Swedish word for the day is förväntningar. It means expectations.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

A., the assistant director, is at last back from her five week sojourn in Marbella working on one of those cheesey but very popular docu-soaps. She worked her beautiful ass off.

"I fainted once," she told me as we sat having a more than two-hour long lunch at the Lydmar Hotel, me forgetting completely that I should have been getting back to work. "We were in Marrakesh and I hadn't eaten all day or drank enough water. I'd just finished doing everything I needed to do for the day, and then I got up and fainted. I'm so professional, I waited until I was done with my work."

She laughed. And I realized that she is, without a doubt, my best friend. Damn, but it's good to have her back. I missed her like hell.

The Swedish phrase for the day is att dö av törst. It means to die of thirst.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

And now, to honor two requests.

1. Almost two weeks ago, Martin Pawley asked me to remember the one-year anniversary of the wreck of the Prestige, which ruined the green coast of Galicia in Spain one year ago on Nov. 13. (Beware the pop-up).

2. Robert Dunlap, who seems to live in Sweden although I'm not entirely sure, asked me to comment on the recent court decision in Massachusetts in the U.S., in which the court declared that it was discriminatory to not allow gay people to marry, I mean really marry, not just become legal partners.

I thought I didn't know what to say about it, but I ended up blathering on and on:

I suppose it comes down to the issue of whether it is possible to have situations that guarantee people separate but equal rights. Fifty years ago, the U.S. courts found this unconstitutional when Brown v. Board of Education came down the pike, undoing the awful previous 19th century Plessy v. Ferguson decision.

But I think you're right in saying that it's mostly symbolic as far as I can tell, aside from the fact that so far it is not, as you pointed, recognized universally, which actually is a fairly big thing, since gay people would lose their rights as couples upon entering states that don't recognize it... so gay people would only want to live in certain states, they would be at risk of being denied the right to see a dying partner in the hospital if they were on vacation in the wrong state when one of them took sick, etc.

What bothers me most about this is that for the most part, the arguments against it are all on religious grounds, and are a direct echo of arguments against, um, "miscegnation," which were made as short a time ago as the 1960s. Interestingly, it seems that the courts are at last leading public opinion rather than the other way round on the issue of gay rights, a war whose battles have been won largely on the cultural rather than the legal front - instead of courts barring discrimination, companies and municipalities have set up their own pro-gay policies because they have decided it's good business mostly. This is quite the opposite of what happened on the issue of race, where the courts led the way.

Here in Sweden, of course, it is partnership and not marriage that is the option for gay people, which guarantees, as far as I know, the same rights as marriage. The difference is that this is a law on the federal level in Sweden. But, in a way, it's ever so slightly worse in Sweden to not allow gay people to actually get married, since the church is much more of a state institution, although I think technically there is no more state church in Sweden. I think the government is talking about making the change. To my knowledge, the Netherlands was the first country to open up the institution of marriage, real marriage, to gay people.

See, I did have quite a bit to say about it after all.

The Swedish words of the day are äktenskap and partnerskap. They mean marriage and partnership.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Yesterday, I sat in a café just off Karlaplan with a microphone perilously close to my chin as Sophie, a journalism student who was working on a radio project that involved the concept of alien, asked a whole raft of questions.

She wanted to know what is alien about Sweden to those of us coming from the outside.

I answered, in my halting Swedish, all of her questions, telling her about meeting the husband in Barcelona, how Spain is more foreign than Sweden to an American, that Sweden is deceptively Anglo on the surface but in fact the culture is decidedly non-Anglo, a consensus culture as opposed to the individualist culture of my native land. I told her that I didn't think I'd ever really be Swedish, but I didn't care. I told her that I felt most Swedish when I was in the U.S., where I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the overabundance of, well, things. And I felt quite Swedish when Anna Lindh was assassinated. I told her that the first thing that struck me when I moved here is how people bump into each other on the street and they don't say "excuse me" or "sorry." But I hardly think about things being alien any more, because they aren't any longer.

I'll be most curious to hear what I sound like when you finish, Sophie.

The Swedish word for the day is främmande, which means, of course, alien or strange.

- by Francis S.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Jonno has found hisself another job: editor of Gawker's slutty cousin, Fleshbot, (as if Gawker itself weren't the nastiest, sexiest, funniest whore around, fooling everyone into thinking it is just a blog). Fleshbot is no doubt the knowingest porn site on the Net.

Go, Jonno, go.

And to think, my prediction nearly two years ago that he would make a good pornstar has come true, sort of.

The Swedish phrase for the day is i hetaste laget, which is the Swedish title of Billy Wilder's great Some Like it Hot, the movie with my all-time favorite final lines. I thought that it literally meant something like in the hottest company, but John Eje assures me it means getting a little too hot.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Undoubtedly, one of the most peculiar things about Sweden is The Ice Cream Truck.

It's not that strange that people would buy cartons of mediocre ice cream from a truck with a horn that tootles the opening bars to the theme song from old Laurel and Hardy films. What's strange is that there are trucks meandering around the city in the dark on a cold and rainy November evening, tooting their horns and then people are actually coming out of their apartments to buy ice cream.


Aren't these people cold enough already?

The Swedish phrase for the day is det stämmer. It means that's right.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Whatever happened to quaaludes? We thought we were such hot shit in 1978 when we were teenagers, taking quaaludes. Even if they did make me puke. Or was it my brother who threw up?

The Swedish phrase for the day is periodiska systemet, which as far as I can tell is what the Swedes call the Periodic Table of Elements, akin to the web's own baseball poet Score Bard's Periodic Table of Bloggers, where I sit near the lower left-hand corner of the chart.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

On Saturday, we had dinner with the manager of the r&b star, the fashion photographer and the guy on disability. A sort of men's night out, except we were sitting in our dining room.

The conversation, as it always does with the manager of the r&b star, meandered toward the topic of conspiracies and the evil of big anything, be it government, business or appetites.

And then came a round of bemoaning how things have gotten so much worse in Sweden over the past 15 years. I, of course, have no opinion, having no idea what Sweden was like 15 years ago and there is simply no comparison to the land of Mammon, um, I mean the States.

"Nobody has any morals anymore," the r&b manager said.

"All people care about is money," said the fashion photographer.

And I wondered, is it possible, as one gets older, to not think things were better when one was younger?

The Swedish word for the day is tjugolapp. It means twenty bucks, more or less, that is if one Swedish crown equalled one U.S. dollar. Oh, and happy birthday, Mom. Ja, må du leva uti hundrade år, and all that.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Today is 16 Brumaire in the year 212 de la Révolution according to the French Revolutionary calendar.

Just think, if Napoleon had won the Battle of Waterloo, the, um, lingua franca might still be French!

And furthermore, if he hadn't caved into the Catholic Church, today could still be 16 Brumaire.

The Swedish word for the day is Frankrike, which is what the Swedes call France.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

As we sat and watched tonight's rerun of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," (which is called "Fab 5" on Swedish television - I guess it doesn't translate well into Swedish... bögöga för heterokillen? Nah, that sounds really, really wrong; idiomatic expressions and humor, or the attempt at it, rarely come across properly in translation), the husband pointed out that the commercials were not for tampons and hair color, as they were when the show first aired. Tonight, it was all beer and cars. Which must mean that it's not chicks watching this show, as Channel 3 must have originally assumed, it's the laddies.

Beware. The, um, gays are taking over. No wonder all those African Anglican Primates are so worried.

And, you've already gotten three, count em, three Swedish words of the day!

- by Francis S.

Monday, November 03, 2003

I came back from nearly a week of being sick at home only to find that at long last, the little company I work for is making the switch: Our official language is no longer English, but Swedish. Which shouldn't faze me at all as for nearly two years now, meetings have all been in Swedish. Plus I'd already asked my fellow workers to stop speaking English with me, which has been moderately successful both from my end and their end.

But, I was still a bit stunned when the news came. And I realized, with a little pang in my stomach, that I am the last native-English speaker left in the office.

I'm alone, it's just me and the Swedes.

I hate how clingy I can be about English, as if it would abandon me somehow or that it was a precipice I could tumble over.

The Swedish word for the day is rädsla. It means fear.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Sitting at brunch with the priest, the policeman and their daughter Signe (who is now exactly one year and two days old, and was appropriately feted on Saturday with three cakes and lots of presents), plus the Dutchman, the architect from San Francisco and C., the fashion photographer, the subject inevitably arose.

"So," the architect asked the priest, in between bites of pancake and chicken hash, "isn't it funny that you're married to a policeman?"

The priest gets this all the time, I have no doubt.

"Actually," she said, reflecting on her duties working at one of the city jails, "we sort of deal with a lot of the same things, except he's supposed to be suspicious of all the people he deals with, and I'm supposed to have faith in them."

The Swedish word for the day fängelse. It means prison.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

...snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

from the short story "The Dead" by James Joyce

Such a melancholy, cinematic story, "The Dead" is.

It snowed all day here, though the ground wasn't cold enough for it to stick much, and the trees are still in full leaf. Inspite of myself, I like it.

The Swedish phrase for the day bland annat. It means among other things.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

We went to London to have Asian food. And more Asian food, and even more Asian food. Who would have thought that London would be a hotbed of excellent Asian cooking in über-designed settings that leave one a bit in awe? One would be hard-pressed to find better anywhere else. Woo-ee. It wasn't cheap though.

Afterwards, when we went for a drink to another restaurant known for its outrageous prices, the husband was decidedly disappointed with the egg-shaped toilets, which turned out to be vaguely glorified port-a-potties. Although we did rather enjoy walking ever-so-briefly on the stairs covered in chocolate. Between the retired football player and the fashion editor from Wallpaper, our various hosts and hostesses managed to show us quite the time on the town.

We even managed to wander through Shepherd's Bush, into Holland Park and down to Portobello Road in Notting Hill to catch Mr. Tarantino's latest pic at a movie theater that provides easy chairs for the viewers and serves vodka, which in this case helped temper the violence a bit. But just a bit.

London most definitely is quite the place to be. People from every corner of the world, subway accidents, fabulous wealth. It sure makes Stockholm feel small.

The Swedish word for the day is Storbritannien. It is what the Swedish call Great Britain.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

As I walked home today, I passed a man with multiple piercings and wearing a t-shirt that read "I'm better-looking naked" (um, in Swedish of course, which would be "Jag är snyggare naken)."

If only I could say the same about myself. Still, the working out seems to help, even if only to make me feel healthier and oh, so manly.

Tomorrow, we're off to London for a weekend of fun, leaving at the god-awful hour of 6:40 a.m., on account of the cheap tickets.

The Swedish word for the day is hemifrån. It means from home.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Europe has become a secular continent. So writes Frank Bruni in the New York Times.

Thank, um, god for that.

I'd posit that some of the worst aspects of American culture - its obsession and squeamishness about sex and all the fallout from this which causes no end of grief for women and homosexualists like myself, just to take one example - come from the insidious influence of religion. And I agree with the article that the church's authoritarian rule over people's lives in Europe in the past is why it is so universally disdained now.

But what the hell is it with America?

[Philip Jenkins] said that for many Americans, the frequency with which President Bush invoked morality and religion in talking about the fight against terrorism was neither striking nor discomfiting. "But in Europe," he added, "they think he must be a religious nut."

My question is, why aren't Americans discomfited by all that Bible thumping? I hate it, and I believe in god, after a fashion, if one can call the collective goodness of human beings god.

- by Francis S.
Taylor House of Crushing Blow asks "What were you doing, or rather, what should you have been doing, with writing when you were sixteen?"

Me, I was dabbling in just about everything, even a little writing. It seems like about everyone else was leading lives of anguish of one sort or another.

Were you all full of anguish when you were 16?

The Swedish word for the day is sexton. It does not mean a church janitor, no, it is the way one spells out the number 16.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Next week is Marriage Protection Week in the U.S., by proclamation of George W. Bush, who now has his own blog. (Both links courtesy of the inimitable Erik Stattin.)

So, um, does this mean they're going to round up all the divorced people and put them into internment - uh, I mean, happy fun camps?

Wait, this proclamation is a slap at gay people, the biggest threat to marriage known to man - woman, too! How silly of me.

The Swedish word for the day is hjälp! It means, of course, help!

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Last week, the husband got free tickets to go see a musical. A Swedish take on Ernst Lubitsch's 1942 movie "To Be or Not to Be." Being a card-carrying homosexualist, I'm not averse to musicals, but this one was vaguely dissatisfying, the songs left no one humming, the dancing was no more than adequate, and neither was the acting. And while the original movie is exempt because it came out before Hollywood was aware of exactly how evil the Nazis were, the toughest thing for me is that the story somehow makes me think of that disgraceful sixties sitcom "Hogan's Heroes": nothing like a bunch of bumbling, slapstick Nazis to get a laugh from an audience, since we all know how bumbling the Nazis were, especially when it came to rounding people up and killing them.

Not to mention the fact that an old flirtation of the husband's was in the cast, sans shirt most of the time. Built like a brick shithouse the man is, a veritable Hercules.

Come to think of it, I hated the musical.

The Swedish word for the day is schack. It means chess.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 06, 2003

A man for all seasons. That's me. I could never live in California, or any other place where the difference between winter and summer consists of different flowers, or a little more or a little less rain. I need something less subtle than that. Like seas freezing over and snow tumbling from the sky. Or a faint curtain of green appearing on the trees after months of bare brown branches and crocuses popping up underfoot. Or like now, leaves turning gold and scarlet and orange.

Autumn is wonderful. Although I have to admit, I wasn't too keen on this past weekend's building-wide cleaning day in preparation for winter: the neighbors all got together and cleaned out the attic, the cellar and the stairs, sweeping and hauling and vacuuming. Sometimes, I'm not so good at these kinds of group activities. I think to myself, why can't we just pay someone to do it? I'm a lazy American at heart.

The Swedish word for the day is blad. It means, of course, leaf.

- by Francis S.

Monday, September 29, 2003

There's been a massacre in Kungsträdgården, the park in the center of Stockholm that was once a royal garden. Fully a quarter of the linden trees in the northeast corner have been cut down. It made me gasp to see it. The husband told me they cut them down more than a week ago, on account of the trees were diseased.

Strange how one can feel so deeply for trees.

The Swedish word for the day is sjuk. It means sick.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Imagine that Santa Claus were gay. Imagine that he was thirty years younger, that he was completely bald and he'd shaved off his beard leaving a five o'clock shadow, that he wore only black, that his ho-ho-ho's were a good octave higher. Imagine that when he was a little boy, he used to come with his grandmother into Stockholm every other year when she would trade in her old furs and be fitted for new ones, watching her surrounded by furriers and loving every minute of the experience. Imagine that he knew more about style than Tyler Brulé, put together.

Imagine if Santa were fabulous, and you get some idea of what J. is like, living in Stockholm again for the first time in seven years and regaling us at a dinner party last night with stories about bringing an entire fashion photo shoot entourage out for a night to a Manhattan strip club that specializes in an act that involves a pool table and a bunch of Hispanic go-go boys - "The director thought it was fabulous and decided we must do a shoot with a model in a bikini lying on the pool table with all the boys around her, in their shorts of course..." - and telling us how all receptionists think his name is Fiona when he calls - "Well, everyone I work with knows it's me when the receptionist says that there's a Fiona on the phone. I wish my voice was as deep as my mother's..." and finally, giving us the lowdown on working in Turkey with some model who is the biggest thing there, at least that's what she says - "We were at this resort where only Turkish people go and we would be walking down the street and she would say 'Take my arm, J. You want to be in Turkish gossip papers, yes? Is good for your career in Turkey!' and sure enough, there would be a million paparazzi taking our picture. The worst was when we were sitting out at a restaurant, her in one of the many outfits she wore each day, smiling at the cameras while I was stuffing myself with a hamburger and french fries. Yeah, that will be great for my career in Turkey, pictures of me all over the gossip papers, stuffing myself with a hamburger."

The Swedish phrase for the day is långt bortifrån. It means from a long way off.

- by Francis S.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Observations that deserved a write-up over the past week, but there just wasn't the time.

Item: You know how oysters are the culinary embodiment of the sea, an ocean reduced to a mouthful? Well, I think chantarelle mushrooms are the culinary embodiment of the forest, all earthy, musty, perfumey goodness.

Item: This past February, my parents were due to take a month-long trek to Ecuador and Peru, but my father broke his ankle and the trip was postponed until September, at which time my parents duly went and as they walked down some canyon near the eco-resort they were staying at in the middle of the mountains a five-hour drive from Quito, my mother broke her ankle. Apparently, there is some ankle curse associated with Ecuador and Peru that I was previously unaware of.

Item: Swedish horse chestnuts are as comforting to look at and palm as the American horse chestnuts of my boyhood in suburban Chicago.

Item: If you're going to steal someone's identity, it pays to do a little research beforehand.

The Swedish phrase for the day is tyvärr inte. It means I'm afraid not.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Did you know that both the mayor of Berlin and the mayor of Paris are gay?

I think New York should be next. How about Choire Sicha, Gawker's new editor, as the next mayor of New York? He's already the president of New York, and I don't think being mayor should necessarily be a step down, if he can find the time with his busy new schedule.

The Swedish word for the day is skvallerspalt, which means gossip column.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Over the weekend, A., the assistant director, worked for the BBC translating and making phonecalls and handling anything that required a knowledge of Swedish for the barrage of reporters sent over to report on the euro referendum.

In the middle of it all, she rang me up. I'd been expecting her to call me up at some point to ask some extremely arcane question about the English language.

"Well, I'm here with the BBC," she said, breathless. "It's so exciting. You can't believe how noisy they all are, they are so loud. Thank god I have a pad of paper. I just walk back and forth quickly, writing, and everyone thinks I'm doing something extremely important. I think it would be so much fun to work with the news."

She had no arcane questions about the English language.

I should hear more behind-the-scenes gossip when we go to the theater on Friday, A. and me and the husband and C., the fashion photographer.

The Swedish word for the day is suveränt. It means superb.

- by Francis S.

Monday, September 15, 2003

As I sat waiting for the subway train at the Karlaplan station, the businessman sitting next to me - dark, handsome, very pointy shoes, conservative grey suit - offered me a chocolate marshmellow cookie.

"It's more fun when you share," he said, smiling at me.

No, but thanks anyway, I told him, grinning ear-to-ear.

The Swedish word for the day is vänlig. It means friendly.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

I'm teaching myself the words to the Swedish national anthem - Du Gamla, Du Fria - but it was easier to learn the words of the drinking song I taught myself this summer after hearing it sung at midsummer:

Jag är en liten undulat
som får för dåligt med mat,
för dem jag bor hos,
för dem jag bor hos,
de är så snåla.

De ger mig sill varenda dag,
men det vill jag inte ha,
jag vill ha brännvin,
jag vill ha brännvin,
och gorganzola.

(I'm a little parakeet,
who gets bad food,
because the people I live with
are so stingy.

They give me herring every day,
but I don't want to have that,
I want vodka
and gorganzola.)

The Swedish word for the day is snapsvisor. It means drinking songs. The second Swedish word for the day is valvaka. It means sitting up to watch the election results come in, as in, for instance, a referendum on whether to join the European monetary unit.

- by Francis S.

Friday, September 12, 2003

As New York and the rest of America woke up to its own day of mourning and memory on September 11, I had begun my morning six hours earlier in Stockholm after a bad night’s sleep. Because on September 10 at 4:15 in the afternoon, Sweden’s popular foreign minister Anna Lindh had been stabbed viciously while shopping at Nordiska Kompaniet, Stockholm’s grandest department store. A heavyset man with bad skin and dressed in grey sweatshirt and baseball cap had slashed her arm and cut her deeply in the abdomen and chest.

As a passport-bearing Swedish citizen of less than three months, the shock I felt was more than I expected – after all, I haven’t yet been able to untangle the knotty political system, with its seven major parties and sometimes bizarre alliances. But I did know who Anna Lindh was, with her ready smile and blonde bob, always in the thick of things and the most credible banner-bearer for the yes-side in Sweden’s referendum on whether to jettison the crown and replace it with the euro.

As I went to bed that night, Lindh was still under the surgeon’s knife and in critical condition, being tended to by more than 30 doctors and surgeons.

Then at 8:45 in the morning on September 11, Prime Minister Göran Persson announced at a press conference that after more than 10 hours of surgery, Lindh had died at 5:29 a.m. He was barely able to keep his composure. She was, as the Swedish press now writes, his chosen crown princess and the politician most likely to succeed him as prime minister. But she was closer to people’s hearts than merely being a possible future leader of the country. Swedes were proud of Anna Lindh, because she represented Sweden to the outside world just as they wished the outside world to see them: She was ready with a smile but strong, not afraid to take on the foreign ministers of the larger countries of the European Union, while at the same time an ordinary mother of two young sons, and a wife. She showed to the world a picture of Sweden that Swedes treasure: a progressive country that sticks to its principles, a country that is down-to-earth, that is tough without being violent.

But her assassination brings up the issue of violence in ways few other acts can. The country is questioning its open system, and wondering how the assassin could have escaped so easily in the middle of a crowded department store in the afternoon. It dredges up painful memories of the still-unsolved murder in 1987 of Prime Minister Olof Palme.

I dearly hope that this doesn't signal a change in security policy, the end of an open Sweden. Making a country more secure is impossible, it only worsens the quality of life for everyone and those who want to commit acts of violence still will commit them, they just have to try harder.

We cried, the husband and I, and we lit a candle for Anna Lindh, letting it burn down to nothing by the end of the evening.

I can think of no appropriate Swedish word for the day.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Sweden's foreign minister, Anna Lindh, has been stabbed and seriously wounded. It happened in NK, Stockholm's grand department store.

I'm a bit in shock.

It is no doubt because of her support for the euro. And this undoubtedly, despite the intent of the person who stabbed her (whom they haven't found yet) will help the yes side in the referendum on whether or not to join the European monetary unit.

The Swedish word for the day is oro. It means anxiety.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Leni Riefenstahl, everyone's favorite Nazi film director, is dead.

I've never been too keen on the image rehabilitation of history's villains. Especially self-rehabilitation. Take Leni, for example. She never owned up to doing anything wrong, not really. And while her guilt is problematic - she claimed she never joined the Nazi party, her great films were made before the war broke out - I find it hard not to be repulsed by her and her art, no matter how brilliant.

The Swedish phrase for the day is fräls oss ifrån ondo. It means deliver us from evil.

- by Francis S.

Monday, September 08, 2003

No one's ever been able to adequately explain, confirm or deny a gut feeling that I've had, although last night the policeman tried hard, but we just didn't have enough time (that, and his 10-month-old daughter, my god-daughter, was shamelessly flirting with me and I really couldn't resist allowing myself to be distracted by her little seven-toothed grin):

In the U.S., I'm pretty much your run-of-the-mill pinko faggot. I believe that aspiring to be more like Sweden would do the U.S. a lot of good, as opposed to aspiring to be like, uh, say, Queen Victoria's British Empire, on which the sun never set and which seems to be just one of several models for the current administration in the White House.

But Sweden can't aspire to be more like Sweden.

I'm so used to the uphill battle in the U.S. for a more progressive society, it feels somehow wrong to be in the majority even if the majority believes, for the most part, in what I believe in.

Have I been wrong all these years, and it turns out I'm merely a contrarian?

And the gut feeling I haven't been able to shake is that it's possible that the right in Sweden plays the role that the left plays in the U.S.

I wish I could explain it better so someone could give me an answer.

On Sunday, I'll go with the husband to cast my vote on whether to trade the crown for the euro, and then we'll sit and watch the returns of the referendum at a small party at the apartment of the priest and policeman.

I don't understand Swedish politics, not at all.

The Swedish word for the day is ogräs. It literally means un-grass, but the proper translation would be weed.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

I always think it will be fun to have some chunks of serious time to myself, to do whatever I want. But when it actually happens, inevitably I eat utter crap, I'm bored after an hour or two and don't know what to do with myself yet I manage to stay up to an ungodly hour.

The husband is in Spain, and I'm baching it.

The Swedish word for the day is öken. It means desert.

And sorry about the lack of comments. I tried to install a new commenting system, but it just fucked the template, but good. So I regret to say that there probably won't be any commenting possibilities until Sept. 8. In the meantime, feel free to send me e-mail if you simply must say something. I promise to reply.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Some modern dance takes all its energy from the earth - feet rising and thighs pounding, all muscle. But Akram Khan's dancing belongs to the type of modern dance that seems to be pulled from the ether, all fingers in the air pulling invisible threads and writing elaborate script, hands snapping against bodies with heiroglyphic gestures. Tonight at Dansens Hus, there was also a short actressy interval where one of the dancers writhed about on the stage, and then another brief moment where Akram Khan rolled his head in his arms like some kind of kinesthetic Henry Moore.

I've never cared much for ballet - it's too fussy and precise for me - but I do like modern dance. Like good poetry, good dance can be appreciated without interpretation.

It did hurt to watch, the fierceness of it.

Then again, the pain may have something to do with my starting training at the gym for the first time in my life yesterday. My poor aching legs, I'm walking around like a little old man.

The Swedish word for the day is ball. It means super or great.

- by Francis S.

Monday, September 01, 2003

The dancefloor was so packed it was certainly a fire hazard, and there was no way anyone could dance except by swaying in place. Not that people had come there to dance particularly. They'd mostly come to the bar up at Mosebacke at the Södrateatern to hear the R&B star give a concert for 200 or so of her closest friends.

I'm more of a Bach cantata kind of guy, but I was moving and swaying and clapping and singing along with the best of them. There's something about a live concert that hits me smack dab in the solar plexus of my soul, even if I had to strain to see over the big heads of the three guys standing in a line in front of me.

The R&B star even invoked the husband's name in the middle of one of the verses of her latest hits.

I was sweaty with pride, dripping all over the poor woman in front of me.

Then A., the assistant director, was suddenly kissing me and whispering in my ear. Some guy in a hat with grabby hands was putting the moves on her. "Pretend you're my boyfriend," she whispered frantically, trying to laugh in an intimate fashion which just turned into real laughter because it didn't seem to do much good. Me, I had no problem pretending that I was the consort of the most beautiful woman in the room. We great big homos have a great appreciation of gorgeousness, not to mention a penchant for being a beard.

The guy left after a couple of minutes, unable to either score with A. or score a better spot to see the stage.

The Swedish word for the day is gubbsjuk. It is a phrase that doesn't have a nice clean one-word translation, but is an adjective referring to someone who's a dirty old man.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, August 31, 2003

They arrived with wedding dresses in their arms, and shopping bags full of white shoes with precipitous heels, and real jewels worth tens of thousands.

Just an ordinary dinner, chez Francis Strand.

I suggested that we each wear one of the dresses while we ate, but no one seemed to care for the idea, especially not the haute couturier, who had designed the dresses in question. And the husband and C., the fashion photographer, who had spent the day taking pictures of models wearing the dresses, seemed singularly disinterested in them.

It was 9 p.m. when we finally sat down to eat - A., the assistant director had been slaving away in the kitchen on a new recipe she'd found for salmon crusted in carrots and sesame seeds.

"You know what?" said O., the 16-year-old daughter of C., smiling invitingly at the haute couturier, "you should design the clothes for a costume drama."

And of course, you would star in it, said O.'s father.

"Well, yes," said O. "I am an actress and I have to think of these things."

We all laughed, and I thought about how at 42, I still have the same kinds of hopes and dreams for myself. Rather along the lines of writing a wildly successful novel. Or something like that. But looking around the table, it was hard to ignore the fact that the rest of the adults had already achieved success on a public scale.

I wonder how old I'll be before I give up?

Before they all left, somebody pulled out the tiara with real diamonds. It glittered wickedly. No one dared put it on his or her head.

The Swedish word for the day is äkta. It means authentic.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

It was me and the beautiful people, all of us drinking too-sweet pink or blue drinks and Veuve Clicquot, eating tiny sandwiches and puff pastry with gorgonzola and lamb sausages with figs and bread with tapenade, all of us looking at one another, everyone very much on display and the room as noisy as a birdcage in a zoo. It was a party of sorts in honor of my husband's great friend, the haute couturier, complete with models forcing their way through the crowd before making turns up on a dais, a Finnish violinist, and a pop band (we left before they hit the stage, however).

Everyone there was a fashionista of one sort or another, even A., the assistant director: Her modelling days in Paris may be over, but she still sets the style, standing like a madonna in Manolo Blahniks and a bluejean skirt and trying to convince me to give her the bracelet they gave me when I came in the door, which could be redeemed for a surprise present that was bound to be makeup or some other girly thing.

The husband had dressed me beforehand in careful non-style (I had almost made the grave error of wearing the type of crinkly linen shirt that all the non-fashionistas of Stockholm are wearing these days) and as we stood in line waiting to have them check to see that our names were on the list before letting us in to the party, I was ever so thankful I have someone to arbite my taste for me. And to think, before I moved to Stockholm I used to think I had a sense of style.

"You see why we never go to these things?" the husband said to me, looking so very handsome standing next to me in his suit.

Yes, indeed, I told him, I did see. And was it tacky of me to be eating little sandwiches at the same time I happened to have a little packet of snuff stuffed in a corner of my mouth?

"No," he said. "You're just being Swedish."

The Swedish word for the day is kille. It means guy, as in just an ordinary guy.

- by Francis S.

Friday, August 29, 2003

New York is one of the great cities for grand experiences on the cheap. Not to say that you can't have a great time and spend wads of cash, but the fact is you can have as much fun for nearly nothing. A few favorites of mine when I was at university in Manhattan in the mid-eighties were dim sum in Chinatown or kasha and varnishkes at any of a number of Ukrainian restaurants in the East Village. A ride on the Staten Island ferry or a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

But it sounds like these days the Brooklyn Bridge may not be such a good idea.

O, the perils of a deteriorating infrastructure.

Poor New York.

The Swedish word for the day is expedit. It means cashier.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

What with two weeks of non-stop weddings, birthday parties (for children ranging in age from one to 50), farewell brunches, miscellaneous dinner parties to give or attend (including two in honor of my becoming a Swede), various evening work functions (not to mention nighttime last-minute pageproofing) and a late-evening coffee with the priest, the policeman, their baby Signe and a bunch of presents for me (a tiny Swedish flag, a good two kilos worth of brochures about the Swedish government, a ridiculous furry blue-and-yellow Vikingesque cap, and a pen, all of which I forgot and left in a bag at their apartment), life seems to have taken over and made it nearly impossible for me to write about it.

I think I've caught my breath.

The Swedish phrase for the day is vad hände? It means what happened?

- by Francis S.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

One of the most difficult subtleties of the English language to explain and comprehend is the idiomatic verbal form used to versus the verb to be used to. In the simplest of terms, the former is a sort of past tense of the latter. A better way to differentiate between the two might be to say that the former means to have been in the habit of doing something that one is no longer in the habit of doing as opposed to the latter, which means being in the habit of doing something that one is ostensibly still in the habit of doing.

Can anyone describe this in simpler terms? I'm not even completely sure what kinds of verbs these are...

The Swedish word for the day is förmodligen. It means presumably.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

I know all you big boys and girls out there know everything about a Town Without Pity. But did you know about P'town Without Pity?

Talk about nasty, salacious and gut-wrenchingly funny dish. I think this is my new favorite site. (courtesy Rittenhouse Review, also worth a regular read.)

The Swedish word for the day is camp. It means camp. Go figure.

- by Francis S.

Monday, August 18, 2003

The Swedish phrase for the day is jag har faktiskt blivit svensk medborgare. It means I've actually become a Swedish citizen. The papers came today.

"Isn't it funny that you have a paper proving you're a Swedish citizen, but we don't have any papers like that even though we were born here," the husband said to the divorcée from Malmö as we sat eating dinner in Indira, across the street from our apartment.

Actually, it's much more funny that with the Swedish postal service having handed over half of its duties to local shops and grocery stores, I can truthfully tell people that I got my Swedish citizenship at the Vivo, the local equivalent of, say, Safeway.

Tomorrow I'm going first thing to the police station to get a Swedish passport.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

When my beloved little brother was six or seven years old, he made up a phrase that quickly became his favorite thing to say: sabi doo. It seemed to mean everything from "yeah, yeah, do it!" to "is that so?" to "goddammit all to hell!"

I'm not sure if he ever used this phrase outside of the confines of the family, but he sure said it a lot in the house - sabi doo, sabi doo, sabi doo all over the place.

Of course, it didn' t take too long for my other brother and I - four and five years older than him respectively - to do what older brothers do best: torture little brothers mercilessly when they do things that easily lend themselves to torture from big brothers.

"Sabi doo?" we would ask him, our eyes all exaggeratedly concerned, our voices unbearably bright with sarcasm. Which would make him fly into a rage.

My poor little brother.

Did you make up words when you were a child? Or were you more the type to torture your little brothers mercilessly because they said "sabi doo" all the time?

The Swedish phrase for the day is är det tillräckligt bra? It means is that good enough?

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Did you know that the gothic writer, illustrator and set designer Edward St. John Gorey and the poet Frank O'Hara were roommates at Harvard in the 1950s?

What a strange conjunction of persons.

The Swedish word for the day is Lettland, which is what the Swedes call Latvia.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

One would think from the Reuters' headline - "Six Degrees Experiment Proves It's a Small World" - that Duncan Watts' experiment has proved the idea that there are just six steps of friends and acquaintances between any two citizens of this little planet. But a closer read shows that out of 61,000 people who signed up, only 384 actually completed the task of connecting to a target person chosen by Watts.

What I'm curious about is whether the sequence of senders I was part of - it started with Jonno and I passed it on to my favorite Finn - was one of the 384 that were completed. I think the target was a professor in Georgia or the Ukraine or one of those former soviet republics.

The Swedish word for the day is kedja. It means chain.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

My favorite Finn flew in from Helsinki for the day to interview some Swedish television executive. So I treated him (the Finn, not the television executive) to a sushi lunch, and we sat by a church in a park with our chopsticks and soy sauce and wasabi and pickled ginger.

I yammered on about being in San Francisco, and George W. Bush, and how I would probably be going crazy if I were living in the States, given the political situation and the domestic policies of the current administration ensconced in the White House. When I finally stopped, I asked him how things were in Finland.

"It's a small country, with small problems," he said. "The biggest thing now is that this guy who used to be a wrestler in the WWF in the States, and he's a boxer too and he has two lines in the latest Terminator movie, got elected to parliament but a little while ago there were gunshots from his apartment and his wife called the police and they found him passed out on the sofa, choking on his own vomit, and he'd shot holes in the ceiling and the papers now are all writing about if he'll ever fully recover and I wanna know, recover from what exactly?"

What I wanted to know was whether this was Finland he was talking about, because it sure sounded like something that would happen in, say, Minnesota.

The Swedish phrase for the day du är inte klok. It literally means you are not smart, as in you're crazy.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

This is the food of paradise- 0f Baudelaire's Artificial Paradises: it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies' Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR. In Morocco it is thought to be good for warding off the common cold in damp winter weather and is, indeed, more effective if taken with large quantities of hot mint tea. Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; ecstatic reveries and extensions of one's personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected. Almost anything Saint Theresa did, you can do better if you can bear to be ravished by 'un evenouissement reveille.'

Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of stone dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of canibus sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient. Obtaining the canibus may present certain difficulties.... It should be picked and dried as soon as it has gone to seed and while the plant is still green.

So reads Alice B. Toklas' recipe for haschich fudge, of which she wrote "anyone could whip up on a rainy day."

There's no better read than a well-written cookbook.

The Swedish word for the day is mellanmål. It means, more or less, snack.

- by Francis S.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Happy second birthday, you old blog, you. Old as far as blogs go, I suppose.

- by Francis S.
I like to think of Sweden as a kind of tolerant utopia, but I'm forced to rethink things when neo-nazis show up and throw rocks at a bunch of homosexualists - we knew there was something wrong when the parade was held up and suddenly seven or eight police cars come whizzing by.

I guess there is no such thing as a tolerant utopia.

The Swedish word for the day is besvikelse. It means disappointment.

- by Francis S.

Friday, August 01, 2003

I think I missed my calling. I should've been a drag king. I could definitely make people believe I was a man, oh yes.

Sadly, I don't think I could quite carry it off as a woman anymore, not that I ever could. Although once, when I was 19, I did get up in drag and showed up with a friend at a Denny's restaurant in Urbana, Illinois. Another friend of mine happened to be there on a first date with a guy he had the hots for, and my other friend and I did it just to make him crazy. It was a most bizarre experience because I definitely looked like a 19-year-old college boy dressed up as a woman, and everyone stared at me and although I didn't notice it at the time, afterwards I was told that every single waitress in the joint took turns waiting on us.

The Swedish word for the day is stolthet. It means pride, and is not considered a particularly desirable thing to have, which may be why Stockholm Pride is not Stockholm Stolthet.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, July 31, 2003

As Swedes debate the appropriateness of a Stockholm Gay Pride keynote speaker who happens to be a political leader from the Moderaterna (one of Sweden's right-wing parties, which would be somewhere to the left of the Democrats in the U.S.), George W. Bush is publicly saying that he believes "marriage is between a man and a woman, and I believe we ought to codify that one way or the other and we have lawyers looking at the best way to do that."

I guess the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act [sic!] just doesn't do enough to keep homosexualists in their place, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that we're no longer criminals.

Isn't America great?

The Swedish word for the day is inte. It means not, more or less.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Do you want to know what it’s like being gay in Karachi, Pakistan? There are, according to Jalal, at least two bloggers of the homosexualist persuasion there, a guy called Danial and Jalal.

It sounds as if being gay and 22 and single and in the thralls of one’s family and a less-than-accepting society in Karachi is only slightly different from what things were like for me in Washington, D.C. when I was 22, in 1982. Basically, it’s just a matter of desperately wanting to be in love. At least, that’s how it sounds from what Jalal writes.

So, go give him good advice if you can.

The Swedish word for the day is stöd. It means support.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

If I were of a more, um, heterosexualist bent (to coin an oxymoron), I think I would fall in love with Amy Sedaris and start stalking her. She really makes me laugh until I cry. Plus, she actually makes and sells cheeseballs and cupcakes to her neighbors. What a gal.

I'm not sure whether it was such a good idea to buy that DVD of the first season of her sitcom "Strangers with Candy", because I've can't stop watching it. Over and over. And until I saw my husband laughing at it, I would have thought it couldn't be funny to anyone who hasn't seen shows like "Dawn, Portrait of a Teenage Runaway" and "Alexander, the Other Side of Dawn."

The Swedish word for the day is besatt. It means obsessed.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Unlike Rome with only seven hills, San Francisco seems to be built on hundreds of them. And we walked up and down the best of em. Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill, Nob Hill, and lots of others that surely have names that we just don't know about. The husband and I are now in excellent shape. Oh, and we had a coupla mojitos with Jane, way too briefly at the top of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel.

We saw San Francisco's oldest building, we took the ferry to Tiburon, we saw some art, we even actually found a nice spot in the Castro to laze around in the sun and have a beer and then another and then lunch.

We went shopping, the husband noting that the city must be rich by the kinds of shops we saw. We bought a bunch of DVDs, and cheap t-shirts and socks.

We had lots of food: incredible breakfast, great Mexican, so-so dim sum, tasty soba noodles both hot and cold.

But, without a doubt, the high point of the whole shebang was spending an evening with Aaron and his husband. Aaron, who is a looker, and as funny and charming and vivacious and smart as his writing, and his husband just the same. The two of them brought us to a fantastic Indian restaurant (after some discussion with the cabbie) in the lower Haight. Or was it the upper Haight?

We sat upstairs and gorged ourselves and yakked.

Then, "Wow is that him?" Aaron suddenly said, under his breath, as an elegant and vaguely familiar old guy walked in and smiled at us before sitting down with a younger woman at the table behind ours.

"It is!" whispered his husband.

"Wait, no it isn't..."

But it turned out to be him after all, a fact that was confirmed when another guy showed up, nearly sending Aaron and his husband into silent fits.

"The Color Purple is about our favorite movie," Aaron's husband whispered.

"Actually, " Aaron said sotto voce, hunching over chicken tikka massala and a piece of naan bread, "this isn't the first time I've seen the, uh, younger guy at the table behind us. I was once alone in a hotel gym with him, just the two of us and no one else and he was all sweaty and wearing, well, not enough clothes. Sadly, it was not a pretty sight, no, no. He should definitely not have been wearing spandex."

We laughed.

"It's actually Harry Belafonte I'm really impressed to see," Aaron said. "He was really somebody in his day."

My own husband was unfazed by the whole celebrity sighting bit.

"You guys are crazy, " he laughed. "In Sweden, we treat famous people like everyone else."

Yeah, maybe, but it was exciting all the same to see them. Although not nearly exciting as seeing Aaron.

"Shake, shake, shake, senora," Aaron sang as we said our farewells beside a cab outside our hotel.

And now, we're back and work starts again tomorrow. My four weeks of summer vacation are over.

The Swedish word of the day is färdig. It means finished.

- by Francis S.

Monday, July 14, 2003

I feel guilty when we pop the cork on a bottle of the widow's own bubbly, and then fail to drink it all. My parents, born in the heart of the depression, taught me not to waste anything, and although I constantly let vegetables go to rot and milk turn sour, I do feel guilty about it in the end. And I feel extra guilty about champagne, in this case pulled out to celebrate the birthday of the South African publicist.

I suppose I could follow the advice of Irma Rombauer: "Not every householder has to worry about what to do with leftover champagne, but should this appalling dilemma be yours, there is no better way than this to solve it and make a light but rich sauce for fish or chicken."

What follows, of course, is The Joy of Cooking's recipe for champagne sauce. But, since the husband and I are leaving for San Francisco at the crack of ass, as my friend K. always says, and I have laundry to do, not to mention mentally preparing myself for storming the States, this is no time for sauce.

California, here we come.

The Swedish phrase for the day is klara, färdiga, gå! It means on your mark, get set, go!

- by Francis S.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

There's a sweet melancholy at arriving back to the pavements of home after a week on an island filled with lazy late dinners, the sky at midnight still rosy around the edges, the cats bringing mice into the house and making the women scream and jump up on chairs even though the mice were already dead (it was like a parody, I never knew that women actually do jump up on chairs when mice appear on the scene; is it something they learn, or is it instinct?), eating a tart made from blueberries picked in the front yard, reading novels on the terrace and pausing constantly to look at the various sailboats and ferries crisscrossing their way over the sea, playing hearts and being bad winners and poor losers and taking turns entertaining the red-haired baby of the captain and his wife, the accountant.

The city was practically empty when we arrived home. Late afternoon, an overcast summer Saturday afternoon in July and everyone who could had long ago left the city for the month. But we were back, a bit dusty and sad and relieved to be at home.

It is nice to not have to sleep under mosquito netting, no matter how romantic it is to be tucked away with the husband behind white tulle like a couple of country princes in a tiny pine palace in the woods.

The Swedish word for the day is ö. It means island. Simple, huh.

- by Francis S.

Monday, July 07, 2003

When I was eight, my parents sent my brother and I to summer day camp for two weeks. Which was an utter betrayal. It was summer and I was supposed to be free to do what I wanted, but camp turned out to be far worse than school: It was like eight hours of gym, complete with the two best boys picking the teams one by one and me always second-to-last picked. They did throw in a little bit of shop and leatherworking - what someone in 1970 undoubtedly considered was a boy's version of art and music - and I remember having to eat egg-salad sandwiches for the first and the last time in my life.

I must have complained, because I didn't have to go back the next summer.

Strangely enough, in my late teens and early 20s, I became a camp counselor myself for four summers at a special education camp. I was a much better camp counselor than I had been a camper: I kept the kids moving, doing things, learning, entertained. And, it was a helluva lot more fun being a camp counselor than being a camper. I was exhausted at the end of the day, but not so exhausted that I couldn't get drunk with the other counselors after the kids left, making futile passes at the cute counselor with the dark hair (I don't think he even realized what I was doing.)

Now, I'm free again to do what I want with my summer, so we're off for five days or so to Birds Island.

The Swedish word for the day is tid. It means time.

- by Francis S.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Today was the funeral of Alma Eklund.

We didn't go. We'd already had our own going away party for her, three weeks ago this coming Monday. We'd been at Birds Island for the weekend, and as I'd sat by myself - everyone else had gone on a boat ride around the island, even the Siamese cat - I sat in my bare feet, a half-empty pitcher of white wine left on the table behind me in the sun, drooping lilacs, a listlessly fluttering tablecloth, scattered chairs and open magazines, fresh white paint in the house, the endless parliament of the birds, I could feel Alma hovering around me.

We finally left the island to go to a favorite spot of hers, and stood around with a priest reading and then the whole group singing as it began to rain in earnest, as if the whole world were weeping. Everyone came back to our apartment, to grieve and try to blame someone else.

A., the assistant director sent a thumping bouquet of flowers to the funeral today, since we didn't feel welcome somehow. We'd already said goodbye.

Requiem aeternam, et lux perpetua.

The Swedish word for the day is försvunnen. It means gone or lost.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

The letter arrived in the mail yesterday. They want me to send in my passport, a document proving that I make the salary I claim I make, and to tell them how often and to where I have travelled outside Sweden since February (that would be the U.S. and Hungary).

It looks like the road to becoming a passport-carrying Swede is nearing its end. The chances look damn good that I will actually soon be a citizen of Europe and the U.S.

Good thing they're giving me until Aug. 4 to get this stuff in, since I'll be needing my passport when the husband and I go to San Francisco later this month. The U.S. isn't so nice about letting people in without proper identification. Unlike Sweden.

My friend, the American editor, once came back from a trip to Italy, and when he got to passport control in Sweden it seemed that his green card had expired. He started arguing in Swedish with the woman in the booth, but after about five minutes, switched to English.

"C'mon, I just forgot to get it renewed, you can see I have permission. What are you gonna do, call the police?" he said, wheedling the woman.

"I am the police," the woman said.

She eventually let him in, after a short lecture and a stern warning that he would probably get a fine, which he never did get.

The Swedish word for the day is uppehållstillstånd. It means residence permit, and is signified by a paper pasted into one's passport and is the equivalent of the U.S. green card.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

At dinner last night with J. and my favorite Finn, and Hannes and A., the assistant director, we got to talking about baby teeth for some reason, and C. the fashion photographer launched into a story about his daughter:

"When she was losing her first baby tooth, it was just hanging by a little piece of skin and she wanted to have it yanked out," he said. "First, we attached the tooth by a thread to a stone and with all the neighbors gathered around, threw the stone off the balcony, but the thread broke and the tooth stayed. Then, we attached it by a thread to an arrow and with all the neighbors gathered around, I shot the arrow but the thread broke again. Then we attached it by a thread to the bumper of a car and with all the neighbors still gathered around, I put my foot on the gas but the thread broke a third time. Finally, we attached it by a thread to a doorknob and her little brother slammed the door shut and bang, the tooth was gone."

It seems that the fourth time is the charm, and not the third.

The Swedish word for the day is tandkräm. It means toothpaste.

- by Francis S.

Monday, June 30, 2003

First the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Bowers v. Hardwick. Now Nancy and Philo have started a one- stop- all- the- homo- news- you- could- ask- for- web- source called Queerday and it looks pretty damn fab.

Things are looking up for us poor downtrodden homosexualists.

- by Francis S.
Saffron is a favored spice in Swedish cuisine, the empress of the kitchen if for no other reason than the fact that it is ridiculously expensive. In summer it is occasionally used to flavor ice cream, which some people find disgusting, but I find a great luxury. So, today I inaugurated a four-week stint of vacation by eating saffron ice cream in a café on Nytorget with the husband, and the priest and the policeman and their baby Signe.

All hail the glory of Swedish law, which mandates a minimum of five weeks of vacation for all. Me, I actually get seven.

The Swedish phrase for the day is lugn och ro. It means peace and quiet.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Breaking news: at last, the U.S. Supreme Court knocks down sodomy laws.

It's about, er, fucking time. One small step for homosexualists, one great leap for justice.

- by Francis S.
Hannes is in town, flirting indiscriminately with men and women alike, showing off his movie-star white teeth, wearing a cool blue-jean hat and jacket, and generally being irresistible.

Oh, and he brought along his parents, J., and her boyfriend, my favorite Finn.

"It will be strange to hear Hannes' first words in Finnish," J. said. She mentioned an Estonian acquaintance of ours who lives here in Stockholm and speaks Estonian with her own 2-year-old daughter, but the daughter replies in Swedish.

I suppose it could be a little worrisome, in some small private way, when one's own child speaks another language. Will he understand the subtleties of what I say, will she be hampered somehow or torn between two languages, will he resent me or be embarrassed because I speak Finnish or Swedish or English with a strange accent and can never know it as well as he can?

The Swedish phrase for the day is rädda barnen. It means save the children.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

The best thing about living two floors above a great chef is the leftovers.

"I'm down at L.'s," the husband said on the phone. "She has something good for you, a little surprise." The surprise turned out to be hot glögg stirred with a stick of cinnamon, and tiny gingerbread men topped with blue cheese and fig jam and slices of fresh fig.

L., the chef, had been filming a pilot for a television series for channel four - a cooking show, of course. They'd filmed her in her apartment preparing for a party with her own version of glögg and gingerbread. Everyone's trying to copy the success of that guy who claims to cook naked but in fact never seems to take his clothes off, dammit. Sweden does have its own increasingly popular home-grown female version of Jamie Oliver, but I think L. could do better. She's a curious mix of funny, serious and enthusiastic, and she's already done well on cooking segments of some of the morning magazine programs.

The Swedish word for the day is pepparkakor. It means gingerbread.

- by Francis S.
Every day I pass various sets of kiosks with advertisements for a local mobile telephone company that sells pre-paid cards, advertisements featuring teenagers drinking piña coladas and speaking into a phone "yes, Dad, I'm having fruit every day" or a girl slipping under the covers with a boy, saying "yes, Mom, I'm going to bed early." But the one that intrigues me most, naturally, is the one with the naked teenagers (you can see one of the guy's pubic hair!) playing miniature golf, the boy on his phone saying "yes, Mom, I'm wearing a hat."

Why wasn't there nude miniature golf when I was a teenager? Not that I probably would've been able to play, on account of my teenage tendency toward, um, priapism. Hell, I guess I would've just settled for advertisements of naked teenagers when I was 16.

Hurrah for nudity. Go, Sweden! (If you're up for a little Swedish conversation, check out what the remarkably observant and always enlightening Erik Stattin has to say about a slightly more controversial advertisement that can be seen here around town.)

The Swedish word for the day is trottoar. It comes from the French and means sidewalk.

- by Francis S.

Monday, June 23, 2003

The husband and I are doomed to yet another summer of rising early. It's because workers arrive every morning at 7 a.m. to blast and pound rocks in the courtyard of our building. It is astounding how much noise is required to lay a circular pattern of rough granite paving stones, checking and rechecking everything with sticks and metal rods and measuring tape in some undecipherable ritual devised to ensure that all the stones will fit properly in their places in the end. At least that's what I hope it's all about.

The Swedish word for the day is morgonpigg. It is an adjective that describes those annoying people who are, for some reason, all perky and chipper in the morning.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

It was, and it wasn't a proper midsummer.

We took the ferry, a charming old wooden one that creaks and lets in a little water around the edges, and we sat in the corner at a table, happy to have gotten a seat since the ferry was as full as the crew will let it get.

We arrived at Birds Island, and we ate herring out on the porch under the overhanging roof, which protected us, mostly, from the drizzle. We drank vodka and Dutch gin, and we sang a few meager drinking songs appropriate for the occasion, all proper midsummer.

But we were too comfortable up at the house and having fun talking, and it was too cold and wet out in the meadow to bother to jump like little frogs around the midsummer pole out under the grey sky, or to gather seven different kinds of flowers to make midsummer wreaths to wear on our heads. And then we had dinner too late to go out and dance two-by-two on the jetty, although sometime after 1 a.m. I did bring the architect from San Francisco out to my favorite spot at the rocks at the end of the island to sit and watch the sea while the sun prepared to rise.

Late in the evening, O., the 16-year-old daughter of the fashion photographer, was trying out different ways of signing her name, as 16-year-olds sometimes do, and soon we were passing around our own signatures.

"What is that?" A., the assistant director said. They all wondered at the letters I wrote as they watched me sign my name.

"We don't use capital letters like that," said the actor, who had once played Jesus Christ on the stage. Apparently, sometime in the seventies, Swedish schools stopped teaching children how to write upper-case letters in cursive script, and now they are taught only the lower-case letters.

They made me write the entire upper-case cursive script alphabet.

"What about å, ä and ö?" the actor asked. I told him, silly, we don't have those letters in English, but he made me write them anyway.

The Swedish word for the day is handskriven. It means handwritten.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Midsummer is nearly here, the holiday that along with Christmas brackets the Swedish year, each feast day sitting solidly in its season and marking off its territory with nearly the same food: cold fish and boiled potatoes and hard alcohol. Of course, to a Swede the food is vastly different, but it all looks frighteningly similar to me, even if I have gotten to almost like herring. Almost.

"It's all downhill from here," I said to C., the fashion photographer. "After Saturday, winter is on its way."

C. laughed a weak little obligatory laugh.

We take the 11 a.m. ferry tomorrow out to Birds Island.

It's supposed to rain all day, and Saturday as well. The sun should come out on Sunday, however, about when it's time for us to leave.

The Swedish word for the day is sommarlov. It means summer vacation.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The heart of the city is the most desirable place to live in Stockholm. Which is unlike most cities in the States. Bereft of a middle-class, the typical American city is filled mostly with the poor, plus a smattering of bohemian-types with no children, a few odd rich people and a bunch of gay men. America just doesn't seem to care much about its cities, with huge chunks of urban America left to rot. So, it's nice to live in a place where people think the city is just great. I rarely cross the city lines.

But every so often, I have no choice. Such as this evening, when I had a work function which entailed venturing into the far reaches of Stockholm, a good 15 kilometers from town.

What was so disturbing was not the distance, but that the house I ended up at seemed to fit some bizarre Swedish version of the American dream of a house in the suburbs, complete with two-car garage, a lawn as carefully manicured as the fingernails of Miss America, and a flagpole with one of those long thin triangular Swedish flags.

Have I completely misread the Swedes and what they think is important?

Worse, is this what people really want, the world over, a house with a two-car garage in the suburbs?

I fear that I'm a terrible snob. I sound like a college sophomore.

The Swedish word for the day is kinkig. It means difficult to please.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

One way of trying to understand the nature of a city is to reduce it to a gender: Paris is a woman, New York a man, for instance.

Stockholm is hard to place, all water and ochre buildings and opened like a heliotrope in the summer sun, but falls on the feminine side of the spectrum by my reckoning.

Now, off to catch the ferry out to the archipelago.

The Swedish word of the day is stadsbo. It means citydweller.

- by Francis S.