Friday, February 28, 2003

Poor February.

When Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar and freed it from the lunar cycle, he made the months 30 or 31 days long. But there weren't enough left to give the final month of the Roman year, February, its full due and it got only 29. Later, the 30-day month of Sextillus was renamed for Augustus Caesar and became August, but in order for it to equal the splendor of Julius Caesar's month of July with its 31 days, a day was stolen from February to make up the difference, leaving it with only 28 (most of the time). I'm fascinated at how we're still ruled by the Romans.

Poor February.

The Swedish phrase for the day is ingen orsak. It means no big deal.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

As I stood on the subway platform at 8:15 p.m., changing trains at Slussen, I looked up and standing in front of me was a charming man with green eyes, dark and unshaven and smiling. It was the husband, who had been on the same train as I, two cars ahead.

Funny how this small surprise was like a gift out of the blue. We left the subway at Medborgarplatsen and had dinner at Indira, which I like to think of as the McDonald's of the Farmer Street, where we live.

It was just like a date.

The Swedish verb for the day is att ropa. It means to yell.

- by Francis S.

Monday, February 24, 2003

Lord knows I'll regret noting this, but there's a web poll currently up at the website of Dagens Nyheter, Sweden's largest daily newspaper, where it appears that 59 percent of those polled believe that the United States is the biggest threat to freedom in the world. Iraq comes in at 18 percent, and North Korea at 15 percent.

I guess George W. doesn't care what a little country like Sweden thinks.

I wonder how the English or the French or the Germans or Australians or Thais or South Africans or Peruvians would respond to such a poll?

The Swedish phrase for the day is det beror på.... It means that depends on....

- by Francis S.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

We went with C., the fashion photographer and R., the R&B star, to see Far from Heaven, with which we were all duly impressed. The conceit of producing a 1950s film with characters forced to deal with situations that were unfilmable 50 years ago was overwhelming. All those perfect red leaves and perfect red "New Look" dresses, all that repressed emotion.

Afterwards, we watched the semifinals for Sweden's competition to select its entry to the Eurovision Song Contest, a strange phenomenon that I couldn't begin to describe to Americans, who are for the most part completely unaware of its existence. Cheesy pop music at its worst - uh, I mean, best.

I still can't decide if the juxtaposition of the two events was ironic or not.

The second Swedish word for the day is schlager. It is the kind of music sung by Sweden's entry in the Eurovision Song Contest.

- by Francis S.
One of the great strengths of American culture is its optimism. Americans are, as a whole, inclined to look on the bright side of things. Unfortunately, Swedes could never be accused of such a trait. Even the language tends toward the negative - things are "not too bad" rather than "good."

Being an optimistic American, sometimes the constant looking at what has gone wrong and what could go wrong here can make me crazy.

It was a hard week at work, for some reason. I'm not looking forward to going into the office at 9 a.m. tomorrow.

The Swedish verb for the day is att våga. It means to dare.

- by Francis S.
A bunch of Swedish guys, led by Torgny Bjers, are rapidly creating a web community for Swedish bloggers (in Swedish only, of course). It's fascinating to watch it develop. If only I knew more about RSS feeds and pinging and trackback functions...

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

As I lean out the kitchen window, cigarette in hand, worried that if I lean too hard on the window sash it will somehow give way and I'll fall, the blue-black night sky turns the courtyard into a place of romance. During the day, it's all scraggly bushes, lonely bicycles and trash cans. But at night, the lights in the windows of the buildings surrounding the courtyard, and the silhouettes of the various cupolas and mansards and odd corners and chimney pots of the roofs charm me into thinking, ever so briefly, that I'm living in a fairy tale, and I stop worrying about falling.

The Swedish phrase for the day is stor skillnad. It means big difference.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

On Saturday, the husband was the emcee for a big fashion event, and I watched him preside over the evening while I sat safely in my anonymous seat amongst 800 other people, eating risotto and drinking champagne and watching models careening up and down a runway, worried that they would trip over their impossibly high heels on account of their hair was in their eyes and they were trying so hard to look cool.

As the night wore on and more beautiful women catwalked their way in front of us, I pointed at a model and whispered to A., the assistant director, that I thought this particular model was sexy.

"Ew, no, she's not," A. said with horror.

Yeah, but look at those pouty lips, and they're real, too, I said.

"Ew. Ew!"

Yeah, right. Both of us are real experts on sexy women, I whispered to A., and she laughed out loud.

The husband, who had never done this kind of emcee thing before, was brilliant.

The Swedish word for the day is uppfattning. It means understanding or apprehension.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

I'm no supporter of the U.S.'s bullying the rest of the world, or a war on Iraq, or George W. Bush, who inspires a visceral disgust in me - his voice alone sets my teeth on edge.

So I suppose I should be at Norra Bantorget right now, where stands Stockholm's contingent of the world protesting today against the undoubtedly soon-to-be-declared official war, a protest that is as much about Iraq as it is about the U.S. imposing its will on the rest of the world, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks or feels. And if I were living in America, I would be out there protesting somewhere.

But living here, it feels as if it would be disloyal, no matter how much I disagree with current U.S. policies. I guess I'm more patriotic than I ever dreamed I was, but I wonder if this is actually some form of cowardice, an unwillingness to act on my beliefs. I am, in fact, utterly confused by it.

The Swedish word of the day is mot. It is a preposition that means, among other things, against.

- by Francis S.

Friday, February 14, 2003

Love is patient; love is kind and envies no one. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; never selfish, not quick to take offence. Love keeps no score of wrongs; does not gloat over other men’s sins, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, and its endurance.

I Corinthians 13, v. 4-7

Yeah, yeah, it's the Bible, I know. But it's still the best description of love that I can think of.

The Swedish word of the day is, of course, kärlek, which has assuredly been the Swedish word of the day before. It means love.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

What with all the war talk from George W. and nasty rhetoric about Europe being a continent of terrorism aiders and abettors, I thought I better get my Swedish citizenship application in. Not that I have to give up my U.S. citizenship, but as long as I'm here, and all it takes is filling out a four-page form, and paying 150 dollars, why not avail myself of the opportunity? Somehow, I would rest easier at night knowing I had a Swedish passport.

The Swedish word for the day is försäkring. It means insurance.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

If you squint hard, and ignore all the heavy clothes you and everyone else are wearing, and the boots, and the fact that it's freezing out, trudging through the snow of an unshoveled sidewalk can almost seem like walking on a sandy beach. Or so says the South African publicist.

The Swedish word for the day is slask. It means slush, and should not be confused with the word slusk, which means a shabby fellow.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

... and another great thing about Sweden: Where else could you watch a mainstream movie in which the (young and attractive) star spends half of the movie completely and utterly naked, balls to the wind? (Granted, the movie is a ripoff of Groundhog Day, after a fashion, and the acting is pretty mediocre, but hey, you can't have everything). I can't believe the husband and I didn't bother to watch this movie until long after it came out on DVD.

The question is, would this movie be rated X in the States because of the dick factor?

The Swedish word for the day is muskelknuttar, a word I had to look up in my English-Swedish dictionary because I have never heard anyone use it before. It means beefcake, although I suspect that many Swedes might actually be more likely to use the English term.

- by Francis S.

Friday, February 07, 2003

Cold-hearted bastard that I am, some events fail to move me, yet there have been moments that have changed the course of my personal history, purely due to their affect on me.

Like the time I was five, and I happened upon an art book on Michelangelo - looking at a photograph of the famous statue of David, I wanted to be David and to have David at the same time, and it made me feel all torn up inside in the most delightful way: I discovered my sexual self, and I felt in my heart that it was good.

It's not true that small children are not sexual beings, which is not to say that pedophilia isn't an awful thing.

The Swedish word for the day is känslig. It means sensitive.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Personal tics can drive a person crazy. Or they can be endearing.

I love how the husband delicately touches the tip of his right index finger to his tongue before he turns each page of, say, a script. He looks like a librarian.

I've thought of getting him a rubber fingertip, the color and texture of the balls we used on the playground when I was in the third grade.

The Swedish word for the day is spex, a longstanding personal request by Linnéa, one of two Swedish librarians with wonderful weblogs (the other is Erik). There is no neat and clean one-word translation, unfortunately - my big Norstedt's Swedish-English dictionary defines it as a student farce or burlesque - it is surely the equivalent of Harvard's Hasty Pudding Club nonsense.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

B. 1918, D. 2003.

Yugoslavia is no more.

It was a difficult life.

The Swedish word for the day is onda. It means pain.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Cities without trees are just awful. Some of the most impressive streets I know - Las Ramblas in Barcelona or the Champs Elysées in Paris, for example - are aesthetically pleasing in large part because of their trees. Stockholm is surrounded by green, but the streets are generally not tree-lined, as a rule. Still, there are wonderful exceptions, such as Karlaplan, one of the spots I hit as I make my home from the office each day, or Katarina Bangata, just behind our apartment.

Trees without cities, however, are the happiest trees. It's awful that city trees suffer so much. But, being the cold heartless bastard that I am, my pity is not great enough that I think trees should not make the sacrifice. The problem is that there just aren't enough trees making the sacrifice.

Then again, some people might argue that we should try and make cities healthier for trees - and, uh, people.

The Swedish word for the day is trädgårdssax. It means pruning shears.

- by Francis S.

Monday, February 03, 2003

The boy lay on his back on the hood of the little car, his feet in their immaculate tennis shoes just barely touching the ground, a carefully folded two-thousand peseta note clutched in his hand.

He was alive, yes, they could see that. His chest, his very narrow chest was pulling his very narrow belly with it, up and down and up and down they went, so very deeply, he was certainly breathing. But such a deep, narcotic sleep, he couldn't be roused, not with first a voice in the ear, then a poke with the rolled up flyer from the movie they'd just seen up in Gracia. Not even with a gentle slapping of the cheek and finally, with slaps one could hear had force.

He just lay on the hood in curiously natural fashion, as if he were a small child left to nap by parents who were surely close by. It reminded Francis somehow of when his nephew had been little more than a baby, and in the midst of a noisy party, wide awake and smiling, he had been placed on the edge of the sofa to have his shoes changed. In the exact instant of being placed on the sofa, he had fallen deeply asleep, still sitting up. It was so sudden and so profound, so transitionless, Francis had laughed.

The boy on the hood slept like that, as if he didn't quite understand the difference between waking and sleeping, or when or how to do or not do one or the other.

And yet the position was of course most unnatural, surely terribly uncomfortable at the least. He had no needle marks on his arms, his skin was unmarred and pale under the streetlights, so they couldn't know what powerful magic pinned him to the hood of the car, pills or alcohol or another thing altogether. Poor Prometheus, poor St. Sebastian, Francis thought. Something had to be done.

It was Edu who went to look for a payphone to call an ambulance, while Francis stood and watched the boy.

Francis looked at the angular little face, the thin nose rising in the center to a perfect peak, the perfect peak one sees only in dreams, the perfect, symmetric and unreal mountain one draws as a child. His mouth below was narrow, his eyelids above were a pair of hyphens, precise and basic, nothing more than what they absolutely had to be. Thick veins curled and twisted round his arms, the backs of his hands. And his skin -- on his arms, his neck, his face -- was waxen, streetlit purity.

Then there were those tennis shoes. Not new, but kept as if they were, those shoes were so well-tended, there was such a pride apparent in the clean white of them. The shoes gave Francis reassurance -- false, he knew -- that the boy would be all right, they seemed a charm against all the worst possiblities.

Edu returned. The ambulance was on its way, he said. And as soon as he said this, they saw the flash of blue lights.

"So fast!" Edu said. "I can't believe it." Edu was relieved, Francis could see the tension in his face change direction with the shifting of responsibility.

But Francis was not relieved, he was frightened suddenly, the calm of the night broken because the ambulance had come to save the boy who lay so quietly on the hood of the car. Mortality had arrived: a pulse would be taken, needles appear, nameless medical instruments pulled from a bag and used somehow, there would be retching and blood, seizures and violence. He didn't want to see it. The talismanic shoes were no use now.

"What do we have here," the medic said matter of factly, it wasn't a question because she could see well enough. She checked the boy's arms as Edu and Francis had done earlier.

"I don't think there are any needle marks," Edu said.

She tried to rouse the boy, as Edu and Francis had done earlier, but he didn't wake for her either. She took his pulse, and Francis began to feel sick. Behind her, the other medic was tearing into a paper packet, pulling out something small and sharp and antiseptic. They opened the boy's mouth and inserted a strange plastic tube, short, shaped like an apostrophe. Francis felt a breathlessness, a queasiness, and he knew if he wasn't careful, he could faint. Take in air, breathe deeply, he said to himself, as if he rather than the boy were on the hood of the car.

Then the boy jerked awake reflexively, knocking the tube out of his mouth, and suddenly he was standing unsteadily beside the car, his eyes as black and dead and unseeing as spots of ink. There was no retching, no seizure, no blood, but still Francis felt sick, sicker even. The beauty bestowed by that terrible sleep had been replaced with stuporous, incoherent and squinting ugliness. But the boy was alive, standing even, unable to answer the medic -- "Where were you going?" "What did you take, pills or only drink?" "Don't worry, it's okay, you aren't in trouble, we're here to help you" -- but able at least to give her his hand so she could prick a finger for blood.

Francis walked away, sitting on a marble stoop some twenty feet from the group round the boy who had lain on the hood of the car. He lowered his head briefly, and the faintness left him, the nausea, the sweat on the palms of his hands.

After a moment, Edu broke away and came toward him. Francis stood up, collected, ready to walk the remaining blocks to the apartment -- it wasn't far, not really.

"I heard the medic say it was .89 blood alcohol," he told Francis. "That's very high, no?"

Yes, it was impossibly high.

"Do you think," Francis asked, "that could kill you?"

"I don't know, maybe," Edu said.

"I think," Francis said, feeling in his pocket for change, a cigarette, a stick of chewing gum, anything at all, "I think it could."

from a 1998 Barcelona diary

The Swedish word for the day is b-moll. It means B flat minor.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

I remember the first time the space shuttle exploded in mid-air, I would've been about 25 years old. I suppose it was sad, although to be honest it had little impact on me. Some ten years later, I overheard some college students talking with each other about the event, which was seminal for them, not unlike the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy for people who are half a generation older than I am.

In my life, there are no seminal events like that. I remember all kinds of things - not being able to go into Detroit for a fieldtrip to Greenfield Village in 1968 because there were riots on account of Martin Luther King, Jr. having been murdered; riding back from a trip to Iowa to see my grandparents in 1969 and looking up at the moon and knowing there were men up there; Nixon resigning on television in 1975 (I still can't believe that he came a long way toward rehabilitating his image before he died); walking out of a linguistics class in 1981 in Urbana, Illinois and learning that Reagan had been shot and worrying that George Bush would be an even worse president (how innocent we were!).

But none of these events seem to have touched me, or changed me, or been imprinted indelibly either wonderfully or horribly onto my memory. I'm left cold by them, and it makes me cringe a bit to hear the latest victims of the shuttle accident described as heroes: A hero is, in the simplest terms, someone who risks his or her life to save someone elses'. Dramatic destruction so easily elicits hyperbole.

Am I a cold heartless bastard?

The Swedish phrase for the day is allt eller inget. It means all or nothing.

by Francis S.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

These awards should prove to be far more interesting than the Bloggies. (Thanks for the link, which comes courtesy of my favorite pornstar shouldbe, Jonno, who is plugging himself for these awards but, hell, why not? He's got my vote!) I hope the awards ceremony will be webcast.

The Swedish word for the day is saftig. It means juicy.

- by Francis S.