Monday, March 31, 2003

Museums are a sop to the middle class, who aspire to having objects of great value and sophistication, but basically are dependent on the rich to donate what they don't want, or what society forces them to give up. Me, I'm as bourgeois as can be, I love museums. So, it was with anticipation that I went with the husband to look at Spanish paintings at the National Museet in Stockholm.

I was a bit disappointed at these particular riches on display - they were a bit meager, a bit repetitive. Still, there were the brutal Goya war etchings, aptly timed. But even more touching were side-by-side Velasquez portraits of an infanta and a dwarf. The princess, no more than four years old, was painted with great care and attention to the detail of the cage of a dress she was wearing, and to the velvet curtain behind her, and to the vague sorrow in her young eyes. The dwarf, however, was rather roughly painted in, his clothes dirty and his nose needing to be wiped, a forgotten plaything half-smiling back at the Spanish court painter. One would be hard pressed to choose which child was more pitiable.

The Swedish phrase for the day is parkering förbjuden. It means parking forbidden.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

I'm slowly but surely working my way toward writer's block, posting less and less, writing things over and over in my head but unable to put them to paper. Or screen. It's a sad state of affairs, being reduced to writing about being unable to write. The absolute lamest of the lame, the bottom of the barrel when it comes to writing, right up there with writing about referrer logs and breakfast menus.

And yet, I refuse to give up. There are in fact things to be said about my birthday dinner last night, with the fashion photographer's children discussing the war and Swedish reluctance to make a fuss with the guy from the Goethe Institute. And today's coffee with the priest and the policeman, cooing over their 5-month-old daughter, the priest teaching my husband how to knit and telling us "this year, I'm not growing flowers on the terrace. There will be 15 kinds of grass instead."

The Swedish word for the day is tom. It means empty.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Spring has arrived, with a vengeance, or as much as a vengeance as spring can have in Sweden. It's warm, relatively speaking, and sunny, and it was glorious to take a day off yesterday and wander around the city, stopping in a konditori to have coffee and a sweet, and to have A. the assistant producer telling me that Lenin lived in Stockholm, and that he bought a worker's cap in Åhlens (or was it an overcoat from PUB?) that he wore in one of the many well-known photos of him. I feel so good, I even felt sorry for the honey bee that flew numbly into the kitchen when I opened the window last night, hearty enough to have buzzed around during the day, no doubt, but the cold night was too much for any insect, I suppose.

You'll notice I made a slight adjustment to the short autobiographical note to the left.

The Swedish word for the day is året. It means the year.

- by Francis S.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Last night A., the assistant director and her fiancé, C. the fashion photographer, were over for pad thai and afterwards we forced them to watch Pink Flamingos (to be honest, we were only going to watch a few choice bits but ended up seeing the whole thing).

The husband said "It's an art piece," but I insist it's a comedy, a Dogme film ahead of its time, outside of the realm of art. Or the realm of anything, really.

A. managed to laugh through most of it, although she couldn't watch the chicken scene or the part where Divine eats dogshit.

Afterwards, we watched the trailer for the movie, which consisted solely of interviews with people as they came out of the theater. One guy said, "John Waters has his finger on the pulse of America, and his thumb up its ass."

That quote should be in Bartlett's. And it's something to aspire to.

The Swedish word for the day is fiffig. It means ingenious.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Stockholm's pulse slows down to nearly nothing in the dark months of winter, speeding up only with the advent of the sun as the vernal equinox is passed. It's taken a couple of years, but my heart now seems to beat nicely in synchonicity with Stockholm. Which is not to say that it's nice. Going into hibernation is a numbing experience, just this side of depression.

Last night, the husband and I made one last play at staving off the sadness of winter, which I desperately hope is in its death throes, spending a night in the brightly lit kitchen, making empanadas of beef and sultanas and garlic and onion and tomato and egg, just like his mother used to make. It is a luxury to spend a late afternoon and evening preparing elaborate food, remembering that gathering and preparing food took all the time and energy of our ancestors. Remembering that we could be living just now in a hinge of time, our fingers stuck in the door of a war that could mean profound changes for us, difficult changes, ugly changes. Or mean nothing, nothing at all. Did it feel like this when the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated? One never knows until afterwards.

In lieu of certainty, we're now giving the apartment what I hope is a spring cleaning, the windows wide and the sun streaming in, unstoppable.

The Swedish word for the day is påtaglig. It means obvious.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Although there is no apparent connection to the massing of armies on Iraq's borders, it is nonetheless unsettling to see Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria all done up in camouflage garb and face paint for her military training.

Are we on the brink of a new age of anti-diplomacy, the United States against the world?

The Swedish word for the day is lumpen. It is a slang word for the compulsory military service required of Sweden's young men, and apparently its Crown Princess as well.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

The church in Huddinge has little to distinguish it from hundreds of other Swedish churches: It's small, spartan, built of stone with stucco walls, 900 years old. It is a thing of simple and great beauty.

There are a few obvious later touches, such as electric chandeliers and wooden pews with panels painted to look like marble (or painted to look like they were painted to look like marble, rather than to actually look like marble). I find myself wondering, as I sit behind a chamber orchestra in the middle of a rehearsal for a performance of Bach's Magnificat at the church in Huddinge, what exactly would be most shocking to a Swede from the year 1100. Would it be the baroque trumpeter playing games on his mobile phone during the movements where he doesn't have to play the trumpet?

It is the husband's birthday today. I can't tell exactly how much he's joking when he says it feels awful to turn 34.

The Swedish word for the day is sliten. It means worn.

- by Francis S.

Friday, March 14, 2003

I've lived most of my life in cities, and I grew up in the suburbs, where the lights from the houses and offices and streetlamps obscure the stars. If I lived in the country, I could learn the night sky. I've always felt a bit sorry that I've never really seen the Milky Way as a smudge of white, never learned the constellations except Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

But it's still not enough to tempt me.

I'm an urban kind of guy.

The Swedish verb for the day is att undvika. It means to avoid.

- by Francis S.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Oh, yeah. That guy from Textism got the Best European or African 2003 Bloggie Award.

I voted for Duncan, and then I was hoping that D. would actually win.

Oh, well. Next time. Congratulations to the guy from Textism.

- by Francis S.
If I were a real man, I would've given up English for Lent.

Unfortunately, I'm spineless, controlling and pathically devoted to my mother tongue. I'm also wallowing daily in utter shame and self-pity because after four years of living in this comfortable city not far from the arctic circle, choir rehearsal is the only place I really speak my mediocre Swedish without switching back and forth to English as soon as I feel the least bit frustrated at not being able to express exactly what I think. Is it really perfectionism - wanting to get everything right all the time and without a trace of an accent - that's doing me in?

I've turned into the thing I dreaded when I moved here: the American who doesn't bother to speak the language.

Woe is me.

You can hit me now.

The Swedish verb for the day is att sparka. It means to kick.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

The evening started in L.'s apartment with a mojito - the husband and A., the assistant producer and C., the fashion photographer, and R., the r&b star, and L.'s boyfriend, and me.

It was a dinner of lamb with prunes, and couscous, and blood oranges, and almonds. And then there was lots of red wine, and everyone talking at once, agreeing and disagreeing about exactly how much manic despression is due to chemistry and how much it is due to sociology, about overpopulation and personal responsibility and sorting one's trash for recycling, about Michael Jackson and his ability or inability to influence the media, and we went round the table and gave out our middle names, those of us who have them.

"I have a great story," A., the assistant director said. "You know the actress is still playing the maid in A Doll's House. Well, the other day, during the performance while the lead actors were in the middle of their dialogue, a mobile phone rang in the audience and the guy actually answered it and everyone could hear him say: 'I'm at the theater. Mmm-hmmm. So-so...' It was all they could do not to burst out laughing, they just had to keep on playing . But afterwards, the whole cast laughed their heads off."

It's great to know that actors have a sense of humor about this kind of thing.

The Swedish verb for the day is att bli. It's a verb that doesn't translate so easily - it means to be or to become, and I misuse it often, as it's used when a change of condition is implied as far as I can tell. Att vara means to be when no change of condition is implied. I suppose there's some kind of rule about when to use which form, but mostly I learn it by listening.

- by Francis S.

Friday, March 07, 2003

From: "Anonymous via the Cypherpunks Tonga Remailer"  
| This is Spam | Add to Address Book
Subject: Hola Francis XXX Strand
Date: Thu, 6 Mar 2003 22:39:58 +0100 (CET)

Hi Francis.

I love your page, I love what you write, I love you! Sorry, but thats
the truth. I am a nice guy from Albania, Tirana that couldnt help myself
from becoming obsessed with you and your website. I have to admit that
I actually went to Sweden to try to find you, not much luck.
I am in Sweden again now to star in a couple of arty
flicks. Yes I am a gay porn star, but everything I do have to have some
deeper spiritual meaning and a lot of subtext going on, I cant stand
does superficial flicks were they just f^^^ and suck, I think sex, poetry
and something to say about life is the best ingrediences for a
successfull gay flick. Dont you agree? We are starting the shoot off the first
flick at the end of next week "A fluffers confession" then two days
later we will shoot "Being Johns Malcockwitch" followed by "Bed man
walking". All three flicks are intellectual masterpieces, very well wri
tten and with something deep and profound to say about life and the
society we are living in. The intellectual viewpoints that inspired the
creation of these flicks are based upon the philosophy by Aristotle,
Karl Marx, Jesus and Jeff Koons. Yes, you have guessed it, I am a
co-writer:)What I wanted to ask you was if you would like to star in one of the
flicks. I was on my way to approach you yesterday when I was waiting
outside your office, but I thought you might get upset if I
didnt contact you before approaching you. I have stared in a flick called
"Stalking Johnny Depp", it was based on a real stalking scenario and I
learned that it wasnt a very good idea. I will come by your office
monday and maybe you can show me around stockholm and we can have lunch. I
am quite tall, I wear blue leather pants and I have a large beard. My
name is Genc Xhelaj, you can search google and find some interesting
information about me and my life.

Kisses & Hugs.

Genc Xhelaj.

Oh, M., my favorite movie producer.

I guess someone isn't keeping you busy enough in London.

The Swedish phrase for the day is att smeka, which means to caress or fondle.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

It was about as fat a Tuesday as I could handle. I'm too old for Mardi Gras or Carnival, it seems, but not too old for Sweden's version of the holiday: one simply stuffs oneself with semlor, sweet buns filled with almond paste and rich cream. Which we did with A., the assistant director and C., the fashion photographer at their apartment last night. It's the one place that feels as much like home as home.

Now it's time for forty days of dourness and denial.

The Swedish word for the day is fastan. It means Lent.

- by Francis S.

Monday, March 03, 2003

I've never had to commute to work before, I've always lived a 20-minute walk from whatever office I was working at. Until now.

I'm having to re-think my love of trains. And I'm wondering why anyone would ever live farther than a 20-minute walk from work, because the years of a lifetime spent commuting are the equivalent to years spent in hell. At least if the subway is crowded. Otherwise it's a kind of vaguely malign purgatory. I can't begin to imagine what it must be like to drive every day, sitting in traffic with no escape.

Maybe it's time for the husband and I to move.

I know, I'm a spoiled brat.

The Swedish word for the day is att skjutsa. It means to give a ride to.

- by Francis S.