Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Good thing I made myself learn the Swedish national anthem when I became a Swedish citizen. I was taking my lunchtime stroll through Djurgården when a bunch of 14-year-old girls ran up to me, begging me to sing "Du Gamla, Du Fria" as part of some school scavenger-hunt type exercise so popular with the Swedes who, in an attempt to alleviate their natural taciturn natures, incessantly force on themselves such games designed to make them interact with strangers.

I didn't tell them that I wasn't a real Swede, or that I actually didn't need the paper with the words on it because I have them memorized.

I sang, they thanked me effusively in that loud and laughing 14-year-old kind of way, and I walked back to the office, inordinately proud of myself. The pride has worn off, though, and now I'm feeling a bit blue at the prospect of the American editor and his wife leaving us. As consolation, though, the husband has returned from America, bearing gifts and assorted sexual favors.

The Swedish word for the day is promenad, which as you probably can guess, means a walk or promenade.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Here in Sweden, the talk about America is pretty much only about foreign policy fuck-ups, and the disaster taking place in Iraq. But when I talk to my sainted sister, who works for a foundation in Minneapolis and doles out money for childcare projects for low-income parents, invariably the conversation turns to how awful things are in the States, domestically. Then today I read that the governor of Texas has decided to give rich property owners a tax break, and fund schools with taxes on strip clubs instead of with property taxes. Poetic, isn't it: Sad horny bastards paying five extra bucks every time they go for a gander at some tits and ass, five bucks that then goes to fund the schooling of 10-year-olds. Unfortunately, the upshot of it is that poor and middle class kids are going to be getting less money for their schools, and decades of attempts at trying to distribute education dollars fairly is basically being trashed.

Of course, behind it all is the whole idea that rich people need more tax breaks not just on the federal level, but on the state level as well. And that the federal government shouldn't be subsidizing luxuries like, well, education. Not that education spending on the federal level has ever amounted to much - the budget for education has only ever been a tiny fraction of the military budget, for example - but at least federal monies tended to be aimed at evening the odds for poorer kids. But not anymore. The buck has been passed to the states, and if Texas is any indication, the states aren't ponying up to pay for education either.

So who's going to pay for it? The children of America, that's who.

Poor, divided America.

The Swedish phrase for the day is halva priset. It means half price.

- by Francis S.

Friday, April 16, 2004

The American editor and his wife swept into Stockholm on Wednesday evening at about 11, lugging a good two-hundred pounds worth of luggage for a three-week visit. As we dined last night on a soup of Jerusalem artichokes and cornbread sandwiches, my husband tried to explain the concept of travelling lightly, going without underwear and other space-saving ideas, but the editor's wife just laughed her fizzy laugh.

Unfortunately, their trip has turned out to be an exchange of sorts, since my beloved husband left this morning for a week-long business trip to New York.

Bad planning.

At least I won't be home alone, restless after a couple of hours and vaguely lonely and listening for strange noises at night in bed. It will be strange the first time I sleep alone in this apartment. There are, no doubt, ghosts just waiting for the opportunity to show their grubby faces.

The Swedish word for the day jordärtskocka. It means Jerusalem artichoke.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Swans, however elegant they look as they glide in pairs along a canal beside a castle, are nasty creatures. Whoever first came up with the idea of staging Swan Lake with male ballet dancers, all powerful thighs and angry kicking, had the right idea. Still, I was charmed when I sat on the rocks on Birds Island on Easter morning and a swan slowly made his way toward me, keeping a distance but carefully checking me out and then lazily stretching his neck in the sun as he floated some ten meters away in the water as if I'd given him permission to relax, while his poor mate watched from afar.

The Swedish word for the day is Svansjön, which means of course Swan Lake.

- by Francis S.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Easter Vigil

The man in
wolf's disguise
is seen amongst
the cool greenery.

His ever-
roving eyes,
perusing the
naked scenery,

Watch most hushed
for the soft
unhappy and
unseen paschal lamb:

Will he
ecce agnus

Is it
of any use
to stay?

His small hopes, crushed,
soon are borne aloft
and far away;
he doesn't
really give a goddamn.

Or so,
if he could speak,
he'd say.

He pads back into
the shallow thicket,
still hungry but
until another day.

While the sallow lamb -
bearing a ticket
wearing a suit -
boards a train
going the other way.

a poem from 1996

Yes, it's a day early for the Easter Vigil, but we're off to Birds Island in a couple of hours. The first trip out into the archipelago for the year.

The Swedish phrase of the day is här kommer solen. It means here comes the sun.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

For a city that escaped being bombed into smithereens in World War II, Stockholm has an amazing amount of ugly and boxy functionalist apartment houses and office buildings, most of which have sprouted up since 1945.

Did enterprising Stockholm citizens of 1945 feel the same way about the buildings put up at the turn of the 20th century? And will enterprising Stockholm citizens of 2045 find functionalist architecture more charming than I do now? What exactly is it about older buildings that makes them more pleasing to the eye? Why do I actually go some six blocks out of my way to fill a prescription at The Stork Pharmacy, which is all Jugend-era painted glass ceilings and dark wood finials run amok?

The Swedish word for the day is läkemedel, which means medicine.

- by Francis S.

Friday, April 02, 2004

It's so easy to forget that Sweden is a socialist country. Like the rest of Europe, it's gone through its round of privatizations, American television is ubiquitous, everyone dresses so stylishly (if a bit uniformly). The country just doesn't have that dowdy socialist one-size-fits-all feeling.

Except when it comes to apartments.

The housing system in Stockholm is Byzantine and people are always on the lookout for the perfect apartment to rent or swap or somehow get through various devious methods. It's almost a pathology.

At the same time, Swedes have a particularly strong and distinctly un-American sense that there is such a thing as too big. Especially when it comes to apartments. Basically, everyone should just get his or her fair share, which is small-ish by American standards.

What I'm getting at here is that I now have an apartment that is shamefully big, way more than my share. I equivocate when people ask how big it is, which they invariably do because they seem to be obsessed with the question.

I tell them it's bigger than the old one.

"How big?" they ask.

Big, I say. And then they press some more and then I have to tell them and then I see the judgement in their eyes and then I get all flustered and try to make it sound as if the place is less than it is somehow. I hate this feeling.

This situation would never happen in the States, where people have a certain admiration for big and more and better.

Interestingly, I have probably gone socialist enough that I'm not sure whether I think that this is good or bad, that the sky is the limit in the States, no holds barred. But I obviously haven't gone so socialist that it stopped me from buying this unfairly glorious apartment.

The Swedish word for the day is jämkning, which is the tax adjustment one makes when one gets a tax break for having a loan on a house or apartment.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

The deed is done. Or rather, it's in our possession. The deed to the new apartment that is. The papers are all signed, so the place is officially ours.

In between signing away the old apartment and signing for the new apartment, the husband and I stopped in a café in Östermalm for a little lunch. Sitting at a table in the back, next to a set of old oven doors in an ancient white-tiled wall, I noticed a secret-service type with one of those plastic spiralled wires twirling from his ear and down his neck and into his collar.

"He must be here with a member of the royal family," said the husband. Or perhaps a governmental minister or something, I added.

Indeed, it turned out to be the former Miss Silvia Sommerlath, now Mrs. Carl G. Bernadotte, better known as the Queen of Sweden. And I never even saw her because it wasn't until after we'd left the place that the husband mentioned that she was sitting at a table with one of her girlfriends, in fact the very same table the hostess had offered to us earlier but we hadn't taken.

The Swedish word for the day is, of course drottningen, which means the queen.

- by Francis S.