Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Last weekend, the husband threw a big party at work and had our former neighbor, L., the chef, cater the food. Which she did with her usual panache, I heard - I was at the 25th birthday of a pop star, sipping soup and yammering away with a half-Danish, half-American girl who is a VJ on MTV Europe. I can yammer with the best of them, but it turns out I am an old fart, without a doubt.

But that's all beside the point. Which is that when we went to return to L. all the heaps of Moroccan bowls and plates and platters, the glasses and the elaborate footed metal steam tray that had been used at the husband's party, it meant going back to our old neighborhood on Söder and, worse, seeing the old apartment house.

It was most peculiar walking up the steps and then looking out the window at the courtyard, which is beautiful and green and new and so much nicer than our current courtyard.

And then looking at the galleys for L.'s cookbook that is coming out in the fall, walking in L,'s apartment through rooms with different colored walls, different furniture and different tile, but nonetheless are virtually the same as the rooms in our old flat, more peculiar still.

It felt a bit small, a bit low to me.

It felt sad to the husband, who is still mourning the move.

I figure he'll have recovered sometime in November.

In the meantime, I plan to enjoy every minute.

The Swedish words for the day are gullviva, mandelblom, kattfot, blå viol. They mean cowslip, meadow saxifrage, cat's foot, wild violet.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

It turns out, to turn T.S. Eliot on his head, that the universe started not with a bang but a whimper. Or rather a whine... at least musically, according to Mark Whittle, a researcher who's somehow reduced the Big Bang and subsequent millenia into an audible soundwave analysis.

Here, listen for yourself.

The Swedish phrase for the day is i början. It means in the beginning.

- by Francis S.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Yesterday was Sweden's national day, a day when this nation of people who seem to have a horror of nationalism celebrate their country. Of course Swedes believe that the Swedish way of doing things is the fairest and best way, but it's not something to celebrate, it's something that just is. There's no such thing as a "Basic Truth" day, after all.

Still, they're not 100 percent sure that the Swedish way of doing things is the fairest and best way; they do have plenty of complaints about the Swedish way of doing things.

So, these apparently two contradictory emotions are surely contributing factors to the fact that the national day isn't even a bank holiday, although this is supposed to change sometime in the future, when one of the more obscure religious bank holidays - Ascension or Pentecost - will be booted from the vacation-day calendar.

Outside parliament, a hundred Aryan-nation types were arrested (scroll down a little to read the article). I guess they were celebrating by attacking some leftist demonstrators in an attempt to make up for the rest of the country's lack of jingoist fervor.

Me, I celebrated by attending a ceremony at City Hall (in the Blue Hall where they have the Nobel Prize ceremony) for the latest crop of new Swedish citizens. Surrounded by hundreds of people from all over the world, we were welcomed by various low-level politicoes and serenaded by fellow immigrants, mostly in English. Then we sang the national anthem and they fed us salmon and gave us sparkling wine, and I got a certificate with my name misspelled.

I said all of about 50 words during the whole thing: I spoke for about 15 seconds to the guy sitting next to me, a Finn who has lived in Sweden for 30 years. I asked him why he was getting his citizenship now, and he said it was because damn Finland finally allowed dual citizenship. Although I had thought it was Sweden that finally allowed dual citizenship. And then I said thanks later to the politician who gave me the certificate.

Yet somehow, it was pleasing and awkward and ever so Swedish in the self-consciously un-Swedishness of the whole event, despite the singing the national anthem.

I was charmed, and even a bit proud, even if that is a most un-Swedish sentiment to have.

The Swedish word for the day is Sveariket, a word from which the name Sverige - the Swedish word for Sweden - is derived. It was an area of Sweden inhabited by the Svear, an area that seems to be the equivalent of today's central Sweden and the six provinces of Svealand: Dalarna, Närke, Södermanland, Uppland, Värmland and Västmanland

- by Francis S.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

The summer cottages on the islands of the Stockholm archipelago rarely have the kind of indoor plumbing one finds on the mainland. Oh, there's hot and cold running water, and toilets even. But at the cottage of A., the assistant director and C., the fashion photographer, there is actually a toilet. You just can't pee in it. Which means taking a piss outside.

So, when I woke up in the middle of the night, I immediately regretted that I had stupidly drunk a full glass and a half of water directly before falling into bed next to the husband. And try as I might, my insistent and crabby pea-sized bladder would not let me fall back asleep.

Determined not to go to all the trouble of putting on my clothes and shoes to step outside, I opened the window and stood bravely, stark naked, dick to the wind.

Unfortunately, it was 2:30 a.m., the sun was up with full force and since a bunch of trees had been taken down last fall, my bladder decided that we were entirely too exposed, that the whole world could possibly see us pee and, after letting loose one short burst, refused to unclench.

I think I stood for a full five minutes, fighting with it and wondering what someone would make of this 43-year-old man standing naked at a window, holding his dick, his face a tight little knot of determination, desperation, humiliation.

I finally gave up and crawled back into bed. A half hour later, I finally broke down, put on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt and made the long trip outside and found a tree that my bladder felt was sufficiently discreet.

So, the question is, do girls ever get pee-shy?

The Swedish word for the day, a repeat, is my all-time favorite Swedish word: kissnödig. It means in desperate need of taking a piss.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Is it too late in the year to be wearing black?

Or is it never too late in the year to wear black, for fashionistas like myself - or rather for those of us who are married to fashionistas and are fashionistas by default?

I felt a bit dour and puritanical, walking to work in the morning under the invincible sun, black sweater and black jacket and black shoes. And then walking again to a long lunch with the cat veterinarian, who is visiting from Chicago. He wasn't wearing black.

I guess I should switch to something a bit more light-hearted.

June is busting out all over, after all.

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

- by Francis S.