Thursday, October 28, 2004

Göran Rosenberg, a relatively prominent journalist here in Sweden, currently has an interesting three-part TV series on the political state of the States.

This week, he interviewed a laborer who was a union leader, first finding out that the guy thought homosexuality and gay marriage were evil. Later, he asked him which candidate would better represent his interests as a worker, and the guy said that this was what made him undecided on how he would vote.

Unfortunately, Göran Rosenberg didn't ask the question that I wanted to know the answer to: Which affects your life more, your job and related job issues - healthcare, retirement, etc. - or two men getting married somewhere? Does the fact that two men get married have any impact on your life, in fact? I don't understand how people could actually vote so strongly against their own self-interest.

The worst part of the show, however, is that the camera crew seems to be a security threat everywhere it goes, with everyone from police to highway tollbooth workers suspiciously demanding that they turn off their cameras. The heavy security reminds us that the new rules for getting into the U.S. mean that I will not be able to go through passport control with the husband, he's going to have to undergo the whole picture-taking and fingerprinting bit by himself. And we've got a November 20 trip to Chicago on the books.

"If they treat you like that, why bother? It's not as great a place as it thinks it is. It really makes me not want to go," he said.

Of course he will go, but I'm already dreading that part of the journey where I follow the green line and he follows the blue.

The Swedish verb for the day is att uppskatta. It means to appreciate.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Ever wondered why there are never any openings for ragpickers these days, no "ragpicker" section in the help-wanted ads, no ragpicker training courses you can sign up for?

Actually, I always wondered why there was any market at all for rags, back in the days of Nell Trent: What the hell did they do with them?

It turns out that up until the late 19th century, most paper made in Europe was produced using pulp from linen and cotton rags. In the year 1800, Britain alone used a total of 24 million lbs. of rags in paper production. It wasn't until the 1880s that wood pulp became a primary source for paper.

This explains why no one seems to pick rags anymore.

Now, what about costermongers...?

The Swedish verb for the day is att syssla. It means to work with as in an occupation.

- by Francis S.
I'm not going to miss this: a forum on blogs here in Stockholm on Nov. 15, coordinated by Erik Stattin and Stefan Geens, two of my favorite writers in the Swedish blogosphere.

- by Francis S.

Friday, October 22, 2004

"Did you see the bird downstairs?" the husband asked me last night when he arrived home.

Yes, I had seen it.

Someone had painted a picture of a magpie in the entrance of our building. A magpie perched on a balcony.

A host of painters and carpenters are restoring the entrance and stairwell to some semblance of what it probably was when the building was built, in 1902. Along with the magpie, there is faux grey marble and the woodwork - all the double doors of the apartments, plus the door to the elevator and miscellaneous flourishes here and there - is being painted to look like, well, wood.

It all sounds kind of tacky, doesn't it? I've never been much of a fan of full-out restoration, I much prefer the slovenly charm of New Orleans to the fussy preserved perfection of Georgetown in D.C. I think it's perfectly fine for a place to look its age, not unlike human beings.

But I like all this elaborate painting in the hallways of our building. It isn't too much, it suits, in fact.

The Swedish word for the day is trapphuset, of course. It means stairwell.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

When I was 13, I read Sentimental Tommy, a rather peculiar book by J.M. Barrie, whose most famous creation is Peter Pan. My mother was a great fan of another book of Barrie's, The Little Minister.

Sentimental Tommy rather unnerved my 13-year-old self, but I was forever changed by one of the characters declaring that you can't trust a man who breathes through his mouth when he sleeps.

I had to get over the claustrophobic sense of not getting enough air - could it be that my nostrils are too small? - but I immediately trained myself to be a man who breathes through his nose when he sleeps, something I do to this day. Just so anyone doesn't get any ideas that I'm not to be trusted.

The Swedish word for the day is trovärdig, which means of course trustworthy or credible.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

We know the how's of so many things, but the why's are a different story.

For instance, we know how to bomb a country until it is uninhabitable, but we don't know why leaves change color in the autumn.

The Swedish word for the day is kolsyra. It means carbon dioxide.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Sitting on the No. 4 bus, I wondered what it is that prevents Valhallavägen from being a nice street - it has beautiful apartment houses lining one side, rank after rank of linden trees in the middle, and the Royal Technical College and the Stadium on the other side, but it somehow is too traffic-filled and the proportions are all wrong, making it a place to avoid.

We had just stopped where Odengatan intersects with Vallhallavägen when 50 pregnant women got on the bus, giggling and forcing the rest of the occupants to all give up their seats, a massive game of musical chairs in a moving bus with people not knowing whether to grumble or laugh along with the women.

Actually, it was only one pregnant woman, and no one got up to give her a seat.

But, I thought, wouldn't it have been funny if it had been 50 pregnant women instead of just one?

And then I got off the bus.

The Swedish word for the day is ändhållplats. It means the end of the line.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 18, 2004

While watching a TV program about overweight children on Swedish television last night, an American researcher on nutrition recommended watching less TV to help keep kids thinner (adults too, although he didn't specify). Which didn't make us get off our fat asses.

Then, we watched a show about self-recognition. Apparently, the ability to recognize ourselves - via a test with secret dots and mirrors - begins somewhere when we're 18 months to two years old.

But far more interesting was another test done with mirrors. Children aged 9-11 were rewarded after a test by being told they could take one piece of candy from a dish, which happened to be in an empty room. About 30 percent of the kids took more than one piece. But, if the bowl of candy was placed in front of a great big mirror, the number of children taking extra candy dropped to only 10 percent.

It seems that seeing ourselves about to do something we're not supposed to do is enough to stop us. It's as if we're our own mothers, frowning and giving ourselves the eye.

But wait, it gets worse. The program went on to say that having a big mirror in a room in the office where people are supposed to take a coffee break prevents lingering.

What it all comes down to is that our own reflections seem to be as effective as Judaism and Catholicism at inducing guilt.

This could explain why in this apartment with 45 doors, there are only two little mirrors. I guess I'm not very good at dealing with guilt.

The Swedish word for the day is nolltolerans. It means zero tolerance.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

They came on Thursday just to make my acquaintance, the women from the Spanish Embassy. Instead of eating dinner we nibbled on manchego and chorizo and drank way too many glasses of wine, the husband constantly getting up to heap logs on the fire to keep it at a roar.

The evening was a comfortable blur of Spanish and Swedish and English all spoken in mad running dashes, and the woman who has known the husband since he was a little boy asked: "Don't you want to have children?"

This is a question the husband and I often get.

I told her that the thing is, if we wanted to have a child, it would take vast amounts of perseverance and patience and scrutiny by others, on account of we're a couple of queer guys. If all it took were a fuck, well, we'd have been fathers some time ago. Despite the fact that I'd decided years ago my life could be entirely fulfilling without becoming a father, contrary to what I had always thought. I was cured of certain romantic notions by spending a week with a six-week-old baby. The amount of work that little eight-pound animal required was mind-boggling. I decided then that I just needed to use up my paternal energy on my nieces and nephews, and live my life with all the freedoms I got in return for not being responsible to someone who would extend my existence by passing on my genes, whom I would love unconditionally, whom would hopefully take some responsibility for me when and if I became old and doddering.

"So what are you going to do since you won't have anyone to remember you after you die?" asked the woman who had known the husband since he was a little boy.

Well, write a book maybe, I said.

"Of course!" she said, and she laughed. "With children who knows how they'll turn out. This way, you'll have much more control over what you leave behind!"

The Swedish verb for the day is att ärva. It means to inherit.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Picture this: As I'm on my way to lunch with the ex-punk star, she stops me mid-sentence and points to an island off the island in the middle of the city we happen to be walking on.

"Are those herons?" she asked me.

They were, three of them roosting on a branch overhanging the water, looking gloomy under the yellowing and drooping leaves.

Then today, on the very same island outside of a house (if you squint and look in the left side of the picture you can see a white blob that is in fact the house I'm talking about) that is beautiful but surely haunted, a murder of crows stood in my path, scratching their way awkwardly across the road before taking off to circle in the air and for all the world acting like a premonition of all the Hallowe'ens to come.

Maybe Daphne du Maurier was onto something.

The birds are taking over.

The Swedish word for the day is skräckfilm. It means horror movie.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

There are 45 doors in this apartment - front doors and balcony doors and closet doors and pantry doors and double doors (10 sets), each and every one of them painted white.

That's a lot of doors to hide behind.

N., the former Wallpaper editor, who arrived last night, has only one door to deal with in the room she's staying in, however. It's the only room in the entire apartment with only one door.

The Swedish word for the day is hemlig. It means secret.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Do you think that the Roman soldiers who crossed the Rubicon with Julius Caesar in 49 B.C. realized they were witnessing something that would be remembered 2000 years later? Or what about the audience at the Globe theater in London in 1599 watching Shakespeare's Julius Caesar for the first time?

It makes me wonder whether I've witnessed anything that will be remembered 2000 years from now. I have my doubts. I'm not sure whether I've even been an eyewitness to any of the more minor pivotal events of my lifetime.

There was the 1987 March on Washington, in which I remember strutting past the White House and chanting "2-4-6-8, Ronnie thinks his son is straight." Then there was the time when I happened to be looking out my office window overlooking Connecticut Ave. in Washington, and I saw Gorbachev's motorcade stop amidst a huge crowd of people, an impromptu security nightmare no doubt, and Gorbachev shake the hands of all those adoring Washingtonians.

Could Stephen Spinella's performance in Angels in America, (when the angel came down, it was heart-stopping), or Mark Morris dancing with great wit in Dido and Aeneas be treasured past my own lifetime and memory?

What are the grand and defining moments of our age anyway?

The Swedish word for the day is sekel. It means century.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

It hasn't been proven yet in humans (apparently there's a problem in finding volunteer subjects), but scientists have suspected for awhile now that if you're willing to half-starve yourself and swear off sugar, you could live to be very, very old. They're not entirely sure why this is.

But I don't get it. Doesn't half-starving mean, well, half-dead? And frankly, who wants to live in a world without rhubarb pie?

The Swedish word for the day is efterrätt. It means dessert.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

"The world's his oyster, with an R in every month." (My favorite line of Cary Grant's in The Philadelphia Story, because it's so goofy and because I didn't understand it when I first saw it when I was 13 or so.)

One of the consolations of the return of months with an R, is eating mussels (steamed in wine with garlic, thyme and butter) and french fries.

The Swedish word for the day is citat. It means quote.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Firewood. As of Friday, we've got a great big stack of it, maybe even a cord (one of those measures I've always wondered about that turns out to be a pile 4 by 4 by 8 feet, which sounds much more exact than it could possibly be). We've been burning it as if it were freezing and the furnace was on the blink, sitting on the living room sofa and staring aimlessly into the fire, telling each other how lovely it is to have a fireplace at last and getting up periodically to poke and prod and fan the flames.

Think, I said to the husband, of what it must've been like in this apartment all winter when they had to keep fires going in seven tile stoves (now long gone).

"That's what they had maids for," he said.

I wonder if they used wood, or coal, I said.

"Wood I think," he said.

I'm not so sure about that, but whatever they used, it must've taken a lot more than a cord of wood. Where do you think they kept it all?

(Which brings me to a stupid thing I loved to irritate my brothers and sister with when we were young, repeating to them endlessly "there's something nasty in the woodshed, there's something nasty in the woodshed" for no reason, no reason at all.)

The Swedish word for the day should be ved, which means wood, but it's not. Instead, it's eventuellt, which although it looks like it should mean eventually, does not. It means possibly, more or less.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

In 1973, a really cool movie called American Graffiti hit the theaters. At least I thought it was cool when I was 12. It evoked an earlier age of innocence, when the music was all golden oldies and people dressed dopey and the cars were great boxy boats. That would be the year 1962, some 11 years previous.

Some 11 years previous to now is 1993. I can't imagine feeling that kind of easy nostalgia for 1993. Things barely look as if they've changed to me, hair-, clothes-, car-wise. Of course maybe it's just that I'm getting old and unable to read cultural markers anymore, and the cultural shift between 1962 and 1973 wasn't any greater than the current cultural shift. Hell, maybe someone is already working on a movie to make people long for 1993 as an age of innocence and quaint habits.

Come to think of it, there have been planes crashing into buildings, a "war on terror" has begun which is somehow supposed to be connected to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, unemployment is high, the national debt is astronomical, the rest of the world despises the U.S. and the social contract has all but been done in.

It seems like there should be a big shift, but I can't feel it. Maybe our culture was past its sell-by date already in 1993?

The Swedish phrase for the day is beträd ej gräsmattan. It means keep off the grass!

- by Francis S.