Saturday, December 25, 2004

"People, look east, the time is near
of the crowning of the year..."

So, east we go. Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia call.

Back in three weeks, although I may check in if we hit on any WiFi hotspots.

The Swedish word for the day is bortrest. It means gone travelling.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The latest item in the Amazon database: blogs, complete with a "People who visit this page also visit" section, which in my case includes A-listers Ernie and Tom Coates, plus some folks on the list at left, and some folks who should be on the list at left but aren't.

Go ahead, find yourself. (Click on the "site information" button after the URLs listed in the search results.)

Now I'm off to go write a review of Torill Mortenson's "Thinking With My Fingers," where I first read about this whole Amazon phenomenon.

The Swedish word for the day is sökmotor, which means search engine.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Sunrise in Stockholm, Dec. 21, 2004: 8:44 a.m.
Sunset in Stockholm, Dec. 21, 2004: 2:48 p.m.

This is as dark as it gets.

Tilt, little planet, tilt.

The Swedish word for the day is vintersolstånd. It means winter solstice.

- by Francis S.

Monday, December 20, 2004

"Thinking opera is great is kind of like thinking heavy metal is great," the R&B star said as we swilled beers and lolled about on the sofa in front of a roaring fire, exhausted from a day of Christmas baking.

I understood immediately what she meant.

Foolishly, I tried to prove otherwise, that anyone would find certain music sublime no matter what their taste. Naturally, I failed utterly by insisting on playing a soprano aria from Bach's Christmas Oratorio. Then dug the hole deeper with a little Mozart.

"I hate it when their voices go 'uhahuhahuhah,'" said the husband, imitating a wobbly-voiced vibrato-afflicted tenor with the worst case of the shakes.

Dammit, I thought to myself, they're not overwhelmed. It's true. Heavy metal is the rock equivalent of opera.

Then I bit into a saffron bun and put the Flaming Lips back in the CD player.

The Swedish word for the day is U-sväng. It means U-turn.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Beside my bed lies a pile of books on the floor: The Stories of Paul Bowles, Homage to Catalonia, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, The Leopard, The Catcher in the Rye, Love in a Dark Time, Foucault's Pendulum, The Piano Teacher. Some are presents, some I bought here and some in the States. Some are already read, some I can't seem to make any headway into, some are meant for browsing. Each of them has the stub of a boarding pass as a bookmark: Houston to Austin Aug 17, Stockholm to Chicago Nov 27, Stockholm to Turku July 1. Et cetera.

What do you use for bookmarks?

The Swedish word for the day is förlag. It means publishing house.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

During lunch, I wandered through an exhibition of Andy Warhol paintings with my friend the former punk star. Her boyfriend used to work at the museum, Liljevalchs Konsthall, so she had gotten us free tickets.

As we wandered from room to room - her favorites were the toy paintings, mine were the piss paintings - her 7-year-old son called on the phone.

"What song is this," he said, and he la-la'd his way through a short melody.

She didn't hear it properly the first time, but even after he told her it was the song played during the end credits of The Incredible Hulk and sang it again, she had no idea what it could be.

What do you do when it turns out that your mother doesn't know everything? Move on to the next thing, I suppose.

We sat drinking cappucinos in the basement of the museum, surrounded by Warhol photos.

"There's a picture of Joe D'Alessandro naked here somewhere," my friend said, and sure enough, she found it. She may not know every tune sung under the sun, but she sure knows where to find the important stuff.

The Swedish word for the day is 60-talet. It means the '60s.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The New York Times says bloggers can get six figure advances for books these days.

The Swedish phrases for the day are jag väntar på and säg till and ring mig bara. They mean I'm waiting and let me know and just call me.

- by Francis S.

Monday, December 13, 2004

I forgot that today was Lucia until I saw that the paths of the two parks I pass on my way to work, Humlegården and Karlaplan, were lined with blazing tins of sterno every three meters or so. It's a magnificent sight to see. Then we got saffron buns and gingerbread with blue cheese at the office, along with some mulled wine.

Still, I can't help thinking that it's strange that the Swedes have latched onto a Sicilian saint who was typically painted during the Renaissance offering her eyeballs on a plate to the viewer, a heartwarming and Christmassy vision if there ever was one.

I think it mostly has to do with her name, which is associated with light. Lux aeterna luceat eis, wouldn't you agree?

The Swedish phrase for the day is det stämmer. It means that's right.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Tangerines are the very smell and taste of midwinter to me.

In the morning, in the soft sultry chamber, sit in the window peeling tangerines, three or four. Peel them gently; do not bruise them, as you watch soldiers pour past and past the corner and over the canal towards the watched Rhine. Separate each plump little pregnant crescent. If you find the Kiss, the secret section, save it for Al.


After you have put the pieces of tangerine on the paper on the hot radiator, it is best to forget about them. Al comes home, you go to a long noon dinner in the brown dining-room, afterwards maybe you have a little nip of quetsch from the bottle on the armoire. Finally he goes. You are sorry, but -

On the radiator the sections of tangerines have grown even plumper, hot and full. You carry them to the window, pull it open, and leave them for a few minutes on the packed snow of the sill. They are ready.

from Serve It Forth by M.F.K. Fisher


At the end of the meal, Archer gave me a piece of his own bar of chocolate, and then began to skin pigs of tangerine very skillfully and hand them to me on his outstretched palm, as one offers a lump of sugar to a horse. I thought for one moment of bending down my head and licking the pigs up in imitation of a horse; then I saw how mad it would look.

We threw the brilliant tangerine peel into the snow, which immediately seemed to dim and darken its colour.

from "When I Was Thirteen" by Denton Welch

The Swedish word for the day is smaksinne. It means sense of taste.

- by Francis S.

Friday, December 10, 2004

America, land of the orthodox and home of the duped: A recent Newsweek poll shows that a whopping 40 percent of the Americans polled favor teaching creation "science" instead of evolution in public schools.

Okay, so this news is five days old, but still.

I can't possibly express how disturbing I find this. Can the U.S. really be so backward? Is there any future for such a country?

I am ashamed.

The Swedish word for the day is ofattbar. It means incomrehensible.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Who ever thought that cherries in liqueur and covered in chocolate was a good thing? Why do confectioners bother to put them in boxes of chocolate, bearing a disturbing resemblance to my idea of what eyeballs in cough syrup must be like, sitting uneaten in their gold wrappers until one day, sick of seeing them languish in a little bowl on top of the sugar canister, I am forced to eat them, one by one?

The Swedish word for the day is besserwisser. It is stolen directly from German, I have no doubt, and means know it all.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

At 5 a.m. this morning, an apartment a mere block or so away from here just, well, blew up (link in Swedish). We never heard a thing.

Strangely, the man who lived in the apartment had just been released from jail - he'd been there for allegedly stealing from his employer: He took rare books from the Royal Library, Sweden's answer to the Library of Congress.

Our current guest living in the spare bedroom, the crazy music producer who is a firm believer in all kinds of conspiracies, thinks the guy was done in by the people he sold the books to.

"That's what happens when you start dealing with those kind of people," the crazy music producer said. "In a way, you gotta admire them. They just blew the guy up, nice and clean."

There's something Jasper Ffordeian about the whole thing. I guess you just can't trust thugs. Librarians, either, for that matter.

The Swedish word for the day is sprängämne. It means explosives.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

On Saturday, the husband had invited a hunter over for dinner. I don't think I will ever be likely to actually pick up a gun and shoot something, but I've never been against other people hunting, although in Sweden it seems to be associated with the upper classes rather than with men like my mother's brothers, who hunt and are good old boys to the core and of the hardworking farmer class.

So the hunter came, with a hunk of deer, which he cooked and we ate: great big unwieldy slabs of venison, with black currant jelly, and mushroom sauce with port and cream, and brussels sprouts, and lots of red wine. I felt manly, even though I hadn't shot dinner myself. Manly, and then uncommonly full.

But what do you do with the leftovers? Bambi tetrazzini doesn't seem right, somehow.

The Swedish word for the day is viltkött, which means game.

- by Francis S.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Someone has decided that the little statue of an adolescent girl on Karlavägen must have been cold. They've given her a coat. I have no picture, but you'll just have to take my word for it that she looks all warm and snug now. Giving statues clothes is apparently a Stockholm thing.

(Walking to work has endowed me with a statue fetish, it seems. I guess it makes sense, since I must walk past some 15 statues during the 30-minute walk.)

The Swedish words for the day are halsduk and vantar. They mean scarf and mittens.

- by Francis S.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Every Friday is clinking green bag day in Sweden. Green being the color of bags used by the state liquor monopoly, the clinking being the bottles in the bag. And I've certainly done my part today, joining what looks to be about 25 percent of the adult population.

Now, off to a dinner party.

The Swedish word for the day is vinet. It means the wine.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Getting myself into the Christmas spirit means having reindeer and chantarelle mushroom lasagne for lunch. (It's just like celebrating Easter with a traditional seafood and bunny rabbit paella.)

But the real meaning of the season came to me some four hours later as I waited for the No. 42 bus.

The small girl wreaking havoc next to me began to sing, to the tune of "Jingle Bells," something that sounded suspiciously like djungel bajs (which would be jungle poo). Then she switched to "Deck the Halls" but all I caught was the word fröken, which means miss and is what small children call their female teachers, further confirming my growing suspicion that she was singing Swedish versions of all those charming traditional Christmas carols we sang as children: "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells" and "Deck the Halls with Gasoline" and "We Three Kings of Orient Are, Smoking on a Rubber Cigar" and "Joy to the World, the Teacher's Dead."

Then her mother told her to shut up.

The Swedish phrase for the day is fy på dig! Which is what the little girl's mother said when the little girl pushed her sister into the bicycle racks after her mother told her to shut up. It means shame on you!

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Truman Capote was a peculiar character, with his carefully cultivated bitchiness, his social striving and success and failure, and his superb writing - In Cold Blood continues to have a huge influence on everything from reporting to books to television.

Someone has unearthed a full manuscript of Capote's long-lost first novel, now available to anyone willing to pay an estimated $60,000-$80,000 to Sotheby's.

The Swedish word for the day is brott. It means crime.

- by Francis S.