Saturday, December 31, 2005

Somewhere in the far north of Sweden, between Kalix and Boden, lies a lake ringed with hills, an abandoned sanatorium on one side, train tracks on the other, in a deep forest of pine trees heavy with snow.

If you are going to ice fish here, you come down a long road and park next to the sanatorium, which supposedly was sold to some Norwegians for 200,000 kronor a couple of years ago for them to turn into a spa, although there is some debate as to whether this is true; regardless, it remains empty.

From there, you walk past the sanitorium and beside the huge yellow villa - all verandas and fretwork and bay windows - and on down to the frozen water, where someone has made a path on the ice.

After a good half a kilometer's walk, you end up at a little shelter with a roaring fire burning beside it, and three guys drilling holes out on the ice, waiting for you to come and fish.

They give you a fishing reel and a couple of nasty pink maggots for you to spear on a hook and then plunge into the hole they've drilled for you. And you stand and fish, and it's minus 20 degrees celsius, though it doesn't feel it, and one of them talks to you with the thickest northern accent you've ever encountered (the worst is that somehow L becomes an R, which no one seems to believe me when I tell them, it took me a good 15 minutes to convince A., the TV producer, that this might possibly be true).

Then, suddenly, the former football star pukes violently, and the husband is complaining that his feet have frozen dangerously, and half of the group leaves in a hurry.

But you remain on the ice, failing to catch a fish but watching the northern winter sky, a curious pale eggshell blue that is at that moment the most beautiful color you've ever seen, but delicate, and the train goes past in the distance, and the trees are black green under all that white, and you think that winter could hardly be more romantic and how much you like the cold and ice and snow.

On the way back, you stop in and have coffee and cake and cookies and cloudberries at the house of a friend of the family who set the whole fishing thing up, and someone calls and asks about the football player, and when you get back in the car to go to Kalix, A. tells you that all of Kalix and Boden and Töre will be talking for decades about the time when the football star and the Spaniard - the husband, that would be - and the rest of the Stockholmers went fishing on the lake.

The Swedish word for the day is årsskiftet. It means the turning of the year.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Ghost of Christmas Present is on my ass, and I don't know what I've done to deserve the persecution. After the frantic buying of presents, the days of frantic packing at work because we're moving offices, on top of trying to get all my work done to get ready for the long holiday, I'm actually enjoying myself at the office Christmas party strategically planned the day before we get up at the crack of ass to take a jet plane up to the far northern reaches of Sweden. I'm on my, oh, fifth beer or so, thinking about whether to dance a little before I leave, when the husband calls.

"The Christmas tree has fallen, and all the ornaments are smashed and the water has ruined the dining room floor," he tells me. "I just got home." It's 10:30 p.m., how could he have just gotten home? He was supposed to have been finished hours ago.

I'm leaving now, I told him. And so I left, thinking to myself on the No. 4 bus that he was just joking.

But no, when I get home, it's all shards of colored glass and pine needles, it's after 11:00, we haven't even wrapped the presents, done the laundry or packed.

A sadness settled deep into my chest, but I didn't say anything.

Now, it's 6:45 a.m., I've got a headache and in about 15 minutes we leave for a place even darker than here to celebrate, and I'm silently begging the Ghost to be gentle, because I'm feeling about as fragile as one of those ancient ornaments lying in the trash bin under the kitchen sink right now.

So, well, Merry Christmas, eh?

The Swedish word for the day, which usually pops up this time of year, is Jul. It means Christmas.

- by Francis S.

Monday, December 12, 2005

While it is not true, contrary to popular opinion, that polar bears prowl the streets of Stockholm, it is true that Swedes eat reindeer. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolf, cooked in a delicious stew with chantarelle mushrooms and cream, served with lingonberries and potatoes. Quite tasty, and oh, so seasonal. Which is what A., the TV producer fixed last night for me and the husband, preparing us for our upcoming Christmas trip to the far north of Sweden. Except the husband didn't come, he was in a foul mood and chose to stay home. So the three of us, A., me and C., the fashion photographer sat and yakked it up about Christianity, soccer and Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize speech, which was quite a hit over here.

Then, after we'd cleared away the dishes, A. cried, "I've got to show you something!"

It was a comic book. Rocky. Not Rocket J. Squirrel, but a daily strip that runs in the No. 1 Swedish newspaper, a thinly veiled autobiographical strip starring a slacker dog and his slacker rat, crocodile and other strange animal friends and enemies. It is, without a doubt, damn funny.

"Read this!" she said.

It was a strip in which Rocky was on an airplane going to Malaysia to meet his girlfriend (slackers who become popular comic strip artists may still be slackers, but they have plenty of money to fly first class) and behind him a TV personality appears, exclaiming about the champagne and signing autographs, to which Rocky says she can sign his ass. Then an even more annoying TV personality shows up.

It was, well, sort of funny to see the TV personality as a silicon-enhanced bimbo dog, but...

"No, no, you don't understand, that really happened, I was on that plane on the way to Malaysia! I was there! That was when we were doing the show in Kuala Lumpur!"

When she read it, A. was at first horrified that she would appear in the next frame, but then when she didn't appear, she was terribly disappointed.

"I could have been immortalized as a Rocky comic character! Damn, how come he didn't put me in, too?"

The Swedish word for the day is tecknad serie. It means comic strip.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Librarians are apparently the latest threat to American security. At least that's the current thinking going around the FBI these days:

"While radical militant librarians kick us around, true terrorists benefit from [the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review's] failure to let us use the tools given to us." This comes from an anonymous FBI e-mail that the Electronic Privacy Information Center sued to get, and then handed over to the New York Times.

I guess patriotic Americans everywhere now need to be on the lookout for radical militant librarians. I wonder if old Mrs. Conten qualifies, the librarian at the tiny library in Franklin, Michigan who gave my brothers and sister and I each a present when we moved away when I was in the second grade.

I'm sure the Department of Homeland Security has a form for reporting on suspicious radical militant librarian behavior. If it doesn't, perhaps someone should suggest creating one.

The Swedish word for the day is bibliotekarie, which is a bear of a word to pronounce for some reason (it sounds something like bib-lee-oh-teck-CAR-ee-eh, that last syllable a schwa that almost disappears). It means librarian, of course.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Poor Condoleezza Rice. It looks like the White House has left her out to dry. No one on this side of the Atlantic seems to be very convinced by all her awkwardly presented but very carefully crafted statements about the U.S. being against torture. Of course she's awkward! Because while she blathers on, Dick Cheney is lobbying Congress to exempt the CIA from the ban on torture that John McCain is sponsoring in the Senate.

Exactly how stupid does the White House think we are?

As usual, I can't possibly express the depth of my disgust.

The Swedish word for the day is bekymmer. It means worry.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Living in this land of extremes brings out the biology in me. Meaning that when the sun goes down at 14:51, I want to go down with it, just curl up in my nice cozy bed and sleep until it rises again at 8:30.

Winter must've been hell here before electric lights. I guess everyone spent most of their time sleeping.

The Swedish phrase for the day is sparka honom på smalbenen! It means kick him in the shins!

- by Francis S.

Monday, November 28, 2005

There's nothing revolutionary about love, or family. Even gay families. Yet there are so few of us, and so many who would stop or dismantle us, that our family is a marvel, a tribute to love's persistence. To love's permanence. To tomorrow.

Aaron and Keith have adopted their son, they are officially and legally fathers, incontestably in 21 states (incontestably that is with a bit of contortion and hoop-jumping, of course). I wonder if this means they won't be travelling as a family to the remaining 29 states?

We drank a toast to them with Bellini cocktails in the Blue Hall, Sweden's most beautiful people in a mad swirl around us. "To Aaron and Keith and Jeremiah," we said, our glasses touching briefly. "To love."

Now it's your turn. Go ahead, drink a toast to Aaron and Keith and Jeremiah.

The Swedish words for the day are familj, which means family and värderingar, which means values. I've never actually heard anyone use these two words in the same sentence here.

- by Francis S.

Friday, November 25, 2005

For those of you who, like all of us here in Sweden, missed out yesterday on Thanksgiving: a carbonated replacement.

(According to the Village Voice, it's not very tasty, surprisingly.)

The Swedish word for the day is annandag, and means the day after, as in the day after Thanksgiving.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Moments after we'd dragged ourselves home from the controversial great big extravaganza party fashion show anniversary event thing in the Blue Hall, where they hold the Nobel Prize dinner, we couldn't resist reliving the whole experience for the benefit of our guests visiting from the other side of the Atlantic.

"How was it?!?" crowed the soon-to-be massage therapist.

All the beautiful people of Stockholm and me, I said, rushing to get out of my too-tight suit, the husband ahead of me, shedding clothes down the back hall as he went.

Then I tried to describe why a runway show is so dizzyingly, eye-wateringly, breathtakingly electric, and I couldn't explain why I found it so compelling. (Of course I found it thrilling no doubt because, well, it's the only runway show I've ever seen.)

So the husband demonstrated, first with the sashaying walk of the best of the six-foot tall girls in their six-inch sandals and then with the cold throwaway looks of the chiseled boys, parading up and down the living and dining rooms, his compact frame and four-day beard making it look all too ridiculous and causing us to roll around on the sofa laughing helplessly.

But it really is fabulous, I said. My favorite part was seeing I., long since retired from modelling, up on the stage and the only one of the 50 or so models comfortable enough to really laugh on the catwalk.

As for the reception, the husband and C., the fashion photographer and A., the TV producer were all in their element: the fashion mafia of Sweden. Of course there was a liberal sprinkling of B celebrities, wives of rich men, and minor royalty, but really the place was mostly a swarm of fashionistas.

Which made me wonder, as I sometimes do when life seems like a dream I'll wake up from: How did I get here?

The Swedish word for the day is verkligen. It means truly.

- by Francis S.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Every time I think I'm getting my writing momentum back, I backslide. And there's been so much to write about: Some 800 people from all over Sweden, dressed to the nines, hair so very worked up you could cut your cheeks walking through the crowd if you weren't careful and my own husband standing up in front of them for three hours handing out awards and working through a long script of patter, changing clothes three times and looking so very mod and so very handsome and making it impossible for me to stop smiling out of sheer pride that he's my husband. The totally unrelated party afterwards at Lydmar, us feeling terribly out of place in our suits among a bunch of arty bohemian-type Londoners and New Yorkers. There was the lamb that the husband spent three hours cutting up (no head or innards, thank God.) The baby grand piano that we bought so that I can play Brahms intermezzos and Chopin waltzes and Bach preludes and Scarlatti sonatas to my heart's content. The guests who are arriving tomorrow from America. And friends suddenly starting their own blogs.

So much happening, so little time to write.

The Swedish word for the day is upptagen. It means busy.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Living here in this chilly and dark Swedish-speaking paradise, I sometimes miss the latest cultural hoo-ha in America. For instance, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I got an e-mail from my favorite Finn that casually dropped the phrase "eats, shoots & leaves," which briefly flummoxed me. But I was promptly distracted by something inconsequential and forgot about it.

Until yesterday, when I came across the phrase again. This time I found out that it was a book of rants by some grammar fascist and it came out a year ago at least. Far more interesting, I ended up reading a review of the book by Louis Menand from the New Yorker, in which he points out many errors made by the grammar fascist, and notes that Americans are more rigid about punctuation than the British. Which isn't surprising: I suspect that the colonized (hard to think of the U.S. as the colonized), in an attempt to counteract their sense of inferiority to the mother country (this would be England, which America still feels inferior to when it comes to anything cultural), tend to point to rules with nasty wagging fingers, and do their best to codify, mummify and worship the language (or other cultural elements, artefacts, what have you), sometimes stupidly, sometimes not so stupidly.

But what I liked best about the review was that it careened all over the place, and ended up talking about the importance of the voice in writing, the difficulty of describing what voice is, and the fear that writers have of losing it. He also mentioned the disappointment of readers meeting a favorite writer, whose actual voice just can't live up to the writing.

All of which made me wonder about this day and age where people like you and I have our own written voices with our own tiny audiences, some of whom inevitably we end up meeting.

Exactly how disappointed must people be when they meet me in the flesh?

The Swedish phrase for the day is hemskt besviken. It means horribly disappointed.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Paris is burning, I thought to myself on the No. 42 bus on my way to work.

It was a great movie, Paris is Burning. Periodically, I would look for it, but my research always came down to "not available." When I saw it the first time - I think it was in Rochester, New York - it cut to the bone somehow, inspiring such a complex tangle of feelings: delight, sorrow, anger, frustration. And it instilled in me tremendous respect for the bravery of drag queens.

But, oddly coincidental, it seems with Paris really burning, at long last things have changed and you can now see Paris is Burning on DVD at last.

I'm gonna buy me one.

The Swedish word for the day is djärv. It means bold, audacious, daring.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I used to think that mainline protestant churches in the U.S., once they'd lost significant power over people's lives, finally became what they should have been all along: benificent institutions existing to actually make people's lives better. I have even been known to defend these so-called Christian denominations.

Then they go and make me look stupid.

The United Methodist Church, a church with a tagline - "Open hearts. Open Minds. Open doors." - just voted to reinstate a minister who was suspended for not allowing a gay man to become a member because the man was gay and had no desire to change.

I guess I'm not welcome by the Methodists.

Apparently "open doors" refers strictly to exit doors in the Methodist church. I have no idea what the "open hearts" and "open minds" could possibly be referring to, however.

It's almost enough to shake my faith. It's also definitely enough to make me wonder if I've been wrong in thinking that churches have lost much of their power: It's hard not to feel that right-wing churches are doing a damn good job of turning the U.S. into some kind of bizarre theocracy, wherein religion has risen to play a major role in deciding public policy.

What I want to know is, what would a state church look like in the U.S.?

The Swedish word for the day is stängd. It means closed.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

"Oh, I forgot to tell you," the husband said casually over dinner with A., the TV producer and C., the fashion photographer. "I bought a lamb."

Not some lamb, or even lamb. A lamb.

"It's organic," he said. "It's coming next weekend. You guys get half and we'll keep the other half. Although we need to get someone to cut it up for us, or maybe we can do it ourselves."

No, I said, we can not cut it up ourselves.

A. protested, saying they had no room for it.

I myself was thinking about a freezer full of lamb brains, stomach, kidneys, liver and pancreas. Somehow, the idea of making my own haggis has never appealed to me, and I've never particularly liked leg of lamb, it's a bit too woolly for my taste. But I could see visions of lambchops and tagines dancing in the husband's head. Which immediately brought to mind a dancing lamb's head. Surely they won't give us the head...

Ecce agnus, goddamit?

I guess I'm living under delusions of gastronomic grandeur: I'm a meat sissy, when push comes to shove.

The Swedish word for the day is tjänst. It means service.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Each night, after dinner, my father went downstairs to his workbench to build birdhouses, which he fashioned from scraps of wood left over from pine-paneling our basement. He was a connoisseur of birdhouses, my mother said.

Those are the first sentences of Mother of Sorrows. It's a string of pearls, that book. Read it, and tell Richard McCann how much you love it.

The Swedish word for the day is hjärtat. It means the heart.

- by Francis S.

Friday, October 28, 2005

When I was a little kid, it was always the college kids who were protesting things: the Vietnam War, mostly. Of course, I did a bit of protesting myself when I was in college and afterwards - about issues like abortion rights, gay rights, that kind of stuff.

It's strange how things have changed.

Now it seems that it's old people doing the protesting: My 71-year-old parents are driving down from Chicago to Fort Benning, Georgia in November to protest against the School of the Americas, the States' own training school for, um, "enemy combatants."

When I grow up, I want to be just like my parents.

Well, maybe not just like them. But I have such admiration for the way they live out their beliefs: They spend most of their time helping people who need help. Tutoring poor kids. Volunteering at a shelter. Building a Habitat for Humanity house (actually, my dad is in charge of his second house). Teaching teachers what it means to be sensitive about gay issues in school.

If people ask me what's good about America, I should tell them: my parents.

The Swedish noun for the day is en troende. It means a believer.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Whoa. Researchers are apparently concerned that sex in space could cause conflicts on a mission to Mars.

I wonder how they ever came to such a conclusion.

Apparently crews in space stations "often pair up in 'bachelor marriages' that last the length of their stay" the article from New Scientist contends. Medical anthropologist Lawrence Palinkas says "if there are instances of sexual conflict or infidelity, that may lead to a breakdown in crew functioning."

On the other hand, sex or masturbation could help alleviate boredom and anxiety on the long, lonely journeys through space, according to Carol Rinkleib Ellison, a pyschologist.

"Bachelor marriages," masturbation, sexual conflict?

I thought space travel was all about being macho and outwitting devious computers, saving the planet and eating freeze-dried ice cream from a straw.

Where do I sign up?

The Swedish word for the day is rymdskepp. It means spaceship.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

So I'm back from Budapest and I've got stage fright.

The problem is, I got my name in the paper, and now I'm scared to write anything, um, pointed about Swedish travel habits, on account of the thousands of Swedes that are suddenly reading this.

Do I dare mention that Swedes, who are a well-travelled people on the whole, are surprisingly squeamish about dirt (and sometimes don't seem to realize that what may at first glance look like dirt is merely age), and are unnecessarily picky about their food and wine (even though most actually don't really know a good wine from a bad one... not that I know any better myself)?

Still, they are hellbent on having a good time, and usually succeed. I can't come close to keeping up with the drinking and dancing into the wee hours, three days in a row. Especially when I'm suffering from the tail end of a nasty flu.

Sadly, the old Turkish baths in Budapest that I wanted to go to were being renovated, so I ended up going to the Gellert baths to cure my aching lungs.

(Coming back into Stockholm on the airport train, I noticed that they've changed the message that comes on over the loudspeakers as the train approachs Centralstation - it was a welcome from, god help us, Swedish personality and grade B-celebrity, boxer and "politician" Paolo Roberto. Strange, that.)

The Swedish word for the day is kändisar. It means celebrities.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Off to Budapest, to the Turkish baths. Back on Monday.

The Swedish word for the day is Östeuropa. It means Eastern Europe.

- by Francis S.

Friday, October 14, 2005

They've turned off the water and drained the fountain in Karlaplan, a sure sign that autumn not only isn't going away, but winter will soon be here.

I've always been rather fond of autumn: By virtue of its being the season in which a new school year starts, it seems much more about new beginnings to me than spring, which is supposed to be the season of starting afresh. But spring, my least favorite time of year, is unpredictable and, inevitably, disappointing and raw and rangy and trying way too hard to convince everyone that it is what it isn't: summer.

But autumn doesn't pretend to be anything but what it is: a grand letting go, no longer bothering with keeping up appearances. It's the second-chance season, when you've got a lot more confidence because you're wiser and older and you've no expectations to be dashed, like you had for spring and summer.

The Swedish word for the day is höstlik. It means autumnal.

- by Francis S.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The priest asked me yesterday after dinner: "So, what are you thinking about children these days?"

I told her:

On the No. 42 bus, which seems to be the setting for all the drama in my life these days, I watched a father - long scruffy hair, mutton-chop whiskers, very hip and young - with his two children. They got on the bus, and he stood with the baby in its pram in the middle where there are special slots for strollers and prams, while his daughter, probably four, ran and sat in the back of the bus.

Just as they were nearing their stop, the father called out to the little girl: "I never said you could open that!"

Which didn't come anywhere near stopping her from continuing to open the plastic bag she had in her hand.

I couldn't see what it was she was opening, exactly, but after they got off the bus, I craned my neck and watched as he knelt down in front of her, looking very serious, face to face, saying something about obedience, no doubt. She, however, was not in the least bit serious. She was, in fact, gleeful as only a four-year-old can be.

Looking at them, I felt a pang of envy, so sharp it almost made me cry.

That was what I told the priest I was thinking about children these days.

The question is, do all of you parents romanticize my childless state the way I romanticize parenthood?

The Swedish word for the day is manick. It means thingamajig.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Walking past Johannesplan, my ear was caught by faint voices, a choir singing, of all things, "Soon ah will be done with the troubles of the world." Tucked away up behind downtown, the square is really just the churchyard for the vast red brick Church of St. John, from which it was reasonable to assume the sound was coming from.

My hearing is wretched - I'll be quite deaf by the time I make it to 70, if I'm lucky enough to live that long - but I was once a choirboy with a fierce soprano but terrible breath control, and I have no doubt that despite my impending deafness, I can pick out a choir a mile away.

Sure enough, when I poked my head in the door, there was a small group up at the altar, voices clear, the basses singing out "I want to meet my mother" with a faint Swedish accent. Strange, that. But sublime.

Then they moved on to a Mozart litany (or was it vespers?), and I left.

The Swedish word for the day is änglar. It means angels.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

British composer Edward Jessen on transcribing laughter into musical notation:

Unlike speech, which generally has a decipherable pitch, laughter seemed to be ecstatic, more like the sound of forced air and involuntary pitchless spasms. Therefore, with each example of laughter I resolved to take impressions of the vowels, the speeds, and curvature in the way that a court artist might quickly sketch a villain during a big murder trial - not the deepest likeness, yet not unrecognizable either.

from Cabinet magazine, issue 17

All trills and triplets and glissandi, Jessen has scored vigorous baby giggles, a dirty titter, a rising cackle, a short, disingenuous male chortle and a forced party laugh (among others) so that you, too, can perform them.

The Swedish verb for the day is att le. It means to smile.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

What is it that Swedes have against normal can openers? Why does the husband insist on using one of those horrible instruments of torture masquerading as can openers, with a sharp point on one end and a vague "hand grip" on the other that requires one to first jab a hole in the can, and then hack one's way viciously, jaggedly round the top (it is so primitive that I can't even find a picture of it!)?

I used to think that people here were unaware that some 135 years ago, someone invented a new kind of can opener wherein the can is punctured by pulling the grips of the opener together, then while holding the grips together, a set of toothed wheels open the can with a twist of the handle.

But then I bought a real can opener, and at some point, the husband actually threw it away, claiming "it didn't work."

I'm off to Munich to cover a conference and hang out in beer gardens drinking, um, beer for a few days.

The Swedish word for the day is uppfinnare. It means inventor.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Members of the Army Reserves and the National Guard who inform their commanders that they are gay are routinely converted into active duty status and sent to the Iraq war and other high priority military assignments, according to a spokesperson for an Army command charged with deploying troops.

- The Washington Blade

Wait a second... uh, I thought that soldiers who are known great big homos caused morale problems and ruined unit cohesion? How silly of me, apparently this is true only in non-combat situations! I guess I have a lot to learn about U.S. military tactics.

The Swedish word for the day is dubbelmoralisk. It means hypocritical.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Walking home from a dinner of tapas - something I haven't had in years, all swimming in oil and garlic - with the husband along with A., the TV producer and C., the fashion photographer, we were sucked into a video arcade on Surbrunnsgatan.

Or rather A. dragged us in.

"This is so much fun," she yelled, pointing at a bizarre Japanese contraption that stood in the window. "We have to play. You have to do it!" she said forcefully, ripping off her jacket and sweater and tossing them in a heap on the floor, the rest of us following suit.

So, we took turns in pairs competing against one another, trying to move our feet in time to arrows on a screen, stepping and hopping and tapping front, back and side to horrible synthed-up versions of mostly already horrible songs blaring from the speakers, A. letting loose with joyous shrieks from time to time.

People out on the street watched incredulously through the window, laughing at us making fools of ourselves.

How could something so silly be so incredibly enjoyable?

A. won, natch. Then we left after a couple of rounds, sweating like pigs.

The Swedish word for the day is upplivad. It means exhilirated.

- by Francis S.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Life's most unappreciated pleasures are, undoubtedly, the gaps between things.

The table just before dinner, for instance, cutlery in place, glasses full of some cheap white wine, plates empty, napkins in their rings, a bowl of steaming pasta, the bread cut roughly in a basket, a hunk of parmesan sitting next to a cheese grater, everything intact and waiting to be consumed.

Or the break after the Laudamus Te, the reverberation of the mezzo soprano and the violin dying in the vastness of the church, the roar of the Gratias Agimus Tibi not yet started, the audience holding its breath, someone coughing in a row in the back, a few feet shuffling somewhere, the orchestra ready, the choir waiting for the signal to stand, the tension of those few seconds of anticipation: your senses still vibrating from the previous but anticipating the next is a small ecstasy.

Or travelling, the paradox that the journey is almost more satisfying than the destination itself, because to begin a trip is to end a trip, and the ride beforehand is instead delicious prologue with no expectations to be dashed or sorrow that the time had passed so quickly.

On the train to Västerås this morning, on my way to a day of meetings, I noticed that autumn has just licked a single bough in each of several trees, like locks of hair, turning the leaves a most vivid red. When I ride the train, I can't concentrate on anything but looking out the window, no matter how many times I've seen the same scenery pass.

Hail to the in-between; mind the gap.

The Swedish word for the day is paus. It means pause or intermission.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Who would have thought it? The hunter-gatherer instinct runs deep in me.

Today we bought a pair of drawings by Lars Arrhenius, best known for his funny, vaguely sinister "Transport for London - A-Z" map of the London Underground. I'd come upon the drawings at a gallery in my desperation to (unsuccessfully) buy a painting by another lesser-known Swedish artist. The drawings were a consolation prize, a naked man and woman who could be some kind of 21st century European version of ancient Egyption art, all sharp outlines and profiles. At this moment, they are looking at each other behind my back on the wall of the study.

Adam and Eve, I like to think of them.

Despite the husband's conviction that it is a sound investment, I know that art is only worth what people are willing to pay for it, and fashions come and go. It's not like real estate.

But, I like the Adam and Eve as if I'd made them myself, as if they were my flat little paper children.

On second thought, is this more about a frustrated paternal instinct than about hunting and gathering?


The Swedish word for the day is skapelseberättelsen. It means the creation story.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I always thought that asteroids and trans-Neptunian objects were just plain old asteroids and trans-Neptunian objects. But it turns out they're actually minor planets.

And here, all these years, I was under the impression that earth was a minor planet.

The Swedish word for the day is solsystem. It means solar system.

- by Francis S.

Monday, September 05, 2005

...the federal government's lethal ineptitude wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn't forthcoming?

Paul Krugman, the New York Times

This really gets to the kernel of what is wrong with America: Americans have been tricked into thinking that the government shouldn't exist to protect their interests.

The Swedish word for the day is bestörtning. It means dismay.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The fact is, I'm an ungrateful bastard, not to mention a terrible music snob.

I should've appreciated the fact that the girlfriend of our former badboy boarder invited me to go hear Luciano Pavarotti sing in Stockholm's big arena. And, well, I did appreciate going with her and getting envious looks from every man we passed - she's maybe an inch taller than I am, but her legs stop somewhere above my waist, and in her spike heels, she towered over me, ravishingly beautiful. (I used to be ashamed of the deep satisfaction I get from those looks of envy when I'm out with someone like the badboy boarder's girlfriend, or A., the TV producer, who was a model in Paris and turns heads wherever she goes; but, long ago, when I was briefly in therapy, my therapist questioned why I should feel guilty about getting satisfaction out feeling that people would think that I was a flaming hetero, and so, with effort, I just let myself enjoy it. No doubt, my sister-in-law would say there's something sexist about this. I don't give a damn. But, I digress.)

As I sat among the crowd, all I could think was that this was not my thing: Luciano, propped up like a doll, eyebrows painted and looking like a fat Dirk Bogarde playing Gustav von Aschenbach, his voice devoid of nuance, the orchestra lacking warmth and humanity (that's what happens when it's amplified in an arena like that), gooey Italian aria after gooey Italian aria belted out like chocolate howitzers rolling down a conveyer belt. And the soprano with him, a good 30-40 years younger than him, wasn't all that much better - too much vibrato and not enough precision for my taste. When I hear someone sing, I want it to be warm and human and full of emotion, but so exact that I can visualize the score in my head, right down to the portimento.

Still, I was touched when the man sitting next to me and his long-haired, baggy-pantsed, pimply teenaged son hugged each other rapturously when Pavarotti announced at the end that he would sing the Brindisi from La Traviata, with the audience singing the chorus.

The Swedish word for the day is uppstoppad. It means stuffed.

- by Francis S.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Whenever Swedes talk about America, they always say that New York is not America. But I always tell them, oh yes, it is in fact. New York is America, and so is Boston and Atlanta and Los Angeles and Chicago and Council Bluffs, Iowa and Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

I used to make one exception to this, even if I no longer believe it to be true exactly: New Orleans, that crazy mish-mash of a drunken beautiful mess of a city. My former mother-in-law's family was originally from New Orleans, and her thick and rich as crème anglaise upper-class southern accent (which her sons, growing up in Atlanta in the 1950s and 1960s never acquired; one deliberately dropped his southern accent completely, the other had a more standard-issue generic Atlanta accent) comes to mind. I've only been to New Orleans once, nearly 20 years ago, but I loved the way the city showed its age, beautiful like an old woman who has never had plastic surgery, as compared to the stiffer charms of a place like Georgetown in Washington, where everything's carefully preserved and renovated to the point of preciousness, kind of like, um, Cher, only 150 years older.

I cannot believe that New Orleans is all but gone. All those poor, poor people.

(Those fortunate enough to make it to Houston to the Astrodome, according to the New York Times, are able to get all they need to fulfil their basic human needs: a T-shirt, a slice of pizza and a Bible. A Bible? I think I'm gonna spit up.)

The Swedish verb for the day is att beklaga. It means to be saddened by or sorry for, as in the emotions one has over the death of someone who meant something to one.

- by Francis S.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Last weekend, as we were preparing for a dinner (it was a 40th birthday party, and birthdays with round numbers like 30 and 40 and 50 are a big deal here) in which we were required to wear white, the rest of the household was preparing for a completely different birthday party, which required them to wear costumes, very Marie Antoinette, with all kinds of lace and ribbons and velvet and brocade.

A., the TV producer and her sister sat at the kitchen table, and for the first time since I was a small boy, I watched the elaborate ritual of applying makeup: brushes and puffs and sticks and powder and lipstick, layers and lines and careful blending.

I was absolutely enthralled.

I think if I were more inclined to liking women, I would be in danger of having a fetish involving watching women with their cosmetics.

The Swedish word for the day is smink. It means makeup.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

One of the odd things about being born into the world's great tribe of homosexuals is that unlike other tribes, the rest of your family aren't likely to be members.

A second thing is that, technically, there's nothing like skin color or physical characteristics that make one instantly visible as a homosexual. Which is not to say that some people aren't rather easy to peg, given one has any kind of reasonably good gaydar, which any self-respecting homosexualist has.

But, these two facts do mean that those of us who belong to the tribe are, in a way, always searching for the rest of the tribe. As I sat, having dinner on Tuesday with a collection of business people (my clients) at a manor house in the middle of nowhere in the forests of Sweden, I wasn't surprised when the Dutch guy sitting next to me at dinner, during a conversation about racism, divulged matter-of-factly that he was gay. It was said, no doubt, as part of the whole tribe-searching bit that we all go through.

However, in a fit of perversion and, no doubt, cowardice, I did not respond in kind. I felt too exposed in front of people I know only very superficially.

It was a cowardly thing to do. The only way this old world will change is if people are forthcoming about such things, and in full view of whoever happens to be near. And I felt like I was leaving him in the lurch, as I have no doubt he expected me to say "I am gay as well."

I am shamed. I am a schlub and, I suppose, a hypocrite in one way or another.

The Swedish word for the day is mantalsskrivningsförrättningarna, at the request of a certain Christian Bolgen, who thinks it is time that I focus on some of the many peculiar portmanteau words of the Swedish language. It means something like the residential registration (for census purposes) official duties, as far as I can tell.

- by Francis S.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Swedish food is nothing to write home about. It's hard to muster enthusiasm for pickled herring and hard bread.

There are exceptions, of course, such as the sweetest wild strawberries and the earthiest tender new potatoes.

And crayfish.

The crayfish season has just begun. The Swedes honor crayfish by hosting parties where heaping platters of fish are consumed, washed down with beer and schnapps. It's my favorite Swedish food, and I don't even mind the little cuts you get all over your fingers in your greed to open the little bastards up to ruthlessly get at the tails.

Tonight, it's crayfish for us, out in the southern suburbs of Stockholm, close to the water somewhere.

The Swedish word for the day is kräftskiva, which means crayfish party.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Excerpt from an unfinishable novel:

...Boodles first met Chumley at the Brooke Boulevard Athletic and Spiritual Club.

He had woken up thinking it was a Wednesday, and rushed in at 7 a.m. to meet his personal trainer, Lorena, only to find that she was raging at a skinny and quivering man with great cow eyes, who was neither pulling on the various chains and weights in proper order, nor saying the appropriate combination of benedictions and confessions.

"There but for the grace of -" Boodles thought, ashamed and hopelessly aroused at the man's pathetic groveling, wondering who the poor bastard was. Then Boodles suddenly remembered, with a queasy feeling, a meeting he was to have later that day with his boss and realized that it was a Tuesday and not a Wednesday.

Up to that moment, Lorena hadn't seen him, but in an eyeblink, it was too late. She had grabbed him by the hair and strapped him into one of the machines, screaming the whole while in a barely coherent fashion that he better start saying his prayers.

"I believe in one God..." Boodles began wretchedly.

He would have to pay extra for this, and come in the next day as well. He couldn't afford to pay for the training as it was - he'd given up heat and hot water in his apartment to cover the cost - and he was way behind on his Mandatory Consumption Quotient on account of he spent all his money on food and, well, Lorena. Worse, he never seemed to get his puffy and pale body into shape, perhaps because he couldn't stop himself from eating to make up for his dead-end job, his inability to form a lasting relationship with a vertebrate or invertebrate of any sort, and the horribleness of Lorena every other day.

Afterwards, Boodles stood in the shower next to Chumley, the two of them trying desperately not to whimper, Boodles rubbing his wrists to try and get some feeling back into his hands, and Chumley wiping at the bloody scrapes on his shins.

"She's real good, Lorena," Chumley said at last, looking at Boodles in the mirrors that were mounted on the walls across from the shower stalls.

"Yeah, sh-sh-she s-s-s-sure is," Boodles said, trying to stop his teeth from chattering.

It was then he saw something in Chumley's eyes, his sad and watery but beautiful eyes, that made Boodles wonder...

The Swedish word for the day is trosbekännelse. It means credo.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Someone has stolen the king's sheep (link in Swedish only, sorry).

Not all the sheep, only some 20 are missing, but the 100 or so who are left are traumatized, according to the court shepherdess (how's that for a title - I'd love to be able to tell people when they ask what I do: "Oh, I'm the court shepherdess.")

I met the king's sheep one morning. I was out at 6:30 a.m. posing for a magazine photo with three other unfortunates, pretending to have a picnic with champagne and strawberries, a la Luncheon on the Grass, although we all kept our clothes on. "Pull in your stomach," the photographer yelled at me as I sprawled, propped up on one elbow, an arm outstretched with a champagne glass, a smile pasted rigidly on my face, looking desperately into the eyes of the man sitting on the blanket across from me.

Not long after, the sheep showed up, herded through the meadow by a manic sheepdog, but not herded fast enough that several of them weren't able to invade our picnic and eat one of our pears.

I wonder if the same sheep that were stolen were the ones who ate the pear?

Someone has stolen the sheep of the king. It sounds like the beginning of a nursery rhyme, doesn't it?

The Swedish word for the day is, of course, får, which means sheep.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Part of my job is to know the difference between British and American spelling, as well as to root out Britishisms (and sometimes Americanisms, which not so surprisingly I'm rather bad at).

The spelling differences are mostly straightforward - o versus ou, z versus s, er versus re. But however did it happen that the British spell it sceptic and the Americans skeptic? Maybe the Americans were influenced by Swedish: skeptiker is how you say it in Swedish.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

I've somehow managed to get knocked from my usual happy orbit.

I blame the United States. I can't seem to recover from the recent two weeks in the Great Midwest. I'm all "What happened to my center of gravity?"

America seems more and more foreign. Those awful star-spangled magnetic ribbon things on the back of all the cars, waiters and waitresses telling you their names, the incredible inequity of the suburban idyll of Oak Park pressed up against poverty-stricken Austen in Chicago. The obvious things. And the less obvious things, like girls in the Meijer saying "I love your hair" to each other, as if there could be a good reason for them to actually love each others' hair and making you wonder if they also love their mothers and their nasty little brothers.

I feel so confused by the strange aura of unquestioning self-assurance that Americans have, which is part of their charm. And no doubt has been part of my charm. But have I lost it?

Sweden seems just as foreign, to be honest. Despite my Swedish passport, I'll never be a Swede, I'll always be an outsider. Which I usually find perfectly comfortable. After all, if one is aware from a fairly young age that one is gay, being an outsider is more than even second nature, it's an elemental ingredient of the self, the preferred status.

Just now, though, I feel out of sorts, rudderless and unsure and old and ugly, wondering what in hell my husband sees in me, and paradoxically, in the grip of a powerful desire to become a father.

I hate this shit.

The Swedish word for the day is oväder. It means inclement weather.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Going east to west is nearly always easier than going west to east.

We're talking what affects jet-lag, here. I'm not sure whether it's age or something else, but I seem to have more trouble adjusting than I used to when I go from west to east: We started out okay, but then we accidentally took a nap from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. yesterday, and couldn't fall asleep for the night until hours after the sun had risen. And now I'm all queasy and caffienated and head-achey. And I'm not ready for vacation to be over. I still feel stuck somewhere midway between cultures, time zones and intelligence quotients.

It's gonna be a helluva night. I'll be lucky if I get three hours of sleep.

The Swedish word for the day is sömnlös. It means sleepless.

- by Francis S.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Back from the fatherland.

Highlights: a week in a cottage on Lake Michigan (which, along with the other four great lakes, is more or less an inland freshwater sea with waves and everything, for those who don't know) with no fights, a great deck hovering on the bluff above the lake, and lots of red meat; the mind-boggling excess of the Meijer - a combination grocery and cheap department store - that is situated somewhere outside North Muskegon, Michigan; making incessant fart and other jokes with my 12-year-old nephew, who is a total goofball and never shuts up, reminding me curiously of, well, me, when I was a kid; dinner under the trees with the cat doctor at a French-bistro-type place in the old Swedish neighborhood of Chicago; dim sum at Phoenix with half the family, my sister-in-law making sure we get only the good stuff and stay away from the chicken feet.

Mostly, though, the visit was about the very low-key feting of my parents, which was the reason we were there in the first place.

As always, it's a revelation to go to America, and a revelation to come back.

The Swedish phrase for the day is hemma bäst. It means home is best.

Francis S.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Walking through lower Observatorielunden, I saw someone has painted on the roof of one of the buildings of the daycare center at the south end of the park:

"They said 'sit down'. I stood up"

Tomorrow, we're off to the Fatherland on the other side of the Atlantic. We'll be back in August.

The Swedish phrase for the day is femtio-års jubileum. It means fiftieth anniversary, which my parents are celebrating with the whole family for the next weeks. To think, my father was 21, my mother only 20 when they got married, and they're still happily married. It's a tough act to follow, but my brothers and sister and I do our best.

- by Francis S.

Monday, July 18, 2005

As we sat, drinking wine on the veranda at the house on Birds Island, celebrating the birthday of A., the TV producer, the physical therapist told a brief story of a man she knows who has an aphasia in which he is able to speak but unable to really make sense, he can only refer to things in terms of his old work life.

She asked him how his wife was, pointing to the ring on her own finger, trying to give him as much help as possible.

"Oh, my subscription?" he answered.

We laughed, of course. But I'm charmed by the idea of my own husband as a subscription that arrives every evening, eagerly awaited and alternately perused lovingly or consumed voraciously.

My husband the lifetime subscription.

The Swedish verb for the day is att prenumerera, which of course means to subscribe.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Aaron asks: "When did you first know?"

I think I probably knew already when I was five, and I couldn't stop myself from looking at an art book of my parents. A photograph of Michelangelo's David made me deliciously out-of-sorts, I wanted to be him and to have him at the same time. No one can tell me that small children aren't sexual beings somehow, which is not to say that adults having sex with children is a good thing.

But it wasn't until I was 14 that I admitted to myself that there was a real future in liking boys. It was all due to reading the book RubyFruit Jungle, which my sister had brought home from the University of Michigan. That book made me see that being gay was, in fact, wonderful and exciting. Not that I went out and announced it to the world. Or to anybody, really. I just said to myself, "This is for me." And despite a bit of dabbling in girls here and there, so to speak, until I was 22 or 23, I've never really looked back.

The Swedish verb for the day is att känna. It means to sense.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Tysta gatan - Quiet Street - is no longer my favorite street name in Stockholm; I've switched my affections to Tre liljor - Three Lilies - which is a little square tucked away up at the end of Norrtullsgatan, close to the old northern entrance to the city (both links in Swedish only, sorry). The name comes from an old hostel that used to stand there. The place, a U-shaped street curving round a small park, is called simply Three Lilies, without the appendage of "street" or "alley" or even "square" or "park."

I would love to be able to tell people when they ask, that I live on Three Lilies.

The husband used to take piano lessons in an apartment on Three Lilies from a man who would rap him on the knuckles with a ruler when he made a mistake. Not surprisingly, the husband never got very far with learning the piano.

(That's four Swedish words in one lesson. A bargain at half the price.)

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

When I first read a story in the New York Times claiming that the U.K. is a hotbed of Islamic terrorism, I thought to myself: Is this schadenfreude or fear or hubris talking? I was rather taken aback by the tone of blame, as if Britain got what it deserved for not curtailing civil rights enough, for not having its own "Patriot Act." Can you imagine how the U.S. would have reacted if British newspapers had written anything similar about the U.S. after Sept. 11?

If I were British, I would be profoundly offended.

(The Guardian certainly has taken note of the story from the New York Times, along with many similar stories in many of the biggest U.S. papers. Perhaps not so strangely, reading the Guardian's news blog post about these stories, the vast majority of the 80 plus comments there when I read it seem to be from Americans who seem hellbent on alienating the citizens of the only significant ally the U.S. has in its occupation of Iraq.)

The Swedish word for the day is offentligt. It means publicly.

- by Francis S.

Monday, July 11, 2005

It's Jehovah with his rank upon rank of heavenly aspirants bent on ramming God's will into the various orifices of the Devil's minions - that would be gays and members of the American Civil Liberties Union - so that said orifices can't be used for anything naughty.

Francis Strand, ranting on and on about gay marriage

For those of you who don't get enough of my bitching here, I've now got a story over in this month's issue of Sigla Magazine.

The Swedish word for the day is hundkäx. Which literally means dog biscuit, but is the Swedish name for wild chervil, and looks to me rather similar to Queen Anne's Lace, although a botanist or my mother and sister, who really know their wildflowers, would no doubt disagree.

- by Francis S.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Okay. I'm doing this only because I promised Sinéad. But, it's the last meme I do. I am unavailable for memework in the future. I'm taking the meme-baton and throwing it into the Baltic.

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be?
A Confederacy of Dunces - only because it would be great fun to do all the voices.
Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Not really. The first time I read it, when I was 10, I wanted to be the children - either Scout or Jem - in To Kill a Mockingbird - that's the closest I've probably gotten to having a crush on a character.
The last book you bought is?
Robertson Davies: The Deptford Trilogy
What are you currently reading?
Robertson Davies: The Deptford Trilogy. Re-reading it, actually. I read it probably 20 years ago, and saw it in the bookstore and thought I'd see if it still holds up. Which it almost does. I'm surprised he's not more widely read still.
Five books you would take to a deserted island
The Tale of Genji - it's so long, and full of color and adventure and eros and elegance and culture, it evokes a world like nothing else.
The Bible - yeah, okay, so a lot of people choose this one, and not because they're religious but because it's got so many great stories and poetry and wise and crazy things in it.
Ulysses - maybe I will finally finish reading it.
Portrait of a Lady - it's engrossing and bears a lot of re-reading without becoming boring; and Henry James is divine, in a fussy kind of way.
William Trevor: The Collected Stories - to have something full of the milk of human kindness (and evil), and a little less daunting to read.

And, I pass this on to no one.

The Swedish word for the day is varelse. It means being, as in a living creature.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Oh, no. Up goes the ratchet.

A.'s little sister and her boyfriend, the ex-football player are here in Sweden just now rather than the U.K. And, we've talked to the friends from London, the photographer and his wife, who are safe. However, we haven't heard back from M., the TV producer.

The Swedish word for the day is attentat. It means attack.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Walking along the Djurgården canal, just below the tiny palace of Rosendal, I heard the metalic buzzing of a propeller plane. Looking up, I saw that it was trailing a banner reading: "Grattis H.H Dalai Lama på 70-årsdagen." Which means "Congratulations to His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his 70th birthday."

There you have it, the Swedish phrase for the day.

What I want to know is, who paid for the sign, and was the Dalai Lama there to see it, or was it someone trying to recreate a sort of if- a- tree- falls- in- the- wood- with- no- one- to- hear- it- does- it- still- make- a- sound kind of thing?

- by Francis S.

Monday, July 04, 2005

This morning, on Karlavägen, that glorious street of ancient ladies, I passed a woman wearing little white crocheted gloves. I am old enough to remember the days when my mother still occasionally wore little white gloves, crocheted or plain, and a hat, and underneath, that most peculiar of garments, a girdle. By the time I was 8 or so, such things had gone out of fashion, and I have no doubt my mother gladly put the gloves and the hats and the girdles away in unused drawers and boxes in the back of the closet.

I think any woman who says she isn't a feminist has forgotten that there was a time when you weren't properly dressed if underneath your dress, you weren't wearing a girdle with all its strange and horrible white fastenings.

The Swedish word for the day is trosor. It means panties.

by Francis S.

Friday, July 01, 2005

I don't really remember what it was like when I first got eyeglasses, in the second grade. But it surely must have been like today, when I picked up my new glasses, with a new stronger prescription: Suddenly, the world is so in focus it's making me queasy. I'm born again, and the new me is seasick. (Strangely, my contact lenses, of which I have run out, have not changed in strength, according to Petra the Optician.)

"They're art director glasses," the husband said to me, approval in his voice. Which means that they are thick black plastic and very beatnik. I leave all my fashion decisions up to the husband, since when I moved to Stockholm I lost the ability to distinguish between what is fashionable, what is hopelessly 1993 and what is ridiculous on a man of, um, 44.

Now, can I make it through the walk home without either stumbling or spitting up?

The Swedish word for the day is glasögon. It means eyeglasses.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

"We were not the first, but I am sure we will not be the last. After us will come many other countries, driven, ladies and gentlemen, by two unstoppable forces: freedom and equality."

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero

First Canada joined the illustrious company of the Netherlands and Belgium. Now Spain, of all places.

I think you can safely say that the Catholic Church is reaping the rewards of its collusion with Franco. It just goes to show you that sometimes the church can be a force for good. Unintentionally, of course.

Go, Spain! Go, the gays!

Wait, that's me...

The Swedish words for the day are Kanada and Spanien. They are, of course, what Swedes call Canada and Spain.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

I wondered how long it would take to come to this: "Military looks to end ban on gay soldiers amid recruiting slump."

When you suddenly can't get anyone else to join up and go get killed in Iraq, it's time to let in The Gays, and let them tell whatever and whoever they want because really they're okay after all.

If you're talking cannon fodder, that is. (I suppose machine gun slash bomb fodder would be more accurate.)

The Swedish word for the day is soldat. It means soldier.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Operation Yellow Elephant.

Do your part. Get a College Republican to enlist.

Brought to you by Jesus' own general, JC Christian.

- by Francis S.
Tomorrow, the Swedish year reaches it highest point: Midsummer Eve. The entire nation sits down, mostly in rainy weather somewhere out in the countryside at a country house painted rusty red, chowing down on pickled herring, new potatoes, hard bread and cheese. And schnapps, lots of schnapps, followed by dancing around a kind of Maypole covered in birch leaves and sporting wreaths of flowers. You are supposed to get drunk, and then waltz to accordian music out on a jetty sometime after midnight, the sun waiting just below the horizon and smudging the edge of the sky a rusty orange. You stagger to bed at 2:30 or so, just as the sun is rising.

We're going out to the archipelago, as usual. I hope that through some miracle it doesn't rain. But I suppose it doesn't matter, we'll have fun whether the sun shines or not.

The Swedish phrase for the day is trevlig midsommar. It means happy midsummer.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Frank's muscular body blocks the sun from my eyes, and I see Nancy standing about ten feet away, examining a rhododendron with the Gorham Buttercup magnifying glass her mother bought her for her birthday. She won't even need to register when she gets married.

Nancy looks up from her sleuthing, glances at me with pity. And more: anger, jealousy, lust. But what she says when she opens her mouth is, "The Countess de Lave has been here. Those are her tracks. See? Only Bugattis have that kind of axle variation on a right turn."

Bullshit, like most of what Nancy says.

Frank is still leaning over me, but his hand is limp. He whispers, "I know, Joe. I know." I breathe him in one more time and he closes the trunk again.


You know who got me into this whole weblog thing? It was the extraordinary Jonno D'Addadario, who mostly edits Fleshbot these days, writing rarely in his blog anymore. Anyway, I read Jonno's blog and I was filled with the same peculiar jealous longing I had when I was five years old and looking at a photograph of Michelangelo's statue of David in one of my parents' art books: I wanted to be him and have him. Well, not exactly, more like I wanted to write like Jonno, and I wanted to actually know him as well.

Anyway, the above parody of a Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew novel was written by Jonno's boyfriend, Richard, proprieter of Sturtle. I read it and I thought: I want to write like that, I want to know him.

The question is, how do you keep your writing so fresh, so funny, so always entertaining, Richard?

The Swedish word for the day is avund. It means envy.

- by Francis S.

Monday, June 20, 2005

"There are those extremists who say that if a gay person were on fire you would burn in hell if you spit on them to put out the fire. But we're not like that. We love the human being. It's the lifestyle we disagree with." Rick Bowers, Defend Maryland Marriage, in the New York Times.

Well, of course God thinks spitting on gay people is a good thing! Rick Bowers and the people of Defend Maryland Marriage do it every day. Metaphorically, at least, since they probably don't get as much opportunity as they'd like to do it literally.

Nothing about this article in the New York Times magazine is in the least bit surprising. Including the citations of Sweden as a hotbed of out-of-wedlock births (will a researcher please look at the number of Swedish children living with both parents, whether married or unmarried, and compare it to the same percentage in the States, pretty please?) and a country where, because of its partnership laws, apparently, marriage has been destroyed.

What I want to know is how many people out there think being gay is bad. Do the majority of Marylanders think it's a good thing that the governor of Maryland vetoed a bill that would have given gay people the right to make medical decisions for their partners? (The reason for the veto, according to the New York Times, was that the bill created a new term - "life partner" - that "could lead to the erosion of the sanctity of traditional marriage.")

I've got to hand it to all these "Christians." They do understand that at heart, this is all about accepting homosexuality as something that may not be the norm, but is a normal part of the range of human behavior, something that their sons and daughters might learn is not shameful and the route to damnation but a part of life, and a good part at that. Sadly, some of these "Christians" are willing to do their own children great harm for the cause, as this poor kid has found out.

The Swedish word for the day is vansinnig. It means crazy.

- by Francis S.

Monday, June 13, 2005

"She would of been a good woman," The Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

I don't know exactly why, but I think that might be my favorite line from a story. Flannery O'Connor, full of grace but so very unsparing, must surely guard the gate to heaven. For those who believe in heaven, that is. Me, I'm not so keen on the whole heaven and hell thing.

Now, go amuse yourselves with something odd, literary and vaguely fun.

The Swedish word for the day is tänder. It means teeth.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Last night, moments after I had just drifted off to sleep, the husband woke me up.

"She took it off," he said.

By "she" he meant the little cat, by "it" he meant the Elizabethan collar she had been fitted with to compensate for her newly removed female parts. Well, not really to compensate, more to prevent her from gnawing the stitches away so that she'd need to have a second operation to fix the first.

For good and, mostly, for bad, the husband can hear a pin drop out on Odenplan, the big open plaza outside our window. Somehow, in his sleep he'd heard that the little cat was doing something she wasn't supposed to.

I grunted.

Unfortunately, her owners and our current lodgers, A., the TV producer and C., the fashion photogapher, were sleeping way out in the far suburbs somewhere, so we felt an obligation to try and get the collar back on her by ourselves.

Thirty minutes, three puncture wounds and four scratches, one dollop of catfood and a bloody towel later, the score was little cat: two; Francis and the husband: zero.

Looking at my sore hand, I wondered about that ancient Internet axiom - "every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten" - and thought to myself that there are simply not enough people fulfilling their onanistic obligations.

At 2 a.m., we called A., who told us she would be right over.

So, the husband and I sat in our bathrobes in the dining room, with the chairs pulled out this way and that, an empty cat dish, and two sleeping cats.

"There's something wrong with that cat," the husband said.

When A. arrived a half hour later, with C. at her heels, she picked up the little cat, sat on a chair, and slipped the collar on without even the smallest bit of protest, not even the tiniest softest miaow.

"Beyotch," the husband said. "You should call her beyotch."

The Swedish word for the day is kattunge. It means kitten.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

A favorite scene from last week's graduation party for the daughter of C., the fashion photographer: Two 17-year-old boys sit next to each other, one of them grabs a camera. "Oh, oh, take a picture of us!" he begs the mother of the other boy. They throw their arms around each other's shoulders. "Oh, oh, with a kiss!" the boy says to his best friend's mother taking the photograph. He kisses his best friend on the cheek. "No, on the lips, on the lips!" the mother says. They kiss rapturously on the lips, even though neither of them has the least sexual interest in each other, or any other boys for that matter. At least as far as I can tell.

This is what happens when your mother's best friends are a pair of dykes, and your father's best friends are a couple of great big homos.

This is what gives the Christian right the heebie-jeebies.

This is what I call progress.

The Swedish word for the day is studenten. It's the word the Swedes use to refer to graduation from gymnasium, and all its attendant festivities.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The lilacs are blooming in the dooryards again. White and pinkish and light purple and deep purple, bushes and hedges and even what could rightly be called trees, the air so perfumed it almost sticks to your insides when you breathe in deeply. I've never seen a place that has such a blessing of lilacs as Stockholm.

The Swedish word for the day is syrener, which means lilacs of course, an easy word to remember if one associates it with the original sirens.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Last week I assigned a story that involved five reporters in five cities (Buenos Aires, Istanbul, London, New York and Tokyo, to be precise), and I asked them to take polaroid pictures as part of the assignment: I wanted the photos to look like they were taken by the same photographer, and all polaroid photos have that same strange underwater look, the colors a bit thick and not quite right, the depth murky. I love the way polaroids look.

But, it turns out that almost no one had polaroid cameras, and they couldn't even find people to borrow them from. Worse, they couldn't even find a polaroid camera to buy.

The polaroid camera is apparently an endangered species, collateral damage from the digital picture boom, no doubt.

Sad, that. I had no idea.

The Swedish word for the day is försvunnit. It means lost.

- by Francis S.

Monday, May 30, 2005

I'm not a meme kind of guy. The problem, though, is that the latest meme-ish stuff requires that the person pass it on. Which is what bustroll did to me. So, being that I have a fear of being a disappointment to anyone, I feel obligated. But, hey, this one is about books, so it's not all bad.

1. Number of books I own: A very rough estimate would put it at about 700, looking at my bookshelves.

3. The last book you bought: Mother of Sorrows, by Richard McCann. Bought a mere half hour ago. I had to order it from Akademibokhandeln, and it just came in over the weekend. Interestingly, it was cheaper to buy it there than it would be to order it online, although I ordered it from the bookstore to encourage them to buy more copies of it.

3. Last book you read: Small Island by Andrea Levy. The 10-word review - bittersweet, sharp, but dislikes some of her characters too much.

4. Five books that mean a lot to you:

    The Diary of Anne Frank. I read it when I was in the fifth grade, and it shook me to the core and opened my eyes to the profound good and evil that exists in this sad little world. I have been unable to make myself read it since.

    Rubyfruit Jungle. My sister brought this home from university when I was 14 or 15. It changed my life in that I realized that being gay was, in fact, a very good thing indeed. I did a book report on it for Mr. O'Neill's freshman English class. I don't remember him batting an eyelash... probably because unbeknownst to me at the time, his daughter, also an English teacher at our high school, had left her husband and shacked up with yet another English teacher at school, who happened to be a woman. Again, I haven't read it since.

    Maurice. Just because I like it. It's one of those books I re-read every year or so. I suppose you could say it's my favorite fairy tale, complete with happy ending.

    A Voice through a Cloud. Denton Welch is vastly unappreciated. He fascinates me. I wish I could write like him.

    Bartlett's Book of Familiar Quotations. My life would be miserable without reference books, and Bartlett's is just kind of an oddball entity, kitsch somehow but engrossing - I can't just pick it up, find what I want and then put it down; I end up reading it for hours.

And I'm supposed to pass this on, so whoever wants it, take it and run.

The Swedish word for the day is böcker. It means books.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Ten things I learned from BloggForum 2.0:

1. Emma is unflappable in the face of bizarre heckling from the audience.
2. If I hear one more discussion that devolves into "what the hell is a blog," I will scream.
3. Erik Stattin is my Swedish blog hero (actually, I did not learn this, it was just reaffirmed).
4. Even if you are a bad moderator, poor at steering the conversation and crowd control, failing to get at the core of what you want to get at, your panel members will step up to the plate and make up for your shortcomings. I am eternally grateful to all of you: Sanna, Anna, Malte, and Risto.
5. Stefan Geens had as much trouble as I did sleeping on Friday night, worried as I was about just freezing, being up there and suddenly not being able to stutter even a single word.
6. Stephanie has moved 38 times in her life.
7. Steffanie really does know more than just about anybody about all the coolest high-tech blog stuff around. Don't let her tell you otherwise.
8. People are still interested in all this stuff.
9. Mark Comerford is actually a welder.
10. Some stuff about blogs, but I forget what it was.

The Swedish word for the day is lättnad. It means relief.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Swedish city of Helsingborg lies across the Oresund sound from Danish Helsingør with its castle Kronborg, which Shakespeare famously transposed into Elsinore, home of Hamlet, Gertrude and a host of other dysfunctional Danes. The only time I'd been to Helsingborg before was for the wedding of the coach and his charming wife.

Until today.

It was gray and clammy, but the lilacs were in bloom. And, quite coincidentally, I was taken to lunch to the very same place in which the wedding supper was held nearly four years ago. It hadn't changed a bit, all pale painted wooden rafters and many-paned windows and a view of the beach and changing rooms far out in the water, built at a time when men and women wore heavy woollen bathing suits: cold bath houses, the Swedes call them.

It made me long for my friends, living an ocean away, in Boston. Who, in a cosmic and mind-boggling coincidence, were in fact married four year ago this very day. Cue theme music from The Twilight Zone.

The Swedish word for the day is Skåne, which is the southern most county of Sweden, usually translated as Scania. The local accent - Skånska they call it - is thick with gargly Danish vowels and difficult for my poor ears to understand, accustomed as they are to the Stockholm way of speaking.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Last call for Bloggforum 2.0 is over. And here I was going to write that you could still sign up. But, there's no more space, apparently.

The whole event looks to be pretty interesting, and it's free. Political types, newspaper types, poets, librarians, graphic designers, magazine publishers, some just plain interesting people, and me. It's quite a crew. Especially my great mix of a panel - now that I've met them all and had coffee with each of them, one by one, I feel proprietary about them. But then, I know they'll be thoughtful, maybe a bit provocative, full of insight.

The Swedish word of the day is makalös. It means peerless, or as A., the TV producer would say: fucking fantastic. (I hope I'm not jinxing us, here...) Interestingly, we used to have more or less the same word in English at one time: makeles.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

It isn't difficult to make your own curry.

First, you'll want to make some ghee. It sounds so exotic, ghee, but it's only clarified butter - it won't burn as quickly as ordinary butter when you pour it onto a hot skillet. But, it's better to start with a skillet that's only just warm, rather than hot. As the ghee heats up, drop in some three bay leaves, a stick of cinnamon, maybe half a teaspoon of black cardamom seeds and another half a teaspoon of caraway. While the spices let loose a glorious noseful of savory perfume, you should, feeling like a witch as you do it, fill a generous mortar and pestle with half a yellow onion chopped fine, a tablespoon of tomato paste, a tablespoon of turmeric, a half teaspoon of dried coriander powder, a couple tablespoons of fresh peeled and grated ginger, topping it off with a generous squeeze of lemon. Forcefully, but not without finesse, muddle it all into a lumpy wet paste that you quickly add to the spices toasting in the pan - make sure you haven't let them burn, the bay leaves should merely be a toasty brown around the edges.

The paste will hiss and pop when you dump it into the pan, but stir it quickly with a wooden spoon and you'll suddenly have an entirely different smell than you had when you merely toasted a few spices in butter: less exotic and nutty, more solid and oily and satisfying.

It should only take a few minutes before it's ready for you to dump in 5-7 chicken breast halves that you've cut into bite-sized pieces. As the chicken cooks, the turmeric turning the pink of raw chicken into the yellow of the curry powder your mother surely used when she dumped a couple spoonfuls into a white sauce, poured it onto porkchops and called it curried pork, you're ready to dump in some cream and the generous pinch of saffron and the quarter cup of hot water the saffron's been soaking in since you started the whole process. All you need now are the cashews that you've chopped into a gritty dust, and a goodly time for the whole thing to burble away until the sauce thickens a bit and you're sure the chicken has gotten tender.

"Oh," your guests will say when you serve it, golden and hot, and they'll soak up the sauce with the bread you fried yourself in an iron skillet. "May we have some more?"

Sadly, there won't be any leftovers.

The Swedish word for the day is kryddor. It means spices.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Move to Sweden and you will find that, contrary to what you may have been taught, the difference between animal and vegetable is frighteningly narrow. Swedes are like some vast bouquet of heliotrope, twisting and turning their faces into the sun whenever it appears, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to do so sometimes. Even sleep is affected by the sun, which pries its way into the apartment with sharp fingers, waking me up so that I think it's surely 8 a.m. as I stumble to the refrigerator for water, only to see that the kitchen clock says it's only 4:30 a.m.

The sun rules my life.

I am a plant.

I am one with the earth.

I need to buy some seriously thick and dark curtains because the Venetian blinds just aren't up to the job.

The Swedish word for the day is stråle. It means ray.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Is it that America has become particularly enamored of scare TV in the past years, programs where both the innocent and the guilty and the very guilty are threatened by abstract forces beyond their ken, from Lost to CSI Somewhere, Anywhere to Numb3rs to The 4400 to 24? Or is it just that these are the shows that get imported to Sweden? Or is it all just a figment of my paranoid imagination?

The Swedish word for the day is rädslan. It means the fear.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

It's a great big slumber party at our house: A., the TV producer and C., the fashion photographer have moved in for a couple of months. Their apartment is going through an upgrade. Apartment, version 2.0, will come complete with a terrace and a sleeping loft.

They arrived yesterday, with bags and photographic equipment and Cat No. 1 and Cat No. 2, who proceeded to case out the place for a good eight hours, the little one periodically meowing far louder than her size would suggest when she realized that she didn't know where she was and the big one wasn't within smelling distance.

We have big plans to walk to work together (well, without the cats, of course), hit the gym together, make lots of good food, and A. has already talked about booking a massage therapist to come and give us all a spa day.

The Swedish word for the day is paradis. It means paradise, as if you couldn't figure that one out for yourselves.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Our former badboy boarder is now the father of a baby girl. Name: to be determined.

Does having a child mean that you yourself have to grow up?

The Swedish word for the day is pappaledighet. It means paternity leave, a status highly encouraged by the government and increasingly popular with fathers, if the number of guys pushing prams with babies around Djurgården during lunchtime is any indication.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

I'll never forget when a friend of mine - with whom I've since lost touch - told me about a three-way situation he found himself in with a lecherous couple on a sofa at the end of a drunken party somewhere in Washington, DC.

"It was all fine, the guy was really hot, and I was really going at it, but then all of a sudden I could smell her, and it was like static on a radio, and my dick just wilted," he said. Take it from me, when told with the proper sound effects and jerky movements, it is quite the effective story.

Now, a Swedish researcher has confirmed it: We great big homo types react very differently than non-great big homo types to certain, um, odors.

The word for the day is fräck. It means cheeky.

- by Francis S.