Monday, January 31, 2005

Talking on the phone today with the former punk rockstar, who has been homebound for over a week suffering with a flu that won't seem to go away, she told me that she has had it with television. The only thing on anymore are these horrible reality shows, she told me.

"Pretty soon there's going to be a new kind of psychological syndrome and a whole group of people suffering from it," she said. "People traumatized by being on a docusoap."

The Swedish word for the day psykiskt störd. It means mentally ill.

- by Francis S.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Flags on buses, in front of government buildings, atop random apartment buildings, on the corner outside the office. In a land where people are skeptical about displays of patriotism, this sudden waving of flags all over the place could only be some kind of vaguely political holiday, I decided.

When I checked my calendar after I arrived at work, I saw that, yes, it was a vaguely political holiday: the name day of the king.

"My father has the same name day as the king," K., my co-worker said. "When I was little and the old king died, I asked my father why he couldn't become king, since he had the same name day."

I like the idea of having a kind of second birthday, celebrating on the saint's day of whatever saint you share your name with, which is more or less what a name day is (although many Swedish names aren't tied to any saint, but still have a day assigned to them). It's kind of charming. A remnant of old religious practice and a time when the church held sway over people's day-to-day lives. Sort of like all Swedish bank holidays, which are with one exception - midsummer - nominally Christian holidays in a decidedly secular country.

As opposed to in the States, where all bank holidays with one exception - Christmas - are decidedly non-Christian, but the country seems to be anything but secular.

Please, give me religious remnants in the form of holidays and name days, as opposed to religious remnants in the form of laws enshrining religious beliefs, religious doctrine posted in public government spaces and children being forced to recite daily a belief in "God."

Uh, maybe remnants is the wrong word.

The Swedish word for the day is makt. It means power.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

A Drunkard cannot meet a Cork
Without a Revery -
And so encountering a Fly
This January Day
Jamaicas of Remembrance stir
That send me reeling in -
The moderate drinker of Delight
Does not deserve the spring -
Of juleps, part are the Jug
And more are in the joy -
Your connoisseur in Liquours
Consults the Bumble Bee -

Poem No. 1628 by Emily Dickinson

There is nothing powerful enough to conjure up spring here, still so far away from Stockholm in January.

The Swedish word for the day is dröm. It means dream.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Is it shameful to still have a Christmas tree standing in your dining room on January 26?

We've removed all the ornaments and lights, we just haven't been able to muster the energy to drag the thing out of the apartment.

I'm reminded somehow of a sketch from the original Saturday Night Live, in which Lily Tomlin plays a crazy woman - with a fully-decorated Christmas tree in her living room in July - visited by salesman Garrett Morris. I think Lily Tomlin was the 1970s answer to Amy Sedaris. Or vice versa.

Whatever happened to Lily Tomlin?

The Swedish phrase for the day is svårt att få tag på någon. It means difficult to get a hold of somebody.

- by Francis S.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Apparently, Ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel are more likely to jaywalk than other Israelis, research shows.

I wonder if this is true of all orthodox types, regardless of choice of deity?

I suppose this means that they are more likely to get hit by cars, which probably makes them happy because it means less time in this vale of tears and more time sipping kosher lattés with assorted cherubim, seraphim and even the big guy himself. Still, I can't help thinking it was merely an oversight of Moses, who somehow failed to get that all-important 11th commandment: Thou Shalt Not Cross the Street Wherever the Hell Thou Wilt."

The Swedish word for the day is gamla testamentet. It means the Old Testament.

- by Francis S.
Poor Nikolai Nolan - he's exceeded his bandwidth no doubt due to traffic for this year's rounds of the Bloggies, so it's impossible to get onto the site at the moment. But if you could, you would notice that I'm nominated in the GLBT category - my third nomination in three years.

Fuck modesty. I'm proud, popularity contest or no.

Now, will there be a scandal as we've come to expect from past experience? We can always hope.

[post script: I neglected to say in the original post that for some reason, the usual suspects are missing this year from the category - they've moved out of the gay ghetto and into the "lifetime achievement" part of town. But, I am up against Mike, the fabulous Troubled Diva himself.]

- by Francis S.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Who says transvestism isn't natural? Apparently, if you're a male giant Australian cuttlefish, it's not just a way of life, but one of the best methods for getting the female giant Australian cuttlefish of your dreams. Plus - a major side benefit - you may attract other males!

- by Francis S.
"Do you want some cheesecake?" the husband called out from the kitchen yesterday morning as I dragged myself out of bed.

Sure, I said.

Somehow, the night before we never got around to dessert: instead A., the producer and C., the fashion photographer, had slept in front of the television - Miller's Crossing, one of my favorite period pieces - the husband had gotten up and crawled into bed and me, at 10 p.m., I was checking my e-mails and listening to the snores of three different people.

"Not bad," the husband said in the morning as he finished off his piece of cheesecake - made by A. with lingonberry jam and a gingerbread crust - and gulped down a cup of coffee, dashing off to Gothenburg for a weekend of work.

No wonder he has problems with his digestion.

The second Swedish word for the day is ont i magen. It means stomach ache.

- by Francis S.
Okay, so I blew it on the self-promotion for the Queeries. I've been given another chance to shill myself: the Satin Pajama Awards, from A Fistful of Euros. Voting starts tomorrow.

Remember when I had my own awards, back when I was new to the game?

The Swedish word for the day is självupptagen. It means, surprisingly, self-absorbed.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

First Susan Sontag dies, now I learn that Victoria de los Angeles has died as well.

Her name alone was splendid, if a bit over the top in a biblical kind of way. Of course, I should admit that I've only ever owned a recording of her singing what some would say is the operatic equivalent of pop, Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5." But who can argue against eight cellos and a soprano called Victory of the Angels, singing like a bird, literally? It is, in fact, sublime.

-by Francis S.
I stand corrected by my brother, who obviously has a far better memory for these things than I do. It was on this date in 1958 in El Paso, Texas that a small red-haired squalling baby at last showed her face to the world.

Happy birthday again, Bethie. Sorry I fucked up yesterday. And thank goodness you don't visit this site very often.

The Swedish word for the day is jävlar. It translates literally as devils, but it's a good Swedish equivalent to dammit.

- by Francis S.

Friday, January 21, 2005

On this date in 1958 in El Paso Texas, a small red-haired squalling baby at last showed her face to the world, the first child of a couple of gawky 23-year-olds, the husband conscripted into the army and hating every minute of it, the wife working as a nurse in a local hospital and disturbed by the extreme poverty all around them.

Happy birthday, Bethie.

The Swedish word for the day is storasyster. It means big sister.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Of course, maybe if I'd actually mentioned that I was nominated for an award - Queerday's new prize for news and blogs, the Queeries - it could have helped my chances, but it just feels too shamelessly self-promotional.

Or I could put up photos of pouty young naked guys.

Congratulations to those who did win.

- by Francis S.
The temples in the jungle outside Siem Reap - Angkor Wat is just the biggest of them, but it's become a kind of synecdoche for the whole vast complex - were built by the great Khmer empire between the 9th and 12th centuries A.D. Historians speculate that perhaps a million people lived in the area at that time, far more than Cordóba's mere 100,000 inhabitants, the largest city in Europe at that time (and part of a Muslim empire, incidentally).

Bayon, with 37 towers and four tremendous smiling faces on each tower. Ta Prohm, fantastical, banyan trees like a vegetable version of an octopus slowly trying to grip and grow their way through the temple. And Angkor Wat itself, surrounded by manmade lakes and endless walls, a huge stone walkway leading from the gate into the temple itself, with its elaborate carvings and dizzyingly steep steps: the reward is watching the sun set, but the payment is the terrible climb down.

I was prepared, so seeing these three didn't quite take my breath away as when I wandered the first time in the Medina of Fez during Aïd al Kebir, or gazed at the impossible architecture of the unfinished church of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, two places that photographs cannot possibly capture in any way. Not unlike the temples in the jungle outside Siem Reap that they call Angkor Wat.

The Swedish word for the day is färdig. It means finished.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The city of Siem Reap in the Kingdom of Cambodia lies some 170 kilometers and six hours from the border town of Poipet down a road that is mostly vast holes and dust and dirt that turns everything nearby into a dull red during the dry season.

A murky river divides the center of town, lined with elaborately carved stone streetlights and the dilapidated and tired remnants of French Indochina: It's easy to imagine the dismay of a low-level French diplomatic functionary assigned to remote Siem Reap in the 1930s. But now a billboard shows a picture of a new shopping center to be built to replace a whole block of buildings and not far away, vast luxury hotels are under construction along a new road that leads to the airport. Siem Reap is hardly remote any longer.

Still, one feels decadent and spoiled and like a not-so-distant cousin to the 1930s French colonial functionary to be sipping cocktails at the FCC Angkor on New Year's Eve beside a hundred other Europeans and Americans sitting and standing and dancing amidst blocks of outrageously expensive ice dripping like fountains into the swimming pool below the veranda with its ceiling fans and immaculate white linen and black wood.

"Happy New Year!" we said, toasting one another. In the sky, high above us, a soft flame floated past - it was a fire balloon - the first of what became an elegant procession of maybe fifty of them, serenely disappearing into the distance.

We lasted as long as 1:00 a.m. before trudging back to our tired old hotel to sink into the tired old - but clean - sheets on the tired old beds.

The Swedish word for the day is tjänsteman. It means civil servant.

- by Francis S.

Monday, January 17, 2005

The guide told us it was important not to stop or talk to anyone. "Very dangerous," he said. We made our way in single file behind him through the crowds outside the border crossing at Poipet. But despite the guide's warnings, A. stopped and gave away a handful of candies to the children who surrounded us like birds, all fluttering fingers and cries and pleading.

When the children began to fight viciously in the dust over the candy, A. caught up to me. "It breaks my heart," she said.

That's why it's not good to give them things, I told her. It's better to give to organizations that you know can help, I said, trying to convince myself that it was true, holding tightly to my bag, ashamed somehow of myself.

In truth, I was nearly overcome with the raw desperation common to such towns that sit on the border of two countries that vary so greatly in wealth.

We'd gotten our visas to enter Cambodia at a tired café in Aranyaprathat in Thailand from officials sitting at tables in the back where they sipped coca-cola, stamping the papers we filled out and taking our pictures and our passports, coming back an hour later with the passports that now contained visas that would get us into Cambodia.

So, we stood in line first to leave Thailand, frantically filling out more papers, dripping with sweat and watching with foolish envy the townspeople of Aranyaprathat and Poipet on bicycles or walking or weighed down with baskets hanging from a yoke or wheeling pushcarts of fruit or what looked to be trash, shoed and shoeless, with and without hats, smiling and frowning, all of them crossing the border as if they were crossing any ordinary street, no one stopping them or saying a word.

Once the border officials let us through from Thailand, we entered a strange place between the two cities in which there stood a tremendous hotel and casino, vaguely sinister and unexplained, no one going in or out.

Then, having at last faced a final set of officials in Cambodia and gotten a few last thumping stamps administered to our passports, we were free to walk as we wished in Poipet, as if one would want to promenade through such a place that conjures up secret rot and the selling of souls to random demons in exchange for a little hope destined to be dashed.

What it really meant was following the guide to an empty hotel where we waited for a car to come to take us to Siem Reap and the great Khmer temples in the jungles of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

The Swedish word for the day is gränsen, which means the border.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

... and I come home only to find that Susan Sontag died more than a week ago.

(When I was a pretentious 26-year-old, I secretly wanted to write an essay called "On On Photography by Susan Sontag by Francis Strand." It was always one of my favorite books, On Photography.)

- by Francis S.
Home at last, blissfully calm Koh Chang and filthy teeming and utterly fascinating Bangkok left behind after an arduous but uneventful flight (why was there a stopover in Lahore only on the return trip?).

We never made it to Vietnam, but tales of Cambodia to come.

The Swedish word for the day is suck, which doesn't mean suck but sigh. Suger means not sugar but suck. Socker means sugar, and I better stop there or this could go on and on.

- by Francis S.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Hours and hours on the worst road I've ever been on, incredible poverty, a surreal colonial New Year's at the FCC club in Siem Reap, the first day of 2005 spent watching the sun set from high atop the temple of Angkor Wat.

It seems unbelievable that on the other side of Thailand, there's so much devastation.

This is it until we get back to Sweden on January 16.

The Swedish phrase for the day is helt otroligt. It means totally unbelievable.

by Francis S.