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.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

For a 9-year-old in 1970, the height of coolness was having the big box of crayola crayons - 64 colors, with an actual crayon sharpener embedded in the back of the box. Or at least I thought it was the height of coolness, perhaps because during the last year in which crayons were part of the required school supplies that my mother bought for me, she would only pay for the box with 48 crayons.

The names for the colors ranged from the simply descriptive (orange red, very no-nonsense) to the antique (burnt sienna, a color name that Michelangelo Buonarotti would recognize, more or less) to the inscrutable (bittersweet, which I seem to recall was a kind of barf brown).

As I walked to work this morning, surveying the leaves that are at last making their joint appearance thanks to several days of rain, I thought: spring green. An evocative name, the best in the box. With a name like that, it could be no other color than it is.

The Swedish word for the day is pensel. It is a false cognate, and means paintbrush. Blyertspenna is the Swedish word for pencil.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The chef came over yesterday evening, taking over our kitchen. With the husband as sous chef, the two of them roasted eggplant and peppers, sauted pine nuts, wrapped salmon in jamon serrano and generally made tasty mayhem. I'm not really a team player when it comes to cooking, so I set the table and waited for them to finish, the rest of the guests sipping whiskey or rioja or breast-milk (well, not sipping, more like sucking - you can't really sip if you're only two months old) and wandering around the apartment, parking themselves here and there.

At last it was ready, and A., the TV producer and C., the fashion photographer, C.'s son, plus the captain and his wife and their two little sons, the husband, the chef and I all found our places in the dining room. In between bites, we took turns walking the baby, first clockwise and then counter clockwise, around and around the perimeter of the guests sitting at the table, or running around like mad with the two-year-old through the rest of the apartment.

All we did was talk food, since the chef is soon to have her own TV show and, pen and paper in hand, was asking what kitchen utensils we thought were cool, what food had we always had trouble preparing, what was our favorite kind of cuisine.

Talking food, eating food. It was a meta meal, after a fashion.

"Hysteriskt gott!" said the captain. (Which means something like insanely good.)

"That'd be a perfect name for the show," the chef said.

- by Francis S.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Mache dich, mein Herze rein. Make my heart pure.

Actually, I'd settle for clean hands and underarms.

Funny how we take soap for granted; the ancient Greeks didn't use it, they rubbed themselves with oil and scraped the oil off with wooden scrapers; the Romans did likewise, although they are more famous for soaking themselves into cleanliness and, if you were, say, Caesar Augustus, into godliness as well. It wasn't until the very end of the Roman empire that someone decided that the bizarre conconction of animal fat boiled with lye was actually good for keeping a body clean.

How come there is no all-natural soap called "lard & lye" available at your local grocers?

The Swedish verb for the day is att duscha. It means to take a shower.

- by Francis S.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Son of Bloggforum is coming soon to a theater near you. That is, if you live near Stockholm University. And, well, it's not really a theater, either, more of an auditorium.

I've agreed to moderate a panel, in Swedish, on how to read and write blogs (the reading part is easy, but how to write a blog is another thing altogether, I suppose). Stefan Geens said to me: "It's much easier to moderate than to be on the panel. All you have to do is ask the questions." Thank god I have a brilliant panel to work with: Anna, Malte, Risto and Sanna.

Go, team!

The Swedish word for the day is nervös. It doesn't take me to tell you that it means nervous.

- by Francis S.

Monday, May 02, 2005

I wonder when I'll grow up and out of my inability to sleep properly on a Sunday night: Unless my week is unusually calm, I invariably spend an uneasy night and if I have anything at all of importance to do first thing Monday morning, the night will be sweaty and greasy and full of my teeth and stomach grinding queasily in unison. It's just like the night before a big test, except I'm 44.

The Swedish word for the day is igen. It means again.

- by Francis S.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Happy International Workers' Day.

Sadly, being that it's on a Sunday this year, I won't get the day off.

I've always found it funny that the U.S. is pretty much the only country in the world not celebrating, on account of the day being a bit too godlessly communistic in nature.

The Swedish word for the day is fånigt. It means ridiculous or silly.

- by Francis S.