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.