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.