Friday, July 21, 2006

For most Swedes, summer is more than half over, with a little more than a week left in the month-long holiday that is July. A fickle month here, you can't really count on July for anything. When July decides to show its best side, you don't want to miss it. But the chances are about even that it will bare its teeth and spit at you, and if you have been unlucky enough to choose to spend your summer holiday in Sweden, come November you'll be a wreck and unable to face the onslaught of dark winter.

This summer, though I've spent most of it working, has shown July to be in a most sunny disposition. I don't mind, and every weekend we've made it out to the archipelago, usually on the ferry where we've encountered Spanish women from the Canary Islands, complete with fans, and 90-year-old Swedish women who were in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil war, and lesbians with babies, along with hosts of garden-variety Swedes, each of them with a beer in hand it seems.

Today, however, we are being chauffered by the sea captain and his boyfriend the children's author, in their little powerboat, which should get us to Birds Island in about an hour. We have a full weekend of relaxation planned. Which will consist, I hope, mostly of lying around in the sun, periodically looking up from a book or conversation to gaze at cruise ships like upended skyscrapers moving silently past in the distance.

Then on Monday, I need to prepare for the onslaught of my brother's two oldest children.

Lord help us, may they not be bored to tears by me and the husband. I fear that I'm woefully out of touch with what's fun if you're 13 or 15.

The Swedish word for the day is tonåringar, which has surely been the Swedish word for the day before. It means teenagers.

- by Francis S.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

On the grounds of Drottningholm, the palace where the royal family of Sweden lives, there stands a little baroque theater, built by a Swedish queen with the unfortunate name of Lovisa Ulrika. Through chance, the fickleness of fashion and political change, and through the benefit of nearly 150 years of complete neglect, the theater survived intact with some 15 complete sets of original scenery, including all kinds of pillars and trees, clouds and machines for making thunder noises or delivering gods from the skies.

It is a charming place, and even more charming to see the dress rehearsal of an opera there, the theater so intimate you feel you can reach out and grab the hands of the singers when they implore, or help them up from the ground when they fall down in a poisoned faint, or protect them from an evil sorcerer in black inciting human sacrifices in an elegant and rich bass voice.

The orchestra is tiny but muscular, just like the director, who sways and bounces his way through the score, batonless, clapping the beat in frustration at the chorus who do not keep time crisply enough for his taste as the third act (or was it the fourth act?) finishes and they are playing the part of writhing demons pressed downstage to the very edge of the proscenium, threatening the audience with all kind of evil and mayhem and making the hairs raise on one's arms. Even the dance, which I usually detest, is enigmatic and Mark-Morris-but-in-high-heels-ishy quirky, all heiroglyphic gestures and oddly graceful.

And despite having only the faintest grasp of the plot and no grasp of the language (except for the constant repetition of the word "amour" and the odd word, such as "peutetre" here and there) and being unable to read in the dimly authentic lighting, I was enchanted by Rameau's Zoroastre.

The Swedish word for the day genrep, which is short for generalrepetition. It means dress rehearsal.

- by Francis S.

Friday, July 07, 2006

It's difficult not to be discouraged by the latest news from the U.S.: The New York State Court of Appeals ruled, in a 4-2 decision, that gay people don't have the right to get married.

But what puts me in a black mood isn't the decision, which isn't surprising even if many hoped that it would have gone the other way. What's really awful is the rationale behind it. As Patrick Healy wrote in the New York Times: In particular, section suggesting heterosexual couples need marriage to be preserved as a way to shore up their faulty relationships and protect their children who might suffer in broken-home situations.

Can these judges really believe this to be true? The logic escapes me. And this is supposedly one of the most liberal states in the union. And now every other state court will cite this in their own rulings that will, sometimes subtly and sometimes harshly, say that not only are gay people unworthy of having their relationships recognized, but having them recognized will somehow ruin the relationships of heterosexuals and destroy the lives of children.

The same article rightfully says that the ruling is a shocking insult to gay people.

As for me, I give up.

The Swedish word for the day is teokrati. It means theocracy.

- by Francis S.

Monday, July 03, 2006

I'm baaaaaack.

Well, actually, I didn't go anywhere much. It was my parents who came to visit, and I'm still recovering from their busy social schedule: Along with midsummer, which was spent out in the archipelago with A., the TV producer and C., the fashion photographer and select members of their families, we managed to have dinner with some group or other every single night my parents were here, except for one Sunday, in which we had brunch with the husband's nephew and girlfriend and baby. Oh, and the Thursday before they left, when they went out to Lidingö without us to have dinner with the guy who was a Swedish exchange student living at our house back in the early 1980s, when my beloved little brother was still in high school and I was away at university.

The thing is, everyone always wants to see my parents, and I thought about having one huge dinner party, but then I knew some people would be hurt not to have time alone with them, so it ended up being a week of hosting dinners.

It was grand.

But isn't it embarrassing when your mother and father have more of a social life than you do, in your own city, thousands of miles from where they live?

The Swedish words for the day are mamma and pappa, which are of course what most Swedish people seem to call their mom and dad, and even, strangely, how I refer to my mother and father in Swedish to other people (and which I accidentally used with my parents once or twice, shamefully, when the evening involved a lot of translating and back and forth between English and Swedish.)

- by Francis S.