Friday, May 29, 2009

My last meal would be a crabcake. Who knew? Not me, at least not until I was confronted with Ganda's question.

The Swedish word for the day is sista måltid. It means last supper.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

We arrived late because it took us forever to iron our shirts - mine lavender, the husband's powder blue - and to pull on our trousers - mine khakis, the husband's black jeans - and our black suit jackets. Then we had to shove our feet into our shoes - mine marine corps black lace-up boots circa 1968, the husband's Paul Smith black trainers with those little multi-colored stripes on the sides. Then we scrambled into a taxi, which took us out to one of the la-di-da suburbs of Stockholm, where we had dinner at the only local watering hole, which was filled with people who were dressed, well, like me. Except for the shoes of course.

"It's the uniform out here," our hostess told us, as we sat drinking sancerre and eating fish.

She should know, she lives just up the road.

Everyone in the place was, like us, about to go to the same birthday party. Captains of industry they were, the movers and shakers of Stockholm: a bunch of 60-year-old white men. And their wives of course, who unlike the men were decked out in their finest dancing clothes, their heels staggering, their hair freshly colored and cut, their nails newly manicured.

Once we'd finished the wine and the fish, we made our way over to the house, where the party was going full-swing. With one of the daughters of the man of the house leaning on my arm and the husband in front of me, we squeezed our way into the crowd, air-kissing the birthday girl. After which I was promptly way-laid by a strange woman babbling in English.

"It's your fault we never see her," she crowed. "You keeping her pregnant all the time!"

I smiled a rigid smile, all lips and teeth and no eyes at all, and nodded at her without saying a word before grabbing the husband and pushing my way further into the din, grabbing a glass of champagne and downing it.

And so the party went.

"Wouldn't you like to have a house like this?" the husband asked all wistful-like late in the evening after we'd been dancing, as he always does in this kind of situation.

No, I told him. He would hate it, make no mistake. The homogeneity, the rigidity, the disapproval, the conservatism.

It's my 16-year-old suburb-loathing self that rose up out of the 48-year-old me to say this. But really, the 16-year-old and the 48-year-old me's are in total agreement in this case. And having grown up there, both the me's know whereof I speak.

It would be dreadful to live out there, I said. But it's fun to be a tourist every once in awhile.

The Swedish word for the day is förort. It means suburb, of course.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I lived in Barcelona once. I left behind a job and apartment in Washington, and with the money I'd gotten from my ex for the house we'd owned together in Dupont Circle, I took an eight-month vacation, travelling here and there for nearly two months - Amsterdam and Paris, London and Berlin, Vienna and Budapest and Lucca, a week or so in each place. I ended up in Barcelona, staying for six months.

This was in the day of the peseta, and Barcelona was cheap. You could buy two kilos of tomatoes, two kilos of oranges, a couple onions, a dozen eggs and a wedge of cheese for about $2.50. I rented a room in the Eixample Dret not far from the Sagrada Familia, paying about $100 a month to Edu, a crazy Argentinian, who became my closest friend.

It was the strangest time of my adult life, those six months in Barcelona.

I loved it and loathed it, it was a trial to be so outside the culture and so alone and so purposeless. But Barcelona has endless charms that I couldn't help but be taken by. There is no place I feel stronger about. It is tied to the great crux of my life - meeting the husband and leaving behind the States.

When the husband and I returned last week for the first time in ten years, it all came rushing back: the smells, the light, the special tiles of the sidewalks, the cutoff corners at every intersection, the plane trees, the peculiar reticence of Barcelonans, the late dinners and later dancing, the alternately sluggish and hectic pulse of the place.

I missed terribly my friend Edu, who died nearly seven years ago. I couldn't even admit to myself that I was sad and a bit prickly and feeling very vulnerable and raw, as if I had suddenly reverted to the self I was when I lived there, on my long vacation.

Funny how a place can turn a crank in one's heart, ratcheting everything up, notch by notch by notch.

Stranger still, none of this was apparent until I sat here to write it all down.

The Swedish verb for the day is att återkomma. It means to return.