måndag, maj 30, 2005

Notes från Sverige

A older French gentleman told me once, "The reason you hesitate to speak a foreign language is because you are a perfectionist (a/k/a uptight prig of a girl) and unless you believe your spoken words are absolutely correct, you freeze. If you freeze, my dear, you cannot learn." I do not know if I agree with his theory, but I can tell you that it has been almost impossible for me to step off the edge and speak to Swedes in Swedish. My face burns, my brain synapses misfire, and my blood pressure peaks.

On my trip there last week, I got a hair.

"Jag har en liten mjulkglas och en mellen mjulkglas," I asked the ice cream vendor; a small softy for my youngest, a medium one for me. I had stalled in the line, waiting until it was only we two and another couple left standing there. Only then had I made my simple request.

"XODRO eller SODIFL," she said in reply. "Something" or "something else" she wanted to know. She stared at me. I stared at her, hoping that somehow I could put it into context. Yet she did not point to a descriptive picture and the words she had said had long past escaped my cauliflower ears.

"Ohh, I don't know," I finally admitted, mostly frustrated that such a simple transaction would lay me low.

"Cone or cup?"

Jeepers. I mean, "cup" is "kopp." How could I not hear that? Well, actually, I know why. Because when I heard her first say "strut" for "cone" and I did not know what that meant, my brain did what it does best: it turns word analysis to tie dye.

But that is not the entire picture. Imagine what must have gone through her mind as I stood there clueless as to what she wanted to know. It is Sweden. I am blond. My daughter is blond. I spoke in Swedish. I was not wearing a loud track suit, ugly walking shoes and fanny pack, thrusting dollars into her hands insisting, "You take Amurcan money, dontcha?" When she asked me a simple question and my eyes searched hers as if I were begging for mercy on my soul, she must have wondered, "What? For crying out loud. What I am doing with my life serving these nitwits?" Certainly she did not think I did not understand her. So what was she thinking? After she left to fill my order, I began pounding my head agains the counter, uttering, "I am such a loser, such a loser." My youngest just stared.

The French referendum on the ratification of a new EU constitution headlined the news during the week, and yesterday's thumbs down result is analysed in the BBC article here. My husband put it more susinctly: The Polish Plumber Fear. The working class imagines a France where a plumber from Poland will come over and fix water leaks in Parisian flats at 1/6 the hourly rate.

Not much has really changed from nursery school. It is hard to share.

To come: Bad TV and Prayer.
But first, I must unpack.

söndag, maj 22, 2005

Design Proof

I have been looking at a lot of design magazines lately. Seems the most surefire way to have a hip pad is to add something from the DWR catalogue, preferably the Pavillion Chair. Of course, the end result is Bush with an iPod. As soon as just anybody has one, the hipness is over.

Hey, he is riding one of those bikes with frame designed for us older folks. It is not a modified girls bike, honest.

tisdag, maj 17, 2005

No, Really

Real I.D.
Real ID prohibits states from issuing driver's licenses to illegal aliens.

We should shorten the legislation's familiar title to R.I.D, which is, after all, the real intent.

fredag, maj 13, 2005

Home Repair

Tonight I walked the aisles of Home Depot. Waiting for quarts of paint to get mixed. Husbands and wives were arguing. It sounded so good.

See, I have been alone now for about two months. When people are married and fighting they inevitably imagine how nice it might be to be alone. Alone is ok. You are never wrong, you never look bad, you never burn the food or leave the house a mess. Well, you might do or be all those things, but it is kind of a tree falls in the woods circumstance. Tonight when a squat impatient man trailed behind his squat impatient wife reciting the list of things she must have said he did wrong, it sounded like salt on steak: the essence of life. If I reached out, I could almost remember how nice it felt, this interaction. Being alone to fend for the family for awhile has left me contemplating just how hard it cannot possibly be to replace the upstairs windows myself. Measure, glue and put in place.

Nothing good can come of me having these thoughts.

torsdag, maj 12, 2005

Hamburg High School Concert Chorale taking the gold and earning Outstanding Overall in Toronto. Copyright C.Berlin 2005

Last year it was New York. I drove down to the City on a last minute sense of "my daughter is singing in Carnegie Hall and how could I ever explain not seeing it." I hid my Zeiss lens-camera from the security folks, and afterwards slipped backstage to hug and kiss and to be able to say that I snuck backstage. I drove home that night, sleeping for seconds in the rest areas along Route 17. This year it was Toronto.

My two youngest came with me, the very youngest throwing up along the way in an oddball collection of plastic grocery bags. I contemplated not going, but there are values associated with different events, and a once a year invitational versus the flu was a no brainer. The performance hall was only half full, and those who were there were primarily the other students in the competition. The place would have been packed with parents if this had been a basketball game. The signs on the theater/theatre doors said "absolutely no cameras." Too bad. These kids need some attention, so I turned off the flash and scoped the room. Facing the stage was a row of judges. They were all men, outfitted with notepads, desk lamps, and dictaphones.

The singing was incredible. Directors seemed to select songs for their degree of difficulty, and the vocalists often performed in bare-naked acapella. After each performance, a judge descended on the group to critique.

The criticism was harsh. "You know the Beatles' song," began one judge, "the one about taking me half the way there? That is how you made me feel." He added that he believed the students were wonderfully talented, but I knew what those kids' ears would remember, and they would hate any reference to the Beatles for a long time. The judges were like this with each school. I was uncomfortable.

By the time my daughter's school performs, I have no idea if the music is good or bad. What these judges discuss is foreign to me. I am out of my field, stuck in a place where even bad metaphors escape me. So I move from empty seat to empty seat taking photos of the performance. At one point I sit amongst some kids from another school, and watch them look at each other with startled expressions in reaction to whatever the singers are belting out. It sounds kind of cool to me, but what do I know.

Then the judge came down, stood next to the director and said, "I have nothing to offer. You are wonderful."

I felt throat-closing proud until a second wave came over me. There were 80 kids on stage getting laurels. There were six parents there to witness.

I know that for a lot of the kids, getting away from home and singing is part of the fun of competition. I am wondering, however, if every student feels this way, and if there are some families who never get a solid on the level at which their son or daughter competes, on what, exactly, has just been accomplished.
Posted by Hello

tisdag, maj 10, 2005

Male Studies

My theory may be a little off, but you be the judge. If I want to understand more clearly the innerworkings of an accountant's mind, I would read, I guess, an accountant's trade magazine. Same with advertising execs. You get the picture. So when trying to get a glimpse inside the male machinations, if there is such a thing, I always thought it made more sense to read an Esquire or GQ or whatever seems pointedly marketed to that other fair sex. I mean, Cosmo may tell you that it will tell you what a guy really wants, but isn't it more likely that Cosmo is telling you what a woman wants to hear about what a guy really wants? So on my last visit to the public library I pick up a few old guy mags to see what has been happening on the male front lately. The discussions included:

The difficulty with monogamy. ("I would marry her, but only if she could be nine different people over the course of the next 30 years.")
Sex is a good thing. Lots of sex is a really good thing.
Women in a cat fight is a turn on because . . . . (play; fighting for me; chance that clothes might come off).
Pickup Truck/Italian sports car reviews.

I didn't see any of that coming.

I am still an old Esquire fan. "How to buy wine online" is a good example. "Tried and true designs under $200." "Places to travel alone." "Trucks and European sports cars," . . . hey, wait!
Anyway. Do you really get the best advice? In a columnist's pretend reader's question about whether a pharmaceutical company is ever likely to create a Viagra for chicks, the best comment offered was that the company gave up test trials after the marketing department couldn't agree on a color for the little pill. "No, seriously," it continued. "Um, desire is really a testosterone thing and that in women, sexual disinterest is psychological."

Cripes. Do I have to do all the work around here? Drop a DHEA supplement into her coffee every day. She will not grow a beard. She will not become musclebound. More likely, she will start wondering if there is anyway her man can suddenly become 9 men in one . . .

Aren't I supposed to be studying my Swedish?

söndag, maj 08, 2005

Mothers' Day

It would be nice to sit and drink coffee and read the NYTimes and send every family member out to get mulch and peat moss and annuals and a big sun hat and a pair of garden gloves and a knee pad.

"Don't take me out to eat!" one soccer mom repeated. That is what she had told her family. "I want to stay home and not have to go anywhere!"

I may have discovered why Mom's like gardening so much. Pass it on and test:

I spent a beautiful Friday night and all day Saturday getting the flower beds ready for what promises to be a fabulous summer for growth. Mostly that meant turning soil and weeding. Weeding means knowing the good small stuff from the bad small stuff and leaving the unsure of stuff alone for a bit. It struck me that this was like full control parenting. If the plant was bad for my plant family, out it went. Encroachers, gone. Plant not behaving well, goodbye. Maybe we do in the garden what we wish we were better at in the house.

Maybe I am on to a psychological breakthrough of understanding. Maybe I just should have worn my sunhat.

torsdag, maj 05, 2005

New Words

"What is Swedish for anodyne," I IM my husband.

"I don't know that word. . . . Painkiller?" he types back, after checking his online Oxford.

"No, more like sweet, simple, innocuous, bland."

"Hmm, maybe 'ofarlig' for a person who is not dangerous; 'oskadlig' if you are talking about an object or product."

"And echoloaction. It's what bats do." It is a rare scientific word, that, like many swedish or german words is a combination of descriptive terms that renders its meaning quite clear.

"Hunh," he typed, stumped. "'Radar', I guess."

I continue in my interrogation.

How 'bout "nippley," I send.

"What are you doing," he finally asks.

"It means 'chilly' the kids thought I was a dinosaur for not using it."

"Then I am a dinosaur too," he added. "Bröstvårta"

"So I would say, 'Det är bröstvårtigt ute?' for 'It is refreshingly nipster outside.'"


"The first word is 'breast' obviously. The second half, 'vår' does it mean 'Spring' or 'ours'. It could go either way," I blather on. "'Spring' is like 'perky'. 'Ours' is communal."

"No. the root is 'varta', which means wart. Breastwart."

Breastwart indeed. I changed the subject.

"Ok, and the last one, the brits use a term, 'bumper'. I think it means 'cool'. Comes from an old phrase, 'cup filled to the top'. Did the vikings have a similar one, like for mead filled to the top of a goblet"

"No. it would be only 'upp till bredden' I guess. "

"Thanks," I said.
"My pleasure."

I will only remember one of those words.