Saturday, December 09, 2006

It's nearly 2pm here in the Stockholm suburb of Tyresö, and the sun just set. Weird! Half the people I know would never see daylight if they lived here in winter (although most of them probably wouldn't miss it). So far it's not too cold or snowy, which is good, because all of my warm clothes are in my checked bag, adrift someplace between here and Chicago.

Every time I come back to Sweden, that old joke gets less funny. You know: how is Swedish toilet paper like John Wayne? They're rough and tough and they don't take shit offa nobody. It's slightly less effective than using, say, a magazine, or giftwrap, or something laminated. I guess they export all the good stuff.

This morning Dad and I made our mandatory first stop at System Bolaget, the state-run likkker store. It used to be (and in some places still is) totally Orwellian; you had to take a number, wait your turn, stand at the counter and hand over your order sheet, like at an old or really formal library. The clerk would frown disapprovingly, then vanish into the booze labyrinth to report your excesses to the king and, eventually, fetch your meagre stash. Most of the System shops now are just like normal liquor stores in the states, except three times as expensive and arranged on sleek blond Ikea shelves with museum-quality lighting. Some of them are even open for a few hours on Saturdays now! Hot.

We picked up some glögg, four cans of beer and a huge box of wine. Should get us through til Monday morning, anyway.

While Dad was in the grocery store, I sat on a bench guarding our booze cache and staring blankly at a little old man who was trying his drunkest to talk to me. I'm always slow at getting back into the rhythm of Swedish, and even slower if the other person in the conversation is slurring heavily.

Swedish sounds kind of like English as spoken underwater by a karaoke artist with a tongue injury. If you're as immature as I am, a lot of the words are hilarious. Good is bra. Look is titta. Angry is arg! Something really small is inka pinka. A guy is a kille. The word gift means married, poisonous, and a fee or penalty.

Sweden is the secret source of my oft-maligned tendency toward sarcastic dancing. Swedes cannot dance. It's cute that they try, but they're just awkward about it. ("They," she says.) It's like all the world's musical ineptitude has been visited upon one unfortunate nation. But why?

Wow, it is *really* dark now. Not even 3pm, and it's totally nighttime. In summer it's the exact opposite. Last time I was mostly up north, and I was sleeping in my rental car (travel-writer's budget!), but it never got dark. Hard to sleep with the sun in your eyes; even harder to pee discreetly in broad daylight.

Here's a tangent: One of the most important things I learned on that last trip is that I personally contain, at any given moment, enough blood to feed five million hungry mosquitos. Imagine what that must look like to the mosquito. Picture it in steak. There you are, buzzing around the forest, when suddenly along comes a giant walking buffet table laden with 5 MILLION juicy T-bone steaks, completely unguarded except for two pathetic little steak hands you can nibble on as they swat at you in vain. The risk of death is negligible compared with the likelihood of satisfaction. This got me to thinking about DEET and how it works. What is it like to be a mosquito in the presence of DEET? Is it like that same steak buffet table, only wrapped in see-through plastic? or is it more of a flavor-based shield, like the table of steak sprayed with essence of cabbage (or some other icky thing)? If so, how can the mosquitos tell it's bad before they taste it?

If anyone knows how DEET really works - from the insect's point of view - please email me. Thanks.

P.S! Important CORRECTION: My friend Jennifer is Swedish, and she's an excellent dancer. Exception to every rule, etc.

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