Blink

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Finally finished up reading Jonas Gardell’s Kärleken/Sjukdomen/Döden (Torka aldrig tårar utan handskar) trilogy (the TV version is also good). It’s strange to see the ‘backwards’ countryside of western Värmland represented (and to read about it). As a ‘foreigner’ living here especially it’s entertaining.

Near the end of the third book, one of the main characters (one of the only ones left alive) exits the train in Åmotfors, which is already a podunk, middle-of-nowhere, close-to-nothing town, and asks the guy who picks him up, “Ar det långt till Koppom?”

“Bah. Tar väl en kvart eller så. Och när vi väl är där får du inte blinka för då missar du hela tätörten.” Yes, that’s just about 100% accurate.

It was interesting to delve into these books as my first foray into reading books in Swedish. I knew I had to choose something that would hold my interest – and the story/tragedy of AIDS happens to be one of the things that still conjures up all kinds of emotion and anger – this huge sense of loss – even though I have no tangible connection to it. I feel deeply affected every time I think about it – and how pervasive the fear and scaremongering was. And also to realize how young people today understand so little of how the terror associated with this at-first completely mysterious and fatal disease rippled across society and more starkly exposed the hypocrisy and inhumanity of bureaucracy, governments and healthcare organizations (as well as average people – who didn’t care about this at all, in fact welcoming and even laughing about it on some selfish, shitty, brutal level as long as they believed it only afflicted gay men) while bringing the strength, resilience, organization and collective voice of the gay community into the light.

When I reflect on this period, it felt like “peak terror” went on for a really long time (I was a child during the height of this), but in fact, despite the havoc the disease wreaked, it was a relatively short period of time that it gripped public attention and also equalled an inevitable death sentence (the relatively brevity of the ‘epidemic’ period being little consolation to all those who did lose their lives)… I cannot say it was a mere blink of an eye, but like most things in life and indeed in the course of history, especially now with the 30-second attention spans of tweets, the demand for instant gratification and higher-stakes drama, the pain and fear of that period has lost its efficacy – at least for those who didn’t witness those years of uncertainty, illness and death.

killer bees

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Epigram
Tomas Tranströmer (Sweden)
The buildings of the capital, the hives of the killer bees, honey for the few.
He served there. But in a dark tunnel he unfolded his wings
and flew when no one was looking. He had to live his life again.

—–
(the original Swedish read by the Nobel laureate himself)

Kapitalets byggnader, mördarbinas kupor, honung för de få.
Där tjänade han. Men i en mörk tunnel vecklade han ut sina vingar
och flög när ingen såg. Han måste leva om sitt liv.

 

Image by Boris Smokrovic

Rest in Peace, poet Tomas Tranströmer

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I wrote about Swedish Nobel Prize winner, poet Tomas Tranströmer, before. He wrote many evocative poems, but my favorite – and the one most appropriate now, at his passing – is “Svarta vykort”.

Svarta vykort

I
Almanackan fullskriven, framtid okänd.
Kabeln nynnar folkvisan utan hemland.
Snöfall i det blystilla havet. Skuggor
brottas på kajen.

II
Mitt i livet händer att döden kommer
och tar mått på människan. Det besöket
glöms och livet fortsätter. Men kostymen
sys i det tysta.

Rough translation:

I
The calendar is full but the future is blank.
The wires hum the folk-tune of some forgotten land.
Snow-fall on the lead-still sea. Shadows
scrabble on the pier.

II
In the middle of life it happens that death comes and takes your measurements.
This visit is forgotten and life goes on.
But the suit is sewn in silence.

Another appropriate poem, however irreverent, is Piet Hein‘s “Noble Funerals Arranged”, hinting the irony or injustice of most Nobel winners receiving their awards so late in life that the monetary reward that comes with the honor won’t do much good in supporting that person’s art (not that the award is meant to do that):

Noble Funerals Arranged (Piet Hein)
The Nobel Prize
needs a candidate.
Of course, by the hopeful crowd
you’re stunned,
but none is sufficiently
well-known or great,
or sufficiently
Moribund.
Remember, it’s not a
scholarship late –
it is
a funeral benefit fund.

Rest in peace, Tomas Tranströmer.