Saturday, September 1, 2018

Where in the World is Carmen Sigurbjorgsdotter?

Dear Friends,

The misuse of statistics for political purposes is among my greatest vexations. In this month's Hard Taco song, "TI-85s," I try to tackle this issue while paying homage to my favorite model of graphing calculator.

But before you listen to it, try to guess where I am right now.

Here's your first hint. I'm writing from a modest house built into the side of a mountain. There is grass on the roof. A sheep is grazing on that grass, and a nearby volcano is firing pellets of molten pumice through that sheep. A lone puffin alights upon a glacial waterfall and nods knowingly. The air smells of sulfur plumes and fish, ancient fish that predate written language.

Here's your second hint. The country is known for long arctic summer days, $35 hamburgers, Elfin runes, and Icelandic death metal.

Here's your final hint. The most honest guidebooks will tell you that no visit to Iceland is complete without leaving Iceland. That makes sense, but the more commercially-oriented ones will tell you that no visit to Iceland is complete without a visit to the Icelandic Phallological Museum in Reykjavik. The storied museum displays a phallus from every mammal that can be found in Iceland and the surrounding waters. They have penises (with or without accoutrements) cut from reindeer, goats, and seventeen different species of whale. They have a whip made from a bull penis, and two lampshades made from ram scrotums.

Family and friends engage with science by posing next to a sperm whale member preserved in formalin. 
The museum also boasts two penises belonging to Homo Sapiens. Alongside each human specimen is a legally-binding Certificate of Donation confirming that the YAHN-sons (as they are pronounced in Icelandic) were given freely and willingly. One is from a 95-year-old Icelander, and the other is from an anonymous donor. I'm particularly impressed with the altruism of the latter. To give of yourself without any recognition or acknowledgement is truly the highest form of charity. What would you call a man who made such a selfless contribution to science? A penefactor.

Or perhaps a phallanthropist.

Admission is free for children under 13.

There is no indication that the other animals willingly volunteered their specimens. Walruses are notoriously uncharitable creatures, and they lack the cognitive capacity to appreciate the scientific benefit of having their severed penises crammed into mason jars. Similarly, there were no notarized Certificates of Donation from the 10 rams whose scrotums were sewn into lampshades.

Dolphin specimen salted, dried, tanned, hollowed, and placed on a wooden plaque.
Possibly acquired under duress. 

Perhaps most notable is the attention paid to phallology in Icelandic folklore. The museum features the penises of over 20 indigenous creatures of legend, including the changeling, the mountain giant and something called the Icelandic Christmas Lad.

Phalluses of a mountain giant (left) and sea-bull (right). Preserved in formalin. 

I purchased from the gift shop what must certainly be the definitive illustrated book on the subject of mythological phalluses. Some excerpts follow.

Of the Beach Murmurer:
"[The creature] frequently harassed and tried to push unsuspecting visitors into the sea. It was consequently slain and more than two centuries later, it's impressive member was presented to the Icelandic Institute of Phallology."

Of the Hidden Man:
"[The Institute] received its hidden man member in 1989 from an Icelandic parliamentarian without any information about its origin. Due to its delicate nature, [the specimen] needs to preserved in mineral water which has to be renewed yearly."

Of the Catafox:
"Even when trapped it survived multiple stab and club wounds but finally succumbed to a gunshot to the head, when an old silver crucifix was shattered, and pieces used for ammunition. The institute acquired its baculum."
Of the Enriching Beach Mouse:
"From a carcass found in 1993 on the beach by the mountain Fesarfjall close to Grindavik in South West Iceland. The creature's phallus was extremely large relative to its size, but its body, bones, and flesh were so badly ravaged by waves and scavengers that only the penis bone could be salvaged."

We have been in Iceland for six days since visiting this museum, during which time we saw some very nice landscapes. I apologize, but I forgot to take pictures.

With warmest regards,