Sunday, October 11, 2015

More to see in Reykjavik, Iceland

(Just as a heads-up -- this post includes a discussion of phalluses, as well as some pictures of preserved animal phalluses.  And ancient books.  And political art.  There is also mention of food and a spa.)

Icelandic Phallological Museum (Reykjavik, Iceland)

On our second day in Reykjavik, we headed off to see the Icelandic Phallological Museum, which houses preserved penises from a wide variety of animal species. The exhibit also included some phallic art and folklore.

Sigurður Hjartarson, a history teacher and principal, gradually amassed an extensive personal collection of animal phalluses, which he then turned into the world's only phallological museum.  But, although he had phalluses from many different species, he lacked a "proper human" specimen.  He felt that the museum would not be complete until he had a human phallus, and his quest for this specimen was the topic of the documentary film, The Final Member (which is currently available streaming through Netflix, if you wish to watch it in its entirety).  

The documentary not only tells the tale of the dedicated and passionate collector of phalluses, but also explores the relationships men have with their genitalia.  The public display of one's dismembered penis -- is it a moment of national pride, of sexual prowess, of fame and glory, or  masculinity made visible?  The museum currently has several letters from men promising to donate their genitals (post-mortem) . . . and one "proper human" specimen, as well.

Killer whale penis
Icelandic Phallological Museum

There were quite a few sea mammal penises in the museum, including this one from a killer whale. Cetaceans have a fibroelastic penis (as do deer, bulls, etc.), rather than the musculovascular type found in humans (and dogs, horses, etc.). The fibroelastic penis contains a lot of connective tissue and elastic fibers, but not much erectile tissue. Erection results from straightening the sigmoid flexure, which increases the length (but not the diameter) of the penis. Erection of the fibroelastic penis only requires a small increase in blood flow, while the musculoskeletal penis requires a much larger increase in blood flow to achieve erection. The conical tip of the cetacean penis is called the terminal cone.

Sperm whale penis in cross-section (Icelandic Phallological Museum)
This is a cross-section of a sperm whale penis. You can see the outer vascular layer, the inner corpus cavernosum and corpus spongium.

Apparently, the blue whale has the largest penis of any species, measuring 8-10 feet.  (Not that size matters, of course, but it does give a sense of scale to see the tiny penis of a shrew in the same room as an enormous cetacean penis.)  If you are interested in this topic, biologists recently got all a-Twitter and started posting photos of animal penises (#junkoff).  Did you know that ducks have a corkscrew penis? (You can watch it everting here.)  And snakes have a forked hemipenis?  The animal world is full of interesting genitalia.

After visiting the Phallological Museum, we trekked over to view an archeological museum, Reykjavik 871 +/-2 The Settlement Exhibition. The main exhibit features an excavated 10th century Viking longhouse and explores different aspects of early Icelandic life. The date of the longhouse can be fairly precisely identified because of volcanic ash from a major eruption around the year 871 (hence the museum's name).

A second exhibit featured early Icelandic books. This is a photo of Íslendingabók, the Book of Icelanders, written 1122-1132 by Ari Þorgilsson, an Icelandic priest. The book describes the history of Iceland up to the year 1120, and it is considered a fairly accurate account by historians. This is one of two paper manuscript copies made in the 17th century, which are the only remaining copies of the vellum text from ca.1200.

Icelandic history and culture seems strongly grounded in books. Not only are these early historical texts still referenced, but Iceland tops the world in the number of writers, books published, and books read per capita. Icelandic tradition involves giving books as gifts on Christmas eve and staying up reading that night. The sagas surround and infuse the culture with the art and joy of storytelling, and I'm sure that helps while away the long, dark winter nights.

After we left The Settlement Exhibition, we continued to explore Old Reykjavik, wandering through Austurvöllur, a public square next to the main Lutheran cathedral and the parliament building (Alþingi). The square also featured this monument, entitled The Black Cone Monument to Civil Disobedience by the Spanish artist Santiago Sierra. The plaque included the following quote from the Declaration Of The Rights Of Man And Of The Citizen: “When the government violates the rights of the people, insurrection is for the people and for each portion of the people the most sacred of rights and the most indispensable of duties.”

Apparently, the artist donated this work to the city, provided it would be permanently installed at Austurvöllur. The piece is meant to commemorate the 2008-9 financial crisis protests in Iceland (along with other protests, such as the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street). The work has evoked mixed response among Icelanders, apparently.

Then of course we needed lunch, so we were off to try the classic Icelandic dish -- hot dogs! We went to the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur ("Best Hot Dogs in Town"), the most popular hot dog stand in Reykjavik. Icelandic hot dogs differ from the American variety in that they are made predominantly from lamb (as well as some pork and beef). Available toppings include raw onions, crispy fried onions, ketchup, pylsusinnep (sweet brown mustard), and a remoulade sauce (mayonnaise, capers, mustard and herbs). I opted for just crispy onions on mine, but Q went for the full Icelandic experience and had "one with everything" (“ein með öllu").

And, of course, Q found another cat to pet as we wandered through the city. They all love him. He is the cat-whisperer.  (Note the "Fish" sign in the background -- this cat has it all. Sunny wall, nice petting, and maybe later, fish-snacks.)


After exploring Reykjavik, we drove out to the Blue Lagoon for some well-deserved relaxation. Hot-potting is a national pastime in Iceland, which isn't too surprising, given the cold weather and extensive geothermal activity that provides hot water.  This spa features a large pool of hot, mineral-rich water (from the nearby geothermal plant) set in a field of black-lava rocks.  People can daub themselves with white silica mud for exfoliating the skin, which gave the patrons a somewhat tribal-paint air at times ("They'll never take our freedom!"). The pool also has a waterfall for hydraulic massage (which felt so good on my shoulders!) and a bar (juice for Q, smoothie for me). When we went in the evening, it wasn't too crowded, so we were able to walk around to sample different water temperatures (I liked the really hot water near the vents, even with its sulfuric odor) and watch the sun set. Other than a bit of rough footing and a minor fall on my part, it was quite delightful.

(I didn't take pictures in the Blue Lagoon itself, for fear of damaging the camera in the water, but this is a shot from the parking lot as we were leaving.)

Next up:  The Golden Circle

1 comment: