Reading classic books is something I really enjoy. I love the thought that I’m reading a story millions of people over generations and sometimes hundreds of years have read. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, it makes me feel connected to something much bigger.
The time had come to tackle Moby Dick, the story of a whaling ship captain seeking revenge on a giant sperm whale that had bitten off his leg in a previous whaling expedition. Things were going swimmingly 🙂 and I was about three quarters through, when Chapter 95 stopped me cold. Wtf did I just read?
I’ve worked in an elementary school for the last 13 years, so I am very familiar with reading comprehension strategies. The first things to do if you’re not sure you’ve understood what you’ve read are to re-read and look for picture clues. Picture clues weren’t applicable in my version, so I re-read. Yep. I guess I had understood it after all.
You see, Chapter 95 is called The Cassock. A cassock is the black robe-like garment that a priest wears. Captain Ahab’s crew had caught and killed a sperm whale (not Moby Dick) and this chapter explains how the mincer (the man responsible for cutting up the pieces of blubber) has skinned the whale’s penis, which is black, turned it inside out, stretched it, dried it, cut a neck and two arm holes and is now wearing it. Melville says he looks like “a candidate for an archbishopric”. I’m not making that up. I’m not sure why the mincer couldn’t have just thrown on an apron…
Now fast forward and we are in Iceland. A text comes in from our son, Holden.
“You’re in Reykjavík, right?’
“We sure are.”
“You should go to the penis museum. The guys from Top Gear went there.”
Have you ever experienced the phenomenon of hearing about something for the first time, and then suddenly it’s everywhere? That’s how it was with the Icelandic Phallological Museum. It was a sign…we had to go.
Being the only one of its kind in the world, the Icelandic Phallological Museum has a specimen of every native Icelandic animal’s member, save human. (There is another display that pays homage to some men of Iceland that I’ll get to later.) As we walked around looking at this bizarre exhibit, I turned and my breath caught. There before me in a giant formaldehyde filled container was The Cassock in the flesh. Okay, this one wasn’t black, and I don’t see how it would be possible even with stretching, to fit a man inside, but it was exciting all the same. I love it when my literary and travel worlds collide! I was so glad we had made this sight-seeing detour.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I know this isn’t exactly the context of Newton’s Third Law, but Brett and I were on opposite sides of the enjoyment spectrum. He was a good sport but he was penised out. He was the only man in the place, and besides us there were about six giggling young women.
In addition to the specimens, there is a room with every kind of penis knick-knack and novelty you can imagine. Some are quite over the top. I made a pretend call on a penis phone and Brett rolled his eyes. As we came out of this room, I burst out laughing. It was the best display yet.
In 2008, the Icelandic men’s handball team won silver in the Beijing Olympics. There on the wall was a lovely picture of the team smiling with their medals, and underneath was a shadow box filled with casts of the team members’ members, done in, you guessed it, silver.
At this point I was penised out too, but I was glad we had had this strange experience, and of course that I had come face to face with Moby’s Dick.