What was Wonder Woman’s name in her plainclothes life? Where was the Titanic built? When did Agatha Christie write Murder on the Orient Express? How many ram testicles can you fit in your mouth at once?
Okay, one of these questions is not like the other. The first three were heard at Café Kulture’s English Pub Quiz last month. The last was heard at a Thorrablót party for Icelanders in London last year. While many leave their homelands to get away from their nation, the people living abroad for any real length of time that I’ve met seek each other out, if for no other reason than a common language and a friendly face.
However, what I find so interesting is what people decide to do once they’ve gathered. While most Icelanders come home for Christmas, it is rather uncommon to return for other national holidays. But just because they are not in the country doesn’t keep them from celebrating. My Icelandic friends who find themselves abroad in the bleak midwinter (can you blame them) are wont to organize the annual Thorrablót feast, the traditional Icelandic banquet held in olden times once all the “normal” food ran out. No more tender lamb legs—after all the cheese had been gobbled up.
Thorrablót marked the time of year to dig your heels in and begin eating the food that had gone into “deep storage.” In old Iceland this meant curing food in a foul-smelling goop called mysa, which I have learned is Icelandic for “fermented ammoniated whey”. It smells like a cross between skim milk gone bad and a bottle of windex. Are you tempted yet? Naturally the delectables they pickle in this swill include blood pudding, whale blubber, and ram testicles. I am not making this up.
I don’t know whether the Icelanders organize these feasts abroad in an attempt to shock foreign friends, or if it’s actually a craving that I do not—nor will I ever—understand. It takes all kinds, right?
But last month I attended an event in Reykjavík that afforded me new perspective on these foreign gatherings. Last month at Café Kulture’s pub quiz night I engaged in a little native hobnobbing myself with my countrymen and our favorite overseas colony, the UK. With me was my consort of willing Icelanders, who came to lead us to victory and exploit the beer special.
It was odd to hear such a large space in Iceland overrun with English, but our two quizmasters, Carolinian Laurie Berg and her colonial counterpart Devonian Verity Sharp, were harsh taskmasters when it came to keeping the mob’s head in the game and speaking English.
While we didn’t drown ourselves in fermented ammoniated whey, I do believe we had the owner rethinking his special beer offer. It was good fun all around—although I suppose that is a matter of opinion. I will say that one of my Icelandic friends was completely baffled by the entire experience:
“So you get drunk and ask each other increasingly difficult questions? That seems like a little counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?” I suppose he has a point, but if anyone is going to talk about “counter-intuitive” I hardly think it should be the guy who douses his grub in windex. But in the end, we must all merrily roll along in the spirit of cultural appreciation. Sometimes we just have to hold our noses along the way.
If you’d like to take part in the camaraderie and increasingly difficult questions, pop in at Café Kulture on Hverfisgata across the street from the National Theater this Thursday. Registration at 8:00, quiz starts at 8:30, ISK 400 a head, but all entry fees go to the prize pot.
And in case you were wondering, of course my team won the pot last month: Wonder Woman’s real name is Diana Prince… the Titanic was built in Belfast… Murder on the Orient Express was published in 1934… and I can fit NO ram testicles in my mouth—and proud of it.
JM – [email protected]