From Iceland — Minnesotans and Sex

Minnesotans and Sex

Words by

Published May 5, 2006

In my home, we had two things that we didn’t bring up in mixed company: Minnesotans and sex. Actually, we had a few other topics that were off the menu too: politics, religion, affection, love, food, my father’s bleeding gum disease and the girl who appeared fortnightly at our window dressed in a sailor’s suit claiming to be my sister, but I believe that in avoiding Minnesotans and sex, we were like many polite Midwesterners.

So it makes sense that when I was offered the helm of an alternative magazine, the third issue I would publish would be devoted to the sex lives of Icelanders, and by the eighth, we started with the Minnesota jokes. The Reykjavík Grapevine, of course, has a Duluth correspondent, Andy Saur (who recently realised that his name means “shit” in Icelandic), who tells us about his exploits making Viking ships out of grocery bags. Isolated as Iceland is, most locals feel they are closer to the centre of the action in whatever field than Minnesotans would be. Even growing up in Iowa and Wisconsin I felt bad for Minnesotans, or bad for laughing at them.

The thing is, we had amazing material in mocking Minnesotans. On our bookshelves – the real ones, not the swinging ones that concealed my dad’s pretty things – we had multiple editions of Main Street, a scathing critique of Minnesota life by Sinclair Lewis. That book, by the way, brought Lewis a Nobel Prize for Literature, and it got the attention of an aspiring writer in Iceland, the Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness, who corresponded with Lewis as he wrote his own takes on social criticism, scathing works possessed of a bit more beauty than Lewis could muster.
The only other books my parents had two copies of were the King James Bible – the neighbours gave it regularly in the blind hope that it would bring religion, goodliness, or something resembling decency to our home, or “den of sin”, as the Racine Journal Times described it – and Garrison Keillor’s first novel, Lake Wobegon Days.

As we go to print, a few Icelanders have heard of Keillor and his classic radio programme A Prairie Home Companion, a weekly radio show dedicated to storytelling, folk music and the imagination, as it is coming to Reykjavík for a broadcast. But not too many people understand the impact of the show, or of Keillor’s other work as the Minnesota man of letters, a man who made a modest northern state into something you want to joke about, because the punch line reminds you of something that you kind of want to get off your chest. The humour, in other words, is often a dead match for the effect that Laxness had, or for the crueller Icelandic jabs.

In the back of this paper, you can read about Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion. In the front of the paper, it is my pleasure to present an entirely different Minnesota voice, that of a young writer from Mankato, Minnesota. I am particularly proud to have Bronson Lemer’s piece about Iraq and Sigur Rós opening this paper – the humanity of his short article, and what his piece says about the possibilities of the imagination, the possibilities for art to deeply and personally affect people across the globe is remarkable.

For those of you who could not care less about Minnesotans with imaginations, we continue to present the best English-language Reykjavík listings in the world, along with handy maps. We also have our first feature from music critic Sindri Eldon, and, as an added bonus, we have a whole lot of Icelandic writers with sex on the brain. Yes, as it happens, on the one year anniversary of our sex issue, we’ve got even more sex, but this time from writers who were told to do things like write concert reviews and talk about shopping. Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex.
So there you have it, sex and Minnesotans. In one free publication. May God help us all.

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