Erogenous Zones: An Anthology of Sex Abroadby Lucretia Stewart (Editor), Lucretia Stewart
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As Lucretia Stewart states in her introduction to this original anthology of nonfiction writings: "Anyone who has ever enjoyed a brief encounter with someone unknown, or barely known recognizes that it carries with it a particular thrill." Especially, she adds, if the encounter takes place in a foreign country, the random meeting of two people can take on an added dimension of adventure: "the more exotic the setting, the greater the kick."
Erogenous Zones: An Anthology of Sex Abroad is divided geographically by continent. Editor Lucretia Stewart has chosen pieces that she feels exemplify the search for "the other," a goal she says that travel and sex both share. Her selections include an array of amatory adventures, culled fro a diverse assembly of writers including the expected Giacomo Casanova, Henry Miller, Anis Nin, and Joe Orton, and the less anticipated Robyn Dadidson, Laurie Lee, Katherine Mansfield, and Dervla Murphy.
About the Author:
Lucretia Stewart was born in Singapore and now lives in London. The daughter of a diplomat, she traveled extensively in Asia, America, adn Europe. She returned to China, where she lived as a small child, as an adult, and went on to to visit Laos, vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, Burma, Hong Kong, Macao, and Australia, as well as America, the Caribbean, and most of Europe. She is the author of two travel books, Tiger Balm: Travels in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia and The Weather Prophet: A Caribbean Journey. Her novel, Making Love, was published in 1999.
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I seem to have spent my life traveling. My father was a diplomat and my childhood was spent abroad, first in Asia, then America and finally in Europe. Even when I was young, travel and foreign parts always seemed romantic and rather daring; the passage of time has not caused me to change my mind. I began to travel as an adult in 1985, when I returned to China, where I had lived as a small child, and I have continued to do so for the last fifteen years. During this time I have visited Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, Korea, Hong Kong, Macao, China, Singapore, Malaysia, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Poland, Russia, America, the Caribbean, and Australia-and most of my traveling has been done alone. I take the same line as the writer Colin Thubron that, if you travel with another person, you travel in "a little bubble of Englishness" (or Americanness, Frenchness, etc.). Some years ago a friend described me as "addicted to travel." I wouldn't go that far, but it is true that travel has always seemed some kind of solution. In addition, I believe that it really does broaden the mind.
So, when this anthology was proposed, I was enthusiastic. I have, for exactly fifteen years-since 1985, in fact-been aware of the relationship, you might almost say kinship, between sex and travel; and before I was formally conscious of it, I am certain that I suspected its existence.
Travel is, above all, the search for the unknown, for the other; so, in its purest form, is sex (the pre-skin cancer obsession with the sun is a less forthright form of this; even today people associate the two, traveling to theCaribbean in search of sun and sex-the sea coming a poor third in the desire stakes). Travel and sex both involve exploration and experimentation; linking the two is almost irresistible. As Pico Iyer writes in The Lady and the Monk, "Besides the pairing of Western men and Eastern women was as natural as the partnership of sun and moon. Everyone falls in love with what he cannot begin to understand. And the other man's heart is always greener."
From the outset, I decided to restrict the collection to nonfiction: to mix fiction and nonfiction would only obscure the purpose of the anthology. But my criteria for inclusion has been that the foreignness of either the setting, or of the object of desire, should quite demonstrably have had a transforming effect on the traveler, and therefore on the quality of the experience itself. (Ideally these factors should coincide with literary merit, as in the case of Gustave Flaubert, whose travels in Egypt reveal him to be the very model of' an erotic traveler, but, in some cases, where the writing is less strong, the experience itself has been sufficiently unusual, sufficiently sexy, to merit inclusion here.)
So, Duncan Fallowell, a gay writer, finds himself engaging in heterosexual sex in St. Petersburg when he is caught off guard by a masseuse/prostitute. Geoff Dyer finds himself on the verge of public masturbation on a beach in Mexico; after making love to a girl in Los Angeles, Richard Rayner dons her Bunny costume and transforms himself into Bunny Richard; Aimee Crocker, an American woman traveler who explored the Far East in the thirties, found Shanghai a most liberating place. And so on.
For the travelers/writers who are featured in this anthology, the whole business has assumed a sort of tripartite quality-rather like the Holy Trinity, one and three at the same time: traveling, fucking/making love/falling in love/yearning, then writing about it. The last, I imagine, gives the experience, or the memory of the experience, an extra frisson.
A romantic and unusual, preferably exotic, setting compounds the thrill. The more exotic the setting the greater the kick. It doesn't need to be about danger, though some of the writers, whose work I have included in this collection, clearly find an element of risk a turn-on (for example, the extract from Cleopatra's Wedding Present by Robert Tewdwr Moss, a handsome young homosexual, who, in reality, survived his Syrian adventures, only to be murdered in London on the day that he finished writing the book).
In 1980, the Anglophile American scholar Paul Fussell published a book called Abroad and subtitled it "British Literary Traveling Between the Wars." The wars in question were the two world wars of this century, and the period between them saw the Golden Age of travel writing, particularly in Britain, where undertaking a difficult and arduous journey, then writing a book about it, became a rite of passage for young men.
This was for two reasons: first, because traveling had suddenly become easier (communications were better, people were more prosperous, etc.) and, second, because the world then hadn't changed (or shrunk) as much as it has now. It was still possible to find remote places where few people had been; as a travel writer, you could still address your subject almost as if you were an anthropologist, something impossible to get away with today, that is, unless you actually are an anthropologist.
The book contained a chapter entitled "L'Amour du Voyage," in which Fussell claimed that "Making love in a novel environment, free from the censorship and inhibitions of the familiar, is one of the headiest experiences travel promises."
The operative word here is "promises." The traveler, like the sexual adventurer (of whom homosexuals seem to be the most daring-although some people might think "reckless" a better word), embarks on his quest in the hope of encountering the unknown. Erotic travelers are, as the old song would have it, "Strangers in the night exchanging glances / Wondering in the night what were the chances / We'd be sharing love before the night was through." For these lovers at first sight, love (and sexual adventure) is simultaneously just a glance away and many miles from home. The promise of a foreign affair, that enticing combination of the erotic and the exotic, can prove unbearably alluring.
The trailer, which advertises the video of the film version of Han Suyin's novel Love Is a Many-Splendoured Thing, promises that "Passion loses control in exotic Hong Kong." Implicit is the suggestion that uncontrollable passion and sexual adventure (even, with luck, depravity) beyond wildest imaginings, are possible only in such places as "exotic Hong Kong." In E. M. Forster's story "The Obelisk," written in 1939, the travel undertaken by a schoolmaster and his wife is merely to an out-of-season seaside resort. Nonetheless it leads to a chance encounter with two sailors, which in turn leads to sex, which leads to unprecedented perception, none of which would have been possible if the couple had not "traveled."
In Alison Lurie's novel Foreign Affairs, two Americans, a middle-aged spinster and a young married man, find themselves in London for several months. Both form relationships about which, at home in America, they might have hesitated: the woman, an academic specializing in children's literature on a foundation grant, with a Texan tourist, the man with an unstable English actress eight years his senior. Both characters feel free to act, as it were, out of character, because they are far from home. The journey has taken the travelers from a world of' middle-class values and expectations to at least the possibility of a new order of experience.
Anyone who has ever enjoyed a brief encounter with someone unknown or barely known, recognizes that it carries with it a particular thrill. In Delta of Venus, Anais Nin fantasizes about being brought to orgasm in the subway at rush hour by a total stranger, a man who, as soon as the train stops, gets out and disappears. His anonymity-she does not know his name, she cannot see his face, adds to her arousal. This is not an uncommon fantasy, but, while Nin's experience may have been invented (at the time, in 1941, she, Henry Miller, the English poet George Barker, and several others were all writing erotica for a dollar a page to make money and to feed the fantasies of a rich book collector) the extract included here from The Empty Mirror by Janwillem van de Wetering describes the almost identical situation actually occurring on a train to Kobe.
For some writers, the presence of a beloved friend is the catalyst, or, at the very least, the icing on the cake. After a trip to Sicily in the spring of 1927, Cyril Connolly wrote to Noel Blakiston as follows: "Thank you for coming to Sicily and for contributing to the most sustained ecstasy of my life.... I shall never be able to travel with anyone else ... for I on honey dew have fed and drunk the milk of paradise ... O Noel!" O Noel indeed.
Norman Douglas's preferred traveling companions were young boys (his taste was for boys between ten and twelve), which may account for the fact that he rarely mentioned his companions in his writing (and which is why Douglas does not feature in this anthology). In Alone, far from being alone, he was accompanied for most of the walking tours described in the book by Rene Marl, a boy of fourteen. In Old Calabria, his companion was twelve-year-old Eric, a Cockney he had picked up in Crystal Palace. Eric kept his own diary of the trip (in which he wrote, "Salami is a kind of sausage it is very beastly"). In Fountains in the Sand, Douglas's companion was a "tall, young and attractive" German schoolmaster. Douglas told Harold Acton that "each of his books had ripened under the warm rays of some temporary attachment: unless he was in love he had little or no impulse to write." He was convinced that the Mediterranean was the natural locale for the seduction of very young persons and, in fact, ended his days in a handsome villa in Capri, attended by a ten-year-old Neapolitan boy, Ettore, much beloved by Douglas, but written off as "a little tart" by others.
Not all the extracts I have included come from the work of real writers. In twentieth-century travel writing, the tradition has been for a young man to set off on a sort of Grand Tour-usually to the Middle East, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, or Asia-and then to write about it, as if to justify the enterprise. The Arabist explorer Freya Stark once summarized the difference between herself and Peter Fleming (News from Tartary, One's Company, etc.) as follows: "Peter travels and then writes about it; I travel in order to write about it."
I think that that's a valid distinction: Fleming, as it happens, was a gifted writer-lively and informative (his unhappy companion on the journey that produced News from Tartary, Ella Maillart, herself wrote a not very good book, Forbidden Journey, about the same trip). Most of these travelers were men, with some notable and notorious, such as Lady Hester Stanhope and her late twentieth-century counterpart Fiona Pitt Kethley-exceptions. In the extracts included in this collection, some are quite obviously by writers. Others are the work of gifted-or, in some cases, less gifted-amateurs.
One of my favorite extracts comes from Italian Journeys by the British writer and critic Jonathan Keates. While staying at a pensione in Venice, Keates overheard an exchange between "a bald, bespectacled Frenchman of a certain age 11 and a couple of sailors-"country boys from a village somewhere down south, doing their military service on the lagoon" whom the Frenchman had brought back to the pensione late one night. It's a sad, rather shoddy little encounter, but, before recounting its humiliating denouement, Keates remarks that "in garrulous Italy the talk which follows sex is worth everything else for pleasure. . . ."
Some travelers-of whom Giacomo Casanova, the great eighteenth-century lover whose name is now synonymous with sexual promiscuity (as in "he's a real Casanova"), is perhaps the best example-have journeyed, it would appear, almost solely for the purpose of erotic titillation and gratification. Casanova's travels were really just one long, erotic pursuit, perhaps the best example of the fusion (or confusion) of sex and travel.
Casanova's fictional counterpart is Don Juan. In Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, Leporello, Don Giovanni's manservant, sings the famous "catalogue" song in which he enumerates his master's conquests. It is clear from the outset that Don Giovanni was as much as a traveler as he was a lover, visiting Italy, Germany, France, Turkey, and Spain (where he had slept with 1,003 women-the music rushes to a crescendo of excitement with the repetition of the phrase mille e tre), in relentless pursuit of country girls, domestic servants, and city beauties, as well as countesses, baronesses, marchionesses, and princesses-women of every rank, every size, and every age: blondes, brunettes, fat ones (in winter), thin ones (in summer).
With comparable energy and enthusiasm (or was it simply a lack of discrimination?), Flaubert, according to letters and diaries he wrote during his travels in Egypt, flung himself wholeheartedly into the gratification of his libido and effectively set out to embrace and explore the country through its women. A century later, his sexual abandon is evoked in No Particular Place to Go, an account by the British poet Hugo Williams of a three-month poetry-reading tour in the United States in the mid-1970s, three indefatigable months during which he cut a considerable swathe through the numerous women he encountered.
A comparison of the two writers illustrates some of' the most salient characteristics of the sexual traveler. Williams's adventures were enjoyed at the height of the sexual revolution and Flaubert's escapades predated, or so one would imagine, sexual liberation and feminism (in any case, the women he slept with were usually professionals; if not actual prostitutes, then courtesans or dancers). But, though Flaubert indicates a degree of sensitivity and tenderness towards some of his sexual partners, in particular Kuchik Hanem (of whom he wrote, "I stared at her for a long while, so as to be able to keep a picture of her in my mind"), the general impression is, as with Williams, one of careless, indiscriminate lust.
When Edmund White (an extract from whose cool, almost anthropological, States of Desire, is included) published his autobiographical novel The Farewell Symphony, he encountered a fair amount of criticism of his promiscuity-some critics couldn't resist indulging in a Leporello-style exercise, counting the number of the unnamed narrator's sexual partners (the narrator was, of course, assumed to be White himself), and attributing his promiscuity to the fact that he was homosexual. In truth, as the accounts of Flaubert and Williams, among other heterosexuals, testify, it was only because they were abroad that they were able to indulge in an orgy of intercourse. When they were at home, they were constrained by family or society, rather than their sexual orientation, and that restricted their behavior.
For Joe Orton, abroad-specifically North Africa-became virtually indistinguishable from sexual pleasure. As Orton's diaries clearly reveal, for him and for his companion, Kenneth Halliwell, the whole point of taking their holidays in Tangier was to have as much sex as was humanly possible with young Arab boys. In the case of writers such as J. R. Ackerly and John Haylock, both acknowledged homosexuals, abroad was not so much about sexual gratification but about liberation from the constraints and pretenses of "home." And it was only when Andre Gide-at home in France a respectable married man-was abroad (and in the Third World) that he could reveal-and give full expression to-his true nature, his homosexuality. In the extract from Si le Grain Ne Meurt-which I have included here, Gide describes his first and second homosexual encounter, the latter in particularly explicit terms.
This passage appeared in the original French, of course, and then in Dorothy Bussy's translation, of which a special limited edition of 1,500 copies was published in 1950. It was, however, omitted from the 1951 edition of the work (in every other respect, the same translation), presumably because it was deemed too shocking. The British writer Francis King recommended this passage to me, but I could find only the censored edition in the London Library. King put me in touch with Jonathan Fryer, the author of a book about Wilde and Gide (Andre & Oscar); I was able to borrow a copy from him of the original translation and find the relevant passage far more daring than any other Gide that I had come across.
Robin Maugham describes his first homosexual experience, which took place in Nice, on a yacht belonging to Gerald Haxton, a friend of his Uncle Willie (Somerset Maugham). In a paragraph preceding the extract I have included, he writes, "I was still pleased with myself because I had so thoroughly enjoyed making love to the girl in Nice the previous night," yet when Gerald offers him Laurent, "a blond boy of about seventeen," he doesn't hesitate.
The practice of homosexuality was, for most men in the "civilized" world, a risky business. It still is-legally. Since 1885, both "gross indecency" and buggery have been illegal in Britain; in America, the law varies from state to state. However, as we all know, matters have eased since the sixties (the 1967 Wolfenden Report went some way towards decriminalizing gay sex in England and Wales). Before then, however, it was easier and safer to go abroad. More fun too, probably.
Fussell says of Christopher Isherwood: "Because of the risks of enjoying them in London, boys became for Isherwood an emblem of abroad. One such was Bubi, who he became infatuated with during his first stay in Berlin. 'By embracing Bubi,' he [Isherwood] writes, 'Christopher could hold in arms the whole mystery-magic foreignness.... Berlin meant boys.' " And boys meant Berlin, just as for some travelers, Africa meant not simply the dark continent but also an entire continent of dark and infinitely alluring flesh.
Now, of course, the risks have changed. AIDS has put something of a dampener on erotic travel, for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. The extract from Ed Hooper's Slim is a timely reminder of the risks of sex with a stranger. Hooper, a journalist reporting from AIDS-ravaged Uganda, fell passionately in love with a woman whom he met casually in a bar, and the specter of AIDS dogged their relationship. AIDS, in a way that nothing else has done before (syphilis seems usually-except presumably in its terminal and grotesquely deforming stages-to have been regarded with remarkable insouciance), has cast a shadow over hitherto lighthearted promiscuity. Would Paul Theroux have been as carelessly eager in Africa today as he was before the discovery of AIDS?
The Victorian writer Frank Harris, who was resolutely heterosexual and fairly sleazy with it, demonstrated a robust crudity about his encounters that is refreshing, if a little repetitive and boastful. Other writers doubtless had exactly the same motives (to go forth and conquer), but they were less open about them. I suspect that Mark Hudson (Our Grandmothers' Drums) attributed purer motives to his pursuit of the African girl he desired, though he rather gives the game away when he writes, "I decided when all was said and done it was an intelligent face." Does he expect us to believe that he wouldn't have slept with her if she had been merely beautiful?
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Lucretia Stewart was born in Singapore and now lives in London. She is the author of two travel books, Tiger Balm: Travels in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia and The Weather Prophet: A Caribbean Journey. Her novel, Making Love, was published in 1999.
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