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Perrottet: Sinners’ Grand Tour March 23, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Modern , trackback

Tony Perrottet, The Sinner’s Grand Tour: Journey Through the Historical Underbelly of Europe (2011 in paperback)

Broadly-speaking all humans have three reactions to forms of sexual activity: (i) frenzy, (ii) comic indifference or (iii) disgust. Beachcombing, for example, has to (i) contain himself when confronted with sultry Mediterranean beauty. He finds it (ii) amusing that some of his fellow humans are excited by leather-bound or office-based fantasies. And he gags (iii) at even vague references to a whole series of activities from bestiality to zoophilia. (Yes, yes, these are the same thing, but this was the closest he could get to the alpha-omega of sexual grossness.) The tragedy is, of course, that these three categories vary from individual to individual: one man’s meat is  another’s obscenity.

Now the beginning of sexual relations between two adults inevitably involves a degree of: are-we-compatible shuffling around the bedroom (or, for those so inclined, the office or stables). And so it is with a reader and a book on sexual history: including Tony Perrottet’s The Sinner’s Grand Tour: A Journey Through the Historical Underbelly of Europe. Unfortunately for Beachcombing TP’s book, though well-written and amusing, covers a series of Europeans – Byron, the Emperor Tiberius, the Marquis de Sade – with whom Beach is NOT in sympathy. Beach’s hands began to sweat with the six pages on pubic hair wigs, and he was close to retching by the time he got to the four on chastity belts.

Beach mentioned ‘history’ above, but this is not a history book per se. What we actually have is a ‘character’, the American author Tony Perrottet leading his family (wife and two sons) through sites with sexual histories in Britain and continental Europe. These range from the Hell Fire Clubs in Scotland, to a Pyrenean town with memories of a fourteenth-century inquisition – Albigensians did ‘it’ in front of church altars, to the search for the brothels of nineteenth-century Paris. In other words anything goes bar the Etruscans and, thank God, the Vikings.

The author reminds Beach of Bill Bryson – I bet he is sick of hearing that! – and some of his exploits such as his extraordinary attempts to get into the Marquis de Sade’s dungeon are well worth reading: particularly when you think of the efforts that some local virgins made to get out of the same. What Beachcombing found a little worrying was the running joke of trying to keep the purpose of the trip from the author’s ten and four year old sons. ‘Where’s Daddy going? [the elder son] started asking whenever I slipped out. ‘Oh, he’s got work to do’ [the wife] would  mutter dryly pushing my copy of Juliette [by De Sade] under the bed with her foot. The cover displayed the heroine with a strap-on dildo brutalizing a gagged shepherd.’ Beach never quite decided what he made of this type of humour. But perhaps the discomfort comes close to why the book works: the whole point of this material is that it should, like a Haneke film, unsettle you.

Oh and there is also a little gripe: if you purchase a book called The Sinner’s Grand Tour you might reasonably expect, well, the Grand Tour. Beach bought this volume on the strength of ‘Grand Tour’ thinking that here we would have northern travellers making merry in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century southern Europe, something reinforced by Renaissance statues on the front cover and a man and woman in great-grandparent-clothes groping. As Beachcombing confessed above he has a thing about sultry Mediterranean beauty: the idea of an unbalanced Georgian licking his lips as he rode towards Naples was one Beach relished.

In fact, this volume sat, damn it, on his Grand Tour shelf, until he decided to read it today to get through a series of insane bureaucratic appointments. Now he can’t complain. He enjoyed the book and he wouldn’t have brought it had it been called Tony’s Sexual Safari. So both the publisher, author and Beach are satisfied with said act of mendacity. But still…

Beachcombing is always on the look out for interesting books and thanks Invisible for sending him the link to this one: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

On the subject of sex follow this link for extraordinary photographs of life among teenage prostitutes in a Bangladeshi slum