Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Whoring in the Near East

This is my personal title for the section of the Flaubert biography that I'm reading now in which he and a traveling companion journey through Egypt, the Holy Land, and the old Ottoman Empire. Now I've always admired the intrepidity of those 18th and 19th century European travelers, but Flaubert might be in a class all to himself. In addition to the usual dangers of sailing, river boating (down the Nile to the Second Cataract), weather, disease, vermin, banditti, strange food, and dodgy lodging, he also had to deal with the lack of proper brothels for whole days at a time! Sometimes only a low hut with straw on the floor sufficed for the boudoir! Not only did he manage to get fat while touring the "antique" world, he engaged in sexual marathons to boggle the mind. Now for most people, "suppurating chancres" on one's nether parts might serve to stifle somewhat the pursuit of sexual pleasure, but not Gustave. He scoffs at your fastidious sniffing!

And all along the way, he was reading Herodotus and Homer--both in their original languages, of course. There was nary an important monument or historical site that he didn't investigate, not to mention that he wrote almost daily reassuring, filial letters to his Mum back in Rouen. I'm wearing clean socks, the desert air is so healthful, etc., etc. All this from a man who suffers from epilepsy and fears that he may be a big loser because his friends told him that his last writing project was a disaster (it did sound pretty bad). Well, I am in awe. No wonder they called it the Grand Tour.

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