Slate contributor Tony Perrottet was online at Washingtpost.com to chat with readers about his tour of Europe's sex-related historical sites. An unedited transcript follows.
Freising, Germany: I'm a bit surprised by the quote, "Medieval pilgrims were notorious for spicing up their religious devotions with riotous fornication". These days, I usually equate pilgrims with the long pilgrimage to Santiago in Spain, where most hikers seem to be health enthusiasts with an interest in religion.
Do you have any visits planned for Germany or Spain?
Tony Perrottet: Pilgrims these days are a relatively sedate bunch! In the Middle Ages, they were notorious debauchees—every town on the pilgrimage trails apparently loved and dreaded the arrival of pilgrims, who would party all night and cause all sort of raucous disturbances, running off with others's spouses, inviting groups of prostitutes into the inns...
I'd love to visit Germany, my book just came out there in German—I've forgotten what it is in German, Napoleon's Egg, I believe it translates as...
Washington, D.C.: I wonder if your travels ever took you to Paris, or if you had hoped to go, to learn about the infamous sexual culture of that city. I would think there'd be some historic old brothels to visit, or the birthplaces of the lingerie France is renowned for. Why do we associate Paris so intimately with sex? And is there more to France's sexual attractions than merely those related to the Marquis de Sade?
Tony Perrottet: You're right, Paris has been famous for its permissive culture since the time of Louis XIV I think (up there with Venice...) When I was last there, I hunted down some chastity belts kept in the Cluny Museum of medieval art... they used to be huge tourist attractions in the 19th century... There is definitely more than the Marquis to find there, I would love to track down the ancient brothels (actually, it would be quite easy to do, since they published guidebooks to Parisian prostitutes, with their rates and specialities...!)
Anonymous: Tony : I'm curious why you describe the Marquis as a gourmand. Do you think his palete one that appreciated fine food or did he just like to eat ?
Tony Perrottet: Both, as I understand it! He really loved the Provencal food—although not the super-rich sauces etc that the French are fond of, more the natural ingredients, cheeses, meats etc (very modern!) His favorite wine I understand was aged burgundy, although he was relatively abstemious. He ended up being quite obese in his old age (unlike the way he is portrayed in the movie Quills, actually—where he's relatively lean and mean...) He didn't get much exercise in prison/mental asylums it seems!
New York, N.Y.: What is it about the passage of time that changes our perspective of what is "thilth"? Nudes of yesterday are today's art. More recently, Bettie Page was considered obscene and required Congressional hearings to condemn her. Today, artists consider her an icon. Is it possible that the similar fetish models of today, whose films and photographs are found in the back rooms of video stores, will be considered the historical art in the future?
Tony Perrottet: Ha, it's true that old pornography seems quaint and often gets to be classed on a higher level/artistic status—ancient Roman erotica, which was often meant to be very silly and humorous (Priapus wheeling his enormous penis before him on a wheelbarrow! Phallic wind chimes!) is worth a fortune. In a way, though, today's pornographers are really only catching up with the 18th century, when very hard core porn was available through all the underground bookstores and by mail order from Amsterdam—I don't think French gents of the 1700s would be much surprised by the imagery today...
Brooklyn, NY: Dear Mr. Perrottet, What a story! To find that you and the Marquis graced the same terroir so many years ago. Est-ce que c'est possible that you might descendent from the illegitimate offspring of the Marquis?
I love your book, Napoleon's Privates, which I keep handy in the, um, library of my apartment. Here are my questions:
- did the Marquis have a favorite aphrodisiac?
- were there any tales that you couldn't tell because they were too salacious for print?
- what's your next book going to be about?
Tony Perrottet: Actually, the Marquis de Sade's favorite aphrodisiac was something called Spanish Fly—a weird drug extracted from beatles found in Spain! It caused a tingling sensation in, shall we say, sensitive areas of the body... unfortunately, it was also toxic. In Marseilles, the Marquis slipped the drug into candies which he fed to some prostitutes—they became violently ill and nearly died, and the Marquis had to go into hiding again...
I'd love to expand the Pervert's Grand Tour into a book—there is plenty of material all over Europe for one, I think—the shadow itinerary is much more interesting (I think) than dutifully going to the Louvre, the Prado, the museums of Rome...
And I don't think I have any tales too filthy for Slate...!
Anonymous: So you never got to meet the elusive Mr. Cardin for the personal tour of the dungeon ?
Tony Perrottet: No, I never met Cardin! There was a rumor in the village that he was in his chateau, but it was untrue... he tends to be there in spring and summer, for his arts festival. I'll have to go back!
Apparently, he's pretty easy to find when he's in town—he just wanders about the village, so you can go up and say hi...
Wausau, Wis.: I know the classical grand tour never reached as far as your home country of Australia but for a modern perverts grand tour are there any oddities of your homeland you can suggest?