Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tijuana Bibles

My dearest Readers,
Every month, I delight in the possibility that you might walk away from this blog tickled and astounded by the underbelly of the past. And you had best believe I intend to tickle and astound. Tijuana Bibles. Have you heard of them? If you have, YOU are one bad ass underbelly historian and I'd like to shake your dirty little hand because this is one history that is as muddled and fascinating as it gets. I was fortunate enough to get an up close look at these suckers at none other than the Museum of Sex itself. I've heard of them prior to visiting the museum, but never actually got to see them in person, so it really was a treat and one I'm sharing with you.

So...Tijuana Bibles. They weren't REALLY bibles. As you might have guessed given that it is getting its own post on my blog. The origin of the name itself is actually unknown. Some say it was a jab on the vices of Border Mexican towns and others say it was used merely to throw off the authorities. Either way, these Tijuana Bibles have quite the naughty history. Tijuana bibles were also called jo-jo books, fuck books (which best describes them), blusies, gray-backs, and eight pagers, to name a few. I should probably note that these were American in origin.
So what were they? It was a creative form of incredibly artistic pornography. They were explicit, hand drawn CARTOON booklets stapled together in a convenient "pocket" size. They made their debut in the 1920's but really exploded in the Depression Era of the 1930's when cartoonists were looking to make a living just like everyone else. Though they altogether petered off in popularity by the 50's, these dirty little booklets consisted of cartoons that created "a story" involving sex. They were sold in school yards (they are cartoons, after all!!), tobacco shops (under the counter), back alleys (with the booze) and out of the trunks of cars (with the booze). They were collected like baseball cards and traded and shared (and shared and shared).

What made these popular? They were without any doubt funny as freakin hell (humor during the depression went a looooong way) and more importantly, featured popular comic strip cartoons, celebrities of the era, and politicians in every dang sexual position known to man and woman (and animal). You get to page through Minnie and Mickey Mouse's adventures of having rowdy rodent sex. Or Clark Gable using his ears to make a woman scream. Or my favorite (below), Donald Duck in all his cocky glory. Puts his character in a whole new light, doesn't it?

I bet you always dreamed about seeing Popeye....well...pop an eye. And believe me, he does. Right along with us!

Ever wonder where Dick Tracy got his name? Oh, yeah, he EARNS his name in these suckers. As for good old Dagwood? Well...he's just got wood. And Snow White? She DOES all seven drawfs in style. Setting aside the dirty details, the drawings in and of themselves were actually done with a quality that made these even more popular.

Now despite its popularity, all of the booklets themselves were drawn and printed anonymously due to all the indecency laws in the united states (which weren't lifted until the 1960's). Shipments were occasionally seized by authorities but with no source and no names, it was very difficult for them to press charges against anyone. Fascinatingly enough, the cartoonists behind the Tijuana Bibles have never stepped forth with their names, even long after bans were lifted and to this day, identification of the creators are done based off of the styling of the cartoon itself.
Wesley Morse, the creator of Bazooka Joe (yes, the bubble gum cartoons!), was believed to have been one of many cartoonists who drew anonymously during a time when there was no work. Not much more is known.

In the end, what is utterly fascinating about the depression era itself was the people's desperate need for escapism given the hardships. That need is what created the booming film industry. And that need is what created this titillating form of pornography that took tongue and cheek to a whole new level known as Tijuana Bibles. So now that you know all about Tijuana Bibles, I suggest you keep your eyes open. Because who knows? Maybe your grandma or your grandpa have some of these puppies stashed up in the attic somewhere. Or better yet, maybe your grandma and your grandpa are STILL paging through these suckers, chuckling and tickling each other under the covers as they make use of it. All I do know is that the good old days were exactly that...good. Gotta love history.

Until next time,
Much love to you,
Delilah Marvelle

Monday, August 1, 2011

Pretty Women of Paris Exposed

My dearest Readers,
As I had promised in last month's post, I had made an appointment in New York City to view a very special item which I had learned about through Tony Perrottet's book, "The Sinner's Grand Tour." Most of you are probably thinking that I would be inspecting a dildo or a super old condom. Not so, my friends. I'm more refined in nature than you think. Hahaha (so says the kettle that is black...). That said, I'll stop being a tease.

In 1883, a 200 page "guide" known as THE PRETTY WOMEN OF PARIS was printed in Paris by an unknown gentleman. Many believe it was actually a British gentleman living in Paris given his exceptionally good usage of the English language. It was a guide that allowed any man who possessed it to have the address and name of all the women in Paris who would willingly give it up for the almighty French Franc. Meaning it was a guide to all the whores and courtesans and bordellos in Paris. Each name and address came with detailed descriptions about her physical appearance and her "specialty." But it included far, far more than just "She likes to fuck guys and you can find her here and pay her this." There's actually a lot of personal information pertaining to her life that gives us glimpses unlike anything we'll ever see.

Does any of this sound familiar? It should be. If you've been a devoted follower of my blog, you might remember that I did a post about a very similar guide that was rather popular with the masses in England back in 1757 and was published yearly until it was shut down by the government in 1795. Click HERE to refresh your little memory.

Like most pornographic material in the Victorian era, THE PRETTY WOMEN OF PARIS was published "privately" in 1883 (which means this person would have gotten tossed into jail for printing this in any other way). There were only 169 copies made. Of those 169 copies, only 3 of the 169 remain in the world today. One is in the British Library, one is in private hands (which means one less copy the world will ever see), and one in the New York City Library.

Imagine my excitement knowing I was going to be just BLOCKS from the New York City Library where this sucker was housed. Prior to flying to New York City for the Annual Romance Writer's of America conference, I made an appointment with the rare book room to see it. I had scheduled it ahead of time, because they require at least four days notice. They ultimately decide whether or not they will even let you see the book. Fortunately, they didn't think I'd eat the book.

Now before I get into my incredible five hour experience of "touching" and "looking" and "reading" this utterly fascinating historical artifact, let me delve into its history which will set up how truly unique and historically important this book is.

In Paris, back in Napoleon's day, prostitution was "legal." Meaning, you had to be registered with the Police, pay your taxes and allow for twice weekly examinations (because once a week wasn't enough, right?). Napoleon wanted to ensure that venereal disease didn't spread and felt that by making it public while having records of the women doing it, the industry and disease could be controlled more. And boy if he sure as hell wasn't on to something. Many Brits flocked to Paris for decades because of it. It really was an unheard of precaution unlike anything being done in the world.

By 1880, there were 224 brothels legally operating in Paris. Of those 224, about 30,000 prostitutes were licensed by the government to operate their bodies and pay taxes on it. No kidding. These women had to all be licensed to be a whore and had to be physically and routinely checked by doctors that were hired by the government (sweet job for a perve). The moment any woman was found to have a venereal disease, she was taken off the street by the police and not allowed to "operate" anymore. While there were incredibly established and lavish brothels that were included, sadly, it also included what I call the maisons d'abattage. Translated it quite literally means "slaughterhouses." It was a low budget brothel where men paid, took a number and lined up outside a door waiting to be serviced. Meaning, a woman would finish with one customer and the other would step right in as the guy was leaving. There wasn't even time for her to wipe down. Some women endured over FIFTY men a night in these "slaughterhouses" (dearest God I would have just shot myself). As if that wasn't bad enough, the cost for a man to have a pass with one of these women was only a single franc (which is about $7 today). And you better believe that poor girl only saw a small percentage of it because the Madam in the brothel took a large cut of it. Not all brothels obviously operated this way. Some were insanely lavish and the girls were treated like diamonds, but sadly, it was a lifestyle that resulted in hardships no matter where they were working.

Everything operated this way in Paris until 1946 when the conservative government took over the city and shut everything down, turning all the brothels into apartments and public buildings. What many don't realize is that there was a much darker and deeper rooted sentiment behind doing so. It wasn't because they decided it was "wrong" but in fact that during the Nazi occupation in Paris, many of these brothels oversaw the sexual needs of Nazis. It was a personal shame not just that whores were running around town but that these women symbolized how far France had fallen. It had slept with the enemy. Quite literally.

With the shutting down of all brothels, the history of anything we might have known about them and its women and the men who frequented them began disappearing. Artifacts from these women and the brothels themselves were either destroyed or sold into private hands and/or never heard of again. Most people may not think protecting such history is important, but this is the history of our women who had no other means to earn their living in a world ruled by men. If that doesn't deserve protection and understanding, I don't know what the hell does.

So now that you have an understanding of Paris back in 1883 when our "guide" was printed, you begin to realize how important this guide truly is. It's like peering into history itself and the women who were trying to survive in a very legal trade.

I had to be buzzed into the Rare Book Room as it is locked to the public. I already felt special knowing I was part of an elite group of people who was "allowed" to be buzzed in. When I walked into the glass encased book covered room, I was greeted by a notable drop in temperature. It was so cool in fact, I wished I had brought a sweater along instead of wearing my little summer dress. I didn't even consider that yes, books that are rare and irreplaceable would require not only special encasing, but certain conditions to be able to survive.

I was not allowed to take any pictures. Nor was I allowed to use a pen. Only pencil, in case ink accidentally got on the book. Fortunately, I was allowed to bring in my computer to take notes. I was set up at my own desk with a lamp and a special foam book stand with a weighted string to which to set the book on. I was rather surprised they didn't make me wear gloves. From what I heard, in the British Museum, you not only have to wear gloves but you can't be "alone" with it the way I was in the New York City Library. So I got to physically touch a piece of history that my friends over in England can't.

When the item was brought out, imagine my surprise to find it wasn't an actual "book" but 11 pamphlets. They were 5x4 and threaded together in three places. They were in beautiful condition, though you can see they'd been handled by many before me, not including the dude that first got a hold of it back in 1883 to make use of it...

The title was printed across each pamphlet like this:

The Pretty Women of Paris; Their Names and Addresses, Qualities and Faults, Being a Complete Directory; Or, Guide to Pleasure For Visitors to the Gay City (1883 Privately Printed at the Press of the Prefecture de Police, by Subscription of the Members of the Principal Parisian Clubs).

Preface: "Every Woman has her Price." - The Author

When I saw that PREFACE, I actually snorted loud enough to make everyone in the Rare Book Room look up from their studies. I cringed and tried to pretend that I didn't do it by reading on. Boy did I ever get an eye full of that book. There were no illustrations but the words didn't need any. All the names of the women were listed in Alphabetical Order. Quite literally from A to Z. What fascinated me most was learning more about the details that get lost in history. Like what the life of a whore might have REALLY been like back in the 1800's. I think this book, though clearly sexist in its nature for the author had very few positive "reviews" of any of the women in his guide, it gives us a glimpse into the daily life of these women.

Here's two of my favorite excerpts:

D’Arcourt, Blanche

11, Rue Miromenil

For beauty in stature in stature and elegance in every limb, no handsomer woman will be found in Paris. She has a fine bust, and has just reached the ripe age of 29. She has a slight down on her upper lip, and affects a pince-nez, which gives her a very saucy appearance. She is very strong and a fine swimmer. Her lovers are to be found among the busy members of the Stock Exchange, and her only fault is the too frequent recurrence of some slight symptoms of venereal disease. She gives very pleasant balls and parties, where many young beginners may be picked up by the amateurs of female beauty. Last winter our brunette appeared at one of her reunions, attired in nothing but a loose gauze chemise and red-satin boots, exactly as if she was only a simple bawdy house wench. Her bosom friend, Antoinette Duret, who we notice further on, was attired, or rather, not attired, in the same way, and soon all the guests male and female, followed suit. She is very good-hearted, and does her best to please both old and young. The smallest contribution thankfully received.

Red-satin boots? I want those! And I just love the whole "slight symptoms of venereal disease." He was probably trying to get her into trouble with the police.

And my next favorite excerpt:

D’Ange, Baroness

Rue Saint Georges

Nearly every visitor to Paris has noticed an elderly lady, who drive in the fashionable promenades, handling the whip herself with consummate cleverness. She is always attired in the height of fashion, and generally has at her side a young and comely companion. The old baroness herself is old and ugly, but her turn-out is always a marvel of coaching display. Sometimes she disdains to drive, and a postilion, be-wigged and be-powdered, with brilliant, old fashioned costume, conducts this luxurious old bawd; while on other days a tiny tiger, dressed in the perfection of taste, dances up and down on the spring-board behind her airy vehicle. IN any other capital of Europe this person known as the “Shame of Paris” would be simply pelted with mud and stones, for everybody is aware of her trade. It is that which Martial, in his epigrams, so unmercifully condemns. She, nothing more than a fellatrix, or, so to speak more plainly, she produces the venereal spasm by the contact of her mouth, and the tickling of her tongue. Only a common whore, provided with a card by the police, compelling her to submit to the search of the speculum at stated times, she manages to avoid this disagreeable duty by clever bribery. Her house, which, contrary to the usual habit in Paris, is inhabited by her alone, is magnificently furnished, and full of costly pictures, statues, and works of art. The visitor is generally conducted to a splendid bedstead in Algerian style, and after copious ablutions with rose-water, proffered in a silver basin, the goddess deigns to prove the power of that marvelous piece of mechanism – the female tongue. The snug retreat is also tenanted by two or three young nymphs, but none are so clever as this old woman. Her large fortune proves her vogue, as all Paris has passed her doors. Well worth a visit, if only out of curiosity, especially as one short séance is only 10 francs, with a slight gratuity to the waiting-maid, who in return for your kindness, will show you over the house.

What struck me about all the entries was realizing how real these women were and the hardships and the craziness they must have endured. Not only did they create it for themselves but the men placed that burden on them as well. Many think that the Victorian era erased vice and created modesty in women. In some, yes. But sadly, in many no. Their stories are overlooked. After all, who cares about a whore? Which comes to show that our perception of history is messed up. We want the romantic side of how people lived back in the day as opposed to how they really lived. In doing so, we are slapping these women in the face. They may not have lived the most moral or honorable of lives, but they lived them. To pretend these women didn't exist makes us the ones in need of moral reassessment. I'm just saying. Praise be the whore who lead a life unlike anything I could ever write (though I will try, lol).

Cheers and much love until next time,

Delilah Marvelle