Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Golden Age had finished before the end of 1998, and there then followed what I always think of as my Grey Years, until in 2001 I discovered The Black Hole of Calcutta, quite by chance, my first encounter with a "strip pub". The Calcutta would eventually become my whole life but that was some years away.

In the meantime, I started to search for Other Sohos, and in 1999 began my Golden Age of Travelling, with a Grand Tour that took in Brussels, Munich, Vienna, Berlin and briefly Malmo and Stockholm. It was a journey that would imprint itself on me as much as that first afternoon in Soho.

Before a trip back to Europe in 2004 I saw Fellini's Casanova at the NFT. It instantly became one of the primal texts of my life, this loathsome bloated Casanova humping his way around Europe like an automaton, devoid of all pleasure but instead in the grip of some joyless mechanical compulsion. The scene at the beginning where he fucks a nun is the sexiest in the whole film.

Basically I was searching Europe for big tits. I found many. The African Clarisse in Empire in Brussels. The mind-boggling Martina in the Pils Bar in Nuremburg with her breasts covered by nothing except necklaces. The Romanian Emily in black fishnet with nothing underneath in Munich who dipped a cotton wool bud in fake champagne and rolled it around the head of my manhood. In Berlin, the Polish black-haired Yulia in Mon Cheri, Berlin blonde Riccarda also in Mon Cheri who gave me the overwhelming impression I was fucking Marilyn Monroe, Polish white blonde Iga in the Golden Gate, Czech blonde Diana in black zip up catsuit again in Mon Cheri, beautiful brunette Maria in Pour Platin in Vienna.

The first place I go in Brussels is the Justice Palace, the largest building built in the 19th Century. It sits on the precipice that divides Brussels in half. I like to fancy this cleavage occurred when Jesus was on the cross, like the valley in Under the Volcano. The effect of this magnificent building is akin to the sight of St Paul's Cathedral in London. Why did such a small country feel the need to build such a huge Justice Palace? The second is the Bourse, the Stock Exchange. I sit on the balcony of O'Reilly's Irish pub looking over the road to it, and Le Grand Cafe next to it. Money is all about Eros, because money buys you sex. "Fall in spending power as bad as 1870s depression".

The Museum of Modern Art has a huge number of treasures: Geefs's Genie du Mal, Alfred Stevens's Salome, Figure Tombale, Tresors de Satan, Death of Marat, Dali's Temptation of St Anthony, and numerous Magrittes and wonderfully erotic Paul Delvauxs. Contemplating the erotic thrills I will be seeking later that evening I seek for paintings with an erotic subtext and they are all around.

"The paintings Delvaux became famous for usually feature numbers of nude women who stare as if hypnotized, gesturing mysteriously, sometimes reclining incongruously in a train station or wandering through classical buildings. Sometimes they are accompanied by skeletons, men in bowler hats, or puzzled scientists drawn from the stories of Jules Verne. Delvaux would repeat variations on these themes for the rest of his long life, although some departures can be noted. Among them are his paintings of 1945-47, rendered in a flattened style with distorted and forced perspective effects, and the series of crucifixions and deposition scenes enacted by skeletons, painted in the 1950s. In the late 1950s he produced a number of night scenes in which trains are observed by a little girl seen from behind. These compositions contain nothing overtly surrealistic, yet the clarity of moonlit detail is hallucinatory in effect. Trains had always been a subject of special interest to Delvaux, who never forgot the wonder he felt as a small child at the sight of the first electric trams in Brussels."

Preparing as I usually was to get the night train a day or so later on to Munich, or Vienna, or Berlin, his night time train and naked women pictures were particularly powerful to me.

The theme of a man  being destroyed by a woman, as represented by the Death of Marat and the Stevens Salome, was particularly appealing to me, being an erotomane who fell head over heels in unrequited love with one unobtainable woman after another. When they showed any interest in me I would run away like my life depended on it, and then die of longing for them for a safe distance.

From the Museum of Modern Art and its enormous Fountains of Inspiration (which also had erotic connotations for me) in the lobby, to the Wiertz Museum, the former house of Antoine Wiertz now turned into a museum of his work, an overwhelming and claustrophobic space. Using Brussels as a stepping stone on my way to Munich or Vienna or Berlin as I did, the Wiertz Museum was always a staging post on the way to the erotic delights that were awaiting me, so it itself became an erotic swooning experience.

To the extraordinarily beautiful bar of the Metropol Hotel, the last of the great 19th Century hotels left in Brussels, returning via Murphy's Bar in the Gare du Nord to read my Guardian newspaper, before buying some gorgeous ham & egg rolls in one of the station restaurants, and returning to my beautiful Ibis room with the window set in an archway to sleep off the drinking, before the delights of the night to come.

It was when the Golden Age of Travelling ended, that I became a regular at The Black Hole of Calcutta, and Soho experienced a brief flowering of a second Golden Age. It only takes one great dancer to bring a place back to life for you, and at Sunset Strip when I returned in 2005 after a long absence there was not one but three.

In these days I preferred the Golden Lion to the Nellie Dean.