Saturday, April 01, 2017

While I was in Vietnam I read Norman Lewis' hugely enjoyable book A Dragon Apparent, in which describes seeing, in Phnom Penh, 'an indecent photograph, of the Port Said kind, vintage about 1925.' I'd never heard of 'photographs of the Port Said kind', but evidently Port Said was once notorious for pornography. In his travel book Labels: A Mediterranean Journal, Evelyn Waugh describes peddlers offering

'picture postcards of unexampled lewdness which they flourish very embarrassingly under one's eyes. Geoffrey bought a packet and sent them in heavily sealed envelopes to various acquaintances in England, thereby, I believe, rendering both himself and them liable to criminal prosecution. The original plates of the photographs are, I learned later, of some antiquity, having been made for sale at the first International Exhibition at Paris and being brought to Port Said for the celebrations at the opening of the Suez Canal.'

while Gauguin, in his journals, writes about how he used 45 postcards from Port Said to decorate his house on the island of Hiva Oa:

'They were set up quite frankly in an alcove in my quarters. Men women, and children laughed at them, nearly everyone, in fact, but it was a matter of a moment, and no one thought any more of it. Only the people who called themselves respectable stopped coming to my house, and they alone thought about it the whole year through. The bishop, at confession, made all sorts of enquiries: some of the nuns, even, turned paler and paler and grew hollow-eyed over it. Think this over and nail up some indecency in plain sight over your door. From that time forward you will be rid of all respectable people, the most insupportable folk God has created.'