Wednesday, February 24, 2010

On Befriending Phrynes

By now, it should not surprise you to know that many of my best friends are whores. I do not mean this in the figurative sense; they are women of easy virtue who exchange carnal delights for cash. In the past, when I have mentioned this fact to crude and vile men (and the rake may be many things, but he is never crude), they have responded with some vulgarism about "freebees." This entirely misses the mark. We do not need these priestesses of Venus for sex--we are constantly surrounded by willing companions who think naught of compensation, and indeed often find it in their hearts (and wallets) to bless us with some material token of their gratitude, as has been noted elsewhere. No, my reasons for palling around with painted ladies are quite different and of a higher order completely. Any young aspiring rake is urged to make some friends "down on Gropecunt Lane," as it were.

In most instances, "public women" are avid practitioners of the very same art forms to which the rake must dedicate his entire life: drinking, smoking, and amorous combat. Particularly so are those women who ensconce themselves in comfortably-appointed apartments just on the periphery of the more fashionable districts. For they cannot cater merely to one of man's vices: in private time bought dearly, away from prying eyes, even straight-laced men expect to cut loose a little bit. Thus, they are always quick to refill your drink and never go anywhere without a monogrammed lighter to spark your cigarette. Simple pleasures, perhaps, but of the utmost importance for the rake.

In fact, come to think of it, I am friends with hookers for many of the same reasons that I'm friends with Gaspard. Both work non-traditional jobs--Gaspard in that he does not have one. Both are willing to carouse at all hours of the day and night. Both have an encyclopaedic knowledge of how to treat venereal diseases--your garden variety claps and shivers, Siamese gout, St. Denis' Fire, Higinbotham's revenge, as well as the more baroque strains of which the chaste among you may never even have heard. But, even beyond all these admirable qualities, members of that disreputable sisterhood all possess one thing that most rakes cannot and do not. They say that to be a successful nightbird, the absolute most important skill is to be a great listener. Given how self-obsessed and narcissistic the rake is by nature, he cannot put a price on a sympathetic ear.

Be warned, however, that spending an inordinate amount of time among such women without taking advantage of their services may brand one as pink - therefore, it is our recommendation to become familiar with them as overtly as possible in the company of other Johns.* After all, let us not forget the ancient Chinese proverb that illustrates the advantage of such a friendship, and many of the rakes relationships in general: It is better to have a friend in the market than money in the purse.

So, young rake, what are you waiting for? Get on down to your local bus station or seaport and make some new acquaintances!

*Just because we said we don't need them, doesn't mean we don't use them.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Vox populi, pt. I

As Gaspard related to you earlier this week, he was recently bedridden after a vicious beating delivered by the Chinatown Tongs. Ironically, one of the thugs used a pair of industrial-sized kitchen tongs to do it. They had originally intended to kill him, but as my friend mentioned I am something of an Orientalist and consequently I can often be found in Chinatown. When he dropped my name, they immediately let him go--in hopes that he would lead them directly to me, as I owe them even larger amounts of money. Suffice it to say, their enmity obliges me to disguise myself every time I visit Canal Street to treat my "stiff back." Luckily, Gaspard has been smart enough to keep them off my scent, and so for the past week we have communicated solely by letters sent by street urchin.

By coincidence, I have also been confined to my bed during this time with a terrible case of pleurisy (see the Health post). By and by, our correspondence turned to focus the maladies that all rakes inevitably face, and which of them was most vexing. Gaspard initially said Syphilis, and I rebutted with Mercury poisoning. He then countered with exanthemata, and I posited Consumption. In the end, we realized that since more and more people have been perusing this little record, and have presumably learned at least a little bit from the instructions contained herein, we might as well ask you what you think - not because we care how much you have learned, but we have wagered several packs of cigarettes on the outcome.

That's right--you're not imagining things--we actually want to hear from you. Every last bastard or hussy among you. You can find the poll in the top right corner of the page. We will be posting a new question weekly, so look forward to extending your input regularly.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Uncle me no Uncles!

Greetings readers,

I am sure you are surprised to hear from me again so soon. I, myself, am quite shocked that I have found time to post during this last week of Carnival, but a harrowing series of events has left me bed-ridden and alone. St. Valentine's day, which - curse it all - just so happened to fall on Chinese New Year, has nearly killed me. My holiday started off innocently enough; I had several dates planned - each lasting no longer than a few hours. The first three went swimmingly, but by date four my luck had run out. Alisdair, my close friend and amateur Orientalist, has since informed me that "4" in Chinese culture is an unlucky number - as it is a homophone for "Death." I wish I was cognizant of this fact when I planned my fourth date, which was with the daughter of a local Chinese fish-cannery magnate.

After a stroll through the parade grounds in Chinatown, we repaired to her family's restaurant where a feast of Gargantuan proportions awaited. I had planned to excuse myself for date #5 after dinner and a brief dalliance in the coatroom, but I had so overindulged in baijiu that I was coaxed into playing in a mahjong tournament by her brothers, a game of which I knew, and still know, absolutely nothing about. To make a long story short, let's just say that although I can bear no ill will against any race that loves to drink and smoke as much as I do, any culture that does not understand the concept of "credit" with regard to gambling debts leaves much to be desired! I was lucky enough to escape with all of my fingers and toes, but I was beaten quite senseless and have since been confined to bed and restricted to a light diet of white wine and crackers.

I had planned on spending the next 2 weeks in contemplative silence, but this morning I received a piece of "electronic mail" that so incensed me, I felt I must share with you the only correct way of responding to such a stern upbraiding. Without further ado:


It is I, your great-uncle Gaius Vitellius Galba. Forgive the formality of address, but the conventions of this form of communication escape me. Félix, my valet, is taking dictation on a recently acquired typing machine: a model with which you could perhaps one day assist me . I purchased it second hand, and it is still embossed with the name of the previous owner- a Signore Hewlett-Packard.

It has come to my attention that you and a contemporary, a Mr. MacDowell have formed a salon to instruct young men in the ways of licentiousness. After some study, I fear you have been visited with the affliction of your grandfather Lerâteau, that mountebank and cradle-robber who stole the affections of my dear sister Lucrezia at such a tender age.

It's as if you had declared La Clemenza di Tito the apotheosis of Mozart's oeuvre or elevated the Mannheim School over same. Fiston! You are better than that. One can still lead a profligate life with purpose. If presented with a cornucopia would you sup on the same cold squab night after night? When I was your age, I supported a wife and three mistresses, while as a mere lad in pursuit of forbidden pleasures, I eluded duennas whose snouts could sniff tartufi di Alba at twenty paces and who possessed the arms of stevedores.

The music of life requires an occasional nota cambiata lest the senses become dulled. You must expand you horizon beyond the wild, virginal flowers in nearby fields to include the older forests of gonzesses and their mysteries. Yes, Castiglione invokes the use of sprezzatura for young men to flaunt their insouciance. Remember, however, that Montaigne supplemented that rote display with the concept of l'honnete homme. For the all around man to make an art of life, his palette cannot be limited.

Yours, GVG

As you can plainly see, what my dear uncle advocates is nothing short of ridiculous, and normally I would tell anyone who took me to task for living a "profligate life" to mind their own damn business. But this, my friends, is an infinitely more delicate situation. Although the rake's income may be supplemented by gambling with his Chinese neighbors*, sponging off of beautiful heiresses, and stealing tips from waitresses, the main source of his income always comes in quarterly checks from obscure relatives. No matter how senile or dastardly these fossils may be, it is in his best interest to appear amenable to their suggestions, as someday he may be named heir to their seat. Thus, today's lesson will be on how to respond to reprimanding communications from annoying aunts, goading grandmothers and as we have seen, arrogant uncles.

I should point out that such an undertaking is not an easy one, for admitting wrongdoing is not something the rake takes lightly, nor something he may even know how to do at all. Though, if anyone is capable of heaping blandishments upon these fograms, it is he, for his gifts for flattery and encomia put him in a unique position to palliate any offenses that may have caused the communiqué in question.

In order to begin composing the response, a few things must be known.

1. Does the relative in question have any pets?
2. What are his or her primary interests?
3. What is the weather in his or her part of the world during that month?
4. Is his or her spouse still alive?
5. What are the names of the principal attendants in his or her household?
6. What is the potential fortune you stand to inherit upon his or her demise?
7. Just how offensive was the gesture that prompted the letter?

The reasons for the first five questions are obvious. Armed with these trivial pieces of personal knowledge, you can pad a letter that looks as if you spend your days thinking of them fondly and with great interest. The sixth and seventh questions, however, dictate how long the reply will be. If the inheritable assets include a title, more than 2 country estates or any sort of profitable corporation, the letter should not be shorter than four pages, nor should it exceed ten.** If however, the assets are smaller, or the relative in question has immediate family to whom he or she will leave their fortune, feel free to send merely a few lines. Since great-uncle Gaius has several sons of his own, I am quite sure I will not figure prominently into his will, but there is always the off chance that he hates all of his sons and prefers me instead***, so I will be cordial. Please take note:


Cher Uncle,

What a pleasure it is to hear from you! I hope you are well? Old Félix isn't giving you too hard of a time, is he? I would have responded sooner, but I have been quite busy volunteering at a non-for-profit that educates the less fortunate on the joys of the Opera and of classical music in general. I've always felt that it is a shame these programs are being slashed few schools that were endowed with them in the first place. Why, just the other day I had to spend half an hour explaining to a shouting fishmonger just what I meant when I said, "Good grief man, yours is a voice that would make Caruso green with envy! Have you ever considered playing the Moor?" What is our world coming to, Uncle! Regarding your most recent letter - let me assure you, the instructional program that Alisdair and I have been conducting is nothing more than a joke! Surely, you must see the humor in some of our writings, Uncle. However, you are correct in saying that variety is the spice of life. I would be well advised to take a break from all of this "rake" business to devote my energies to a subject with a broader application, say History? After all, as the Bard says, "There is a history in all men's lives." I have realized the folly of my ways and have even taken down the offending website - there will be no need to check it again.

Again, it was delightful to hear from you, Uncle. Please take care of yourself, the winters of Torino are notorious for their biting wind.

Je vous prie de croire, cher Oncle, à mes sentiments les meilleurs,

Gaspard Lerâteau

P.s. I want you to know that I have kept Aunt Brunela in my daily prayers. She was a beautiful, caring woman who had such a profound effect on all those with whom she came in contact. We all miss her greatly.

P.p.s. Give Radames a pat on the head for me... the old rascal!

* Do not rely on this.

**Anything longer may give the impression that you have enough time on his hands to be drafting ten page letters, and a return post will demand that you take a job.

***This is more common than it sounds.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Missive from Abroad, pt. II

Several months ago we began an indefinite hiatus from answering any of the thousands of questions submitted to us regularly. It is not that we do not care about you*, but rather that, as our familiar reader will know, it was just too taxing to continue. However, our familiar reader should also know that we frequently make exception to all of our self-imposed rules, such as only drinking dark liquors during Lent (the last time I went 40 days without gin I was in grammar school).

Thus, when we received this latest letter, we were only too eager to answer it. Not only is the subject matter (as you shall see below) exactly the type of vital question debated here at The Rakish Life, but the inquiry comes from an old family friend of mine, one Herr Raghnall von
Mücke in Bavaria. Old Raghy and I--comment on dire--go way back. His great-great-uncle and mine competed against each other at the very first contested Olympic biathlon, at Chamonix in '24. As this year's Winter Games are fast approaching, I have often reflected that it is a shame that this cherished event is now known as the biathlon rather than its original Norwegian name: "militært patruljeløp." More than our family ties, however, what binds Raghnall and me together is our shared time at boarding school. Actually, it wasn't so much a "boarding school" as it was a penal colony for the wayward sons of ancient families. Located in the depths of a secret vale in the Swiss Alps, St. Buonfiglio assured parents around the Continent that their child would be completely rehabilitated of any undesirable behaviour in 2 years. Ha! Let's just say that I was asked to leave after my second month, and my legacy to St. B's is that female staff are no longer employed there.

Anyways, my old chum Raghnall recently wrote to A and me with the following:


Dear Sirs,
Montesquieu wrote in his Persian Letters:

"I have travelled for six months in Spain and Portugal, where I lived among people despising all nations except the French, whom they honour with their hate. Gravity is the distinctive characteristic of both nations: it has two chief methods of manifestation—spectacles and moustaches.

Spectacles demonstrate clearly that the wearer of them is an accomplished man of science, who has injured his sight by the extent and profundity of his reading; and every nose which they adorn or burden, may pass, without contradiction, for the nose of a savant.

As regards the moustache, in itself it is respectable, independently of results; although sometimes it has been of great use in the service of the king, and in the maintenance of national honour, as appears from the case of a famous Portuguese general in the Indies: for, being in want of money, he cut off one of his moustaches, and offered it to the inhabitants of Goa as a pledge for the loan of twenty thousand pistoles, and the money was advanced at once; afterwards he redeemed his moustache with honour."

My question clearly is: do you agree?


Raghnall von Mücke


Well Raghnall, Montesquieu certainly addresses some notable issues. The first and foremost being the hatred that those Iberian dogs harbor towards the French. Let me make it clear that the feeling is mutual, and any Frenchman worth his weight in vin rouge would agree. In fact, despite the vast differences in membership qualifications at city clubs around Paris, the one hard and fast rule observed by all is "No Portuguese, No Spaniards, No Apologies."

Moving on, I do not doubt that the peoples Montesquieu writes about manifest their "gravity" with the use of eyeglasses and the growing of moustaches, so yes, I can agree with this observation, but I will now offer my opinion of these facial accessories.

Fortunately, neither Alisdair nor I have ever needed any sort of ocular aid, although we have at times been known to employ monocles or lorgnettes at balls and opera glasses when attending the theater. At large social functions like these , it is crucial to be able to spot a lonely lass from across the room, accurately size up a particularly large wedding ring, or take in the view of les embonpoints in the orchestra pit during the more boring largo passages at the symphony. Advertising yourself as "an accomplished man of science, who has injured his sight by the extent and profundity of his reading" immediately brands one as a bore with whom no one would want to spend any time. Of course, one must be a prolific reader, but one needn't be a scholar of Castiglione to know that such self-aggrandizement violates every rule of sprezzatura. It is unforgivable and is considered quite bad form.

As far as moustaches go, Montesquieu is quite right by positing that they are in themselves respectable. Indeed, I spend the first hour of every day alternately trimming and waxing my own. For my moustache endows me with Samsonian strengths and appetites; without it I would be nothing more than the shell of a man. However, the fervor with which the inhabitants of the Peninsula tend to their moustaches is nothing short of fanatical. All Spaniards, including the women, have beautiful moustaches that they spend most of their time massaging and grooming. Indeed, the Spanish Siesta is merely an excuse for these zealots to spend a few hours each day with their precious Impériales or Conquistadores. While I can admire the vanity in such an undertaking, it seems like this time might be better spent building a civilisation that is worthy of respect from the rest of the Western world, but I digress...

If you are not a Spaniard and find yourself thinking that you might look more dashing with a moustache, remember that while it is growing in, you must not leave the house. Plan accordingly: depending on your racial disposition, this stage could take months.

So, while Montesquieu makes some valid points, he made the mistake of wasting precious ink and paper discussing the lower races of the Basque, Castilian, Catalan and Galician provinces . I mean no offence to any Spaniards - I simply do not like you, and think that you are the scourge of Europe. I hope this answer is satisfactory Raghnall! Will I see you at this years anticipated Buonfigilo reunion party?

* we don't

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Anililagnia, or, the Age Question Part II

As my French confrere told you last time, he and I have always been on opposite sides of the Age Question, or as I sometimes call it, the Kronos Conundrum. As you--and American law enforcement--can probably tell, Gaspard has always equated jeune with jolie. I, on the other hand, steadfastly avoid any women below the age of majority in any particular country. Not, mind you, out of any moral compunction or aversion to law-breaking. Far from it, in fact. I merely find them to be colossal wastes of time. The innocence and blissful ignorance that excites such desire in Gaspard seems mere foolishness to me. He delights in the opportunity to tutor a neophyte girl in that of which she knows naught. But, as I always tell him, the instruction of maidens in the arts of love is a task I will gladly leave to others. He always replies that he is up to the job. Truth be told, however, it is not the blushing and hesitation typical of young girls that most discourages me from pursuing them. Rather, it is the fact that they almost never have any signatory authority on any bank accounts.

Instead, my taste most often runs to the other end of the age spectrum. Indeed, if you will allow me a bit of immodesty, I am quite a hit about town with women of a certain age, several of whom are even silver-haired. Gaspard has never understood this particular fixation, though he has at times indulged in it. But on our walkabout of several days ago, during which Gaspard laid out the case for youth, I risposted with some arguments that were at least not unconvincing. Through badgering, I forced the Frenchman to admit that the lack of legal and financial rights has always made monetizing his dalliances with young maidens quite difficult, sometimes even maddening. In contrast, says I, a wealthy divorcee may with a mere phone call transfer two thousand shares to any account she wishes. Nor should it stop there--the variety of gifts that an older woman may bestow is a hundred times greater than that of a mere girl. Their reasons for giving are not unitary: some, finding themselves at life's midsummer at best, grasp for the florid love of vernal youth. And, finding it in your exquisite form, all the fiduciary prudence they might have will disappear like thistledown in a hurricane. On the other hand, some women, having seen a thing or two of the world, are merely very comfortable with the concept and mechanisms of exchange, and know what they are paying for. Regardless of which type you're trysting with, cars, liquor, and walking around money should all be within your reach.

I should respond to one possible stumbling block, which might cause you undue hesitation: the figure of the jealous husband. Yes, indeed, it is very possible that, whatever manner of woman she might be in private, your paramour is already wed to another. However, even Gaspard has been forced to admit that angry fathers are much more dangerous than jilted husbands. For fathers nearly always love their daughters, while husbands may have long ago stopped loving their wives.

You must not mistake me, though--my anililagnia is not all pragmatism and no passion. Rather, I have found that only a woman who has had many lovers can appreciate a truly exceptional one. Imagine, if you will, a virtuoso tenor. He may derive some delight from being the very first to fill a young girl's ears with song, and impress her thereby. But how much more satisfaction would he get from performing faccia a faccia for a lifelong opera-goer, and proving himself to have better tempo, melodic instinct, and control in the upper ranges than any she had heard before? It is the same with me. Secret sighs and stolen kisses are all the sweeter when I am adjudged by a real expert to be the acme of amorous acumen!

Of course, this last point--the most subtle of all--depends highly upon your own abilities. If you are lacking in this category, never fear! I am quite comfortable assuming the role of cicisbeo--but more on that later.