gay

Horus vs. Seth: Homosexuality, Hippos and Familial Violence

The Egyptian myth described in The Contendings of Horus and Seth is as graphic as it is bizarre.

The young falcon-headed god Horus battles his evil uncle Seth to become pharaoh of Egypt

The young falcon-headed god Horus battles his evil uncle Seth to become pharaoh of Egypt

Osiris ruled as pharaoh of Egypt with his sister-wife Isis, bringing peace and prosperity to the land. But his elder brother, Seth (or Set), became insanely jealous and led Osiris to a watery death after tricking him into a perfectly fitted coffin.

The story of how he chopped his brother into pieces, which Isis hunted down to reassemble, is a tale for another blog post. This one deals with the power struggle that ensued between the two contenders for the throne: the murderous Seth and Osiris’ son, the falcon-headed Horus. The story is told in the Chester Beatty Papyrus No. 1, The Contendings of Horus and Seth, which dates back to the early Middle Kingdom (2040-1674 BCE). The myth most likely has origins even earlier than that.

Be warned: Parts of this twisted tale get quite graphic.

Seth argues that Horus cannot be king because his breath stinks — an allusion to Horus breastfeeding from his mother, Isis, and a dig at his youth

Seth argues that Horus cannot be king because his breath stinks — an allusion to Horus breastfeeding from his mother, Isis, and a dig at his youth

The Battle to Become Pharaoh of Egypt

As the son of Osiris, Horus presented his claim to the throne to a tribunal of three of the most powerful deities in the Egyptian pantheon: the sun god Ra (aka Re); Thoth, the god of wisdom; and Shu, the god of air.

Thoth and Shu declared Horus the rightful ruler of Egypt, but Ra argued that Seth was more powerful and therefore deserved the throne.

“The throne is mine by virtue of my strength,” Seth said. “‘Let Horus prove that he is better than I, and he can have the throne!”

“Challenge me to what you will. I will prove you the weaker!” Horus declared.

Much like the shapeshifting Egyptian gods Horus and Seth, these hippos battle for dominance

Much like the shapeshifting Egyptian gods Horus and Seth, these hippos battle for dominance

Hippos Holding Their Breath

Seth decided that the first feat of strength would be to have them both turn into hippopotami and sit on the bottom of the Nile. The first to come up for air would lose.

Isis, desperately wanting her son to be pharaoh, magically created a copper harpoon, which she threw into the water. Her aim was off, though, and she hit Horus instead of Seth. Realizing this, she pulled free the harpoon and cast it back into the water. This time it sunk into the body of Seth.

But the injured god appealed to Isis as her brother, and she caved and helped him. Horus, enraged, emerged from the water. He wasn’t worried about losing the first challenge — he was focused on taking revenge on his mother for what he felt was a betrayal. Horus cut off Isis’ head, carried it up a mountain and tossed it away. Talk about mommy issues!

Fear not, though: Thoth picked up Isis’ head and reunited it with her body.

Seth really liked salad — only that wasn’t ranch dressing on it!

Seth really liked salad — only that wasn’t ranch dressing on it!

Homosexual Incest and Semen-Covered Lettuce

Tired from decapitating his mother, Horus went to sleep on the mountaintop. Seth snuck up and gouged out his nephew’s eyes, burying them in the ground. Overnight, they grew into lotuses. Taking pity on the blinded boy, the cow-headed goddess Hathor came to Horus’ aid, pouring gazelle milk on his wounds and restoring his sight.

The judges wanted the two gods to make amends. They did reconcile, but the wily Seth decided to seduce his nephew.

Seth wasn’t discriminate in his liaisons. In the world of Ancient Egypt, there wasn’t any real conception of homosexuality. What mattered was who was the top (the one who was doing the penetrating), as that proved dominance over the other person.

Now afterward, [at] evening time, bed was prepared for them, and they both lay down. But during the night, Seth caused his phallus to become stiff and inserted it between Horus’ thighs. Then Horus placed his hands between his thighs and received Seth’s semen. Horus went to tell his mother Isis: “Help me, Isis, my mother, come and see what Seth has done to me.” And he opened his hand[s] and let her see Seth’s semen.

She let out a loud shriek, seized the copper [knife], cut off his hand[s] that were equivalent. Then she fetched some fragrant ointment and applied it to Horus’ phallus. She caused it to become stiff and inserted it into a pot, and he caused his semen to flow down into it.

So to sum this up: Seth intended to humiliate his nephew by fucking him up the ass — but Horus secretly caught Seth’s semen in his hands. When young Horus showed his mother, Isis, what had happened, she cut off her son’s hands, aroused him and jerked him off into a jar. Not quite a Disney movie.

Isis then tossed Seth’s semen into the marshes of the Nile and devised a plan to deceive him:

Isis at morning time went carrying the semen of Horus to the garden of Seth and said to Seth’s gardener: “What sort of vegetable is it that Seth eats here in your company?” So the gardener told her: “He doesn’t eat any vegetable here in my company except lettuce.” And Isis added the semen of Horus onto it. Seth returned according to his daily habit and ate the lettuce, which he regularly ate. Thereupon he became pregnant with the semen of Horus.

Seth approached the tribunal and declared with confidence, “Let me be awarded the office of Ruler … for as to Horus, the one who is standing [trial], I have performed the labor of a male against him.”

This drawing on a shard of pottery shows that Ancient Egyptians had a gay old time

This drawing on a shard of pottery shows that Ancient Egyptians had a gay old time

Semen Calling

Horus spoke up: “All that Seth has said is false. Let Seth’s semen be summoned that we may see from where it answers, and my own be summoned that we may see from where it answers.”

Thoth put his hand on Horus’ shoulder and said, “Come out, you semen of Seth.” It answered him instead from the marsh along the Nile, where Isis had dumped it.

The god then put his hand on Seth’s shoulder and said, “Come out, you semen of Horus.” Because it had been ingested with the lettuce leaves, it answered from inside Seth’s stomach.

Deeming itself too important to flow out of Seth’s ear, the divine seed emerged from his head in the form of a golden solar disk. Thoth snatched it away and placed it as a crown upon his own head.

At some point, Horus and Seth seem to have made up, for here they are both adoring a ruler of Ramesside period

At some point, Horus and Seth seem to have made up, for here they are both adoring a ruler of Ramesside period

The Stone Ship Race

Despite this damning evidence, Seth somehow convinced the trio of judges to stage one more contest: a race of stone ships down the Nile. That didn’t seem like the wisest choice, since Seth’s boat sunk instantly. But Horus’ floated along the water — for he had tricked everyone by making his boat out of pine and covering it in gypsum, a sort of plaster, so that it looked like it was made of stone.

In a rage, Seth once again transformed into a hippopotamus and bashed his head into Horus’ ship. It came apart in splinters, exposing the young god’s deceit.

This back-and-forth had now gone on for 80 years. Seeking a final verdict, the judges decided to appeal to Osiris, who now ruled the underworld. Not surprisingly, Osiris argued that his son, Horus, deserved to be pharaoh, and Seth, in chains as a prisoner, finally conceded. –Wally

15 Best Articles of 2017

Our top blog posts cover the Paris Catacombs, India’s transsexual hijras, jinns, vintage Halloween, Fès hammans and more.

 

Duke and I tend to be drawn to the bizarre. We’re fans of the strange (chambers lined with skulls and bones, creepy vintage Halloween postcards and photos). We like to meet those who are societal outsiders (like India’s legal third sex, the hijra). We’re obsessed with the supernatural (jinns, gypsy love spells). But we also appreciate a good pampering (at a Fès hamman, say) and architectural beauties (such as the Milan Duomo).

Seems like you do, too. Here are the top 15 blog posts from last year. What was your favorite? –Wally

 

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1. GRUESOME FACTS (AND HELPFUL TIPS) ABOUT THE PARIS CATACOMBS

No bones about it: If you think piles of skulls and hallways formed of bones are pretty effin’ cool (like us), then the Catacombs of Paris are for you.

 

 FHI BANGLADESH

2. SECRETS OF THE HIJRA: INDIA’S LITTLE-KNOWN TRANSSEXUALS

Prostitution, curses and dangerous sex change operations are a way of life for this marginalized community.

 

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3. HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM JINNS AND BLACK MAGIC

Black magic in Islam is a serious concern — and the holy writings offer numerous ways to negate magic jinn.

 

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4. THE BEST PLACE TO MAKE OUT IN PUBLIC IN DELHI

Not a typical tourist stop, the Garden of Five Senses is a whimsical sculpture park worth visiting. It’s also popular with local couples escaping societal judgment against PDA.

 

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5. 24 VINTAGE HALLOWEEN CARDS THAT ARE NOSTALGIC — BUT A BIT CREEPY, TOO

Halloween greetings from the past featured common Halloween symbols: the witch, black cat, jack-o’-lantern, ghost, devil — and one that has been forgotten.

 

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6. 21 VINTAGE HALLOWEEN PHOTOS THAT ARE SO CREEPY THEY'LL GIVE YOU NIGHTMARES

Halloween costumes of the past were scary as hell.

 

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7. WHAT’S THE BEST HAMMAM SPA EXPERIENCE IN FES, MOROCCO?

Reinvigorate yourself at the luxury hammam Les Bains Amani.

 

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8. 7 FUN FACTS ABOUT THE MILAN CATHEDRAL

What to do in Milan, Italy? Visit the gorgeous Duomo di Milano, covered with statues of saints and gargoyles — and don’t miss the amazing view from the rooftop.

 

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9. LOVE SPELLS FROM THE GYPSIES

How to cast a love spell to make someone fall in love with you — or fall out of love with you. Plus, secrets from the Roma that will reveal your future spouse!

 

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10. THE PISHTACO OF PERU

Why one of the world’s creepiest vampire legends lingers to this day.

 

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11. WAT RONG SUEA TEN, THE BLUE TEMPLE

No day trip to Chiang Rai is complete without a visit to this breathtaking wat, between the White Temple and Black Museum.

 

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12. THE BEST AND WORST PARTS OF LIVING IN QATAR

What’s it like living in a Muslim country that fasts for an entire month and limits the sale of booze? What do Qataris think of Americans? And how the heck do you pronounce Qatar?

 

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13. THE INDIAN CASTE SYSTEM EXPLAINED

Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra, untouchable: How did the caste system get started, what is the difference between castes — and how does this shameful practice persist to this day?

 

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14. HOW ST. NICHOLAS BECAME SANTA CLAUS

The surprising origins of jolly old St. Nick include a tie to prostitution, kids chopped into pieces, a devil named Krampus and a racist tradition around his helper Zwarte Pieter, or Black Peter.

 

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15. THE BEST SHOP FOR BLUE POTTERY IN THE ENTIRE FEZ MEDINA

If you’re shopping in Fès, just off of Place Seffarine is a small shop with a friendly owner and great deals.

Top Tips for U.S. Travel to Cuba

For Americans traveling to Cuba, here’s advice on what to do in Havana, from the jinetera prostitutes to staying at a casa particular.

Magestic yet crumbling buildings and classic American cars are the magical formula for Havana, Cuba’s appeal

Magestic yet crumbling buildings and classic American cars are the magical formula for Havana, Cuba’s appeal

“I’ve had a lifelong fascination with Cuba,” our friend Joe says. “Any place someone tells you you can’t go, you of course want to go to.”

That kind of comment is par for the course with Joe. He’s the kind of fun-loving guy who views life as an adventure — and his enthusiasm is contagious.

There are prostitutes everywhere in Havana. They’re known as jineteras, and they’re particularly aggressive, always on the lookout for foreigners.

With such a tantalizing (and forbidden) destination so close to the United States, Joe and his boyfriend Scott had planned an illegal excursion to Cuba by flying through Canada.

Then, suddenly President Obama reversed the United States’ long-standing travel ban, and Joe and Scott booked a trip within a week. (Of course, President Trump has made it more difficult to travel to Cuba, part of his attempt to undo everything Obama accomplished.)

Life’s a beach for Scott and Joe

Life’s a beach for Scott and Joe

Joe and Scott flew down to Miami, Florida and booked a $500 charter flight on an Aruban air carrier.

“It was a surreal experience,” Joe says. “We were some of the first people we know that got to go.”

“Go to Havana while you can,” Joe says. “Witness this city before it changes forever.” For Americans, it sadly might be too late

“Go to Havana while you can,” Joe says. “Witness this city before it changes forever.” For Americans, it sadly might be too late

Here are some of Joe’s tips about what to expect and how best to enjoy a vacation in Cuba. (Just keep in mind that Joe himself admits that he’s a tad prone to exaggeration.) He says that four days in Havana should suffice.

It’s hard to take a bad photo in Havana, our friend Joe says

It’s hard to take a bad photo in Havana, our friend Joe says

Keep in mind it’s a Communist country.

There are hardly any ads anywhere, and you won’t see large supermarkets. Instead, there are shed-like structures where people line up every morning to get their rations. Sounds like something out of Animal Farm.

In one of the buildings Joe and Scott went in, they passed a server taking a catnap

In one of the buildings Joe and Scott went in, they passed a server taking a catnap

If you see an open door, go in.

This is very Joe — he’s the type to sneak into a building and worry about getting in trouble later. He insists, though, that this was some of the best advice he got during his research, perusing blogs and travel guides about Cuba.

Once you go through the door, climb up to the rooftop and you’ll be able to take a gorgeous picture of the Havana skyline — and really get a feel for the shabby beauty of this city.

Just be careful, Joe warns. There could be loose wires hanging down, and the stairwell might be so dilapidated your foot could fall through a step.

In the squares of Havana — and, heck, pretty much everywhere in the city — you’ll hear music and see people dancing

In the squares of Havana — and, heck, pretty much everywhere in the city — you’ll hear music and see people dancing

You have to be prepared for the money situation.

Because there are no ties to American banks, you can’t use credit cards or U.S. currency, and there aren’t any ATMs available. That means you’ve got to plan for how much money you think you’ll spend on your entire trip and bring that with you.

“It’s very nerve-racking,” Joe tells us. He wishes they had brought an extra $500 so they had a nice cushion and weren’t constantly worried they’d run out of money.

The two of them converted their money into Canadian dollars and then into CUC, the Cuban convertible peso. $1 US = 1 CUC, but most everything in Cuba is “dirt cheap,” according to Joe. (The one exception: Cuban cigars are still expensive.)

To make things more confusing, locals use one currency, and tourists another.

Havana is a crumbling, withering, exotic and alive city. It’s too audacious, too contradictory, and — despite years of neglect — too damned beautiful.
— Joe

Don’t fall for money scams.

Joe and Scott obviously weren’t the only Americans frustrated with the money situation. A swindler on the street insisted he could take them to state banks that would let them convert money, but it ended up being a wild goose chase. The man of course still wanted to be paid for his time and effort.

Everything in Cuba is a ghost of its former glory

Everything in Cuba is a ghost of its former glory

Understand exactly what you’re getting with a casa particular.

When Joe was looking into accommodations, he wanted to find something akin to Airbnb. He found what’s called a casa particular, and the place looked wonderful in the pictures. Best of all, it was only $30 a night.

“Lower your expectations, though,” Joe warns.

He and Scott arrived at the building, “which looked like a prison — I like to embellish a bit,” Joe adds in an aside. They climbed up to the 7th floor and were greeted by an extended family lined up in the living room, from niños to abuelos. One of the family members gave Joe and Scott a key and pointed to a door in the corner of the room. The two of them went in and kept whispering to each other, “They’re gonna leave, right? Right?!

No such luck. Turns out they were just renting a room, and the family remained during their stay.

It ended up being all right; the mother cooked them and the children breakfast every morning, and they made their best attempts to communicate or just kept to themselves.

“You’re gonna rough it a bit,” Joe says. “But really: AC, a toilet and a bed — that’s all you need.”

They ended up staying at the casa particular, but looked into hotels. The rates were affordable. “If you pay much more than $60, you’re paying too much,” according to Joe.

The Malecón, Havana’s waterfront district, is popular with the gays

The Malecón, Havana’s waterfront district, is popular with the gays

Cubans tend to be OK with gays.

On the plus side, Joe says they don’t aggressively punish people for being gay in Cuba. They’re starting to get more open-minded, he adds, and there’s a small gay scene along the Malecón, the waterfront strip downtown.

The Malecón is the best spot to watch the sunset — and to pick up a prostitute!

The Malecón is the best spot to watch the sunset — and to pick up a prostitute!

Watch out for the whores.

There are prostitutes everywhere in Havana, Joe says. They’re known as jineteras, and they’re particularly aggressive, always on the lookout for foreigners.

One day Joe and Scott were sitting at a café, when a Cuban woman who had teeth missing started chatting with them. They thought it was great to meet such a colorful, friendly local. Then she disappeared, soon returning with two young jineteras in tow. Turns out she was a madam and wanted to pimp out a couple of her girls!

Joe took Scott’s hand and indicated that the two of them were together. “You should have seen the look on their faces. They acted like they had never heard of such a thing,” Joe says, laughing.

Go right into a hotel, climb up to the rooftop, which usually has a pool and bar — and enjoy the ideal spot for an afternoon siesta

Go right into a hotel, climb up to the rooftop, which usually has a pool and bar — and enjoy the ideal spot for an afternoon siesta

Learn the secret to a perfect siesta.

Remember how you’re supposed to go into every doorway you come across? Joe especially recommends this with hotels. In the afternoon, after a morning walking in the blazing sun, he and Scott would head to a hotel and go straight up the stairs.

“Every hotel has a rooftop pool and bar, so that was our afternoon delight,” he says. “We took naps there instead of our room.”

The streets of Havana are filled with classic American cars from the 1950s. You might say time stands still, after Fidel Castro’s revolution and the subsequent U.S. embargo

The streets of Havana are filled with classic American cars from the 1950s. You might say time stands still, after Fidel Castro’s revolution and the subsequent U.S. embargo

The shopping isn’t great.

There’s not a huge tourist economy in Cuba, though it’s somewhat popular with Canadians and Europeans. Joe found that many locals hadn’t met too many Americans.

He was surprised and disappointed to discover that there weren’t any local handicraft markets like you’ll find in other parts of the world.

And because Joe and Scott were worried about running out of money too soon, the two of them did most of their shopping at the airport before they flew home, loading up on Caribbean rum.

They did hear about a big shopping warehouse by the harbor. “There was booth after booth,” Joe says, “but it was all the same T-shirts and crap. And it all said, ‘Made in Canada.’”

Many cafés are found in interior courtyards of buildings

Many cafés are found in interior courtyards of buildings

Search out (or stumble upon) the secret cafés.

As Joe has suggested, “You really do have to walk into every building you can.” Some of them will suddenly open into what can only be described as gorgeous interior courtyards that house cafés.

“Walking through Havana really is a voyage of discovery,” our intrepid traveler tells us.

 

Take a “cab.”

The taxis in Havana aren’t anything like those in the United States, Joe says. They could be a flatbed truck you’re sitting in the back of, holding on for dear life. “Whatever has wheels could be your cab,” he explains.

Needless to say, there aren’t any meters in the cabs, so tell your driver how much you’ll pay and agree on a price before you even get in.

Spend some time exploring the Colón Cemetery, where Christopher Columbus’ remains were once enterred

Spend some time exploring the Colón Cemetery, where Christopher Columbus’ remains were once enterred

Visit the Colón Cemetery.

One of the cab trips Joe and Scott took (in the previously described flatbed truck) was out to the Colón Cemetery. Like us, Joe loves graveyards and added this one to their itinerary. It’s one of the oldest cemeteries in the Americas, and once housed the remains of Christopher Columbus — before his body was relocated elsewhere.

You can spend a pleasant couple of hours wandering the elaborately carved stark white monuments near a lemon yellow chapel.

The Cabaret Parisien at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba

The Cabaret Parisien at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba

See a show at a historic hotel.

Wanting to go to one of the famous Tropicana shows, Joe and Scott got tickets for the Cabaret Parisien at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, a large hotel on the Malecón, where mobsters and celebrities hung out in the gilded past.

The show was everything they expected: “a definite Caribbean feel, with Carmen Miranda types in frilly shirts and bongo drums,” Joe says.  

“I kept waiting for Ricky Ricardo to come out,” he adds.

“Did you see Charo?” Duke asks, to which Joe exclaims, “Everyone is Charo there!”

 

Bring goodies for the kids.

As Joe mentioned, the Cuban people get only the essentials. As such, the kids don’t have many toys.

Joe hit up Target and brought toys and school supplies and books and Barbies and balls.

“We spent one day just handing out toys,” Joe says, “like a gringo Santa Claus.”

Don’t just think about the kids, either: “The women will bow at your feet if you bring them a hair scrunchie!” Joe adds. “It’s better diplomacy, PR for Americans than Trump’s policies.”

Joe and Scott hopped on a bus and spent some time at a resort on Varadero Beach

Joe and Scott hopped on a bus and spent some time at a resort on Varadero Beach

Get out of the city and hit the beach.

Joe and Scott decided to take a day trip to Varadero, a beach destination three hours away. They stayed at an all-inclusive resort, where everyone was very friendly and the beach was beautiful.

To get there, they could have taken a cab for about $70, but with their cash limited, they decided to hop on a rickety old bus, which took them to Varadero for about 10 bucks.

 

Be a bit daring when you visit Havana, Cuba — and adopt the party lifestyle. You’ll see people listening to music and dancing everywhere you go. You might as well join them. Who knows when you’ll next be able to visit what Joe calls the Forbidden Land? –Wally

The Flower Cart. #Cuba #havana #carribean  #streetphotography #urbandecay

A post shared by JK_Urban / Joe Koecher (@jk_urban) on

See more of Joe’s amazing photography on his Instagram page.

Rosa Bonheur, a Friendly Watering Hole in Parc des Buttes Chaumont

One of our favorite bars in Paris, France goes from family-friendly to gay dance party in the course of a day. Plus: the recipe for its signature cocktail!

The charming Rosa Bonheur bar at Buttes Chaumont in Paris, France

The charming Rosa Bonheur bar at Buttes Chaumont in Paris, France

After exploring the hilly parkscape of Buttes Chaumont, our friend and Parisian resident Kent, Wally and I arrived at the “Log Cabin,” which is the congenial and charming wood-beamed pavilion Rosa Bonheur.

The artist Rosa Bonheur has a delightful bar named for her in Parc des Buttes Chaumont in Paris

The artist Rosa Bonheur has a delightful bar named for her in Parc des Buttes Chaumont in Paris

The bar was named after Rosa Bonheur, a successful 19th century animalière (painter of animals) known for her artistic realism. Beatrix Potter she was not: Bonheur was a nonconformist and a celebrated feminist who earned a living as an artist, managed her own property, wore trousers, hunted and smoked.

Bonheur painted lifelike depictions of animals

Bonheur painted lifelike depictions of animals

Lions and horses were among Bonheur’s favorite subjects

Lions and horses were among Bonheur’s favorite subjects

Insider’s Tip: If you want to visit Rosa Bonheur, arrive before 4 p.m., as a fence is put up then and you will have to wait in line to enter.
Later in her life, Bonheur took to wearing trousers and became a feminist icon

Later in her life, Bonheur took to wearing trousers and became a feminist icon

Bonheur bought an estate near the Forest of Fontainebleau and settled there with her lifelong companion, Nathalie Micas (and, after Micas’ death, American painter Anna Klumpke), and her menagerie of animals. She died in 1899 at the age of 77.

 

We grab a bite to eat at Rosa Bonheur — before it turns into a gay dance club

We grab a bite to eat at Rosa Bonheur — before it turns into a gay dance club

The bar is mellow and family-friendly on weekend days

The bar is mellow and family-friendly on weekend days

Cabin Fever

The laidback crowd features a mix of Parisian fashionistas and hip families earlier in the day, giving over predominantly to gay men as evening approaches.

Inside is a full bar and a food counter serving Mediterranean-style tapas. “Round Here” by the Counting Crows played. A little girl plopped herself down at the long table where we sat and began coloring in her book.

After an hour or so, as the afternoon wore into evening, the communal tables were pushed back, families disappeared, and it became a buzzing dance hall. The dance mix began with Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop,” followed by Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine.”

Later in the evening, I observed a couple of flannel-clad and unshaven “lumber gays,” one of whom was animalistically lapping the side of the other’s face.

The whimsical bar at Rosa Bonheur, where you can order tapas and the signature cocktail

The whimsical bar at Rosa Bonheur, where you can order tapas and the signature cocktail

Our drunken friend Michael sized up the crowd with one of his hilarious comments: “There’s a fat man, a gay man and another fat man, who’s probably gay. They all do blow in the bathroom and throw up.”

Wally and Duke in Buttes Chaumont, down the hill from Rosa Bonheur

Wally and Duke in Buttes Chaumont, down the hill from Rosa Bonheur

Insider’s Tip: If you want to visit Rosa Bonheur, arrive before 4 p.m., as a fence is put up then and you will have to wait in line to enter.

One of the signature cocktails we enjoyed was a refreshing elixir made with Lillet Blanc, grapefruit juice and ginger beer called the Rosa Summer. You can also order a chilled bottle of the Rosa Bonheur Rosé, so you don’t have to go back to to the bar as often.

We’ve recreated an ode to this at home, and you can easily make a pitcher of this to serve at your next soirée.

The Rosa Summer, the perfect summer cocktail

The Rosa Summer, the perfect summer cocktail

Rosa Summer

Ingredients

  • ¾ ounce Lillet Blanc
  • ½ ounce grapefruit juice
  • ½ ounce ginger beer

 

Preparation

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all ingredients except for the ginger beer. Shake vigorously for about 10 seconds.

Strain into a cocktail glass and top with a splash of ginger beer.

Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Enough Rosa Summers and you’ll be jumping for joy like Wally and Kent

Enough Rosa Summers and you’ll be jumping for joy like Wally and Kent

Kirsten and Jennifer sit on a bench with interesting graffiti outside the bar

Kirsten and Jennifer sit on a bench with interesting graffiti outside the bar


Rosa Bonheur
2 Allèe de la Cascade
Paris, France

Secrets of the Hijra: India’s Little-Known Transsexuals

Prostitution, curses and dangerous sex change operations are a way of life for this marginalized community.

A group of hijras, India’s legally recognized third sex, in Bangladesh

With Caitlyn Jenner and bathroom debates making front-page news, trans people are now part of the American consciousness. And yet most of the world doesn’t know about the hijra, India’s transsexuals, who are officially recognized as a third sex in a country where homosexuality is illegal.

For many gay Indian men, they have two choices. They can ignore their homosexuality and live in repression, get married to a woman and try to raise a family. Or they could undergo a castration to live their life as a transsexual woman in the hijra community.

A very tight cord is wrapped around your penis and balls so you cannot pass urine. You become bloated, like you’re pregnant. You’re in a lot of pain.

In India, the latter is often the most appealing option.

“The way it works in this culture is it’s more socially acceptable to dress up in a sari and pretend you’re a woman than it is to be a man who likes other men,” said my friend George, who lived in Vadodara, India for the past couple of years before he fell off his roof and died late last year.

There’s not a lot of information out there about hijras. Their customs are shrouded in mystery. Here are some surprising facts about this little-known subset of Indian society. Granted, this isn’t the most flattering portrait of a trans group, and there are exceptions to every generalization — but it’s a tough life for hijras and their reality doesn’t paint the prettiest of pictures.

Many think it’s easier to live life as a trans woman than as a gay man in India

Hijras have the ability to bless — or curse.

If you’re about to be married or have recently given birth to a son, watch out. The hijras in your neighborhood will appear outside your home one day, singing, dancing and doing their signature clap, touching the base of the palms together in a dramatic flourish.

When money doesn’t come quickly enough, hijras lift their dresses to flash their often-mutilated genitalia.This is seen as the ultimate proof of their hijrahood.

Some refer to these actions as begging or bestowing a blessing — but just as many Indians think of it as a curse or, at the very least, a major societal embarrassment, wanting the hijras to leave as quickly as possible.

In this manner, a group of hijras can collect alms that total 2,000 rupees a day, according to George — and that’s a substantial sum. The hijras split the earnings among their group — but it still ends up much more than the typical Indian’s 180-rupee-a-day salary (the equivalent of $2).

“One of the hijra houses we went to had business cards,” said George, who hosted a British student writing her dissertation on this trans community, sitting in on many of her research interviews. “They go to the hospital and bribe the nurses to give them the addresses of homes where there has been a boy born recently.”

The hijra are most commonly found begging on trains, though, George said.



Once revered, hijras are now feared.

“Their communities across Southeast Asia date back more than 4,000 years, and they appear in ancient texts as bearers of luck and fertility,” according to the U.K.’s Daily Mail. There are mentions of hijra in the sexual position guide the Kama Sutra as well as the Hindu epic Mahabharata.

And while Muslims tend to be traditionalists in terms of gender roles as well, they also have a longstanding tradition of holding eunuchs in the highest regard. In ancient times, Mughal rulers had eunuchs guard their most prized and holy objects as well as serve as advisors. Eunuchs were seen as pure, uncorrupted; they had sexual temptation removed from the equation.

Today, though, hijras face discrimination and outright abuse.

“If you were to ask a middle-class or upper-class boy what they think about hijras, they’ll tell you they’re scared of them,” George told us. “Because they remember being that little boy and being exposed. It’s kind of an evil Santa Claus. You see this clown-looking thing in a sari flashing your parents. And they won’t go away until you give them money.”

When George invited hijras to a party he hosted, many of the guests promptly left, asking how he could associate with such “filthy, diseased, lower-class” scum.

 

The sex-change surgeries are barbaric.

Most castrations (known as “nirvan,” which is awfully close to “nirvana”) aren’t performed in hospitals. It’s part of a 40-day ritual of self-emasculation, according to the Daily Mail.

The surgery is, essentially, a rebirth. It happens in the morning, with the rising of the sun.

A very tight cord is wrapped around your penis and balls so you cannot pass urine. You become bloated, like you’re pregnant. You’re in a lot of pain.

The village midwife then comes in with a knife. “She takes a swipe up and a swipe down. No anesthesia,” George said, though there are stories of hijras being dosed with opium first.

As the blood and urine come gushing out, “it’s supposed to be your male essence is leaving your body,” George told us.

The hijra is supposedly presented with her castrated parts, which she buries next to a tree as a sacrifice.

“After the castration, you cannot work for almost one and a half months,” a hijra named Abhina Aher told NPR. “It was not an easy task — it was a journey of pain.”

You can get the operation done in a hospital — if you can bribe a doctor willing to take the risk — though it doesn’t sound much more safe.

“It happens in a dingy room, a 10-by-10 probably,” Aher said, describing her procedure. “Immediately after the castration, two hours, the hijra is asked to leave that place, because it is illegal. The operations are normally done by quacks, and a lot of hijras die because of that.”

 

Hijra prostitutes sell their services for the equivalent of about 50 cents (not that that’s what these two are!)

Many hijras get involved in sex work. Sometimes during traffic jams.

Prostitution “is a given” for hijras, according to George.

Hijra sex workers sell themselves for 300 rupees, which translates to about 50 cents, he told us.

They often take advantage of situations that present themselves. “If you’re in a traffic jam anywhere in India, look out the window and you’ll see all the trucks are stopped and can’t go anywhere,” George said. “The hijras come running onto the freeway. They go inside those cabins — five minutes later they’re leaving and going into another truck. They’re going from cabin to cabin to cabin to get 30 rupees, 30 rupees, 30 rupees. They know these are horny truckers who have been on the road for months without their wives, and a real woman prostitute can cost 200 to 500 rupees. And here’s a hijra for 30 rupees. Which one are you gonna take?” he asked.

 

Becoming a hijra is seen as one of the only options for young, desperate gays.

Hijras live in communal houses, where a mother figure, or guru, runs the show, taking care of her chelas, or daughters.

“First, hijras make a pledge to hand over all earnings to the guru, who in exchange supports them inside what is effectively an alternative home, as most hijras are runaways or evicted by their families,” NPR reports.

For many in this ostracized population, these homes are a haven. But they can also be the only option for young gay boys kicked out of their homes.

“Hijras pick them up off the street and say, ‘Come and live with us,’” George explained. “And they start off by feeding you — recruiting you, basically. Then they start dressing you in a sari and selling you to clients.”

 

The hijra have turf wars — and bizarre ways of insulting each other.

“I can sum up the hijra in three words,” George told us. “Gangs wearing saris.”

Each house has its own territory. And if you intrude on their turf, there are gang wars. Guns aren’t the weapon of choice, though. They’ll flash their genitals, pull hair, and beat each other with sticks or their sandals, which is the ultimate insult since the feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body.

George heard tales of hijras being hanged or doused with gasoline and lit afire.

And those who pretend to be hijras as a means to earn money will be badly beaten by genuine hijras if found out.

 

The patron goddess of hijras, Bahuchara Mata, rides around on a giant rooster and cursed a bandit with impotence

Hijras worship a goddess who cut off her breasts and rides around on a rooster.

Bahuchara Mata was traveling with her sisters in a caravan, when they were raided by a bandit named Bapiya. Part of a warrior caste that promoted suicide over death at the hands of an enemy, Bahuchara decided instead to cut off her breasts. As the source of a mother’s life-sustaining milk, breasts represent womanhood in India.

She then cursed the bandit with impotence — a horrific punishment in a culture that puts so much importance in carrying on the family name. The only way Bapiya could overcome this hex was to pay homage to Bahuchara Mata by dressing and behaving like a woman.

Bahuchara has become the patron goddess of hijras and is depicted as riding atop a rooster, a symbol of innocence.

Keep in mind that not all transgendered people in India are part of the hijra community, and that not all hijras fall under these general attributes. But those that do resort to prostitution, intimidation and crassness do so because they have no other options in a paradoxical society that recognizes their legal status but discriminates against them. –Wally


A Guide to Indian Street Food: Vadodara Edition

Wally, George, Manvi and Duke stuffing themselves silly on all-you-can-eat thali

Wally, George, Manvi and Duke stuffing themselves silly on all-you-can-eat thali

We have thali with the prettiest transsexual in Gujarat and sample paan, gulab jamun, pani puri and jelabi.

 

George took us to the offices of two NGOs, Lakshya Trust and Project Pehchān. The staff had just sat down to lunch to share some tiffin that had been delivered. They were so sweet, offering some to us. 

But we had other plans. We invited two hijra to join us for lunch, but Angeli had just had a sex change operation (she had her testicles removed; the penis would be a later surgery) and was on a strict diet of food she had to prepare at home to prevent infection. So the gorgeous Manvi joined us. 

I’ve never been very good at spitting. The reddish-brown fluid left my mouth in sloppy, staccato bursts.

 

thali

We walked down the street to experience the Gujarati version of thali, which George called "Indian tapas." 

We were seated at a table, where four round stainless steel trays were placed in front of us, each holding four small ramekins.

We had barely been there for 30 seconds before the servers, each bearing one item, began to fill our ramekins with food — which they will do continuously until you ask them to stop. We stuffed ourselves silly.

The meal included: 

  • Roti
  • Moong dal
  • Curries
  • Chana masala
  • Sabzi

It was all washed down with chaas, a buttermilk drink.

 

gulab jamun

For dessert we tried gulab jamun, which are balls of deep-fried ricotta-like cheese soaked in a sugary syrup and flavored with green cardamom and rose water.

 

paan

After lunch, George took us to a stall where we tried a traditional digestive known as paan.

It was quite the production and fun to watch. The paan vendor spread a seemingly absurd amount of ingredients onto a moist betel leaf, including:

  • Rosewater jam
  • Mint
  • Camphor
  • Tobacco
  • Rajsi gulab (cardamom seed pieces coated with silver — yes, actual silver!)

He folded these into compact triangular pouches that you pop into your mouth, gently chew and suck the insides out. The sensation was odd — like chewing a waxy tree leaf with an astringent, menthol wood-mulch filling.

The act produces an ample amount of saliva, which you're meant to expectorate. I’ve never been very good at spitting. The reddish-brown fluid left my mouth in sloppy, staccato bursts.

 

pani puri, or golgappas

The sidewalk that surrounds Sursugar Lake in the middle of Baroda is truncated. It would suddenly disappear, forcing us to walk amidst the chaotic traffic of auto rickshaws, cars and mopeds.

A 120-foot-tall statue of Lord Shiva stands at the center of the lake.

As we started our circumambulation, we saw a small billboard atop the Art Deco façade of the Pratap Cinema that displayed the peculiarly titled action movie Baby.

When we had almost gone all the way around the lake, we stopped at a street vendor selling a popular street sweet called pani puri, or golgappas.

This is one of George's favorite snacks and he treated us to the tiny, spherical fried puffs, which are briefly submerged in flavored coconut water, popped in the mouth and eaten whole.

 

jalebi

To complete our Gujarati culinary tour, George also took us to a sweet shop where we purchased jalebi, a traditional Indian sweet similar to a funnel cake. It's made with whole-wheat flour and is soaked in sugar syrup. Saffron in color, they're compact, coil-shaped, glossy and sweet. –Duke

 

American Expats Tell What It’s Really Like to Live in Paris

Kent and Michael, our Parisian expat correspondents

Kent and Michael, our Parisian expat correspondents

What do Parisians really think about Americans? What are the secret spots in Paris? Have things changed since the terror attacks?

 

Kent and Michael are a couple from the United States who have been living in Paris for years. They’ve been together for over a decade, despite being total opposites. Kent thrives on different cultures and loves travel. Michael has a caustic wit and enjoys the comfort and convenience of American society.

I decided to pose some questions to them both about what it’s like being an expat in gay Paree.

Fat, middle-aged couples who dress like they are going on a hike talking loudly. You can spot them a mile away.

“Kent’s answers are long and heartfelt,” Michael says. “I’m sure they will totally work in this snap-snap, in-your-face world we live in. She loves your questions.”

Then: “Let me drink my wine first. Je suis près [I’m ready].” –Wally

The lovely couple celebrating Halloween on the Paris Métro

The lovely couple celebrating Halloween on the Paris Métro

What’s your favorite thing about Paris? 

Kent: My favorite thing about Paris is that no matter how often you visit or how long you lived here, there is always something new to discover, whether a neighborhood, restaurant, venue, etc. Like our most recent find last summer was a watering hole called Ground Control: a deserted train junction converted into an open-air beer and wine garden on the north side of Paris.

Michael: It’s like being stuck in the 1970s but you can have a smartphone. 

 

What’s the dumbest thing Parisians do? 

Kent: Restaurants often make you share menus. Waiting in line is really pushing and shoving in a crowd.

Michael: It’s a tie. They complain about air conditioning being environmentally bad, but then in winter they use electric heaters to heat the outside. Also they think AC causes diseases. 

 

Have things changed since the terror attacks? 

Kent: The only thing you really notice since the attacks are more armed military guards on post at certain locations. Otherwise, life seems to continue as it was. The week after the Bataclan attack, we ate at a fantastic Italian restaurant owned by Italians that was mobbed like any other weekend. It was literally steps from one of the restaurants that was attacked.

Michael: Have things changed since the terror attacks? Not like in the U.S. Days after, everyone was out. They defy, unlike Americans, who watch media that spins them into an uneducated hate frenzy. There are men with machine guns all over…like Tel Aviv.

 

How do American tourists act in Paris? 

Kent: American tourists indeed live up to their stereotypes, often not adapting to the local culture. Most stereotypes apply: Americans tend not to make efforts to speak French and expect everyone to speak English. Parisians may or may not find this a bit arrogant. If a Parisian is a little younger and travelled, he or she will tend to be open to speaking English and even showing off their language skills.

Americans also tend to be loud. The normal indoor or even outdoor voice used by the French tends to be several levels lower than a standard American range. So what seems like normal talking levels is actually quite a bit louder to the locals.

You see this a lot in restaurants where a table of Americans draws some disparaging looks from neighboring French who obviously consider the voice volumes a bit obnoxious. The Americans tend to be oblivious.

Also, Parisians can call out the American tourists by the way they dress. Middle-class families tend to wear comfortable, non-fashionable jeans with braided belts, docksiders or sneakers with sports backpacks and/or huge purses.

Michael: Fat, middle-aged couples who dress like they are going on a hike talking loudly. You can spot them a mile away. Khakis or casual shorts or jeans with Nike running shoes or those lesbian-looking shoes from The Walking Company.

 

Most useful French phrase? 

Kent: Key phrase: At a restaurant, to get a waiter’s attention, one should say “S’il vous plaît!” Not so much “Excusez-moi.”

Michael: Sucez-moi? [a polite way to say, “Suck me”]

 

What do Parisians really think about Americans? 

Kent: Overall, Parisians have a love/hate relationship with Americans. Some idealize the U.S.: 24-hour stores, more conveniences, friendlier people (especially in customer service), better opportunities, better income…

Other Parisians see the negative side: lack of culture and history, and a more soulless, capitalistic way of life.

Michael: They bitch how fat and uncultured we are but take pics of a Reese’s end cap at a store like it was the Empire State Building and watch all our TV shows and movies. We are the popular kid they hate but want to know.

  

Best secret spot in Paris?

Kent: The longstanding Andy Wahloo restaurant that is like eating at your crazy uncle’s mansion, complete with secret smoking rooms you can only access through a secret door of a hallway wardrobe.

Michael: Chez moi. Je blague [I joke]. Um…Rosa Bonheur [a bar in Parc des Buttes-Chaumont]. It always pleases tourists, straight or gay, when we bring them.

 

Our First Night in Baroda, India

Wally visiting his friend George, an American expat now living in India

Wally visiting his friend George, an American expat now living in India

Wherein we travel to Vadodara, meet Prakash and learn a secret gay greeting.

 

Maps will tell you the city is now known as Vadodara (pronounced "Va-doh-dra")  — but most everyone we mentioned the name to just stared at us, blinking uncomprehendingly, until we followed up with, "Baroda." 

"Ah, yes, Baroda." 

It translates to something like “I touch (or kiss) your feet.”

Flying High With IndiGo Airlines

We took the no-frills airline IndiGo for our flight to Baroda.

They have two ramps — one in the front and one in the back — which made boarding a smooth, pleasant experience.

Their cheeky in-flight magazine is called Hello 6E (which we imagine is a play upon "hello, sexy").

Not only was the flight on time, a testament to IndiGo's commitment to punctuality, the plane interior was clean and comfortable.

 

How to Greet Gays in India

Our host George met us at the airport and we headed for his apartment, located in the Ellora Park district, via a green and yellow auto rickshaw. He lives in what he described as a middle-class apartment complex and pays $160 a month for rent.

As we caught up, George told us that his friend Prakash was stopping by to meet us and taught us a phrase adopted by the Gujarati gay community. It's borrowed from the hijra (India's transsexuals) and is pronounced, "Pah-ga lah-goo." It translates to something like "I touch (or kiss) your feet." To really impress the person you meet, you drag out the last syllable so it's something like, "Pah-ga lah-goooooooooo!"

Prakash is employed by an NGO and distributes condoms and safe-sex literature. He has a soft, round, feminine face, with a touch of gloss on his full lips and perfectly plucked eyebrows, framed by dark, slightly wavy hair. This may explain why some men perceive him as hijra. He belongs to Dalit, the lowest caste, considered untouchable.

He's a total sweetheart and helps George out as a sort of assistant. We learned that the name Prakash means "light" in Hindi.

Our bringer of "light" was also quite a character. 

"Justin Bieber" — which he pronounced "Bay-burr" — "is my boyfriend," he said, smiling naughtily, "and Obama is my husband." –Duke

5 Strange World Traditions

A temple in Ubud on Bali — just don't go in if you're on your period!

A temple in Ubud on Bali — just don't go in if you're on your period!

The more you travel, the more weird traditions you’ll encounter — and that’s some kind of wonderful.

 

Part of the wonderment of travel is experiencing cultures that are vastly different from your own. It expands your mind; it helps you understand how we’re indelibly shaped by our environments.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling superior, that places that don’t follow our conventions are somehow more barbaric.

“I didn’t fly halfway around the world to not go into any temples just because it’s that time of the month,” she exclaimed.

But that’s what makes world travel so fun. Get out of your comfort zone. See things from another point of view. Travel truly changes you.
Here’s a sampling of some of the strangest customs I’ve experienced on my travels.

 

On Bali, menstruating women cannot enter Hindu temples.

The idea is that women on their periods are somehow “unclean.” But my friend Christina was having none of it.

“I didn’t fly halfway around the world to not go into any temples just because it's that time of the month,” she exclaimed.

“Hey,” I responded, “I won’t tell if you don’t.”

 

In Thailand, there’s no concept of the closet for gays.

As hard as this is to believe, this is what I was told by my friend Deb, who was living in Bangkok at the time.

Apparently being gay isn’t something you have to hide in Thailand. Which I suppose means there’s no repression, and you just tell everyone around you when you first realize you have feelings for the same sex.

Honestly, this one still astounds me, and I’m not sure I fully believe it. I feel like it would make Thailand the only country on Earth where it was totally OK to be gay.

 

In Morocco, men hold hands and kiss hello.

There’s nothing gay about it. But Muslim men are quite physical with each other. It’s not unusual to see two grown men walking arm in arm down the street or even holding hands.

And when they greet each other, they kiss on the cheek. The man who drove us to the Sahara used me to demonstrate the traditional greeting. He kissed me once. Twice. Thrice. Four times! It seemed a bit excessive. I mean, who’s got time for that?

 

In Sevilla, Spain, you toss your napkins right on the floor.

You stop at a tapas bar for some delicious nibblies, and when you’re done, you nonchalantly throw your soiled napkin onto the ground.

“It took me a while to get used to this,” my friend Jo said. “But honestly — they’d rather you do that than leave them on the bar.”

 

In Peru, you pour out booze as an offering to Mother Earth.

The Andean people worship the Earth as Pachamama, and whenever they have an alcoholic drink, they pour a bit out to honor her.

“What about if you’re in someone’s home?” I asked my guide one evening at our campsite on the Inca Trail.

“Yes,” he told me.

“What about if you’re at a restaurant?” I asked.

He nodded again. “Yes.”

“It’s kind of like pouring one for your homies,” I said. But he didn’t understand. –Wally