He was right, of course. In the ‘art of living’ alone, there had been a serious falling-off. As Rediger offered me a baklava, which I accepted, I thought of a book I had read some years before, on the history of brothels. The frontispiece featured a brochure from a Parisian brothel of the belle époque. It came as a profound shock when I realised that some of the sexual specialities offered by ‘Mademoiselle Hortense’ were completely unknown to me. I had no idea what a ‘voyage through the yellow land’ or a ‘Russian imperial soap’ could possibly mean. Certain sexual practices had vanished from human memory, in one century – not unlike certain forms of skilled labour, such as cobbling or bell-ringing. How could anyone argue that Europe wasn’t in decline?
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