It was a beautiful gloomy afternoon, the sky a nuance of chlorinated water in a public swimming pool, when I finally went to check out the Psalter. Old books have been my love for a long time; why, even a small business venture at one point, when I sold a bunch of musty turn of the century romance novels in Cyrillic alphabet to a London antiquarian bookshop owner who happened to be married to a Croat.
My urge not to miss the event, to which people were bussed from all over Holland, was probably also due to the fact that, for three years at the Philology Faculty in Belgrade, I used to spend four hours a week analysing reprints of Mediæval manuscripts for their linguistic, historic and literary value. Besides, the entrance fee to the Catharijneconvent was waived for people connected with the Utrecht University (as the oldest surviving book north of the Rhine is otherwise kept in the University Library). And I was slightly tired of spending hours searching the Internet for spanking pictures. Needed a bit of “real culture”. So I went.
The loosely defined Middle Ages are a fascinating timeframe and any church museum has a lot of sex-appeal for a devotee of algolagnia. In Catharijneconvent there are, first of all, dozens of almost-naked pictures and figures of the Saviour, often in ecstatic pain. There is also the bushy moustache and cruelly curled lip of a be-helmeted Barak (from Maccabees II or some other apocryphon), who looks virtually as if painted from a Castro Street photograph. For vanilla gay men, there are several strange figures of Christ sitting naked on a rock, such as few other nations had in the XIIIth century, but, unfortunately for lesbians, there is only one Susan bathing (not to mention that the old men are inevitably in the picture).
More explicitly, one finds the bench on which they stretched witches — almost always women, and amongst them most often those not interested in, or not attractive to, men; heretics, such as the Templars, accused for buggery and disbanded by Phillipe le Bel; and magicians: old men who would take a boy along to the wilderness for long years, to teach him the Craft. One can spend hours contemplating just that in the empty hallways of the monastery, because, of course, visitors are crowded in the Psalter exhibition room.
The age of Reformation and Catholic Restoration, as seen by the curator of the convent’s permanent exhibition, abounds with SM paraphernalia as well: Protestants mock the Roman-Catholic with a book, amusingly open at a page with the drawing of a woman (alas!) with a nun’s cap, whose naked buttocks are flailed without mercy by a fat mendicant brother wielding a whip, sat astraddle her waist . The Catholic side itself displays an unusual Franciscan interest in paternoster with beads the size from a pigeon egg to a golf ball threaded on a thick string. Looks to me exactly like an anal stimulator (was it Thai delight?) bought off St. Pauli in Hamburg.
It is quite fascinating that sex industry in European ports is usually located in old streets with the names of saints. Now, the idea of a connexion between sexuality and faith has been omnipresent, most noticeably in Hindhoeism (Tantra, and to a lesser extent Krshna worship) and, indeed, Catholicism (Christ the Bridegroom of all those, regardless of gender, who constitute the true Church, explicit erotica of Canticum Canticorum, ecstasies of Teresa d’Avilla, all the way through to the exuberance of the Dutch convert to the Church of Rome, Gerard Reve).
The museum security boys in navy blue uniforms are quite cute, well-mannered and helpful. One would almost imagine that if they transgress, some stern director ties them to the above-mentioned bench and whips them with nettles. A reason enough for anyone to get out of Amsterdam for a half-day visit. And in the evening, you can always go to Body Talk, with its broom closet behind a curtain, proudly referred to as “the only darkroom of Utrecht”. Even my pigslave may be there, handcuffed and kneeling, his eager mouth at the gloryhole level. But that, of course, is another story.
Miodrag Kojadinović is a Canadian-Serbian poet, prose writer, journalist,
translator, interpreter, and photographer. He has undergraduate degrees from
Serbia and Canada, postgraduate ones from Serbia, Holland, the US, and
Hungary, and has worked at universities/colleges in Norway, Mainland
China, Serbia, and Macau. His writing in a wide range of genres has been
published in nine languages in Canada, Serbia, the US, France, Russia,
England, Holland, Spain, Slovenia, India, Scotland, Macau, Mainland China,
Croatia, Australia, Germany, and Montenegro. He has also appeared in three
documentaries (of which one about himself as a globetrotter, seeking a place
under the Sun: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5763765/