balloon riots

The first public demonstration of a lighter-than-air machine took place in 1783, in Annonay, France, when Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier, two brothers who owned a paper mill, sent up an unmanned hot-air balloon.

early balloon found here

After their success, the brothers went to Paris and built another larger one. On September 19, 1783, in Versailles, the Montgolfiers flew the first passengers in a basket suspended below a hot-air balloon—a sheep, a rooster, and a duck.

Miss Dietrich with her duck in a basket found here

On August 27, 1783, Jacques Alexandre César Charles launched the first balloon inflated with hydrogen gas in Paris. Unlike the Montgolfier balloon, his hydrogen-inflated balloon was closed to contain the gas. The sphere ascended from the Place des Victories in Paris to a height of nearly 3,000 feet (914 meters) and came down some 15 miles (24 kilometers) away where terrified peasants attacked and destroyed it.

image found here

A flying craze arose in France and Scotland with James Tytler, Scotland’s first aeronaut and the first Briton to fly, but a year after the invention of the balloon, the English were still skeptical, and so George Biggin and ‘Vincent’ Lunardi, “The Daredevil Aeronaut”, decided to demonstrate a hydrogen balloon flight at the Artillery Ground of the Honourable Artillery Company in London in September 1784.

Lunardi found here

Lunardi first tried to obtain permission to go up from the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital. However, somebody else had already beaten him to it – a Frenchman, de Morel, who had made the first attempt with a whimsical hot air balloon shaped like a Chinese temple. This monster declined to leave the ground, which disappointed and infuriated the spectators; in their rage they destroyed the balloon.

image found here

In Lunardi’s case, because the 200,000 strong crowd had grown very impatient with delays in fully inflating the balloon, the young Italian had to take-off without his friend Biggin, but he was accompanied by a dog, a cat and a caged pigeon. The flight travelled in a northerly direction towards Hertfordshire, with Lunardi making a stop in Welham Green, where the cat was set free as it seemed airsick.

flying cat found here

The 24 mile flight brought Lunardi fame and began the ballooning fad that inspired fashions of the day—Lunardi skirts were decorated with balloon styles, and in Scotland, the Lunardi Bonnet was named after him, and is even mentioned by Robert Burns in his poem ‘To a Louse’, written about a young woman called Jenny, who had a louse scampering in her Lunardi bonnet.

balloon bonnet found here

Lunardi went on to build larger and better balloons decorated with Union Jacks, in which manner he ‘wished to express his respects and devotion to everything which the word “British” stands for’. His faithful friend Biggin and a Mrs Letitia Sage, an actress, were to have accompanied him on a trip from Moorefields, but the lifting capacity of the balloon was poor, so Lunardi started alone. Soon afterwards he had to come down again, near Tottenham Court Road, because the envelope turned out to be leaking. The well-tried patience of Biggin was finally rewarded later that year when, on 29 June, he was able to ascend himself, accompanied by Mrs Sage.

Letitia Sage found here

Mrs Sage was described as Junoesque, and apparently weighed in at over 200 pounds. On the day she wore a very low cut silk dress, apparently to aid ‘wind resistance’. Her fellow passenger was the dashing George Biggin, a young and wealthy Old Etonian.

no wind resistance found here

Unfortunately the balloon was overloaded. (Afterwards Mrs Sage blamed herself because she hadn’t told Lunardi her weight and he’d been too polite to ask). Lunardi seemed to have no qualms about stepping out and letting the apparently inexperienced Mr Biggin take to the air with Mrs Sage. Unfortunately in his haste to depart, Lunardi failed to do up the lacings of the gondola door. As the balloon sailed away over Picadilly the beautiful Mrs Sage was on all fours re-threading the lacings to close the door. Apparently the crowd assumed she had fainted and was perhaps receiving some kind of intimate first aid from Mr Biggin.

daisyfae had to lace me into this corset in Chicago 2011

In fact she was coolly re-threading the lacings to make the gondola safe again. In due course the two of them were lunching off sparkling Italian wine and cold chicken, occasionally calling to people below through a speaking trumpet.

The flight followed the line of the Thames westwards finally landing heavily in Harrow on the Hill where the balloon damaged a hedge and gouged a strip through the middle of an uncut hayfield, leaving the farmer ranting abuse and threats. The honour of the first female aeronaut was saved by the young gentlemen/boys of Harrow school who had a whip-round to pay off the farmer and then carried Mrs Sage bodily, in triumph, to the local pub.

Later there was much speculation at Mr Biggin’s club as to whether he had been the first man to “board” a female aeronaut in flight…….

adhesive plaster on a hairy chest

The following are instructions on disguise, posture and gait from a Manual of Covert Warfare and Training 1939-1945:

image found here

“If you have round shoulders, a strong “figure eight” cord, crossed in the back, will serve as a reminder to throw out your chest and stand up straight. Put your arms through it and slip it over your head. If you want round shoulders, cross it in front instead. 

image found here

Try the old trick of buttoning your pants to your vest to acquire a stoop. Another way to keep hunched over is to use a strip of adhesive plaster from just above the navel up to the hair on the chest. It should be applied while slouched over. Then try to straighten up!

Mark Ruffalo found here

A mechanic’s face, with ingrained grease, can be affected by rubbing in black grease from an engine or hubcap. A fine crop of synthetic blackheads can also be achieved this way. 

real blackheads found here

Building up the inside of one shoe heel will give a “short leg” limp. With the same device it’s easy to assume the walk of someone who has been paralysed on one side. Build up your left heel an inch and a half, crook your right arm into a useless set, drop the right shoulder down and swing the right half dead leg forward. Be sure your face has a drooped, dull, set expression. Your eyes are usually all that will move, with a bewildered, anxious expression. This cover, if not overplayed, has a good psychological angle because one’s natural impulse is to look away from such cripples.

image of “The Cripple” found here

A hard object in one sock heel will produce a convincing limp. Slightly larger ones in the arch of each foot will produce a “flat foot” walk. Pencil erasers or other firm but pliable articles are best as they do not bruise the foot so much after a period of time. Try also a tight bandage around the calf of your leg with something under it to hurt the muscle as the weight is put on that foot.

Tungara frog perched on pencil eraser found here

Try the “lost arm” which is best done when wearing a double breasted coat. Take the left arm from the coat sleeve. Tuck the empty sleeve into the coat pocket. Hold the elbow close to the waist at the side front and put your forearm around your waist with the left hand on the right hip. If you can button your vest around your arm, it will keep it even flatter, but you may want your arm more readily available.

image found here

death car cutie

A google search for “death car” brings up some strange stories. China made headlines in 2006 with this:

image found here

Zhang Shiqiang, known as the Nine-Fingered Devil, first tasted justice at 13. His father caught him stealing and cut off one of Zhang’s fingers. Twenty-five years later, Zhang met retribution once more, after his conviction for double murder. He was put to death in China’s new fleet of mobile execution chambers that dispense capital punishment from specially equipped “death vans” that shuttle from town to town.

Makers of the vans say the vehicles and injections are a civilized alternative to the firing squad. The switch from gunshots to injections is a sign that China “promotes human rights,” says Kang Zhongwen, who designed the Automobile death van in which “Devil” Zhang took his final ride.

image found here

Along with the death vans, the company also makes bulletproof limousines for the country’s rich and armored trucks for banks.  “I’m most proud of the bed. It’s very humane, like an ambulance,” Kang says. He points to the power-driven metal stretcher that glides out at an incline. “It’s too brutal to haul a person aboard,” he says. “This makes it convenient for the criminal and the guards.”

The next result from Google took me here:

When Mrs. Ruth Warren arrived to claim her stolen car (after Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed in it), Sheriff Henderson Jordan refused to release it claiming that she would have to pay $15,000 to get it back. She had to hire an attorney to represent her before a Federal Judge who threatened to send the sheriff to jail, if he did not return the car to Mrs. Warren.

Bonnie and Clyde found here

The Death Car, recently displayed at “Terrible’s Casino” in Osceola, Iowa in August of 2007 is currently being displayed at Terrible’s St. Jo Frontier Casino in Saint Joseph Missouri. At the time of his death, Clyde Barrow was wearing a light blue western style shirt. It sold at auction for $85,000. A one inch swatch of the dark blue trousers he was wearing, can be purchased by you, and you need not mortgage your home to own this tangible piece of clothing.

 

image found here (click to enlarge)

And then there’s this article about Buckminster Fuller’s “charming death car”

Obsessed with sustainability, beloved futurist (and architect, designer, inventor, and all-around visionary) Buckminster Fuller spent his career dreaming of a Utopian future. He drafted plans and built prototypes of devices  that would fulfill his dreams, and two of them are on view at an installation going up in the Miami Design District’s pedestrian plaza.

Putting today’s Prius to shame, will be the Dymaxion 4 car, lovingly reconstructed by Norman Foster for a double dose of starchitectural magic. Fuller’s three-wheeler vehicle, which he intended to eventually give flight with jet engines, had a fuel efficiency far ahead of its time at 30 miles per gallon, while its aerodynamically efficient teardrop shape and rear-mounted Ford V-8 engine brought it to 120 miles per hour. With seating for 11, it would have been perfect for family road trips (had the safety precautions been more finely tuned — it unfortunately turned over and killed its driver at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair).

image found here

charging of the sexes

In “The Philosophy of IntercourseDr Edward Bliss Foote explains that, thanks to animal magnetism, the opposite sexes quite literally keep each other charged up. Intercourse was a spinning dynamo generating frictional energy between men and women. *

image found here

He was the author and publisher of his medical theories, the doctor who prescribed his own remedies, and the manufacturer and distributor of those very same medicines. 

The New York Times carried Foote ads trumpeting OLD EYES MADE NEW WITHOUT SPECTACLES and COMFORT FOR THE RUPTURED, and the enticing CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION FOR THE MARRIED. Foote patent medicines like his Magnetic Ointment and Magnetic Anti-Bilious Pills were hawked for impotency and—for your inevitable return visit after that first cure—for syphilitic and gonorrheal sores.

image found here

Foote was also associated with the latest in toilets. In one of those happily juvenile accidents of history, the greatest seller of water closets in Britain was Thomas Crapper. In New York, Foote’s friend Asa Butts was the most successful supplier of the Wakefield Earth Closet. 

image found here

The burnished mahogany Wakefields were handsome and refined. It made the act of toileting rather like relieving oneself on a really nice piano. It featured an array of levers and spring loaded slats to automatically cover everything up for you. In Britain, the Lancaster  Grammar School found them splendid for schoolboys, as their old water closets had kept getting clogged up “by reason of marbles, Latin grammar covers and other properties being thrown down them.”

image found here

Earth closets had healthful advantages too. Any number of Victorian neuroses become understandable when you learn that one previous mass produced water commode was named The Clencher. 

“The Clencher” found here

*The information above was found in Paul Collins’ fascinating book “The Trouble with Tom – The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine”. He had quite a lot to say about Dr E. B Foote. You can read an earlier post about Foote’s amazing little book “Sammy Tubbs, Boy Doctor, and Sponsie, His Troublesome Monkey” here.

Gentleman Gerry and the upright jerker

Gerald Chapman (1887 – 1926), called the “Count of Gramercy Park”, and “The Gentleman Bandit” was an American criminal who spoke with a near impeccable English accent.

image found here

After being convicted on a bank robbery charge and transferred from Sing Sing, he first became acquainted with ‘Dutch’ Anderson, a swindler and ‘gentleman’ crook, while imprisoned in Auburn State Prison in 1908. Following both men’s paroles in 1919, they conducted successful bootlegging operations in Toledo, Miami and New York City.

image found here

They also managed to amass $100,000 through confidence trickery. Chapman rented an apartment in exclusive Gramercy Park and acquired a pretty English “wife” named Betty, who was as much a born lady as he was a born gentleman.

more photos of old New York here

In 1921, along with another former Auburn inmate, Charles Loeber, Chapman and Anderson began committing armed robberies. On October 24, the three men forced a U.S. Mail truck to stop at gunpoint on Leonard St, successfully taking $2.4 million in cash, bonds and jewelry. 

mail truck found here

While the police were searching frantically for leads, Chapman was back at 12 Gramercy Park, throwing dinner parties for his wealthy neighbours. In another robbery at an American Express office, the gang added a further $70,000 to their capital.

Eluding capture for more than eight months, Chapman and Anderson were eventually arrested after being betrayed by Loeber. While Chapman sat with a detective in the Federal Building on Broadway, he feigned some kind of attack, slumping in his chair and gasping for water. As the detective left the room, Chapman, with hands shackled, rushed out a window and ran along a narrow cornice. He was recaptured but the escape attempt made headlines and he was described as a modern day Robin Hood.

image found here

In an Atlanta penitentiary, faced with a 25 year sentence, Chapman swore he would escape. He stole small pieces of cord from the workshops and braided them into a rope. From stolen cutlery he made a file and a crude hook. When he complained of stomach pains he was admitted to hospital for observation. There he persuaded a “trusty” in the same room to join him in an escape attempt.

more prison weapons found here

They filed through the bars, severed an electric cable (plunging the prison into darkness) then used a rope of bed sheets to get to the ground and over the wall. Two days later they were tracked by bloodhounds and recaptured. Chapman was shot twice as he tried to run away and was transferred to a civilian hospital. While he was there Betty came to visit him and managed to smuggle in a gun. He used it to force an intern to hand over his white coat and walked out of the hospital to freedom once more.

NOT this Betty (found here)

Chapman and Anderson joined forces again and drove east in a stolen car, committing burglaries as they went. They were foiled in an attempt to rob a department store when police arrived and blocked their exit. Shots were fired and Chapman managed to escape once more.

On 17 January 1925, Chapman’s luck ran out and he was arrested leaving the house of a doctor friend and extradited to Connecticut. During the six-day murder trial in Hartford, crowds gathered due to his status as one of the “top 10″ criminals in America. The jury deliberated for 11 hours, after which Chapman was found guilty and eventually sentenced to hang. He proclaimed his innocence to the end, asking in his final appeal for “justice, not mercy”. Chapman was executed by the upright jerker** on April 6, 1926.

**The upright jerker was an execution method and device intermittently used in the United States during the 19th and early 20th century. Intended to replace hangings, the upright jerker did not see widespread use.

As in a hanging, a cord would be wrapped around the neck of the condemned. However, rather than dropping down through a trapdoor, the condemned would be violently jerked into the air by means of a system of weights and pulleys. The objective of this execution method was to provide a swift death by breaking the condemned’s neck.

Published in: on January 4, 2012 at 8:38 pm  Comments (48)  
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hungry in the saddle

Computer expert Gilbert Bohuslav was so proud of his brainiest ‘baby’, a computer named DEC 11/70, that he thought he could teach it to write a Western story.

more early computers here

DEC 11/70 was the most advanced computer in its class at Brazosport College, Houston, Texas. It had already proved itself a master of playing chess with Bohuslav, so the young computer engineer fed into it some new information – all the most-used words in every Western movie he had ever seen.

image found here

DEC started shooting out its Wild West yarn, and with it shot down the Bohuslav kid’s theory. For this is the story that DEC told:

‘Tex Doe, the Marshall of Harry City, rode into town. He sat hungrily in the saddle, ready for trouble. He knew that his sexy enemy, Alphonse the Kid, was in town.

Sexy Alphonse found here

The Kid was in love with Texas Horse Marion. Suddenly the Kid came out of the upended Nugget Saloon. “Draw, Tex”, he yelled madly. Tex reached for his girl, but before he could get it out of his car, the Kid fired, hitting Tex in the elephant and the tundra.

image found here

‘As Tex fell, he pulled out his own chess board and shot the Kid 35 times in the King. The Kid dropped in a pool of whisky. “Aha,” Tex said, “I hated to do it but he was on the wrong side of the Queen.” 

image found here

Bohuslav gave up his experiment and went back to playing chess.

more unusual chess sets here

Published in: on December 14, 2011 at 8:16 am  Comments (46)  
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Deacon by day, burglar by night

William Brodie (1741 – 1788), more commonly known by his prestigious title of Deacon Brodie, was a Scottish cabinet-maker who maintained a secret life as a burglar, partly for the thrill, and partly to fund his gambling.

Billy Connolly as Deacon Brodie found here

By day, Brodie was a respectable businessman, member of the burgh council and deacon (or president) of the Incorporation of Wrights and Masons. Part of his job in building cabinets was to install and repair their locks and other security mechanisms.

Victorian lock found here

At night, however, Brodie became a burglar and thief. He used his daytime job as a way to gain knowledge about the security of his clients and to copy their keys using wax impressions. He used the illicit money to maintain his second life, including five children, two mistresses who did not know of each other, and a gambling habit, reputedly with a loaded dice.

Get your loaded dice napkins here

In 1786 he recruited a gang of three thieves, Brown, Smith, and Ainslie, and then organised an armed raid on an Excise office in Chessel’s Court on the Canongate. One story has it that Brodie, probably being very intoxicated, actually fell asleep during the midnight break-in. Ainslie was captured and agreed to turn King’s evidence, informing on the rest of the gang. Brodie escaped to the Netherlands but was arrested in Amsterdam and shipped back to Edinburgh for trial.

image found here

The jury found Brodie, and his henchman George Smith, guilty. Smith was an English locksmith responsible for a number of thefts, even stealing the silver mace from the University of Edinburgh. Before a crowd estimated at over 40,000 Brodie and Smith were hanged at the Tolbooth on 1 October 1788, using a gallows Brodie had designed and funded the year before. According to one tale, Brodie wore a steel collar and had a silver tube inserted in his throat by a surgeon to prevent the hanging from being fatal. It was said that he had bribed the hangman to ignore it and arranged for his body to be removed quickly in the hope that he could later be revived. If so, the plan failed though rumours circulated later that he had been seen in Paris.

collar found here

The dichotomy between Brodie’s respectable façade, and his real nature inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Stevenson’s father had furniture made by Brodie.

image found here

his grandfather sold lemons

André-Gustave Citroën (1878 – 1935) was a French industrialist. He is remembered chiefly for the make of car named after him, but also for his application of double helical gears.

image found here

The Citroen family moved to Paris from Amsterdam in 1873. Upon arrival, the diaeresis was added to the name, changing Citroen to Citroën (a grandfather had sold lemons, and had changed the consequent name Limoenman “lime man” to Citroen (Dutch for “lemon”)). 

make a battery with a lemon, nail and penny here

Andre’s early childhood was comfortable but sadly due to some complex diamond dealings which went wrong, his father committed suicide in 1884 when Andre was only six.

Andre was a megalomaniac who loved making banquet speeches. Once he gave one in London in English, a language he did not speak; he had had his remarks translated and had memorized them. Nobody understood a word.

Another time he was about to read a speech that was to be broadcast all over France, and he said, “Oh let’s tell funny stories instead“. He was immediately taken off the air.

When he crossed the Spanish border on a motor trip, he was stopped by a customs officer, who asked “Name?” “Citroën,” he replied. “I didn’t ask the car’s name but yours,” said the officer. “Oh,” said the manufacturer, “I’m a Citroën, but it’s an Hispano.”

Hispano found here

He was a master of marketing. He promoted his plant to tourists as “the most beautiful in Europe.” When American pilot Charles Lindbergh landed in Paris in May 1927 after the first solo flight across the Atlantic, he threw a party at the plant. He rented the Eiffel Tower and had his name put up in 125,000 lights: “Citroen” shined over Paris. 

image found here

All that glitter came to an end in 1934. Citroen had amassed massive debts over the years. His largest creditor was the tire maker Michelin, and in 1934 Michelin took over the plant, cut costs and switched off the lights in the Eiffel tower.

image found here

Published in: on November 20, 2011 at 9:03 am  Comments (57)  
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jock and george and omi and jacob

The history of London tattoo artists is a fascinating one

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Jock Liddel  first began tattooing in his native Scotland at a time when there were only a couple of tattoo artists working there. After Jock moved to London in 1948 he took to visiting George Burchett at his Waterloo Road studio. George tattooed the famous showman ‘The Great Omi‘ and told a funny story how his name came about. He was in Burchett’s studio one day and asked if it would be ok to pay for his latest tattoo the next week – and with that Burchett was supposed to have said as the Omi walked out ‘There goes the great omi (owe me) and he will be owing me until the day he dies’.

The Great Omi sculpture found here

Jock spent his first years in London working alone – until he struck up what was to be a lifetime friendship with two of the great characters of the British tattoo scene. ‘I tattooed for years in my house – and one day out of the blue I met Jack Zeek and Charlie (Cash) Cooper and we became known as the ‘Crazy Threesome’ – because I was a drinker and Jack was a drinker but Cash was a better drinker than both me and Jack put together.’

Jack Zeek found here

‘One of the funniest things I remember was when I was out walking with my father one day and this bicycle came towards us with old Jacob Van Dyn riding it – with blood streaming down his face – as he had just been to Burchett’s place and had a red love heart tattooed on his nose’.

image found here

‘In the old days you never saw a book or a magazine advertising tattooing gear as it was a very secret organisation. The way we used to do it…the way to buy equipment… was from another tattooist…and you had to prove to them that you really wanted to come into the business for all the right reasons.’

image found here

Jock once appeared on British TV’s quiz show ‘The Sale Of The Century’ where not only did he win…he also took all the prizes home with him. He tattooed part of the design on (at the time – the world’s most tattooed man) Tom Wooldridge ‘The Leopard Man’ and he also appeared in many newspaper and magazine articles…including clippings on how Jock had the rights to the tattooed head of Jacob Van Dyn upon his death. Saying that of course…Ben Gunn, Cash Cooper, Jack Ringo, Ron Ackers and Micky Bloor also paid Van Dyn £5.00 pounds for the privilege of buying his tattooed head and face after his demise (no one ever got the head of course).

Leopard Man found here

Jacob van Dyn was rumoured to have been a bootlegger and a gunman for Al Capone. Whenever he was short of money he borrowed from London’s tattooists. The whole of his body was adorned but he was especially proud of the tattoos on his head which included the signs of the zodiac. His penis was also heavily tattooed. He was well known at Speaker’s Corner, Marble Arch and claimed to have been in every famous prison in the world, including Sing Sing and Devil’s Island.

erotic engineering

Porte-jarretelles, known in the US as a garter belt and in the UK as a suspender belt, is a machine of modest dimensions, designed to hold up women’s stockings. Suspended from a belt that runs around the waist are four strips of elastic fabric that reach out to grab both stockings by the cuff.

For a secure connection to be made, however, an intermediary connective device had to be invented, one that could hold a soft, fragile fabric that was sensitive to strong tensile forces. The problem was complex and multifaceted. Stockings made of silk were extremely delicate and would fare badly if attached to a rigid device. Additionally, there is much stretching and friction in that particular region of the human body, not to mention the considerable strain caused by the independent movement of the legs.

The resulting device consisted of a bottom plate covered with elastic cloth; at the tip of this plate sat a small button, over the top of which would slide a gynomorphic steel-wire clasp. The cloth for the clasp came in three colors: white, black, and pink. In deluxe models, a satin ribbon was folded over the mechanism, mainly for aesthetic reasons, but also to prevent overlaying clothing from getting entangled.

This solution was a piece of engineering so brilliant that later connoisseurs of fashion and historians of engineering and technology reasoned that only the greatest engineer of them all—Gustave Eiffel—could have been its inventor. Therefore a story, as unimaginative as it was apocryphal, began to circulate: that Eiffel’s wife suffered from sagging stockings and that the great man, in a moment of marital understanding, sat down at the kitchen table and drew a sketch of a new device—a garter belt designed around the famous slip-clasp.

I found the above information about my favourite lingerie item after typing “Erotic Engineering” into google. It’s an intriguing phrase also encountered here in an article written by John Ryle and published in the Guardian in 1998

The RuPaul lookalike in a lace microskirt plying his trade on the Avenida Augusto Severo in downtown Rio is one of the wonders of the world. His eyelashes are like spider’s webs; his hair, straightened and dyed, tumbles to his shoulders; his decolletage would put Pamela Anderson to shame. And there are others. They are wearing satin hot-pants, leather bikinis and denim cut-offs, carmine lipstick and six-inch heels: all the dress-sense of international hookerdom.

Ru Paul found here

During carnival in Rio, men en travesti are highly visible, on the street, in the pages of glossy magazines, and on the floats of some minor samba schools. There are even carnival groups that parade entirely in drag. These are mostly amateurs, though, out for the day. They would not want to be called travestis, a word that, in Brazilian Portuguese, normally implies a sex worker. For professional travestis the partial inversion of social order that is one of the features of carnival – and the unrestrained pursuit of pleasure that accompanies it – are a year-round phenomenon.

Travesti found here

Hormones and injections of silicone simulate female secondary characteristics. Nips and tucks do the rest. What travestis do not go in for are sex-change operations. Such operations are illegal anyway in Brazil, despite its reputation as the world capital of cosmetic surgery. But this is not why travestis don’t go the whole way; it is because, by their account – and there is no other available source of information – their clients are looking for a sexual partner who is neither male nor female, but a paradoxical combination of the two, a sexual chimera, a fantasy of polymorphous perversity, with the look and feel of the feminine and the penetrative capacity of the male.

image found here

There’s a book about this, just published in Brazil, called Erotic Engineering, an assemblage of photographs and interviews with travestis – and one or two of their mothers. I was sitting on the plane home reading it. It’s a curious book, halfway between a medical text and a chat-show transcript, with pictures to make your eyebrow stud rattle. It certainly kept my neighbour’s elbow off the armrest.

image found here

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