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three pairs of lovers with space

MATZNEFF IN TUNISIA, 1976-8

 

The prize-winning French writer Gabriel Michel Hippolyte Matzneff (born 12 August 1936) recorded eight visits to Tunisia in his published journals. Presented here is everything of Greek love interest in his journals covering his visits of 1976-8. These are taken from La Passion Francesca: Journal 1974-1976 (The Francesca Passion: Journal 1974-76) and Un galop d’enfer. Journal 1977-78 (A Gallop from Hell. Journal 1977-1978), published by La Table Ronde in Paris in 1998 and 1985 respectively. The translation is this website’s.

 

Sixth visit, 21 December 1976 to 5 January 1977

On 21 December, Matzneff arrived in Tunis from Paris:

     Night of Tuesday 21 to Wednesday 22, in room 14 (rather squalid) of the Hôtel de Bretagne, rue de Grèce, in Tunis. The plane arrived at 7 p.m., it’s half past midnight and I’m already wondering what I’ve come here for. Of course, I was happy to see Pierre Jungné[1] and Edward Brongersma[2] again, and our dinner was very nice, but in Paris too I have good friends and I was naive to believe that crossing the Mediterranean would free me from thought of Francesca, from nostalgia for Francesca.[3] [The Francesca Passion, p. 333]

     Sunday 26 December. […] Walk towards La Marsa with Edward Brongersma and one of his friends, a German who lives near the Lac Majeur. [p. 337]

Brongersma Edward 1974 July
One of the most prominent defenders of Greek love: Edward Brongersma in 1974

     27 December. [...]
     These streets, these cafés, where there are only men. Lassitude and almost repulsion, because all these guys are not pretty-pretty. The lack of female faces is painful for me. A few pretty little boys, but not many. A rather vulgar and dirty crowd.
     Tuesday 28 XII. [...] The anecdotes of Brongersma, of Jungné, always a bit the same. That so special Socratic atmosphere, that total absence of the feminine.
     Do boys give a simpler happiness than girls? Well, I would like to think so. Certainly there must be deceitful boys, treacherous boys, but I think one seldom meets a boy who is deceitful and organised in his deceitfulness, a boy who is treacherous and organised in his treachery to the extent that the deceitful and treacherous Francesca was.

     29 December. Brongersma having left for the South, Jungné put the little flat in the Rue de Vesoul at my disposal. At the Hôtel de Bretagne, bringing back a young aborigine was impossible. Here, I am making up for lost time. Cheating is less flattering than love, less noble, less whatever, I agree, but as Sauze d’Oulx[4] taught me that love is nothing but a sham, long live cheating, when the young person doing the cheating has an amiable face and temperament. [p. 339]

     31 December. [...]

     At the Roman Museum in Sousse. [...]
     The triumph of Dionysus (3rd century BC). The god carried by tigers is the entry of Heliogabalus[5] into Rome as I describe it in The Arab Notebook.
     A sensual abduction of Ganymede makes me think very strongly of Francesca and of the 11th August 1973[6]. Jupiter, metamorphosed into an eagle, seizes the adolescent in his talons in order to ravish him in the heavens (mid 2nd century). [p. 340]

At Monastir:

     1st January 1977. Tonight, long dream of Tatiana.[7] She was coming back to me. Her false innocence. Me, charmed and skeptical.
     Monastir. The small port, the fishermen. I feel like I’m following in my own footsteps. I rediscover my emotions of ‘66, when I discovered Monastir with Georges Lapassade[8], and also those of my first trip to North Africa, to Cherchell, during the Algerian war.
     Sunbathing at the Skanes Palace swimming pool; but Alexandre[9] and I, despite having travelled the city in all directions, on foot and by car, did not meet a kid in the least desirable. It’s weird for a Mediterranean town, but Monastir seems populated by twenty-five year old men. Where have their little brothers gone? (As for little sisters, it’s not even worth thinking about.)

     I am writing this in Sousse where we came to flirt, without success so far (6:45).
     23:00. At the end of the afternoon, my first boy of the year, a twelve-year-old.
     Prostitution is the only universe in which Alexandre moves, and he finds himself well suited there. What I love is conquest, seduction. Certainly, in a country such as Tunisia, I am, like every foreign traveler, reduced to mercenary loves, but these can only captivate me briefly. I’d give a hundred hookers for a lover.

El Djem. Slenos w. putti. 3rd  dtl. 3
3rd century mosaic of "a drunken child-loving Silenos" and boys at El Djem

     Museum of El Djem. Dionysos dragged by two centaurs, behind a satyr holding a thyrsus and a bacchante playing the drum.
     Dionysos as a child riding a tigress, surrounded by plants representing the four seasons (2nd century AD).
     A drunken child-loving Silenos, flanked by three little naked boys who encourage (sic) the nymph Aigle.

     In the evening (2 January), little Faagi in my room again. This morning, the first serious clash with Alexandre. I read to him what I think of his flippancy, of his way of presenting people with a fait accompli:
     “You ‘deliberate’, but alone.”
     He is a jerk, an ill-bred bourgeois. He blames me for what he calls my ‘Grand Ducal side’, but I wouldn’t exchange my manners for his. This summer, will I go to Skanes, where he will rent a house? It will depend on what my romantic life will be like in July. Anyway, I can come for a week, and if I don’t like it, leave.

     This bloody idiot from Castelain, always accusing Byron[10] of “insincerity”, seeing in his behavior only “literary attitudes”. What a cretin!

     The big brothers, the older friends, who accompany and watch the little ones, Alexandre calls them “the chaperones”.

     Tunis, 3 January, in the evening. Here I am back in loud awkward Tunis, stinking of petrol. Eleven years ago I spent a pleasant winter there, but now I don’t think I will want to linger there.
     In the streets, fewer young people available than at the other time.
     What about my pedophile bisexuality? What is clear is that no young boy in my life has held a place comparable to those occupied - and still occupied in a certain way – by Tatiana and Francesca (Tatiana of whom I dreamed on the night of the 31st and Francesca of whom I dreamed, cruel dream, last night). My greatest happiness is with the females I have experienced.
     For sure, I can be struck with passion for a boy, and, without going back very far in time, Olivier played in ‘75 and ‘76 an important role in my love life. However, if I were to lose him - and isn’t that what has been brewing since November? -, it wouldn’t affect me a tenth of what it affected me to lose Tatiana and Francesca. My relationships with boys have always been fickle, fleeting, short-lived. Very quickly - from the first down on the chin - they turn into non-sensual friendships, into camaraderie. In 1975, Olivier was twelve, Giuseppe fifteen. Time passes. […]

Matzneff mid 1970s
Matzneff in the mid-1970s

     We have reached the 4th of January. In two and a half months it will be a year since I broke up with Francesca. It’s madness. I feel like it was yesterday. It’s true that we saw each other again, that we made love again very passionately; but the real, irreparable rupture, it was in March that I carried it out. Since then, many beings have passed through and populated my life, but none of them replaced, more than fleetingly, Francesca. Such hours of pleasure with Olivier, such hours of tenderness and passion with the beautiful D., such intelligent and sensual hours with Thanh, and I forget a lot, but none of this is the tornado Francesca that lifted me above myself for three years. [A Gallop from Hell, pp. 13-15]

Written on the ship on which Matzneff was travelling from Tunisia to Marseille:
     Wednesday 5 January. […] I am happy with my stay in Tunisia: I keep in particular an exquisite memory of my adventure with the young Michèle at the Hotel de Bretagne, and of the two kids with whom I made love on the 29th; but I’m also happy to be back in Paris. Barring the unforeseen, the coming months promise to be pleasant in all respects. Only, I have to make resolutions on work, vigilance, energy — and stick to them.
     To renovate my bachelor pad. [p. 16]

 

Readers wishing to read Matzneff’s journals in chronological order should at this point continue to A Gallop from Hell, 1977-8.

 

Seventh visit, 26 July to 13 August 1977

From 26 July to 13 August, Matzneff was again in Tunisia with Alexandre Rozier. At La Marsa:

     Tuesday 26 July. […] On the beach. These Italians, these Germans, these French, all these children, some of them of good family, I feel very Aschenbach amongst all these people on holiday. I observe them, and I tap my cheek, like Dirk Bogarde in Visconti’s film, with an inner smile, like him.[11] […]

     Thursday 28. Sidi Bou Said, 8 a.m. Yesterday, a day at the beach and at the Amilcar swimming pool, reading The Confessions, then an unexpected encounter with this moustached man, whose name I’ve forgotten, with whom I dined last winter at Pierre Jungné’s. He invites me to his house in Sidi Bou Said and shows me some “interesting” (sic) boys.

     Friday 29. Yesterday morning, exquisite, with Hager L., who will be ten years old on 22 August. We read Heidi[12] together, we play at school, we fiddle a little, I caress her wonderful brown skin, light kisses on her neck, on her shoulders, but nothing that can worry her, or surprise her. It’s my revenge from the day before when I was enraged to see her father groping her innocently. I envied him.
     At 1 p.m., I took her to the Amilcar swimming pool, with a girlfriend of her age. It was there that Alexandre joined me, foaming at having been held up for three hours at customs. Very proud of his new car, in which everything is designed for the arse: the illustrated pornographic books in the pocket of the left door, the tube of Yalomiel[13] in that of the right door, the radio-cassette to play music “which pleases kids”, the sleeper seats, the tarpaulin to cover everything when one makes love, etc. This organisation, wherein absolute neurosis takes on the mask of rationality, is, it seems to me, typically homosexual and makes me, on the contrary, experience how little I am that  ― although I pass for such since the publication of The Under-Sixteens, a book where high school girls in general and Francesca in particular are celebrated on every page, but where the “collective unconscious” has retained only my remarks concerning little boys.
     I am in no way criticizing Alexandre’s erotic system, it is certainly effective, and I find my love life being judged too hard to have the weakness to pass judgment on that of others. But besides the fact that, when one practices only venal love - which is his case -, there is perhaps no need for such a staging, this mode of flirting doesn’t interest me. Either I pay or I seduce, but if I seduce ― and only seduction truly captivates me ―, I want the seducer to be myself, and not gimmicks. I want to be loved for my face, for my soul, for my talents as a lover, and not because I have a nice car or a fine apartment.
     Among pederasts, I have often observed this impotence to make themselves loved for themselves, this perpetual recourse to subterfuges. Admittedly, they are also found among heterosexuals, but only among losers: the boss who humps his secretary, the producer who fucks the starlet, not because they have fallen in love with them, but because they hoped for a pay raise, a role. Should one conclude that homosexual pedophiles are all losers? This is a bit what I write in Schismatic Passions. I know, however, of some notable exceptions.
     For me, I often seduce, but sometimes I also frighten. The way in which L. flees me, in which Marion ― immediately after our first kisses ― ceased to give me any sign of life, is an escape reaction born of fear ― a typically adolescent fear.

13 in palm grove 1971 d1

     The selfishness of single homosexuals is a selfishness of steel, and it would be futile to try to cut into it: one would be wasting one’s time and energy.
     The main thing is that this selfishness is wrapped up in courtesy. Selfishness and boorishness combined can quickly become unbearable.
     (Noted on the fringe of our exchange of notes, yesterday evening. The casualness with which Alexandre expected to ensure first of all his own approval, his own ease, without worrying about others, even if only fleetingly.)
[…]

     I don’t know what I’m doing here: […] Moreover, pedophilia in North Africa tempts me less and less. If there were no sun … […]

Alexandre presents his latest conquest to me: Zoubir, aged nineteen, rug dealer and seller of flannels to the brothels of Tunis. […]

    Yesterday [30 July], in the car, between Tunis and Sousse, I admired, not without a slight annoyance, Alexandre’s apparent urbanity, his ability to take an interest, or to pretend to be interested, in the chatter of Zoubir (whom we transported with his rugs and his flannels ad usum lupanaris), his ability to speak immediately this broken French, this lingua franca which, according to him, is better understood by the natives than a correct language (in which he is mistaken); I admired his cordiality, the spirit to reach out to others, his ever-awakening curiosity. This expansive character, which has the mask of generosity, is all the more amusing to observe that Alexandre is the most arrogant egoist that I know, an egoist with a brutal egoism, tinged with boorishness, a man worried only for himself, his comfort, his ease, his pleasures; that he is, to the point of caricature, the model of the fat, aging homosexual boy, stuck between his old mother, his governess, his job and the gitons[14] he pays to fuck.
     I write this all the more freely because I too am, in my own way which is not that of Alexandre but which is no better, a terrible egoist, and a pleasure seeker.
     Yesterday evening, on the back seat of the car, the start of a flirtation with a boy picked up in Monastir (this satiny skin under my lips...), but the meeting was cut short because of Alexandre’s boy who, seated at the front and getting scared, wanted to get off. Then, at midnight, the Rug Kairouanians, namely Zoubir and two of his comrades, turned up (with big punches and kicks on the gate, making a hell of a noise), but we didn’t open the door to them; and they came back drumming between 1 and 2 a.m. These are the hazards of the trade. […]
     Monday 1st August. Yesterday, at the carnival in honour of Bourguiba, many attempts at flirting without happy consequences. Finally, half-success with a beautiful fourteen-year-old boy with dazzling teeth and speaking French well, Rafik; but distant and not very cuddly.
     Decidedly, the house does not suit my organisation of life. It’s in the heart of cities that I like to plant my hut. I hate country houses. Very quickly, I get worked up, I get bored. In addition, the first serious clash with Alexandre about the maid, the charming Aïcha, lively, funny, to whom he speaks as if she were mentally retarded. A leftist, perhaps, but also a slave-driver. […]
     This leftist or so-called leftist who, so that the maid does not see that he is bringing boys home, forbids her to take a siesta […]

 13  16 talk in villa 1975 d1

    Tuesday 2, 18:30. This morning, furious at not having been able to bring back a ravishing boy (eleven years old perhaps), hyper-consenting, very promising. Agreeable surprise. Alexander had brought back for himself a sixteen-year-old already a little moustachioed, but the latter was accompanied by his friend Adel, a sweet fourteen-year-old, and this Adel was for me. He didn’t want me to fuck him, so I limited myself to what was for Gide the height of pleasure, and which is for me quite insufficient, but was better than nothing.[15] Pretty enough face, pretty enough body, infinitely soft skin. […]

     Today, 6 August, […] (Yesterday, at about 7 pm., while I was least expecting it, this boy with glowing teeth, Rafik, fourteen years old, who came to knock on the door …) […]

     The little one kissed in the showers of the Palm Trees beach; then, in the house, Kamel, older (sixteen years old), with whom I did nothing much, but which he enjoyed,  and who has a very soft skin. […]

     Alexandre is so totally homosexual that, living with him, I feel myself to be very hetero. That doesn’t stop me taking my pleasure with boys encountered – I’ve already had four or five since my arrival – but I don’t satisfy myself with this solely masculine universe, erotically very inferior to what I’ve seen with my young Parisian female loves. Yesterday evening, at the restaurant, this dinner with Alexandre and his lover of seventeen, a nice boy besides: the conversation languished, and our efforts to keep it up in front of the young man were rather pathetic. Even with French boys, little secondary school pupils, I sometimes experience this weariness. But here it is to the power of ten.

     Sunday morning. Bathing at Thapsus. The author of the essay on suicide amongst the Romans at Thapsus! A beach, algae, tar ... It takes a lot of imagination to represent the shock of the Pompeians and Caesareans.[16] Alexander, he actually Pompeys, pumps with ardour the boys we took with us, and who are far too old for me.[17] I am not one of these pedophiles who claim to love kids and in reality fuck guys who are already young men. I like girls, young women, and, on occasion, very young boys, when their pulchritude, their slenderness, their freshness make them “pretty as girls”. But I have already explained all this in The Under-Sixteens.
     Alexandre coming out of the water, the purr of self-satisfaction again, and his precious tone, poof, fragile fat boy (“the sun hurts my skin”), exasperates me. How he stops a little to speak, to boast of his wonderful organisation. In a village, he stops to buy fabric. “I will have a costume made in Tangier, it will come to a hundred francs. You should imitate me.” Always he talks of money, and his interjections in the conversation, as if speaking to himself (“It’s not too expensive,” “I am very sa-tis-fied, because it only cost ... “, etc.). His conversation with boys on how to say “arse” in Arabic; his eulogy on circumcision: “It’s better for love” (and he sticks out a wiggling tongue tip, like a whore in a Fellini film).

Tournier Michel. 1967
Michel Tournier, winner of the Prix Goncourt for his novel The Erl-King

     This stay in Tunisia will have, it seems to me, contributed more than any other to disgust me with Maghreb pederasty. I’m thinking of what Michel Tournier[18] was telling me last month about women who, according to him, attract a lot more trouble than boys (the risk of pregnancy, abortion, marriage, divorce, alimony, children to raise, etc.). Yes, all this is true, and nevertheless what I currently experience with these Arab boys is, in every respect - emotional, sexual, spiritual – a thousand times inferior to what I experience with the least of my little European girl-loves.
     Yes, I'm tired of the Mediterranean, and I dream only of blondnesses, mountain pastures, Swiss cleanliness, a gray and cool weather. [...]

     If tolerant that we can be, we are reluctant to enter the amourous universe of others, first of all it is that it does not match ours. The boys whom Alexandre hits on seem to me almost all spotty, too old, unfuckable; and, reciprocally, my secondary school girls are for Alexandre a foreign planet, preposterous, where he has no desire to venture. [...]

     Tuesday 9 August 1977. Last night, delicious love session with Taraq, thirteen, extremely pretty, beautiful eyes launching fire, fine and regular features, divine skin. A little Neapolitan fisherboy for an Épinal print; or again, the boy who is pulling the thorn out from his foot, which moved me strongly in 1955 at the Prado in Madrid.
     It is thanks to Alexandre, who on his own account hit on one of his comrades, older, that I had Tarak. I pay tribute to Alexandre’s Maghrebian technique, which is altogether to the point.

     Chastity doesn’t torment me, as long as I know I have only to go out of my house to pick up tender game; it’s mandatory chastity that is unbearable. I certainly will not visit the Lescanne in Rwanda if they confirm that it is excluded that I can, during my stay, put a little negress or a little negro in my bed. [...]

     The crisis of rejection of North Africa, of homosexual pedophilia, of these mercenary and loveless couplings, which I am currently experiencing is perhaps excessive, and temporary. But it is.
     I bought Le Figaro where my text appeared today. The title has been changed and the text itself cut, redacted in a scandalous way, and that, as always in such cases, in the direction of blandness, of insignificance: all the slightly strong features have been censored. That takes away from me the last regrets that I could have had following my decision - which I told Martin-Chauffier - not to give any more columns to Le Figaro, out of solidarity and friendship with Jean d’Ormesson, deprived of his position as director. […]

15 at dining table 1976 d1 dtl

     Yesterday evening [12 August], very pleasant dinner on the terrace of Z. Flirt in the dark corners with pretty N., fifteen years old, seated next to me at the table, short shorts, and who throughout the meal did not stop feeling me up and inviting me to feel him up ― grabbing my hand under the tablecloth and placing it on his bare thighs, on his fly. After dinner, continuation of our naughtinesses in the darkness of a room in the apartment. [pp. 71-8, 81-3, 85, 87, 90]

 

Readers wishing to read Matzneff’s journals in chronological order should at this point return to A Gallop from Hell, 1977-8.

 

Eighth visit, 30 September to 5 October 1978

Matzneff was now on holiday in Tunisia with Marie-Claude, a girl of fifteen whom Matzneff described as a “ravishing black of fourteen” when he first met her in Paris four months earlier.

     Tuesday 3 [October …]
     With Claude, everything is going very well. On Saturday, after we had sex for the first time (like with a little boy, because it was the end of her period), her crying spell freaked me out, because I had the feeling that for five days I was going to be confronted with a hysteric, and that our stay would be hell. But that fear didn’t come true, and it got better and better. From Saturday evening, and Sunday, and Monday, we made love the natural way (and also the sodomite way). […]

 

Continue to A Gallop from Hell, 1977-8.

 

[1] Pierre Jungné (died 1993) was a doctor who ran a small private clinic in Tunis, and with whom the Brongersma mentioned here made a journey by car across Africa that almost ended fatally due to a breakdown in the desert. In his journal entry for the preceding January, Matzneff had recorded his intention to accept Jungné’s invitation to stay in his home in Tunis.

[2] Edward Brongersma (1911-98), a Dutch senator and knight, was the author of the encyclopaedic Loving Boys (1986-90) and the most prominent activist anywhere for the cause of boy-love. Matzneff was also to spend time with him in the Philippines, where they were both drawn by how easy it was to have sexual liaisons with boys there.

[3] Francesca Gee was an 18-year-old Parisian girl with whom Matzneff had for more than three years been having a passionate but stormy love affair. Evidence of the emotional hold she still had on him appears throughout this journal, for example: “she was, and still remains today, after a year of separation, the greatest passion of my life, the only woman who totally captivated me, bewitched me. […] She will have been the being I loved most in the world. [p. 150]”

[4] Sauze d’Oulx was where Francesca Gee had begun being unfaithful to him with an English computer consultant. Having been unprecedentedly monogamous for the sake of Francesca, who was irrationally jealous and given to tantrums, Matzneff was devastated to discover she had done this and lied to him so convincingly about it, leading to his becoming generally disillusioned about romantic love.

[5] The half-Syrian Heliogabalus (more correctly, Elagabalus) became Roman Emperor in 218 at the age of fourteen, and deeply shocked the Romans both with the Asiatic customs he imported and his flagrant promiscuity in the passive role with well-endowed men.

[6] The date Matzneff’s affair with then fifteen-year-old Francesca had begun.

[7] Tatiana Scherbatcheff, of whom much may be read in Matzneff’s earlier journals, was a schoolgirl whom he met in 1964, married in 1970 and divorced in 1973, his only wife.

[8] Georges Lapassade (1924-2008) was a French philosopher and sociologist, and one of the signatories of the petition much mentioned by Matzneff in later entries of this month.

[9] Matzneff had been joined in Tunis on 28 December by his friend, the Parisian lawyer Alexandre Constant Joseph Rozier (born 20 October 1927 at Caluire-et-Cuire; murdered 30 August 1984 in Ceylon). As he explains on page 260, he had got to know Rozier in 1975 because “he was wanting to meet the author of Isaiah Rejoice and The Under-Sixteens, (Matzneff’s first two books in which he was open about his feelings for boys, both published in 1974). Thereafter, he featured heavily in the journals, principally as Matzneff’s travelling-companion, and was immortalised in Matzneff’s novels Ivre du vin perdu (1981) and Harrison Plaza (1988) as the banker Christian Rodin. In Ivre du vin perdu, he is the third main character and his sexual habits, tastes and history are recorded in detail, often to great comic effect, together with his adventures with Matzneff in Ceylon (entirely omitted from Matzneff’s journals).

[10] Matzneff had long been a fervent admirer of the celebrated English romantic poet George, Lord Byron (1788-1824).

[11] Gustav von Aschenbach was the protagonist of Thomas Mann’s famous novella, Death in Venice (1912), who, during a stay in Venice, fell in love with a boy of 14 whom he followed around the city and watched playing on the beach without ever speaking to him. Dirk Bogarde played Ashenbach in Luchino Visconti’s film of the novella (1971).

[12] A much translated Swiss novel about a five-year-old girl, originally published in 1881.

[13] Hyalomiel was a French honey-based jelly used, amongst others things, as a lubricant for pedicating boys. This passage about Alexandre’s habitual preparations corresponds closely to one on p. 26 of Ivre du vin perdu where it is said that whenever he went on a trip “Rodin took at least twenty tubes of this lubricating jelly with him.”

[14] Giton was a wanton and alluring boy in Petronius’s 1st century AD novella, the Satyricon, and the prototype of boys who made themselves available to men. Matzneff not infrequently uses this expression, much more common in the 18th century, perhaps inspired by Casanova, whose memoir he often quotes in his journals.

[15] Intercrural intercourse.

[16] At the battle of Thapsus in 46 BC, the Roman general Julius Caesar won a decisive victory over the remaining supporters of his dead rival Pompey, some of whom then committed suicide.

[17] Matzneff’s pun on Pompey (French: Pompée) and pumps (French: pompe) does not work well translated into English.

[18] The writer Michel Tournier (1924-2016) was best-known for his prize-winning novel, The Erl-King (1970), which had a boysexual protagonist.