Sunday, October 28, 2018

379. Sensual


It's good to have a few hates, preferably things, not people, since things can't hate you back.  A blast of hate can cleanse the mind and soothe the spirit.  It's all a matter of what you hate.  Here are six things things I hate:

  • Wienies  (I know what goes into them.)


  • Jackhammers  (We can put a man on the moon, but we have never bothered to muffle a jackhammer.)

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  • Mail marked URGENT or OPEN IMMEDIATELY or YOUR FREE GIFT IS INSIDE.  (Junk.  Into the trash, unopened.)
  • Mail with no identifying return address or name of sender, but bearing the tell-tale word "nonprofit."  (Into the trash, unopened.)
  • Telemarketers.  Sweet-voiced women (usually recorded) who begin, "Hello, this is Irma.  Please don't hang up, this is about your credit card/bank account/ computer/car registration," etc.  Or a stern male voice: "This is your last notice from the IRS.  You owe..."  (I hang up immediately.)
  • The military's euphemisms: enhanced interrogation (torture), extraordinary rendition (sending suspects to another country where they can be tortured), collateral damage (dead and wounded civilians, and anything else not the target).
So what do you hate?  Name six things.


         Sensual, it’s in all of us, like it or not, but what is it?  First, some definitions.

·      Sensual:  “Relating to or consisting in the gratification of the senses or the indulgence of appetite : fleshly.” (Merriam-Webster online)
·      Sensuous:  1. a. “of or relating to the senses or sensible objects.  b. producing or characterized by gratification of the senses : having strong sensory appeal.”  (same source)

I think of “sensual” as derogatory, implying overindulgence deserving of censure: The prince abandoned himself to sensual pleasures.  On the other hand,  “sensuous” strikes me as innocent, aesthetic: the sensuous delights of great music.  But since Merriam-Webster’s online synonyms for “sensuous” include “carnal, fleshly, luscious, lush, sensual, voluptuous,” perhaps the distinction is arbitrary.  It’s not always easy to tell the difference between “sensual” and “sensuous,” between naughty and innocent, but since when is life easy?

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         A sculpture in the South Asian Hall at the Met of a bejeweled Hindu dancer, a celestial attendant to the gods, is wonderfully sensual even without arms.  Here is Venus, here is Eve, the Eternal Feminine, at her most enticingly seductive: males, watch out! 

File:Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), John Singer Sargent, 1884 (unfree frame crop).jpg

         For a more modern take, how about John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame X, showing a woman in a low-cut black dress, her face in profile, the right strap of her gown slipping from her shoulder.  Presented at the Paris Salon of 1884, the painting caused a sensation and constituted a setback in the career of the American painter, who had hoped to advance his career in France.  The subject was Madame Pierre Gautreau, a Louisiana-born beauty who, though married to a French banker, was notorious for her rumored infidelities.  Sargent later repainted the fallen shoulder strap, raising it to make it look less suggestive, more secure, but Mme Gautreau was humiliated by the portrait’s critical reception, and Sargent soon left the City of Light for murkier but more receptive London.  But the lady’s exposed pale skin, combined with her assertive face in profile, is, in a controlled but defiant way, sensual in the extreme.

         Another example: Looking out a window in my living room, I once saw a woman in a building just across the street combing her hair in front of a mirror.  She stood there in profile, completely unaware that I, quite by chance, was watching.  The rhythmic strokes of her comb were magically sensual, all the more so since this was not intended, she was just combing her hair.  (Some would then say sensuous, but I say sensual.)

         And how about this passage from the Song of Songs in the Bible:

   Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.
    A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse: a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
    Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard,
    Spikenard and saphron; calamus with cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrh and aloes, with all the chief spices:
    A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.
    Awake, O north wind; and come forth, south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out.  Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.

         “The graces of the church,” says the marginal commentary at the top of the page, followed by “The church professeth her faith in Christ.”  Some church!  Some faith!  But after all, the Christians adding commentary long after the Song had been written were hard put to render Christianly these superbly erotic, magnificently sensual lines of poetry, inviting the beloved to enter his spice-filled garden, his Eden and Eve of fulfillment.  And I’ve quoted only a snippet, and that in translation --- the King James Version.  What must it be in the Hebrew original!

         As for music, the pop scene offers Elvis Presley singing “Love me tender, love me true / Never let me go,” while Elvis the Pelvis moved his hips suggestively – so much so that they had to be censored on TV.  As for classical music, the sensuality of Carmen in the music of Bizet’s opera is supple and lithe, like the heroine, until death intrudes.  By way of contrast, the sensuality of Wagner’s lovers in many operas is dark and brooding almost from the start, with death as the alternative, or the inevitable outcome, of passion.  “There is no sensuality without spirituality,” a Sister of Mercy friend of mine has written, and “no spirituality without sensuality.”  In Wagner’s lovers, the one does seem to shade into the other.

File:Henri-Lucien Doucet - Carmen de Bizet (1884).jpeg
The mezzo soprano Galli-Marlé who created the
role of Carmen in 1884.  Not much spiritual here.

         Fragrances can be sensual, and many a perfume is named accordingly: Bombshell Seduction, Sexual Sugar, Agent Provocateur, Lush Lust, Ange ou Demon, Obsession, Putain des Palaces, Dirty Sexy Wilde.  Subtle they ain’t, which is why they leave me cold.  But no need for these concoctions with silly (or brilliant?) names; nature can do it all by herself (nature is always a she), and better.  If you crush eucalyptus leaves, you will be immersed in a deeply sensual and insidiously penetrating aroma.  I discovered eucalyptus and its fragrance while in college in southern California, where it had been transplanted from Australia.

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Eucalyptus leaves.
         And speaking of nature, snakes strike me as sensual.  Hiking in the outdoors, I have often seen them – harmless little things – slithering away through the grass.  For me, their supple, nimble movements are distinctly sensual.  

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Brian Ralphs

        And how about their bigger, more menacing cousins, the pit vipers, a subfamily that includes rattlesnakes?  Are these creatures, so deft and unerring in pursuit of their warm-blooded prey, sensual?  Yes, vastly and deeply so.  Their darting forked tongues, their ability to detect prey at a distance, their speed in coiling, their lunging venomous fangs – sublimely and mysteriously sensual.  Here again, danger and death are intimately involved in the sensual.  Nature is fascinating and mysterious; I don’t try to understand it, only to observe in awe its intertwining of beauty, danger, and death.

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A rattler.  Beautiful?  Yes.  Dangerous?  Only if he doesn't hear you coming.  If he does, he'll scoot out of the way.
LA Dawson
         If I asked you where in the city can you find the most gripping display of sensuality, what would you say?  The Museum of Modern Art?  Nope.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art?  No way.  Where then?  The Aquarium at Coney Island.  There you can see aquatic creatures splashing on the surface, and then, if you enter the buildings, you can see, through huge, thick panes of glass, the same creatures swimming about underwater.  I have seen seals and walruses disporting, eerie wide-finned manta rays gliding, and squid and octopi creeping, but for sheer sensual beauty, nothing can match sharks. 

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Manta ray.
jon hanson

         Yes, sharks are beautiful.  Seen underwater, these torpedo-like killers, sleek and supple, glide noiselessly, their sense of smell detecting blood in the water miles away that guides them to their prey.  Their teeth curve back so that, if their prey struggles, the shark’s teeth dig deeper, rendering escape impossible.  Shark attacks, though often blazoned in the press, are in fact very rare.  Yet sharks are feared the world over, and their sleek sensual beauty, their boneless bodies’ maneuverability, gives them an appearance -- but only an appearance -- of evil.  (Nature is natural, not evil.)  But their teeth, which they shed frequently and readily replace, are collected the world over, the rare ones fetching high prices.  So to the mysterious linking of sensual beauty, danger, and death, we can add the passion of collecting, and plain old-fashioned greed.

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Scary?  Yes.  Evil?  No.
Victor Grigas

Shark's teeth; nothing escapes.  But they too are beautiful.
Joxerra Aihartza

         I have one more candidate for sheer sensual beauty: flowers.  The Victorians were right in putting pressed petals in their parlors, rather than fresh flowers in full bloom, for what are blooming flowers if not sexual enticements to pollinators, thrust vaginas of flagrant and enchanting beauty?  Unless, of course, they come off as brazenly phallic.  Admiring flowers, especially those exuding a heady and voluptuous aroma, one can almost be sucked into them and swallowed down into a consummating and smothering extinction.   

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A tiger lily.  She can eat you up.
Thomas Good

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A black-eyed Susan.  More phallic than vaginal.
Connor Kurtz

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Magnolia grandiflora.  Frankly, this one is almost obscene.
Anna Anichkova 


All books are available online as indicated, or from the author.

1.  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World (Mill City Press, 2015).  Winner of the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016.  All about anything and everything New York: alcoholics, abortionists, greenmarkets, Occupy Wall Street, the Gay Pride Parade, my mugging in Central Park, peyote visions, and an artist who made art of a blackened human toe.  

If you love the city (or hate it), this may be the book for you.  An award winner, it sold well at BookCon 2017 and 2018, and at the Brooklyn Book Festival 2018.


"If you want wonderful inside tales about New York, this is the book for you.  Cliff Browder has a way with his writing that makes the city I lived in for 40 plus years come alive in a new and delightful way. A refreshing view on NYC that will not disappoint."  Five-star Amazon customer review by Bill L.

"To read No Place for Normal: New York is to enter into Cliff Browder’s rich and engaging sixty years of adult life in New York. Yes, he delves back before his time – from the city’s origins to the 19th Century that Ms. Trollope and Mr. Dickens encounter to robber barons and slums that marked highs and lows of the earlier Twentieth Century. But Browder has lived such an engaged and curious life that he can’t help but cross paths with every layer and period of society. There is something Whitmanesque in his outlook."  Five-star Amazon customer review by Michael P. Hartnett.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

2.  Bill Hope: His Story (Anaphora Literary Press, 2017), the second novel in the Metropolis series.  New York City, 1870s: From his cell in the gloomy prison known as the Tombs, young Bill Hope spills out in a torrent of words the story of his career as a pickpocket and shoplifter; his brutal treatment at Sing Sing and escape from another prison in a coffin; his forays into brownstones and polite society; and his sojourn among the “loonies” in a madhouse, from which he emerges to face betrayal and death threats, and possible involvement in a murder.  Driving him throughout is a fierce desire for better, a persistent and undying hope.

For readers who like historical fiction and a fast-moving story.


"A real yarn of a story about a lovable pickpocket who gets into trouble and has a great adventure.  A must read."  Five-star Amazon customer review by nicole w brown.

"This was a fun book.  The main character seemed like a cross between Huck Finn and a Charles Dickens character.  I would recommend this."  Four-star LibraryThing review by stephvin.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

3.  Dark Knowledge (Anaphora Literary Press, 2018), the third novel in the Metropolis series.  Adult and young adult.  A fast-moving historical novel about New York City and the slave trade, with the sights and sounds and smells of the waterfront. 

New York City, late 1860s.  When young Chris Harmony learns that members of his family may have been involved in the illegal pre-Civil War slave trade, he is appalled.  Determined to learn the truth, he begins an investigation that takes him into a dingy waterfront saloon, musty old maritime records that yield startling secrets, and elegant brownstone parlors that may have been furnished by the trade.  Since those once involved dread exposure, he meets denials and evasions, then threats, and a key witness is murdered.  What price must Chris pay to learn the painful truth and proclaim it?


"A lively and entertaining tale.  The writing styles, plot, pace and character development were excellent."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by BridgitDavis.

"At first the plot ... seemed a bit contrived, but I was soon swept up in the tale."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by snash.

"I am glad that I have read this book as it goes into great detail and the presentation is amazing.  The Author obviously knows his stuff."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by Moiser20.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

4.  The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), the first novel in the Metropolis series, tells the story of a respectably raised young man who chooses to become a male prostitute in late 1860s New York and falls in love with his most difficult client.

What was the gay scene like in nineteenth-century New York?   Gay romance, but women have read it and reviewed it.  (The cover illustration doesn't hurt.)


"At times amusing, gritty, heartfelt and a little sexy -- this would make a great summer read."  Four-star Amazon customer review by BobW.

"Really more of a fantasy of a 19th century gay life than any kind of historical representation of the same."  Three-star Goodreads review by Rachel.

"The detail Browder brings to this glimpse into history is only equaled by his writing of credible and interesting characters.  Highly recommended."  Five-star Goodreads review by Nan Hawthorne.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

5.  Fascinating New Yorkers: Power Freaks, Mobsters, liberated Women, Creators, Queers and Crazies (Black Rose Writing, 2018).  A collection of posts from this blog.  Short biographical sketches of people, some remembered and some forgotten, who lived or died in New York.  All kinds of wild stuff, plus some stuff that isn't quite wild but fascinating.  New York is a mecca for hustlers of every kind, some likable and some horrible, but they are never boring.

Fascinating NYers eimage.jpg


"Fascinating New Yorkers by Clifford Browder was like sitting down with a dear friend and catching up on the latest gossip and stories. Written with a flair to keep the reader turning the pages, I couldn't stop reading it and thinking about the subjects of each New Yorker. I love NYC and this book just added to the list of reasons why, a must read for those who love NYC and the people who have lived there." Five-star NetGalley review by Patty Ramirez, librarian.

"Unputdownable."  Five-star review by Dipali Sen, retired librarian.

"I felt like I was gossiping with a friend when reading this, as the author wrote about New Yorkers who are unique in one way or another. I am hoping for another book featuring more New Yorkers, as I couldn't put this down and read it in one sitting!" Five-star NetGalley review by Cristie Underwood. 

©   2018   Clifford Browder   

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