Taken from A Hedonist’s Guide to Life
Nick Bornoff, author of Pink Samurai, "an erotic exploration of Japanese society," and more mundane guidebooks, is prone to nostalgia about sinful journeys past
“Sex”, once avowed film historian Donald Richie, “makes the ideal souvenir.” To be properly decadent, your journey should entail sex and drugs. Seek out the rapidly shrinking realm of the “unspoiled” and spend your time and money astutely after dark. Don’t vomit in resorts or do fish and chips in Spain. Decadence is pleasure with ‘clarse’. For true escapism, flee into the minds of our romantic forbears. Think of a trip an intelligent ne’er-do-well might have taken during the golden age of travel.
Seducing his way around Europe, Casanova was probably the greatest archetype for travelling decadents. Barely a generation after his death in 1798, wanderlust swept the continent as the Grand Tour became the precursor to the Gap Year. The more decadent among British grand tourists included Byron and Shelley. Ah, misbehaviour in foreign climes!
Is this possible today? Maybe. You need to be something of an aesthete and unabashedly fond of exotica; you must also match an intrepid nature with ruthless self-indulgence. Balance them carefully, however. Too much of the one will jeopardize the other. And while you may be just another tourist, you don’t want to look like one. You need a dress code – the city is not the beach. Avoid straw hats (and anything sold in souvenir shops). No pith helmets. Grubby white suits look good under overhead fans.
“Thou hast the keys of Paradise, oh just, subtle, and mighty opium!“ so opined 19th-century intellectual and addict extraordinaire Thomas de Quincey, who actually never needed to leave Britain for his fix. But drugs were high on the agenda with Orientalism. Tottering around Egypt and Turkey in the 1840s were Parisian literary figures, among them Théophile Gautier, Gérard de Nerval and Gustave Flaubert – almost the entire membership of the naughty Club des Haschischins (yes, that is hashish) in Paris, minus Baudelaire, who was probably too gone to travel.
Narco-tourism is still possible today, but most destinations are too dangerous to visit or under draconian drug enforcement (sobering that 16 Asian nations inflict the death penalty for cultivation and trafficking). You’ll always find drugs where there’s a shit-hole brimming with violence and eye-rolling fanatics. Proceed with caution! Never buy off the street; the product might be catnip or talcum powder and the peddler a policeman. Check out the hippy hangouts first. Some countries offer opportunities to visit tribal peoples – select those cultivating poppies, cannabis or cocaine, and don't lose sleep over your anthropological interest sinking to the ethnological equivalent of dressing porn up as art. You should be too stoned to care.
One expeditionist who always put dissipation first was early 20th-century gadabout Aleister Crowley: poet, writer, certified drug-sponge and peerless weirdo. An ostensible mystic and Satanist, Crowley founded a sex cult in remote Sicily (though these days you’d need to go a lot farther afield). Maligned by moralists and loving it, he was something of a beatnik pioneer.
Indeed, look to the Beats, those avid post-war prophets who showed the hippies The Way. Some (Alan Watts, Gary Snyder) dug Buddhism and green tea (beneath Japan’s austere façade, sex sizzles sempiternally), whilst Ginsburg, Kerouac and the profligate William Burroughs fulfilled all their needs – carnal, alcoholic, narcotic – in Tangier, Morocco. A consummate globetrotter, Burroughs was perhaps a paradigm for decadence abroad. Though don't, as he did, go playing William Tell with a wine glass and a loaded revolver, shooting your wife through the head at a dinner party in Mexico City.
When it comes to “souvenir” hunting, hopefully you’ll want whores, not slaves. In the bars, brothels or the street, talk to the girls. If they look bewildered or miserable, go elsewhere. Most speak enough English to tell you what’s on the menu. BJ on the rocks anyone? Fellatio with ice cubes – an old Manila favourite.
Avoid prison, especially in the “developing” world. Some South American jails offer five-star hotel sojourns with hot and cold running whores if you can afford it; if you can’t, you suffer the same sordid treatment as everyone else. If deterred by travellers’ tales of being beaten and bum-fucked by third-world police, you could just settle for a pilgrimage in bygone travellers' footsteps. The El Muniria Hotel in Tangier, patronised by Burroughs and the beats, is still there (and where The Naked Lunch was writ), but is now just a boutique hotel. Take heart, however. Decadent travel paradises are out there. When you find them, just don’t tell. Otherwise, someone will populate them with package tourists, and someone else will make them illegal.
Content copyright of Nick Bornoff / Hg2.com