A REVIEW OF SICILIAN VESPERS AND OTHER WRITINGS BY MICHAEL DAVIDSON
Precious Testimony from a Saner Epoch *****
by John Hamilton, 22 May 2021
About half this volume consists of 'Sicilian Vespers', Davidson's account of his life on a small island off the west coast of Sicily. It was here that he met Gigi, his final great love, and was 'adopted' by Gigi's family. It was also here that he found a culture that was tolerant of men loving boys. In a manuscript that was to form part of a projected sequel to 'The World, the Flesh and Myself', he describes how Gigi was fifteen years old when 'I fell in love with him in his father's butcher's shop. Now he is a carbineer and engaged to be married: I know that his first son will be called Michele. At lunch with the family one day after I'd been on the island a week, I felt suddenly so dazed with happiness that I blurted out: “Why are you so kind to me? Why are you all so good?” – and Tommaso [Gigi's father] answered: “You love our son, so we love you.”' (p. 189) It is interesting to note that as late as the 1960s a culture that accepted pederasty as perfectly natural held a toehold in at least one part of Europe.
Reflecting later on in the manuscript about boy-love in general, Davidson writes that it is 'an endemic phenomenon in human behaviour that can neither be abolished by judicial abhorrence nor swept under the social carpet. It's probable that television comics are able nowadays to make little jokes about curates and choirboys without exciting puritan protest. [This is no longer the case.] … Quite naturally, ever since – and probably from long before – the arrival in Sodom of those handsome young angels tantalized the men of the place, great numbers of people have been puzzled by this phenomenon. … And when people of small imagination are confronted by a thing they don't understand, their puzzlement often turns to resentment or horror or aggressive execration. I can hear of no Greek author, writing before Pauline prudery turned Christianity into a Watch Committee, who condemned paederasty or even was perplexed by it; the cult of boys was so closely woven into the social and educational tapestry that it was taken as a matter of course. But Cicero, a man of intellect, being a lawyer, if not very imaginative, was puzzled by it although he must have been familiar with its ubiquity in the Rome of his day where, debased from Hellenic idealism to the standards of the 'Dilly, it was a popular pastime. Cicero … asks rhetorically, and irrelevantly, a question that shows his ignorance of these matters: “Why is it that no one is in love with an ugly youngster or a beautiful old man?” The answer is, of course, that the plainest youngster may appear beautiful to somebody and that beauty and old age are irreconcilables. It would be odd if ordinary people were not puzzled. Male and female created he them – what could be plainer than that or more logical? How can that right-minded majority of men whose wholesome lust is aroused by mammiferous rondures and pelvic curves be expected to understand a miniscule minority's erotic interest in the gangling tenuity of an adolescent male? It's unnatural! But to that minority, hardly miniscule, it's perfectly natural; what seems unnatural to them, and distasteful, is the majority's fancy for the female. … What's more, that majority may be unwilling to believe, to great numbers of boys all over the world it seems perfectly natural to be loved by a man, despite the cannonade of opprobrium or ridicule about poofs, queers and child-molesters to which they're exposed from the “media” and their butchier coevals.' (pp. 189-191)
All this is very well said, and Davidson follows this up with a speculation that there must be a Darwinist reason for the persistence of the pederastic impulse throughout human history, that it is 'a selective consequence of the evolutionary process seeking to rectify certain anomalies in the emotional growth of the young that the increasing complexities of modern life are creating.' (p. 191)
Although, for me, Davidson's writing on his life in Sicily is not quite at the Norman Douglas level, there is still much of interest in these pages in the description of an essentially pre-modern lifestyle that has yet to be infected by the sexual neuroses and puritanism that characterises so much contemporary life, particularly in the Anglophone world.
However, to my mind, it is in Davidson's correspondence that the greatest interest of this volume lies. In these letters, Davidson describes the places that he visited, and these letters are a window into societies and eras that are a lot healthier than our own. In Weimar Germany, for example, where he found that the boys 'play football in the public playgrounds dressed in nothing but bathing drawers', he discovered that 'It is evident that ALL the boys here KNOW things; some will & some won't, that's all', adding 'Most will, I think.' (p. 229)
The easygoing atmosphere of Weimar Berlin, in which kids had far more freedom than their peers enjoy now, is well conveyed in Davidson's numerous anecdotes. For example, there is the young boy whom Davidson spotted in the swimming baths '& [I] said to myself I must have that child … I asked him to have a cigarette, then we went to a café and drank Kaffee & he ate a kuchen mit sahne (sahne!) [cake with cream (cream!)] and I said you don't drink cognac do you? - “Ach ja, ein bisschen [Oh, yes, a little bit].” he said – and this was a 14-year-old schoolboy! So we had cognacs arranged for tomorrow …' (pp. 240-241, the editor has helpfully supplied in square brackets translations of all foreign phrases where the meaning is not immediately obvious.) Then there is Davidson's anecdote about the time he visited the Berlin equivalent of Piccadilly Circus and 'ran into a red-headed, freckled child there (15) and soon was dealing with him (in the place) and all the time was aware that an elderly gentleman was having a quiet rub in a corner by himself. After some time a paroxysm in the corner implied that the elderly gentleman had achieved the climax. He went off to his office or whatnot & Freckles and I finished things off. As a rule, when one goes into this place in the middle of Berlin one finds things of this sort going on.' (p. 242)
The correspondence is full of amusing tidbits about various youngsters Davidson came to know; for example, 'Hans came last night, but I'm a little bored with Hans; but his friend Max is rather remarkable (16); he is able to perform an action upon himself which has hitherto been the privilege of dogs.' (p. 235). (And – speaking of dogs – there is a rather bizarre description of an encounter with a dog which turned carnal – 'I have never imagined so perverted a dog.' [p. 221])
Then there are the relationships that clearly meant a great deal to him, such as one with 'An unbelievable creature aet: XV, with masses of black hair, huge eyes blacker than I've ever seen before, and the brownest slimmest body – a Lettlander, Berlin-born but Lettland parentage. It wears the shortest knickers, open shirt, gay jumper … His name is Walfried Reile-Reiljon and he calls me mein “hosbent” and he loves drinking cognac and this and that & we roar round Berlin with our arms round each others' necks and we swim eagerly and heartily every day and when I'm broke he shares his last cigarettes with me saying “Was ist mein ist dein”, and we're going to buy a lute and go walking (he loves walking) in the forests singing lewd songs.' (p. 231)
One cannot help feeling nostalgic about such a place and epoch in which society was more tolerant of pederasty, and when so many boys were entirely happy to have relationships with men, to the immense benefit of both parties. That the boys benefited from their relationship with Davidson (besides being obvious from the accounts in this book) is well attested by Colin Spencer in a reminiscence of Davidson included in this volume: 'When Michael last journeyed to the island of Gozo, he left with me several cardboard boxes. Several days after he died, I opened these boxes for the first time and found among many letters, photographs and rough pieces of typescripts, some letters from men who had, several decades before, been at one time Michael's boys. These men were now married with several children, their letters were full of ardent affection for Michael, still anxious as to his health, still anticipating a reunion. Not, I hasten to point out, a sexual reunion, for neither partner would have sought it. But there was no doubt as to the real love and concern which had spanned the years and the space that divided them.' (p. 350) This precious testimony is all the more important given that we are currently in the midst of what must rank as the most idiotic sexual panic in history.
There is now a very substantial body of evidence that demonstrates that boys have positive memories of uncoerced sexual relationships with men, and the fact that Michael Davidson's boys had fond memories of the time they spent with him, even long after they had grown up and had families of their own, should come as no surprise to those who have taken the trouble to research the matter of pederastic relationships historically. A society such as ours, which refuses to accept that boys are capable of sexual desire and pleasure, or else which tries to suppress their feelings on the spurious ground that they are incapable of 'informed' consent (the requirement that consent be 'informed' being an obvious tactic to deny their agency altogether), will inevitably cause incalculable harm. Thus, in the UK, boys as young as ten are regularly placed on the sex offenders register, presumably to 'protect' them from their own sexuality. Essentially, whenever boys behave in a way which disproves the image that society has of them, we punish them for it. And boys who view their relationships with adults in a positive light are subjected to an unrelenting gaslighting by state-appointed professionals, the perverse purpose of which is to actually induce the trauma that our society deems the necessary consequence of all such relationships.
In the letters and other documents in this volume, therefore, we glimpse an entirely different world, and are able for a time to inhabit an Elysium free of the madness of our current epoch. And by showing that another world is possible, and that it once existed, this volume reveals how harmful is the current ideology of sexual puritanism to both boys and the men who love them. For this reason, scholars – and all who value historical truth – owe a substantial debt of gratitude to Edmund Marlowe for so diligently assembling and preparing the material presented in this volume, and bringing it to publication.
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