Tony Perrottet may have given his book, The Sinner's Grand Tour, the subtitle "A Journey Through the Historical Underbelly of Europe", but let's clear up any misconceptions right away. Perrottet is really interested in only one kind of sin (sloth, greed and envy may all qualify as "deadly", but they are of the less compelling variety in his eyes, it's clear!) and the body parts involved don't have much to do with the underbelly. Well, not technically, anyway.
That said, while this isn't really a G-rated book and thus can't be described as "good clean fun", it's an entertaining romp through the history of sexual adventurism over centuries across England, France, Switzerland and Italy. "The entire continent is still littered with secret boudoirs, perverse relics, and ancient dungeons," Perrottet rhapsodizes, "many of which, I was convinced, could be found." And so he sets out in search of any traces left by famed libertines (including Lord Byron, Casanova and England's Edward VII) and anonymous sexual adventurers in remote villages in the French Pyrenees. Perrottet's wife and two young sons are along for the ride -- the latter are intrigued by the idea of dungeons, but far more interested in good old-fashioned thumbscrews than any of the more sexually exotic stuff that Perrottet stumbles over.
Some of the anecdotes he unearths are fascinating, bizarre or just downright hilarious. For instance, who knew that a visit to Paris's most famous brothel was described on the itinerary of visiting dignitaries as being a “visit to the president of the Senate”? That, Perrotet describes, eventually backfired when the Queen of Spain did want to meet the real president of the Senate -- but was taken instead to visit the brothel... Perrottet, discovering he's directly descended from one of the Marquis de Sade's key employees, uses that to try to talk his way into the 18th century libertine's dungeons, scene to many infamous orgies but now the property of fashion mogul Pierre Cardin. He also tries to talk his way into a bathroom in the Pope's private quarters in the Vatican decorated with erotic frescoes by Raphael by claiming an academic interest in the impact of myths on Renaissance art.
There are points where this teeters on the border that separates amusing from downright weird or even slightly creepy. Some of the souveniers he unearths made me grimace with in distaste -- and some of the sexual antics that belong to history were probably more fun to participate in than to read about after the fact. But overall this is a lively and utterly different book, however odd the juxtapositions between the trials and tribulations of a family vacation and of seeking out orgy locations might seem. Probably a great book for those who enjoy "traveler's tales" -- first person stories of misadventures and discovery. Fun in a "wink, wink; nudge, nudge" kind of way.