SANKY PANKY: Sosúa, hocus pocus and courtisans

Two weeks ago we went to the beach at Sosúa. It was the first beach I came to after I as a newly married man had arrived to Dominican Republic from Puerto Rico in 1980. In those days Sosúa was a village consisting mainly of white painted, wooden houses. There was a synagogue and a dairy, which were also made with white painted planks. A few years later, we visited Sosúa with my parents and my mother used to remember how it sounded when the hoofs of horses and donkeys clattered against the pavement while they passed by Beck's guesthouse, where we used to stay.

If I'm not wrong, I once sat with the Beck couple on their porch, speaking in German, something they liked to do since they were from Vienna. At that time, Sosúa was a picturesque village with a few, mostly domestic tourists and we used to go barefoot down the hill to a perfect crescent shaped sandy beach, wreathed by arboles de uva, grape trees (Coccoloba uvifera).

Now everything was quite different. Most of the wooden houses had disappeared and been replaced by casinos, hotels, restaurants and hastily erected concrete houses. Shaded by the grape trees the shore line was now littered with shacks selling street food, shawls, swimsuits, and kitschy “art”, which most common motives were women´s behinds and Bob Marley. There were a multitude of restaurant shacks with menus in English, German, French, Italian and Russian. Last year's hurricane had created a new, silky beach. However, beneath the sea surface the violent waves had scraped the bottom free from sand and it was now littered with sharp stones. It had not been like this before - then the bottom had been soft with lily white sand and the water had been crystal clear. Time passes and does not repeat itself. Why nurture any regrets for the unattainable?

We had a nice time at the beach, Rose, Mayra, Vicky and I. We enjoyed the Republic's excellent pilsner, Presidente, and ate delicious fish dishes served by an elderly and serious man who was indubitably member of an evangelical church, he said that his nickname was El Lobo, the Wolf.

Vicky is the daughter of one of Rose´s sisters, although she was born in the Dominican Republic and spent her early childhood there she has since then grown up, studied and worked in the United States and now Vicky marvelled at the strange stories of the island we told her.

In 1938, most well informed people of the world had realized that Germany´s Jews lived dangerously and were at risk of not only being deported, but murdered by their own Government. Several were concerned by the boundless hatred directed against the Jews by authorities, as well as by "ordinary and decent" citizens. Human rights groups demanded that the nations of the world should open their borders for persecuted Jews.

There were probably several noble reasons to the why United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt convened a conference in the French spa town of Évian-les-Bains between the 6th to 15th July, with the intention of persuading the nations of the world to open their borders to the Jews. Nevertheless, a crucial reason for this magnanimity may have been that Roosevelt intended to distract attention and criticism from a policy that restricted the quota of Jewish refugees welcomed to the United States.

Representatives from 32 governments participated in the conference, but only Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic agreed to welcome Jewish refugees. As an example of the global indifference to the plight of the European Jews I found that the Swedish delegation expressed doubts about their sparsely populated nation´s ability to receive Jews refugees. Its leader, Gösta Engzell, director of the judicial section of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated that Sweden could possibly receive a small and limited number of refugees, but his Government was of the opinion that "the Jewish question" had to be resolved by allowing Jewish refugees to settle "outside of Europe".

The Dominican Republic´s government representatives assured the other conference delegates that their country could welcome 100,000 Jewish refugees. Each Jewish family would be offered 38 hectares of land, ten cows, one mule and one horse. If they had children, they would be offered two extra cows per child. Each family would also be offered a loan of 10,000 USD, with one percent interest rate.

However, the generous offer was not entirely inspired by humanitarian concerns. In October 1937, the Dominican Republic´s dictator, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, had ordered his army, dressed up as peasants, to massacre all Haitians who could be found on the Dominican territory. In 1938, the Haitian President Elie Lescot established that the number of brutally slaughtered Haitians had been 12,168. However, more recent Dominican research has estimated the actual number of victims to have been around 35,000. When the state-sponsored massacre attracted international attention and general condemnation Trujillo ordered that everything had to be done to alleviate the global criticism and the offer made in Évian was part of such a policy.

Another reason for his unexpected magnanimity was that Trujillo by promoting a massive European immigration hoped to “whiten” overwhelmingly "dark" features of the Republic´s population. Trujillo was an ingrained racist.  An indication of this purpose was that the Dominican Republic Settlement Association (DORSA), which in Europe handled Jewish asylum applications and interviewed each claimant, acted under directives to prioritize endurance, social adaptability and skills, as well as sturdy, young applicants. Instead of entrepreneurs, doctors and lawyers, DORSA was ordered to identify resourceful farmers, this despite the fact that most asylum seekers came from German and Eastern European cities.

Strangely enough, none of the emigrating European Jews came directly from Europe to the Dominican Republic, all of them had to pass through the United States, which authorities had to approve their transit visas, something which led to a an additional culling of the Jewish refugees destined to the Dominican Republic. Before Germany in October 1941 definitely closed its borders for continued Jewish emigration, only 500 European Jewish refugees had reached Sosúa. Nevertheless, more than 4,000 Jews had with Dominican visas been able to leave Germany and Austria for other countries.

The Jews who ended up in Sosúa found a virgin landscape and an inviting beach, though the soil was generally almost barren. On top of that, most of the immigrants had been urban residents who in vain tried to squeeze good harvests from the unfamiliar tropical earth.

There were more men than women among the immigrants, most were young and to impress DORSA staff several of them had exaggerated their agricultural skills. Furthermore, after suffering from despotic abuse they were by and large suspicious of Dominican authorities. The country was, like Germany, suffering under a racist dictator, but as one of the immigrants noted:

People would ask me how it felt to move from one dictator to another. It was hard. One dictator wanted to kill us and thought we were inferior, and the other one wanted us and thought we were superior.

They tried to carry out efficient farming on a grand scale, but apart from horticulture, the result was meagre. Instead, the European immigrants focused on livestock breeding and dairy production. Their concern for high quality and hygiene soon made their cheeses and milk popular among the locals, who furthermore graciously welcomed their presence.

In accordance with Trujillo's plans a rapid development soon changed the isolated part of the country, especially after one of the most energetic of the immigrants, Arthur Kirchheimer, who actually counted upon a previous experience from farm management, succeeded in importing first-rate pigs from the United States. The sturdy boars had soon improved the degenerated local variants. The Jewish immigrants did not eat pork, though it became popular with locals and soon Sosúan meat products could be exported to the US mainland and Puerto Rico, while the butter, cheese and milk production continued to increase. The company Productos Sosua, founded by Paul Cohnen and Werner Meyerstein, still exists, although it has recently discontinued its meat production.

However, Trujillo's hopes for "improving the Dominican race" was not particularly successful. Only a few Jewish bachelors married Dominican ladies and formed a family on the island. When the war ended, most Jewish Sosúa families paid for their children's higher education in the United States and soon parents followed their offspring to the great country in the north. However, those Jews who had found a Dominicans spouse generally stayed behind and I and Rose met with some of them when we came to Sosúa in the early eighties. By that time, the little village had not grown significantly and it was still constituted by scattered, white painted, wooden houses, a dairy, cattle farms, a butchery and a synagogue. Nowadays, the resident Jewish inhabitants can hardly be more than a dozen.

As we sat talking in the shade of the grape trees, Vicky caught sight of a well-built young, dark man with golden-blonde hair. We explained that he probably was a sanky panky. Vicky wondered what kind of person a sanky panky was. We laughed heartily since sankypankism is a well-known concept all over the island and Sosúa had actually been one of the places where the phenomenon first had become known and subsequently notorious.

In the late 1980s, the vast sandy beaches of the Dominican North Coast began to be increasingly exploited and "beach towns" similar to those in other places of the world suddenly began to emerge, replacing picturesque wooden houses with hotels and casinos. Wherever you visit a beach, it may be in the Canary Islands or Pattaya , such beach towns tend to look pretty much the same - bars with bamboo walls and ceiling fans, shops with colourful shirts and skirts, swimwear, surfboards, seashells, rum, vodka and knick-knacks sold by sunburnt youngsters, or old hippies, from all corners of the earth.  Cottage companies offer fishing and diving trips, safaris with jeeps or horses, nightly cabarets with exotic acts and free drinks.

The "development" was unrelenting and land prices skyrocketed. The second generation Jews, who now mainly resided in the United States, sold their parents' land with substantial profits, while the seniors enjoyed their prime of life in well-deserved comfort in Florida's or California's reserves for the elderly. More and more middle-aged gentlemen and ladies began to enjoy the Caribbean's beaches and it is mainly among the latter that sanky pankies began find their clientele.

Sanky pankies live by the sea and from the sea. They care about their bodies, engage in muscle development and general work-out, they fish, swim, dive, jog, dance throughout the nights and surf. Several of them have steady jobs, or engage in work-related activities - as instructors in scuba diving or windsurfing, as "animators" in hotels or they are being hired by organized travels to keep guests and clients in a good mood through dance instruction on the beach, pool gymnastics or evening shows where they dance dressed up as indigenous people or pirates. Several are married and have children, but they hide their marital relationships for the ladies they pick up at the beaches and discotheques.

Most important for a sanky panky is to keep his body in excellent trim. Enhance his appearance by subtle means, through discreet, exotic tattoos, heavy gold chains around the neck and rings in ears and on toes. Many bleach their hair to make it look like saltwater, sand and sun have made it blonde. They are hunters. They seek out and seduce suitable women, age has no decisive importance, more crucial is if the women turn out to be capable to spend money on their “relationship” on the  paradisiac beaches; being free, far away from stifling duties, work routines and depressions. Some women are fooled by the play acting, others know the game and participate wholeheartedly in the love charade.

Sanky Pankies are exotic elements in a world of make-belief, exposing fake bigheartedness, counterfeit beauty, love and glamor. Sankies play the roles that are expected of them. Unpretentious boys attracted by Western women's openness, affection and curiosity. They do what other men hesitate to do with mature women, they caress them, whisper sweet words in their ears - "My darling, you are everything for me, the woman I've always wanted to be mine; mature and experienced, endowed with these well-developed curves that turn me on. You´re far from being a confused, little, stupid bimbo. You´re not like the women of this godforsaken island. You´re elegant, sophisticated and cultivated. I want you. I need you. I cannot live without you. Since I met you I´m a changed man. You´ve opened the world for me. I´m a free spirit, a modest man, a son of the sea. I´m not married, but poor and all my life I´ve been without true, honest love. Such love that only a woman like you can give me. I understand that now, after I met you."

sanky panky asserts that he needs to be in constant contact with his dream woman, every now and then she leaves him alone, but unfortunately did he, out on the open sea, last week lose his mobile phone. Perhaps she could buy him a new one, as a small token of their newfound love? He would like to pay for the drinks and the food she offer him, but he lost all of his money while paying for his dying mother's hospital bills. He lost his job, accused of stealing the money that another employee had misappropriated. A true sanky panky is deliberately breaking a macho man's most sacred rules – namely, never to let a woman pay for your food, your subsistence, or your drinks.

Months, years of experience, have taught a sanky what a tourist lady really is after and how she wants to be treated. His movements, speech, opinions, looks, and confidence are well-rehearsed. A sanky does not use sex as his main bait, though it will eventually become an essential part of his game, the seal of a make-believe relationship, a love performed in such a manner that his star struck victim believes in it. The sany panky's ultimate goal is far greater than a lucrative summer flirtation. He wants to be allowed to enter the United States or a wealthy European nation. He is pursuing a permanent relationship, even marriage, anything needed for obtaining a visa so that he finally may enjoy the glamour and riches of the First World. When he tells his betrothed that he needs money and support for paying the hospital bills for poor relatives, for buying a boat or a refrigerator, it may be both a lie and plain truth, the most important reason for his behaviour is that he wants to get something out of the relationship. In that aspect he is a prostitute, but he also provides something beyond sex. He gives his victim an experience for life, makes her feel free and attractive. He teaches her something about the unbridled life of the tropics. How a strong, beautiful and well-built man can be enticed by someone like her, being capable of giving her an unsurpassed adventure.

A somewhat different version of a summer romance, but with a similar theme, is an English film from 1989, Shirley Valentine, in which a middle-aged, typical housewife from Liverpool on a trip to a Greek island, along with an outgoing friend of the same age, falls in love with a restaurant owner and fisherman, who makes her feel like an attractive woman and introduces her to passionate, carnal love. However, Costas Dimitrades proves to be in the same business as his Dominican counterparts; he routinely seduces women in Shirley's age. However, the film has no tragic ending. The summer romance makes Shirley lot of good. She obtains a new perspective on existence and feels a lot better than before, assuming her adventure has turned her into a stronger and more independent woman.

sanky panky does not only sell six. He offers an entire concept and is prepared to sacrifice himself for it, use his "love" to reach the promised land. However, there are also sankies seeking other solutions. Who choose to stay in Dominican Republic and receive wire transfers while they assure their financier that they are arranging and waiting for finally getting united with their loved one, who is longing for them far away in a distant country, something that actually never will happen.

We sat at the table in the shade under the grape trees watching sanky pankies passing by and asked El Lobo about his cousin who had made a career as sanky panky, an effort that had been rewarded with a marriage in Germany. How did his cousin feel about it?

- He's not happy. It did not turn out as he had wished it to be.

Even though they have become a standard feature of Dominican humour and are caricatured in cartoons and entertainment shows, I consider most sankies to be quite tragic persons - poor, self-denying and fake, they tend to become victims of their own trade. They fear losing their only capital - their charm, attraction, well-built bodies and youth.

Vicky and I began to fantasize about writing a movie script and sell it to Hollywood. We would call our movie proposal Geishas of the Sea. At that moment did I not know that a Spanish director, José Pintor, had already made no less than three movies in the Dominican Republic - Sanky Panky 1, 2 and 3. Judging from the posters I have seen I suspect that all three are bordering on gross out comedy, a genre I have never appreciated and I have thus no particular interest in watching any of them.

Our sanky movie would be serious and tragic. Its main theme would be the specific sanky panky culture, its function as a cultural marker  a specific place specific identity that has become a part of a sanky´s self-perception. Sanky Pankies cultivate looks, movements, seduction techniques, acting and loneliness. Like geishas caught up within a unique culture, which has created them and which they also participate in creating. Sankies, i.e. poor Dominican males seeking an entry into an existence that actually is completely foreign to them and when they finally reach their goal and enter into their dream world, many of them cannot cope with it - a suburb of Minneapolis or Frankfurt do not have much in common with a beach in the Dominican Republic.

"But," wondered Vicky, "where does the word sanky panky really come from?" Without any hesitation I came up with an answer to here question.

- It must have come from the word hanky panky.

Hanky panky?

My response was due to the fact that I had come to think of one of my favourite songs from the 1990s, the Danish group Acqua´s bouncy, bubble gum pop tune I´m a Barbie Girl:

I'm a blond bimbo girl, in a fantasy world
Dress me up, make it tight, I'm your dolly
You're my doll, rock'n'roll, feel the glamor in pink
Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky panky
You can touch
you can play
if you say "I'm always yours"

However, I did not know from which language the word came. Since we were in Sosúa, one of sankypankism's springs, I assumed the word might have an Eastern European origin, maybe Jiddisch. An assumption strengthened by the fact that I had encountered the word in one of my favourite movies, the Cohen brother´s masterpiece A Serious Man, from 2009. The film takes place in the 1960s, in a Jewish environment within in a small town in Minnesota. The serious man is Larry Gopnik, a discrete, well-meaning math teacher who encounters a harsh destiny.

As God tried Job, he tests Larry Gopnik. Among a host of misfortunes, the principled and well-meaning Larry is stricken by a serious blow when his wife explains that she intends to divorce him and marry the intimidating, pompous and bogus friendly Sy Ableman. The wife, Judith, and her future husband Sy Ableman invite the battered Larry to a diner and explain that it is now time for him to prepare for the divorce. They tell him that this radical action is for Larry's own best, the reason is that he is unable to make Judith realize her full potential as a woman and mother. According to them, Sy´s and Judith's relationship is a highly respectful one and far from based on any whoopsy-doopsie. Larry must learn to understand this and accept his shortcomings.

Larry is a serious man, right? A morally upright man like Larry has to understand that Sy and his wife Judith are not behaving like a pair of irresponsible adolescents. When Larry tries to cope with his misery and seek advice from lawyers and rabbis, while trying to explain how his wife and Sy Ableman have told him that there is no hanky panky going on between them, the professionals only shake their heads and tell him strange stories.

However, it turned out that I was mistaken when I had assumed that the term had a Jewish origin. It was more fascinating than that. According to a dictionary I consulted, hanky panky means:

Hocus-pocus 1. Trickery or chicanery. 2. Mystifying jargon. 3. An incantation used by conjurors or magicians when performing tricks. 4. Conjuring skills or practice 5. To deceive or trick (someone). [perhaps a dog-Latin formation invented by jugglers].

I dug deeper and found the following explanation in the Word Book of the Swedish Academy:

English - hocuspocus, or hocas pocas (1624), in older English also used as an denomination for a magician, commonly explained as a distortion of the Catholic Latin Eucharist formula hoc enim est corpus meum, "this is my body" whereby the distorted word filiokus (from filias) may have been added, alluding to the addition filii corpus, "the son's body".

The words hokus pokus are thus connected with Christianity’s essential transformation process, namely when a Catholic priest during mass by pronouncing Jesus' words at the Last Supper turns bread and wine into the flesh and blood of Christ - Mysterium fidei, Mystery of Faith.

The words Hocus pocus appear in writing for the first time in a German translation from 1590 of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, where Hortensio says: “The priest asked: ´Do you now want this lass to be your wife?´ ´Of course´, he cried out loudly ´That's why I'm here. Now do your hocus pocus.´"

Thirty years later the words appear again, this time in a pamphlet attacking Jesuits and Catholic priests, declaring that it is revealing their tricks and lies. The Foot Out of the Snare was written in 1624 and in it the Protestant priest John Gee writes about the Catholic clergy: I alwayes thought they had their rudiments from some iugling Hocas Pocas in a quart pot. I do not really understand the meaning of this phrase, though I suppose it must be something like “I have always assumed they got their superficial skills from a bluffing magician´s box of tricks".

Accordingly, hokus pokus has to do with magic tricks mimicking transforming processes and it has thus been suggested that the words, apart from Latin, may be related the Slavic word pocus, "attempt" or "experiment" and that it may thus be related to the alchemists who under Emperor Rudolf II (1521 - 1612) in Prague tried to produce gold. Their activities could thus be described as hocus pocus, where the word hocus possibly is inspired by the Latin word hoc, "this" and thus we are back to the Catholic faith and the phrase hoc (enim) est corpus (meum), which according to the Oxford English Dictionary by magicians was perverted into hax pax max Deus Adimax, which eventually became Hocus Pocus and later was transformed into the English word hoax, trick, swindle or deception.

sanky panky apparently devotes himself to hanky panky, sexual services characterized by fake pretensions, a kind of magic that turns reality into a refined spectacle. However, a sanky panky is more than that. He is part of a distinctive culture, a spectacle that he both adapts himself to and creates. This made me propose the title of Vicky´s and mine movie script as Geishas of the Sea. Like their Japanese counterparts, I imagine sanky pankies to be some kind of courtesans. Like geishas they engage in interpersonal relationships based on sophisticated play acting. It is about culture in its original meaning as an agricultural term – to overcome the uncontrollable chaos of nature by cultivating it, making it serve your needs. From antique times, women have served the needs and desires of wealthy and influential men by refining their behaviour, appearance and knowledge to attract male attention.

In particular, courtesans appear to thrive in rigid, hierarchical class societies, where there is a big difference between wealthy rulers and "common" people. A courtesan does generally not come from the affluent classes, though is prepare herself to gain entrance to them by cultivating their appeal and artistry to impress members of the elite. Becoming their friends and confessors during their time of leisure, not the least within the intimate sphere of their bedrooms.

Wealthy men of time passed by kept courtesans, who behaved in accordance with the mores of these specific time periods.  Indian brahmins and maharajas kept tawaífs, ganikas, devadasis or bajis. Courtesans who entertained them with song, dance and poetry and who also could be hired to teach different art forms and to instruct both men and women about how to behave properly among well-established and cultured socialites.

Renaissance princes, even popes and cardinals, had courtesans as mistresses, as well as their French counterparts in modern times had their maîtresses or demi-mondaines, often found in the Parisian entertainment industry, they could be anything from admired salon hostesses to suspected spies like the Dutch Mata Hari, who claimed to be an exotic, Javanese princess.

Chinese mandarins and emperors had their qies, who lived in wealthy households as widely accepted sexual partners for the household´s master and were expected to give birth to his children. The more powerful a man was the more qies he used to keep. A qie's position increased with the power and dignity of her lord and it was expected that her cultural skills and grace would improve at the same pace.

Korean taewangs supported gisaengs, professional artists who could be both private and state employees. Their task was to entertain nobles and royalty and to that end they developed a variety of artistic skills and often complemented their artistry with medical skills and needlecraft. Gisaengs were trained at special academies, gyobangs, where they were taught to master dangak and sogak music, dance and theatre.

Japanese samurais and emperors supported with geishas and oirans, who also developed a very specific culture.

Courtesans active within in feudal societies, like those listed above, cannot be characterized as simple prostitutes, rather did they operate within a sphere of pleasure and artistry. They were rarely born into these sophisticated circles, but assumed the behaviour and privileges of the wealthy classes, honing performances that allowed them to blend in and cross class boundaries in a manner that both separated them from and united them with the women that powerful men were officially married to.

In bygone privileged communities, and it may even be like this in some contemporary circles, marriages were generally a political issue, a method to buttress binding agreements; allocate wealth, inheritance and land ownership. Within such marriages there was no guarantee that love and friendship were established between spouses. Their unions did not necessarily have to be expressed through common interests, mutual trust and pleasant sexual relations. It was within a sphere beyond marital, economic, religious and political commitments and duties that the courtesan exercised her art. 

The word courtesan comes originates from the italian cortigiana, the female equivalent of a cortigiano, courtier, and denoted a lady who lived at a court and knew how to behave like a respected, educated, cultivated and independent woman.

The classic book about how a skilled cortigiano ought to behave is Baldassare Castiglione's Il Cortigiano from 1528. In his book, Castiglione explains that a perfect courtier should take pains to behave in a well composed, seemingly unaffected manner. His speech must be well-articulated, equipped with elegant but nevertheless easy-to-understand words, anecdotes and parables, all articulated with a pleasant voice. A courtier also needs to take good care of his health and physique, move around with elegance. Nevertheless, an exquisite demeanour is not enough for making a good impression at a court.  A cortigiano must also be knowledgeable, well versed in different languages and erudite when it comes to contemporary and classical literature, as well as being interested in art and music and above all he has to be endowed with spezzatura:

A certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.

Unusual for his time was Castiglione's appreciative views of women, whom he addressed in several sections of his book. Il Cortigiano is structured as a philosophical discussion at the court of the castle of Urbino, where it is led by Elisabetta Gonzaga, wife of the disabled and impotent Gudiobaldo da Montefeltro, and her sister-in-law Emilia Pia. During the evening several appreciable words are spoken about women:

“Don't you think that we might find many women just as capable of governing cities and armies as men?” […] “Cannot you recall reading of many women who knew philosophy, of others who have been consummate poets, and others who prosecuted, accused and defended before judges with great eloquence?” […] “I say that everything men can understand, women can too and where a man's intellect can penetrate, so along with it, can a woman's.”

It has been said that wives to powerful men begot their children, maintained the family ties and secured the heritage, while courtesans were responsible for the fulfilment of their husbands´ cravings for culture, pleasure and sexual diversion. To protect themselves from falling into disgrace the courtesans had to avoid losing their allure. Their delicate position forced them to excel in artistic expressions, through exquisite dresses, musicality, corporeal beauty and grace. Book-learning and a capacity to maintain an interesting conversation became means for self-promotion. In contrast to legally married wives, courtesans had to cultivate their survival skills, becoming masters of manipulation, be engaged in political and personal intrigues and surround themselves with fawners and spies.   


A courtesan should therefore be able to behave like someone who is considerably more respected and cultivated than a simple prostitute, a function reflected by the Greek word hɪˈtaɪrə hetaira, which means friend/companion. This is certainly one reason to why it is generally pointed out that a geisha is not trained to provide sexual pleasures, although, after all, it has often been one of their tasks. A geisha is a highly cultivated lady who, unlike a yūjo, prostitute, wears her obi, kimono sash, tied by her back and not in the front. A geisha has to endure years of formal education and several of them do not offer any sexual services at all. The word geisha consists of 芸 gei, which means "art" and 者 sha "someone who creates". But, as in many other courtesan contexts, the difference between friend and mistress can be quite fluent.

Ever since Phryne's time, she was born in 371 BC, recorded history offers quite a lot of tales about like courtesans who have been famous for their beauty and great knowledge. Phryne was desired both as a conversation partner and mistress and eventually became a wealthy lady. She was the model for the greatest artists of the time, among them the sculptor Praxiteles and the painter Apelles.

A famous anecdote tells how one of her lovers, the orator Hypereides, once defended Phryne in a court of law. When the members of the court had been convinced of her guilt, Hypereides rushed forward and tore off her clothes. Her beauty was so dazzling that the judges could not bring themselves to condemn such a well endowed "priestess in the temple of Aphrodite" and acquitted her at once.

Another famous courtesan was Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour (1721 - 1764), as maîtresse of Louis XV she exercised a formidable influence over French politics and became a well-known friend and sponsor of philosophers of the Enlightenment, not least Voltaire. She was the daughter of the king's equerry and through various intrigues she soon succeeded in finding way into the king's heart and bedchamber. When the courtiers frowned their noses at the beautiful and witty parvenu, the king knighted her and gave her a coat of arms and a grand estate.

Madame de Pompadour received the ministerial reports and on behalf of the king she made a number of important decisions, determining how the offices would be occupied and policies designed and set. She became a skilled engraver, a role model in fashion, was vital for the development of the porcelain industry in Sèvres and supported a plethora of skilled artists, among them François Boucher, who made several masterful portraits of her. She was also interested in literature, organized salons for philosophers and writers like Voltaire, d'Alembert and Diderot and contributed to the release of the monumental Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.

Obviously, the refined environment that surrounded geishas in imperial palaces and maîtresses in Versailles was entirely different from the world of sanky pankies. Nevertheless, there are some similarities. Sankies´ modest backgrounds, their connection to a specific milieu - sea beaches and the entertainment centre close to them - the fashions and culture they invented to make themselves interesting for a well-off (at least in relation to them) clientele, the skills they have acquired, not the least their language skills and the combination of fun, adventure and sex they take great care to radiate. They try hard to give an impression of being exotic, easy-going machomen, and behave as if they can grant any wish of the fun seeking, love starved women they court, and – behind all this play acting - their ultimate purpose is to get away from their marginalised position and become part of the wealthy, carefree existence they expect to find in the United States or Europe.

Nowadays, much of the centuries-old courtesan culture has been adapted to and degraded by mass tourism and commercialism. Ordinary, soiled prostitution tries to pilfer the glamour, refinement, exoticism and allure of traditional courtesan mores. For example, in the 1960s, there emerged in Korea a thriving sex industry that revolved around formerly strictly traditional and controlled gisaeng revelries. Hundreds of thousands of  Japanese men bought through Japanese travel agencies sex package tours, which included “authentic” gisaeng gatherings, which were nothing more than pathetic parodies of the real thing.

As long as there exists a chasm between poor and rich, intimately linked to dreams of love, wealth and free sex, phenomena like sankypankism will continue to emerge, while other traditions, as well as beautiful places like Sosúa and its beach, will continue to be corrupted and despoiled through commercialism and illusions of fake dream worlds.

Bruce, Elsye (2015) Hocus Pocus Castiglione, Baldesar (1976) The Book of the Courtier. Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics. Feldman, Martha and Bonnie Gordon (eds.) (2006) The Courtesan´s Arts: Cross-cultural Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford university press. Hanks, Patrick (ed.) (1980) Collins Dictionary of the English Language. London & Glasgow: Collins. Kaplan, Marión. (2008) Dominican Haven: The Jewish Refugee Settlement in Sosua, 1940-1945. New York: Museum of Jewish Heritage.


My childhood´s landscape was forests, meadows and lakes. The sea low farther away, though I was at least so well acquainted with it that I cannot recall the first time I saw its vast expanse. Maybe it was in the Stockholm archipelago I experienced together it together with my grandparents? I don't...
Min barndoms landskap bestod av skogar, ängar och insjöar. Havet låg längre bort, men jag kände även det, i varje fall så väl att jag inte minns första gången jag såg det. Kanske var det Stockholms skärgård tillsammans med mina morföräldrar? Jag vet inte om det finns några gener kvar hos mig från...
The Swedish artist Sven Ljungberg was, among other things, headmaster for the Academy of Fine Arts, created quite a number of monumental frescoes and mosaics, designed Nobel Prize diplomas, was a friend of several famous authors and illustrated their books. Even he shared much of his time...
Konstnären Sven Ljungberg var bland annat rektor på Konsthögskolan, gjorde en mängd monumentalmålningar, formgav nobelprisdiplom, var vän med flera kända författare och illustrerade deras böcker, bland andra Ivar Lo-Johansson och Pär Lagerkvist. Trots att han under flera år delade sin tid mellan...
The older I get, the clearer I realize the meaning of what the somewhat peculiar book publisher Bo Cavefors told me when I agreed he could publish my first novel: ”You are still a young man, but you have already now an impressive experience reserve.” I do not know if ”experience reserve” is a...
Ju äldre jag blir, desto klarare inser jag innebörden i vad den märklige bokförläggaren Bo Cavefors sa till mig då jag gick med på att han publicerade min första roman: ”Du är fortfarande mycket ung, men du har redan nu en rik erfarenhetsreserv.” Jag vet inte om ”erfarenhetsreserv” är ett vanligt...
I continue to revisit my collection of art cards and in these days when cities and towns are emptied by the Coronavirus I came to think of anonymous Renaissance depictions of ideal cities, inspired by the writings of classical writers like Vitruvius. Some kind of harmonious...
My blog is among other things a Memory Palace  where I store whatever fascinates me. What I like to delve into; thoughts and opinions I like to share and above all it serves as an appendix to my often confused, forgetful and disordered brain. I am a hoarder; a collector of books,...
At the very first glimmer of a brightening dawn there rose on the horizon a dark cloud of black,   The stillness of the Storm God passed over the sky, and all was bright then turned into darkness. He charged the land like a bull on the rampage, he smashed it in pieces like a vessel of...
Vid den första glimten av en ljusnande gryning steg ur horisonten ett nattsvart moln. Stormguden gled stilla över himlavalvet, allt ljus mörknade. Så angreps jorden som av en rasande tjur, den krossades i bitar, som vore den ett lerkärl.   Orkanvindar ödelade...
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