Discovering Brothels

Sourced from Wikimedia with the kind permission of Collection of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, TN

Some years ago I spent a couple of winters in Sicily, living on my boat. It’s a wonderful place with great wine and pizzas to die for. This is what I wrote about an episode at the time:

I’m in Sicily, enjoying the sunshine and working my way through my novel ‘Sicilian Channel’ — and running behind the publisher’s schedule, but the research is always fun, and the writing is progressing well (in my view, but I’m only the author).

Past the Lighthouse, up the Hill

Yesterday my exercise was a 15 km cycle ride from Marina di Ragusa to Santa Croce de Kamerina, in search of a dongle for my laptop. It was a warm, sunny day and I headed along the coast road towards Punta Scalambri where the road turns north, following the coast. I don’t know if you ever saw the detective series ‘Montalbano’, but Punta Scalambri is where he lives in the series. It’s a beautiful spot and the lighthouse is imposing, if not phallic, to say the least. The ice cream is great too!

Punta Scalambri Lighthouse, Sicily. ©2012 JamesMarinero

The road turned north, climbing gently, and the pumping got harder. The sweat started to run as I passed acres of tomatoes, red, ripe and ready to pick…

And there it was

The local brothel, on the edge of town, on the left hand side of the road.

Sure, I’d heard about Paris, Texas and about the Chicken Shack, but this was Sicily! How did I know it was the brothel?

Here’s how I knew: Spanish Lessons

A couple of years earlier when I was wintering my boat in Spain, I was in the local marina bar in Chipiona (near Cadiz) enjoying a small bowl of stew. The proprietor, Ricardo, was doing the rounds of the tables and I asked him what the stew was.

His English was better than my Spanish. ‘My mother in law makes it with meat from the Doñana National Park, across the river’. I didn’t understand the Spanish word he used for the meat. El venado. Then he said ‘Bambi’. OK, got it, venison stew.

Sanlúcar de Barrameda

We were getting on well so I asked about the detached house I’d passed outside Sanlúcar de Barrameda (yes Sanlúcar as in Don Quixote), a couple of miles up the River Guadalquivir, which goes on up to Seville and into deep Andalucia. Ricardo was obviously puzzled, so I told him that there had been a long string of bedsheets drying on the clothesline’ (in plain view up on the flat roof) and at night, strings of coloured lights were visible around the balustrade.

pic of don quixote
‘Image used with kind permission of Fabricio Moraes’

El Burdel

Ricardo laughed. ‘Oh — it’s the brothel’. I can’t remember that Spanish word either so I’ve just looked it up ‘el burdel’. Of course! Bordello is the Italian word and I’m much more familiar with that, linguistically speaking of course. Are you?

House of pleasure or house of the rising sun — that was an eye opener for me — a Welsh boy, sheltered life, non-conformist/Protestant upbringing. We didn’t have those in Llanelli although I’m sure that they must have existed over a hundred years ago when it was a bustling coal-exporting harbour.

My old home town, just the same

Oh yes, I’ve just remembered that my father told me about one which had operated during the Second World War, serving GIs, and just across the street from where I was brought up in South Wales. It seems I can’t get away from them now. Isn’t it strange how writing can unlock the memory?

So, until yesterday I hadn’t fully appreciated the cultural aspect — and I don’t mean in the biblical sense. Or maybe I do. What is it about Catholic countries or those with Spanish or Italian influence in their history? Sin and say sorry. As long as the sin (let’s not debate that term) is outside the town boundaries, then that’s ok. Acceptable. Well, almost. Everyone knows about them. Local colour, as they say.


For those of you with a prurient interest, the one outside Santa Croce de Kamerina may be just a clip-joint. And no, I didn’t go in (it was mid morning, business hadn’t opened up), I don’t have any commercial interest in the services, haven’t tested them and so I can’t recommend them. I haven’t been invited to join a focus group (what an idea!), nor do I have any association with the business, other than a passing interest (literally). I don’t know the proprietors either (this is Sicily, don’t forget, and I don’t want to meet too many ‘businessmen’). The nearest I got to this sort of action is lessons in Flamenco dancing, but that was in Spain.

Dongle Dangling

And to cap it all, my new dongle is not working, it’s hanging — a ‘RAS 668 error’ — and I’m tearing my hair out. I think it needs attention. And on top of all that, my buttocks ache after the very hot ride yesterday (on the bicycle not in the brothel).

Help needed (with my dongle)! I’m told that’s what chatrooms are for…

(c) 2012 James Marinero