Notes from a fascinating world.
The world is like a bazaar, full of interesting odds and ends, and I've been exiled into it. This is my all-over-the-map (literally and metaphorically) attempt at capturing some of the world's many wonders.
In the old town of Lviv, the charming and very European center of western Ukraine, stands a bronze statue commemorating one of the city’s most famous, or infamous, sons, the novelist Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.
It’s not surprising that Lviv would be very European, as opposed to Eastern Slavic like cities in Russia or even Kiev, just a few hours away. After serving as the capital of the Slavic Kingdom of Galicia-Volhynia in the Middle Ages, Lviv fell under Polish domination in 1349. When Russia, Austria, and Prussia partitioned the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1772, Lviv became a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was renamed by its German appellation, Lemberg. Not until the 20th century did Lviv rejoin the rest of Ukraine.
It was in Austrian Lemberg that Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was born in 1836. The first half of his hyphenated name came from his Austrian father, and the second half from his Ukrainian mother. Sacher-Masoch initially taught as a professor before beginning to publish non-fiction on Austrian history and works on Galician folklore. Later he quit teaching and became a full-time writer of fiction.
As you have perhaps guessed by now, Sacher-Masoch was a man with sexual tastes that at the time were barely recognized even by the scientific community, and which even today some consider deviant. (Although judging by the Fifty Shades novels and films, one can hardly say that they’re no longer mainstream.) These personal proclivities underpinned his writings. His best known work, the novella Venus in Fur, written in 1869, is a largely autobiographical account of his relationship with his mistress. They had signed a contract under which Sacher-Masoch promised to serve as her slave for six months, while she would wear fur as often as possible because it turned him on. As in the novella, the two traveled to Italy together under the guise of a mistress with her servant, “Gregor.” The book is the inspiration for the Velvet Underground’s song of the same name.
In 1886, Austrian psychologist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing coined the term “masochism,” citing Sacher-Masoch’s work as exemplifying the “anomaly.” The author was reportedly displeased with the doctor’s analysis. But perhaps he should have instead thanked him for immortalizing his name as a part of our language and making him the counterpart of the perhaps better known Marquis de Sade.
Not that masochism, or its association with it, is all that Lviv has to offer. Far from it — Lviv is a beautiful gem of a city off the beaten track in western Ukraine and well worth a visit with or without Sacher-Masoch. Nevertheless, directly behind his statue in Lviv, there is also a Masoch Cafe, a “concept” restaurant decorated like a bordello where you can enjoy such pleasures as being tied to a chair and whipped by a waitress. So, you know, in case you visit Lviv.
Writer, traveler, lawyer, dilettante. Failed student of physics. Not altogether distinguished graduate of two Ivy League institutions. Immigrant twice over. "The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of getting home."