“Heading South” (2005, dir. Laurent Cantet)


International Tourism.

Romans used to go to Greece to acquire some “polish.”   English noblemen used to send their sons on the “Grand Tour” for the same purpose.   Between the wars Americans used to visit European war cemeteries to see where their “gallant Willy fell.” Today, tourism is big business: in 2010 there were 940 million international tourist “arrivals” someplace and the industry earned $919 billion. The USA earned over $100 billion from foreign tourists that year. Airlines, hotels, taxis, restaurants, tour-guides, museums, and sellers of hand-woven guitars all profited. (Unless you’re willing to rough-it: learn to recognize foreign traffic signs, pick up some phrases from a guide book, and eat what you ordered by mistake even though it turned out to be a psychotropic carcinogen, the way the missus and I do. See: Mark Twain, An Innocent Abroad.)


International sex tourism.

Il y a etait un fois, guys went to “the big city” for these purposes (see: Patricia Cohen, The Murder of Helen Jewett) or Mexico (see: JFK). Now, air travel allows people to zoom all over the earth for the same purpose. Try getting through the streets around the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to see the porcelain violins when a ferry-load of Brits show up on a cheap-beer-and-expensive-sex outing, and start ogling the girls in lingerie sitting in the shop windows—many of whom are petting a cat in a bit of symbolic advertising.

Of course, most people aren’t beer-sodden British soccer hooligans, so there is a market in other parts of the world. Most of them are naturally hot and sweaty places: Tunisia—where the “recent unpleasantness” has left a whole class of service workers on the beach in Speedos, Gambia, Kenya, Bali in Indonesia, Thailand, Brazil, and the Caribbean.


Female sex tourism.

Women started traveling for “romance” in the mid-19th century. (See: the novels of Henry James and E. M. Forster). In the first half of the 20th Century there are some pretty interesting stories of women charting their own course, although this often involves highly repressed Northern women falling for highly unrepressed (to put it mildly) Southern men. There’s probably some kind of message about life there. You never see books or movies about some Greek having an epiphany and deciding to pay his bills or go to work on time.

So, skip ahead to the aftermath of the Feminist and Sexual Revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s. Women got careers outside that of “homemaker”; women had a difficult time finding men who would accept them in their new roles (or do the dishes); marriages broke down at high rates or never got formed; and women had money. This meant that some women had one sort of success, but no significant other in their life. Result: female sex tourism blossomed (although hardly to the scale of male sex tourism). Anyway, that’s the belief. It is hard to find women who will own up to this. This makes me think that there may be a certain prurient motive behind the “exposes.” Like that “I can’t believe it’s not butter” guy on the cover of romance novels.

There are a few scholarly studies in The Annals of Tourism Research and a UC-Santa Barbara Ph.D. dissertation by April Gorry. Popular culture books and movies dealing with this supposed phenomenon include: the movie “Shirley Valentine” (1989); the novel by Terry MacMillan and the movie made from it, “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” (1998); creepy Michel Houlebecq’s novel Platform (2002); and the movie “Heading South” (2005).

In voodoo, Legba is the “master of the crossroads” who controls access to the spirits.

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