Many see Ukraine as a schizophrenic country. With two languages- Ukrainian and Russian- and two geopolitical forces tugging in opposite directions in the form of the EU and Russia, duality is certainly prominent. I was previously only acquainted with the Russian speaking south-eastern regions, having spent time in the Crimea, Odessa and the capital, Kiev. In Lviv in western Ukraine, I discover not just a new language but a whole new world; a carnival of brutal eroticism and fairytale chimeras.
Going from Odessa to Lviv, Russian gives way to Ukrainian and the plump onion domes of orthodoxy are replaced by sylphlike gothic spires. Lviv’s medieval majesty is largely untouched by the western trash that has done for parts of eastern Europe. The cobbled streets and cityscapes of spindling towers lend her an enchanting air. It feels like I have leapt back five hundred years, but as night falls I am not prepared for quite how authentic this anachronistic ambience can become.
Violence in bed
Lviv was home to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the author who lends his name to sexual pleasure from pain and subjugation, aka. masochism. I am aware that I only have a brain once, and as such I am obliged to treat it to the full catalogue of sensations that the world has to offer. So I head to Lviv to get beaten. The bar, Masoch, is a dark and dingy affair. The drinks menus are bound in leather and purple fuzz. A huge waitress is lashing a small topless customer with a whip. He is screaming and his back is covered in violet welts, but not once does he ask her to stop.
My friend and I have a few drinks to steady our nerves and raise our libidos. I assume this is going to be difficult to enjoy but I am determined to make the most of it. We express our curiosity to the waitress and within seconds the colossus with the whip has stormed over and stands staring at us with hungry black eyes. She lines up two chairs. ‘Get on your knees,’ she commands. It is as if we have signed away all our rights at the door. We kneel. ‘Grip the chair in front of you,’ she shouts, lifting our t-shirts over our heads to expose our tender virgin backs.
whipped into heaven
In his book Venus in Furs (1870), Masoch explains his understanding of sexual relationships; ‘whichever of the two fails to subjugate will soon feel the feet of the other on his neck.’ I had rarely contemplated the power dynamics of mating in such graphic terms. In fact I had never even seen power relations at work; for me mating had always been an act of union and equality - the mutual exchange of pleasure and sometimes emotion. Not anymore.
The first two licks of the whip draw cries of pain from us both. We attempt to stand but the leather-clad waitress forces us down with a brutal growl. For a moment I think about resisting; I don’t have to be kneeling on this dirty floor being whipped by that big brutette. But then I remember that my atoms and her atoms and the whip’s atoms have all been in perpetual motion since the big bang and none of us could possibly be anywhere else at that particular moment in time. I grip the chair and put my head down.
The following blows lash me through the boundaries of pain and I step into a new world. The lick of the whip is so overwhelmingly exciting as to leave me permanently changed. I will never see women as equals again. They will always be potential colossuses who set me a-tremble with fear and titillation. The thrill of being utterly subjugated by an utter brutette is the best thing I have ever felt and it has changed my life…
I jest. That was just wishful thinking. I like to believe that travelling and trying new things can change your perspectives, but fortunately I didn’t ‘find myself’ in that masochist bar. Luckily for my body my brain wasn’t impressed. The experience simply confirmed my belief that I don’t like pain and I learnt nothing. But I will keep trying. I will put myself in whatever strange and humiliating position presents itself because that is probably for the best in a world of surprises.