March 04, 2015
PARIS — Alone in her empty house, she opens the drawer halfway, reaches in to take her stockings. She tells herself she has the right to allow herself this luxury. The birth was three months ago. She drops the nursing bra and puts on the garter belt. A cry rings out: It's feeding time.
During the process, while lying on her side, she grabs a phone and takes a picture. In the foreground, the baby. Then, the mother's bare body. She had time to put on just one stocking. In the middle of nourishing her child, the photo feeds something else — the appetite of her Twitter followers.
That day, @Lilou_libertine"s 19,000 followers aren't all impressed. The baby/sexy underwear juxtaposition is shocking for some. On Lilou's Twitter account, as well as on her blog, she is insulted, called "insane."
"I'd be ashamed to have a mother like you," one commenter writes. She deletes it, accepts the consequences, talks about her body after the pregnancy.
"I understand this picture may disturb some and make them think of images linked to pedophilia or incest," she says. "But that's not my aim at all." She pauses, and then continues. "I want to put my whole life in this photo. Being a mother doesn't mean I can't dress how I want. In my mind, there's the baby, the mother and the lover. They all coexist."
Lilou, 32, dressed in a suit and high heels, is a French public relations assistant. She is also a libertine blogger. She was a member of this blogosphere who enjoyed taking selfies long before it became a global sport. She was part of this world that exposed itself before Instagram and its procession of bikinis made their appearance.
Petite, dark-haired, with curves
In the heart of a Paris business area, in a luxury hotel's panoramic restaurant, Lilou slaloms between the men with black ties and stops before the most discreet table. On a dating website, she could describe herself as petite, dark-haired, with curves. Seductive without being charming. She describes herself as "neither pretty nor ugly."
"When I first started having affairs, I couldn't see myself being both a libertine and a mother," she whispers. "For me, it was sacred. I told myself, when I stop taking the pill, I'll stop everything."
For Lilou, "everything" is code for her unusual double life. For the past eight years, she has been taking the train every morning to work from the outskirts of Paris and writing about her extramarital affairs in the evening. She has written more than 600 posts on her blog.
But her husband knows everything. He doesn't say anything, he doesn't do anything. He approves, even likes, imagining his wife in the arms of other men. Libertine? She is, he isn't. She writes it, claims it, tweets it. He stays aside, in the shadows.
They are an exception in the online galaxy of the unfaithful, a world where couples are either both libertine, or unfaithful in secret. Lilou chose another path, establishing a unilateral contract with her official man: She will only be faithful to her freedom.
After nine years living together, they decided to have a church wedding. "To please him," she explains. "My husband has a spiritual side."
"Going out for a drink"
The husband and wife have their codes. When she calls from her open space at work to say, "I'm going out for a drink tonight," he knows he'll sleep alone that night. It can also be done via text: "I won't be home tonight. Not feeling very sensible."
Lilou then goes to the office bathroom to put on her lacy clothing. She always keeps spare clothes somewhere for the following morning at work.
One evening, four months after she gave birth and once the baby was in bed, she joined a lover in a hotel room close to home, returning at midnight. "I don't know when I'll do it again," she says. "My husband assures me he'll always be able to keep our son when I'm out, even in the morning, but I don't feel ready to stay out all night yet. I want to be there for my child above all else. Before my lovers."
She claims she doesn't choose men based on their physique, and she rarely asks for photos. She says she most fears men who are in a couple, the lying unfaithful type. Paradoxical? No. "They betray."
The blogger still feels that "heartache" when she realizes her one-night stand isn't single. In these cases, she publishes an open letter on her blog to the "other," the betrayed woman.
She says she doesn't cheat on anyone. Her man, her only man, is her soulmate. She writes, "At the end of the day, he's the only one who counts."
With her husband, it remains simple. They don't go much further than the classic trilogy: weekend, bed, missionary. "It's hard to fulfill fantasies with the man you love," Lilou admits. To describe her three-week summer vacation with her husband, she says, amused, "It was like being behind closed doors." She then sends a bunch of pictures to her other men.
"And, er, by the way, how many lovers altogether?" The question is tempting. With a wolfish grin, Lilou dodges the issue. She won't, can't, tell how many.
"And how do you count? What's a lover, exactly? My virtual lovers? Those who've seen me, loved me remotely? My 1,000 regular monthly visitors on my blog? My 19,000 followers? Those who've only stroked me? My regular lovers or the one-night stands?"
A certain beauty
She will succumb to temptation but not to extravagance. She sorts her abundant mail. On her other blog, "Indecent proposals," she lists the various requests.
There's a journalist "who works for a famous women's magazine" and has a foot fetish, there are invitations to go out "to see an exhibition before going to the Chandelles a swingers' club," and those who ask for the rates of private services.
Lilou also claims she favors quality over quantity, looks for a certain beauty in a relationship, all in all. Of course, she doesn't have enough fingers, or hands, to count that aforementioned number. "Sometimes, I ask myself what is more odd," she writes on her blog. "Getting back into bed with my husband at 2 in the morning, or not really knowing who was this lover you mysteriously made love to in that dark hotel room?"
Lilou prefers not to lose her head and only talks about her regulars. Take V., for instance. A simple reader of her blog, at first. Soon enough, she started nicknaming him her "beautiful lover," with whom she can be "a full-time libertine." She talks about passion and how they send each other texts and pictures endlessly.
The "beautiful lover" writes about her, in an email, "We're intimate together. She's my secret garden, my fantasy partner, also. After five years, we've found a sort of balance." He is drawn to the orderly, never vulgar, aspect of her blog. He encouraged her to have a child (with her husband, of course). He even worries about her, for instance, "when she goes to meet other men than him, strangers."
Lilou likes taking risks, her friend P. confirms. She regularly confides in him during luxurious lunches. "When she wants something, she does everything to get it," he says. "When she's a mother, she's a mother at 100%. And inversely, when she's with a lover, she belongs to him entirely. I admire the balance she has regarding life. She's always elegant, somehow, even to talk about an evening she spent with five men. In the end, she's fueled by freedom."
She's also fueled by her duality, her on/off character that her community loves. The "girl next door" taken to the extreme.
"Yes, I know, that's what people like," she says. "I take the train to work every day: Nobody knows who I am. I enjoy showing I'm exceptionally common. When I think, "If they knew," I start blushing. Sometimes, when I see someone staring at me, I get startled and think, "He recognized me. He reads my blog.""
Pictures of her cleavage in the Metro, videos under her dress at work — she tweets everything. The other bloggers in the same universe see this as a natural and logical inclination.
Take "Mademoiselle" (from her Twitter name @melleaducharme), for instance, who says about this mother-lover role: "As a liberated woman, I think it should be normal to be able to talk about one's sex life as much as the rest. For the photos with the baby, I don't do it because I would have the impression of using my little one to fuel the fantasies of perverted men. But it doesn't shock me."
It's a solid blogosphere, united under the banner of infidelity. Some met in 2007 in the comment section of the "Blogger" platform. Now, they talk all day on Twitter, challenge each other with various hashtags, childish games where underwear often ends up in handbags. They organize "twit-dinners," come over from across the country or even abroad for a meal. A small "Adultery International."
"On Twitter, I meet lots of people, but I don't sleep with all of them," Lilou explains. She also makes friends, male and female. "In cafés, we talk about our little adventures while the baby is asleep in the carriage just next to us," Lilou says. "We sometimes burst out laughing, forgetting that people can hear us. But we have our own language, so people don't understand us.”
Always operate under the radar. Her former high school friends don't know anything about it. They sometimes get together to gossip. One of them told her how she threw herself on her ex, saying, "I’m not shocking you, am I?”
Lilou smiles and thinks, "If only she knew how that dust on my coat is from a brief date just before with a man in the cellar of a Haussmann building."
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food / travel
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson
October 26, 2021
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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