Paul Grappe, the diserter transvestite

Sometimes the most unbelievable stories remain forever buried between the creases of history. But they may happen to leave a trail behind them, although very small; a little clue that, with a good deal of fortune and in the right hands, finally brings them to light. As archaeologists dig up treasures, historians unearth life’s peculiarities.

If Paul Grappe hadn’t been murdered by his wife on the 28th of July 1928, not a single hint to his peculiar story would have been found in the Archive of the Paris Police Prefecture. And if Fabrice Virgili, research manager at the CNRS, scrutinizing the abovementioned archives almost one hundred years later to write an article about conjugal violence at the beginning of the century, hadn’t given a look at that dossier…

The victim: Grappe Paul Joseph, born on the 30th of August 1891 in Haute Marne, resident 34 Rue de Bagnolet, shot dead on the 28th of July 1928.

The culprit: Landy Louise Gabrielle, born on the 10th of March 1892 in Paris, Grappe’s spouse.

This is how the life of Paul Grappe ended. But, as we go back through the years starting from the trial papers, we discover something really astonishing.

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In the 1910s Paris sounds like a promise to a young man coming from Haute-Marne. It was mainly a working-class context and like everybody else the twenty-year-old Paul Grappe worked hard to make ends meet. He hadn’t received a proper education but the uncontrollable vitality that would mark out his entire existence encouraged him to work hard: with stubborn determination he obliged himself to study, and became an optician. He also attended some mandolin’s courses, where he met Louise Landy.

Their modest financial means didn’t interfere with their feelings: they fell in love and in 1911 they tied the knot. Shortly afterwards, Paul had to leave for military service, but managed to be appointed to stand guard over the bastions of Paris, in order to be close to his own Louise. Our soldier was a skilled runner, he could ride, swim (which was quite uncommon at the time) and he quickly distinguished himself until he was appointed corporal. Having spent the required two years on active service, Paul thought he was finally done with the army. But the War clouds were gathering, and everything quickly deteriorated. In August 1914 Paul Grappe was sent to the front to fight against Germany.

The 102nd Infantry division constantly moved, day after day, because the front was not well defined yet. Then gradually came the time to confront the enemy: at the beginning there were only small skirmishes, then came the first wounded, the first dead. And, finally, the real battle began. For the French, the most bloody stage of the entire world war was exactly this first battle, called Battle of the Frontiers, that claimed thousands of victims – more than 25,000 in one day, the 22nd of August 1914.

Paul Grappe was at the forefront. When Hell arrived, he had to confront its devastating brutality.

He was wounded in the leg at the end of August, he was treated and sent back to the trenches in October. The situation had changed, the front was stabilized, but the battles were not less dangerous. During a bloody gunfight Paul was wounded again, in the right index finger. A finger hit by a bullet? He was strongly suspected of having practiced self-mutilation, and in such situations people were not particularly kind to those who did something like that: Paul risked death penalty and summary execution. But some brothers in arms gave evidence for him, and Paul escaped the war court. Convalescent, he was moved to Chartres. December, January, February and March went by. Four months seemed to be too much time to recover from the loss of one single finger, and his superiors suspected that Paul was willingly reopening his wounds (like many other soldiers used to do); in April 1915 he was ordered to go back to the front. And it was here that, confronted with the perspective of going back to that horrible limbo made of barbed wire, mud, whistling bullets and cannon shots, Paul decided that he would change his life forever: he chose to desert.

He left the military hospital and, instead of going to the barracks, he caught the first train to Paris.

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We can only imagine how Louise felt: she was happy to learn that her husband was safe and sound, far from the war, and afraid that everything could end at any moment, if he was discovered. During the spring of 1915 the army was desperately in need of men, even people declared unfit for military service were sent to the front, and consequently the efforts to find the missing deserters were redoubled. For three times the guards burst into the home of his mother-in-law, where Paul was hidden, but couldn’t find him.

As for Paul – that had always had a wild and untamed temper – he couldn’t stand the pressure of secrecy. He was obliged to live as a real prisoner, he didn’t dare stick his nose out of the door: simply walking down the streets of Paris, a young man in his twenties would have aroused suspicion at that time because all the young men – maybe with the exception of some ministry’s employees – were at the front.

One day, overcome by boredom, joking with Louise he chose one of her dresses and wore it. Why not dress up as a woman?

Louise and Paul took a turn. He had a careful shave; his wife put a delicate make-up on him, adjusted the female clothes, put his head into a lady’s little hat. It wasn’t a perfect disguise, but it might work.

Holding their breath, they went out in the streets. They walked down the road for a little while, pretending to be at ease. They sat down in a café, and realized that people apparently didn’t notice anything strange about those two friends that were enjoying their drinks. Coming back home, they shivered as they noticed a man that was intensely gazing at them, fixing them… the man finally whistled in admiration. It was the ultimate evidence: disguised as a woman, Paul was so convincing that he deceived even the attentive eye of a tombeur de femmes.

From that moment on, to the outside world, the two of them formed a couple of women who used to live together. Paul bought some clothes, adopted a more feminine hairstyle, learnt to change his voice. He chose the name of Suzanne Landgard. For those who take on a new identity, it is very important to choose a proper name, and Landgard could be interpreted as “he who protects (garde) Landy?”.

Now Paul/Suzanne could go out barefaced, he could also contribute to the family economy: while Louise worked in a company that produced educational materials, Suzanne started working in a tailor’s shop. But maybe she struggled to stay in her role, because, as far as we know, she frequently changed job because of problems concerning her relationship with her colleagues.

War was over, at last. Paul wanted to stop living undercover, but he was still in danger. Like many other deserters used to do at the time, also our couple left for Spain (a neutral country) and for a short time took shelter in the Basque Country. They returned to Paris in 1922.

But the atmosphere of the capital had changed: the so-called “crazy years” had just begun and Paris was a town that wanted to forget the war at any cost. It was therefore rich in novelties, artistic avant-gardes and unrestrained pleasures. Louise and Suzanne realized that after all they may look like two garçonnes, fashionable women flaunting a masculine hairdo and wearing trousers, shocking conservative people. Louise used to paint lead toy soldiers during the evening, after work, to make some extra money.

Paul couldn’t find a job instead, and his insatiable lust for life led him to spend some time at the Bois de Boulogne, a public park that during those years was a well known meeting point for free love: there gathered libertines, partner-swappers, prostitutes and pimps.

Did Paul, dressed as Suzanne, whore to bring some money home? Maybe he didn’t. Anyhow, he became one of the “queen” of the Bois.

From then on, his days became crowded with casual intercourses, orgies, female and male lovers, and even encoded newspaper ads. Paul/Suzanne even tried to convince Louise to participate in these erotic meetings, but this only fuelled the first conflicts within the couple, that was very close until then.

His thirst for experience was not yet satiated: in 1923 Suzanne Landgard was one of the first “women” that jumped with a parachute.

You are not tall enough, my dear, I am a refined person, I want to get out of this mass, this brute mass that goes to work in the morning, like slaves do, and goes back home at evening”, he repeated to Louise.

In January 1924 the long awaited amnesty arrived at last.

The same morning in which the news was spread, Paul went down the stairs dressed as a man, without make-up. The porter of the apartment building was shocked as she saw him go out: “Madame Suzanne, have you gone crazy?” “I am not Suzanne, I am Paul Grappe and I am going to declare myself a deserter to apply for the amnesty.” As soon as the authorities learnt about his case, even the press discovered it. Some newspaper headlines read: “The transvestite deserter”. Prejudices started to circulate: paradoxically, now that he was discovered to be a man (so the two supposed lesbians were a married couple) Paul and Louise were evicted. The Communist Party mobilized to defend the two proletarians that were victims of prejudices, and in a short time Paul found himself at the core of an improvised social debate. The little popularity he gained maybe went to his head: believing that he may become a celebrity, or have some chance as an actor, he started to distribute autographed pictures of him both as a male and as a female and went as far as to hire a book agent.

But the more prosaic reality was that Paul told the fantastic story of his endeavours mostly in the cafés, to be offered some drinks. He showed the picture album of him as Suzanne, and also kept a dossier of obscene photographs, that are lost today. Little by little he started to drink at least five litres of wine per day. He lost one job after another, and turned aggressive even at home.

As he recovered his manhood – that same virility that condemned him to the horror of the trenches – he became violent. Before the Great War he had shown no signs of bisexuality nor violence, and most probably the traumas he suffered on the battlefield had a share in the quick descent of Paul Grappe into alcoholism, brutality and chaos.

He used to spend all the salary of his wife to get drunk. The episodes of domestic violence multiplied.

In a desperate attempt of reconciliation, Louise accepted to participate in her husband’s sexual games, and in order to please him (this is what she declared later in her deposition) took an attractive Spanish boy named Paco as her lover. But the unstable Paul didn’t appreciate her efforts, and started to feel annoyed by this third party. When he ordered his wife to leave Paul, Louise left him instead.

From that moment on, their story looks like the sad and well-known stories of many drifting couples: he found her at her mother’s home, he threatened her with a gun, and begged her to go back home with him. She surrendered, but she quickly discovered she was pregnant. Who was the father? Paul, or her lover Paco? In December 1925 the child was born, and Louise decided to call him Paul – obviously to reassure her husband about his fatherhood. The three of them lived a serene life for some months, like a real family. Paul started again to look for a job and tried to drink less. But it didn’t last. Crises and violence started again, until the night of the murder the man apparently went as far as to threaten to hurt his child. Louise killed Paul shooting twice at his head, then ran to the police headquarters to give herself up.

The trial had a certain media echo, because of the sensationalist hues of the story: the accused, the wife that shot dead the “transvestite deserter”, was represented by the famous lawyer Maurice Garçon. While Louise was in prison, her child died of meningitis. Therefore the lawyer insisted on the fact that the widow was also a mourning mother, a victim of conjugal violence that had to kill her husband to protect their infirm child – on the other hand he tried to play down the woman’s complicity in her husband’s desertion, transvestism, and shocking behaviours. In 1929, Louise Landy was declared innocent, which rarely happened in the case of trials for murder of the spouse. From that moment on Louise disappeared from any news section, and there was no more news about her except that she got married again, and then died in 1981.

The story of Paul Grappe, with all that it suggests about those troubled times, the traumas of the soldiers, the inner conflicts implied by gender, was discovered by Fabrice Virgili who told it in his book La garçonne et l’assassin : Histoire de Louise et de Paul, déserteur travesti dans le Paris des années folles (the title is ironical, and the garçonne is obviously Paul, whereas Louise is the murderer), and also inspired the comic strip by Chloé Cruchaudet entitled Mauvais genre.

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La bambola gonfiabile di Hitler

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Ogni tanto fa capolino sui giornali e in rete una curiosa storia: la prima bambola gonfiabile della storia sarebbe stata commissionata nientedimeno che da Adolf Hitler. Una volta messa a punto, avrebbe dovuto essere inclusa nella dotazione delle truppe di stanza all’estero, al fine di prevenire i contatti con le prostitute locali, il diffondersi di malattie veneree e l’inquinamento della razza ariana.

La storia è ricca di dettagli. Il progetto segreto, denomiato Borghild, faceva capo addirittura a Himmler, che avrebbe contattato nel 1941 un dottore danese, Olen Hannussen, per costruire la bambola. Anche le fattezze che doveva avere il simulacro erano precise: “di grandezza naturale, doveva somigliare a una bella donna di pelle bianca, capelli biondi, dolci occhi azzurri, alta 1,76, labbra e seni giganti, gambe, braccia e testa articolate e un ben disegnato ombelico”. L’attrice ungherese Kathe von Nagy fu proposta come modello per la bambola, ma rifiutò, così si optò per delle sembianze più neutre. Sfortunatamente, una bomba degli Alleati distrusse la fabbrica di Dresda dove si stava svolgendo la produzione, e il progetto Borghild venne abbandonato.

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Questa vicenda, citata come unica voce storica dalla pagina italiana di Wikipedia sulle bambole sessuali, è apparsa su molti giornali internazionali e anche su alcuni nostri quotidiani (Repubblica e Corriere, ad esempio). Peccato che nessuno abbia pensato a controllare le fonti. [UPDATE: la pagina Wiki è stata aggiornata in seguito a questo nostro articolo.]

Innanzitutto, le bambole sessuali erano in uso già nel 1600: ovviamente non erano di gomma, né gonfiabili, ma venivano costruite a partire da cotone, stoffa o vestiti vecchi, cuciti assieme in una rudimentale forma femminile. Queste bambole di pezza a grandezza naturale venivano chiamate dames de voyage, “dame da viaggio”, dai marinai francesi e spagnoli che le utilizzavano durante i lunghi e solitari mesi sull’oceano; privati della compagnia del gentil sesso (generalmente la presenza di donne era proibita a bordo delle navi, perché considerata di cattivo auspicio), questi lupi di mare al momento giusto erano evidentemente capaci di molta fantasia. Nessuna dame  de voyage originale è arrivata intatta fino a noi.

All’inizio del XX secolo, poi, era già cominciata in Francia la fabbricazione di manichini che riproducevano fedelmente gli organi sessuali in gomme e altri materiali. Veri e propri automi destinati alla fornicazione, pare che venissero commercializzati sottobanco a clienti facoltosi in due modelli – maschile e femminile – e che in alcuni casi includessero dei sistemi idraulici in grado di autolubrificare la vagina o, per la versione maschile, simulare l’eiaculazione.

Quindi, anche se fosse vera, la storia dei nazisti che “inventano” la bambola sessuale non costituirebbe certo un particolare primato storico, se non per l’idea di renderla pratica e trasportabile in uno zaino militare, gonfiabile prima dell’utilizzo. Ma davvero il Führer nel 1941, in piena preparazione offensiva contro la Russia, avrebbe dedicato tanti sforzi a questa bislacca priorità per le sue truppe?

Due giornalisti tedeschi, Rochus Wolff e Jens Baumeister, indipendentemente l’uno dall’altro hanno cercato di ricostruire da dove provenga la notizia. Sembra che l’articolo originario sia apparso sul Bild, giornale tedesco dai toni scandalistici, spesso poco attento all’accuratezza delle fonti. E l’articolo cita come unico riferimento il sito borghild.de, gestito da Norbert Lenz. Approfondendo la questione, Wolff e Baumeister hanno scoperto diversi punti oscuri: le foto presenti sul sito sono ricostruzioni di fantasia; i riferimenti ai documenti ufficiali, inaccurati o inventati di sana pianta. Del fantomatico dottore danese Olen Hannussen, nessuna traccia. All’archivio del Museo Tedesco d’Igiene (dove sempre secondo Lenz si troverebbero i documenti relativi al progetto Borghild) nessuno ha mai sentito parlare di questa storia.
Ma Wolff ha fatto un passo in più: ha chiamato le varie testate giornalistiche per cui Norbert Lenz dice di aver lavorato regolarmente come freelance (Stern, Max, Focus). Tutte le redazioni hanno smentito di aver mai lavorato con Lenz. Il suo nome non compare sugli elenchi telefonici, e l’unico libro pubblicato da qualcuno che si chiama Norbert Lenz è un libro di fotografie sulle pacifiche e simpatiche anatre che sguazzano nel Lago di Costanza.

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L’intero sito borghild.de, quindi, fino a prova contraria è da considerarsi come un’elaborata farsa volta a creare una nuova leggenda metropolitana a cui, in maniera fin troppo prevedibile, hanno abboccato anche testate importanti.

Se siete interessati alla storia delle bambole sessuali, dagli albori fino alle moderne, iperrealistiche e ultratecnologiche Real Doll, vi consigliamo il testo The Sex Doll: A History (2010) di Anthony Ferguson, disponibile soltanto in lingua inglese, da cui abbiamo attinto le fonti sulle dames de voyages e gli antesignani delle bambole gonfiabili. La “bufala” di Borghild l’abbiamo invece scoperta per la prima volta su BoingBoing (e link correlati).

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(Grazie, Danilo!)

Soldati fantasma

La Seconda Guerra Mondiale era finita. Il 2 settembre 1945 entrò formalmente in vigore l’ordine di resa imposto dagli Alleati alle forze armate giapponesi. A tutte le truppe dislocate nei vari avamposti per il controllo del Pacifico vennero diramati dispacci che annunciavano la triste verità: il Giappone aveva perso la guerra, e i soldati avevano l’ordine di consegnare le armi al nemico. Ma, per quanto incredibile possa sembrare, alcuni di questi soldati “rimasero indietro”.

Shoichi Yokoi era stato spedito nell’arcipelago delle Marianne nel 1943. L’anno successivo gli Stati Uniti presero il controllo dell’isola di Guam, sconfiggendo la sua armata, ma Yokoi fuggì e si nascose nella giungla assieme ad altri nove soldati, deciso a resistere fino alla morte all’avanzata delle truppe americane. Passò il tempo, e sette dei suoi nove compagni decisero di separarsi: del gruppo originale, rimasero Yokoi e altri due irriducibili soldati. Alla fine, anche questi ultimi tre decisero di separarsi per motivi di sicurezza, ma continuarono a mantenere i contatti finché un giorno Yokoi scoprì che i suoi due compagni erano morti di fame e stenti. Ma neanche questo bastò a convincerlo a darsi per vinto. Anche una morte solitaria era preferibile alla resa.

Yokoi imparò a cacciare, durante la notte, per non essere avvistato dai nemici. Si preparò abiti con le piante locali, costruì letti di canne, mobili, utensili. Un giorno di gennaio due pescatori che stavano controllando le reti lo avvistarono nei pressi di un fiume. Riuscirono ad avere la meglio, e dopo un breve combattimento riuscirono a catturarlo e a trascinarlo fuori dalla foresta. Era l’anno 1972. Yokoi era rimasto nascosto nella giungla per 28 anni. “Con vergogna, ma sono tornato”, dichiarò al suo rientro in patria, dove venne accolto con i massimi onori. La fotografia del suo primo taglio di capelli in 28 anni apparve su tutti i giornali, e Yokoi divenne una personalità. L’esercito gli riconobbe la paga arretrata in un ammontare di circa 300$.

Ma Yokoi non fu il più tenace dei soldati fantasma giapponesi. Due anni più tardi, nel 1974, nell’isola filipina di Lubang, venne scoperto il rifugio segreto di Hiroo Onoda, ufficiale dell’Esercito imperiale giapponese che si trovava lì dal 1944.

Dopo essere sfuggito all’attacco statunitense nel 1945, Onoda ed altri tre commilitoni si erano nascosti nella giungla, decisi a frenare l’avanzata del nemico ad ogni costo. Il codice etico e guerriero del bushidō impediva loro anche solo di credere che la loro patria, il grande Giappone, si fosse potuto arrendere. Così, nonostante fossero arrivate notizie della fine della guerra, essi non vollero prestarci fede, e anche alcuni volantini furono reputati dei falsi di propaganda degli Alleati. Dopo che un compagno si era arreso e gli altri due erano rimasti uccisi, Onoda continuò da solo la “missione” per quasi trent’anni.

Nel 1974 un giapponese, Norio Suzuki, riuscì infine a scovarlo e a confermargli che la guerra era finita. Onoda si rifiutò di lasciare la sua posizione, dichiarando che avrebbe preso ordini soltanto da un suo superiore. Suzuki tornò in Giappone, con le foto che dimostravano che Onoda era ancora in vita, e riuscì a rintracciare il suo diretto superiore, che nel frattempo si era ritirato a fare il libraio. Così il vecchio maggiore intraprese il viaggio per Lubang, e una volta arrivato in contatto con Onoda lo informò “ufficialmente” della fine delle ostilità, avvenuta 29 anni prima, e gli ordinò di consegnare le armi. Finalmente Onoda si arrese, riconsegnando la divisa, la spada, il suo fucile ancora perfettamente funzionante, 500 munizioni e diverse granate. Ma al suo rientro in patria, la celebrità lo sorprese negativamente; per quanto si guardasse attorno, i valori antichi del Giappone secondo i quali aveva vissuto e per i quali aveva combattuto una personale guerra di trent’anni, ai suoi occhi erano scomparsi. Onoda vive oggi in Brasile, con la moglie e il fratello.

Sette mesi più tardi di Onoda, un ultimo soldato fantasma venne rintracciato a Morotai, in Indonesia. Si trattava di Teruo Nakamura, ma il suo destino sarebbe stato ben diverso da quello degli altri tenaci guerrieri solitari giapponesi. In effetti Nakamura era nato a Taiwan, e non in Giappone. Non parlava né cinese né giapponese; inoltre, non era un ufficiale come Onoda, ma un soldato semplice. Aveva vissuto per trent’anni in una capanna di pochi metri quadri, recintata, nella foresta. Già gravemente malato, visse soltanto quattro anni in seguito al suo ritrovamento. Taiwan e il Giappone si scontrarono a lungo sulla sua vicenda, su questioni di rimborsi e risarcimenti, e l’opinione pubblica si divise sul diverso trattamento riservato ai precedenti soldati fantasma.

Voci relative ad altri avvistamenti di soldati fantasma si sono spinte fino ai giorni nostri, ma spesso si sono rivelate dei falsi, e Nakamura rimane a tutt’oggi l’ultimo “soldato giapponese rimasto indietro” ufficialmente riconosciuto. Eppure, forse, da qualche parte nella giungla, c’è ancora qualche guerriero, ormai ultraottantenne, che scruta l’orizzonte per avvistare le truppe nemiche, e ingaggiare l’eroico combattimento che attende da una vita.

Ecco la pagina di Wikipedia che dettaglia tutti i ritrovamenti dei vari soldati fantasma giapponesi dal 1945 ad oggi.