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By Martin Village
CLOSE TO THE BONE

My friend Gordon called me to say he had a curious lead for me. He knew an antique dealer who'd once owned Rasputin's penis and kept it on the mantelpiece of his bedroom in a ramshackle house filled otherwise with literary memorabilia on the coast of California. Then the dealer had sent it to London, and the trail ran cold. What had Rasputin's penis been doing in California? And where was it now? It got under my radar. I had to know more.

Mike Augustine, of Davenport, a small ocean-side community north of Santa Cruz, was forthcoming. Hell, yes, he'd owned Rasputin's penis. In 1994 at a storage locker sale he'd bought as a job lot the effects of a Dr Roberta Ripple, onetime president of the Santa Monica Writers Club. Her possessions included her own unpublished stories of World War II women - The U.S. and US and the intriguingly titled Steel Ships and Iron Women - as well as three type-written manuscripts by Marie Rasputin - a hagiography of her father, My Father Rasputin,(with assistance from Roberta Ripple) a sub-Zhivago story of a Russian princess at the time of the revolution My Boots Are Narrow, and a short article entitled 'Wreck of An Empire'.

Among these papers, in its own velvet pouch, was a wizened, black object resembling the uncircumcised helmet (glans) of a penis. An accompanying note identified it as Rasputin's genital appendage and said that Marie Rasputin had been given it by Rasputin's maid and former lover, who claimed she'd been present at his dismemberment.

Marie Rasputin was the only member of her family to survive the revolution. She went first to Paris, then to Buenos Aires to work as an animal trainer in a circus, before eventually ending up in California, where she married twice and had children. She died in 1977 at the age of 78 and is buried in Rosedale Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

A rumour persists that, post poisoning, shooting and dousing in the River Neva, Grigorii Rasputin's penis was cut off from his body before burial. But there's no solid supporting evidence. Nor is it certain, but it is possible, that a group of young Russian émigré women venerated something which they believed to be Rasputin's penis in Paris in the 1920s. The relic was kept in a wooden casket, and bits were broken off and given to disciples. Marie Rasputin heard about the cult, expressed her disapproval in strong terms and took possession of whatever it was they were worshipping. This, thought Augustine, was the provenance of the fragment of dried penis he had discovered.

And so to London, where, on March 10 1994, Mike Augustine, through the intermediary of fellow American dealer and London resident Victor Osterling, consigned what they thought was Grigorii Rasputin's penis, together with Marie's type written manuscript, My Father Rasputin, and other associated photographic material, to Bonham's, the auctioneers of Kensington. Everyone was very excited. Time went by, a lot of time went by, and eventually Augustine received a cheque for 350 for sale of the manuscript items. But what had become of the penis? He said he had no idea.

In fact, the penis had resurfaced as a news item in The Daily Telegraph's Weekend Section on (the date may be significant) 1 April 1995. A photograph shows someone called Victoria Blakey-Porter of Bonham's holding between her thumb and forefinger an item which, the article says, was alleged to have been Rasputin's penis. It had been included in a sale of relics and scientific instruments, along with Marie's manuscript biography of her father, but on close examination in a pathologist's laboratory, it turned out 'not to be human'. It was, in fact, a desiccated sea cucumber. It was summarily withdrawn from the sale and, presumably, disposed of.

I called Mike Augustine and put it to him that the penis was a sea cucumber. He sounded surprised and said he'd never seen the article in the Telegraph. So, did he have any doubt that what he'd left with Bonham's was a shrivelled penis?

"Well", he said, "I'm not a penis aficionado. I've only ever looked at one all my life. But everyone else I showed it to, who possessed one themselves, agreed that it looked like the end of a very large uncircumcised penis".

Questions remain unanswered. The deception must have started somewhere, but it's unlikely that Marie Rasputin, or Roberta Ripple, would have gone to the trouble of creating a provenance for a penis without subsequently trying to sell it. And fraudulently to create a replica of your own father's penis seems too horribly Oedipal to contemplate.

No. It seems much more likely that the Paris cult was mistakenly venerating a sea cucumber (though the maid probably knew more than she was saying) and that Marie Rasputin confiscated it in the genuine misapprehension that it was her father's virile member, or, since I'm writing for the mighty organ, his organ of increase.

On the basis that there are probably in circulation enough nails from the True Cross to build a wide bodied passenger jet, no self-respecting auctioneer should in future be taken in by sea cucumbers masquerading as famous penises. Familiarise yourselves with these amazing mottled invertebrates, none of which look anything like the penis I have (they seem much bigger), and which have the added capacity to do something I have often felt like doing, but have never been able to manage - yes when threatened or frightened they can eject their entire digestive system out of their anuses. And it's okay, because they grow a new set in a few weeks. You can see them at Coralreef Network.

While researching this article I discovered an answer to a question I wasn't aware I was looking for. It may well be the wrong answer, but at least you'll get a recipe. If he slept with most of St Petersburg as well as all gypsies west of the Urals, where did Russia's greatest love machine get the energy? Conceivably he fuelled his performance with...

Rasputin's Codfish Soup
* 2 small whole codfish
* 1 cup milk
* 1 cup heavy whipping cream
* Salt
* Pepper

Clean codfish. Remove head and cut fish into fillets. Remove fish bones. Cut fillets into 2-inch pieces and place in saucepan. Add milk and whipping cream. Place over medium heat and bring to scalding temperature. Do not boil. Reduce heat and continue simmering until fish is done. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls and serve hot.

Makes four normal servings. Or one for Rasputin.

 

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