At the beginning of the last century one Professor Max-Bembo published La mala vida en Barcelona: anormalidad, miseria y vicio, which in authentic Daily Mail style vaguely enjoined the government to do something about the social and sexual degradation he profited from in such loving and lascivious detail. Here’s the section on wankworkers, copy-pasted from Bremaneur:

On the Paralelo, behind the tram company’s electricity factory, in a quadrilateral formed by Vila Vilá, Cabanyes and the Paralelo, you will see from eight to eleven at night wretched women loafing about in the darkness, singing softly. The place is gloomy and lonely: groups of men, mostly adolescents, from workshops and factories stop in front of one of them, and for a reasonable price they perform oral coitus, masturbation and normal coitus in full view of everyone else, who excite them with obscene words. These prostitutes, known popularly as pajilleras, tossers, are already surplus to the army of vice; many are workers, others ex-variety artistes, ugly and ruined and who none the less to give pleasure to their clients mimic all the movements and anguished cries of the virgin. It is tremendous to see the groups of men awaiting their turn. In half darkness you distinguish silhouettes; leaning on a wall, you see pairs in the paroxysms of sexual pleasure, and nauseated you retire your gaze from that scene, praying that the authorities will prohibit it.

(En el Paralelo, detrás de la fábrica de electricidad de los tranvías, en un cuadrilátero formado por las calles de Vila Vilá, Cabanyes y el Paralelo, veréis de ocho a once de la noche desgraciadas mujeres que se pasean en la obscuridad, cantanto en voz baja. El sitio es lóbrego y solitario: grupos de hombres, en su mayoría adolescentes, de talleres y fábricas, se estacionan delante de una de ellas, y por un precio módico hacen el coito bucal, masturban y el coito normal, a la vista de todos, que les excitan con palabras soeces. Estas prostitutas, llamadas en términos populares ‘pajilleras’, son ya deshecho del ejército del vicio; muchas de ellas obreras, otras ex-artistas de cafés-concerts, feas y ajadas y que sin embargo para dar gusto al cliente, remedan todos los movimientos y gritos lastimeros de la virgen. Los grupos de hombres que esperan turno, es tremendo. En medio de la obscuridad, distinguís siluetas; apoyados en una pared, veis parejas en el paroxismo del placer sexual, y asqueados, apartáis la vista de aquel cuadro, haciendo votos para que las autoridades lo prohíban.’)

The first usage afaik is in a filthy, anonymous parody of a rather dreary play by José Zorrilla, Don Juan Tenorio (1844). Don Juan Notorio: Burdel en cinco actos y 2000 escándalos (1874) (via La Ciudadela del Conde) is dedicated to the madame of a Barcelona brothel and, following a depiction of a street scene consistent with Max-Bembo’s, discovers

DON JUAN observing, wanking, while a tosser who he hasn’t paid [bothers him|scratches his bollocks].

(DON JUAN al paño, haciéndose la puñeta solo, mientras que una pajillera, a quien no ha pagado, le rasca los huevos.)

[Another parody of Don Juan Tenorio is Valle-Inclán’s Las galas del difunto, the first esperpento of the trilogy Martes de carnaval, of which more some time. Esperpento: Narración que presenta la realidad deformada, llegando a lo grotesco, con el fin de poner de manifiesto aspectos criticables de la sociedad. Según la Real Academia Española, “esperpento” es un hecho grotesco o desatinado. Más específicamente, el término se utiliza para desginar un estilo literario creado por Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, y que se caracteriza por la deformación grotesca de la realidad, al servicio de una implícita intención crítica de la sociedad.]

In a most interesting doctoral thesis, La contrarevolució de 1939 a Barcelona. Els que es van quedar, Jaume Fabre Fornaguera notes that the pajillera remained an institution after the war, providing a service in cinemas (commission to the commissionaire, naturally) for those too poor to pay both bed and booty, and for those too young to legally enter brothels:

Tot i els preus econòmics, adequats a les circumstàncies del moment, hi havia qui no podia pagar-se una relació completa en una cambra, i això va fer proliferar una altra institució de postguerra, la “pajillera”, que per una petita quantitat masturbava homes en les sales de cinema. Ramón Draper, un altre especialista en el tema, les descriu així: “La pajillera que actuaba en un elevado número de cines, por no decir en todos, adquirió una identidad propia. El precio de sus servicios, según edad y presencia, oscilaba de una a cinco pesetas. En los cines eran toleradas al contribuir a dotar al acomodador de unos ingresos extras. Algunos de estos acomodadores les proporcionaban el cliente a cambio, claro está, de una comisión por sus servicios. Era corriente que a la entrada de un hombre solo en el cine el acomodador le indicase los lugares ocupados por esas mujeres. Los propios cines se beneficiaban de su existencia, puesto que un elevado número de hombres, sobre todo muchachos que no tenían la edad requerida para acudir a un prostíbulo, utilizaban esas mujeres para su desahogo sexual, entrando en los locales solamente para ello (…) Algunas, por algo más de dinero, aceptaban la cópula en los servicios del cine, contando con la colaboración de la encargada de los mismos, que era sobornada con una pequeña propina. Estos casos eran excepcionales (..) Este tipo de servicio sexual tuvo vigencia hasta 1945, pero a partir de este momento fue desapareciendo paulatinamente”. D’acord amb els preus a què es refereix Draper, la tarifa màxima que cobrava una d’aquestes “pajilleras” era l’equivalent al jornal diari d’un obrer, cinc pessetes, però que era habitual la tarifa d’una pesseta. Per quantitats inferiors es podien obtenir els mateixos serveis a l’aire lliure, en les zones de “terra negra” situades al pont de Marina i al Morrot. Un testimoni entrevistat per Josep Maria Huertas descriu una escena terrorífica, on un noi que va a buscar la seva primera experiencia sexual a una d’aquestes dones de Montjuïc, rep a la cara, com una broma, l’impacte del drap amb el que s’eixugaven els homes situats a la cua davant seu.

The pajillera is hard at work in the Barcelona novels of Juan Marsé (eg in Un día volveré, working in the Roxy), as well as in the novels of many others who one suspects of sexploitation bandwagon jumping. My general impression is that she worked in all large conurbations in Spain, although the literary record focuses on Barcelona. She may, as Draper says, have disappeared gradually after 1945, but there are always some who will do for love what others did for money.

I’m not clear about how or when paja, straw, came to be used for masturbation. I’m also surprised–despite all we know about Victorian morality–how little evidence there is for a class of street tossers having existed in, for example, London. Henry Mayhew found mudlarks and dogshit vendors, but I think that this, in the section on prostitution in London in the 1861 extra volume of London labour and the London poor, is the closest he got to documenting tossers:

Park Women, or those who frequent the Parks at night and other retired places.

Park women, properly so called, are those degraded creatures, utterly lost to all sense of shame, who wander about the paths most frequented after nightfall in the Parks, and consent to any species of humiliation for the sake of acquiring a few shillings. You may meet them in Hyde Park, between the hours of five and ten (till the gates are closed) in winter. In the Green Park, in what is called the Mall, which is a nocturnal thoroughfare, you may see these low wretches walking about sometimes with men, more generally alone, often early in the morning. They are to be seen reclining on the benches placed under the trees, originally intended, no doubt, for a different purpose, occasionally with the head of a drunken man reposing in their lap. These women are well known to give themselves up to disgusting practices, that are alone gratifying to men of morbid and diseased imaginations. They are old, unsound, and by their appearance utterly incapacitated from practising their profession where the gas-lamps would expose the defects in their personal appearance, and the shabbiness of their ancient and dilapidated attire. I was told that an old woman, whose front teeth were absolutely wanting, was known to obtain a precarious livelihood by haunting the by-walks of Hyde Park, near Park Lane. The unfortunate women that form this despicable class have in some cases been well off, and have been reduced to their present condition by a variety of circumstances, among which are intemperance, and the vicissitudes natural to their vocation.

I wonder idly whether in both cases signifier may have become associated with signified as fantasists observed nineteenth century patent philanthropical hay-tossers.

Pajillera has, of course, nothing to do with pajarera, birdcage, the name given over time to various halls and bars in Barcelona, including the predecessor of El Molino on Paralelo and the place where Pablo Casals got his second paid gig. This one on San Rafael, together perhaps with the almost adjacent Tarik Ben Ziyad mosque, is about the only establishment in the entire mini-district where you can’t pay for sex with, and buy drugs off, nationals of every member state of the UN. The coffee’s crap too:
Bar Pajarera, Sant Rafael, Raval, Barcelona

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