I do not know if this story happened in the past or in the future. It is hard to tell. It was easy to write the title; it is hard to write the sub-title. Maybe I shall leave that for the reader to decide. It is written in the first person, but that is only a fiction to help the story along, so for ‘I’ read ‘you’ and imagine you are ‘I’.
For those who like history books or stories set in some remote and simple past, where life was so much easier than in the complicated world of today, then this is the ideal tale for you. In the old days, before the invention of swimming costume, people did not bother so much about clothes. Indeed, the courtiers of the English King once considered it the height of fashion to reveal their private parts, which were after all not so private then. So this little story is set back in those days on the little island of the Sunrise in the bright blue of the Mediterranean Sea before anyone had ever heard of pollution. In those days you could spot mermaids sitting on the rocks if you were really quiet and hear them gently singing as in the days of Ulysses.
But, alas, in this world there are some people who only like a story when it is scientific, at least, science fiction. For you too, this book will make a good read. Here you can imagine a future paradise freed from robbers and thieves, from taxmen and governments. Here the police only have to make sure you wear no clothes along the beach! It seems scarcely credible in today’s world, a real utopia, but why not let imagination run. When we look back at our little earth from the moon, it looks so different from when we wake up to grubby streets and honking cars. By flying to this utopia set in a world which may one day be true, we can look back at our daily life and wonder if we really need to live the way we now do.
Or perhaps, for those who balk at medieval tales and do not dare into science-fiction, you can just read this story as a diary. A diary which records things that could be true or could be make-believe. A sort of untrue, true diary that beneath the garb of fiction carries the naked truth of real life. Strange, it is. A story to cover up a tale about uncovering. And yet in reading it, perhaps we may uncover the covering and find what lies beneath. The metaphors are mixed and all are about clothing, while this book is about being without clothes: eight whole days without a stitch.
Chapter One: Into the World of the Unclothed
We have to start off somewhere and that somewhere has to be in the clothed world because at the time it seemed that was the only world. So here our story begins, in a little port on the south coast of France, not at Nice or Cannes, but somewhere so insignificant its name hardly appears on a map. There is a shop which sells sun cream and books, water and bread and then there is the little boat. A small crowd is gathering. Most people seem to know each other but not all and the crowd is grouped in patches that will only coalesce when the signal is given and everyone will head for the gangplank. There are local people who have come to shore to make their purchases, to do the many important things that people do in towns. There are the sailors, men and women, chatting as if they did this everyday, which of course they do. Then there are the odd-bods, like me, ie ‘you’. You see, I/you have never been on this boat before and am filled with a mixture of expectation and apprehension. The guide books told me a little what to expect but they cannot tell you the feel of waiting there.
The sun is strong and though this is the world of the clothed, it is still the seaside and no need for all one’s clothes. I set down my pack, only a small one mind you, and begin to apply the cream to ears and nose, hands and arms, and while at it, why not go further and remove my shirt. No-one seems to notice much. The surfers are busy with their boards and the shoppers with their tittle-tattle and purchases. The boat comes in. A really small boat, much smaller than you would have expected. The seats are on the deck, which has a roof over most of it, except the stern, where a few people are sitting.
We set off and gradually the city and town and land fall away behind, while ahead the sea greets us, calm and empty, though to the right we can see the coastline and ahead are the islands we are making for. After some forty minutes we turn into a wooded cove and stop at the first island. Here many of the passengers disembark and a few others get on. This little port has its own little fortress with a flag flying and twee hotels around the village square. It is part of the busy world we left behind and yet already removed, but still part of the same world.
Five minutes later we are off again, heading straight to our island, the island of the Sunrise. The slopes seem empty but for a few houses set low among the trees and bushes, a quiet place. Twenty minutes later we pull into the harbour. There is very little around it. A few kiosks on the right and to the left, overlooking the harbour a little restaurant, beside which a steep staircase runs up into the island. Ahead, on the right beyond the kiosks is the main road. In fact the only road. That is the way for those tourists who cannot manage steps or who prefer not to walk. It seems that all is as it would be in any other port, but not quite.
To the right of the harbour are some rocks, where people are getting about. With nothing on? Perhaps not. At least I do not remember. But certainly, with less than one could expect at a normal beach, even a beach in summer. But it is coming up to early evening and while warm, is yet not quite the place for the beach.
I disembark as if I knew exactly where I was going, as if I did this every day. It helps to give oneself a confidence that really you do not have, though I had studied my map and have some idea where to go. I walk up to the kiosk that serves as the tourist centre and ask the way to the Gecko. The lady pulls out a map and hands it to me. Now the curious thing about the map is that the roads are coloured red and green and yellow. Red is bad. Red means ‘clothes’. At the port, in other words along the jetty and past these kiosks, clothes must be worn. That is bad. Also in the centre of the village, though early in the morning the policemen have not yet come and who’s to say, but more about that later. Green is good. That means clothes must not be worn: paradise! Yellow is the half-way house and covers most of the island: clothes can be worn or not. Green is confined to the beaches and all the coastline. I had resolved that for me yellow would be equivalent to green and red should be avoided.
I left the kiosk and set off past the restaurant and up the staircase. It seemed no-one else took this path because I was alone. Up the first flight of stairs I came to the first road running round the island, a sandy track with low houses set back from the road. I turned in and seeing no-one around liberated myself of the few clothes I still wore. I would not wear them again until I came back to the same point on the day I had to leave. From now on I was naked, textile-free, unclothed, nude.
I put my pack back on. Of course, I wore a hat against the sun and sandals on my feet, but that was all. I set off up the stairs and now began to pass people coming the other way. But no-one blinked an eye. I was normal! The men might be in shorts and the women wore a long veil that caught around the neck and sometimes blew vaguely open. This, after all, was the yellow zone. It was not long before I reached the right level and turned to the Gecko.
Like the other establishments, this one was a mixture of one and two-storey buildings, a restaurant in the centre, a swimming pool to the left further down the hill and to the rear left the showers and toilets. I was assigned a little wooden hut, very comely, with a bed, a chair and gas ring next to a sink. Above were a few pots and pans, plates and cups. Outside the window was a table with a large sunshade standing next to it and four chairs. This was to be my home for the next week.
I went for a shower and then saw the little swimming pool. After a journey of over 24 hours it was very inviting and it also gave me the first opportunity to contact other people of the same species. Later during my stay, I distinctly remember an older lady remark, “We are a species in danger of extinction”. The species in question is of course the naturist. That is not to say that I spoke to the people sunbathing by the pool, nor was it particularly polite to stare. There is a sort of noticing without noticing, an interest that rejoices in the fact of identification whilst being aware that it is not polite to draw attention to it. But at least my own status gives me a certain prerogative which the dressed voyeur lacks.
After the swim and shower, the next step was to look for the little shop to which I was directed. It meant a climb uphill and then right along one of the circular paths that runs around the central square of the island. There are a series of such paths at different levels. In some ways this was more of a test of my new-found status than the swimming pool had been. True I had a hat on against the sun and sandals on my feet, as well as a bag for shopping but now I was quite visible on the path. People passed me on the way. Most dressed in beach-style but a few with whom I felt more equal. With the former there is a certain reticence, a sort of feeling “I am OK”, but at the same time a certain confidence: “I have taken the step that you are afraid to take.” With the latter, there is a sense of reassurance and mutual identification, a shared humanity that consoles.
After making my purchases I returned to cook my dinner and was pleased to meet my neighbours. Stephanie was topless, Patrick was dressed, when I made my introduction. As I ate my meal outside my window, looking out towards the sea, they were sitting at their table behind me with drinks and snacks and both, fortunately, fully in the spirit of the place: stark naked. It was on that reassuring note that as the sun sank on a peaceful island, I turned in to sleep for the first night.
Chapter Two: Naturists and Semi –Naturists
I set myself a firm principle when I came here: never wear anything. That relieves me of the agony involved in asking should I be clothed, semi-clothed or unclothed. It simplifies life considerably. I also came with the hope that others would follow the same rule though I knew that there would not be complete conformity. The sight of someone who kept this rule reassured me and made me feel more at ease. There is a certain awkwardness about addressing the clothed from the viewpoint of the unclothed.
It played itself out in various scenarios. One morning as I walked down the stair to the beach I came across a young lady taking pictures of the harbour. It is a beautiful scene but obviously my presence would rather intimidate her. There is an unwritten rule that you do not take pictures of other people without their express permission, especially on this island.
Sometimes it seemed I could provoke laughter. It was not really directed against me but against some member of a group of the clothed. The one time that stands out was when I was walking past the café which is near the harbour. The tables and chairs were full with a big group that probably came for the evening. As I walked past I noticed them laughing and felt that what probably amused them was the thought of inviting some of them to join the ranks of the unclothed. Laughter was one way of trying to cope with the divide.
Another morning as I walked towards the beach and reached the point on the path where a notice stated plainly that only the unclothed could proceed, I encountered a family of three. The old lady had come with her husband to celebrate her birthday and they were accompanied by their daughter probably in her thirties. The notice was the problem. Here was a law-abiding lady looking for a sandy beach on which to sunbathe in her swimming costume as any ‘normal’ person might. She was caught: to disobey was unthinkable but to strip off was out of the question.
There they stood wondering what to do. They asked me if there might be another beach where it would be possible to go without this terrible demand being made on them. I replied that on this island the whole coast was textile-free and hence no such beach existed. The daughter was perhaps for giving it a try but nothing could move the mother. Later I met them at lunch. They sat down to a good lunch outside under the palm trees and it was there that I learnt they had come to celebrate the birthday. For them the island was a bit of a disappointment. It had none of the usual holiday attractions and the textile-free rule made the parts they would have liked to visit inaccessible.
More commonly people adopted the rule of semi-dress in much of the island and no dress on the beach. The women had a special garment that seemed made just for this place. It was a long robe that tied together in the front, covering everything. But its seam was also in the front and the sides would sometimes be blown slightly aside so you could see there was only a real person underneath! It satisfied the semi-dress code without completely denying the non-dress code.
Another variant for women was to be topless. This was Laurence’s normal choice during the day. She was the manager of the guest house. In the evening she dressed up to serve guests at the dinner table as the sun sank and the air grew cooler. But from the early morning and throughout the day, she never wore a blouse. Only once, very early, did I see her leave the shower with nothing on. She was always quite shy, quiet and unassuming but it was she who ran the Gecko, while her husband did the cooking. Their daughter would appear from time to time, always clad.
For a number of days, my neighbours were an interesting couple of women. You could not help to get to know them as they carried on their life like a public show. Perhaps it was the mobile phone which accounted for this. They both kept strictly to nudity at all times, at least in camp. The older lady had long and loud conversations with her children every evening and to judge by the many phone calls they were numerous, or else in great need of mama’s advice on topics of the most trivial nature. Her companion was younger, quieter, fatter by far and bronzed.
One evening they were preparing the beach picnic with salads and dressings and “have you remembered this?” and “should I do it this way?” and other such ingredients. These, they informed me, would be all taken down to the beach – there was only really one sandy beach – where they would have a picnic under the stars. At least their conversation would not drown my early sleep.
The island is not all beach. There is also a large wooded area where I walk morning and evenings. One evening as I climbed past the last houses in the village, situated near the top of the hill, a young boy came past walking up from the beach with nothing on. And then further on I met the dog Carmen and her owner who was in similar attire. There seemed to be no particular rule as to what kind of dress anyone might choose. It was not dependent on age or gender. Once walking along a path I met an older lady, alone, and quite free of clothing.
The great thing about such meetings is that they were totally safe and completely natural. There was nothing odd about them. In a sense this was a gift that we could give each other: the complete and full acceptance of the other as a whole person. It was always best when conversation was possible. It made an encounter that could have been only skin-deep become a real exchange with another person, only here it was the whole person and not the hidden person whom one meets all the time in the dressed world.
The danger in this matter of clothed and semi-clothed lies in the transitions and the expectation or fear of the transitions. Once the step has been made across the threshold there is no problem. It is thus far easier to be in the naked world than in the semi-naked world. The barrier crossed frees from fear and also from eroticism and embarrassment.
Chapter Three: Sweets for Shopping
There are three shops on the island and each brings a different kind of experience. The first shop I went to is only open in the morning and the evening. It has books and postcards and groceries. The choice is not great but it has one very special attraction that I will come to later. The second small shop is down near the port. It is up off the road and has a better supply of groceries. It is run by a lady whilst the first is run by a man. Then there is the supermarket off the village square, where there is also a bakery. It has the greatest range of goods but its main drawback is that it is on the square. Why that is a drawback I will explain soon.
Let us start our shopping tour with the shop nearest the harbour. I had been on the island a few days before I ventured in. The range of goods was larger than the other small shop and I felt a certain confidence now even though the owner was clad. I remember walking up the staircase to the front door and meeting a young girl on the way. The advantage of children is that they have not yet learnt the ‘shame’ of adults and so I notice that she looks carefully where no-one else looks. Well, she has every right to do so and why not? Here life is free and surely it is better to grow up knowing what the other sex looks like.
Still, on my second visit I start talking to the lady about how well-stocked her shop is. Then somehow we come round to the topic of dress and she tells me in ringing tones that the island is not a nudist colony. The harbour, for instance, enforces a dress code. Her remarks are not directed directly against me but nonetheless, I feel a little bruised and decide to avoid her shop in future.
The supermarket poses the biggest challenge for me. It is impossible to get there without going through the clothed area and this poses a dilemma for me. To go there would mean breaking my resolve to avoid all clothing for eight days. Yet, on the other hand, I would like to buy a few more things at a slightly cheaper price, so I may have to break my principle.
In the event I have to work out an acceptable compromise. It takes three visits to work it out. The first visit is the swimming trunks visit. The rule here is to go along the paths until one reaches the area marked red on the map, that is just before entering the village square. Here one quickly gets the trunks on and continues up. The reverse procedure is followed on leaving the red area. It works but the two critical moments are the dressing and undressing ones and here it is best to make sure no-one else can see. It is in the act of crossing from one world (the clothed) to the other (unclothed) that the awkwardness lies. Mind you, even wearing the trunks I prefer that they cover as little as possible, a sort of statement: I will keep the letter of your rule but not the spirit.
The second method resolved the awkwardness rather better. Here I used a small towel, which just about encircled my waist. With a bag on my shoulder hanging down at the more exposed hip, I could say I kept the rule. The advantage now was that I could put the towel over my shoulders as protection against the sun during my walk to the shop and move it down without much inconvenience when I approached the square.
Still, I was not satisfied until I had tried the third method. This involved a yellow cord which fitted round my waist like a belt. The towel hung around it at the front. My shopping bag covered part of the rear. This method was my minimalist version, which satisfied the law, was easy to apply and yet did not involve a serious breach of naturist principles. Moreover, I found it quite accepted and no-one batted an eyelid. Thanks to this stratagem I went to the supermarket and bakery more often.
Still, I felt a certain fondness for the first shop I visited. It was not every time that the proprietor remembered, but he had a bowl of sweets on his counter and he would give one free to whoever was totally unclothed. He did this to encourage us. Maybe he wanted his shop to be a place where we could be free. I determined to follow his custom when I got home and to keep chocolates only for the unclothed.
The point is that we did need encouragement even though we were permitted. We were still exceptions, though not over abnormal. Still, I often felt that it would be much easier if everyone simply worked according to my simple norm. Immediately you have the custom of variability in clothing - fully, semi or non - you have the worry of wondering which to do and hence the concern of what are other people thinking. So encouragement for the unclothed was the best part about going to that shop. It was not the sweet itself but the meaning it conveyed that mattered.
Chapter Four: Dawn
It was early in the morning when I woke and this became my habit each day. I would get up and pray before the sun was up and light was only just beginning to filter through. Then I went for walks. On the first day I decided to try going through the village square since at such an early hour I felt that the rule of dress would not matter too much. I passed through quite alone as I went to the high point (138m above sea level) to watch the sunrise. On the way through the edge of the forested area I met a man out with his dog. On the way back I again crossed the village square and saw a lady preparing the tables and chairs of her café for the first guests.
After that I became more adventurous and would make a tour of the entire island before returning for a shower and breakfast. One Saturday morning I ran into a large crowd on the square, clearly they had not slept all night and were just breaking up to rest as I passed. They did not pay much attention to me. Indeed they were probably too tired! I took to going by different routes. Sometimes I would head for the harbour first and then walk up the main road, through the village and on into the forest behind. At other times I would first go to the forest and then follow the coastal path all round to the harbour. At times I went down to the sandy beach too. It could take up to two hours winding back and forth but probably was nearer one hour or so most days.
It was often a little cool in the early morning but exercise was sufficient to generate enough heat, though I found it difficult to sit still as it was too cold for that. I left my lodging while the sky was still dark, with enough light to see my way up the hill and through the village square. In that way I reached the top just before the sun broke over the sea. It would then begin to fill the forest and rocks with incredible light. As I left the summit and walked through the trees, I could see the sun shining under the canopy, striking the trunks and lighting them with a marvellous glow that could only be seen at dawn.
I made my route as long as possible and went down by the most difficult path, because it was the longest. It brought me down towards the sea but still above it, and I would walk back westwards with the sun behind me, the sea to the right and to the left the land sweeping up. I remember in particular a large white rock that stood out with the early morning sun. Later in the day, sitting in a little cove, I would look up to this rock and notice how different it seemed in the afternoon sun.
Sometimes I went down to the cove and even into the sea but it was too cold to swim a lot. Instead I would come out and walk back along the cliff path towards the village. Across the sea I could see another island, which was a nature reserve. Down at the harbour a few boats might be getting ready and one or two people would be around but not many people. I think most people tended to stay up during the night and so did not know the morning.
I would head back for a shower and breakfast and begin to write a few notes on the day. It was only then that my neighbours would begin to stir and some took much more time before they appeared. After all this was a place for a holiday and a rest.
On my last morning I took a camera with me. It is my only photographic record of my visit. I wanted to take pictures while there was no danger of anyone else being around. My first picture is of my lodging. A lamp shines on the corner of the main house, showing that all is dark and yet there is still enough light to see the sky and the sea and the black line of the hills. You would not think it was taken at dawn. Another picture taken from the edge of the property looks directly down to the bay. A few red roofs can be seen but mostly it is just low forest stretching down to the water’s edge. The houses here are discretely hidden in the scenery.
Then I turned west and looked up to the houses around the top of the village. The sun is beginning to shed its light from behind the mountain. By the time I reach the village square, there is sufficient light to see by and I photograph the café on the square and the plaque commemorating the founders of the village.
The next set of photos show the sun, first rising as an orange disk, the island black in the foreground and the sky clear above, yellow and orange near the sea. Just a few seconds later the full disk of the sun is visible and the mountain now has some colour, the little green and brown bushes around the grey rocks where I used to go in the evenings.I have three pictures of the sun shining on the trees, from underneath. In one the tree in the foreground is white and over exposed. Behind the light causes the trunks to glow. Even the rocks take on the same gold and dark hue amid the branches. Looking out to sea I can see the line where the more distant rocks are already bathed in a brilliant yellow, whilst those in the foreground do not yet have the sun full on them. The line cuts across the rocks as if they were of different materials, but it is only because of the way the sun catches them that they look different.
The distant island stands clean and clear in the blue sea, a low greenish brown with a bright edge where the sun shines directly on the shoreline. A small white building is the only sign of human habitation, though in the harbour there are traces of yachts at anchor. Reaching our own harbour I take a snapshot of the general layout, still partly hidden from the rising sun. Another picture taken out to sea shows the contrast between our own harbour still in the dark and the glow of the other island. Looking back I turned my camera on the village. The sun’s light fills the sky in the background, and falls on the boats in the harbour, but the middle ground is still veiled in the dark. Some houses stand out but most are hidden among the low trees. It is truly a place where people and nature live in harmony.
The beach is empty how, a little bit of dark sand with some rocks jutting up offshore and a couple of boats moored further out. This place normally attracts people, though there are rarely crowds on the island.
My last picture that early morning was of the café where I had lunch at times.. On the right are short and stocky palms that give it its name. I would sit on the right, among the palms and after lunch, rest in one of the hammocks for a while.
That afternoon I took one shot of the white rock from my cove. It is scarcely visible against the brightness of the sky.
Finally, in the evening I went up to the highest point and now took three pictures covering the whole scene eastwards. The sun was behind me and the colours of the landscape shine out, so different from the early morning picture when all was black. Yet looking at those pictures that seem so still, it is easy to overlook the sound of the wind, the changes as the setting sun moved down behind me, the distant boats in the sea, all the signs of life that no camera can ever capture.
I am glad I have these pictures to remind me, but they are only a sort of help. The real memory is within me: the sense of walking freely, with nothing, not even a hat or a towel since I did not need to fear the sun’s rays. I walked, then, with no bag; only sandals on my feet. That was all. For one or two hours. Truly there is nowhere anywhere else on earth like that place.
Chapter Five: Beach Stories
As you know by now, there is only one real beach on the island. It is the place to go but in fact it is not the most attractive place. It is where the crowd goes, in so far as there can be a crowd. In fact not so many people go and I must make sure I keep out of the sharp sun.
Another problem with it are the jellyfish that are rather too numerous. Indeed, a self-appointed beach warden, an Italian I guess, spends his time scooping up jellyfish and then gives the all-clear, when he thinks it is free of the creatures. I should add, he is not that reliable. He is also the first-aid man and I see him come to the rescue of a young lady of 20 or so, who has cut her foot on a rock, nothing serious. Most of the time he is engaged in constant conversation with the regulars but not in an unpleasant way. Indeed, he makes one feel that one is at a normal village square.
The beach is the place for some conversation but not much. People respect the silence of the other. One of the most beautiful sights is to see a mother with her children. A Russian couple are lying on the sand near me with their two little children. She is completely au naturel, unmanicured. Others, both women and men, have done a lot of shaving until they are truly hairless beach-apes. An older women, shaved, lies with legs apart in the sun. Nothing private here: her ‘private’ parts are as much a normal part of her as her mouth and lips. Yet she is completely safe. To be utterly at ease in who I am is the lesson of the beach.
The opposite is self-consciousness and this is something that can lurk in the back of my mind. I notice it even more with a young girl at puberty. She would probably prefer to hold a towel around her body but her mother wants her to leave the towel behind. She is running around on the beach with her younger brother and so long as she is focused on looking for jellyfish she is fine, but at times her focus falls back on herself and she tries a sort of awkward covering up with her hands. One can understand her predicament. Her pubic hair is still soft and new this summer and her self image is changing.
For some, though, the beach gives a freedom that no swimming costume beach could ever provide. I think in particular of a very fat German woman, who reads novels lying down on her front and goes to swim from time to time. She never talks to anyone and seems to be little inclined to exercise. If she were to wear a bikini it would disappear somewhere beneath the folds of fat, so here she is completely at ease without the unnecessary burden of some minor piece of cloth pretending that certain parts of her that do exist do not really exist.
There are other rocky areas that are almost beach-like. One afternoon I encounter seven young ladies lined up side by side sunbathing. One of them spreads cream on the others or takes some water from the sea and sprinkles them, like watering flowers. They read and chat, lying now on one side, now on the other, upside down or downside up, like a pod of beached seals. One of them has a pair of briefs on, a reminder that the female body has its monthly rhythm which restricts participation in the world of the unclothed. Still, that is accepted as normal and the police who patrol to enforce the un-dress code would clearly not interfere here.
The monthly period of course stops at times, especially when a baby is on the way. At one spot a young Italian mother has found a shady shelter in the cliffs by the sea and sits here pregnant whilst her first child plays around. Then the whole family get up and move away. We all are born in a mother’s womb and spend several months there but it is so rare to see a pregnant mother in all her entirety, not hidden by specially-designed clothes made to pretend that she is not really pregnant, as if pregnancy were something to be ashamed of. Only here can a mother’s glory really shine.
I have spoken first of the women. Actually, psychologists say that men like to see women because they are different and women like to see women to test their own body image! So women easily become objects of the look, or of the gaze. Do men notice each other? Yes, but only to pay no attention. Do women notice men? I do not think they can miss them, but they act as if their gaze never falls below the waistline. Yet men do worry about what others will see below decks.
The uninitiated will probably be most concerned about what to do if one becomes embarrassed and obviously so. A woman’s embarrassment is something she knows about, but it is not obvious to others. A man cannot cover things up. Yet, in fact one never sees this happen. At no time do you see anyone embarrassed because there is nothing to be embarrassed at. That is only possible here.
Of course, people do look different. The uncircumcised have their privacy hidden in a tube of skin whilst for the circumcised, the tip of the penis stands out clearly. But each person, whether male or female, is unique, with their own breasts and testicles, mouth and ears. One sees everything and so learns to accept everything, even the penis rings and ear rings. But for all this, the best is the most natural, with no shaved hair or strange ornaments, with everything exactly as it should be.
There is then a marvellous freedom and playfulness. One late afternoon I am walking along the cliff path and come across a family diving. In fact it is the little children who are diving. They have just swum across the bay and come up the steep stair cut into the rock face. Here they find a ledge and jump off. Now these brave little girls are perhaps 8 and 6! Their older brothers wear shorts and the parents sit above with nothing on. The girls dive into the sea, swim round, clamber up and dive again. They are quite happy to let me dive too and appreciate the odd hand up when the waves sweep into the cliff and make it hard to find a footing. We do not speak or interfere; we are all lost in the freedom of diving.
Later I go less to the sandy beach. It is fine if you have a book to read but it is not the best place for swimming nor is it easy to keep out of the sun. It is not all that easy to communicate with people. Once one of my neighbours appears and ventures into the water though obviously she cannot swim. She walks around in the shallows and we exchange a few remarks. Her boyfriend will teach her how to swim.
Yet I do carry a picture of this beach with me even now. Many years ago a young couple: an African man and a European girl posed on this beach for a series of photos. I never met them, but I seem to know them. She has a flower in her hair and a pink towel in her hand. She stands talking to him with the beach in the background, people lying down or walking to the sea. The photographer has arranged it such that only the young couple are frontal nude. She also posed alone, sitting on a tree branch that lay along the sand, just above the beach. I do not know them but I have seen their picture. I bought three postcards of them at the shop on the village square. I thank them for those photos. They speak to me of the freedom of the beach and of the isle. I will not show them to everyone: only the naked may see the naked.
Chapter Six: Sunset Dance
I found the best place to go after dinner was the highest point on the island. I would walk through the edge of the village, avoiding the main square because of its dress code, and out into the low scrubland. It was only a 20 minute slow walk and since the sun was setting I did not even need to take a hat. There I could sit on a rocky ledge looking out over the island and the forest. I could see both sides of the island and see the sea to left and right. The sun was behind me and illuminated the whole view; the shadow of the hill I was on would gradually stretch to fill all the forest before me until only the rocky peak was left shining in the last rays of the sun before it set.
At times the wind would pick up and I would move to take advantage of the shelter offered by the rock, moving slightly down from the top so that my head was still above the edge but I was protected from the wind.
It was quiet there and I would sit for a whole hour looking out over the landscape, reflecting on the day and on the sea and the whole of creation. One day I was caught by the contrast between the beauty and peace of this place and the war that was going on at the other end of the sea. From the paper I learnt that a fleet had just sailed to bombard another shore of the same sea. It seemed so far away. Sitting there I was caught in the timelessness of the scene: the sea, the sky and the forest below.
At times people passed. Once it was a young lady and an older man who was taking poised shots of her, perhaps for some advertising campaign. Needless to say both were dressed. At other times people would walk past and head on down into the forest, but they did not disturb me or talk to me.
The one evening someone different came. She walked with a determined stride holding a pair of African drums. She positioned these on the ground and sat down and began to bang away with great determination. Seeing me there she said, “I hope you do not mind if I play the drums?” “No,” I said. “I always come here,” she said. She played with her head bent down and her eyes closed totally absorbed in her work, for such it seemed given the intensity of her effort. But after a few minutes she stopped abruptly. The drums were not firmly in position and tended to slip away. Having tried out a variety of rocks I knew which were the best ones for getting a good seat, so I offered her my seat and moved to make way for her. She accepted and sat down, facing into the sun and banging away with the same determination.
This was exhausting stuff and she needed to stop from time to time to rest. Yet as the rhythm built up I felt foolish just sitting there. I stood up to listen and then started to move with the drum beat. It was tentative at first but gradually I grew less timid and leapt from side to side in a sort of dance that fitted the rhythm though probably left choreography behind.
She always played head bent down, eyes seemingly closed but I knew she must be aware I was dancing to her drumbeat. I danced first with my back to her but as time went by and I felt safe there I turned to face the drums. Why this reticence? Well, it should be obvious that if a man is dancing nude with great leaps and bounds, his penis will move up and down, if a woman her breasts, which could be seen as very erotic. Yet, it did not matter. I turned round to face her and follow the drumbeat better. Did she notice? I think she would certainly notice but she was not interested. It did not matter and because of this there was nothing erotic. When she stopped, I would move over to the side and sit down.
“Do you mind if I dance?” I asked. “No,” she replied, “I am going crazy drumming and you are going crazy dancing. We are both equally crazy.” It was this total acceptance of me that really struck me. There in the setting sun with the forest below and the sea on either side, away from all, we danced and played in our craziness, free and respectful of each other.
After a while she stopped and handed me the drums. “You try,” she said. It was not as easy as it looked and my first attempts elicited no great boom from the drums, only a hard slap on my hands. She explained how to do it. “These are African drums,” she said, “and I have studied them hard.” It was not easy at first. I tried again and after a few attempts began to get some kind of rhythm. I wondered if she might try and dance to my playing but she showed no inclination to do so, preferring to rest and look out at the scenery.
After a while we stopped and she said it was time to go back. She told me that she worked by day at one of the hotels. Last summer she worked at the sandwich place where I had had lunch a number of times. However, she would also have to go babysitting and was not sure if she could come every evening. In fact I never met her there again.
Still that walk back remains etched in my mind. We were two people who did not know each other. She wore a long loose dress and carried two African drums. I wore nothing. In any other situation that would have called for comment, but here it was simply not an issue. When we came to the house where she was staying she signalled goodbye and the people there also waved to me.
I would have liked to see her again there on the hill and often sat wondering if she would come. Before I left I went to her hotel and had a coffee and said goodbye though she was quite busy making beds and preparing rooms. But the one thing that struck me was the way in which she had accepted me totally. She made no fuss over my being nude on the hill. She made no fuss over my dancing. I was simply a normal person. That was the great thing she gave me. I was normal, not with part of me concealed as if it did not exist, but with the whole of me. There was nothing odd or strange. All this was unsaid and implied but it was what struck me and I still carry the sound of those drums and the voice of wholeness and respect that they carried to me, a voice of healing and wholeness, a voice which allowed all of my body to be whole and entire, a voice of the dance in the sunset.
The hotel was called Sea Breeze and it had the most wonderful swimming pool I have ever seen, but since I was only there for a coffee, I felt it would not quite be the right thing to swim there. The terrace for coffee gave a view over the village square. It surrounded the pool and in that sense was no more remarkable than any other pool. What was special was below at the entrance to the hotel. You entered below this terrace with the pool on the left. In fact there was a large sheet of glass covering the whole side of the pool. It was the sort of thing you see in the penguin or seal pool in the zoo. Except that here you could have seen human beings swimming. Needless to say there was no-one swimming during my visit but the pool conjured up the image of swimming people. There is nowhere where the human person looks more streamlined and beautiful than in swimming, especially if one were to dive down and then soar up through the water.
Chapter Seven: The Grass-snake and the Rocky Bay
The drummer girl struck me since it was she who first spoke to me and that was rare on the island. But there was another lady with whom I felt even more at ease. I met her at a little rocky bay called The Gallery. This bay lay some distance from the main beach and nearly at the end of the coastal path. I liked it because it provided shelter from the sun.
In fact I found two places at this spot that were good to visit. One required a little swim across a rocky channel and the other was under the low bushes near the only sandy part of the beach. After swimming across the channel you come to a large flatish rock under an overhang. It was this overhang that provided protection from the sun. There I could sit and see the waves lapping around me. Looking out to sea I could watch the swimmers or the rare boat passing whilst turning to my right I looked up to the cliff and the low forested slopes of the island. Particularly memorable was the white rock that shone in the afternoon sun.
When I came here the first time the shade under the trees was largely occupied by a middle-aged couple and their dog. They were quietly reading. I saw them again the next day and we exchanged greetings but there was no real conversation. That day I sheltered on the edge of the trees in a rather awkward position as I try to avoid the direct sunlight. I would read a little and every so often go down to the sea to swim.
One afternoon, just as I finished swimming, I was struck by a tall lady who walked up with great confidence. She did not look like a regular beach-ape because like myself she was not bronzed. I noticed too that her pubic h air was light grey and in no way trimmed, as was the case with some of the ‘beach-apes’. Her whole sense of ease made me feel confident about myself too. That day I did not speak to her.
Two days later I went swimming further on, at a place where the path ran out and one had to hop over rock pools to reach the sea. A little offshore a family were swimming from their boat so I swam around that area. As a rule I preferred to swim at least in the sight of other people for reasons of safety. After a time they set off in their boat towards the harbour and I returned to the shore and made my way back to the path, not quite sure if I should find another place to swim or go for a walk.
On reaching the Gallery I noticed the same lady had just arrived. I asked her if she would be stopping there, as seemed to be the case, and explained that I preferred to swim in places where I was not quite alone. Having ascertained that it was the case I immediately returned to the water so as not to disturb her.
After a swim I returned and rested in the shade of the trees as before, though the other lady had the better place in between the trees. I looked out over the little bay and the concrete platform that had been put over part of the rocks. The day before I had been on this platform when I thought I saw something appear from a hole in the concrete. It looked like a snake, but it disappeared very rapidly. Now I was watching this area again. Sure enough a snake began to appear out of the hole, tentatively, watching. And then a lizard appeared on the edge of the concrete. I drew the attention of the lady to the snake and we decided it must be a Grass-snake, which is not poisonous. It was watching the lizard and suddenly, in a flash, it popped out, swallowed the lizard and disappeared back into its hole.
The scene had given us a point of contact and we started talking more. She told me that she came here to this rocky cove every year but did not like the sandy beach. She liked the simplicity of nature. She said that she came with her family and that her husband was in the house watching over their new baby.
She noticed that I swam without goggles and offered me her goggles. With these I could see all the beautiful fish in the sea. But the main purpose, she told me, was to watch out for jellyfish and so to avoid being stung. However, I found the snorkel rather difficult to use and the goggles easily filled up with water so it was not quite so easy for me to use them.
All these details are really trivial but they helped some kind of communication, which I appreciated given that otherwise I was alone on the island and a bit nervous of speaking to strangers. The swimming, the snake and the goggles had enabled us to communicate.
I should say this was the real value of the island. Perhaps the clothed will see the island as some kind of erotic place but eroticism runs the danger of making the other into an object: a thing to be looked at. In truth there was no eroticism on this island. Nudity did not make us into objects for each other. It gave us a sense of union and community as common human beings, clearly male and female, of course, but with no embarrassment attached.
I do not know her name, nor was she the only person I talked to, far from it. Whenever conversation did occur, especially between those of us who were fully natural, it would lead to a deeper sense of union, a sense of “being one species” as that older lady had said, albeit a “species in danger of extinction”.
I would love to go back to that island every year like that lady. I would love to live that same sense of ease, simplicity, oneness with nature, with others and with oneself that can only be lived there. But even if I cannot go back I still hope that somewhere else I can still live with the same values and even create a place that is like that island. To fully accept oneself without any sense of unease is a gift that can only lead to great inner joy and peace. It is not something I can create for myself. It is something that an unknown lady with grey pubic hair could give me on a rocky cove in the shade of a few small trees.
Chapter Eight: Interlude
Maybe before you came here, you thought it might be embarrassing at times: it is not. Maybe people think it will be erotic: it is not. Maybe they think it will be crowded with curious people like yourself: it is not.
On this island you face yourself and others and beyond all that you face the sea, the trees, the rocks, the sun and the breeze. You become part of nature and find a new courage within yourself. You are who you are, no more, no less. All the barriers of civilisation, the veiling of truth that we call clothes and attire, is gone. You are there and that is as it should be. Other people accept you; no one bats an eyelid. They greet, eat, make polite talk, swim and chat just as people do the world over, but here there are no barriers, no divides, no pretence.
The island is a place to be visited, but also a place to be created, To be created wherever you live, wherever you want to overcome the falseness of the civilised world and find the real dignity of the human world. It can be my island and your island, the island where each of us can live with others. In full acceptance, respect, love and peace.
Chapter Nine: Farewell
‘Farewell’ implies a parting, a leaving behind, but it is literally a blessing for the future: fare thee well. May all things go well with you in the future. Probably you will never go to this island, even if it really existed. You might never live those eight days as you have just read about them, but in some way you must find that island, your island, the place where you can be yourself, where you can be free. Only if you can do this, will all be well for the future.
To find one’s true self is our only quest in life, a self which is open to the greater reality of life in both nature and in God. Our so-called normal life is full of countless deceptions and devices by which we cut ourselves off from reality. Clothes are a symbol of that. We dress not so much for warmth as to assert our status, to cover our inadequacy, in short to pretend. We are clowns and actors on the stage. If we get so caught up in our play-acting then the clothes define our reality and the play constricts our self until we can no longer find it. It is then that we need to step out into the other world, where I can be I, fully myself, freed from the countless conventions of daily life. Having found that self we then need to learn to live from that point, even in the midst of the false masks we don each day, so that they no longer mask us. On the island we learn to be ourselves, to no longer be afraid of who I am and so live throughout my life freed from that inner fear of myself.
Then the dawning sunlight fills our life with a new light, the light of the first creation and all is bathed in gold, bronzed and gleaming white.