Nudity: The Great Social Leveller
We came in our droves, early this morning (2.30am, to be precise) and . . . we waited. Despite the slight odour of sewage (this is Dublin’s docks and there is a sewage treatment plant there so, while disgusting, this was not surprising), the ominous-looking rainclouds and the possibility of rats (where there’s water . . .), we came with enthusiasm, a lot of nerves and a towel each – in case of rain.
People were friendlier than usual; obviously knowing that, before long, you will all be naked ensemble, without so much as a friendly fig leaf, breaks down whatever barriers might have existed. People shared cigarettes, jokes and anecdotes. Anything to break the monotony of the wait.
The portaloos were insufficient; but, then, it seems that they were expecting fewer people. It was surprising: somehow, people signing up to partake in an “artwork” doesn’t always translate to the amount of people who show up, but show up they did, and in their thousands. Conservative estimate – 2,000 people, united in nudity but otherwise very different.
Our bodies are undoubtedly functional, but no two are alike, and all of them were beautiful. Larger ladies, red-haired Celts, a woman who, in usual circumstances would have elicited a gasp and a cry of “anorexia” was with us – the group was “we”. We were there, we were naked, we were laughing, we were smiling. We didn’t know each other’s names but, somehow, it didn’t matter – one could even go so far as to say that knowing names would have lessened the impact of the event. It was irrelevant who you were in the real world; for four hours early on this Saturday morning, the longest day of 2008, we were all equal.
And somehow now I find myself on the verge of tears; while glad that I partook, I wouldn’t do it again. The cold was unbearable, the ground was stony, the wait was difficult and my patience wanes easily. My tears are for the fact that I will most likely never again feel so free. Even when we were told to put our clothes back on, there was a tangible difference in the air. Those who struggled to get dressed, those who couldn’t find their plastic bags, they were to be pitied; once we had our jeans back on, being naked seemed positively mortifying.
One poor soul took a while. His plastic bag was lost in the abyss of bodies and he scurried through the [now fully-dressed] masses, attempting to find his armour. We had ours, and he was defenceless. Vulnerable and almost laughable, a naked man in the midst of a clothed crowd.
I can still feel the cold in my legs, in my arms; we lay on the stone for much longer than I had anticipated, and the winds were high, and the rain was coming. I am feeling sad, for the feeling of freedom that is gone now, for the feeling of cameraderie that you just don’t get any more. There was even a couple who shared our taxi home; they gave us €8, but we didn’t want to take it. You just don’t see things like that any more.
For a while, early this morning, we were all children: innocent, trusting, equal, and with a whole lot of hope for the future, and for the present. Now that we have our clothes on, our armour, we are back to the reality we have created – Baudrillard has a lot to answer for in my philosophical ramblings, but what I saw this morning, that was reality. Your jeans? They’re the mask.