Monday, April 2, 2007

Naked With Wiesel

On a dusky September morning, I decided to officially bid farewell to the 2006 camping season and go for that one last time. I filled the cooler with hummus and Heinekens and headed north.

On the way to the campground, I was forced to share the narrow one-way road with a fleet of bikers and their babes. To add to my aggravation, Blair decided to catch a large fly that had made its way into the truck. I drove with one hand on the steering wheel and the other trying to restrain my 70-pound canine who thought she was a frog.

Two hours behind the caravan of leather-clad inbred Wall-Martians was enough for me to call it quits and head back, but the exit was nowhere in sight. Since there was a police car separating me from the sluggish convoy, reaching out for a beer and alleviating my impatience wasn't an option.

I finally made it to the much awaited intersection. In an act of frustration and defiance, I floored the pedal and barreled down the unpaved path to the campground. Once there, I relished in the fact that there was hardly a soul and that I would be spending two full days of self-imposed exile far from the city’s noise and hubbub.

After setting up camp, I tied Blair to a tall sycamore and headed for the nearby dunes with Elie Wiesel's Town Beyond the Wall. Every once in a while, there comes a book that is painful to read; not because it's badly written, but rather since it stirs up my emotions so intensely that I am forced to put it down for fear of an angina. Indeed, Wiesel's Holocaust-related book is one of those intense oeuvres that I can only properly tackle in peaceful - hence calming surroundings.

I eventually settled down on a secluded cliff under a lonely, old and rotting tree. The clouds parted and the sun made a surprise appearance. Since this was a clothing optional campground, there was no reason for me not to shed the burden of attire and be one with nature. I read absorbedly, the mild breeze and the warm rays taking turns in caressing my outstretched nakedness.

I reached a point in the story where the main character had fled to France after surviving the death camps. Wiesel then went on to describe how the protagonist kept receiving unwelcome visits from a fellow survivor. The insistence of the former in refusing the latter's stubbornly recurrent visits and all the bitter memories they represented was analogous to my relationship with Wiesel's book itself. Many a time did I try to finish this book, and yet I was unable to breach that wall of emotion. Nevertheless, Wiesel stubbornly beckoned from the bookshelf and refused to be relegated to a lower perch like Dostoevsky and others before him.

I laid down the book and cupped my chin, fixated on the relevance and universality of that specific metaphor and how it applied to other contexts in my life such as relationships with people, causes and more.
Like Rodin's thinker, I sat on that cliff, hunched over and overcome with introspection. Silence was occasionally punctuated by the rustling of leaves and the occasional bird call.

Suddenly, a loud and shrill shriek punctured the serene stillness.
I looked around frantically, thinking it was someone who had fallen and gotten hurt.

The shriek quickly turned into a whole cacophony of shouts, and they seemed to be approaching. Then, an obnoxiously colorful kite cut through the blue sky a couple of feet away. I looked down from the precipice and saw a dozen naked golden-aged people being led by a bald, pot-bellied man a couple of years their junior. The pudgy Moses was holding up the kite and leading his senile flock through the dunes. I could not make out the specific language being spoken, but I was certain it was Slavic.

As amused as I was by the whole spectacle, my face had not yet recovered from the initial shock. There was a rather heavy-set straggler who struggled to keep up with the other geriatric power-walkers. She probably saw the confused demeanor on my face and quickly offered her apologies for the disturbance. I told her not to worry about it, and I smiled when she cheekily explained in perfect Parisian French: "Pardonnez-nous monsieur, mais nous sommes polonais" Excuse us sir, but we’re Polish.

Oh those zany Poles. Must be the vooodka.

As they disappeared into the horizon, I attempted to revisit Wiesel's book yet could not cleanse my mind of the images of loosely hanging liver-spotted-flesh and shaggy silver-maned genitals. I also figured that to shift from the imagery of a naked jolly frolic to an Auschwitz death march was mentally impossible, not to mention borderline sacrilegious. Defeated by the circumstances, I put the book down.

I hiked back to the camp and took an eagerly awaiting Blair for a swim in a nearby stream. While she was distracted by the small fish, I sunk my body into the icy cold water and did some more pondering.
Here I was, agonizing along with a character from a book set in WWII, while these Poles - who were most probably there at the time, were running naked with their bare behinds insolently and rebelliously mooning the world and its discontents.
Perhaps it was a reminder from above that one shouldn't take life too seriously.
I didn't last long in that stream. Blair and I headed back to the campsite for a nice plate of hummus and a chilled Heineken.
The start of the 2007 camping season approaches; Wiesel's book still begs to be finished.