What do a nudist colony, masked ball and a secret restaurant have in common? I’d never considered this question before last night, when I sat down at one of the tables with our diners. I was wondering what made this table so special; they guests were laughing much louder than those at the other tables. And then I overheard a few words that piqued my interest. “Fetish” and “shopping for groceries completely nude.” I turned to the guest on my right and he understood the blank look on my face. He said, “You should hear what she’s been telling us about! It’s hysterical.” After a few minutes I managed to catch up. The dinner guest to my left, a blond, sophisticated, 40-something, New Yorker who’d been living in London since the 70s, was regaling the table with stories of her dating exploits, sex clubs and nudist resorts.
“It’s really extraordinary,” continued the dapper looking gentleman on my right, who’d come with a ravishing young woman, possibly Russian or Eastern European. He went on to say that you could never have a conversation like this at a “normal” dinner party, or in a “normal” restaurant.
This is what is so great about secret restaurants and eating dinner with a bunch of strangers who have purposely come to meet strangers themselves. Last night there were at least six single people, eight if you count the couple that consider themselves singles because they swing. Many people come alone, knowing that they will be warmly welcomed by everyone. “The conversations are so authentic,” he went on to say. And it’s true. It is really extraordinary. I used to host costume parties when I was in my 20s and remember loving them so much, realizing that I liked people much better when they were wearing masks. Or weren’t wearing the masks of their daily routines: banker, tailor, housewife or diplomat. The costumes gave them permission to be more of themselves. It made them so much more honest.
I moved between the two conversations, one an observation of the other and one an account of all the things you do in the nude in a nudist resort. Her partner, or sometimes partner, recounted their recent trip to Cap D’agde in France. “She turned up with a suitcase smaller than her hand bag!” “Well,” she said, “I only really needed my toothbrush and toiletries as there is nowhere you are even allowed to wear clothes once you’ve check in. “Oh my God,” he said. “It was the first time I packed more than a woman. I thought I’d get away with a swimming suit and some shorts, but no way.”
I haven’t been to a nude beach since I was a kid, and I don’t remember liking it all that much. I was with my hippie mom, in California. But I suspect there is something quite liberating about it. Leave your façade at home and turn up just as you were born, fresh and innocent. Well, maybe that is going a little too far as it doesn’t sound like our swinging singles are all that innocent. Anyway, I can see the attraction to the authenticity and lack of pretensions. Our clothes speak volumes about us. Maybe too much. They also give us something to hide behind. And in a way our friends are like our clothes in that they too tend to be a reflection of our social and economic status. Escaping the predictable conversations that come from being with others like you is refreshing. Seeing yourself reflected in the eyes of strangers is like looking into a sparkling new mirror or suddenly being able to see.
Eating in a secret restaurant is like taking your clothes off in front of strangers, or hiding behind a plumed principessa mask. In taking it all off you’re able to put on your childlike enthusiasm for everything new and different.