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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nudists Shed All But Their Complexes

Listening to politicians' lying is always tiring. In a heat wave, it becomes unbearable. Where can you go in this sweaty election season to cool off and find a little honesty?

"Try the nudist beach," said a friend. Yes, indeed, here at least there should be people comfortable with the naked truth.

The beach is at Serebryany Bor, the "Silver Forest," a parkland of pines and sand dunes down by the Moscow River. Until recently it was a very respectable area. I remember attending a garden party at the British Embassy dacha there. A string quartet of Japanese schoolgirls played on the lawn.

But Serebryany Bor is changing. For the last three summers, since the police have stopped harassing them, it has been the gathering place for a growing number of Russians who refuse to wear clothes.

The nudists are at the farthest edge of the park. You walk past groups of dressed families picnicking and people swimming in bathing costumes until you come to a no-man's land in the sand. There's no fence or sign. People just know that beyond here is the Garden of Eden.

I ventured in, undressed and lay down under a willow near the water. There was an atmosphere of tangible calm. In the section where people still adorned themselves, however scantily, radios blared and adolescents strutted aggressively. But here were only the sounds of nature and, it seemed, sincerity and goodwill among men.

They were mostly men, in fact. Russian women have yet to become nudists in large numbers. It took me a while to summon enough confidence to go out interviewing with only my sunglasses and a notebook behind which to hide.

I approached Igor first because he appeared harmless, happily exposing his rolls of fat and not caring how silly he looked with a little piece of paper stuck over his nose to protect him from the sun.

"I like to blow the cobwebs off after winter," he said, "and I can't be bothered to keep getting in and out of my trunks when I go swimming. There's no deeper meaning in it than that for me."

Roman was more philosophical. "I want to be at one with the Earth," he said. "If people can be naked, it means they are at peace with themselves."

But not all nudists were as relaxed as this bald guru. Some revealed their inner tensions by smoking even as they strolled naked. Others had kept their watches on and glanced at them nervously. A body builder modelled his muscles as if they were designer clothes. "Will you keep an eye on my trousers while I swim?" asked another, evidently unable to trust his fellow nudists.

Yury and Yury, two young friends who had stripped off army uniforms, invited me to drink a beer. "There's nothing sexual in this," said Yury One. "Oh no," said Yury Two. "Women are more erotic when they are dressed."

Afterwards, I overheard the guys dismissing me as I was obviously pushing forty and later they picked up a couple of bouncy girls half my age.

How idiotic it all was. The patently naked politicians trying, like the emperor in the fairy tale, to persuade the people they were wearing new clothes. And the people, trying to persuade themselves and others they were naked, still wearing all their old complexes and vanities.