Naked in the Sun

Apropos of nearing the unofficial end of the travel season,  a little of that voodoo that some do so well. Paul Bowles (1910-1999) was an American expat novelist, travel writer and composer. After living in Paris and New York in the 30’s, he ventured to North Africa and, with a few exceptions, never left, spending most of his life in Tangier. The following is an excerpt from The Age of Monsters, from the book, Let It Come Down

Outside the wind blew by; in here there was nothing but the beating of the hot sun on the skin. he lay a while, intensely conscious of the welcome heat, in a state of self-induced voluptuosness. When he looked at the sun, his eyes closed almost tight, he saw webs of crystalline fire crawling across the narrow space between the slitted lids, and his eyelashes made the furry beams of light stretch out, recede, stretch out. It was a long time since he had lain naked in the sun. he remembered that if you stayed long enough the rays drew every thought out of your head. That was what he wanted, to be baked dry and hard, to vaporous worries evaporating one by one, to know finally that all the damp little doubts and hesitations that covered the floor of his being were curling up and expiring in the great furnace-blast of the sun. Presently he forgot about all that, hs muscles relaxed, and he dozed lightly, waking now and then to lift his head above the worm-eaten gunwale and glance up and down the beach. There was no one. Eventually he ceased doing even that. At one point he turned over and lay face down on the hard-packed sand, feeling the sun’s burning sheet settle over his back. The soft, regular cymbal-crash of the waves was like a distant breathing of tyhe morning; the sound sifted down through the myriad compartments of the air and reached his ears long afterward. When he turned back and looked straight at the sky it seemed farther away than he had ever seen it. Yet he felt very close to himself, perhaps because in order to feel alove a man must first cease to think of himself as being on his way.There must be a full stop, all objectives forgotten. A voice says, “Wait,” but he usually will not listen, because if he waits he may be too late. Then, too, if he really waits, he may find that when he starts to move again it will be in a different direction, and that also is a frightening thought. Because life is not a movement toward or away from anything; not even from the past to the future, or from youth to old age, or from birth to death. The whole of life does not equal the sum of its parts. It equals any one of the parts; there is no sum. The full-grown man is no more deeply involved in life than the new-born child; his only advantage is that it can occasionally be given him to become conscious of the substance of life, and unless he is a fool he will not look for reasons or explanations. Life needs no clarifying, no justification. From whatever direction the appraoch is made, the result is the same: life for life’s sake, the transcending fact of the living individual. In the meantime you eat. And so he, lying in the sun and feeling close to himself, knew that he was there and rejoiced in the knowledge.