Carla, my Italian wife, has a small house in a little town on the Adriatic near Ravenna called Lido di Dante, right next to one of the last unspoilt beaches in Italy.
But we cannot go to this spectacular beach because even though it is una spiaggia libera (open to all and free) and therefore di tutti (everyone’s) it is infested with nudists and their related sub-species: guardoni (voyeurs), scambisti (wife-swappers), group-sex freaks, transsexuals, bisexuals — plus several other creatures yet to be classified by scientists.
Needless to say Dante’s Beach, which is named after the poet who died in Ravenna in 1321, has got a bit of a reputation and is very popular with a certain type of German and Swiss.
Even if we did not have five small children, and even if the nudists were just nudists, we would not be able to use the beach because we find the sight of other people’s naked bodies in a public place frankly obscene and disturbingly insane. A nudist would not shop in the high street, or turn up for work stark naked, would he? (They are nearly all men.) So why on a beach?
Like us, the silent majority finds such mass nudity obscene, so it cannot use the beach either. The silent majority, unlike the obscene minority, therefore has no rights in this infernal paradise: Lido di Dante is thus a perfect metaphor for modern Europe.
I am a libertarian and have nothing against nudism on nudist beaches, just as I have nothing against lunatics in lunatic asylums. But here’s the funny thing: Dante’s Beach is not a nudist beach. In fact, nudism is a criminal offence, as the signs clearly state: ‘Naturism is not allowed on this beach. Indecent exposure is punishable under the Penal Code (art. 527 of the Penal Code: Imprisonment for a term between three months and three years). Any offence against public decency is also punishable (art. 726 of the Penal Code: Imprisonment for a period up to one month or fine ranging from €10 to €206).’
But, hey, this is Italy. So moral, legal and political chaos is the result. The nudists started to colonise Dante’s Beach at about the time of the Summer of Love in 1967. The mere sight of them was enough to scare nearly everyone else off but the police and politicians did nothing. They were afraid to upset the locals: Dante’s Beach had rapidly become a very lucrative open-air version of New York’s Plato’s Retreat.
In 2002, the mayor of Ravenna city council, an ex-communist (they all are round here), authorised nudism for the first time on a one-kilometre stretch of the three-and-a-half-kilometre beach. The nudists had won. But then in 2006 the regional government of the Emilia-Romagna decided to get all teutonic for some weird reason: yes, nudist beaches could exist in the region but only with toilets and lifeguards. Dante’s Beach is in a nature reserve and so nothing can be built on it, not even a toilet. No more nudismo! I recall high-fiving Carla when I read the news. But of course, this being Italy, the law is one thing, the reality quite another.
The Guardia Forestale (park rangers) are in charge of policing Dante’s Beach, its gentle dunes and the perfumed pine forest behind it. Last spring they at long last decided to enforce the law and in the space of a month or so swooped from the dunes to pounce on about 80 nudists and fine them. But when the nudists appealed against the fines (many nudists are lawyers), judges in Ravenna took their side: nudism, said the judges, even if against the law, is permissible on the beach because it has been ‘normally and traditionally frequented’ by nudists. Message: in Italy, if you break the law and get away with it for long enough, you no longer break the law!
There is, however, a small light at the end of the tunnel. Green politics is all the rage these days and the beach is home to a tiny, once-common species of bird called the fratino (Kentish plover in English) which is now under threat of extinction. At Lido di Dante, thanks to the presence of all those nudists and their sub-species, only a dozen of these birds which nest directly on the sand in the dunes and line their nests with tiny sea-shells remain. Last year, they failed to produce any young. And then, on 19 July 2012, arsonists — who have never been caught — set fire to the priceless pine forest and destroyed 65 hectares of it (about half), destroying much of the fratino’s habitat.
Perhaps God himself had intervened to stop the destructive human obscenity. Or Dante. Because this year the Forestale closed nearly all the beach and the entire forest to ‘the public’ — i.e. the nudists — who were literally fenced inside what they call ‘a ghetto’, on a few hundred metres of beach — until the fratino finished breeding on 29 July. The nudists are hopping mad but being so very ex-communist and so very in touch with nature and such devout believers in man-made global warming and all that nonsense, what could they possibly say? Green power trumps naked power.
On the 29th the Forestale opened a further kilometre of beach to ‘the public’ for the rest of the summer. But check this out: no umbrellas or protective constructions of any kind, in wood or any other material, will be tolerated. In the heat of the Italian summer, without shade, Dante’s Beach becomes infernal. Roast nudist, anyone?