Tuesday, October 06, 2009

“the weekend bottles of milk that no baby will consume”

Claude Levi-Strauss’ description of Fire Island, circa 1950:

“Fire Island … is a narrow strip of sand, devoid of vegetation, off the coast of Long Island [New York]. It is literally a strip, eight kilometres long, but only two or three hundred metres wide. On the Atlantic side, the open sea is too rough for bathing. On the landward side, the sea is always calm but the water is too shallow for swimming. The oly pastime is catching non-edible fish; at regular intervals along the beaches, there are notices stating that the fish should not be left to rot but should be at once buried in the sand. The dunes on Fire Island are so shifting, and their hold on the sea so precarious, that further notices warn the public to keep off in case they should collapse into the water below. The place is like an inverted Venice, since it is the land that is fluid and the canals solid: in Cherry Grove, the village occupying the central part of the island, the inhabitants must obligatorily use a network of wooden footbridges forming a road system on stilts.

“To complete the picture, I must add that Cherry Grove is chiefly inhabited by male couples, attracted no doubt by the general pattern of inversion. Since nothing grows in the sand, apart from the broad patches of poisonous ivy, provisions are collected once a day from the one and only shop, at the end of the landing-stage. In the tiny streets, on higher ground more stable than the dunes, the sterile couples can be seen returning to their chalets pushing prams (the only vehicles suitable for the narrow paths) containing little but the weekend bottles of milk that no baby will consume.

“Fire Island gives an impression of gay farcicality …”

Hm. Should one take offense at this? Probably. But it’s an interesting picture of a gay island retreat from the standard hostility of the time.

source: Tristes Tropiques, by Claude Levi-Strauss

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