THE Summer Solstice hit last week, bringing with it, for me, the irresistible urge to take off all my clothes, artfully arrange my Rubenesque body into something a little more Modigliani, then hop onto a bicycle and parade past thousands of strangers.
If not, you obviously aren’t from Seattle, Washington, where we were last weekend. There, the naked bicycle ride by the Solstice Cyclists has been unofficially kicking off the Fremont neighbourhood’s Summer Solstice Parade, Pageant and Fair for many years.
Though there are all kinds of naked bike rides around the world, this ain’t your regular crew of anarchist tub-thumpers reeking of evening primrose oil and quinoa. Rather, this bohemian event is organized by the Fremont Arts Council – “Fremont is a state of mind not a zip code,” its website declares proudly, throwing even commas to the wind -- and it’s the inventiveness of the body paint on the bikers that allegedly thrills the crowd.
“‘Naked’ & ‘nude’ are misnomers, all of the cyclists are PAINTED,” the Fremont Fair’s website says, noting that this is a “Parade For Arts’ Sake.” Yeah, whatever.
The nudity is obviously a huge draw, especially for male viewers, who, as you’re probably aware, can never get enough of it. We took a couple of teenaged boys with us, and they couldn’t believe their luck as pert university-aged girls proudly cycled along the parade route, painted up as any number of animals, flower gardens and superheroes.
My husband Stanley delightedly snapped photographs while I sternly pointed out that he needn’t avert his camera so quickly from the bright pink woman ably impersonating the drag queen and film star Divine, or the pantless, Nordic-looking 60-plus dude with the breastplate and Viking helmet.
The Solstice Cyclists’ own website describes the event as a “fantastic and whimsical celebration of the return of the sun” – not that there was any last Saturday. “The Painted Cyclists engage and entertain the crowd with our boldness, bareness and enthusiasm,” the website promises. “Join us as we welcome summer to Seattle with an outpouring of artistic expression, fossil fuel free travel and fun.”
(That’s the key, folks – if you go alone and are challenged by your partner regarding why you drove several hours south to attend the Fremont Fair, simply say you wanted to bear witness to the fossil fuel-free travel. Your spouse will buy that.)
The truth of the matter is that the Fremont Fair is a helluva good time, and I’m not even getting into the hundreds of kiosks, the food stands, and all the excellent free music, to which oddly dressed people of every age happily dance in the street.
Just ask the small, bearded man of about 90 who positioned himself near one of the stages, facing the passersby rather than the music. He was dressed in a series of long, colourful skirts over the course of the weekend, and waving brilliant chiffon scarves as he danced feebly for hours near a display advertising the joys of Kashi. His performance may have been Kashi-related; quite possibly he wasn’t endorsing anything but the joys of being alive and dancing at 90. Either way, he certainly made me think twice about why I had dismissed the idea of nutritious whole-grained Kashi all these years. “Crunchy clusters, sweet squares, flakes and granola,” Kashi’s website boasts about itself, and there was plenty of all that at the Fremont Fair.
Nevertheless, the in-the-buff bike ride was the highlight. Not only is it amazing to see scores of people display this kind of nerve, especially in the rain, it’s inspiring to see them have so much fun at it. One year, apparently, the police tried to arrest the Solstice Cyclists, so now it’s commonplace to see unclad bike riders painted like English bobbies pretending to chase down the free spirits leading the parade.
My favourite nudie was an artiste with a body like Fred Flintsone, streaked with brown paint that suggested iffy Neanderthal hygiene, wearing long, tangled caveman hair and beard, brandishing a club, with his giant feet pressed to his metal pedals. Stanley lauded certain young, cheery females for obvious reasons, but especially liked the chubby pompadoured Elvis impersonator in the painted-on white jumpsuit; the lean, grinning lad masquerading as the Cat in the Hat; and the Santa who had painted his cherubic body bright red, including his own set of dangling Christmas ornaments.
I say we bring this Fremont tradition to all Canadian parades, which, to my recollection, could really use the boost. Let’s get rid of the fossil fuel vehicles carrying the dreary waving representatives of commercial institutions and political parties and instead represent indigenous cultural icons. In Vancouver, for example, replace them with naked mountain bikers painted as nurse logs and waterfalls, under-slung with bushes of salmon berries. I see bare-naked ladies, representing Lower Mainland gardening clubs, brightly painted as “rhodo warriers.” I picture bicycles dressed up as kayaks and sailboats, piloted by pseudo-skunks, exuberant runs of “salmon” and joyful off-leash dawgs.
I won’t participate, don’t worry -- I’m simply the visionary. Please, my fellow citizens, just make it so.