To trumpet a history of sun bathing is by current standards as seductive as proclaiming a lifetime of cigarette smoking. It’s plainly no longer fashionable. But after lying in the sun this afternoon by the pool for about two hours I am reminded of what it is about sun bathing that so captivates me. My earliest recollection of my trance with the warmth and effect of the sun is oddly a wintertime memory. My longtime friend Max and I used to walk about the campus when we were at boarding school together. If it were a sunny day I would make a point of throwing myself upon the snow with my arms and legs splayed (in the fashion of making a snow angel) and lie there with the sun beating upon me, jokingly urging, “Burn, Baby! Burn!” Of course it was pointless to expect that I’d get anything approaching a tan from such an interlude. However in the warmer days of late Spring I would take a break from my studies by going to the back fields of the campus where I would sprawl upon a towel in the warm sun. That was serious business and though I may live to regret it, at the time it did a lot to advance the brownish colour of my skin.
A more glamorous rendition of sun bathing was when I was about seventeen years old traveling with my family on the Costa Brava in Spain. We had a beachside “apartmento” for a month. Every morning around 10:00 o’clock after the Mediterranean fog burned off, I crossed the esplanade to the beach where, lathered in copious amounts of Sea and Ski suntan lotion (the stuff in the iconic dollar green plastic container), I alternated between the beach and the sea. When I subsequently arrived in Paris, France to meet another of my school chums he told me he didn’t recognize me when I was standing on the opposite side of Avenue des Champs-Élysées waiting for him; he thought I was a black man!
While studying at university and law school I returned to my parents’ home in the summers. At the age of 18 I had begun what was to become a lifetime affair with the bicycle. I spent almost my entire spare time cycling on the splendid paths which crisscrossed Ottawa and the nearby Gatineau Hills. When the weather permitted I would wear only my tattered bicycle shorts to afford maximum exposure to the sun. As a result I cultivated a deep tan. Sometimes after cycling I would relax in the sun on a chaise longue in the back yard of my parents’ home. The summer of Articles after graduating from law school saw me bicycling about 100 miles per week, a lonely existence following the dissolution of my engagement to be married, but otherwise healthful and colourful as a result.
It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I could afford to take holidays on my own yet it was only for a week at a time and most often no more than twice a year – once for a week around Labour Day and later for a week in the winter. When I was on Cape Cod in September I virtually maintained office hours at the beach. I deliberately walked to the beach from Provincetown so that I could maximize my exposure to the sun. I would remain in the sun for the entire day, sometimes returning to the Town looking terribly red. Yet in spite of the foolishness of such over-exposure I invariably felt terrific after a day in the sun. Whether there is any truth to the Vitamin D theory about the sun I have no idea, but something about the sun made me feel especially good. Naturally there was a measure of vanity at play and I did everything possible to capitalize upon the effect of a deep tan – wearing lemon coloured clothing, shiny jewellery and watches, that sort of thing. But the predominant motive was always the rejuvenating internal effect of the sun upon my body and soul.
When I was not going on southern vacations I had to satisfy myself with only an occasional bit of lounging on the small back porch of my house. Because the house faced southwest, the afternoon sun could become incredibly hot in the summer. Sunbathing in that context hardly compared favourably with sitting on a beach or beside a pool. If I needed a pool I had to settle for one at the better hotels, specifically those which had outdoor pools which are not exactly common in Canada. The former Four Seasons Hotel on Sherbrooke Street in Montréal had one such pool but sunbathing there was at the mercy of the hour of the day as the pool was on the third level of the hotel surrounded by office buildings.
It has only been in the past five years of my life that my winter holidays have been extended. After much trial and error our destination is Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The weather there is never what you’d call hot though it hasn’t prevented me from getting some colour while reclining on the beach or by the pool. Obviously the necessity to dress for the weather mitigates against getting a full body tan but that is rather more a bonus than a disappointment at my age. Happily I am still able to combine the glorious sunshine with my love of bicycling.
The Everly Brothers
“Kentucky sunshine makes the heart unfold
It warms the body
And I know it touches the soul“