Because I was an ex-Archduke, that crazy back-to-nature colony made the great concession of permitting me to wear trousers and even a top coat when I witnessed their naked moonlight dances at Ascona, Italy. Queer, indeed, are the workings of the human mind. At first I had no idea why Graeser and his wife, two fantastic missionaries of that cult, had made such a drive to convert my wife and me to their gospel of no meat, no clothes, no money, no property, no artificiality of any sort. Nothing could be more artificial than an hereditary title, and yet that was why they yearned for me.
In the previous chapter it was explained that after I finally ejected those half-naked and unattractive exhorters from our home at Zug, Switzerland, my wife Johanna manifested a strange change of mind and began hinting that perhaps we really ought to be fair and visit our tormentors at their colony, just to see if there was anything in it. With all the firmness of a hen-pecked husband, I put my foot down hard on these suggestions. Then, one unlucky day, one of her sisters arrived for an indefinite visit.
I won’t explain again why I disliked my empty-headed sisters-in-law, and must admit that this one, on this occasion, had some sense, as I saw from her expression of disapproval the next time Johanna advocated a pilgrimage to Ascona. By this time we had been married long enough for me to read certain signs in my wife’s behavior, and I knew that sooner or later she was going to visit that colony regardless of my wishes. It occurred to me that if I yielded now her sister would have to go along, and that this might rouse her opposition.
Sure enough, it did. The sisters wrangled merrily for a week. In the end Johanna won, because just at this critical time came some incoherent scrawls from Graeser, written on the backs of sugar bags and soiled wrapping paper, childish drivel with hardly any sense. I handed them over to the women, thinking that such silliness would disgust them; but not at all. That is just the right sort of propaganda for founding cults. If the messages had been clear and intelligible, one could have reasoned and picked
flaws in them. Being nonsense, this could not be understood; therefore it was mystic which most people think means too deep for ordinary minds.
Often I had told those girls to use their heads, which was a mistake, as I now saw when they tried to on those messages. By the end of the week Johanna had talked her sister into a reluctant consent, and we were on our way. Both women were dressed in brand-new clothes and the height of fashion. With rash sarcasm, I asked if that was appropriate costume for calling upon cave men. My wife’s answer floored me.
“Do you wish me to travel in their costume?” she demanded. “I understand that a fig leaf is considered full dress.”
After that I decided to let them run this tour in their own sweet way. I even made no comment when we missed the first train because the women put in too much time having their hair dressed in the latest mode at the beauty parlor. As the train passed the frontier into Italy I was pleased to note a growing coldness between my wife her sister. Heaven knows that sister-in-law of mine was not oversupplied with intelligence; she was vain, giddy and fad devoted all her modest income to clothes. Nevertheless, the was a normal woman, her instincts were right, and they were telling her right then that this nudity cult was all wrong.
I thought so, too, but I held the regulation moralist’s view that if women were permitted to go around without clothes, all standards of morality between the sexes would be wrecked. I was soon to learn that the moralists and I were mistaken. From my experience at that colony, I am convinced that the surest way to kill the interest of the sexes in each other would be to abolish clothing. That is what my sister-in-law’s instincts told her and my wife’s did not. When a woman’s instincts go wrong, she is like a yacht without ballast or rudder.
We had both been quick to note that my wife was more moody than usual. Sha behaved almost as though some hidden evil forces were at work within her, impelling her to make this eccentric pilgrimage, and I was inclined to agree with my sister-in-law when, on our arrival at Locarno, she said, imploringly: “Let’s turn back.”
But, having gone thus far, Johanna was determined to go forward. Indeed, had we refused to accompany her, I feel sure that she would have continued the journey alone. To reach Ascona we had to climb a steep hill on foot, since there was no practicable carriage-way, and even on reaching the top of it we still could not find Monte Verita (Mountain of Truth), which was the delightful name which we understood that Graeser had given to the headquarters of his mad colony.
“Da quest! matti?” (to those madmen?), a genial Italian peasant laughed on our asking him the way, and when the same man led us through what was practically bog-land to our journey’s end, I suspected that it must have been from a sense of satire that Graeser had christened the spot “Monte Verita.” Certainly the fantastic pictures he had painted of it to us strayed far
from the truth.
We had imagined it to be a beautiful, sunlit Arcardia, luxuri-inl w i t h vegetation nnrl flowing
with milk ami Imiio.y. True, this day of our visit
was d u l l and depressing—and he could not control
the elen/cnls. But even so, this much-vaunted
back-io-nalure colony, to which our peasantguide-
pointed us, comprised only a few small
fjatelior. of uncultivated ground, .split off one
fniifi tin.- (,thi:r by c r u d t l y built lev/ stone walhi,
. Uui-. j j t ; / f i i l t i f i £ a link- private f a / r l i l y – l i f f c , app:
u’.-n|.]y; ii, )),(. various ri,t:tii)>t-r?. of tht colony
should t|,ty wish. Add between these stone
w;ills w<:re wed in. r] hastily improvised wooden urr-s. h.-mlly worth the dipnily of being "My poor sister, I see that you have yet to be led into the true light," he said as he wrested the umbrella from her. "Stay with us for a while and then sex will mean no more to you than it means to the birds of the air." I still can see the look of infinite pity for her shining in Graeser's eyes as she gave him this repulse. It proved to me that, mad zealot though he might me, he was a man simple in heart, incapable of lustful thoughts. Meanwhile, Graeser himself sprawled in his naked austerity full-length on the ground, and so [?]udly did he beam on his wife when she reentered the hut, carrying a dilapidated basket in one hand and that old tin can in the other, that one might have thought that she was about [?]lay before us a meal fit for Francis Joseph himself. Leopold Woelfling, San Antonio Light (Beilage The American Weekly), Vol. 50, 21. Dezember 1930, Nr. 337. S.10-11, S. 16.