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I sit without mood above a beach on the northwest coast of Moorea, a green and mountainous island a dozen miles off Tahiti. The beach is narrow, and across it, at intervals, have fallen the gray and ponderous trunks of coconut palms, conjuring up metaphors of an elephants' graveyard. It is afternoon; the myna birds have ceased to whistle in the coconut plantation. Nothing is afoot but the ants. I have placed the cowries I collected—once tenanted by hermit crabs, now by their remains—among them. I see the surf exploding along the distant reef but cannot hear it. Sometimes, when awake at night, baffled in the cocoon of my mosquito netting, altered by islands, I hear a faint, sustained noise like far-off trains and put it down to a changing, rising wind.
After a heavy surf there is a strong northeast littoral current as the water returns through the pass to the open sea—three or four knots at least. Then, if I float on my back, ears submerged—like chambered shells, these, too—borne along by the flow, the pretty reef fishes and the great black sea slugs silent beneath me, I am profoundly enisled. Looking inland I see, as I float by, the waxy fronds of the palms but cannot hear their idle clacking; farther up are the steep and piney mountains. I review murmurs of Melville, who visited here in 1842 when the island was called Eimeo.
Later, when the sun sets, the water is, at first, as green and iridescent as fishes, the surf black, ominous, as though there were incomprehensible warfare on the rim. The wet sand along the irregular margin of the sea shines luminously, and the palms on the offshore islets are silhouetted; they seem to have been laboriously cut out of cardboard for the benefit of tourists. Then the water becomes violet and, lastly, gold, the gold of goldfish. All along the top of the beach, people are, like myself, sitting quietly, embracing their knees.
There is a sudden, powerful humming, intrusively recalling the world elsewhere. The generator has started up, and the lights go on in the thatched huts, or far�s, of the Club M�diterran�e village at my back. They are reflected in the metal collars on the palms that prevent the rats, which I have never seen, from reaching the coconuts. The Club M�diterran�e is a unique and highly successful venture which its founder and president, G�rard Blitz, calls "the biggest athletic club in Europe." It is not, however, precisely an athletic club. It is, rather, a low-cost, group vacation scheme incorporating elements of children's camps, youth hostels, certain Catskill resorts and country clubs.
In addition to the village on Moorea, the Club M�diterran�e has 17 other summer villages and nine winter villages. Most of the summer villages are located on the Mediterranean Sea and its various arms—in Spain, France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, Israel, Tunisia, Morocco and directly on the water: one "village" is a sailboat that cruises the Ionian Sea. The winter villages are situated in the French and Swiss Alps. "My favorite village," says Blitz, "is our isle of Caprera off the northeast coast of Sardinia. On this little island of 130 inlets there isn't anything but the tomb of Garibaldi and us." The club has, at present, 150,000 members, of whom nearly 100,000 are French. There are, besides, 22,000 Belgian, 13,000 British, 7,000 Swiss, 7,000 Italian and 1,500 Scandinavian members. Very few Germans belong to the Club M�diterran�e. "Germans sing very quickly," says Tony Hatot, a friend of Blitz's who helped found the club. "Many people don't like that."
The Club M�diterran�e was established in 1950. That year Blitz, a Belgian who had been an international water polo player; Hatot, a former French swimming champion; and Marcel Hansenne, the celebrated French middle-distance runner, published a "declaration of intentions." "It remains," Blitz said the other day, not without emotion, "our guiding principles."
And it reads, resoundingly: "Between the walls of offices and factories the man of today feels an imperious need to escape. He dreams of a total holiday, but vacations are sown with ambushes, financial worries, hunting for hotels, 'organized' tourism and tourist traps. We do not want any more of these material worries during our holidays. We wish to live among friends in the sun: winter on virgin snow slopes, summer on untrampled sandy beaches. The man of yesterday is out-of-date, the man of tomorrow is already exhausting our imagination, but a new man is in the process of being born. He will overcome the frenetic disequilibrium of our industrial civilization and twice a year rediscover the natural rhythm of life in the privileged space of the villages of the Club M�diterran�e. Promised all kinds of happiness since youth, a newborn man, without age or memory, is inaugurating the most simple game in the world: the great game of total holidays."
Blitz's game is played in Club M�diterran�e villages that range in size from Corfu, which has a capacity of 1,500, to Moorea, which can accommodate 150, but the facilities, the activities and the ambience are all quite similar. By the sea the vacationers live practically alfresco, for the most part in thatched huts, use communal bathing and toilet facilities and eat together in great, airy dining halls. During the day the activities, which are by no means compulsory, are sporting—in the winter villages, skiing; in the summer villages, swimming, skin diving, boating, water skiing, volleyball, p�tanque or boccie, bicycling, table tennis, hiking and fishing. Some villages also offer mountain and rock climbing, tennis, miniature golf, bowling, billiards, badminton, fencing and yoga. Blitz is especially proud of the club's extensive athletic schools: three for skin diving, 13 for sailing, eight for water skiing, six for skiing and two for mountain climbing. Last year the club employed 230 official French ski school instructors.
Blitz has also created impressive libraries and record collections in the villages. He now offers poetry readings and in the next year or two intends to introduce "forums on philosophical topics." At many villages there is entertainment similar in spirit, if not always in execution, to that found in Left Bank cabarets. There are also recorded classical music concerts, often on the beach, party games and dancing; at noon instructors teach le twist and le madison.
If, at night, l'esprit is parisien, during the day it is tahitien, not only in Moorea, which is, in a way, the ideological capital of the Club M�diterran�e, but all along the Med. In all of the club's villages the members wear Tahitian pareus, pay for drinks with green, red and yellow beads that they wear first as a necklace and, as the night progresses, as a bracelet and in general attempt to imitate an ideal vision: the simple and carefree Polynesian life. Newspapers and radios are banned. "Give your transistor a holiday, too," a club brochure requests. "Leave it at home."