Friday, July 18, 2008

REPORTER ARRESTED TRYING TO CRASH BOHEMIAN GROVE

Gawker Vanity Fair writer Alex Shoumatoff got himself arrested for crashing Bohemian Grove, a private men's club in northern California . . . He was there to spy on the three-week camp they hold every July, where rich and powerful relax while living in tents in their private woods. (Nixon was a member, but called it "most faggy goddamn thing that you would ever imagine.")

Bohemian Grove has been arguing amongst themselves for the last few years about a plan to cut down and harvest some of the trees in their forest, ostensibly to prevent forest fires. Member John Hooper resigned in 2004 because of the plan (even though he owns his own forest, which also harvests trees.) Hooper asked Vanity Fair's Shoumatoff (they are former Harvard classmates) to write about the tree-cutting for Vanity Fair, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The connection between Hooper and Shoumatoff pissed off the pro-harvesting club members. They sent a letter to VF editor-in-chief Graydon Carter, but Shoumatoff didn't quit the story. . . . (Spy magazine infiltrated Bohemian Grove in 1989, when Carter was editor there.) . . . We hear that he got into the club briefly before being thrown out.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE GO TO CAMP

PHILIP WEISS, SPY MAGAZINE, 1989 MONTE RIO is a depressed Northern California town of 900 where the forest is so thick that some streetlights stay on all day long. Its only landmark is a kick-ass bar called the Pink Elephant, but a half-mile or so away from "the Pink," in the middle of a redwood grove, there is, strangely enough, a bank of 16 pay telephones. In midsummer the phones are often crowded. On July 21 of this year Henry Kissinger sat at one of them, chuffing loudly to someone -- Sunshine, her called her, and Sweetie -- about the pleasant distractions of his vacation in the forest. We had jazz concert," Kissinger said. "We had rope trick. This morning we went bird-watching."

Proudly Kissinger reeled off the names of some of his fellow campers: "Nick Brady and his brother is here." (Brady was the U.S. Treasury Secretary at the time.) "Tom Johnson is here." (Then the publisher of the Los Angeles Times, who had copies of his newspaper shipped up every day.) "That Indian is here, Bajpai." (He meant Shankar Bajpai, former ambassador to the U.S.) "Today they had a Russian.". . .

The Russian was the physicist Roald Sagdeev, a member of the Soviet Supreme Council of People's Deputies, who had given a speech to Kissinger and many other powerful men too. George Shultz, the former secretary of State, wearing hiking boots, had listened while sitting under a tree. Kissinger had lolled on the ground, distributing mown grass clippings across his white shirt, being careful not to set his elbow on one of the cigar butts squashed in the grass, and joking with a wiry, nut-brown companion. . .

Every summer for more than a century, the all-male Bohemian Club of San Francisco has led a retreat into a redwood forest 70 miles north of the city, four and a quarter square miles of rugged, majestic terrain that members consider sacred. The religion they consecrate is right-wing, laissez-faire and quintessentially western, with some Druid tree worship thrown in for fun. The often bizarre rites have elevated what was once a provincial club for San Franciscans embarrassed by the rude manners of the Wild West into the most exclusive club in the United States, with 2,300 members drawn from the whole of the American establishment and a waiting list 33 years long. . .

My first full-strength dose of Bohemian culture took place. . . the first Saturday night, when after a long day in the Grove I took a seat on the grassy lakeside among 1,500 ocher men for the encampment's famously surreal opening ritual. As the magic hour of 9:15 approached, a helicopter from a network newsmagazine circled frantically far above the darkened forest, searching out a spectacle lit at that point only by the hundreds of cigars whose smokers had ignited them in defiance of the California Forest Service's posted warnings. My neighbor suggested that someone ought to "shoot the fucker down," flashing the press hatred that prevails in Bohemia.

"My friends don't understand this," a pudgy 35-year-old in front of me confided to his companion. "I know that if they could see it, they would see how terrific it is. It's like great sex" It was the sort of analogy I was to hear often in the nearly 60 hours I spent inside the Grove. . .

The walled camps are generally about 100 feet wide and stretch back up the hillside, with wooden platforms on which members set up tents. Bohemians sleep on cots in these tents, or, in the richer camps, in redwood cabins. The camps are decorated with wooden or stone sculptures of owls, the Grove symbol. Members wash up in dormitory-style bathrooms and eat breakfast and dinner collectively in the Dining Circle, a splendid outdoor arena with fresh wood chips covering the ground and only the sky above. It never rains when the encampment is on.

During the day, idleness is encouraged. There are few rules, the most famous one being "Weaving Spiders Come Not Here" -- in other words, don't do business in the Grove. The rule is widely ignored. Another, unwritten rule is that everyone drink -- and that everyone drink all the time. This rule is strictly adhered to. . .

The Bohemian Club's waiting list, which had first appeared away back in the 1920s, grew to ridiculous lengths. I was told that if a Californian is not admitted before he is 30, he can despair of membership unless he achieves commercial or political prominence. Many older men die waiting. And membership comes dear. The initiation fee for regular voting membership is said to be $8,500, and dues are set at more than $2,000 a year. Because the regular members require entertainment, "men of talent" pay greatly reduced fees. On Wouk's acceptance, for instance, he was put to work writing a history of the club. . .

A high point of the middle weekend was the performance of The Low Jinks, the Grove's elaborate musical-comedy show. Over the years the Jinks has become the leading entertainment at the encampment, surpassing the mannered and ponderous Grove Play, which is performed the next weekend. The Jinks is vigorously lowbrow. . .

The girls were all played by men, and every time they appeared -- their chunky legs and flashed buttocks highly visible through tight support hose -- the crowd went wild. After one character called the secretaries in the show "heifers," the audience couldn't resist breaking into "moos" every time they came back onstage. . .

Down by the lake I saw three men lying on the ground, talking. When they got up to go to dinner, one hugged another around the middle from behind and trudged up the bank with him that way, laughing. "Honey, I lost my ring and I want to sell the house," the third one said, mocking a homecoming speech.

The physical aspect of Bohemian male bonding can't be overlooked. Even 100-year-old Grove annals have a homoerotic quality, with references to "slender, young Bohemians, clad in economical bathing suits." Nudity was more common then. Today AIDS has put a damper on the Grove's River Road pickup scene, which Herb Caen used to write about in his San Francisco Chronicle gossip column. Just the same, a man on his own often gets invited back to camps by gay Bohemians. . .


2 Comments:

At July 18, 2008 5:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just the mental picture that came to me of Dick Nixon wandering around an enclave like this was enough to have me nearly off my chair laughing. "Faggy" indeed.

 
At August 29, 2008 4:12 PM, Blogger alesian said...

The problem occur for Bohemian Grove because of the trees.Why Alex Shoumatoff crash that men club.He was not supposed to do that.
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