Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Passing gloom

The day has cracked open and oozes morning air. Bruises are blooming all over my body, my long straight hair is curly, and a passerby dodges my chlorine sneeze as I make my way home through the haughty silence of the ninth arrondissement. It's only 8 am and i've already banged and bonged my way forty times up and down a Paris pool, listening to muscles I'd forgotten could speak. Nothing like an early morning battle to fight a passing gloom.

And battling your way in a straight line, up and down a Paris swimming pool, and even just getting safely from the pool to the change rooms, is no small feat.

Paris pools are full of people just there for a flap. And these flappers can boogie underwater and blow bubbles and what not in any lane they wish. It doesn't matter how slow you are, you are free to swim with the fasties. French égalité at its finest?

It wasn’t like that in my hometown Sydney where all the lanes of the pool were
clearly marked: super fast swimmers – freestyle only, fast swimmers – still freestyle only, medium to rare swimmers, backstrokers etc, and a big penned off area for `people just here to get wet and flap around'.

Not only were the lanes signposted but they were patrolled to ensure people respected the signposts. Official looking swimming guards timed swimmers in the fast lane – if you weren’t fast enough, you had to high-tail it out of there to a more suitable lane. Timers had no qualms about shouting out your speed in front of a full pool.

At my Paris pool there is only one lane that has any markings, it says that it is for
rapide swimmers, but no one takes much notice of this. You often find people with floaties dilly-dallying about here. Being a die hard free styler, the swimmers I hate most are the breast strokers. I’m quite a fast swimmer (by French public pool standards anyway) and trying to overtake these frog-kickers, invariably oblivious as to how less-than-rapid they actually are, without getting socked in the head with a foot or a loose body part is near impossible.

I get on better with the other freestylers, That is, except for Le Phoque. A large, slippery man who swims dead smack in the middle of the go and return lanes. When he slaps against me, which is so often that I am beginning to suspect his intentions may not be entirely honourable, he slips over me like a seal and the sensation of having been sealed up remains with me until I am well and truly showered.

The danger is not just in the water but out of the water as well. Over-friendly Maitre Naguers, remarking my accent when I cry out in pain, sidle up to me in that French man spies foreign girl kind of way, and despite my matted hair, goggle-marked eyes and evident pot belly, ask me to perform all kind of acts for them, usually the first thing that pops into their water-logged heads. Sometimes they just ask me out for coffee, but one once asked me to translate Jack le Ripper for him in exchange for swimming lessons. I was less disturbed by the content of the text he wanted me to translate than that he thought I needed swimming lessons.