Swimming in Paris
by Laurie Frankel
I am an avid swimmer. It is my church/temple/zen/crack. Imagine my delight upon moving to Paris at learning there are 39 municipal pools—each 25-50m, clean with hot showers, individual changing rooms and secure lockers all for 3€ a pop (or less if you buy a pass). Cue the Flipper music! Or not…
No matter when—I have swum in six different pools on every day of the week from 7:00am – 9:45pm—Paris pools are crowded (think: spawning salmon) with people who swim slower than coral. I googled “swimming in Paris shit show” and found a real blog post. I have swum into enough feet to write a book on the state of the french pedicure (or lack thereof).
Bottom line: Parisians love to swim…slowly. Some appear as if they swim quickly—arms windmilling, legs beating, the water a white froth and somehow manage to almost stay in place. Woman in full make-up and polka-dotted bikinis sporting fins! cling to boards kicking as if their lives depended on it. Where are they going? That’s right, nowhere. Two people chat while doing the breast stroke side-by-side in a lane they’re supposed to be sharing, with me. Do they care? No, they do not. It’s like I’m Michael Phelps here, lapping everyone including the muscly men stuffed into tiny sacks of lycra. How can this be? It’s like a physical impossibility—with smoke, mirrors, water—made possible. (And yes, there are a handful of private clubs with pools but they are usually short in far away places…like most of the men I meet.)
For those not familiar with the basic etiquette of swimming, allow me:
Etiquette point #1: lanes are cordoned off with floating lines. People swim down the lane on the right and back up the lane on the left. This is called swimming in a circle which would be genius if French swimmers understood geometry or locomotion. There is also an area without lane lines for free swim, a place where people swim zig zag, do water ballet (not making this up) or hang out and adjust their junk (more on this later).
Etiquette point #2: Just as a car going 0 mph does not enter highway traffic without some leeway neither should a swimmer push off at the exact moment another swimmer—moi—is jetting into the wall to turn and yet nine times out of ten ça arrive. It’s like a primitive fight/flight response kicks in and off they go…nowhere…again. No one sees anything wrong with this.
Etiquette point #3: Some pool lanes are labelled: fast, medium, slow, fins, no fins but this doesn’t deter anyone from jumping in the “fast” lane and doing the sidestroke while holding an umbrella drink. It just doesn’t. And no one says anything because that would be directly confronting an issue and the last time a French citizen directly confronted anything was the storming of Versailles…and look where that got them. Ah, but that’s another topic for another blog.
One day I got into the pool just as the facility opened. I hopped in and swam like a fungus clinging to the side of the pool, back and forth minding what I thought was my own business when this manatee in dark blue panties tsunami’d right in front of me. When I asked, in French, what he was doing, point d’exclamation, he said, swimming, which given the context was hard to argue. I once swam with manatees in Florida or rather hung with them as manatees don’t really swim and now I can say I did it in Paris as well.
The other day at yet another pool I watched as they lowered bikes, yes bikes, into the lane in which I was swimming. If you’re trying to bike to Atlantis I have just the pool for you. I scooted over a tad and found I could swim past the bikes so I thought, pas de problème. Then this very chipper woman in an official-looking t-shirt asked if I would drape a weighted line across the lane to close off the bike area from swimmers. Ok, so now the lane was shorter but I could still swim. Then I got kicked out of the lane entirely because this woman, a Professeur, was giving one woman a lesson in the backstroke. After the backstroker swam a few yards the Prof said, bon.
After an annoying Paris swim there are hot showers with which to soothe oneself. Many of the showers are mixte, which means men and women shower together so no disrobing, but does that stop men from full-on digging into their nether regions and “rearranging” their junk? No, it does not. At one facility the showers were separate, but were open to the pool. Did that stop women from exposing their breasts and lathering up? Right.
Not surprisingly, swimming for me went from a Zen practice to a scene out of “Call of Duty”. On the plus side, I got stronger because I had to swim around so many log lumps and I learned to yell in French. On the negative side, well see above.
You know how when you’re looking for a job/love life you’re supposed to tell everyone you know on the outside chance a person might know someone who you could work for/get naked with? Same goes for swimming in Paris. Now I hesitate to share this next part in case this blog goes viral but here goes. On a meetup walk I shared my plight with a Parisian and she suggested I look into a “club de natation” (swim club). I found about eight online, emailed six, two responded et voilà!—for a small fee I can swim with each, one night a week at a pool that’s around the corner with no more than 0-2 people sharing my lane. No more manatees, umbrella drinkers, side strokers! As for showering with near-naked men arranging their junk? Well, you can’t have everything or, depending on your perspective, you can!
Writer and humorist Laurie Frankel knows pain is the root of all comedy and is thrilled her life is so damn funny. Her literary work has appeared in Shenandoah, The Literary Review, Sequestrum, North American Review, Belleville Park Pages, Alaska Quarterly Review and New Orleans Review among others. Her books include “I Wore a Thong for This?!” and “There’s a Pattern Here & It Ain’t Glen Plaid.”: “. . . laugh-out-loud funny . . . great practical suggestions . . . A quirky, earnest guide to regaining self-esteem for the modern woman.” — Kirkus Reviews. She is the winner of the 2014 Time and Place Prize, Brittany France and the 2014 Walker Percy Prize in Short Fiction. Visit her blog at http://www.frankelymydear.com.