samedi 21 février 2009

Going Swimming

We had another experience with the French concept of hygiene on Wednesday when we decided to go swim laps at the public indoor pool. Josh called ahead of time to see what the “requirements” were. Normally in France, you can’t wear board shorts or swim trunks in a public pool because it’s “unhygienic.” You may have been wearing them all day, on the bus, around town, etc. We also had to stop at Decathlon, a great sporting goods store (where I bought my amazing yoga pants), to grab goggles and obligatory swim caps.

It was sunny and warm as we walked to the pool, about 20 minutes away from our apartment. We paid our entry fee and left the lobby by the “men’s” and “women’s” doors to go through the system of changing and showering rooms.

The French are very serious about the cleanliness of their public pools. After changing into my swimsuit, signs instructed me to take a shower before entering the pool area. Other signs reminded me that it was my responsibility to keep the water clean for everyone. I half expected a visit from Smokey the Bear’s cousin. . . Splashy the Bear? Bubbles the Fish? Anyway, after exiting the shower room, the smell of chlorine made it very clear I was about to enter the pool area—but to my surprise, there was another hallway to go down. The last ten feet of the hallway was a sunken area filled with two or three inches of circulating water, I guess to get rid of any lingering traces of footborne dirt. Just as I cleared the pond, the motion-activated showers came on. They missed me and my bag of dry towels by inches.

I waited for Josh for what seemed like ten minutes, watching the hallway beyond the foot pond for his signature tropical patterned swim trunks. The automatic showers were no respecter of persons, and several fully-dressed moms bringing their kids to swimming lessons got a drenching. I was a little relieved that other people were bewildered by the system, too.

I watched each pair of calves coming down the steps to the foot pond, but they usually turned into complete legs topped by black speedos—not Josh. But then one pair of black speedos was on a body with Josh’s recognizable gait, topped by his familiar bearded face. It took me a while to stop laughing at him. It turned out that a “boxer,” which the woman on the phone told him he could wear, is only a speedo with slightly fuller coverage, like a boxer brief. Josh’s swim trunks were right out. So, to preserve the hygiene of the pool, the people at the coat check loaned him an extra swimsuit.

The pool was beautiful. The afternoon light slid in through giant windows all around, and the huge lofted roof opens for summer. The day was nice enough that it there was a giant slit running down the center of the ceiling and we could see the blue, blue sky. Once we got in the water, I was having so much fun that I forgot to make fun of Josh in his speedo (never mind that everyone else had one on). He got his come-uppance, though, when we got out of the pool and I took off my goggles. They’d suctioned so tightly to my eye sockets that they’d given me two giant hickeys. Then, on the way out, we noticed the swim cap/goggle/swimsuit vending machine in the lobby. If Josh had known about it, he would have been spared from wearing the Aix-en-Provence community speedo. We laughed at each other the whole way home.

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