Today marks day four of a heatwave where temperatures have soared to 38 degrees each day in Paris.
The French word for swimming pool sounds more like what children might do in the pool, and yesterday I took myself off to the giant barge housing the Piscine Josephine Baker, moored next to the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand in the 13th arrondissement on the banks of the Seine. (piscine-baker.fr)
The website boasts ‘a pool 25 metres long and 10 metres wide, with four lanes open to swimmers of all levels – this one-of-a-kind swimming experience is even more special in summer, when the glass roof opens up to reveal a huge sun deck providing a fabulous view of the Seine. Besides the main 250-m² pool, there is a 50-m² wading pool for children, not to mention solariums, saunas, a hammam, a jacuzzi and a gym featuring fitness and bodybuilding equipment.’
I wasn’t sold on the bodybuilding part, but the idea of floating in a freezing cold public pool (hopefully sans anything rhyming with piscine), by means of playing the heatwave at its own game, was all too tempting.
On Tuesday night, after a successful trip to Monoprix in the heat of the day, I returned home with a lovely new navy blue bathing suit (from the round bottom section of the womens department) matched with a beautiful, plush, yellow beach towel. I poured a freezing cold gin and tonic and listened to the birds chortling outside as the sun remained up (with temperatures to match), well into the night.
By the time I rose yesterday morning, temperatures were already heading towards 30 degrees (before 6.30 am), so I spent the morning not running, but floating around in an Indian dress in front of the fan writing emails and working on my writing.
By mid afternoon I had my new shopping basket packed with my bathing suit, plush towel and enough money to buy ten passes to the pool (I’d read on the website that each individual could buy up to ten entrées at one time).
My map suggested it would be a lovely 30 minute walk to la piscine along the left bank of the Seine, under the shade of the willow trees and away from the chaos of the lunchtime traffic. As I meandered, I practiced my French- I’d like ten passes please, and do you sell water? Can I please have a small locker for my possessions? Do you sell earplugs?
The latter question relates to the alarm that my Chinese acupuncturist Ziggy showed, when a month ago I told him that a noise sounding like a water cooler refilling went off in my head each time I bent over. Upon further inspection, he found both eardrums completely pierced and concluded that they probably have been for over twenty years. I now shower with cotton wool in my ears and must swim with plugs firmly wedged in. The upside of this (and something he found most humorous) is that I don’t get blocked ears on aeroplanes.
After walking in the heat of the day for over 30 minutes, I arrived at la piscine and walked confidently to the door muttering on repeat and under my breath, ‘Je voudrais dix entrees s’il vous plait, et avez vous un petit casier pour mes vêtements?’ (I would like ten passes please, and do you have a small locker for my clothes?). I was chased away by a kind but firm guard who took his job very seriously ‘vous devez faire la queue!’ (You must join the queue!).
Looking over my shoulder and wincing in the sunlight I saw a line (as long and as wide at la piscine itself) against a stone wall and under the shade of three huge trees. Rather than getting bothered (I can’t do that in French yet and didn’t have the strength anyway), I moseyed over to the queue and diligently joined. Parched, I reached into my basket and scrambled for my water. None. I’d left it at home.
One and a half hours later, the guard let us in as groups of people who’d had their fix of cold water and splashing about left, lighting cigarettes as if the end was nigh before rushing towards the shade.
I like the way the French do leisure, 90% of the queue had smoked their way through the wait and not a soul seemed to even mind. By this stage, I was very thirsty and very hot and very much in need of those earplugs along with a ticket to ride and a tall glass of water.
I was considering drinking the pool.
As my turn in the queue arrived, I walked confidently to the woman in charge (a bossy authority wearing a big pink scarf on her head and not an inch of a smile) and asked for ten passes which was met with ‘non’ and a finger pointing at the new rules for the summer months (in French) stating that only individual passes were available at peak times.
How about a bottle of water, ‘non’.
A locker for my possessions ‘oui, un euro.’
A request for some earplugs was met with a shake of the head and I walked away- not without a new bright pink bathing cap and a swipe card for the turnstile.
Naturally, the swipe card didn’t work and I jammed the turnstile which caused a traffic jam of hot and bothered fellow queue members piling up behind me. Returning to my unsmiling friend, I tried to explain that my pass didn’t work which was met with an eye roll and instructions that I had to wait for the light to go blue.
‘I should have known,’ I thought and went back to try again.
Once I was successfully through and in the sterile white tiled room that looked more like an asylum than a change room, I was met with a vision of a whole lot of barely clothed bodies and a pool of water that everyone seemed to wade through with ease, barefoot. I followed their lead and found myself in an extension of the asylum, filled with lockers and change rooms and a man busily swept water and black hairs down a pipe, never to be seen again and away from the beautiful, white tiled floor.
Eventually I worked out how to open the lockers (put in one euro and the key will pop out), I had found a ‘cabine’ to change in and before I knew it (two hours since I’d left the apartment), I was wrestling with my new pink bathing cap poolside.
The sheer joy of the cold water on my extremely hot body is hard to describe. I was so happy and more relaxed than I could ever explain, and I watched with complete wonder as the French just meandered up and down the lanes chatting with the same vigour I assume they might display in a courtroom. No one was there to exercise, bar the group in the farthest of the four lanes who paced up and down under the watchful eye of a lifeguard, whose job was not to save lives, but to shout at anyone who dared enter lane four and slow it down.
Me and my pink cap bobbed up and down- mindful not to get too much water in my ears, and as I looked up to the wide blue Parisian sky I made a mental note to myself that life probably couldn’t get much better.
Only a glass of water or an Aperol spritz could have improved that blissful moment.
Ten minutes into my almost meditative state, a shrill whistle sounded – the lifeguard had left her post and had redirected her shouts towards everyone to evacuate the pool. Because I had very little understanding of what she was in fact saying, I followed the lead of those who did.
They were in no hurry to leave the water, and she just continued to blow the whistle and shout – this went on for at least five minutes until the pool was finally empty.
‘What on earth is going on’ I thought to myself as I picked up my towel and removed my cap, revealing static hair. I walked up to the rooftop and took a position on a sun lounge amongst all the other evictees – all of whom wore bathing suits that edged neatly up their brown bottoms. I felt somewhat outnumbered in my navy blue Monoprix number, but was grateful for the sun that warmed my lily white skin.
Before too long, I realised that we were not getting back into the water in a hurry, so I returned to the ‘cabine,’ pulled on my linens, retrieved my bag and set off. By this stage, I had developed a thirst to rival a thousand camels and was overjoyed when I spotted a vending machine at the far end of the reception area- oh, what joy! I made a mental note that I’d buy four bottles of water and drink them all at once, only to find a note stuck on the machine as I made my my triumphant approach that simply read ‘discontinu’ (broken).
The walk home took me past the seemingly ancient Gare d’Austerlitz (www.gares-sncf.com/fr/gare/frpaz/paris-austerlitz) before I reached the Jardin des Plantes in the 5th Arrondissement. These gardens are beautiful and have become a favourite place of mine for long winter meanders – they are also home to the Museum national d’histoire naturelle (www.mnhn.fr) – one of my favourite buildings in Paris.
I eventually made it to Boulevard St Germain which stretches from the 5th arrondissement to the 7th and my apartment is tucked behind this wonderful stretch in the 6th. I love walking along Bvd St Germain and last night was no exception- the sun danced behind plane trees forming shadows on the street, and I was delighted to find a Monoprix half way home. I bought four bottles of Evian and drank them all as I stood beside a rubbish bin discarding empty bottle after empty bottle, before continuing on my way.
I stopped for dinner at Margherita, a lovely Italian restaurant in the beautiful cour du Commerce Saint Andre – an ancient passage paved with cobblestones only moments from home. Margherita does a delicious salad of raw vegetables topped with fresh mozzarella and at this newly hydrated stage of the day – it was 6.30, breakfast was a long lost memory of twelve hours ago. (I’d gone without lunch because that hour fell in the midst of my four hour swimming escapade- where I swam for a total of ten minutes).
The waiter delivered my long awaited Aperol spritz and I sipped it with a smile on my newly sun kissed face.
With yesterday marking the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, I had hours on my hands when I returned home just after 8pm on the longest day of the year- and didn’t I know it, it wasn’t just the planets celebrating! Having spent the morning work-shopping my blog, I spent the evening on ‘chat’ to San Francisco- trying not to get bothered with the sweet online technician who was doing his ‘level hipster best’ to help me rebuild my website.
By 10pm I had a new look pinnningmywords which is much easier to navigate and is also slightly more chic in its design (well I think so!). It’s far more forgiving to my amateur photos taken on my trusty phone – and, I even managed to figure out widgets and link instagram to my new page.
I’m working towards increasing my subscription numbers and I am always heartened to see commitment from my regular readers!
If you haven’t already signed up you can easily do so on your iPhone by going to the ‘about’ tab and entering your email address at the bottom of the page before hitting ‘follow’ or, if you are on your desktop, laptop or tablet you simply hit the ‘follow’ button on the top right-hand side of the home screen.
Au revoir for now, and thank you for continuing to read my musings as I keep pinningmywords – I look forward to receiving your feedback about my new site!
Pictured: My trusty swimming gear with a spotted scarf to wipe my brow.