A (longish) postcard from Paris: swimming at Piscine Pontoise

Piscine Pontoise - Swimming in Paris 5(*) The streets of the Latin Quarter are eerily quiet at 7am on a grey Monday morning. Gone are the revellers who lined Place Contrescarpe until late on a Sunday night. So where are they now?

Fear not, the students and workers of Paris are not sleeping off a well-earned hangover: they are packed into the swimming lanes of Piscine Pontoise. Yes, the same Piscine Pontoise featured so famously in ‘Three Colours: Blue’, starring Juliette Binoche. The same three decks of private change-rooms surrounding the pool; the same blue and white decoration. But I think there the similarities end.

Swimming in Paris: bright, early, and hidden

Juliette’s first task would have been to find Piscine Pointoise, tucked away as it is in a side street off a side street, behind a row of cafes. The next task would be to arrive when the pool is open. (This was less of a problem for Madame Binoche as she swam solo and seemed to have a secret key.) But opening hours for Monday morning are 7am to 8.30am, so it’s an early start – scarcely time to sleep off the hangover.

Handing over my 4.80 euros, the implausibly handsome man explains that everyone has a private change-room, so there’s no need for a locker – just pull it shut when you are changed and then a man will open it for you on your return. Up the stairs I go!

From here I can see the whole pool, six lanes that resemble the highway to the Cote d’Azur at the start of a holiday weekend. Bumper-to-bumper, nose-to-toe…

Piscine Pontoise - Swimming in Paris 2

Culture of the French changeroom

I look for an available change-room.

“Ah. Monsieur. Do you see that red line?”

“Where? Oh, that one painted on the floor?”

“You must take your shoes off to cross that line. You must take your shoes off before crossing that line.”

“Uh. Okay”. I take my shoes off and head to the change rooms. Thinking I would spare Paris the blushes and opt for the modest swimming shorts, I emerge in my cheerfully orange Speedos bought at David Jones. Australians in budgie smugglers have done quite enough damage to our national reputation for me to be making matters worse.

“France. Not only is one provided with a private change-room, one is also provided with state-supplied swimming costume. Surely this is paradise.”

Mais non. The attendant appears and points at my shorts. I come to understand after some hand waving that these shorts will not be entering the waters of Piscine Pontoise this morning, or any morning. Ever. “You cannot swim in those shorts. You must have proper swimming pants.” More astonishment from me. A second attendant appears. To my even greater astonishment he offers to provide me with a pair and goes off to fetch them.

France. Not only is one provided with a private change-room, one is also provided with state-supplied swimming costume. Surely this is paradise.

So into the new black swimming shorts and down the stairs I go, trying not to snigger as I pass the sign: ‘Douche obligatoire’. So a quick rinse and then to the pool.

Peak hour at the pool

Piscine Pontoise - Swimming in Paris

Did I mention that the lanes are absolutely packed? Looking on the bright side, I figure that all these flailing arms and crashing bodies will be good training for the Lorne Pier to Pub swim.

There appears to be no particular pattern: no fast lane, medium lane, slow lane, gentle exercise – it is all one. My lane features a man in a mask and snorkel (protuding like a dorsal fin from his forehead), elderly ladies doing frog-kick, backstrokers, freestylers, plodders and thrashers. Allez ! In I go.

There are many people swimming in the warm waters of Piscine Pontoise but none of us is Juliette Binoche…

Do you like swimming in Paris? Which is your piscine of choice?

(*) Thank you to MyFrenchLife™ member Mike Shuttleworth for this guest post.
All photos via Nageurs.com.

About the Contributor

Mike Shuttleworth

I've traveled to France numerous times over the past 15 years, including to book festivals in Angoulême, St Malo, and Paris, and worked as a librarian, exhibition curator, bookseller, awards judge, and book reviewer. I'm married and live in Canberra.

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