Poetry at the piscine – Part 1/3

The French like three things: art, food, and little things done well.

France is a land of strict rules and little rituals dedicated to the preservation of art, beauty, and patrimoine. During our year in Paris, my husband and I experienced this up close at the neighborhood swimming pool.

Piscine - Sage Goellner, 26/04/2012

We had been eating our way through France, loading up on chocolate croissants, having adventures with fromage, and downing copious plates of moules-frites, our favorite dish. Mussels and french fries had become a regular staple of our diet; we had even gone so far as to invest in a deep fryer at the local appliance shop Darty, and our waistlines were thickening despite all the walking we did.

It was time for an intervention. Our exercise options were limited, however.

In France, vigorous exercise isn’t encouraged. American-style gyms are virtually non-existent; exercise is only for foreigners or the very the misguided. The few people we saw exercising in public were the scattered, unobtrusive joggers running the periphery of the Luxembourg Gardens.

From time to time, a Frenchman could be seen jogging there too, but usually he wore pressed denim jeans and an oxford shirt in order to give the impression that he wasn’t actually exercising. With an awkward shuffle-jog, he would have a disinterested look on his face, as if this were not really his idea.

Because gyms and jogging were out, we got the idea of swimming. We did a little research and found out the neighboring quartier had a spring-fed pool that dated from 1866.

We climbed the hills of the quaint, village-like neighborhood called Butte aux Cailles (‘Quail Hill’) that had only been incorporated into the rest of Paris in the late nineteenth century.

Piscine - Sage Goellner, 26/04/2012

The edifice housing the pool was just as historic as the quartier, an Art Nouveau jewel among the rest of the buildings.

Constructed in 1908, the large vault with a ceiling of skylights, supported by seven arches, was covered by a red brick facade. Coming from a Midwestern city in which concrete YMCA pools were found in strip malls, this was quite a change for us.

When we walked through the door of the building, the pool keeper at the ticket window frowned.

Read more in our next episode Part 2, and the final instalment Part 3.

Piscine de la Butte aux Cailles 5 place Paul Verlaine, 13e
Les piscines de Paris provides a list of all public swimming pools in Paris.
Image credits:
1 bhamsandwich on Flickr
2 Éole on Flickr

NOTE: This popular article has been refreshed and republished in 2021

About the Contributor

Sage Goellner

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Francophile and outreach professor at the UW-Madison. As an online educator, I’ve taught French to students from Alaska to Australia. I live with my husband, two sons, and a Baudelarian cat; my dream is to write full-time in sidewalk cafés and grow lavender on the terrace.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.