Poetry at the piscine – Part 2/3

Sage Goellner, 26/04/2012

We were clearly not regulars at his establishment.

The Pool Keeper was a round and bristly man wearing small glasses. When we attempted to purchase a daily entrance pass, he glared, pointing at the sign by the window and barking something in a thick Parisian accent.

I squinted and made out the words bonnet de bain obligatoire. Bath bonnet? We quickly figured it out and realized we hadn’t brought swim caps along. Okay, we nodded, we could get those next time.

Pool Keeper shook his head, exasperated at our stupidity. He growled, “slip de bain obligatoire pour le monsieur,” gesturing to Ben. “Slip de bain?” I wondered, what could that be? Uncomprehending, we stared back at him through the plexiglass window.

His scowl deepened, and he uttered one word forcefully and clearly, as if speaking to idiots: “Speedo.” Ah! Swimming shorts weren’t allowed? Only Speedos? Much to Ben’s chagrin, he would have to wear the required postage-stamp sized bathing suit in order to enter the pool.

Later, we found out about France’s strict hygiene and health and safety laws. Because swimming shorts are considered street clothes, they can’t be worn into public swimming and bathing areas. Pockets could be a hiding place for illegal, dangerous substances, and long, baggy shorts could hide a skin condition.

We soon learned that letting it all hang out was the protocol, and gulped down our American modesty the next time we came to the pool.

Piscine - Sage Goellner, 26/04/2012

After gaining entry and dressing appropriately (Pool Keeper had come to briefly check on us, his eyebrows knit in a grudging kind of concern), we entered the swimming area. It was controlled chaos.

Bowlegged older men with paunches hanging over tiny bathing briefs plowed laps around the sides of the pool.

Then there was the aquagym class, a minor tsunami with white-haired ladies letting loose by flailing their arms in whirling sets of gymnastics while wrapping their bodies around fluorescent floatable objects, splashing with glee.

We tried unsuccessfully to weave our way into the swimmers of the periphery.

After braving Pool Keeper’s grumpiness at the window, to dodging retirees in the pool, to the gymnastics of pulling on clothes sticking to wet skin in a tiny locker room with strangers, we were exhausted.

Read the first instalment Part 1, and more in our final episode 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 Fresh Promotions
2 L’imaGiraphe 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.

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