Paris in the Summer: In Memoriam France's Finest Swimming Pool
- Published on Sunday, 08 September 2013 00:00
- Written by David Jaggard
My Favorite Pool R.I.P.
(Ripped Into Pieces)
Illustration by Charles Giai-Gischia. Visit his blog, Traits-Drôles, for a larger version and more drawings.
Autumn has come, and it looks as though the entire population of Paris spent the entire month of August tanning on the beach. Because, in fact, they did. Except me. I don’t even wear shorts in the summer. The reason for, and result of, this habit are the same: my legs are so pale that if I expose them to the open air, their luminescence causes interference with satellite signals. Birds flying overhead think it’s snowing and start migrating south for the winter.
In other words, sunbathing is not my thing.
This was not always the case, however. I have never tanned well, but in my early days in France, I would at least get a bit pinkish in the warm months.
My wife Nancy and I used to go regularly to a swimming pool in Paris, the Deligny, which was housed in a barge floating on the Seine right across from the Place de la Concorde.
The Deligny was hands-down my favorite public swimming pool ever. This was due to many considerations, including:
1) It was a beautiful structure.
2) It was easy to get to, right in the middle of town.
3) It didn’t reek of chlorine (the water was supposedly kept more or less microbe-free by an extra-high flowrate).
And, best of all:
4) It was lax about rules.
Unlike every other public pool in the world, there was no signboard at the entrance threatening incarceration without trial for anyone failing to comply with the Eternal Pool Rules.
You know the ones I mean. Handed down from God to Moses, and then over the years to Caligula, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Machiavelli, Stalin and, finally, lifeguards with shrill whistles, they always include:
• No running
• No yelling
• No alcoholic beverages
• No spitting
• No spitting, even in the gutters
• No spitting, even in the gutters right after swallowing a pint of pool water that is 50 percent sweat, tanning oil and chlorine, because while you were perfecting your crawl some lumpish, oblivious eight-year-old did a cannonball two feet away just when you lifted your mouth out of the water to breathe
• No spreading ludicrous urban legends about chemical additives that react with urine to make a dye
• But the one about the virgin getting pregnant from swimming here is okay
And, of course, the single most important regulation at every pool, the one that, along with the Magna Carta, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the offsides rule, embodies the very bedrock of civilization:
• Before entering the pool everyone must take an ice-cold shower in the germ-infested fungus farm we call the shower stalls, or at least wet your hair and suit to make us think you did
But at the Deligny, none of those things were an issue. I would regularly emerge from the changing room bone dry and sprint, while spitting out a mouthful of Beaujolais, right into the pool. And then shout, “Hey — my pee is turning green!”
The Deligny was also unusual in another way: it had a relatively small pool, but the deck for sunbathing was enormous. Have a look at this photo from the 1980s:
Yes, that faint glistening mirage you see in the background is real water.
The reason for this seeming imbalance is quite simple. Deligny patrons could be broken down into three main categories:
1) People who went there to work on their tans (e.g., Nancy)
2) People who went there to watch other people work on their tans (e.g., me)
3) People who went there to hang out at the bar (e.g., neither of us, but it was a surprisingly large group)
Notice that “People who went there to swim” is not on the list. But some sunbathers and sunbather-oglers did occasionally get wet — e.g., once again, me: mindful of the manifold health benefits of aerobic exercise, I followed a strict, disciplined regimen of five laps every year.
Also, within the above-mentioned categories, there were two important sub-groups:
1) People (of both genders) who went there specifically to show off their, ah, shall we say, natural assets
2) People (of all five genders) who went there specifically in the hopes of getting, ah, shall we say, a piece of assets
I think the Deligny had become known as a pickup barge because it was mostly frequented by young people, many of whom came alone, and because there might as well have been a signboard at the entrance threatening incarceration without trial for any man wearing non-skin-tight trunks or any woman wearing a top.
There was even a well-known French author who made a career for himself by spending all summer at the Deligny hitting on the female asset holders and then spending all fall, winter and spring writing about, ah, shall we say, the manifold health benefits of the aerobic exercise that resulted from, but took place after, his visits to the pool.
I always imagined that breakfast at his place probably consisted of coffee, a croissant and a defamation liability waiver form. Torn from a thick tablet.
In any case, he pioneered the literary genre of the “tan ’n’ tell” book and built up quite a reputation with his annual updates on his dates. Specifically, a reputation as a skeeveball and STD risk. I also always imagined that, over the years, this must have shrunk his potential pool (so to speak) of girlfriends (so to speak), but he kept writing and kept his listing in “nonfiction,” so I must have been wrong.
Despite the fact that we only went home with each other, Nancy and I really liked the Deligny. In fact, Nancy liked it so much that she finally bought a season pass one year, for a thousand francs (about €150). And then one week later, the pool sank.
Late one night, a hole opened in the hull and the barge began to fill with water. Within minutes, the currents of the Seine were laying waste to the tanning deck, bar, changing rooms and pregnancy test vending machines.
By morning the once-proud edifice was nothing more than a navigation hazard, a monoï-oil-stained pile of kindling waiting to be salvaged. There was a rumor (as far as I know unsubstantiated) that its annual insurance inspection was scheduled for the following day. Gee, if that’s true, then I guess it was quite a remarkable coincidence!
After that, my sunbathing days were over. We tried a few other pools around town but none of them were nearly as good. They all had rules. And women wearing tops. And people actually swimming. No fun.
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