Friday, November 18, 2005

Paradise for pools – hell for swimmers

With over 30 public pools, Parisappears at first glance to be a swimmer’s mecca. In order to use the pools, however, you must overcome some typically Parisian challenges.

The first challenge is that the public pools are rarely open to the public. For example, during the week, the pool nearest me is closed Monday and open only two hours a day Tuesday through Friday (from 7-8am and from 12-1pm).

This brings us to the second challenge, figuring out which pool is open when you want to swim. Each pool has completely different but equally arbitrary hours, and there is a city-wide conspiracy to provide this information strictly on a need-to-know basis.

If you show up at a pool - and it happens to be open - you can get the hours for that pool only. You can also get a beautiful brochure listing everything you would want to know about all the other pools in Paris, except of course their hours of operation.

In some deeply Parisian fashion, it is enough simply to have built these magnificent pools and sprinkled them all over the city. Staffing them and making them available to the public doesn’t seem to have figured into the grand scheme of things.

After several frustrating excursions to lovely but not-open-to-the-public pools, I spent an entire morning decoding various brochures and sleuthing over the web for the paris swimming pool schedule. Through the research, I finally found My Perfect Pool: large (50m), within walking distance, and open from 12-7 each day.

The high point of this week was finally swimming at My Perfect Pool. For me, this was a moment of exultation. After months of feeling like a bemused outsider, I had finally mastered the complexities of Parisian pools. With this under my belt, I felt that confident that soon all the mysteries of Paris would yield to me.

On my way out of the pool I happened to glance at the bulletin board. There, a small, hand-written message indicated that My Perfect Pool is closing at the beginning of December for 18 months of repairs.