Sunday, January 22, 2012

Le Tone Françoise

“Oh, no!” PP laughs as she reaches across to open her locker. “Here we are all in the same corner when the whole locker room is empty. This always happens, doesn’t it?”
Sexy French Swimmer shrugs, moves her stuff aside. “It is not a problem,” she murmurs philosophically.
“Guess it is a good spot,” PP continues as she pulls her clothes out and starts to lotion up.

“The water today....” SFS sighs. “It was very nice, don’t you think? The temperature. It was good, no?”
Actually, PP thought it was a bit on the chilly side, but then she always does. No need to interfere with someone else’s Swimmer’s Bliss. So she lies: “Oh, yes, it was lovely.”

“And the pool, it was not crowded,” SFW continues in her dreamy sexy accent.
“Yeah, at first, when I got here, there was someone in every lane, but it worked out okay,” PP nods. “We got our own lanes even with the Rusty Hinges taking up 2 of them.”

“The other day!” SFS suddenly exclaims, her Bliss vanishing. “You would not believe it!” If Incensed were personified, SFS would be IT. “I go to get into a lane to share with this woman and she stops and you know what she say to me?”

PP starts to answer, but there’s no pause: Rhetorical French Narrative at work. “She say: ‘Don’t you want to go to That Other LANE!’ And I say, what do you mean? The other lane! She say again, and she say it like that....'SFS spits out the words, disdain dripping from her. "And I don’t know what she is talking about. When I get in I look around before I take my glasses off and see that all the lanes are full. And then, I take my glasses off and go to get in this woman’s lane and she says this to me: 'DON’T you want to get in THAT lane! It is empty!' She say it like THAT!” SFS repeats again, her pretty nostrils flaring. Really.

PP knows this is serious Lane Sharing Business. Something that they all hate doing, sharing a lane, but then again, it’s the Y and here at Hilltopia, one often gets one's own lane. So to just split a lane, while not ideal, really isn’t so bad compared to some pools.

“Do you know what I mean?” SFS asks PP now. “It was the way that she said it. She could have just said, ‘Oh, do you see? There is a lane empty?' Or she could have said, ‘I think that the lane next is empty. Maybe you would like to swim there? But nooooooo! She says it like THAT!”
“It was her Tone,” PP offers.

“YES!” SFS jumps on this. “It was Her Tone! She did not have to say it like that! I could not see. I take my glasses off to swim and then I can not tell.”

PP nods. Earlier, SFS had gotten in the lane next to PP’s and PP had given her a hearty ‘Hi’ since they often chatted, but SFS had just nodded, barely said ‘Hello’ like she hadn’t recognized her.
Now PP knew why.

“I never woulda thought of that,” PP says now. “I mean about the glasses.”
“Oh!” SFS laughs, shrugs. “That is because you do not wear them.”
“I wear them sometimes, but only for reading,” PP laughs. “I resist them because of the aging.”
SFS shakes her head. “It is not because of the aging,” she says, missing PP’s point entirely? Which is that PP resists the aging process or the idea of it at every turn and breaking down and wearing bifocals is just one of her ways of denial. But maybe SFS is younger than PP? Or the French are just way too cool to worry about such things?

“The glasses are for the Visual,” she asserts. Obviously. Anyone could see this. Why didn't PP?
“Of course,” PP agrees, feeling a bit vain and old. Or is her meaning just lost in translation?

Or is it, again, all about Tone?

Yes, that’s it. The French, like the Italians,(now that PP has spent 3 weeks in Italy, she's an expert--oh and she watches lots of Italian movies too!) are all about Tone. If you want to get across an opinion, you say it with that Certain Tone that will communicate your meaning no matter what the language. Disdain. Joy. Bitterness.

Sophia Loren, in Marriage Italian Style, had no difficulty communicating her bitterness to Marcello Mastroianni. PP got it without the subtitles even. Plus Mastroianni was such a stereotypical Italian Philandering Husband that who needs the exact words when Sophia tells him to F***$$^^? off? She says that with her Tone.

And today, SFS, too, says it with her Tone. Her Tone of disdain for the Stupid Lane Sharing Woman. Her Tone of nonchalance with the aging process. Her Tone of delight when PP asks her her name and then mispronounces it.

“You will not remember it,” she laughs as they run out into the rain, so wonderful after the horrid drought of the last few months.
“But it has a ‘yes’ in it!” PP jokes. “Yes I will remember!”
“See you later, PP!” SFS calls out as she hurries to her car.
And PP can’t help but detect a tone of warmth in her au revoir.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Piscina, Poetry and Penance in Roma


“Buon Giorno?” PP greets her, hesitating. She is, of course, in the middle of feeding cats. Oh, Roma, the City of Gatti! They’re everywhere, including here at the Cimitero acattolico, aka the Non-Catholic Cemetery. PP and DHBF have stumbled upon it looking for what else? A pool.

“C’mere!” DHBF had called PP over to the computer to show her, what else? A map! “There should be a pool here.....” He shoves the pretty green and yellow map on the screen at her. “Google says it’s only a 21 minute walk from here,” he beams.
PP eyes the map dubiously. Google is so not her idea of a trustworthy source even though everyone else on the planet thinks it’s God.
“21 minutes?” she asks. “Ummm....”
“Yeah! Isn’t that great?”
“Sure, if it’s true. But maybe we should just walk over there first to make sure it’s really there before luggin all of our swim stuff around like we did in Venice.”
“That makes perfect sense,” DHBF nods. “You ready?”
“Guess so.”

PP had tried to stifle any excitement. After the disappointment over the pool in Venice she didn’t want to get her hopes up here in Roma, but it would be so very cool if the pool were this close.

45 minutes later they stand in the Cemetery for Non-Catholics asking the Cat Woman where the pool is. She tries to help as a rotund calico clamors for her kibble. “Piscine?” she repeats. Then launches into a stream of Italian Pool Directions. PP and DHBF shake their heads. “No, no. No parle Italiano. Parle Englise?”
She shakes her head, “” as the Calico knocks a forkful of tuna out of her hand.
Somehow she communicates that the pool is next to the nursery they’d walked past already by making a flower shape with her hands –plus the Italian for flower is close to English. PP can’t remember the word now of course, but trust her, it is.

So....okay, this is good. They go back to the nursery and the pool will be right there and.....

PP has to go to the bathroom. She has to see Keats and Shelley and Gregory Corso before she heads off on the pool quest.

She does all of the above, noting the lovely verse on Corso’s gravestone:

Dubious though still of their ability to actually find the pool, she sighs. They’re all gonna end up in the water again anyway---why does she have to practice so much while she’s living?

“Hey! There’s an information place here,” DHBF lights up. He loves Visitor Centers. Once, when they were on a weekend trip up in the Gold Country he went to the VC to find a hike and this was how they found the smoking mini volcanoes. But that’s another blog.
Here they’ve found pyramids and poetry.
Would the VC know where the pool was?

“Buon Giorno!” DHBF calls out as they pop into the center filled with poetry, calendars, postcards and cats.
“Parle Englise?”
“A lot!” An affable gent grins. Turns out he’s from the Bay Area, San Rafael even. And so, DHBF hits it off with him immediately. He’s got an Italian sidekick at the computer who looks up the pool address and yup, it’s just up the street by the nursery like Gatto Chicka had said.
“Did you see Corso’s grave?” San Rafael Man asks.
“Yes, we did. I didn’t realize he was buried here in Rome,” PP answers.
“Yup. If you go on YouTube you can see him wandering the City streets. Course by that time he had a bottle of beer in his hand 24/7.” He shakes his head sadly.
PP nods. It is sad. But then again, Corso did end up in Roma next to Keats. That seems perfecto.
“Grazie for the pool info,” she thanks them.
“Sure, no problem. Good luck,” San Rafael Man waves good-bye.


PP stands at the rail on the balcony above the chaotic pool that only Roma would have. It’s packed with swim team kids of various ages, ranging from maybe 8 to 14? (She is terrible with kids’ ages) There are 6-8 kids in a lane. They’re swimming backstroke in frantic crooked lines. A coach follows them on deck, hollering commands at them that PP can’t understand since they’re in Italian. But she’s been where those kids are. “Get the lead out Jameson! Let’s see some hustle there!”
How the hell did she ever do sports? Those kids all look like they’re swimming for their lives. And here in the country where relaxation and la dolce vita are king.
Not in the pool!

It’s a cute little pool. Indoors. 4 lanes. 25 yards. But already, PP knows that this probably isn’t gonna work. The place seems like a private club and she’s just not up for paying 25 euros to swim again (not that she paid it in Florence thanks to her sister. But sis was back in Torrance and besides, PP wouldn’t expect her to pay again.)

Hell. Weren’t there any goddamn public pools in Italy?
There must be. Just not on Google. Or wherever this Internet swim site connection is.

She lingers on the balcony for a moment with all the parents and little brothers and sisters that aren’t in the pool. It would be so nice to come back and swim laps without all the kids, she thinks.

But it was not to be. The woman at the counter shows them the schedule. The price? 130 euros for 4 months.
“Can’t I just come swim once?” PP asks, knowing the answer.
She shakes her head, “No, no....sorry.”
“Do you know of another pool we could try in the area?”
“You could try Roma Uno,” she offers, but they may need Medical Certificate, I don’t know.”
Medical Certificate? PP doesn’t even ask, but gets the address from her and they head out back onto the busy blvd.


PP doesn’t even have the energy to document Roma Uno. But she will muse on the Medical Certificate Aspect of it since it’s so weird.

This is a fact. Some sort of doctor’s official certificate must be brought back to Roma Uno if she wants to pay the 30 euros to swim there. (Yes, this is the price and at least it would be possible to swim here barring the medical obstacle.)

What could this be?
“They just don’t want all of us Foreign Tourists bringing in nasty diseases from around the globe to contaminate their pool,” DHBF offers.
“Like what?” PP asks, puzzled. “AIDS? Cholera? What kinds of communicable diseases are spread in pools?”
“Leprosy!” DHBF laughs.
“Leprosy” PP giggles. “That must be it! All of the Swimming Romans are afraid that we’re going to give them leprosy in the pool and all of their bella limbs are going to fall off and they won’t be able to wear their high heels anymore!”

They both laugh. It is funny. Leprosy.
But yet, this does mean that PP has no pool to report on in Roma. Other than these two pools that were not meant to be.

“The Vatican has a pool,” DHBF suggests. “We could try that when we go there tomorrow.”
“Are you kidding?” PP laughs. “I’m not swimming at the Vatican.”
“Why not?”
She pauses. Good question. Why indeed.
That night, before their big day at the Vatican, PP pictures all of those nuns floating in the pool, their habits billowing in the blue blue water. Their heavy shoes sinking down into the watery depths.

It’d be a good story, to swim at the Vatican.
But not this trip. It’s just too much to try to find another pool. PP can’t handle the disappointment anymore.
Even though a swimming nun would be fun, wouldn’t she?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Piscina Venizia

Cliché as it is, Italy is a country of superlatives: the creamiest gelato; the highest heels (and the shortest skirts!); the oldest ruins and the Smartest Cars. However, there's the flip side to this, too. The wrongest toilettes; the grossest tea; and the scarcest piscini!

Italy is this especially: Frustrating! When it comes to swimming, your best bet is as a duck in the Tiber! Yet, PP is nothing if not stubborn. Hence, her search for pools in Italy after her fantastico success in Florence:

Piscene Comunale Saint a'Lvise. Calle del Capitello, Cannargegio. 3163

PP tingles with excitement as she begins reading aloud the Fodor's description:

“Venice's newest swimming pool is set in peaceful Carnnaregio and offers lessons and swimming sessions (PP has to admit that these 'swimming sessions' seemed suspect. What the hell could a swimming session entail? She pictures screaming children with doting mothers surrounded by harried swim instructors barking Italian); there's a warm mini pool for smaller children (oh, so maybe the swim sessions might be for adults?); and remember you will have to wear a swimming cap in the water and flip flops to walk from the changing rooms to the pool. No credit cards accepted. M, W, F 1-2:30, 9:30-10:45.” (Fodor's 'See it' Venice, 2011)

Grinning, PP beams over at DHBF. “Is it close? Can we walk?”

“Let me look at the map,” he answers (As if PP didn't know this would be his response. Actually, it's a good thing one of them can read a map. She sure as hell can't) “Yup, it's right in the neighborhood. Let me show you.”

He stretches the pretty blues, greens and golden boxes with thin black lines out toward her. She makes a face. “I believe you. Let's go! It says it's open at 1:00 and today's Wednesday.”

“I don't have any flip flops or swimming cap,” he laments.
“I have a cap you can use and there must be flip flops around here somewhere.”
He brightens, “Paolo has all those 'slippers' for us—I'll just borrow a pair. But will my hair fit in the cap?”
PP laughs. “Of course. They're stretchable. Let's go!”
And so they do, packing up the flip flops, the fins, the towels and caps and heading toward Calle del Capitello.

It is so close!

PP can barely contain her excitement. What if the pool is really this close as they near their destination after only a 5 minute walk? And it's only Wednesday and they're here in Venice for 3 more days. That means they can swim 3 days this week. Perfecto!

Rounding the corner, after winding along another canal, they come upon the designated street and trudge down the spooky alley. PP realizes that she's supposed to be entranced by Venice and its canals and alleyways, but in fact, she finds them creepy and cold. At least there are no crowds of tourists here. Evidently, tourists don't swim. PP is the only crazy one who has to go in quest of pools no matter where she travels.

They find a building that houses the Civic Centro of Venice. Okay looks promising. Inching tentatively through the decrepit doorway, they make their way in. “This looks like a pool might be in here, don't you think?”she asks DHBF.
“Yup,” he nods, craning his neck upward to take in all the sights.

She peers inside the large glass windows of the ancient yellow building, spying what looks like a tutoring session. “Umm....Italian lessons?” she laughs. “Wonder if the pool is behind there?”
DHBF frowns, “No, I think we're in the wrong place. This isn't the right address. We’re supposed to be at 3163. This is 3160. It must be back out and down at the next building.”

Shivering, PP nods, heading back out of the compound, leaving a lone dog walker in the forlorn garden. Venice is a dog town. They've yet to meet even one gatto.

“MEOW!!! Meow... meow!” she hears, coming up behind her.
“A kitty!” PP exclaims. “It's about time for gatti! How perfecto that the first cat we've seen is on our way to the pool. He must be our mascot to the piscene!”
“MRROOOW!” the tabby cries again, wondering if she's brought any kibble in her swim bag.
“Where's the pool, kitty?” she asks as they head down to the end of the alley, Venice Tabby leading the way.
“Here's the address,” DHBF stops in front of a locked gate, weeks' old mail spilling out of the box. PP picks it up (What is the fine for sorting through official city centro mail she wonders?) all addressed to Piscene, 3163 Calle del Capitello.

“Looks like this mail's been here for weeks,” she sighs, reality sinking in. It was just too good to be true. To find a pool so close to their place in Venice. But yet, it was only 12:00; maybe if they came back at 1:00, it'd be open.
She suggests this to DHBF, who shrugs, “Sure, we can try that. What do you want to do?”
“Get cappucini of course.” What else? When in Rome as they say.

And so they do. And coffee is delicious. And the cafe is cute. But the whole time she's thinking how the pool just did NOT look like it was going to open in an hour.
But hell. This was Italy. Things aren't what they seem. Maybe the Italians just haven't picked up their mail.
Yeah, sure, this is a possibility.

And so down with the cappuccino, hope still in her heart with the ingestion of caffeine. Why even a half decent bathroom she could use. Then back to the pool.

“Mreeow mreeow!” Mr. Tabby's still waiting for his kibble.
“Hey, Kitty,” she squats down in front of the still padlocked pool entry gate. “Looks like the pool is closed for the season.”
“Yes,” DHBF agrees. “Remember how in Florence many of the pools we called weren't open till Jan 6th or 9th?”
“But we'll be in Roma by then,” she whines.
“Maybe we'll find a pool there,” he soothes.

PP is disappointed, naturally. But then Roma awaits. A city of infinite possibilities.

In such a city, there must be a pool for her.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Piscine Firenze Fantastico

“No…no….” He shakes his head softly. His brown grey locks waving round his handsome Italian mug.

PP stands on deck, holding the offending negatives. Her fins. Why all the ‘no’s’ around her fins? “I can’t use the fins?” she asks, trying not too hard to keep the disbelief out of her voice.

Of course, it’s always something weirdly wrong when one swims in a foreign country. Italy is no exception. Florence would be particularly so, she’d assumed. She just hadn’t known what.

Until it happened.
No fins.

Here’d she’d lugged the fins all the way from California only to be told by Mr. Sexy No Lifeguard that they were not allowed.

Her sister shrugs, smiles. “Oh well,” and then heads for the pool.

It’d been a treat! PP’s sister throwing Euro Caution to the wind to take her swimming in Florence. $25 euros for each of them. A total of over $50! “It’ll be your Christmas present,” PP’s sister had exclaimed back at the apt in Florence.

And so, PP had relented, stifling her ordinarily stingy side. Hell, when would she be back in Florence again? With her sister? And a pool?

“It’s on the 37 bus line,” her sister had proclaimed.
“Fun!” PP had laughed. “A bus ride to the pool to the Real Florence.” Meaning one not crammed with tourists and students.

Florence was not PP’s favorite Italian city. She was here visiting her favorite person, though, her niece, studying Roman History. This niece, though, was not a swimmer.

Her sister? A most generous swimmer patron!

Which was a fantatsitco thing since PP needed a swim most desperately. Sure all the walking to all of the sights of Florence had been stupendous. The Piazza at Michelangelo being her favorite with a view of the city that took her breath away.
Yet a swim is what PP needed. Just as the weird cartoon character in Megamind announces at the end of the movie after diving into a random fountain, “I feel so much better now. Guess all I needed was a swim!”

And so now, at the Centro Firenze Piscine, PP is in heaven, even without the fins. The water is a lovely 84 degrees at least. She and her sister have their own lane.

Before diving in,they'd received the 'lane education' ala Italiano:“Parle Englise?” PP had asked Sexy No Lifeguard.
“A little.”
“How do the lanes work?”
“Blue it is for slow. Yellow it is for medium. Red it is for Fast.”
Of course, Red is for fast. Perfecto.

PP and her sister choose a Blue Lane, esp. now that PP was deemed finless.
This is okay for a little while, esp. as the pool is warm. But after a half hour or so, she’d switched to a kickboard: “All the equipment here,” SNL had gestured magnanimously at the bins of kick-boards, pull buoys, floatation devices, “these you can use.”

PP had pulled out a kickboard and pull buoy, happy with this equipment, but still wondering why the hell she couldn’t use the fins.

Swimming in the blue blue water even though the pool was indoors (the tiles of the pools side and bottom were dark turquoise)PP kept thinking that maybe she could sneak the fins on. Swim under his radar. But no way. He made the rounds. Watching all the swimmers. Making sure that her fins were safely on the side of the pool.
So no Fin Sneaking for PP in Florence.

Her sister finished swimming first. A happy tired grin on her pretty goggled face. “I’m about spent,” she’d announced just as another ‘blue’ swimmer climbed into their lane,a serious elderly Italian woman, compact and slow, kicking up and down the lane.
“How far did you swim?” PP asks her sis.
“I did 2000.”
“Fantastico!” PP laughs. “I think I’m almost there. Though without the fins, it’s pretty slow going.”

Yet she completes the 2000 and then a couple 100 more. It’s so delicious to be in the pool. In the water. Swimming. And in Florence of all places. Who would have thought that a pool could be found in the perimeters of this medieval city?

They’d found it fairly easily, getting off the bus and heading for a building that looked to house a piscine. A lamb greeted them at the front door as two Italian teenagers played with a motorized helicopter.

“Piscine?” PP had asked as a round Italian woman in a white pharmacist’s coat opened the door for them.
“No, no…” she shook her head, pointed across the street. No English and why should there be? They were in Italy after all; but she was able to communicate where the pool was.
Across the busy blvd, down a quiet side street, they found the Club Firenze.

“Parle Englise?” PP’s sister had asked the Sexy Italian women at the front counter. Nope, no English as they signed the release form entirely in Italian. Who the hell knew what it said. PP didn’t care. She saw the pool and she was about to swim in Italy!

But back to the pool. After the swim, PP just had to find out. Why the hell couldn’t she use her fins?

Approaching Sexy No Lifeguard, she grins at him. He nods, smiling shyly. “I just wanted to ask,” she begins, “why is it that I couldn’t use my fins?”

He nods, seriously, then holds out his manly arm. “We do not allow anything that may do harm. No watches.” He grips his wrist. “No ….”
He pauses, makes a motion to draw a paddle shape over his hands, “Paddles?” PP offers. “Yes… and no fins.”

“Ah, okay,” PP nods, “that makes sense. Grazie.” She makes an expansive American Italian Gesture, “Fantasitico, Bellismo Piscine!” she pronounces, waving at the pool.
He laughs, nods. Americans. They are too hilarious.

And the Italians?

PP has the sense that in fact they may be, at least where this one pool is concerned, a very cautious people. They don’t want to harm their fellow swimmers. They are very considerate.

This seems to go against some of the stereotypes that surround Italians as outgoing, boisterous, passionate people.

As swimmers, they aren’t. They’re reserved, serious, and considerate.

Something PP thinks the swimmers back in the States could learn from.
Viva Italians! Viva Italy Piscene! Viva Sisters!

Mad as Hell!

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