August is not the best time to visit Paris. This I know, but with two students in the family, both with summer jobs and vastly differing school start dates, it was the only time for us to make the pilgrimage to Spain. I also find it hard to schlep all the way to Europe and NOT visit France. So a few days in Paris to visit a close friend was a must. It was predictably hot, smelly and chock full o’ tourists. My friend asked what I wanted to do. I have all my favorite haunts, and I try to explore a few new spots each time I visit, but I said I really wanted to swim in public pools. I had read about some Art Deco renovations, and she was game. It was scorching hot, so it also was a really great midday pause between touring and a late afternoon siesta.

Jenny had researched a few pools and we settled on Piscine Pailleron, in the 19th, an arrondissement I didn’t know that well. She chose this pool because it was hosting a public art exhibit called ‘Museum of the Moon’, an installation by Luke Jerram. The sculpture was suspended above the pool and I got to take a few pictures before the guard came to tell me photos were not allowed — NOT to respect bathers’ privacy, but some nonsense about historical buildings.


We swam for about half an hour, comically maneuvering amidst the less than orderly crowd. We chuckled, because the French notion of lap swimming is hazardous — something we are both very familiar with. As she said, ‘you have an amalgam of folks of different cultures and varying degrees of body/ space awareness’. Suffice to say that there was not one lap without a collision or perhaps a kid cannon balling on my head; all part of the experience. I also got reprimanded for wearing my teva sandals, which I had brought precisely to use in water situations. I get that they don’t want street shoes in the pool area, but the fact that everyone was barefoot kinda freaked me out. They make you shamble through a couple inches of disinfectant, which seemed ineffective, but hey, I was a visitor to this fabulous city and was so happy to get into water after a 12 hour flight and 17 hour journey. I always try to swim or submerge in water after a long flight with a big time change, so this was a terrific way to start our epic trip.

The way the light sparkled through the windows and swimming under the giant moon sculpture was really magical. The showers were quite feeble and I didn’t want to linger barefoot, but all in all it was a great cooling off and sensory experience. Jam packed on a hot day, I got to people watch preening teens, struggling aged swimmers and local families.

A few days later — the heat had still not broken — my husband and youngest son had joined me. They were jetlagged, so I proposed another swim to Jenny. This time, early morning, at a different pool near her apartment in the 18th. We walked to Piscine des Amiraux (Pool of Admirals) early on a sleepy August Sunday morning, the familiar Paris smells filling the air. It was before 8am, so the oppressive heat was still bearable. We assumed we would only encounter diehard swimmers at this hour, but being a public bath, there were many in line who perhaps didn’t have showers at home. Once again, the no shoes policy piqued my subtle yet bothersome fear of foot fungus or worse. This time we got our own little cabinets to change that lined the pool deck in two tiers. Visions of Esther Williams, or some kind of Indie movie danced in my head. I’m not quite sure why I find this all so enchanting, but once more, the cool water and the light bouncing off the recently renovated roof and ceiling, charmed me in a deep way. Again, the lane etiquette was amusing, and this time a few Anglo-Saxons seemed to share our difficulties.

Another diverse neighborhood, I took a moment to watch an adult swim class in a far lane and admired the French commitment to a socialized life. Imperfect perhaps, but the crowd mix was heartening. The instructor, a barrel chested classically French guy, seemed to be using a pole to drag a reluctant student. I marveled and giggled at the very un-American scene.

At my local pool, the guard blows the whistle if a kid runs, and the lifeguards take their jobs very seriously. At the first pool there was a huge neon sign that said Poseidon. Curious, I asked the guard — who had chastised me for my tevas and taking pics — wondering if it was some code term for the pool. He explained it was an underwater sensory system that detects if someone sinks to the bottom, a sort of e-lifeguard. I’m not sure that excuses the laissez faire attitude of pool safety, but it was interesting.

Freshly bathed, my core cooled down and with a spring in my step (there is nothing like a pre-breakfast swim) we headed out for the day. I only had a few days in Paris this time, but had I stayed longer, I would have tried to hit another pool. If you are at all interested in swimming in Paris, I highly recommend it as an antidote for jetlag, a window into Parisien life, a chance to appreciate some pretty cool under-the-radar architecture and public works and a chance to get a little exercise, even though you do walk miles and miles when visiting Paris.

Filed Under Europe, France, Museum, Paris, Sports, Swimming


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