40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#87: The APEX at Lehman College

Lehman College poolLocation: Bedford Park, Bronx

Configuration: 8 lanes x 50 meters

Fee: $20 for special TNYA workout

Inspiring. There’s no better word to describe this 50-meter, indoor pool encapsulated within a soaring, light-filled natatorium. Inspiring enough to entice me to swim here on the first day of NYC’s outdoor pool season.

In six weeks, 80-something of my teammates and I will be competing in a long-course meet in Stockholm, Sweden. To help prepare, we got a few lanes here at the APEX for a distance workout. Adding to my already considerable enthusiasm–for both meet and pool–the flags and lane lines sported Swedish colors.

The pool's in thereLehman College’s 1994 fitness center was designed by Rafael Viñoly. His firm is also responsible for the John Jay College pool and the building in which I spend my workdays, both places I’m very fond of despite their flaws. I have a vague recollection of volunteering at a meet at the APEX in my early days with TNYA, but I hadn’t gotten in the water and hadn’t ever returned, so this was a bona fide new pool for me. Everything was good: wide lanes, comfortable temperature, good light, spacious locker rooms, an array of warm showers, and even a sauna if I’d wanted to indulge. My only quibbles are that the lane line didn’t tighten sufficiently (despite the efforts of the lifeguards) and there was no T on the bulkhead in the deep end, meaning your arrival at the wall could be a surprise.

The building is lovely as well, arcing over the considerable facilities and sloping into the rest of the campus, communicating at once a sense of serenity and possibility. Indeed, possibilities beyond swimming include diving (1-meter and 3-meter), basketball, volleyball, running, dancing, racquetball, and plenty more.

Its opening coincided with a small wave of 50-meter pools in New York, the others being Manhattan’s Asphalt Green George Delacorte Olympic Pool and the Riverbank State Park indoor pool, and it remains a home for top-level training and competition. Membership is available to the public at a reasonable price, with steep discounts for CUNY students and employees. Rumor has it that TNYA will return as well. I hope so–this one is worth traveling for, even without international travels looming.

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Outdoor Season Preview

New York City’s outdoor pools open on Saturday. I’m looking forward to many of the same treats as last summer: home base at Thomas Jefferson Park Pool, omnipresent lap lanes and weekend food trucks in Red Hook, occasional social swims at Lasker Pool in Central Park, which was green earlier in the week but is enticingly blue now. I prefer early bird lap swim (starting July 6, 2015), and at other times I triple check that I have my lock so as to not get turned away by the pool staff. I can’t stress enough the importance of adhering to the Parks pool rules.
view to the High Bridge water tower
plaque about poolSo what’s new this season? A new way to get to Highbridge Park Pool, for one. New York City’s oldest bridge–built as an aqueduct in the mid-nineteenth century–the High Bridge is also the newest byway for pedestrians and cyclists, having just reopened after being off limits for more than 40 years. It’s beautiful and sure to help many Bronxites get to the pool in Manhattan. I’ve been turned away at Highbridge Park Pool due to arriving too close to closing time, and in fact I was also shooed off the bridge before closing time the other night, but I’ll try again this summer. I at least managed to visit the splashy Splash House (and meet the rec center’s orange tabby mouser-in-chief) during Open House New York last fall.

I thought we might have a longer pool season to celebrate, but it’s looking like just the beach season will be extended until mid-September. The beaches already open more than a month before the pools, so this change heightens the disparity. It’s too bad. I’ve certainly been known to swim at “closed” beaches, but a drained pool is a no-go.

Meanwhile, pools have been in the news of late due to a yet another racially charged, overpoliced situation in Texas. Jeff Wiltse’s Contested Waters documents the changing norms around pool use and shows how pool segregation became completely commonplace, setting the stage for exactly this type of incident. One of this blog’s followers also recommends a children’s book relating to pool discrimination experienced by Olympic gold medalist Sammy Lee, Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds, and I plan to check that out.

Mindful of this troubled history and the contemporary situation, what can we do to ensure that pools are welcoming to all? Use them! While there, be sure to thank the staff, politely heed the regulations (provided they are reasonable and fairly enforced), and swim with, play with, and chat with people whose skin color is different from your own.


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Rest Break: International Swimming Hall of Fame

The 50-year-old International Swimming Hall omuseum buildingf Fame has long been a must for any visit to Fort Lauderdale. Aquatics are on a pedestal in this collection that is part historic, part fine art, and part kitsch. John and I explored the museum the day after his birthday swim.

ISHOF entry ticket for twoThere are many points of entry to the collections. Whether you are interested in competition and records across all aquatics disciplines, swim technology and gear, civil rights, gender equality, swim history, notable figures, fine art, or memorabilia, you will find plenty to enjoy here. One of my favorite Ederle displaydisplays includes Gertrude Ederle’s self-fashioned bikini and memorabilia from her return to New York after her record-breaking swim across the English Channel. Videos of great moments in Olympic competition are always fun to watch, too.

If I were to make any suggestions, it would be to add modernizations such as video touch screens and an interactive database of Hall of Fame inductees, especially to engage with all the young swimmers who find their way here. A bit more selectivity in what makes it onto display would also help. (USMS pin collection: I’d nix you.) Finally, the “international” angle feels half-baked. Why not be an unabashed booster of U.S. swimming?

Unfortunately, Fort Lauderdale has become disenamored of this trove, so the Hall is being wooed across the country to Santa Clara, California, where it may set up in temporary quarters as soon as this summer. During my visit back in March, it seemed that a decision on when to pull the plug was imminent, but nothing is set as of yet, and there are still some working to keep the collection in Fort Lauderdale. The loss would be not just Florida’s but the whole East Coast’s, as the balance of power in swimming tips ever westward.

sandwich board

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#85 and 86: Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex

original pool, diving tower, and Hall of FameLocation: Fort Lauderdale Beach, Florida

Configuration: 2 50-meter pools, one set up long course with 10 lanes, the other short course (25) yards with 20 lanes

Fee: $5 nonresident day pass

Fort Lauderdale is where I crossed the line from recreational pool user to addict. It took multiple exposures for the addiction to set in, and now the responsible pools are endangered, a troublesome development for this junkie.

My first visit here was inauspicious. It was January 1993, and my college team drove down in a van from Connecticut, leaving behind our new 50-meter indoor pool to cram workouts into a single lane alongside dozens of other northeastern teams. We stayed somewhere inland, equally crowded, and had to jog to and from the pool complex. I don’t remember much else about the trip except toasting my 21st birthday at the Elbo Room. Driving, running, cramped swim conditions, and an infamous beach bar–not much to like there.

You know you're at swim camp when your hotel room looks like this.

You know you’re at Swim Camp when your hotel room looks like this (2007).

Fort Lauderdale redeemed itself on my second visit, in 2007, for my team’s annual Swim Camp. Wisely avoiding the crush of collegiate teams, TNYA plans its camp for early spring, when the cold in New York has gone on far too long and Florida is all but guaranteed to be warm and sunny. We took over a full pool for some workouts and joined in with the Fort Lauderdale team for others, practicing twice per day and leaving ample time for eating, socializing, and lazing on the beach. It was bliss, solidifying many friendships and setting me up for a great summer of open water. Ever since then, pretty much all I’ve wanted to do is swim outdoors.

The next year was more of the same, but with three practices a day since my addiction had festered and I was training for the Manhattan swim. Two other people on the trip were, too, and we’d have a whole pool to ourselves as the sun came up over the ocean, silhouetting the palm trees visible out front. I was so focused that I doubt I traveled more than a quarter-mile from the pool except during an ocean swim. The pool, the smoothie place, the pool, the breakfast place, the beach, the pool, the Greek place, repeat.

Since then, my schedule has unfortunately precluded a repeat trip with TNYA. One year, Piezy and I found a different camp at a different  pool that worked with our schedules, so we spent a week swimming and biking through other parts of Fort Lauderdale with some beach visits thrown in. Once again, a fantastic trip. Other years, I’ve gone farther afield in search of fixes–Walnut Creek, Panama City, Australia–but have always craved a return to the simple, swim-centric life in Fort Lauderdale.

The place that facilitated my obsession–then the Swimming Hall of Fame, now the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex–is on life support. As I write, TNYA’s Swim Camp is taking place in Miami for the first time due to constant threats of closure at Fort Lauderdale. Once again, the timing wasn’t good for me anyway, so I was extra glad to make a trip two weekends ago for my friend John’s birthday. He and I have shared many swim and bike adventures, but his job has taken him out of New York, and I was glad to have the chance to catch up.

the view from the west
With that long-winded lead-up, let me tell you about the pools. Not since Stanford had I seen so much sparkling pool water. The complex has two deep-water 50-meter lap pools perpendicular to each other with a diving pool off the end to the west (in the foreground, above). Although I’ve seen different configurations previously, the present lane setup is all east-west: short-course yards in one pool and long-course meters in the other. Visible from the whole complex, not to mention from the Intracoastal Waterway and the Las Olas Bridge, is a gigantic digital clock, perfectly synched with smaller digital clocks at strategic poolside locations. A giant set of bleachers along the north side makes clear that competitions here can draw an audience, however, the bleachers were condemned in 2011 and are blocked off.

Me and John after the big birthday swim. Are these people really in their 40s?!

Me and John after his birthday swim, looking not a day over 39.

John chose to celebrate his entry into Club 40 by swimming for four-plus hours under the blazing sun in the west pool. He churned out 40 reps of 400 long-course meters while I did a mix of 350s and 300s on the same interval. This being Florida, we each had our own lane the entire time, and when John’s sister and another friend joined us, they got their own lanes. In between reps, I was able to watch some synchro diving practice over yonder.

Approaching 50 years old, the pool has some rough patches. Its lanes are narrow by today’s standards, and there are no infinity gutters, super-high dive towers, or other now-common enhancements. As I tired, I actually hallucinated that some of the blobs of exposed concrete on the bottom were creatures swimming into my lane. (I thought I hallucinated the smell of donuts, too, but that turned out to be legit, wafting over from brunch at the restaurant next door.) I am unsure of the purpose of the weighted cones lurking underwater. John felt currents from the vents, and I’d like to be able to blame them for my occasional run-ins with the lane line, but it’s more likely that faulty technique and a propensity to circle swim were to blame.

short-course poolThe next day we returned for a less taxing swim, and I opted for the other pool for the sake of this blog. It is closer to the street and set up with an endless array of lanes the short, 25-yard way across. The water was ever so slightly cooler in that one, although it’s supposed to be the other way around. Not only did I have my own lane, but I was several lanes away from any other swimmer.

After both swims, I luxuriated in the on-deck shower and then changed in the spacious locker rooms. Though worn, the rows of lockers, sinks, and showers attest to the numbers of swimmers this place can support.

How did this pool paradise come about? Its predecessor was the 50-meter Las Olas Beach and Casino Pool, saltwater, built in 1928 a a short distance north. Soon discovered by northern swim coaches, it became such a popular training and competition destination that it is credited with (or blamed for) starting the Spring Break phenomenon. In the 1960s, that pool was demolished to make way for new development, so a new pool and swim museum were built on nearby public land/infill. The complex expanded to its current configuration in the early 1990s with the second training pool and distinctive, wave-shaped edifice added then. Originally run together as the nonprofit International Swimming Hall of Fame, the pools are now managed by the municipality while the museum remains distinct. (More on the museum in a future post, and in the meantime see its comprehensive history of the complex.)

record boardThe one-time prominence of the facility is clear–see the record board boasting the likes of Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin, picture the bleachers filled with crowds, the results on display on the giant clock, the light towers keeping the action going long after dark. However, its age is apparent, too. I love that the spots in Fort Lauderdale I got to know in 2007 are almost all still alive, but the reality is that the city and southern Florida have changed tremendously since the 1960s and even since the 2000s. Yachting has become a mega business, and 50-meter pools are no longer a commodity. There is a contingent that would love to get out of the pool business and have a giant parking lot and expanded marina instead.

the clock from Las Olas Bridge

The pace clock, peeking out among the yachts, is readable from far beyond the pool.

Gloom-and-doom predictions of closure have grown stronger the past few years. Everyone agrees that new construction will be expensive, but there are gaping differences of opinion regarding what exactly should be constructed, how much it will cost, how much the city can afford, and whether the deed requires a pool on site. (Diving pool on top of parking garage, anyone?) The museum, meanwhile, has found a welcoming new home in Santa Clara, California, but its moving date remains elusive. When John and I visited, there was much anticipation of a meeting that was scheduled for the day after I left, however, I can’t seem to find any reports of the outcome.

All this to say, you should probably visit the pool soon. No matter how nice any replacement pool may be, it won’t have the authenticity of the place that made me the addict I am today.

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#84: Jones College Prep High School Pool

DSCN1599_jones_prepLocation: Printer’s Row, Chicago

Configuration: 6 lanes x 25 yards

Fee: Free as visitor with Chicago Smelts

When I collected Chicago pool recommendations, there were many great-sounding options in addition to the magnificent InterContinental. Thus, I was motivated to schedule strategically for a two-pool trip. The second choice–with thanks to former TNYA meet coach Christopher, now a Chicagoan–was a workout with my team’s Midwestern sibling, the Chicago Smelts, at the Jones College Prep High School Pool.

The pool is behind the highest windows in this new school building.

Look, up on the top floor, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a pool!

The location could not have been more convenient to my hotel, just a few short blocks away–an especially good thing when the workout starts at 5:45 a.m., less than 24 hours after my InterContinental swim. I spotted another swimmer type and followed her into the school and up the elevator to the seventh and top floor. This town gets points for building its pools up high!

Jones College Prep turns out to be one of Chicago’s top public high schools, with a new building and a pool befitting a high-performing student body. Opened at the start of the 2013 academic year, the building added capacity for this selective school. Yes, there were cost overruns, and yes the pool may be partly to blame, but that is not unusual for this type of undertaking.

The Smelts smelled opportunity with a new pool coming online and got themselves booked for regular morning workouts starting just a few weeks before my visit. Swimmers expressed happiness with the early practice options yet were surprisingly blasé about the beautiful facility. A trip or two to my team’s basement pools would add to their appreciation.

The pool? It’s got six lanes, just-right water temperature, and set-ups for all kinds of aquatics, including polo and diving. My photo does not do it justice. (Blame the not-yet-risen sun.) The locker rooms were reasonably spacious, and everything was nice and clean. Good job, Chicago!

The team was great, too. As with many USMS affiliates, visitors are welcome for a week of free workouts. A swimmer named Heidi collected my guest registration receipt on deck, steered me to the right lane, wrote the workout on the board, and proceeded to lead the lane while I hung on for dear life for the next 75 minutes. When my abs hurt the next day, it didn’t take long to realize it was from all the dolphin kicking on my back–something I’d been meaning to do more of anyway. Everyone was friendly, and I appreciated their chatter about the One Hour Swim, which I’d completed recently. Not only were Smelts members in the midst of competing, but they–again led by Heidi–were serving as “host” for the nationwide virtual competition.

After showering and bundling up, I was surprised to find students and staff streaming into the school at 7:00 a.m. New Yorkers are not such early risers, and our facilities are all but deserted at both the start and finish of our (later) morning workouts. I appreciate the Midwestern hardiness and would be happy to swim with the Smelts again and again and again if only I’d stayed in Chicago any longer.

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#83: InterContinental Chicago Pool

Location:  Magnificent Mile, Chicago

Configuration: 4 lanes of 25 yards

Cost: $27.50 including tax

If a picture is worth a thousand words, allow me to be verbose.

Photo by InterContinental Hotel.

InterContinential Pool bleachers

DSCN1585_intercontinental

Prior to a recent trip to Chicago, I’d polled the Internets for a pool recommendation. The InterContinental Health Club won out, so I wandered up at dawn last Monday to check it out. Lobby staff directed me to the fitness center, where the attendant was dubious that I’d want to pay $25 plus tax for a swim. “Go take a look,” she cautioned.

Neptune fountainUm, yeah. I gladly forked over the entry fee–not much higher than I pay to swim in a crowded basement in Manhattan–for my own lane and then some in this masterpiece of pool design. Ah, Chicago prices! The ceiling, the stained-glass windows, the arches, the Spanish tile, the terra-cotta fountain, the wrought-iron light fixtures, the rattan-filled bleachers, the sun dancing across the water, the view of the Tribune Building . . . there’s not a thing I would change.

InterContinental had the same thought when restoring it in 1990, and it looks largely the same as when it opened in 1929 as the all-male Medinah Athletic Club for the Shriners. Back then, the property included golf, shooting, and archery ranges, bowling, billiards, a track, and a gymnasium. None of these athletic facilities survives save for the pool proudly on display on the 14th floor. Over the years, Johnny Weismuller, Esther Williams, and Tennessee Williams were among the luminaries who swam here.

the cold-water faucetThe pool heaven at Hansborough and understated elegance at London Terrace came to mind as I worked through my Monday Morning Pyramid* to fully test and appreciate the water and views, but this beauty far surpasses them. It was also pleasantly uncrowded despite the pre-work hour. In fact, when I got into the easternmost lane, I had the odd sensation of disturbing a cold layer on top and swimming through occasional hot and cold pockets, as if in open water. This turned out to be because cold water was gushing in from a faucet in the deep end (above right) while warm water flowed in from underwater vents–and no one was swimming there to mix it up. I moved over once a spot opened up and eventually experienced all of the lanes, which averaged in temperature in the low 80s.

Although the bottom tiling marked five lanes, the pool was wisely roped off into just four, and my split times indicated that the length is 25 yards despite the “Junior Olympic” 25-meter distance cited on the hotel website. I particularly enjoyed backstroking under the ornate ceiling and looking out the windows while using a kickboard. It was fun to imagine the bleachers packed with bespoke spectators enjoying fancy drinks while cheering on swimmers, and to wonder who might have gotten the box-seat-like precipices.

Chicago may be Second City by some standards, but for this pool I give it top billing. I hope to have the chance to enjoy it again. Next time, I’ll ask for the secret tour to learn even more and to be sure I get my money’s worth.

*The Monday Morning Pyramid is a great way to put a pool through its paces. It had been a long time since I actually did it on a Monday, as follows (after warm-up):

DSCN1576_intercontinental150 swim, drill, swim, kick, drill, swim
100 free, fast
150 swim, drill, swim, kick, drill, swim
2 x 100 stroke or IM
150 swim, drill, swim, kick, drill, swim
3 x 100 pull
150 swim, drill, swim, kick, drill, swim
4 x 100 kick
150 swim, drill, swim, kick, drill, swim
3 x 100 pull
150 swim, drill, swim, kick, drill, swim
2 x 100 stroke or IM
150 swim, drill, swim, kick, drill, swim
100 free, fast
150 swim, drill, swim, kick, drill, swim

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#82: Willow Valley Communities Aquatics Center

Four pool fans

Rub-a-dub-dub, four women in a tub: Janet, Mom, me, and Aunt Alice Ann.

Location: Willow Street, Pennsylvania

Configuration: 2 x 25-yard designated lap lanes, 4 more without lane lines

Cost: Free as guest of community resident

An underemployed friend and I used to quip that retirement is wasted on the old. That couldn’t be farther from the truth at Willow Valley Communities, a pair of non-profit-run retirement campuses just outside Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where my aunt and uncle settled in late 2013. The 2,500 “mature adults” who call this home make the most of many fine amenities at their disposal, including a Cultural Center with this Fitness and Aquatics Center.

100_2577_willow_valleyThe pool opens at 6:00 a.m. every day, sans lifeguard but with swim-buddy rule. The lap section is 4-5 feet deep, kept at a temperate 82 degrees, with a deep end off to one side that was host to a volleyball game during my visit. There’s also a warmer therapy pool where my mom and aunt took an arthritis class and a hot tub completing the square, all surrounded by a large deck and lounge.

Natural light comes in from a wall of windows along the lap side, colorful murals and flags add to the cheer, and it’s all impeccably maintained. Accessories include many toys (no pull buoys), and the locker rooms are lovely.

My aunt and uncle have made many friends in their new home, including champion swimmer Janet. She’s gearing up for the U.S. Senior Games, having already claimed a state title in the 80-84 age group. A freestyler and backstroker, Janet trains in the pool three times a week. I was thrilled when she turned up by my side the day after Christmas, because we’d thought our swims wouldn’t overlap. She and her husband chose Willow Valley partly because of its pool, and I don’t blame them. In summer 2014, Willow Valley even completed an outdoor (non-lap) pool on the other campus, just steps from my aunt’s place. What’s not to like?!

Janet attributes her health and vitality to her swimming, to which she confesses a happy addiction–something I certainly relate to. But there is plenty else to keep people active and fulfilled at Willow Valley: classes, volunteering, theater, restaurants, outings, clubs, model trains, walking paths, fishing ponds . . . the list goes on. All the people I’ve met during the course of two visits seem exceptionally satisfied with their decisions to settle here, so I’m pleased as punch that my aunt and uncle are among them–and that I can look forward to more swims at this pool.

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#81: Prospect Park YMCA Aquatics Center

Image by Levien & Company.

Location: Park Slope, Brooklyn

Configuration: 6 x 25 yards

Cost: Free as guest of member

Here is a happy story of depaving a parking lot to put up a paradise. The Prospect Park YMCA Aquatics Center was conceived to expand swim capacity beyond the small, 1927-vintage pool at this bustling facility. It took several years longer than expected to come to fruition but now does just that, netting the Y at least one new member.

Jen, whom I last swam with on Staten Island, is a happy new member here and reports that the new lap pool is never crowded. We visited the day after Thanksgiving and had plenty of room in both the pool and the locker rooms, making for a relaxing afternoon on what for many was a day of frenzied consumption. Indeed, I must admit relief that the patrons here did not match any Park Slopes stereotype of, say, self-righteous parents and precocious children.

Ranging in depth from 4 to 5 feet, the pool exemplifies good aquatic design and management: on-deck showers and bathrooms, pixellated wave and fish tile decorations, toys galore, and natural light from high-level windows on two sides all impressed me. The older pool remains in use, allowing this new one to be largely dedicated to lap swimmers and kept at a not-too-warm temperature.

DSCN1503

Jen peers down into the pool from 8th Street.

The YMCA, which has been on an impressive pool-opening kick these past few years, secured enough funding in 2007 to break ground. Donors included then-councilman Bill de Blasio, who remained a devoted gym patron well into his mayoral term before finally leaving the neighborhood for Gracie Mansion. Originally predicted to open in 2008, the project took much longer than expected in typical New York fashion, finally seeing completion this past summer.

The exterior belies the high-ceilinged space inside. Cleverly, the new pool was built well below grade, with just one story poking up above ground, thereby maximizing future development possibilities and quashing the parking lot. There’s still plenty of bike parking out front by the main entrance on 9th Street, allowing the natives to arrive by the politically correct conveyance.

Jen is a regular here now, and I wish the Y would do something in my neighborhood.

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Henri Matisse’s Swimming Pool

The Swimming Pool in Matisse’s dining room at the Hôtel Régina, Nice, 1953. Photo: Hélène Adant. © Centre Pompidou – MnamCci – Bibliothèque Kandinsky. From MoMA website.

At Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, the exhibition on view at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), sublime modern art translates into pure pool joyousness. One of Matisse’s most significant and popular cut-outs, and the focus of a major art conservation effort that sparked the show, The Swimming Pool is on display for the first time in 20 years. Swim, don’t walk, to see it.

Following his surgery for cancer in 1941, the French artist and master of modern art Henri Matisse (1869-1954) turned to colorfully painted, cut paper as his primary artistic medium. Using a process he called “painting with scissors,” he cut out plant, animal, human, and abstract forms in a variety sizes, arranging them in compositions featuring vibrant color contrasts and a pared-down, decorative approach. The exhibition includes over 100 works of art and provides new insight into this important area of his art work.

The Swimming Pool (late summer 1952) was inspired by Matisse’s visit to–as noted in the exhibition’s description–a “favorite pool” in Cannes, France, where he went to study divers. According to the exhibition catalog, this appears to be the pool at the Palm Beach Hotel in Cannes, a MoMA librarian and swimming fan has helpfully determined.

Unable to endure the summer heat, he returned home and announced: “I will make my own pool.” In his dining room at the Hôtel Régina in Nice he had his assistant place a band of white paper, about 70 cm wide, at eye level, along the tan burlap walls of the room. Over the next several weeks, he cut out swimmers, divers, sea creatures, and other shapes from paper painted ultramarine blue, arranging these forms within and outside the paper’s boundaries. The diving, swimming, flipping, and turning water-colored forms against the white background create an interplay of positive and negative space making swimmer and water interchangeable. The dynamic relationships between the graceful forms cut and placed by Matisse (with the help of his assistant) evoke the essence of waterborne movement in a swimming pool on a bright summer day.

Acquired by the museum in 1975, and first displayed in 1977, the monumental, 50-foot-long work has been re-installed in a special room in the museum, allowing the viewer to experience it as the artist did in his dining room in Nice. Entering the sanctuary of The Swimming Pool and taking in the surrounding scene of bodies moving in water that plays out along the four walls is both meditative and exhilarating. The environment and the subject matter re-create in the imagination the experience of swimming in an actual pool.

When Matisse said “I will make my own pool,” he spoke for anyone who decides for him- or herself to do something creative, meaningful, or challenging. Every swimmer will relate to this, I think.

Information on timed tickets (required), admission, and museum hours are available on MoMA’s website. The exhibition runs until February 8, 2015.

Thanks to devoted reader and pool enthusiast Zoe for this contribution. –Hannah

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Swim Flick: Touch the Wall

What’s better than a holiday weekend? A holiday weekend with a new swim movie!

There are a lot of reasons to recommend the documentary Touch the Wallwhich opened today. Star Missy Franklin is a joy to watch in and out of the water. Franklin’s family and coaches are wonderfully grounded and supportive. The underwater swim footage is mesmerizing. Older teammate and training partner Kara Lynn Joyce adds a different dimension as she pursues her third Olympics. The story of two champion female athletes who are both friends and competitors is rare in popular media. The theme of loving what you do comes through loud and clear. CA, sitting on one side of me, especially appreciated the dialogue with and insights from the coaches. For Jen, on the other side, the film brought to mind the antics of her daughters.

But you come here for pools, and that is yet another reason to check out this film about the lead-up to the 2012 Olympics. How many places does an aspiring Olympian train and compete? It takes four continents to answer that question.

Franklin’s suburban Denver hometown pool looks like Anypool, USA. It’s packed to the gills with age-groupers no matter the hour–they don’t get the most convenient time slots–and they love it. Her high school pool is a little nicer but certainly does not scream world champion. The pools get better when she starts competing at the highest level: training camp in Brisbane, Australia; world championships in Shanghai, China. Success in those venues leads to an intense schedule of pool tourism. Long-course beauties in Palo Alto, Charlotte, Austin, the Florida Keys, and Indianapolis are on the circuit before the Olympic Trials. My favorite? The Keys–both for the pool and the open water swims with dolphins, where the highly evolved aquatic Homo sapiens and cetaceans are at times nearly indistinguishable.

The 2012 Olympic Trials, held in a pop-up pool in Omaha, was full of pyrotechnics both literally and figuratively. From there, eastern Tennessee and Vichy, France, are the final training grounds before the Olympic competition at the London Aquatics Centre. The pools and waterslide that star in USA Swimming’s “Call Me Maybe” video–Franklin’s directorial debut–are in Vichy.

Franklin could have written her ticket to any college team or pro contract before reaching legal age. Further proving that she’s an independent thinker, she chose Cal and its workmanlike Spieker Pool for her collegiate career while many of her teammates headed to snazzy Stanford.

At 1:48, the film is longer than I generally opt for, and at moments I thought it would have been stronger with a focus on Franklin alone. But that wouldn’t have been the real story, and I ended up grateful for the dueling narratives and definitions of success.

I’d like to know more about how the filmmakers started working with Franklin when she was just 14 years old, and how the narrative arc took shape. Their website isn’t fully fleshed out, so maybe these answers are coming. In the meantime, grab your swim buddies and race to the theater for this one-week engagement.

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