Tuesday, May 30, 2006

My Swimming Autobiography

Note: Originally posted on the EAGLE online community site, behind IBM's firewall on 30 May 2006, at 6:18 pm:

Vacation was perfect.

I swam a lot throughout it and for further relaxation, the last day, did this inventory of meaningful swimming experiences from two-41, in six states and six countries [Between 2006 and 2013, or 41-47, added additional experiences: Revisited some bodies of water in Israel along with new ones, added a pool in the U.K., and another part of a familiar ocean, but in a new country -- my first time in the other hemisphere]:

Stamford, the early years -- two-10

Jewish Community Center (JCC) pool and trampolines on Briar Brae Road in Stamford, Connecticut; my sisters and I would alternate between the pool and tramps for hours; there was never any adult supervision at the tramps, which were the woven kind, stretched over two rectangular pits, and we would jump from one to the other and do flips, sometimes landing with one of our then little legs between the springs, but were never afraid.

In-the-ground swimming pool off of Mayapple Road in Stamford, where I took swimming lessons from a small, blond doctor's wife, who gave me tremendous confidence.

Swimming hole off of High Ridge Road in Stamford, where I swam with my mother and sisters, and cut the top of my foot on a rock -- and still have a scar.

Dorothy Heroy Stamford community pool off of High Ridge, near the border of Pound Ridge, New York, where my sister Kathy and I would bike nearly every day in the summer.

Out-of-the-ground pool in our yard, under a canopy of leafy trees, which meant lots of whirlpools by my sisters and me, gathering leaves from the pool's surface, and skinny-dipping with my sisters at night with only the porch-light above us as our guide.

Best friend Alicia's in-the-ground oval pool, at her house on Rockrimmon Road in Stamford, next to which we hunted for Native American arrow-heads in the woods.

Best friend after Alicia, Jennifer Juliet's (J.J.'s), in-the-ground pool at her house on Haviland Road in Stamford; her mother lived in a bikini during the summers.

Lake in Shelton, Connecticut, at Camp Rippowam, during my first year of sleep-away camp; I liked canoeing on it better than swimming in it.

Israel, at eight
  • Salt
    The Dead Sea in Israel, where we loaned my crush and classmate a body-suit to swim in, since her mother hadn't thought it would be warm enough to swim.
  • Wonderment
    Ein Gedi, in Israel, under a waterfall with my mother; I loved my mother's plaid bathing suit and sketched a drawing of us in my journal afterwards.
Long Island Sound in Stamford with my best friend; her sheer presence in her white bikini when we were 11 fully awakened my attraction to girls.
Lake in Palmer, Massachusetts, at Camp Ramah, site of my Bat Mitzvah, where I tried cultivating a boyfriend, rather than studying my Torah portion and bombed at both.
Community pool in Yorktown Heights, New York with a crush from a summer drama program; at summer's end, I cried when my parents picked me up.
Mediterranean Sea, along Chofit, Israel, next-door to my relatives' village; my cousin and I swam and body-surfed regardless of black flags posted at the lifeguard stand.
Natural pool in a gorge in Ithaca, New York; my only boyfriend ever and I visited his openly gay brother and partner for a weekend, and they took us swimming.
Pool on the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University in Jerusalem; my friend and I swam 50 minutes daily for the year, including a cross-town bus-ride each way.
Israel, at 20
  • Beach
    Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv, Israel with my childhood Israeli friend; he wasn't much of a swimmer, though he could do innumerable pushups on his knuckles.
  • Escape
    Dead Sea again and this time, at 20, a friend and I were there with men who expected intimacy with us, and who weren't happy when it didn't materialize.
  • Danger
    Sea of Gallilee in Israel, where my friend Cathy, with whom I swam daily, stepped on a piece of glass just off shore, under the water, and needed First Aid.
  • Attraction
    Ein Gedi again; my summertime roommate Lori, along with one of the guides and I bathed there during a hike from the Sea of Gallilee to the Mediterranean Sea.
Italian Center in Stamford with friend Leslie during the summer after returning from my year abroad in Israel, and then Leslie was killed five years later by a drunk driver.
University of Michigan's pools on Central Campus, where I ran into the woman for whom I had longed for two years, who I felt now showed interest in me -- too late!
Indoor pool in Chicago; my ex and I lived in a building that was built in the '30s and we hosted a party, turned off the lights and most of us skinny-dipped -- most of us innocently -- though a couple of our friends became a couple that night.
Off the Belmont Rocks in Lake Michigan in Chicago; I dove in after my rugby coach Denise -- ah, youth....
Marshfield YMCA in Chicago, down the street from my new apartment and I swam there nearly daily; the pool kept me company after the breakup.
Health club in Schaumburg, Illinois, which offered a deal to Advantis employees, of which I was one before moving to IBM and to New Jersey in 1996.
Rooftop pool of W Hotel in San Francisco, along with an exec who was a good swimmer.
JCC's indoor pool on Newfield Avenue in Stamford with my mother; I was three weeks late in being born, and so I guess I liked swimming around her then, too.
United Kingdom, in my early-30s
  • Home
    Winchester, United Kingdom (UK), at the local health club, when I'd visit the employee from Hursley who worked on my team at the time.
  • Refreshment
    London, near Golder's Green, where I swam prior to meeting with a Jewish lesbian woman who turned out to be the daughter of a man my mother had dated and liked.
During business trips at the Inter-Continental in Chicago, offering the second-most dramatic pool I've ever swum in, as it was in Art Deco style.
Ogunquit, Maine, where Pat and I stayed at a gay-owned B&B; lesbians raced in the pool while gay men lounged in the adjacent jacuzzi, to one another's amusement.
The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, in a giant outdoor pool designed for Esther Williams, which was the most dramatic pool I've swum in due to its size and history.
Pacific Ocean off of Conchas Chinas Beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with Pat and three friends, where the tide threw us against the shore and gave us shell-burn.
Snorkeling for the first time in the Gulf of Mexico in Costa Maya, Mexico with Pat and friends, including Paul Noga and his partner, during the EAGLE cruise.
Our friends' house in East Hampton, New York; lounging on my side on a pool-float, one of their comments made me feel ultimately aesthetically appreciated.
Atlantic Ocean with a friend during our visit in East Hampton; we treaded water for nearly an hour and then I felt her racing me back to shore....She won.
Mt. Scopus campus pool at Hebrew University -- the first infinity pool I had swum in; it didn't exist 20 years ago when I was a student abroad there.
Outdoor pool in Stony Creek, New York, during the "Adirondyke Weekend," accepting a dare to dive in the pool in my clothes and then my Adidas track-pants slid off.
Community pool in Rye, New York with my friend Sarah and her kids, and sadly, couldn't recapture our childhood swimming experiences with her children there.
Beijing indoor hotel pool, which was big and nearly round, and colder than any indoor pool I've ever swum in; there was no lifeguard and I was completely alone in the pool.
Hotel pool in Shanghai in October, where I did butterfly, figuring I could work out the pain in my neck through swimming -- turned out not to be a good strategy.
Outdoor pool at friends' condo in St. Pete's Beach, Florida over New Year's -- my neck was still tender and so I just sat in the water, and it felt good to have no gravity on my neck.
Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA) in Clifton, New Jersey, where Pat and I joined as a couple, and which has the most calm pool ever, with blue-on-blue tile.
Boston Sports Club in Lexington, Massachusetts, where the soap in the showers smelled better than the pool looked, but it was utilitarian and just fine.
Lagos community indoor pool in Madrid, Spain, which was hectic and a bit cold, but with views of gorgeous trees, and filled with older women and young gay men.
In El Escorial, Spain's community pool, including infinity edges, a gorgeous female swim coach of a beautiful teenage swim team; during one swim, a couple in the other lane were boldly affectionate, and during another swim, witnessed an adorable swim class for toddler-aged children and their parents.
Added nearly a year later, on 25 May 2007:
In Allouez, Wisconsin, at the YMCA's pool from the '50s, Olympic-size and shallow the whole length, which is what I believe made it so slow for swimming, but it was near Pat's brother's house and so it was ultimately convenient during our vacation.
In Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin's Y, the family of a ship-building baron had donated an ultra-fresh "aquatic center," which was Olympian-ready and giant. The water-aerobics class was held next to the lane-swimmers, with plenty of room for everyone.
In Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the Central Campus Rec. Building's Bell Pool, which sported maize and blue banners at each end; other than Beijing's, and the out-of-the-ground pool next to our house, it was the coldest pool in which I'd ever swum.
Added on 3 November 2007:
In Bangalore, India, at the Windsor Bengaluru, where I could hear the auto-rickshaws and two-wheelers beeping beyond the wall of greenery every time I came up for air while doing the breast-stroke, and the pool was nearly as cold as Beijing's and Ann Arbor's.
In Whitefield, India, at the Palm Meadows Club, where we live, it's a competition in the lap-pool among us and the kids from around the world, floating on various blow-up toys.
In Cochi, India, at the Taj Malabar, it felt like we could have swum over the edge of the infinity pool into the lake beyond it and then out to the Arabian Sea; it captured my imagination.
In Agra, India, at the Oberoi, the air was hot and dry and the pool smooth and huge, with a portion indoors, where a giant, gold Ganesh on the blue wall beckoned us to swim toward him over and over.
Added on 25 May 2008:
Salt II
At our friends' condo-pool at John's Pass, St. Pete Beach, Florida, where the swimming pool was a salt-water pool -- unnerving to be in a blue-bottomed, concrete enclosure, rather than the ocean and yet to taste salt-water; Pat liked our extra buoyancy.
At our friends' pool in their backyard in South Pasadena, Florida, where the water made the hot air suddenly cooler, and where the salamanders feasted on what Rita skimmed off of the pool's surface...and where the neighbors' grandson, his grandmother and I played an endless, fun round of beach-ball volleyball.
Added on 20 September 2008:
The Radisson Hotel on Cesar Chavez Boulevard in Austin, Texas offered sweet, warm water and the second-longest hotel-pool I've ever swum in (the longest was at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island). I plowed through the already-warm, early-morning darkness, while the pool-lights changed, green-red-blue, without a clock and guessed 30 minutes perfectly -- confirmed by looking in the window, at the bottom of the CNN screen on a TV monitor at the bar of T.G.I. Friday's restaurant, which overlooked the pool.
Added on 6 May 2009:
Danbury, Connecticut's Courtyard Mariott provided a pool not much bigger than a bathtub, but it was so lovely to immerse myself and to swim a few strokes back and forth with my French friend, Sonia, who was staying at the hotel during a business trip.
Added on 20 June 2010:
Upper Saddle River, New Jersey at our friends' home in a salt-water pool big enough for a race. I won, going and Rahel might have won, returning. Rahel's daughter, Aspen, was the water-winged three-year-old sprite, who made me, if not Pat, feel like a friendly giant.
Added on 21 January 2011
Los Angeles, California, at a hotel on Wilshire the name of which I can't recall, the air was so chilly and the water so well-heated that I swam through mist till the rain began.
Added on 23 May 2012
Juneau, Alaska, at Juneau High School in August, 2011, to which we hiked for the afternoon from our ship. The pool was sponsored by BP Oil and the walls were painted green and sported the BP logo.
Dallas, Texas, at the Hyatt in October, 2011, where the indoor pool was not heated, nor the room it was in, and my visit was during unusually cold weather for the time, in the low-50s; it woke me up prior to dressing for a business dinner.
Added on 29 May 2012
Clifton, New Jersey, at L.A. Fitness gym, where we have to go, now that the Clifton YMHA closed due to low membership and being sold to a special needs school; we miss the Y.
Added on 24 November 2012
Jerusalem, Israel, at the Mt. of Olives Hotel, with my wife Pat. Being in Israel with someone who loved me (other than my parents), was dreamy. And fun to see fellow swimmers served watermelon while perching in the shallow end.
The Dead Sea, Israel. Pat & I were human corks. It was >100 degrees and it felt just as special to stand under the public showers afterward, blasting ourselves with fresh water, to rinse off all of the salt.
Across from the Dead Sea, Israel, at Hotel Rimmonim (Pomegranates). Refreshing after the concentrated salt across the road at the Dead Sea, but then too much humanity, and plastic cups, bobbed around the giant and crammed pool till Pat & I opted out.
Kibbutz Lavi, Galil, Israel. That morning, we were in the heat of Metro-Dead Sea, then by afternoon, in the relatively chilly air of the country's north side. We jumped in the cool pool that was indoors, but with all of its glass-doors and windows open, and with a brisk breeze blowing through.
Tel Aviv, Israel, Mediterranean Sea. Pat and I submerged ourselves in the green-yellow dirty/cloudy water and it was also rough, pushing us around, and not in the fun way I remember when my cousin Nitza and I used to body-surf in it near Netanya when we were 15. We ran into a number from our tour-group who had welts on their arms and legs; they'd been stung by jelly fish at the same beach!
Dan Panorama Hotel, Tel Aviv, Israel. We showered swiftly by the pool, and then slid into the shallow end, feeling relieved to rinse off the sea, and that the jelly fish had left us alone.
Guarujá, Brasil. I was with four work colleagues, rather than Pat, at the most gorgeous beach in the world: powdery-fine, white sand and glowing blue sea-water. All of us went barefoot and two of us rolled up our pants to our knees and waded in. The waves splashed above my knees and salted the cloth. I ached to dive in. It was a happy torture.
Slough, United Kingdom. It was 6 am, with only the under-water lights of the indoor pool lit. Swimming next to a colleague was both comforting and pressure-filled, which made me swim faster. I coined the term, "comfortition," while swimming and realizing the two at-odds emotions.
Westford, Massachusetts. The pool at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel was long enough for seven strokes per lap. Still, I loved it, as outside was the aftermath of a Nor'easter storm and yet, indoors, I was swimming in warmth.
Expansion II
Bangalore, India. April swimming at 9ish am in an outdoor pool that wasn't heated -- possible for me only during the hottest time of the year in India. Both times, had it all to myself and felt like my limbs could stretch to the four corners of the pool as I did breaststroke.
Added on 16 February 2014
Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the Hilton. Instead of tiles, the pool floor and walls were covered with aluminum-y metal and the light played off of it, making me feel like a Disco star while I swam.
Traffic Jam
Dedham, Massachusetts, at the Hilton. The many-child family was an obstacle course and the water was as warm as a bath, but the pool-size was decent and I was desperate for a submersion after our four-hour ride through a hectic snow flurry-storm up New Jersey and much of the slice of New York we drove through. Loved the chill, coming from the glass walls, and contrasting with the heat of the pool.
Added on 2 March 2014
Reykjavik, Iceland at the Laugardalslag public pool -- indoors. It was the hugest pool I'd ever swum in, vast, and I felt relatively tiny in it. Pat & I had the whole thing to ourselves while swimming and giant music speakers in the center of the ceiling played American '70s classic rock.
Reykjavik, Iceland, at the Laugardalslag public pool -- outdoors. Pat & I stepped out into 2-degree-Celcius weather in our wet swimsuits and with our soaked heads, feeling certain that Icelanders were crazy for doing this habitually. How could all of the other people outside look so unbothered by the weather? And then we found a hot-pot of geothermally-heated water and sunk into it, laying our heads back till our ears were covered with loving, warm water. When we exited the warmth, we couldn't remember where the door was to get back to the locker room and walked around for a time, searching. Marvelously, we were not cold, though we were still wet and it was still 2 degrees out.
Arnessysla, Iceland, at the Laugarvatn Fontana. In contrast to the public-pool experience, where I neglected to mention that there were strict matrons, making sure everyone washed naked with soap prior to suiting up, this place -- despite its crisp lake-and-mountain views -- felt unsanitary in a particular geothermal pool. Pat & I walked in up to our hips and Pat declared, perhaps a bit too loudly, as she reflected later, privately, and with a grin, "I'm not staying in this one; it's full of mung!" When we returned to the locker room, someone had taken Pat's towel...not the ultimately relaxing experience we had hoped for, but then we climbed a glacier and saw the Northern Lights that night and felt better.
Svartsengi, Iceland, at the Blue Lagoon. I think of this as the Goo Lagoon because while it was spacious, the geothermally-heated, mineral-rich liquid we moved through was super-viscous and my feet wondered at the unsavory bottom, full of toe-stubbing opportunities and gloppy squishiness. Also, people were drinking drinks while immersed and there were no signs, let alone human monitors, requiring pre-immersion showers, so I wondered at the cleanliness -- or lack -- of it. The best part was wrapping my arms around Pat's shoulders and resting my cheek on her back and being ferried part-way 'round the space for a ride. My favorite experience of geo-thermal water had been at the public pool four days prior.
Added on 1 February 2018
Jerusalem, Israel, at the Mamilla Hotel. Felt underground, but not in the way the ancient part of the Old City's underground looked, all stony and tunnelly. It was warm and shallow and mood-lit and purple-tiled. Spent better time on the elliptical, watching Katy Perry sing on my monitor while listening to two apparently local women and neighbors of the hotel, speaking animatedly in Hebrew during their workout.
Beit Herut, Israel, at the community pool. I didn't swim there as an adult, but during a 2015 visit with Pat, remembered an experience I had at 15, when I swam in that pool all summer while staying with my second cousins: One evening the pool was transformed by a small sailboat filled with flowers, floating in its middle as part of a local family's wedding celebration. My same-aged cousin Nitza and I sat in the adjacent park when it grew dark while bats flew and swooped just above our heads it seemed. I was afraid and Nitza wasn't.
Tel Aviv, Israel, at the beach in front of the Hilton. Each morning of our stay, I took a dip not so much for exercise, but to feel the warmth of the water under the early sun and to smile at the bright yellow, little fish that swam under me. That beach was supposed to be where most of the gay men hung out in Tel Aviv, but during these early-morning swims, I was surrounded by what appeared to be heterosexual couples who were nearly octogenerians.
Shanghai, China, at the Ritz-Carlton. I wasn't as intrepid in 2016 as prior (see "Solitude" above), and so I couldn't immerse myself any deeper than waist-level due to the cold temperature of the water. In 2005, the water was even colder, yet I managed to swim in it for 30 minutes. This time, my swim cap was unnecessary, as I paced half a length and back on foot, looking out the window at eye-level with higher floors of the other skyscrapers around us. I avoided eye-contact with the other swimmers, a couple of whom I recognized from our tour, and then sheepishly climbed out.
Santa Fe, New Mexico at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center. More lap-lanes were available than in any other pool I'd ever seen. This indoor pool seemed double or triple the Olympic-sized pool, where we swam in Reykjavik. A ~12-foot-high digital clock on the wall made it easy for me to clock 30 minutes. Walking back to my rental car after a welcome, needle-spray shower, the enormous pool was visible to my right, and a regulation-size ice skating rink to my left. I swam in the pool three luscious times.


Cheryl said...


I came across your blog while searching for anything about the Jaysee camp in Stamford - I also lived in North Stamford (on Shady Lane, off of Briar Brae) and we're the same age, although my family moved from Stamford while I was in elementary school.

Anyway, I spent many hours last night reading your blog. You are a very talented writer and I can't tell you how much I enjoyed all of your posts.

Thanks and have a great weekend!


Sarah Siegel said...

Wow, thanks for your kind feedback. I wish we'd known each other as kids in Stamford. We could have been friends then. If you'd like, please connect with me via Facebook. Hope to hear from you!

Anonymous said...

Sarah, I am so glad you added more to this as I had not seen the original post. This is so beautiful and maybe one of my favourite pieces of yours I have read! I don't know if I mentioned when we met this summer I am not a natural swimmer (nor is David - we took lessons together about 5 years ago and I can now swim and almost enjoy it, David still hates it and has yet to swim a full lap!). I have a fear of water because a friend of mine drowned whilst swimming in the ocean when we were 12 yrs old.
Some of your descriptions actually set my heart racing with nerves - jelly fish and rough oceans to name a couple! When you were in London did you ever hear about the Ladies Bathing Pond in Hampstead Heath? It is magical. It has been open since the 1920's and is such an incredibly peaceful and special haven that when you are there it is hard to believe you are in London. There are some older ladies who have been swimming there every day of the year for 50+ years. The atmosphere is so lovely, no mobile phones, no children, no men (they have their own pond and there is also a mixed pond).
I hope you get a chance to experience it one day - preferably in the summer months! Helene

Sarah Siegel said...

Helene, who knew? You seemed perfectly comfortable in the wading pool your parents added to your yard when we were little, or in my case, littler. Was I ever little? :-)

Thanks for your kind feedback and for the tip. Pat and I hope to come to London on vacation within the next several years and now, we have a fantastic swimming destination to add to our itinerary. I'm fortunate that Pat's also a strong swimmer and gets the beauty and adventure of swimming wherever we travel.

You know, my dad (z"l) didn't learn to swim till he joined the U.S. Navy in WWII and even so, I never saw him do anything in a pool other than the back-float!