It was sunny, calm, and clear today at the Albany Bulb. I met up with Gabe for another chatty swim. It was a great day for it; the water was silky and luxurious; perfect for gliding along and talking about big and small things while a light breeze fluttered and the sun kept us warm.
I’ve swum for many different reasons this week (besides the big reason that I have to because I said I would and if I don’t I’d have to make something up to write about and that would be embarrassing). Wednesday’s swim was a sunrise meditation; yesterday was brain-clearing exercise; today was connecting and decompressing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about why we swim as I delve into a bunch of swimming reads again. A few months ago I borrowed a bunch of swimming books from the library and after reading a couple, the rest languished in my ever-growing pile of books-I-want-to-read. They are now overdue and I’m trying to speedread them before my guilt beats out my procrastination and I return them to the library.
This morning I started reading, Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America.” It’s a fascinating examination of the ways race, class, and gender shaped the emergence of swimming as a leisure pursuit in the last hundred and fifty years. Cities like Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Boston established municipal pools in the late 1800s in poor and working class communities in an effort to promote personal cleanliness. It mostly backfired. Children and adolescents flocked to the pools to play, instead of working men to clean up with a refreshing dip after a long day of laboring, which was what the Victorian reformers envisioned. Then, with the widespread acceptance of the germ theory of disease, the whole idea of using a communal pool as an instrument of cleanliness fell out of favor and pools began to be promoted as sites for physical fitness.
I’m only on page 50, barely into the main thesis which (I think) is about the ways that racism, white supremacy, and battles around desegregation transformed pools from public spaces to private ones. But the pages I read today got me thinking about the different ways swimming gets promoted as a worthwhile (or not) activity (and for whom).