Notes from Berlin, October 2012

Stadtbad Mitte, Gartenstraße. Built in 1930. Survived the bomb raids of the second world war. Renovated in the 1990s. The roof and the walls are covered in squares of glass, and even on this grey day the light comes pouring in and the big room is warm and inviting.

This is the first time I’ve been in a 50-metre pool since I was a kid, when we used to spend long summer afternoons at the Coral Casino in Santa Barbara, practicing our dives and our cannonballs, making up games, peering through the sauna steam at the naked old ladies, their skin folding and drooping, fascinated and horrified by this glimpse of what we would, if we were lucky, someday ourselves become.

I enter at the deep end, standing on the ledge that runs around the perimeter of the pool. I press my goggles against my face. The seal is weak and soon I’ll need to replace them. I push off from the wall. For most of the length, it seems as if I’m not moving at all: then, suddenly, I’m approaching the other wall. The pool is shallow here, so shallow that my knuckles are practically grazing the floor, and I am moving, and I have no sense of time; it might have taken me seconds or years to go from there to here.

I think about the particular and universal language of the pool. It’s a relatively recently acquired language, for me, but I feel fluent here, even though the only German word I know is the one for thank you. Thank you, I keep saying to everyone, even when what I really want to say is, “sorry” or “excuse me” or “yes” or “no” – as if hoping to somehow convey a kind of gratitude for being allowed to bumble along.

Anyhow, once I am dried and clothed again and out on the street I am back to being a foreigner. We walk towards the S-Bahn station. The day had started out cold and wet but now, in the early evening, it has brightened, and the shadows are long on the grass.

[full, original version here]