Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Exposed beams

We're having a heatwave. It's official. Not quite official enough, here in Ariège, to trigger the government's canicule plan, brought in after nearly 20,000 people died in France during the 2003 heatwave; but official enough to be the ongoing subject of media coverage, not to mention many a conversation. And it is hot; afternoon temperatures are up to at least 36 degrees in the shade, dropping to a more comfortable 26 degrees or so at around 10pm. In the sun? Put it this way - my thermometer goes up to 50 degrees, and it's off the scale. Working is becoming increasingly taxing, and I keep having fantasies of diving into cool water.

So the timing was apt this week when a friend in England sent me the bizarre piece of news that the theme park Alton Towers has banned men from wearing Speedo-type swimming trunks 'on grounds of public decency'. I honestly thought this was a joke at first, but having followed up the links she sent it appears that it isn't: apparently "the style is not deemed public or family friendly" and is likely to "cause embarrassment".

Am I missing something here? Do most people not have bodies, and bits that stick out here and there, and - heaven forfend - body hair? And wasn't the whole Adam and Eve thing a long time ago, and just a fable and/or a lot of tosh (depending on your persuasion) anyway? When, and how, did we learn to be so ashamed and embarrassed about our physical form? Surely to goodness, in the twenty-first century, it's time to move on from the smutty seaside postcard ...

Here in France, if you're male and you want to swim in the vast majority of public pools you have to wear Speedos (and, usually, a swimming hat). No bermudas, no question. It's deemed unhygienic to bathe in a swimming pool in clothes that you could have been (and probably have been) wearing in the street all day. It would, the official line goes, simply turn the pool into a wash house. My friend's Alton Towers story reminded me of a story I read in our regional newspaper, La Dépêche du Midi, a few weeks ago.

Until this year, there have been two public pools in Toulouse which allowed the wearing of bermudas: a small pool, Castex, and the much larger one close by, Nakache. Castex has for some time been a favourite haunt of young people from the quartiers populaires - working class estates - in the area, and has had a reputation for being, shall we say, a bit on the lively side. Tensions between the teenagers and other pool users ran high; two years ago the entire pool area had to be evacuated when a pitched battle broke out between fifty or so teenagers and security guards, and then the police that were called to restore order. That kind of thing.

Clearly Something Had To Be Done. But what? Well, a bit of uncharacteristically creative thinking out of the box obviously took place: a solution has been found, and appears to be working. But it doesn't involve extra policing or heavy-handed rules or showcase arrests. Local officials have simply banned the wearing of bermudas at Castex, while continuing to allow it, by special dispensation, at Nakache.

As if by magic, the yoof has migrated to Nakache, which is much bigger and is a leisure pool as opposed to a swimming pool, as it were, whereas the swimmers have returned to Castex. Hanging out and joshing in a pair of Speedos and a swimming cap is simply not cool; besides, many of the teenagers are of Muslim origin and consider themselves to be too prudish to wear, as La Dépêche puts it, 'le maillot à poutre apparente' (lit: swimming costume with exposed beam' (!). Nakache has reported a high frequentation, good spirits and no problems. Castex swims peacefully. Problem solved.


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