Making a simple task complex: swimming and eating cheese

swimming pool paris

There is a municipal indoor pool just down the rue that I thought I would try last weekend. I walked down, all rugged up as the outside temperature was about 5°C, ready to punch out a few Ks. I paid the man some money, he gave me a barcoded ticket which I then inserted into a machine directly in front of him. Why he didn't just let me in the open gate I do not know. I then walked downstairs where I had to take off my shoes and socks, under supervision of another bloke. I then walked, carrying my shoes but otherwise fully clothed, into a vestibule where I picked up a special clothes rack and walked to a locker. This cost a euro.

I then entered a unidirectional two-doored cubicle where I got into my cossie (sluggos only allowed, no boardies), and placed my heavy winter gear in the special rack. I then walked out the other door with the clothes rack, back around to the locker. With my goggles and cap, compulsory even if completely bald, I walked through a chlorinated foot-bath (which I was happy to do as by this stage I was starting to worry about the local fungi taking hold between my toes), to have a shower. The showers are mixed, both men and women, and pre- and post-swimmers. Needless to say, you keep your cossie on in the shower. Then out on the pool deck of the 25 metre pool. Six lanes, three with lane ropes – one for freestyle/backstroke, one breaststroke only, and one for lessons – and the remainder for the punters to have general fun.

I headed for the freestyle/backstroke lane to join TWELVE others in the lane. Similar numbers in the other lanes. The freestyle lane included people doing double-armed backstroke with breaststroke kick, making it very difficult to pass in the narrow lanes.

Despite all the showering, there seemed to plenty of bandaids in the water. This is all surveyed by four 'maître-nageurs' gathered in a corner having a chat, as distinct from watching people actually swimming safely. Having a general chat seems to be a legitimate pool activity, as it was common for people in the freestyle lane to stop at the end of each lap or two and talk in groups of four or so, making touching the end of the pool tricky.

After 20 minutes of this I had had enough, so wandered back grumpily in the reverse fashion through the changing ritual. How France produces some of the great swimmers of the moment is beyond me – they sure aren’t training in local Paris pools.

Like cheese

But before one gets too critical, the French take the same attitude to cheese. Like swimming, making cheese is simple. Take milk, add rennet and yellow dye, let it solidify, cut into slices and individually plastic wrap them ready to put into your Tip-Top hi-fibre. The French take this simple approach and make it complex. Add bacteria or fungus, and voila, you have your Pont L’Evêque, Brie de Meaux, bleu d’Avergne and the like. Find special bacteria that produce gas (emmental), or are really smelly (époisses, munster), take the gamble of unpasteurised milk (rocquefort, reblochon), wrap it in spruce bark (for that winter liquid gold, mont d’or du Doubs) or vine leaves (langres), and add an A.O.C. so no one else can copy it. Gee, you can even deliberately put a parasite in the cheese for two years and produce that wonderful orangey mimolette.

Making a simple task complex - the French way - means the swimming in Paris sucks, but the cheese is out of this world.

Dominic Dwyer

french cheeses

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