riving less than a kilometer to the local swimming pool, traffic moved along like an angry and disorderly crowd. Motorini swerved in and out; cars fought along side one another so closely they could kiss; two trucks made right hand turns from the left hand lane. Like toddlers with a pack of crayons, no one stayed in line. It was chaos as usual on the streets of Rome and I had decided to risk it all to take my children for an afternoon of aqua.
Let me be perfectly clear: I am not a legal driver in this country because I do not have time to study the manual. It is the same size as the White Pages for Los Angeles County and includes a multitude of rules for obtaining an actual license. I still ask myself, “THERE ARE RULES?”
I do drive, though. Because if there are regulations in Italy… each and every one is malleable, bendable, and can be interpreted in any number of ways.
Except at the swimming pool. Pool law is cast in stone. My very first visit to a Rome swim club made my status as an alien (albeit legal) blindingly clear.
I grew up with pool people. The first one my family had was an out-of-grounder. Along with rising from the ranks of white trashdom, I also came from chlorine.
My first visit to Rome aqua was five years ago. As I entered the pool area the first thing I thought was, “Who invited the Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Williams impersonators?”
Everyone wore a bathing cap. Just like my grandmother in 1974 at the Knights of Columbus (an Italian Catholic Organization that let in a few Irish for show). I was stymied. My husband Marco told me that they were worn for “sanitary reasons.” I thought that was a lot of malarkey.
“That’s what the chemicals are for. And a cup full of lycra isn’t going to stop anybody’s cooties from getting in the water!”
“What is cooties?” Marco asked. I didn’t answer. Some things are meant just for me.
So there I was in the sunshine of 2005 wearing a blue thing on my head and looking very much like a Bic Ballpoint Pen. On that fateful day, I also learned that it was far more hygienic (and obligatory) to shower off before getting in the pool. Jaws dropped when I jumped in without rinsing and without wearing my flip-flops to the very edge.
I again cited chemicals. “You can check the Ph balance, you can also ‘shock’ the pool which is…” I stopped sharing my pool maintenance knowledge as it was being lost on the Roman man who had questioned my hygienic practices.
“MA… you didn’t even use your shoes!” He was disgusted and I felt like a filthy foreigner. I take the point about the shoes. I can see where that could be helpful by not dragging debris into the water.
So, today – after facing the road rules – I took my kids to the pool, keeping in mind the strict regulations. I fought with the older kid to wear his cap, I put one on myself (all the while feeling utterly ridiculous, not to mention unattractive), and the lifeguard gave me a free pass on my younger son. Seeing that he is basically a bald baby, I agreed with the lifeguard’s executive decision.
We wore our flip flops to the showers and rinsed like Cher in “Silkwood,” then we flip-flopped to the edge of the pool where I lifted the boys down like a mommy crane in action (the machine, not the bird). I took care of the older one (with his water wings) and passed the younger one to a neighbor.
To my right, a mother and daughter were using the ladder.
I gingerly placed my left hand poolside and lowered myself in to the water.
The mother to my right scolded me in Italian, “I just told my daughter that she can’t do that and you go and do it right in front of her face! You are so rude!”
I was mortified and mumbled, “Scusate.” Excuse me.
While their rules are ridiculous, at least to me, I do want to obey by them. I really don’t get it, but far be it from me to freak out the Natives
So, tonight at dinner I asked Marco, “Are you obligated to use the ladder at the pool?”
“Si, certo.” Yes certainly. Duh.
“Well that’s stupid. In America…”
“You are not in America.” He cut me off.
“Fine,” I said while clearing the plates. “Then can you make me a full list of rules, social norms and ethical mores for the piscine? That way, when my kids are old enough to care, I won’t embarrass them.” At the pool anyway.