A Nutty Swim

In my opinion, one of the best things in life is a dip in water that is warm enough to protect from the chilly air, but not so warm it inhibits a good, hard swim. Today, a chilly spring one with a stiff wind and a tepid sun that comes and goes, I went to my friend Edith’s in the nearby village of Le Vaudreuil, and jumped in the pool.

Jumped isn’t really what I did. One can enter the pool from inside the house. It’s a bit of a frantic entry because you’ve got to hold your breath and kick your way forward in a narrow passage, but it avoids contact with the air.

Fiona and a friend of hers were cavorting in the pool by the time I got in, riding a plastic dinosaur, screaming with laughter, oblivious to the cold air as they repeatedly emerged and jumped back in. I am always freezing when I get in so I swim fast and hard; today they wanted to show me their underwater ballet, so I treaded while they sinuously turned and dipped, lasting until it was over and my teeth were chattering. Then, I returned to my laps and the girls swam underneath me, criss-crossing and rolling around, trying to see if I’d notice.

Fiona and I love to swim, and since Edith and her husband Bernard had the wonderful idea to install a pool in their backyard just over a year ago, we’ve been consistent visitors. If we don’t come for a week Edith is on the phone wondering why, urging us along. With that kind of encouragement and Fiona’s insistent motivation, we’ve gone often this winter, one of the coldest on record since World War II. It really is unparalleled delight as we swim in the rain, in the dark after school, during her two-hour lunch break from classes, when snowflakes are falling on our heads. The hardest part is always getting in but once you’re there, it’s heaven. Getting out is heaven too, as a hot shower and a snack are a constant reward.

Today I did my laps, played a little then got out to help prepare a promised picnic lunch which we would share with Edith, her daughter Juliette, and her granddaughter, Ambre. It was a picnic simply because there was no cooking to do. I’d been to the market earlier and picked up some Comte, some sheeps’ milk cheese and a big wedge of Mimolette (Fiona’s favorite), some delicious Passe Crassagne pears and a fresh baguette. Edith made carrot salad and a chestnut cake for dessert. Our appetizer? Walnuts, from Edith’s huge tree.

This is my second mention this week of walnuts in the shell but that’s normal. Here in Normandy the regional nut is the walnut and they are everywhere, in abundance. While the nuts might be served with cheese, per my last note, often they’re the appetizer, enjoyed with a glass of white wine. That’s how we ate them today, all six of us, gobbling them along with some Tanche olives.

Normally I’d say we were “nibbling” them, but gobble is more accurate after an hour in the pool. Swimming is truly the best appetite enhancer I know, and I was starving. So was everyone. We all cracked and ate, laughed and talked, warmed fully by a fire in the fireplace. Clouds and rain replaced earlier clear skies, and we were too cozy and comfortable for words.

Lunch over, the three little girls left the table to go outside, since the rain had stopped. The next thing I knew, Fiona was in the pool again, in her clothes. “Susan, Susan,” her friend Jeanne said to me, running into the house, laughing so hard she could hardly speak. “Fiona fell in the water.”

I know my daughter. She’s very stable on her feet. What got her in the water was a pure, unadulterated desire to be wet. I checked and,sure enough there she was in her clothes, having the time of her life. The other two girls joined her (in their suits), and I left them there to return to the house for coffee, chocolates and yes, a few more walnuts. Life is good.


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