Jun 21, 2010 | Siglufjörður, Iceland
Jun 21, 2010

For the last few weeks it has been hard to think clearly, which is how it always is when I haven't been able to swim for a while.

On May 23 they closed the local pool to install a new filtration system, and the pool was supposed to reopen last week. They took all the water out, cleaned it, changed some things around, and now they have a small red hose stuck in the back left corner of the deep end, gradually refilling the pool — kind of like using an eyedropper to fill up a pond. I go every day and ask about the water, and have a look in the window to check on the hose. Apparently it is difficult to estimate exactly how long a hose will take to fill up a pool, because all of the guesses made by the staff have been too optimistic. Meanwhile, I can feel my tangled mind getting even more caught up in itself, and I can feel my body getting frantic, confused by why it's had to go so long without water to move through.

Today I decided I had to swim, so I asked the woman if I could go in the shallow water anyway. This is the kind of question that an American pool would not even consider — so afraid of lawsuits and disobeying protocol. But in Iceland this is the kind of question that can go either way, and luckily today the woman said yes.

"I think it is very cold," she said, "but you can go in if you want. It is really up to you."

I said I would feel the water and then come back up and tell her how it was. I went downstairs, lay down on the deck on my stomach, and reached my arm out to feel it. The water was hot, like a bath. I went to the deep end to feel it there, and it was warm, too. I went upstairs and told her, and said I would swim back and forth in the deep end, where there was enough water to do it.

I got on my speedo, put on my cap, and lowered myself down on the ladder. My tows were the first to feel it, and then I plunged into the pool, and down below it was freezing. All of the hot geothermal water had gone to the top, and underneath it was frigid, probably right out of some glacial spring. But the hot water on top was enough to make it bearable, and I started to swim around like a fish in the Gulf Stream, dodging the cold and going into the hot, which was easy to see with your goggles on, all shimmery and thick like an oil spill.

I zig-zagged like this for an hour, and pretty soon I learned the best routes through the pool, and then it didn't feel like a pool at all, but like swimming in the ocean, with some kind of underwater volcano over here and some kind of underwater iceberg over there, and even though you couldn't see either of them, you could see they were doing deadly battle, and neither one would give up. You couldn't say from the swimming which one would win, but in your mind you knew with time they'd find a way to compromise, and once they did that, it wouldn't be an ocean anymore. It would be a pool again, and the people upstairs would take the sign off the door and open it up to the others, who would come dripping back into the water with their white bodies and their staring summer eyes, hungry for a look.