SWIM by LAURA LOBDELL
collage by Monica Brand
 
“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t do it. I’ve done it in so many different places. It has punctuated my life. Jumping in. Cleansing. An escape beneath the surface. It has provided adventure. Daring, even. It has given me hope. Hope to return to the same body of water the following summer. In a year. Next year. That seemed so, so long away while dipping my toes in the foamy kisses just one last time before leaving the beach.  I tried to memorize the last touch of the ocean each summer. We didn’t live on the beach, so I lived for it all the more. Swimming and beaches are nearly interchangeable for me. Swimming gets me even more into the beach. It infuses me. Salt drying in my hair. Sand in my scalp. White under my nails.
 
I’m not a strong swimmer. Usually, I swim the breaststroke -- swum completely incorrectly. My head floats embarrassingly above the water line, especially in chlorinated pool water. All the better for looking to the horizon or architecture. Funny, I do know proper strokes. In another ploy to be near the water, I even certified as a lifeguard and did an ocean swim in a half triathlon in Santa Barbara.
 
Given the choice, I’ll take an ocean over a pool.  Although the salt water pool under the Red Rocks in Sedona moved closer to the pleasure of the ocean. Pools and swims have their reasons, too. Fresh off a plane ride, a pool is a wonderful way to truly arrive. On some trips, I force myself to swim simply to soak in the essence of place more deeply. Pools can tell you about a place.  The Pool at the Ritz in Paris is like a giant bathtub, with rubber ducks transformed into gilded swans. At a pool in Venice, fireworks celebrate Redentore, commemorating the end of the Plague and illuminating the flat blue surface. Surrounded by fruit trees and bougainvillea, I swam in a pool abutting the Indian Ocean on the African coast. I swam in India, in the ocean, before the Tsunami closed the beaches. I swam past a view of Hong Kong’s harbor from the Peninsula's pool. 

A nomad’s life.
As seen from the water.
 
I swam in beautiful pools - a favorite, The Zodiac Pool at Umaid Bhawan Palace in the middle of the desert capital of Jodhpur, is marked with underwater art deco murals of astrology. Once, immobilized by traffic en route for a pre-departure day in Bombay, I opted to spend the day swimming at the Leela near the outskirts of this bustling, wild metropolis instead. A neat traveller’s trick, that spa pass.
 
During a trip to India, a swim changed my life. I had arrived in Jaipur by car from Agra. A swim at the Rambagh palace would transport me from hours on the dusty, hectic road. Like the Indian women, I was determined to wear my prized new gold bangles everywhere, even for a dip. Walking across the deck, local women lounged around the luxe pool and I was politely informed by one of the “aunties” that a woman should also wear colored bangles, coordinated to her outfit, sandwiched between the gold bangles. A wonderful idea. Accessorize your accessories. And into the water I dove.
 
By the time I was towel-wrapped, the woman reappeared with a stack of red lacquered bangles, punctuated by golden studs –a gift she insisted I accept. A visit from Lakshmi herself? I will never know…So the lacquer bangles jangled between my gold ones all around Rajasthan, through Bombay and home to New York City, via Paris. Convincing everyone that I had an Indian husband led to unique conversations and good tables in restaurants. The glimmer and music of a wrist filled with the charms of India was a catalyst for me to take up gold smithing. 

Seven years later, I opened my first jewelry store. All because of a glorious swim. “
 
-Laura Lobdell  

July 2013