Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Back Link Snooping around in a Subculture I

Recently, I passed an Italian restaurant and there was a sign in the corner of one of their windows saying, “Thursday nights, ladies night”. Naively, I thought the sign meant only ladies were welcomed on Thursday evenings. It only came to me later that what they probably meant was that women could eat for free or get a free drink if they came with a male counterpart that evening. Whatever.

Still, the sign triggered a memory of my attending our local pool’s Women’s Sunday Swim over a longer period of time two years ago. The city women’s activist group had arranged this possibility; to allow only women and girls admittance on Sunday, because there is a large Muslim population in Luebeck. These women are not allowed/encouraged to bath in public: which is understandable if you know how lax/tolerant the Germans are about nudity, topless bathing, and holding a preference for wearing tanga bikinis.

I decided to go to the women’s swim, after having tried unsuccessfully on Saturday to swim a few lanes as hundreds of children and teens jumped in, on, and around me the whole time. As I was handing in my locker key at the main desk, I mentioned that it had been a useless endeavour. The employee behind the cash, said I should try Sundays, if I wasn’t uncomfortable about being the only non-Muslim swimmer there. Hardly anyone came. That certainly peaked my interests.

So, off I went the next morning. Bliss. Where forty to sixty people had populated the pool the day before, seven or eight women were swimming; four of them were holding on to the side of the pool moving their legs around, deep conversation. The children’s pool was quite busy, but not in the least rambunctious. Along the sides of the pool, tables were set up with numerous women eating and drinking. All in all, the atmosphere was lively without being loud.

I swam alone in my lane, luxuriating in the experience of swimming without interference. I was hooked. Thereupon preceded many such lovely Sunday swims. Sometime I went alone, sometimes I brought a friend along, but I always felt welcomed and accepted by the women there.

What I learnt most during that year of women’s swim (it was unfortunately disconnected because of sparse attendance) was how completely sensible it is for women to be offered an opportunity to share all-female company. Until then, I could not remember the last time I had gone swimming in public and there was no aspect of “How do I look?”, “How do I compare?”, “Did he look at me?”… Nothing. Instead there was just women in absolutely every type of swim attire (e.g. bikinis, one piece suits, T-shirts and bicycle shorts, and even rather elaborate dress things which I couldn’t quite understand how they swam in) having a lovely time together.

The women were kind and friendly towards me, making me feel part of the group without strain or falseness. I was fortunate to get to know a few of the grandmothers and mothers of my daughter’s fellow Turkish schoolmates over that period of time.

When I remember back to those swims, I think about what it is like to feel feminine but not sexual, to enjoy the sensuality of water and skin without it being erotic, and to have fun without it being frivolous. It was such a fine time particularly because the Muslim women kindly invited me into their world and made me feel welcomed.


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