The swimming pool

As I was crawling up and down the lane during my weekly training, I realised how many moments of my life have been marked by this swimming-pool.

This sports centre, comprising two indoor and three outdoor swimming-pools, was donated to the town by the Italcementi cement company in the '60's and still stands as an institution dating back to a time when similar structures were not found every couple of villages all over the province, as is the case nowadays. Its beautiful awning and entrance hall, as well as the outside fence and outdoor changing rooms, highlight the use of bare smooth grey concrete with patterns as decoration.

The vast park at the foot of the hills is a green lung within the population centre, surrounded by the most beautiful scenery of nature and city overlooking from above. In fact, despite the construction horrors that were committed in the past and are still being perpetrated, you have to give justice to the council's wise decision to create a protected area on the hills around the historical borough, which has allowed Bergamo to preserve a fascinating extensive belt of green within the city.

The street that runs around the swimming-pools compound is lined with beautiful pines that from my childhood have grown into majestic trees. Their superficial roots may well push up the tarmac and the pavement, but they lend this part of a northen Italian town a pleasant look reminiscent of warmer seaside resorts.

As you come out of the swimming centre, you are met with an enchanting view over the amphitheatre of the hills that can change from a crib-like winter scene dotted with lights, occasionally coverered by a sprinkle of snow and picked up by Christmas trees in December; to the spectacle of budding trees, and later fruit trees in glorious blossom in spring; to the magnificent panorama that your gaze can sweep over, appreciating lush nature under the scorching summer sun from the perfect viewpoint of the outdoor pools. Even when it's raining these hills are charming and embrace you with an hug of familiarity that their closed circle can make so intimate.

My relationship with the Italcementi sports centre dates back to my first years of age, because my primary school was just opposite the compound and for a few years we had an agreement whereby our gym class took place there. We were supposed to bring swimming costume and towel in a bag, but one time that I changed into the swimsuit before going to school and forgot to bring my underwear. When I slipped on my trousers without it and hurt myself slightly pinching my skin in the trousers zip-fastener, I never again forgot to bring the change.

One of our schoolmates was the swimming-pool caretaker's daughter, a blonde child with a ponytail that was particularly clever at school and, as could be expected, devoted herself  to comptetitive swimming. Maybe it was through her that the school once organised a visit to the plants and we were shown the machines that filter the water and warm it up. I had uncovered the secrets behind the scenes, but it still took me years to realise that the big deep pool was not emptied on the weekly closing day, because the water is purified on a constant basis.

But even before school, my parents had enrolled my brother and me in afternoon swimming classes which were held either here or in another swimming-pool belonging to a private school. What I remember most of these courses is the agressiveness of the young instructors that found no better pastime than yelling at the kids swimming in the water to correct their mistakes. Another landmark was an obese instructor who was particularly feared for his strerness and his scoldings, uttered in a terrible husky voice. We children took revenge on him by secretely making jokes about his pot belly and saying that he'd swallowed three basket balls during a match.

I then gave up swimming for a few years, to take it up again with a vengeance in my late teens and early twenties. By then I was counting the lengths I swam and prided myself on the record that I hit each time. I thought 30 or 40 laps was quite an accomplishment until I talked to a New Zealander resident, who had made a commitment with herself and decided to swim each time more laps that the previous time. So she had got to the hefty total of 80, which I now regularly swim, but at the time this unattainable goal struck me dumb and I didn't dare say I usually swam 40.

In my first job I met Gisella who also liked swimming and we started going together, later joined by Renato who would drive us to the swimming-pool in his car during the 2-hour lunch break. We had to save every minute to make the most of our time, so I undressed taking off vest, shirt and sweater in one fell swoop but then wrestled with the shapeless bunch of clothes sliding my arms into the holes that invariably weren't aligned any more. As Gisella was also a swimming instructor, it was the occasion to perfect my styles, learn more and get into the mentality of training and performance.

I have kept on swimming since then. I always hold a multiple entry ticket and go at least once a week, more in the summer. I'm not put off by the bizarre opening times that are not, as you would expect, round the clock, but change according to a funny pattern of evening hours. On Mondays, for instance, it's open from 8.30 until 11 pm. I remember rushing on my scooter along beastly icy winter nights after teaching at evening classes to meet my friend Alberto for a swim; and while taking the shower before diving into the water, overwhelmed by tiredness and uneasiness, wondering what life is all about after all, only to forget this sense of disorientation after a good training. That's the healing effect of sports and of my favourite swimming-pools!