Monthly Archives: July 2011

Lisbon the city of Tolerance

Looking at some images from my recent trip to Lisbon, made me recall a great book that I read few months before my trip called Last Kabbalist in Lisbon.  The story is a fictionalized account of the struggle of Morranos or conversos after their forced conversion and their struggle through the new Pogroms.

In 1497, King Manual of Portugal was convinced by the Dominican Friars that the Jews and Moslems of Portugal should be brought under the protection of the Catholic Church. Jews and Moslems were forcibly brought to the baptismal font and converted. Many were driven into the Tagus River where they were baptized ‘en mass.

Ten years later the  ‘New Christians’  were given twenty years to give up their customs and evil ways.  After this period the fervor of the inquisition sweeping the Iberian peninsula took over the populace of Portugal as it had done in Spain shortly before that.  The search for answers in times of plagues, landed the burden on the piousness of the Chrisitians.  And the conversos “new Jews” bore the brunt of people’s anger.  During this time  the ‘New Christians’ were massacred and/or burned alive in the central square of Lisbon over a three day period that happened to coincide with Passover. The mobs that terrorized the city were lead by Dominican monks (many who would pay with their lives, later) who seemed to have taken especial pleasure in torturing, raping and plundering these New Christian/Jews.

Again the peaceful coexistance of Jews, Christians and Muslims ended as it had in Spain shortly prior.  The jews left to the border area  between the Spanish and the Portuguese Kingdoms.  They practiced in secret and moved across the borders with the sentiment of antisemitism..

In 1960 anthropologist found Crypto-Jewish communities in northeastern Portugal. The members had managed to survive more than four centuries without being fully assimilated into the Old Christian population.  The last remaining crypto-Jewish community in Belmonte officially returned to Judaism in the 1970s.

The square where this took place now stands a placard commemorating this event. The memorial says “In memory of the thousands of Jews victims of intolerance and religious fanaticism, murdered in the massacre started on this square on the 19th of April 1506.”

São Domingos Square also has a wall with the words Lisbon the City of Tolerance written in many languages. When I initially read this, remembering the story,  I was struck by irony and hypocrisy.. In addition to the massacres of Jews, expulsion of Muslims Lisbon was also the first European capital use African slaves.  I thought it presumptious and hippocritical.  Though after spending some time in Lisbon I came to think otherwise.

There was some credence to the idea that this has become the city of tolerance .. With times moods changed.  People reflector religious fervor died down and society had changed.  Eventually it became a safe place for refugees especially during WWII, and was among the first in Europe to abolish slavery. Today it welcomes People of African descent, Brazil and Easter Europe. Even with certain socio-economic segregation, there is little tension between the groups.  And has had much less in the way of intergroup violence or tension.

I’d like to believe the words are made with the past in mind,  not a statement of arrogance or pride, but an aspiration for the society to bring out the best in the people. I understood it as a way to acknowledge the past and ensure the past is not repeated. Tolerance is a great quality to aspire to these days. The days that the world seems to be closing inward and frictions are coming to the surface.

Here’s to Lisbon the city of Tolerance


		
Advertisements

Deconstructed and understood

I was writing to an ex-lover of mine few days ago..  I was searching for a middle ground with someone that I cared about  though ultimately didn’t work out for reasons that I won’t get into.   I was lucky to have met her,  and feel at loss to have her out of my life completely.   Some people find it easier to move on, and draw a clear line of dilineation between past and the future.   I prefer to draw my own lines not out of principle or what I do, but what feels right in my heart.

So in response to my letter to try and understand and be understood after the fact I receive the following response.

I feel people strongly, and when I see you, and your art, I see a little boy who aches to be seen and loved and appreciated and really, truly heard in a real way. You have something to say, something to share. You want a stage and you want to be believed in. You’ve never had that in a real way. You’ve always been running from some idea of something you think someone wants you to be, rather than facing the beautiful, complicated person that you are. That is why I was patient, even when I was hurting, because I felt this pain in you more strongly than all your other nonsense. That all this other nonsense is a red herring because the simplicity and vulnerability of your pain is too much. 

Not sure I always agree.   But tonight it feels just good to receive this.  I realize with all  my contradictions it’s wonderful feeling to be understood or misunderstood sometimes..


The Italian Squad

The city doesn’t get boring that’s for sure.   It’s been a few days since the strange event of Anders Behring Breivik killing 76 people in Norway.   The alerts for American targets have increased again.  National warnings for nationals abro

ad have gone for increased vigiliance.   Same thing different days.  The color codes yellow orange red, are thing of the past.  But living with it fo

r 10 years now makes one quite desensitized to the threat and seriousness.

As I got out of the train on Columbus circle I find four blocks cordoned off with police tape.   It’s been a few months since another threat and more months since the unexploded truck of explosives was found a block from my office.

As it happens I had my camera with me so push through the curious onlookers behind the tape to get a better look.   As about what happened, and it’s a discarded bag and a terrorist threat of some sort.  There are NYPD cars everywhere including the Bomb unit.   Man is strapped into a Kevlar suit and sent solo into the roundabout circle to investigate a bag.

I take a few shots watch the Bomb demolition expert suits up into a astraunaut like outfit and wobbles out to the center of the circle.  After few tense minutes he wobbles back to the Police van.  He’s helped out of the suit given a bottle of water.  he’s prespiring but seems to be a cheerful mood.   I suppose one learns to value close calls and non-events in a job like this.

Little background on the NY Bomb Squad..

below is an exert from a n.y. times article by Kareem Fahim

When the unit, created in 1903 and led by Lt. Giuseppe Petrosino, was called the Italian Squad, the bombs were sticks of dynamite, instruments of extortion used by the Black Hand (a turn of the century Southern Italian gang) to intimidate Italian merchants and residents. 

Over the years, and depending on the perceived threat, the unit was called the Anarchist Squad and the Radical Squad. On July 4, 1940, two Bomb Squad detectives were killed trying to defuse a bomb planted in the British Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair.

In the 1940s and ’50s, the unit chased the Mad Bomber, George Metesky, as he waged his battle against Con Edison with dozens of explosive devices. 

Dozens of well-known militant groups, including the F.A.L.N and the Weathermen, planted bombs all over the city, at times almost as fast as the technicians could be dispatched to deal with them.

After Sept. 11, the unit — which is charged with investigating suspicious items and helping in bombing investigations — was thrust into the forefront of the city’s law enforcement agencies, said Lieutenant Torre, who joined the Bomb Squad in 1993, and became its commander in 2002.

Immediately after the attacks, the Bomb Squad was besieged by calls about suspicious packages. Today the calls are fewer, and the unit responds to 200 to 300 suspicious packages a year. But in the post 9/11 world, there have been more requests to help with security sweeps or to get advice on security matters.


Strange case at work

Last night my coworkers in Pakistan forward me the news that one of my coworkers in the office was found dead at home the night before, and we need to lock his account.

Even though my client is small I don’t know most of the people in the remote office. This man Abdul was found hanging with a thin rope around his neck. The police suspect that it’s an orchestrated homicide, and took his body for further examination.

I looked his name up in Facebook, and saw what he looked like. saw profile pictures. “married” status. hanging out with friends, humorous postings, a little banter.. Put a face on him. And that’s it. Post-morten curiosity has been satiated. I’m still curious about what he was like and who he left behind but I will leave it at this point.

Though I still wonder.. which one is it, and which is the more tragic? Ending your life by your own hand, taking control over one’s death, or having one’s life snubbed out through no action of your own.

For me this is a value question, but can you imagine for a family not knowing which one it is. Each says something so different about themselves and the world they live in. How f’d up is it when you live in a place that something as critical as this can remain a mystery.

The other two thoughts that pass through my mind are.. Is it possible that the police were doing him a favor by declaring it a homicide in order to remove the stigma associated with suicide in an Islamic country? Was it on insistence of his family? The other disturbing idea is that it’s a homicide. In which case someone entered the man’s home subdued and killed him, and in addition to masking their actions left the burden of the stigma on his surviving family.

Note: Islam like the other Abrahimic religions frowns down on suicide as an unforgivable sin..

A verse in the Quran instructs; “And do not kill yourselves, surely God is most Merciful to you.”

and on a more sinister note

Hadith – Bukhari 2:446 Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, “He who commits suicide by throttling shall keep on throttling himself in the Hell Fire (forever) and he who commits suicide by stabbing himself shall keep on stabbing himself in the Hell-Fire.

As those that already know me I do not believe in this , nor do I share the sentiment that suicide should be demonized or carry any sort of Stigma on the victim or the survivors. But I demonstrate the impact of this label has in an Islamic society such as Pakistan..


Hudson Swim

So couple of days ago I’ve done my first Hudson swim..   Figured I’d share the interesting points for those that consider doing something a bit out of the ordinary.

The Idea: At the beginning of  the summer I started doing some Kayaking on the Hudson.  Just a half hour after work or on weekends, to get my feet wet on a hot day.   After couple of weeks I heard about early morning excursions.  I joined one of these with a guide on a three-hour trip up the Hudson, to NJ and back.  Along the way I’ve found out about the tidal currents of Lower Hudson water ways.  Hudson flows according to tides that shift every six hours, hence the direction of the river flow also changes.  During high tide the water is pushed into the Hudson and the water goes North with lower tides the direction changes.    It was then that I remembered an article I read about open water swimming around New York.   The idea of doing something different, was extremely appealing.   It’s not a marathon but for what it’s worth I’ve never seen a swimmer in Hudson in all my years living here, so in a way I thought it’d be an adventure.

Preperation

Endurance:  I looked at options for joining experienced swimmers that are into open swimming few times a year, but it’s bogged down by safety, costs, and eligibility requirements.   As I’ve been swimming most of my life I had the confidence I could physically spend an hour swimming and in case of problems figure out a way to get to safety.

Health:  Historically Hudson was an open sewage and runoff for industrial complexes. In 1972 the Clean water act spurred better sewage treatments.  and lawsuits have helped curb industrial runoff.  The recent water sampling indicates that during dry days the water is generally acceptable level of pollutants.  During rainy days the sewage treatment doesn’t keep up with demand and excess is dumped directly into the Hudson.  General recommendation is to take a shower and not eat anything until one washes their hands.   Being of Eastern European stock, Generally safe means perfectly safe.   I’m far from being a germaphobe and generally believe the body needs exposure to some bacteria for a healthy immune system.

Boat traffic:   In evening I go roller-blading or riding bicycle up and down the lanes around the Hudson to see the level or traffic, the speed of boats and how fast one can react in case of boat coming at you.  My general impression is that this is an acceptable risk.  If swimming relatively close to shore the only boats passing are yachts and generally pretty slow traffic so if spotted far enough it’s not an issue.  Though the burden is on me.  Organized swims are done with kayak escorts that are much more visible, and a single swimmer a rare occasion maybe difficult to spot.

Obstacles:   The major obstacles remaining are piers, old pylons, underwater objects.   The solution is simple go around them, the problem here is that going further towards the middle of the Hudson both increases the risk from oncoming boats, as well the amount of time and energy exerted if I run into problems and need to make ti to shore.   The issue with being close to shore is that the current is much weaker (safer) but more exhausting, and the danger of being slammed into a pier or a pylon.   In addition I have no idea how strong a 2.5 mile current is to fight and to avoid objects if I’m being carried into an object.

The Plan:  Looking at tidal charts I found an optimal time window to do an open water tide assisted swim.  To avoid the issue of piers and boat traffic I decided to pick about a three-mile stretch which should take about an hour of swimming.  My pool time which is easier for lack of currents, waves and rest and kick off time is about 45 minutes to exhaustion.   After going up and down the Hudson to find an easy place to go into water and to come out I picked out 130th street for entrance and a dock on 72nd street which I can come out on.  Past 96th street there are very few places on can climb out of the water as it’s pretty much all walled off with six-foot walls leading to shore.   Additionally on 59th street was a sanitation Department with Garbage barges and next spot would likely be somewhere down in Financial street a few hours swim down.

Hesitation: I announced to few people who I’m doing it, but then started getting cold feet.  For a week the current down stream was taking place early in morning and at night. Neither worked so I had to wait for the tides to shift.  This week it coincided with 3pm being optimal starting time.   But now I was getting nervous. What if I did hit something, blacked out, got exhausted or drifted past the exit point.   What then?  Then after a very hot evening I decided it’s now or never!

The swim: I finish with some work put a posting on FB.  put some sun lotion.  Got my driver’s license in case I’m “rescued” and want to avoid going to the Police precinct, metro card, keys, mp3 player and headed off.  First I go to my exit point on 72nd street chain up my bike and hide the keys under a garbage can.  Then I head to the 1 train and head to 125th street.  There I take of my shirt, sneakers, mp3 player and hide them behind some rocks.  I wait for a park ranger to busy himself and get into the water.  Take my tentative steps and jump in.   For the first fifteen minutes I try to feel out what the current is doing, and how close to shore I want to be.  I hug the shore but I get no assistance from current at all, after 30 minutes I’ve not covered more than 10 blocks, which is worrying cause my distance is three miles.

I also struggle to find my comfort rhythm.   My best stroke is breast stroke but I can get better speed and rhythm with freestyle.  With freestyle though alternate between breathing left and right.  And it worries me not to see straight ahead.  But eventually i find a rhythm of sort alternating between the two.  Freestyle works arms more, breast stroke the legs.   As I finally get moving and more comfortable I decide that I need to take advantage of the current and swim further into the river.  which helps a little.  When I find my rhythm I start enjoying myself , relax and start drifting into my mind.  swimming for me is the most meditative practice.  It’s where I can actually focus on the breath.  The one constant.  The noise is drowned out and even looking around loses point for minutes at a time. Just steady in out, stroke, stroke.

Though my swim isnt’ without interruptions.  I notice pretty quickly that I am quite the center of attention to people at on the river path.  People get of their  bikes, stop running and stare out in the river. The expressions I get the range from amused to impressed to completely confused (majority).  Cameras and cell phones come out.  pictures are taken.  people yell words of encouragement.  One lady just start questions what I’m doing out there? I get the arm up in “what the” gesture.  And I do my best to stop and give them the should ” ehh, i dunno” should shrug and a smile.   People wave, and I always stop and wave back, and give the thumbs up and go back to swimming.   With the people on the shore I’m less concerned about something happening as almost the whole way down there is someone with an eye on me.   I always smile and give the thumbs up  not only to return the gesture of support but also worried about a good sumeritan deciding to save me with a call to 911.   On a side note a read a news feed week ago about a man being pulled out of the JFK waterway naked, then being escorted to a psychiatric ward for evaluation.  As I got more comfortable with my swim my primary concern became to avoid a psych evaluation which from personal experience is a very subjective process not to be taken lightly.

An hour into my swim I hit the half way mark which is a bit worrying cause I can feel my muscles tensing up, and a shooting pain in my stomach lungs.   I’m not too worried about taking breaks but a muscle cramps in open water are no fun. But if one stays cool and relies on body’s natural boyance massage the cramp out it’s only a temporary inconvenience. But the pain in my side starts getting worse even when I reduced the strain.  I turn on my back inhale and float.  At this point the current has picked up quite a bit and the experience is with the exception of arms and stomach being exhausted very relaxing.   You watch Upper East side passing by, watch the West side highway traffic at a standstill so much so that I swim faster than the cars move at times.  There’s quiet and peace, as the clouds roll by..  It’s amazing what a difference a plunge and a few hundred feet can make.

After few minutes the pain recedes and I decide to get back to swimming to keep my body moving, as well as the Boat yard is coming up.  The boats w are spread out quite a bit  too far to swim around.  So I decide to swim through and in between them.  Here I do quite a bit of maneuvering working with the current and enough work to avoid them.  I remember on Kayaks this wasn’t recommended as with unexpected waves can throw you off quite a bit, but I don’t have much choise going completely around them would require too much effort and would put me in traffic lane.

I notice a queer thing on the shore. a man has been following me for the last fifteen minutes. he walks at a very slow pace pretty much parallel.  Doesn’t have an expression or wave. Just follows me.   It was initially quite comforting every time I’d take a break and look up at shore there he was.  I imagine he’s looking after me..  I keep swimming, and he keeps walking slowly.   Then something occurred to me and that’s when I realized that the heat and lack of water was getting to me.  I started thinking that this is New York, strangers do not look after strangers.  A sinister thought crept into my mind that this man was waiting me down. Seeing that I was becoming exhausted and would need to exit. And that’s when he would strike.  As I’m getting out of water he would drown me and it would look like a crazy guy drowning in the Hudson.  I try to put this out of my mind and not look up at the shore, but the more I tried the more this idea pursued me, then I’d look up and he was there.   Finally as I made I went around the boat yard and came up few hundred feet later I look and he’s gone.  And I wonder did he get tired of watching me, is he hiding? While swimming out of sight I planned a maneuver in case he was at the pier I was exiting where I’d grab him by the arm and push and throw him into the water.  After he was gone I realized how nuts my idea was and that it maybe a good idea not to swim alone to the point your brain starts playing tricks.

Anyway After the boat yard I cruise the last ten blocks towards shored and get out on the closed kayak pier hop a fence and collapse on the ground.  I did it.  Some kids surrounded me and are asking me some questions but my ears are ringing and I just lay there with a giant grin on my face.  My final time was one hour and forty minutes  in the water.

I go barefoot to grab the bike and bike back to 125th to pick up my stuff and then back home. collapse and take a nap.

Conclusion: This was just the adventure I was looking for.  An endurance test, an adventure, and contemplative trip down the river all combined.   Would I recommend it,  absolutely there is definitely risks out there and you need to be good swimmer and cool.  I’d also recommend doing it with  another person. If anything happens out there having an experienced swimmer then can rescue and pull you to shore is the difference between a close call and drowning.


What I talk about when I talk about swimming

The title is borrowed from one of my favorite authors Haruki Murakami’s biographical collections called “What I talk about when I talk about running”.   This is a book that seems not to belong in style or content any of this other books.  Instead of fiction, it’s a collection of notes and meditations on Murakami lifelong pursuit with running.   The memoir is honest playful and philosophical at once.  A meditation on how running and writing intersect and sustain each other.  And even more on how  running and all that revolves around it creates a mirror for  life, that reveals him much more clearly than any physical mirror could.  When I started reading it,  I was initially annoyed about everything about the story.   It’s not what I came to love of his writing.  No escape no hidden world hiding in the shadows..  I’m not a runner so much of it seemed like some sort of personal indulgence afforded to a successful writer.

But then as I kept reading this short book,  I started seeing something more in it.    In honesty he reveals much about himself indirectly just by speaking of his passion.   His motivations in life, his reflections on successes and failures. How he deals with eventual fading interest of one of his life long passions.   What he thinks about when he runs.. As i got past the seemingly unemotional accounts of his running experiences through his life I started seeing something else.  Eventually i found it quite fascinating.  it hasn’t peaked my interests in lacing up my sneakers and going fora  jog.   However it’s left me curious whether if we look at our hobbies with a reflective eye we should find a whole world, perhaps a lifetime reflecting in basic routines, and reactions to victories and failures.  One simply needs to look closer  at one’s hobbies no matter how simple or banal they seem to see their mark all over.

I’ve been involved in sports through my life.   These were different sports with seemingly different characteristics.   But on some reflections they breakdown into two categories.

Since days of childhood with camps and teams,  I was always extremely competitive.  I’ve never achieved exceptional results as an adult, due to my lack of discipline and easy boredom with routine.   I abhor the idea of doing something that doesn’t feel good to me, for some future goal.   Something critical to success.  But when you’re growing up and younger often enough achievements are results of natural talent, desire and drive.   I thought I had all three.   I had no desire to share as a child or to participate in group sports like soccer, or basketball or hockey.   So the sports I was into as a child were individual type.  Track and Field, Jumping, Running, and especially swimming.  Along the way I picked up few others that pin a man against another such as tennis, racquetball and Fencing.

The other category of sports that I’ve pursued are solitary challenges and meditative sports.   These included solo-hiking, mountaineering,  skiing, rollerblading,  open water swimming, diving,  free diving.  Almost all of these I’ve picked up as an adult.  They lack the flash and some of the adrenaline rushes of victory.  They’re without  the external motivation forward in form of a competitor.  But are in way much more challenging.   All of the motivation comes within.   The start and stop all depends on your will.  They test your physical strength and endurance,  but more importantly they test the mental endurance.  This is the sports that resemble running.  Take away Murakami’s few marathons and you’re left with this.   Hard work.. working through pain.. boredom.

I can reflect on an example with free diving.  Which is the sport of unassisted deep water diving while holding your breath.  It not physical but it’s very mentally demanding.  The main technique is to slow down one’s heartbeat to minimize oxygen consumption, and move in a zen-line fashion in the most efficient way down a suspended rope into deep.   After few days of training I was able to perform some amazing feats such as going down 65 feet while holding my breath and staying there for another half a minute.  As well as holding breath for over three minutes.   As you move down the line your movements must be un hurried and smooth which is incredibly difficult when your body is screaming for air, and you just want to open your mouth and take a breath.  The air in your lungs is squeezed and used up before you even reach the bottom of the line. You want to swim up with few kicks but it’s too far, the oxygen used up in fast ascent can be damaging or even lead to a black out.  The only way up is to calm your mind, completely ignore the pain and basic reflex and slowly glide upwards one hand after another. Once you’re up  you think this is insane why would I do this again.  But you do over and over.  You keep improving, sometimes hit plateau, sometimes come up short but keep on going.

Together these two categories are a pretty good reflection of what drives me inside.

The first one something basic primitive and very much  masculine drive.     In us just like many species there’s  a need in men to exert dominance “Sexual selection depends, not on a struggle for existence, but on a struggle between the males for possession of the females”    “The sexual struggle is of two kinds; in the one it is between individuals of the same-sex, generally the males, in order to drive away or kill their rivals, the females remaining passive”   Charles Darwin in Sexual Selection.   It’s not an accident that athletes whose health and perceived vigor are the sexual rock stars of our age, as warriors were of the past.

The second one is a different drive all together.  A higher level need for solitude.   A desire for self discovery and self improvement.   The activities provide the escape needed while trying to live in the dense metroplis,  that we struggle to  adapt to even though they’ve been around only for a tiny fraction of our existence.   The human density, lack of personal space and especially information and sensory overload  can be at times overwhelming . I find a strong need  for short-term solitude and quiet.  I find this in the ocean, lakes, on mountains and in woods.  This is  where I rearrange my ideas, reflect on past,  and plan out the next steps.   Here I find myself, hear my own thoughts .   Besides there are still both physical and mental pursuits for self improvements.  As I’ve gotten older this category of events has become more important to me as I realize that the other is something that’s built-in but doesn’t really lead anywhere then as Murakami stated a realization of time passing.   I’ve enough confidence in life and love where I don’t need to prove my worth through physical competition.  Though I still like to push my will and test my strength through other means but it’s for myself.

So I’ll end this post with a quote from Murakami’s book..

” My time, the rank I attain, my outward appearance — all of these are secondary. For a runner like me, what’s really important is reaching the goal I set myself, under my own power. I give it everything I have, endure what needs enduring, and am able, in my own way, to be satisfied. From out of the failures and joys I always try to come away having grasped a concrete lesson. (It’s got to be concrete, no matter how small it is.) And I hope that, over time, as one race follows another, in the end I’ll reach a place I’m content with. Or maybe just catch a glimpse of it. (Yes, that’s a more appropriate way of putting it.)”


Aquaphillia, a love affair with water

I was thinking about water, and thinking I’d write about my love and affinity for water.  I figured there must be a word for it. Love of water.  I type in Aquaphillia and find some links.  But they’re not at all what I expected..

Defintion: Aquaphillia: term used to describe a form of sexual fetishism which involves images of people swimming or posing underwater, and sexual activity in or under water. Literally “water lover” from the Latin aqua and Greek.

I think how silly, but as I read further I realize that it’s not as wild a notion as most forms of fetishism.

Initially I wanted to search for better word.  Still love but innocent. Why the sexuality.  But  as I read and starting remembering my association and immersion into the blue, my story and relationship may not be that  innocent after all..   In ways my dynamic, and relationship has many of the same one finds in other objects of desire. There is longing through the winter, the violent introduction, the serentity I find in it’s depth.  Hate, and struggle they’re all there if I am to be honest with myself.

This is a story starts when I was a child.  When I was small problems with breathing.. I used to have asthma attacks and get very winded.   When I was six years old, a year before I started school, my  parents took me on a long train ride across the country to a Sanatorium for treatment.   There my parents left me and said they would be back in a while,  I didn’t realize that a while meant I wouldn’t see them for six months.   At that point I have never been separated from them for longer then a day.   The six months were difficult and somewhat traumatic, but those details are another story.

There was a routine at the sanatorium to improve breathing capacity, cardio workouts, breath control excercises.  Every day.  But the treatment that made me love and hate water came in form of daily Sauna treatment.  As there were many more older boys then girls, the staff in their wisdom decided to treat the smallest ones as either.   They put me in a group with girls.  Not five year old girls but a range of ages running right through puberty.  The routine was some sort of shock therapy for the body.  Is still have my doubts about it’s validity in treating breating issues.  But the treatment was stripping one’s clothes off and getting into a sauna, then staying there for set amount of time till the nurse would open the door.  Then the doors would be open and we’d be forced to plunge into an ice cold pool.   Banya may seem like fun to a grown Fat Russian drinking Vodka with his buddies but to a six year old,  being locked in a a boiling room where one imagines he will die in is the stuff of nightmares.  The plunge which felt equally horrifying.  Once you couldn’t feel your limbs and your heart was beating up a storm. Back into the Sauna and repeat, three four times in a row.   That was the hate.  That moment between pool and Sauna was the love.  The other love  part came from my equally curious dreams, about being surrounded by girls or young women with all the beaut  God had given them. There in the mists and steam of Sauna I had discovered visually the beauty of a woman’s form.   Being six and nearly invisible allowed me a view and persepective unhindered by shyness. No one covered themselves.  No one thought anything of sitting around naked. So for months I would explore the bodies with  my eyes.  Many years would pass before I’d see young women in the same state of disregard for nakedness. In their natural beauty. Even in high school the the layers of expectation, rush to get somewhere prevented the unadulterated pleasure of just seeing someone comfortable in their nudity.

After what seemed like a endless strange dream, and sometimes nightmare of the Sanatorium I return back to reality.  Under some advice my parents enroll me in swimming classes to help with my breathing, and I take to them like a natural.   I would go couple of times a week and learn my strokes, and swim my laps.  This time with boys and girls my age.  There I begin to explore the other aspects of being in water. Moving from fighting against resistance to ease of gliding through the water. Perfecting strokes.  The pool was always something special, the taste of chlorine, the flurecent lights.  The lines across the tiled floors.  The silence under water.

At the end of the second grade, there was a city wide competition to select people for a swimming school.   I grew up in Czech republic where under the Eastern sport models athletes were groomed from early age to challenging regiment that would continue throughout paring down to few exceptional atheletes that would progress ulitmately to regional and national teams.   In the competition I placed third in my favorite breast stroke.  Which not only guaranteed my acceptance but caught the attention of trainers for focus.   With third grade the excercise regimetn began in earnest.  Every morning we’d have an hour and half of training before school started, and another hour and a half after end of school.  More competitions where in my favorite stroke I always medaled either second or third place.  The routine was harsh and unforgiving, and as today my discipline wasn’t the strongest.  But I loved the competition, I loved winning, the podiums and the respect and attention that came with victory.  Though it wasn’t all work.. Throughout we were training with girls and boys.  So from the age of seven through eleven  I’d be in the water and there we’d all be in our swim suits so I always found a draw to turn and take glances at the girls swimming alongside.  We grew up some faster then others as the years went by.. Quite innocently, but definitely with interests and mixed with the memories of the beauty I saw years ago.   Perhaps this is how I developed the attraction to bodies moving in water. The stroke and athleticism,  but very feminine one. Without the edge of an sprinter or track and field athlete, without the sweating or visible excretion .  Thinking of  the image of woman swimming or rising from the water even now I see  something of a Venus in her.  That’s how my love affair with water began.