My Reminiscences of events, old and new, and travels, far and near
Saturday, July 13, 2013
Recollection: Piscine Molitor, a swimming pool in Paris ... and July 14, 2013
The Piscine Molitor (piscine is the French word for swimming-pool) was built in Paris in 1929, Avenue de la Porte Molitor (Gabriel Jean Joseph Molitor was a Marshal of France (1770-1849.) The swimming pool was designed to look like an ocean liner with 3 levels of cabins. It also had many Art Deco decorations, including stained glass, as the stained glass shown on top of this post, made by master glassmaker Louis Barillet (1880-1948.) If anyone has read the fantasy novel by Yann Martel entitled "The Life of Pi" or seen the movie (in French it is called "L'Odyssee de Pi") you may remember that the main character was named "Pi Patel." This was short for "Piscine Molitor," a name that was given to him by his Francophile parent in honor of this Paris swimming pool. Below are the cover of the book in English and a poster of the French movie.
This Parisian swimming pool was officially opened in the summer of 1929. American athlete and film star Johnny Weissmuller (1904-1984) was the celebrity featured at the grand opening. Weissmuller was famous in France as he had been performing in many water shows in Paris. Johnny was born an ethnic German (Banat Swabian) who immigrated to the United States with his family as an infant. He grew up to win many medals and five Olympic gold medals for swimming (including some in the 1924 Paris Olympic Games) and had unmatched world records during his lifetime. He played "Tarzan" in the 1930s and 1940s and had a distinctive Tarzan yell. Below are vintage postcards and photos of Johnny Weissmuller at the Parisian pool. (Click on collage twice to enlarge.)
Piscine Molitor was famous for fashion, theatrical performances, movie backdrops and figure skating training. As an aside - the unveiling of the first modern bikini was held at Piscine Molitor at a fashion show in July 1946. Louis Reard (1897-1984) was a French automobile engineer but his mother had a shoe shop for the nude cabaret Les Folies Bergeres. Louis invented this tiny swimsuit and had to use a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris as a number of regular models refused to wear and show it. The swimming pool had two pools, one indoor and the other outdoor with sand on the sides. Below are vintage postcards of the pool.
When I was a teenager I went to this swimming pool often in summer with my friends. It was not so popular anymore but it still was very nice. Below are postcards of that era.
But I preferred to go there in winter when they turned the pool into an ice-skating rink (patinoire in French) where French ice-skating athletes used to train. My friends and I would take the Metro to the station Michel-Ange Molitor then walk to the rink. Once there we could turn around and around the rink on the ice to some lively music tempo. When the music stopped boys could come to ask girls to turn around the rink with them during the next music piece, just like in a dance hall. Ice-skates could be rented there but my parents gave me a pair of white ice-skates for Christmas and I almost wore them out. We went to other ice-skating rinks in the area and I found some old photos showing the two boys who went with me most often. They were brothers, Pierre and Billy. Their father had been the French Consul in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and their mother was born there. Below on top left is Billy, then next are Pierre and me (I was fifteen then.)
The open-air pool that was turned into ice and used as a skating rink in winters closed in the 1970s. The summer pool fell into disrepair and was closed in 1989, boarded up and scheduled to become a housing project and a parking lot. There were many protests and a group of concerned citizens formed "SOS Molitor." They stopped the demolition of the pool and had it placed on the list of France's historic national monuments. Below is the last photo of the pool taken on August 18,1989 before it was closed (photo courtesy City of Paris.)
However it sat for over 20 years and graffiti artists made it their private realm. (Photos courtesy City of Paris / Mairie de Paris.)
I read in a French newspaper that renovations have begun. The main structure (cannot be safely salvaged) will be razed but the historic frontage wall facing the stadium will remain. The Art Deco green balustrades, some doors and windows will be kept, if possible, or reproduced to the original patterns. It will be the rebirth of the mythical Piscine Molitor. Below are photos showing the beginning of the renovation (courtesy City of Paris.)
The plans are for two pools, one covered and one open, a health spa, a luxury hotel, a restaurant and shopping with an opening date scheduled for 2014. Below are photos showing the project of the future complex (courtesy City of Paris.)
If I were in Paris in July though I think I would go to "Paris Plages" (Paris Beaches.) The Paris mayor started these beaches a dozen years ago during the months of July and August (July 20 through August 18 this year) for the Parisians who cannot go away on vacation. Some streets are closed along the river Seine, sand and palm trees are brought in. There are activities for children and adults from 9 am to midnight each day. Some people can play "petanque" (bowling) others can go canoeing on the Seine, or simply lay in a lounge chair with an ice cream and a book. This year mini-golf and Tai-Chi are also offered.
Since I am talking about Paris and today is July 13th, I'll mention that tomorrow is "Le Quatorze Juillet" - July 14, the French National Holiday. Anglophones call this "Bastille Day" but no one in France would. The storming of the prison on July 14, 1789, was a symbol to fight he "oppressors" of the people, which at the time numbered two: the aristocracy and the clergy. Actually, some historians claim that the revolution was more against the Church than the nobility. At the time there were only seven prisoners in the prison of the Bastille: 4 forgers, 2 legally insane and one libertine (or prostitute) - that's all. (Drawing below by Louison, City of Paris.)
The 14 July 1789 ended absolute monarchy and the monopoly of the Church - all the churches and their wealth became property of the nation. The First Republic was created soon after with the "tricolore" flag - blue, white and red which are symbols of the Republic - Liberty, Equality and Fraternity for all French people. Although it was also the start of many killings of the aristocracy and priests and the system of "de-Christianization" (4000 parishes were abolished with churches becoming hospitals, jails or being demolished, and priests deported to far away islands.) This may not be well known, but it should be noted to understand why France is the most secular country in Europe where religion is tolerated but must stay a private matter with little influence on social life and none in governmental affairs. The French Revolution also brought forth the fundamental "Declaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen" (the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen) which inspired democracy all over the world and was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Below is Le Drapeau Tricolore (tricolor flag)by Francois Georgin, engraver - mid 19th century.
The people of France celebrate equality, solidarity and social gains obtained from the start and since the Revolution and the symbolic taking of the Bastille. The 14th of July is a traditional national holiday with fireworks and dancing in the streets. There is a military parade down the Champs-Elysees in Paris and this year the country of Mali, Africa, is invited to join the parade (as 12 other African nations) - 60 Malian soldiers next to French soldiers who fought in their country. There will be 4800 men and women in the parade, about 265 vehicles, 58 aircraft and 35 helicopters going down the avenue tomorrow, Sunday 14 July 2013. Painting below is Rue Montorgueil, Paris 1878 by Claude Monet, French (1840-1926.)