The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘swimming’


November 5, 2015 | by

Albert Bierstadt, The Burning Ship, ca. 1871.

How riveted I was by the illustration entitled The Burning Ship! Is a sinking frigate not phenomenal?

If, by the way, velvet footstools and the like can be whacked free of dust and brushed on Sundays, then authorial activity must be permitted as well.

Do I not feel, when I am exercising my intellect, exactly as if I were sitting in church? Drafting a prose piece puts me in a devotional frame of mind.

How terrifying a ship on fire is. Gazing at the picture, I said to myself: The mariners find themselves faced with the necessity of fleeing the fire; but they have nowhere to escape to but the water, and soon enough they’ll be trying to escape from that as well; yet they have no choice but to take refuge in it. Beautifully spread out, the water lies there like a meadow; not the tiniest wave disturbs this mirror that conceals unfathomable depths. The mirror’s expansiveness poses a threat to the ones in peril, those desirous of rescue. Beneath the water, unknown mountain chains extend. This fact is surely known to the better educated among the mariners, and this precise knowledge makes them feel significantly more forsaken than those who enjoy perfect ignorance in this regard. Education, though reliable and helpful, is also treacherous. Read More »

Swimming with Oliver Sacks

August 31, 2015 | by

Oliver Sacks died yesterday at eighty-two.


Oliver Sacks swimming in Rhinebeck, NY, in July 2015. Photo: Bill Hayes

I met Oliver Sacks at the Blue Mountain Center, an artist and writers residency in the Adirondacks, where we spent August of 2012. The room I was assigned had a pretty view out onto Eagle Lake, but it was tiny—there was no way I could pace in it, and I needed to pace, so I disappeared into the mountains several times a day. I walked and walked, got lost in the pouring rain and knocked on the cabin doors of strangers, hoping to be adopted, maybe. Instead I was given haphazard, passionless directions back to the colony. While I was feeling the dark of the woods pressing heavily on my shoulders, Oliver was writing to the sounds of the loons on the lake. He was seventy-nine then. Read More »

People Are Still Liars, Leading Thinkers Say, and Other News

January 22, 2015 | by


Franz von Stuck, Adam and Eve, ca. 1920.

  • John Berger goes for a swim: “I have my favourite municipal swimming pools, where I go to swim up and down at my own pace, crossing other swimmers whom I don’t know, although we exchange glances and sometimes smiles … As swimmers we share a kind of egalitarian anonymity. No shoes, no marks of rank, just our swimming costumes. If you accidentally touch another swimmer while passing him or her, you offer an apology. The limitless cruelty towards others like ourselves, the cruelty of which we are capable when we are regimented and indoctrinated, is difficult to imagine here.”
  • Do you have $300,000? Give it to James Patterson. (He needs it, right?) These are the things he’ll give you in return: “a first-class flight to an undisclosed location, two nights stay in a luxury hotel, fourteen-carat gold binoculars, a five-course dinner with the author, and a copy of Private Vegas that will ‘self-destruct’ twenty-four hours after the purchaser begins reading it. The precise nature of the explosion has not been revealed, but it is believed to involve a bomb squad and an exotic location.”
  • Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper has broken box-office records largely by attracting white men from Middle America—not typically a movie-going lot—and so finds itself at the center of the culture wars. Is the movie mere war propaganda, as its critics avow, or are its fans just intent on reducing it to jingoism? “Go ahead and attack Eastwood for making a movie that’s totally uninterested in the underlying politics of the Iraq conflict, and that depicts its Arab characters in cursory and stereotypical terms. That’s entirely legitimate, and indeed I think those America-centric aspects partly undermine the film’s aims. But to assign Eastwood some Bush-Cheney war-booster agenda because he supported Mitt Romney in 2012, or even because some unknown proportion of moviegoers have seized on it that way, simply isn’t fair.”
  • On the problem of lying, which still gets people riled up and has been linked since at least the earliest days of the Christian church to “the problem of human existence itself”: “We all do it, and we all damn it. In many traditions, both Western and Eastern, it is considered among the most blameworthy of acts … I have friends who could laugh off being called an adulterer but would storm out of the room if I said, ‘You’re a liar.’ ”
  • Not unrelatedly, it turns out that “the truly unique trait of Sapiens is our ability to create and believe fiction. All other animals use their communication system to describe reality. We use our communication system to create new realities.”


Swimming Upstream: A Memoir in Pools

October 25, 2012 | by

Because I loved the water and because I moved all the time—in search of what, I wasn’t yet sure—I found that swimming laps was a good way to get somewhere without booking another ticket. Wherever we were, I’d search out an open lane, and sometimes I’d surprise myself, encountering the person who emerged on the other side. You could learn a lot with your eyes closed.

Way back, before we moved to the Middle East, I loved the thrill of swimming at Hamilton Fish, the big outdoor pool on East Houston Street, where the Europeans swam fast in skimpy suits, but where there was always plenty of room for everyone. We lived nearby, in Chinatown, and I rode my bike a few blocks to my first big editor job. We were young and it was hard to imagine anything going wrong.

Then my wife got the fellowship in D.C., which sent her to southern Russia, where she was detained for three days by Russian authorities, who took her passport, laptop, and notes, and then threatened to take her to trial in Chechnya. When she landed in Virginia, her friends and I were relieved and waved little American flags. Later, recuperating at a hotel near Dupont Circle, she and I swam laps at the National Capitol YMCA, on Rhode Island Avenue, but all the other swimmers were super aggressive—with as many as ten to a lane, shouldn’t these august people have known better?—and I found the crush of writhing bodies too exhausting ever to go back.

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July 2, 2012 | by

I am the first one in Stockholm’s Centralbadet this Monday morning, followed by James, then by an old man wearing big yellow goggles, who does a steady breaststroke around the perimeter of the pool. Watching him, I switch to breaststroke myself and match his speed. It feels comfortable. It feels relaxing. As the three of us swim counterclockwise, I channel my old age, my flabby form, my unself-conscious senior. I think of the two older women I passed in the locker room, whose modest black tanks encased humps and bones and bumpy flesh. The cruel phrase a friend once used to describe a woman’s backside: “a bagful of doorknobs.” I watch my hands trace their double ellipse in front of me, my mother’s wrists, my grandmother’s knuckles.

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