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Of pools and outlaws

Was a bit knotted in the shoulders today, and as my next massage appointment is more than two weeks away I decided on the next best thing: a trip to the pool for a water massage.

On entering the showers before going into the pool, it occurred to me that while the smell of the water is often off-putting to foreigners [being straight out of the ground it has the slight smell of sulphur], to me it instantly evokes a feeling of well-being. Primarily due to the swimming pool culture that is so prevalent here and that each and every Icelander is indoctrinated into from a very early age. After all, a trip to the pool here is like a trip to the spa.

We are enormously fortunate in Iceland to have a plentiful supply of water, both fresh [mineral water out of our taps] and geothermally heated [piped straight from the volcanic ground at a temperature of around 80°C/176°F]. Not only does the geothermal water provide cheap and clean heating for our homes [it’s pumped into our radiators], it also facilitates the construction of swimming pools filled with clean, silky, deliciously warm water in every single community, no matter how small. Not surprisingly, swimming is the Icelanders’ favourite sport and recreational activity.

Swimming lessons are a compulsory part of the school system from around grade 4, so every Icelander knows how to swim. In fact, it was EPI’s great-grandfather who pioneered swimming instruction in Iceland. At that time [early 1900s], learning to swim was not considered important, and being a nation of fishermen, the sea took its toll in the form of lives. Fishermen were drowning even in close proximity to shore, yet no one felt it important for them to learn to swim since they believed the water was so cold that they would drown anyway if they were submerged. EPI’s great-grandfather opposed this belief and was instrumental in setting up systematic swimming lessons in Iceland. He also built the first-ever pool in Reykjavík, which was on the site where the Laugardalslaug swimming pool [the city’s largest, next to the campground] was later built. There is actually a bronze relief of him at the Laugardalslaug pool.

EPI’s grandfather was an avid swimmer and used to take little EPI down to the seashore with him, where he [the grandfather] would have his daily swim in the bracing waters of the ocean. He later became the first Icelander to swim to the island of Drangey, in north Iceland, since Iceland’s most famous outlaw Grettir [the subject of Grettis Saga], fled there by swimming across 1000 years ago. Grettir was famous for his enormous strength, and his escape to Drangey was at the time considered a superhuman feat. No one attempted to follow him, and over the centuries the swim to Drangey took on the form of myth, with people believing that it was impossible to do unless you had Herculean strength, like Grettir. That is, until EPI’s grandfather came along.

How’s that for a bit of homegrown history!

MEANWHILE OUR HEATWAVE CONTINUES…
And we have balmy temps of 8°C, with overcast skies, some drizzle and a bit of wind. It took forever to get light this morning as the cloud cover was extraordinarily thick; official sunrise was at 10.26 and sunset at 16.55.

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  • hildigunnur May 22, 2008, 12:16 pm

    hmm, reyndar er sundkennsla hér alveg frá fyrsta bekk held ég, allavega í Reykjavík…

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