Thursday, June 25, 2009

When is like enough?

I don't love swimming enough to find a pool in NYC to swim regularly, but I do love swimming. The outdoor pool at Grove Hotel is small and cold. It is also too shallow at one end. Nevertheless, I swam happily for 40 minutes yesterday afternoon. This morning, turning round for another short lap, I remembered that my father taught me to swim, in the public swimming pool next to the Bukit Merah Bus Interchange. That pool, like so many things in Singapore, is gone. Behind locked gates, the empty pools stand like huge scummy cisterns. My father is not a great swimmer, but he knows the basics. School swimming lessons finished my swimming education. When I am swimming, I often imagine myself floating like a fetus in my mother. Since I am thrashing vigorously, and not floating, swimming combines the joy of independent action and the security of a womb. 

Before my swim yesterday, TCH and I walked along the beach to the Pines. I love beach walks too, and this one by the Atlantic was especially thrilling and peaceful at the same time. How does this ocean get its name, I wondered. I would like to live by the sea, I told TCH, and tried to get him to dissuade me by describing all the problems with a sea-side house. The houses at the Pines were bigger than those at Cherry Grove. Some looked as if they should be made of stone instead of weathered boards, the way they imposed themselves on the eye. Some had turned the dune into manicured lawns or artful gardens. I mocked the effort to domesticate the wild, to turn an island into a suburb, but I also appreciated the ingenuity and persistence in growing grass from sand. 

We spent much of the day reading, in the hotel room and in the restaurant Island Breeze. TCH liked the beginning of Hollinghurst's The Folding Star, but not enough to want to persist with its 400 over pages. Today he returned to his WWII novel. I persisted with Herman Melville's Billy Budd and Other Tales. The persistence was necessary since I did not take to it naturally and immediately. I was finally rewarded when I reached the tale "The Encantadas," more a series of descriptive sketches than a story. The writing there was so imaginative and masterly that I forgot all earlier strain, on my part as well as the author's, and let myself be carried away to the cindery hell that is the Galapagos.

3 comments:

Nemo said...

Yeah, Melville is great, but thick. Yet The Encantadas really sings.

Jee Leong Koh said...

It sings of Spenser and Dante too.

GANYMEDE said...

Don't blame Tim re The Folding Star: Hollinghurst's dreariest story, not compelling at all.