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Going under cover in Monaco

My miracle on Larvotto beach

If I can help somebody as I pass along

Taste of village life in Monaco

The Water's Edge: A fishy tale

Why I choose to be involved
"...I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up."
--Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Like Thoreau, I love the simple life. But while he  left a bustling city to move to the woods, I have taken the opposite route. I have given up life in a tiny town on the edge of the Canadian boreal forest for work that takes me to luxury-loving Monaco, the most densely populated nation in the world. Thoreau spent two years, two months and two days at Walden. I'm giving myself at least three years for this experiment.
--Celia Sankar


My miracle on Larvotto beach

Autumn's cooler temperatures have driven me out of the water. My parents and elder sister must be breathing sighs of relief all the way in Trinidad and China where they live. In fact, knowing them, they probably prayed for this to happen sooner, rather than later.

They have not been entirely impressed with my swimming adventures over here during summer. I'll be the first to admit, though, as a certain misadventure, which I'll relate shortly, shows, they may have had just cause to be a bit worried.

The fact is, I can't swim. Or, I should say, they knew I couldn't swim, up until this summer.

Whenever I've confessed this deficiency to non-Trinidadians, I have heard a gasp of shock as the response. Usually holding on to some stable object as they feel themselves about to faint, my interlocutors would ask incredulously: “You grew up on an island and you don't know how to swim?”

Well, no. As children, my siblings and I spent countless weekends on the beach, a treat our parents lavished on us. With four of us just about the same ages, and with big waves to jump about in while climbing on somebody's shoulder or pulling somebody's hair, there was never any thought of swimming.

My parents enrolled my brothers in the swimming camp at the
YMCA during one long vacation. But, I guess out of a sense of
(over)protection of their girls, they never did the same for my sister and me. And so it happened that, some year early in this decade, by which time I was an adult living in a small Canadian town in the woods, surrounded by thousands of placid lakes – no tumbling waves; no brothers or sister to climb upon – I resolved to learn to swim.

I signed up for the winter course at the municipal pool. My instructor turned out to be a high school girl who had just received her lifeguard certification. I braved blizzards and trudged through knee-deep snow to get to those lessons. But when summer came and I got into the lake, I'd be flapping my arms and legs about in the water for several minutes like I thought the teenager had taught me, only to discover I had moved nary an inch.

What a difference a “oui”-uttering Fred makes. Evey pool offering lessons should have a “oui”-uttering Fred.

Fred is one of the lifeguards at the Stade Nautique Rainier III pool in Monaco. He certainly didn't receive his certification just yesterday. He knows us adult non-swimmers and the irrational beliefs that have hampered us. He knows what to do to get us to allow our bodies to float as they naturally should. His explanations and instructions, although entirely in French, were easy for me to follow. And whenever I'd progressed, he'd utter a loud and encouraging, “Oui!” (French for, “Yes!”). Never has a Frenchman's voice been so satisfying to my ears.

Excited, I took my new skills to Larvotto beach. I decided to keep close to the shore where I could stand in the water if I got tired. And for many weeks, I enjoyed the absolute wonder of discovering this pleasure called swimming.

But one occasion, while swimming in what I thought was shallow water, I tried to stand up and found I couldn't touch bottom. I didn't know how to get myself horizontal again to swim back to safety. Terror began to set in. My body sank into the water, but somehow my head re-emerged just up to my mouth so I could catch some air. I wanted to wave my arms about and cry out for help at the top of my lungs, but as in a bad dream, I felt paralyzed and mute, and all I could do was sink again.

Just at that moment, an old man came wading in my direction. “Help,” was all I could manage to whisper before submerging yet again. The old man was just minding his own business, enjoying the water, and worse, didn't seem to understand English. “Help me,” I said a second time, with my arm outstretched before the depths sucked me below again. When I came back up, the man looked at me with confusion. “Help,” I cried. The man looked at my outstretched arm, waded out towards me with a look of uncertainty on his face, stretched out his arm, took hold of my fingers and bent his elbow, pulling me in a few inches. They were mere inches but they made all the difference.

The old man didn't seem to understand what I was saying when I began to thank him; he waded away, perhaps not fully appreciating that that tiny movement of his elbow saved my life.

People speak of experiencing miracles in their lives; I am convinced this was one of mine. I guess it was God's way of saying my time was not yet up, and there was more I needed to do before I left this earth.

When my family heard of this incident, my father's advice was that I stick to water mid-calf deep, which was slightly better than my sister's suggestion that I not go back into the sea ever again. My response was to return to Fred for some more his “oui”s.

The extra lessons helped. So did the encouragement of my lovely friend Tania, who volunteered to swim with me and keep an eye on me. So did the urgings of even strangers on the beach who witnessed my struggle to conquer this skill.

On my last weeks in the water this summer, I swam the entire shoreline of Larvotto's eastern crescent. I was even able to swim from ladder to ladder along the concrete platform furthest out to sea, in a depth of maybe 20 or 30 feet.

Do I feel proud of what I've done this summer? Unquestionably, oui.

 


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Celia Sankar

SIMPLY MONACO
by Celia Sankar





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