When reading Life of Pi by Yann Martel, one of the things you may be struck by is the huge number of Parisian swimming pools mentioned in the chapter three of the book. Piscine Molitor figures most prominently in the novel, as it is the inspiration for the name of the narrator: Piscine Molitor Patel. But he also mentions eight other pools in Paris, which we’ll highlight here. 

The Piscine Molitor is described most reverently in Life of Pi as “the pool the gods would have delighted to swim in.” It also seemed to have a bit of class attached to it, with wooden changing cabins surrounding the pool, a sun deck, two small beaches with real sand, steam room, cafeteria, gym and a bar. Messy Nessy Chic has some wonderful vintage photos of Piscine Molitor, as well as the graffiti ridden ruin it is today. [Update: On May 19th, 2014 the Piscine Molitor reopened to the public following a renovation, see photos here].

According to Martel, Piscine Deligny was “Paris’ oldest pool dating back to 1796, was an open-air barge moored to the Quai d’Orsay and the venue for the swimming events of the 1900 Olympics.” It has a fascinating history, detailed by Invisible Paris and came to a sad end when it sank to the bottom of the Seine in 1993. It was a place to be seen, as evidenced by visitors such as King Charles X, King Louis Philippe and writer Charles Sand, with a restaurant and private rooms.

Martel mentions that the pools in Paris at the time were dirty, unfiltered and cold. “Bain Royal, another latrine on the Seine was worse than Deligny,” he writes. “At least at Deligny they scooped out the dead fish.”

A better choice was the Piscines Chateau-Landon Rouvet or the Piscine du boulevard de la Gare, says Martel. Both were “indoor pools with roofs, on land and open year-round.” Instead of water coming straight from the Seine, the water came from the condensation of steam engines nearby.

Piscines Hebert, Ledru-Rollin, Butte-aux Cailles were “bright, modern, spacious pools fed by artesian wells” continues Martel.

Piscine des Tourelles was “the city’s other great Olympic pool, inaugurated during the second Paris games, of 1924” according to Martel

Today, there are still 38 public pools in Paris, some with gorgeous interiors that harken back to the golden age described in Life of Pi. A good number remain open air and Piscine Josephine Baker is a self-filtering barge pool on the Seine, finally solving the cleanliness problem described by Martel in Life of Pi. For New Yorkers, a self-filtering pool is on its way in the form of + POOL in the East River, which was successfully funded via Kickstarter last month.

Get in touch with the author @untappedmich