Piscine Molitor, Paris

by Gioia Marchegiani

You see, most travelers collect postcards or teacups on their journeys... but not Mamaji. Mamaji collects swimming pools. He swims in every pool he comes upon. One day, Mamaji said to my father that, of all the pools in the world... the most beautiful was a public pool in Paris. That the water there was so clear, you could make your morning coffee with it. That a single swim there changed his life. Before I was born, he said... “If you want your son to have a clean soul... you must take him one day to swim in the Piscine Molitor.” I never understood why my father took this so much to heart. But he did, and I was named “Piscine Molitor Patel.” This is how the protagonist of the amazing Life of Pi, multi-award winning movie by Ang Lee, adapted from Yann Martel’s novel, explains the origin of his own name.
The Molitor swimming pool is a temple of the city sports, a place of worship for the Parisian high society of the 1930s and an original Art Deco work. Designed by architect Lucien Pollet, it was inaugurated in 1929. The ribbon cut was entrusted to the Olympic swimming champions Aileen Riggin Soule and Johnny Weissmuller – unforgettable movie star who played the leading role in Tarzan. The building consisted of two swimming pools: one was 33 metres long, covered by an exquisite glass roof made by the master glazier Barillet and surrounded by two galleries of changing rooms; the other one was an outdoor swimming pool, 50 metres long, surrounded by three levels of changing rooms, and was used like a skating rink during the winter. The building with white portholes and balustrades recalled the style of the cruise ships, that were fashionable at that time, and it should really feel like being embarked on a place out of the world. The balconies, the corridors and the poolside offered the opportunity to walk the catwalk not only to models during the usual fashion shows but to all the people who went to Molitor to swim but above all to look and to be looked at. Here, in 1946, the first bikini of the world was launched, designed by Louis Reard.
Among Novelle Vague celebrities and personalities of the time, you could swim, watch a play and be photographed by the paparazzis lying in wait, maybe wearing their bath suits as well!
Shut down in 1989, it was saved from demolition by a group of former regulars and appointed historic monument of France. From the Nineties it became an outdoor street art museum and many rave parties took place in the dried pools. Some years ago a huge and expensive refurbishment work returned the Piscine Molitor to its former glory. One year ago the new age of Molitor was launched. You may wonder whether a five star hotel, 1,700 square metres of spa facilities and a restaurant with a famous French chef justify the price you have to pay for a relaxing and memorable swim after which you feel like having your soul cleaned.