There was also a different set of questions when I began reading Jules Verne. I knew there were submarines, but could Captain Nemo’s Nautilus really work? What about flight to the Moon? At fifty kilometers an hour, how many years would it take to get to the Moon? Could a man (only a man, in those days!) survive for so long? What about a trip to the center of the Earth? Was that really possible? Wouldn’t it be too hot? Wouldn’t there be too much pressure? And on and on, and my Larousse couldn’t help me, other than to tell me when and where Verne was born, and which books he had written.
I developed a technique for getting some of these questions answered. It involved the mid-weekly trips to the swimming pool which was located in another part of the city. Much like before, we walked there two by two, and I tried to locate myself strategically so as to walk next to Mr. Bassecourt or Mr. Onklet in order to get my questions answered. They didn’t have all the answers, but the conversations I had with these teachers on the subject of my reading were interesting enough to make me forget about distance, and before I knew it, we were at our destination, a beautiful, high-ceilinged swimming pool, whose roof opened up on warm and rainless days, a rarity in Belgium. There were small, individual dressing rooms on the four sides of the pool and its three floors, as well as a small restaurant at the diving board end of the pool. It is possible that we received swimming instruction when there, but I don’t remember any. We just played in the water, until exhausted or too cold, when we would step under the hot showers at the shallow end of the pool for awhile. Somehow, when you spend enough time at a pool, with or without instruction, you wind up knowing how to swim.
The swimming pool was so much fun that my Saturdays were also spent there, either alone of with a few friends. Hella would usually make me some potato chips to take along to the pool in case I got hungry, and her potato chips were heavenly, a taste unknown today in a world of packaged chips and Pringles. Saturday at the pool also meant swimming and playing until we literally turned blue, when one of the lifeguards would chase us out of the pool, and we took refuge in the hot showers until he was gone, and then returned to the pool. Eventually, the afternoon ended, we dried off, put on our clothes, and marched out into the street, happy and ravenous, and immediately stopped at the bakery on the corner for some hot rolls. Were those the best rolls I ever tasted? I’m not sure, but I certainly would place them near the top of my list of gustatory delights. And the Saturday afternoons at the pool were memorable, to say the least.
As to Mr. Onklet, one of my teachers on those walks to the pool, I just got news this morning that in 1966, he became Dr. Onklet, Ph.D. I guess he must have learned a lot from me!