My heart is a little heavy tonight. After spending a couple hours browsing the library at St. Catherine University (my alma mater) on Saturday for various piano and music-related books I decided to stroll through campus. The flowers were beautiful, there was a wedding going on in the chapel, there were ducks floating on the pond, and…okay, let’s be honest here. I wanted to see the pool.
The last time I saw it, was about ten years ago as an undergrad student. During the summer before my senior year I worked as an on-campus painter (as in, painting walls in dorm rooms, etc.). I happened to work with some gutsy girls who, in addition to myself, liked to explore campus during our breaks. The cool thing about being on campus during the summer was that, many mysterious doors were open when they were usually closed during the school year.
We were walking through Fontbonne Hall, a building designed by two nuns in the twenties who couldn’t agree on the same design, so one sister designed one half of the building and the other designed the other half. Its original purpose was a physical education center, and the indoor pool was the largest in the country at that time, at a women’s college. It was finished in 1932 and was much loved by students:
“In September we had waited for the new swimming pool. We all like to swim. Then January fifteenth came and everyone saw the pool. After that we swam: in fact, we forgot about the time when we did not swim: we forgot when the swimming pool, with its green-tiled bottom and its underwater lights was only a dream.” (from the 1932 CSC yearbook).
While we were walking through the building we found a narrow hallway where there were those sand-papery black treads stuck to the floor, which led to a metal door. At this point I knew we had found something spooky, something magical. The gutsiest girl grabbed the doorknob and pulled. What we saw next was not unlike finding a portal to another universe (yeah, it was kinda like finding Narnia).
It was the indoor pool, which I never knew existed until then. It was beautiful but it felt haunted and neglected. There were gorgeous butter-colored textured tiles covering the walls, art-deco light fixtures up in the corners, and faux-black-marble siding that was waist-height and etched with scenes of water and sea creatures. The pool was dirty and there was a hoola-hoop in the deep end, along with a roll of toilet paper. There were old ceiling fans, broken-down tables and chairs, and other miscellaneous items strewn around the pool. The entrances to the locker rooms said “In” and “Out” in art-deco lettering. But the best part about the pool space were the large picture windows around the perimeter of the pool. I could imagine swimming there, back-floating, through a rectangle of light.
I’ve thought about the pool ever since. As a senior I made a Fontbonne pool-inspired art/music installation in a hallway of the art building. I poured over old pictures and yearbooks and press clippings in the archives. I wrote a women’s choir piece based on this pool. I always wanted it to be performed in the pool.
But, unfortunately this will never happen. As I walked towards Fontbonne Hall, I saw a strange reflection in those huge glass windows. At first I thought it was a large pendulous light fixture and rejoiced that finally, they were renovating the pool and turning it into a ballroom…..
But no. The reflection I saw was actually a wall. New drywall, gray carpet, and fluorescent lighting. Two floors of it. In the old pool space. My heart dropped into my stomach, and I’ve been in a daze ever since.
So what does this all have to do with music? Well, while driving around today with a friend, I had my iPod on Debussy’s piano Preludes and Images, and Et la Lune Descent Sur le Temple Qui Fut came over the speakers. I hadn’t listened to this piece in ages, not since I orchestrated a small portion of it for orchestration class in grad school. But for this moment, it was perfect: And the Moon Descends on the Temple that was. It’s the perfect image, the perfect title, the perfect music to go along with my feelings about the permanent disappearance of the pool. Does that ever happen to you? You’re driving or walking along with your iPod and the perfect song comes up for the mood you’re in or the scene you’re passing by? I sometimes wonder if iPods aren’t equipped with emotion-sensors….
It was an official full moon on Saturday, the day I walked by the Pool that Was. And now, writing this in the dark from my screened-in porch I see the still-full moon, and am imagining its light descending on the old pool….with this music in my head: