Sunday, January 1, 2012

Plunging Boldly (and Coldly) into the New Year

It was so (relatively) mild this year that these people almost seemed sensible
It says something about the effect that expectations and context and memory have on our sense of present reality that as I made my way to the Lido late this morning I was thinking that it really seemed too warm to take a dip in the Adriatic.

It was about 10 degrees C (50 degrees F).

Of course I was not about to strip down to a swimsuit and venture into the sea to celebrate the first day of the New Year, but the Lido Ibernisti were, and the fact that the sun was bright, the sky clear and blue, and the silk long-johns I wore beneath my jeans felt almost unnecessary--these facts deprived the club's annual event of some of last year's thrill. The particular thrill one gets from watching a group of people do something both admirable and absurd, courageous and perhaps a little moronic.

Last year the sun took New Year's Day off. It was cloudy and cold and blustery and as the Ibernisti filed into a horizonless sea--water and sky one indistinguishable gray wash--it was almost like you were observing some mysterious Druidical rite. At least for me, as I always (vaguely and ridiculously) associate Druids with dampness, coldness, baleful skies and rituals that clearly seem deleterious to one's health.

This year it was like a beach party, with a live band cruelly playing hits from the 1980s and a big crowd, comfortable in their jackets and scarves beneath a cheerful sky. 
Carrying red & white balloons, the Ibernisti make their way from what only appears to be a space station toward the sea
With the sun warm on my face I wondered for brief moments, "Why aren't I going into the sea today?"

Of course, as a local friend informed me, the Ibernisti do not only go into the sea on January 1. Starting from the time when lowering autumn chases fair-weather crowds from the shore, the Ibernisti go into the sea every day, rain or shine, throughout the winter.

They believe that doing so prevents them from getting sick, he told me--a little dubiously. 

I didn't think I was up for that level of commitment. At the edge of the sea I took my jacket off and that was as far as I went. I still had on a knit cap, a light thermal long-sleeve shirt, a light flannel shirt, a merino wool sweater and a polar fleece pullover. And the aforementioned long johns.

No, I really don't think I'm Ibernisti material.


  1. If I thought I had to take a dive in the sea every day, no matter what the temperature, there might be days when I might find it easier just to stay in bed instead. How does one get up in the morning, and prepare oneself for all that unnecessary physical discomfort. I don't even like the sensation of taking off my pajamas in exchange for the clothes I am going to wear that day. If I were to do this, then maybe I would have to compensate by not turning down the temperature at night and raising the temperature during the day so that I would actually be hot and sweaty.
    On second thought, maybe anything that would come my way, would seem easy, compared to the will power it would take to force myself to jump into the cold sea. Now that I'm thinking about it I would love to hear an interview with those "admirable, absurd, courageous, or perhaps moronic folks who undertake such a commitment.

  2. Jan has said everything I was thinking, and said it very well. My flesh cringes even when the shower is one degree on the cool side. Obviously, not made of the same sturdy stuff as i Ibernisti.

  3. I seem to recall that Katherine Hepburn was supposedly an ibernisti who started each day with an early morning dip into some body of water (lake? sea?) in New England throughout the year. For what that's worth. But, yes, I think I'd rather stay in bed if that's what was facing me each morning.