IN THE MIDST of the recent heat (horúčava) in Bratislava I went back on a vow: never to visit another Bratislava pool or swimming hole (kúpalisko) again.
In Canada I've been spoilt by the freshwater lakes (jazerá) where, without another soul in view, you can wet your feet (máčať nohy vo vode) or just plain swim (plavať). By being able to peel off my trunks (vyzliecť do naha) and tan (opaľovať) wherever the sun shines.
But in Bratislava, to get to any lake you have to brave the traffic jam (zápcha) on the paved trail (hrádza) south-east to the former villages of Jarovce, Rusovce and Čuňovo (with lakes in each, they're now part of greater Bratislava). A bicyclist and a roller blader were in a fatal crash last year, and if you dare the route in 2002 you will understand why the Bratislava city council is about to create separate biking and blading paths.
If you do make it to the lakes, you will find them thronged with sun (slnko) worshippers and exhibitionists, who in this country call themselves nudists (nudisti). If your skin (koža) is not irreparably burned (spálená) from the ride, it will horripilate at the sight of men au naturel, in unnatural poses of studied indifference, facing the bike paths rather than the water they have ostensibly come to enjoy.
But with temperatures around 35 degrees centigrade you'll have more company in people just wanting to get wet (mokrý). Make sure you put on lots of sun lotion (natreť sa krémom) or you will wind up red as a lobster (červený ako rak). Most expats come here with the idea that Slovakia is too far north to have really hot summers, and find themselves fried (spečeny) before the sun is high enough to say dobré popoludnie (good afternoon). If you're not the type who tans golden brown (opáliť sa do kávova, to the colour of coffee), use at least a 15 factor sun cream (opaľovací krém) and a sun hat (čapica), or you will peel like an onion (šúpať sa ako cibuľa).
Slovakia is also unabashedly tops off (hore bez, or without top) for women of all ages, although men are advised to keep their swimming trunks (plavky) on if they don't want to be mistaken for a nudista fresh from the bushes.
My most recent trip was with my three-year-old son Dominik to an inner-city lake called Kuchajda, next to the Polus shopping centre. Personally I couldn't imagine a more revolting place, with steroid hulks everywhere, but Dominik was keen to try out his swimming goggles (plavecké okuliare).
It was there I again realised how different Europe and North America have really grown, how uptight the latter remains about public nudity (which, when you think about it, is democracy at its most basic - we're all going to wind up looking the same way). To our right were half-naked university-age women; to our left the bared, redoubtable prows of HMS babky. A bendy old geezer in a mini-speedo cruised the strand, stopping to talk to each topless group and being fended off with a good-natured "get real".
If for nothing else, Slovakia's swimming holes are worth visiting for a vision of a society that pre-dates modern sexual complexes. There's much to charm and even more to offend the sensitive soul. And then there's the universal, in a delighted cry from my son which froze bathers within range:
"Tati, ja som znova cikal!" (Daddy, I peed again!).
Which brings me back, as from a nap in the sun, to the language that will help you enjoy your swim, if swim you must. Official swimming pools, true to pools everywhere, have much that is forbidden: zákaz hádzať loptou (no throwing balls), zákaz používať potápačské okuliare (no diving goggles) and zákaz behať okolo kúpaliska (no running in vicinity of pool).
Unofficial swimming holes also have their signs, but of the impotent variety (vodný zdroj, zákaz plávania - 'official water source, no swimming', as herds of would-be swimmers stream by). They're democracy at its best, nudisti and hore bez included, with even zákaz močiť do vody (no peeing in the water) forgiven to those who know no better.
Foreign Affairs is a bi-weekly column devoted to helping expats and foreigners navigate the spills and thrills of living in Slovakia.
The next Foreign Affairs will appear on stands July 15, Vol. 8, No. 27.
1. Jul 2002 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson