The Rotte River

Schrijver en essayist Matthew Stadler woont en werkt tijdelijk in Rotterdam. Op scherpzinnige wijze observeert hij tweewekelijks de maasstad. Vandaag deel 11: Zwemmen in De Rotte en bessen uit de Himalaya.

I found a nice place to swim in the Rotte River. It's ten minutes bike ride from the Centraal Station. There's an old wooden dock in tall reeds at a deep spot where the river flows cool and clean. The A20 highway crosses over nearby. Horses are corralled beneath the highway bridge. The setting is very pretty, if you don't look at the highway.
Wild berries grow in a dirt lot near the horses. Chain link fence is covered in prickly Himalayan blackberries, a delicious species of plump berry that came to the Netherlands 175 years ago. For most of the year, the Himalayan blackberry is just a stubborn sticker bush with no fruit, its long fibrous stems covered in sharp, blood-drawing prickers. Farmers routinely poison or burn them. Unchecked, the Himalayan will take over whole fields, cover creek beds, and swallow barns. It is a fearsome enemy, but in late summer the delicious berry can seduce you.
My swimming spot is a hundred meters upstream from the berry patch. The dock floats on the Rotte, and someone has tied an aluminum ladder to it. I dive in and swim into the current, where the water is coldest. Downstream, near the berries, Rotterdam's network of fetid, slow canals enters the Rotte, and the water turns warm and murkier. I don't swim there. I bike to my spot once or twice a day with a book, and sometimes with a picnic. It's pleasant to swim, then lie on the dock reading, and then swim again. More so if the day is hot.
In summer the weather in Rotterdam changes very quickly. A hot day can become cloudy and rain break from the sky in less than an hour's time. Or, conversely, thick clouds in the morning can blow away, and by noon the heat becomes stifling in the small room where I live. So, I go to the river to swim; and then the weather changes again. Lying on the dock, my attention lost inside the book I'm reading, I'll feel a chill and look up to find that the sky has clouded over and rain is beginning to fall. This is when I love swimming most. I cover the book and my clothes with the towel and jump into the river. The glassy surface wrinkles, pestered by rain drops, then bursts open into rings when I dive. The air feels cooler than the water. I float face up, my ears beneath the surface. Everything becomes very still. It's hard to believe I am in a city.
On the way home I pick blackberries. If the sun has come out you can smell the sweet fruit. The dust has been washed from them by the rain. The lower places are picked clean, so I lean into the bush, using my towel to blunt the stickers, and reach for the higher fruit.