There is a relatively new tradition in Levanto, going back 12 consecutive years, of diving into the Mediterranean at noon on New Year’s Day. It’s called “Il Cimento”, a word that I still have not been able to translate.
Last year, for our first New Year’s in Levanto, we watched a bit sheepishly from the sidelines, our good intentions drowned in too much holiday Franciacorta. But for the past 6 months, my wife has been repeating, mantra-like, “This year we’re doing it, this year we’re doing it.”
While not exactly on a par with diving into the arctic waters like the Russians do, this is still January 1st in Europe. A much heartier man than I with a thermometer dove into the water ahead of everyone else . Water temperature, 58 degrees F, the same as the air outside. Not exactly frozen, but very nippy nonetheless.
And so with 116 other participants, we stripped down to our bathing suits, huddled together for a group photo, and then ran down into the water, feeling the invincibility of being in a mob. Around me, there were men and women from 18 to 82 (the official oldest swimmer, a woman), not to mention any number of children, the youngest only 4 years old.
Up to my waist, the water didn’t even feel cold, probably because my feet were already numb from the wet sand. So feeling brave, I dove in, keeping only my head above water. It was like a vice grabbed my chest. It was so cold that I could barely breathe as I struggled to turn around and move nimbly out of the water toward my awaiting towel.
Hats off to the dozen people who stayed out in the water for about 10 minutes, swimming around leisurely in the company of two Newfoundland rescue dogs. Next year, I hope to last a few seconds more with you all.