Thursday, September 06, 2007

Women of the water

I'm unlearning to swim. Well, I'm learning a new way of swimming, which means unlearning the old way. Traditional theory is that your arms heave you along, your kicking legs heft you forward - the Total Immersion method is very different. It's slippery, and fishlike. And way cool.

But speaking of fishlike, I was reading up on mermaids for a short story. It was triggered last year when I came across an article on ama - the japanese free-divers (mostly women) who still dive for abalone and other delicacies. No scuba gear - they just take a deep breath and go. The ama are becoming an endangered species: the age range of the divers in one area was 45-85 years. The young nubile ama that perform for tourists are not representative, it would seem.

Anyhoo, so I've been reading, and I discovered Weeki Wachee, the City of Live Mermaids, an hour north of Tampa. There's a very deep, very strong spring there, filled with turtles and manatee and the odd alligator. In the late 1940s an ex-navy frogman-trainer somehow thought to make a 'theatre' out of it, and trained the local girls to hang out 20-feet underwater, breathing out of an air hose, and make it look natural. They were in the middle of nowhere, and their marketing consisted of running to the highway when they heard cars approaching and luring people in. More nubile young women performing for tourists.

They ate and drank (fizzy drinks) underwater, performed ballets and choreographed pieces - including holding completely still in a 5-mile an hour current. They hold their breath for a long time - the current record is 6 minutes 10 seconds. The lady from The Creature from the Black Lagoon (above) got her start there; Esther Williams hung out there, with a load of celebrities; Elvis (below) was a huge fan.

And these water-women are endangered too - their 'Save our Tails' campaign got a boost a few years back when Supergrass filmed a video there.

Wacky. I think this mermaid research may take a while...


Sean said...

And who can forget the underwater fight scene from Top Secret. Genius!!


Orlaith said...

That is priceless! That would totally boost Weeki Wachee's audience numbers... they used to do set pieces (although not quite like that) - below is a 'big game hunt' from the 1950s.