SOCHI, Russia – The Black Sea is really blue, except when it’s green. A balmy embankment just outside the Olympic Park was lined by swimmers, shore trollers, bicyclers, and dozers, while off in the distance the snow caps on the Caucasus mountains was evaporating. It was 60 degrees. My new friend Alexi the fisherman showed off a catch of shad or sprat or some such thing — there was no way to tell since he didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Russian, but we made friends just the same, as he displayed a wooden box full of silver fish, shiny as medals.
About 30 fishermen lined the embankment, tugging on their lines. It was noon on Wednesday, and at that very hour the women’s downhillers at Rhosa Khutor were shushing down the mountain through the slush and frost melt that passes for snow in Sochi, and another winter storm was about sock Washington D.C.. I don’t mean to gloat, but the discerning reporter-tourist turned away from the mountain-view towards the shore.
Down the beach, a group of five Russians with towels over their shoulders and wearing nothing but swimsuits and light sweatjackets and flip-flops, slap-walked along the path. On the black-rock beach, a young mother crouched by the water’s edged with a small child in a fur cap.
The fishermen unzipped their jackets, and stripped down to their cable-knit sweaters and suspender-held waders. Their poles lined the water’s edge in measured spaces, like a row of sentinels guarding the beach.
Two boys named Gregory and Maxim stripped down to their striped boxer trunks, and threw their arms in the air showing off their chests. The college-age Russians all speak excellent English, shaming you with precise accents that sound almost British. “How cold is the water?” I asked.
“About 10 degrees,” Gregory answered. I did the conversion math – about 50 degrees.
I wandered over to Alexei the old fisherman. In rapid Russian, he told me a story that seemed to be about a woman from Siberia swimming in the Black Sea. I couldn’t tell if she got hypothermia or found the water pleasantly warm, but it must have had a happy ending because he laughed, and I laughed too, because the sun seemed to shine down in a solid tower of light on our spot by the water.