The Forms of Ice Skating / Me siento en casa
When I arrived in Montreal a friend told me I should find an outdoor activity if I wanted to survive. She looked serious. Going to an ice rink became my mode of survival in a new landscape. To face winter’s interiority I offered my own, by replacing my four wheels for a blade.
On why I went to the ice rink
If the ice rink is sensation and memory, these words and images are the blades of my skates: they’re a fading trace of a spiralling itinerary, a thin layer that gives an account of my affection for the ice. More than a decade ago, back in Argentina, I used to roller-skate competitively. I remember long hours suffering towards circular perfection, gliding over wooden flooring on four wheels.
When I arrived in Montreal a friend told me I should find an outdoor activity if I wanted to survive. She looked serious. Going to an ice rink became my mode of survival in a new landscape. To face winter’s interiority I offered my own, by replacing my four wheels for a blade. I got back to dormant movements. And getting back to those also resurfaced old memories, from when the sheer force of habit left deep traces in my body. Time had softened the experience of skating as an obligation, and I could find pleasure and contemplation in the practice. But the past is always present. This is an attempt to follow a few of the sensations, memories and thoughts, spiralling around an afternoon in the ice rink.
The few first minutes
I can smell winter as I approach the rink. The rink is covered with the silhouettes of tree branches and some autumn leaves are emerging from the defrosting ice. Everyone with the North on their backs was sure to make it clear: it’s a climate abnormality for February. Might the chanting bird think it’s already spring? I sit down on the bench and reach for my skates. Their similarity with my old four-wheel skates is comforting. I tie my shoelaces and stand up in the snow. I take a small step. My body is tense. I approach the rink sideways, with my right side in front. I slowly glide into the ice rink.
I start skating with caution. I think about my gloves, how they’d protect me if I fall. I look at my skates, whiter than the ice below. I’m happy: there’s something in my body that helps me do this. I’m not sure I can explain how.
I get confident. It’s been a few minutes and I’m already thinking about how I could complete some basic tricks. Perhaps that’s too much confidence. I just glide on, feeling the cold in my face. I’d better give my body time to remember and heat up.
What my feet felt as a grippy surface back then, the lacquered wooden flooring, is now a slippery surface that’s affected by my presence: it feels my weight and friction; it also makes me a medium through which ice turns into water. The acute sound of the blades hissing and grinding against the ice take me back to the sound of my 4-wheels on the floor and the indoor echo of the skating club. Here, at the rink, sounds are filtered by the snow.
From friction to weightlessness
In some parts of the rink, my blades sink in the slushy ice. Chunks of ice are scattered on the track and the roughness of the surface makes my body tremble. All of a sudden my feet leave behind the discomfort of the grainy surface to sense the smoothness of flat ice. It’s a unique sensation. I remember having experienced a similar feeling some time ago, as I was driving by car in a small town in Patagonia. After hours of following a dusty and rocky road I got to the suavity of a recently paved asphalt route. This passage from rugged to smooth gives a sense of floating, a sense that is appreciated in relation to the omnipresence of gravity. It’s an expression of the tough and frictioned work to arrive at the effortlessness.
On the joy of dizziness
My feet are tight, the extremities of my toes are doing pendulum-like movements to regulate the amount of pressure on the sides. I feel a burning sensation rising from the bottom up to the crown of my head. I can sense the body moving the energy back and forth. The energy nearly overflowing from the third eye, that space located in the middle of the forehead. I pull one leg up and lower down the torso. My poise is absolute. I relish stability, and search its elastic limits. Stretching that sentiment while conscious that it will not hold long.
Take a look at the picture on the left. The skater on Colville’s painting is showing off the mastery of poise. Observe the absolute control of the body. The calm and tranquility the image conveys, despite the skater is heading-off to an open river. Ray Cronin’s (2017) interpretation of Colville refers to the “moments of stasis” created by an ephemeral stability in the midst of chaos. Order as a brief moment that is inevitably followed by chaos. For me it’ll be the fall, the dizziness, the taste of vomit.
Solitary skating [in the midst of community]
Going to skate alone is meditation. I am immersed in the flow of energy. I start gliding around the rink to heat up, trying to attune to my surroundings: I listen to its sounds, I observe people and their trajectories on the rink, I smell the uniform odour of cold. Then I change my focus from the external stimulus to the breath, following the air coming in and out of my body. I synchronize my movements to the rhythm of the breath. I inhale deeply and I jump. I exhale when I land. I am playing with energy. My heart is beating too fast. I let go of the effort and glide around with my thoughts. I sense a release. The joy of solitary skating is manifested in the combination of “the pleasure of solitude with the virtue of energy” (Gopnik 2010: 215).
Of course, even if the rink is empty, we are never alone. The traces on the ice are the absent presence of others. Small piles of snow, slashes in the ice, remain a bit longer. They all point towards the presence of a community overlapping a space of solitude.
The marks overlaid on the ice make it nearly impossible to distinguish individual imprints. Following your own tracks without affecting your motion is futile. Even if I find a fragment of my continuous line, the attempt to capture it in a photograph fails to give a sense of fluidity. Tracks are clearer in my mind than in vision as I remember my past movements. The sequence on Figure 4 is a projection of skating movements, as would be seen from a bird, translated to the movement of my hand over paper. A transposition of a pattern of form. I am “being drawn to draw” to project on this paper how I “witness” my encounter with the ice. As Michael Taussig (2010) suggests, witnessing is different than seeing something. There is a different sense of time “encompassed” by the drawing that surpasses the stillness of the photograph.
I am skating. As it’s getting darker, I remember someone told me about the Blue Hour. I just knew about the Golden Hour before. If it weren’t for the mild circles of light projected by the lamp posts and the shadows of the dormant trees, by all means, the image would be of a total blue. I am touring the ice without determinacy. Today is colder than the days before and my added layer of clothes constraints my movements. I don’t have the desire to go further than where the automatic movement of my legs
scraping the ice is taking me. I feel pleased: I am skating in a public park with my own skates. I take out my phone to record a message to myself: “Me siento en casa” (I feel at home). I feel I made it. Right after, I notice a family speaking Spanish as I pass by. I’m somewhat lost as I am dragging out to the immediateness. I slow down my speed to hear, to pay more attention to my surroundings. We are only a few on the rink now. We’re all Spanish speakers.
This is not a single story but an iteration of moments I experienced on my encounters with the ice that somewhat open the door to questions beyond my personal experience: about practices of homemaking and the sense of belonging, about being an immigrant in a place that at first glance appears to be so unfamiliar. Why do I feel local if most of the people skating are immigrants? Am I becoming a ‘local immigrant’ instead? I have more questions than responses. What I know is that as I was gliding through the ice the initial feeling of strangeness mutated into something else. The closeness I felt started from movement. Movement in a practice that I never thought I was going to do again. And here I am finding proximity, connection, belonging, in and through movement. The possibility of feeling at home embodied in my skating.