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Brrrrrr!!! (Language level B1-C1)

Dicembre 2016
È una tradizione che si ripete in molte città del mondo a Capodanno. In Italia c’è chi si tuffa nel Tevere, in Siberia chi sfida l’infarto buttandosi nei laghi ghiacciati. A New York si fa una nuotata nell’Oceano a Coney Island. In bikini, con il paraorecchie, con il cappellino di Natale, o come si vuole. L’importante è il rito propiziatorio: schiarirsi la mente e sperare in un anno migliore.

di Marina Carminati

File audio:

Members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club
Members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club
Dennis Thomas
Dennis Thomas

The “Polar bear plunge” means going swimming on New Year’s Day, in freezing temperatures. The list of countries that have this tradition includes: the USA, Canada, the UK and the Netherlands. In the USA it began in 1903 when the country’s oldest “winter bathing organization,” the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, was founded by Bernarr Macfadden. Macfadden (1868-1955) was something of an eccentric. Although he is largely forgotten today, he was considered “the father of physical culture.” During his long life he built up a publishing empire and his friends included President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Clark Gable, Shirley Temple and Rudolph Valentino.


Coney Island, which is in the borough of Brooklyn, is most famous for its Luna Park which, says current Coney Island Polar Bear Club president Dennis Thomas (see interview), was probably the birthplace of popular culture.  It is, he says, a  “centre of weirdness in the universe” and  diving into the icy Atlantic Ocean certainly fits into that philosophy. Bernarr Macfadden believed that this would be good for people’s “virility,” but today’s swimmers seem to do it for fun, to celebrate the New Year in style and to honour a great New York tradition.

camp sunshine

They also do it for charity. As Dennis Thomas explains, the New Year’s Day swim raises money for “Camp Sunshine,” a camp in Maine that offers hospitality every summer to 25 families from the New York area with children who suffer from serious illnesses.


the big chill


Speaker: Chuck Rolando (Standard American accent)

Coney Island is the name of a famous amusement park in the New York borough of Brooklyn. But if you go there on New Year’s Day, you will find another form of entertainment.  It’s on the Atlantic Ocean and members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club celebrate the New Year by swimming in freezing temperatures. This tradition goes back to 1903 and, as the club’s president, Dennis Thomas, explains, the event also raises money for charity:

Dennis Thomas (Standard American accent)

One of the things we do on New Year’s is partner with a charity called Camp Sunshine and we use New Year’s Day as a fund raiser. Camp Sunshine takes children with serious illnesses and their families away from the stress of daily life up to a beautiful camp in Maine and so each year with the money we raise on New Year’s Day we enable about 25 families from the New York area to participate and I think that makes everyone in the club feel good that we’re doing something we like and we’re contributing to the history and traditions of New York and at the same time we’re able to support this charity and families and children who really could use a break and need some help.


In actual fact members of the club don’t only go swimming on New Year’s Day. If you go at other times of the year, you can see even stranger things:

Dennis Thomas

We had this one couple swimming with us every week and one day the man decided to propose to his girlfriend on the beach, right there in the middle of a swim and I just thought it wasn’t a romantic moment, it’s not a candle-lit dinner, but something about this event and being there on the beach in the winter, he decided this was the time he wanted to pop the question and she agreed, but it was kind of fun and surprising for all of us to have this happen in front of us!


And you feel that things like this could only happen at Coney Island:

Dennis Thomas

I think Coney Island for me has been kind of like the centre of weirdness in the universe ever since it started. Some people cite Coney Island as the place where the idea of popular culture actually started. And I think everyone who swims out there has a very particular connection with Coney Island and, you know, for the club it’s kind of we’ve been out there since 1903, we’ve been there longer than the parachute drop, than the cyclone rollercoaster, we’ve been out there longer than anything that is currently standing and so it’s, for us, a way to kind of participate in this history of weirdness, as well as New York City!

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Families and children who really could use a break. Famiglie e bambini che hanno veramente bisogno di aiuto. Normalmente a break significa ‘una pausa’, ma può anche significare un aiuto.  Da notare anche l’espressione could use, che non significa ‘potrebbero usare’ ma ‘potrebbe far loro comodo’, ‘potrebbe servire’. Es: You look tired, you could use a vacation: hai l’aspetto stanco, ti farebbe bene una vacanza!

The man decided to propose to his girlfriend. L’uomo ha deciso di chiedere la mano alla sua fidanzata. In inglese il verbo to propose significa proporre, ma usato intransitivamente si usa anche indicare l’atto di chiedere la mano in matrimonio.

He wanted to pop the question. Di solito si dice to ask a question, ma quando si tratta di una cosa di grande importanza (tipo il matrimonio) si dice to pop the question (letteralmente “fare scoppiare la domanda”).

The parachute drop. La caduta del paracadute. Thomas si riferisce a una delle storiche attrazioni di Coney Island, che in realtà si chiama Parachute Jump e risale agli anni ‘40.


Aiuto! Non so nuotare!

Help! I can’t swim!