Sunday, 20 October 2013

Publications: Cathedrals of the Flesh

Alexia Brue's 2003 first touch at a fully fledged book takes us by the hand and explores her own introduction to Europe's public bathing culture. Public, intimate (or not) she gives us a good insight into why we (used to?) value collective bathing.

Initially, Alexia sets out on an adventure to literally soak up what the makings are of a perfect setting for a bathhouse which may be located in New York city. Starting off in a Parisian steam bath, she becomes accustomed to and acquainted with the Istanbuli hammam, the Russian banya (both traditional and upmarket) and the Finnish love of everything sauna. The insights into their bathing folklore are complimented by a thoroughly readable journey into each countries culture and an increasingly in-depth revelation into the author herself as she jots down what would make her search for the holy grail perfect.

Interspersed by a personal historical account into Greek and Roman bathing, the journey ends in the soakers heaven of Japan, where she visits the tradional sento as well as what she hoped for: the most paradise-like onsen. 
On a hopeful note we take notice of her talk with one of New York's bathhouse owners. Will she have accomplished the mission she set out on?

It comes as no surprise that the author's journey has evolved and Alexia Brue is now regarded as an expert on wellness issues. Together with a colleague journalist she has been running the Well+Good NYC website ("Your healthiest relationship"), a premier source of info (million hits per month!) on wellness for New Yorkers.

A must read for soakers? This would be a giving a bit too much importance to this book, but all-in-all it's very easy to read, enjoyable and certainly entices readers to jump in and enjoy a thorough public bath. Forget the everyday worries and just immerse oneself. 

The book includes a resource guide which acts as an intro to entice followers of the flesh cathedrals, be they seekers of man-(or better said woman-)made public baths or naturally occurring hot springs.

Readers reviews have sought to tend to award five stars, as I would. Amazon readers give it 4.4 stars, Goodreads comes to 3.72 stars, while Google's books comes to just a shade short of 4 stars.

Hotsprung has her own review in which she emphasizes the insight she gets as well as the sense of adventure Cathedrals of the Flesh evokes.

Soakers worldwide should note that this book does not look into hot springs exclusively, but more into heat, water and bathing. 

And as would be expected there are no Southeast Asian connections ...

Brue, A. (2003) Cathedrals of the Flesh - My search for the perfect bath. Bloomsbury, London, United Kingdom.

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