You Do the Bath
From ancient Pompeiian baths to modern Swiss spas, there’s always been something dirty about getting clean.
The conjunction of warm water and flesh, the flesh being one’s own or that of others, inevitably has at least a splash of the erotic. After all, when we call an encounter or relationship steamy, it harks back to the ancient connection between the bathhouse and sex. Stew originally referred to the medieval bathhouse and its moist heat; by extension, via the sexual high jinks, often commercial, that took place there, the word bathhouse came to mean a house of prostitution.
Even so, when I set out to visit some bathhouses, it wasn’t in the hope of a skirmish with Eros. It was pure, disinterested research for a book I was writing about twenty-eight centuries of people washing—and not washing—their bodies. I wanted to understand the art of bathing in public. The ancient Greeks and Romans did it, the Finns, the
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