Nothing A Hot Bath Won’t Cure

“Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath, and a glass of wine” ~ St. Thomas Aquinas

“Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.” ~ Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

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Berthe Morisot's "A Woman at her Toilette"

I was thinking about baths today. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to have a long soak in our old tub without running out of hot water, which totally defeats the purpose of a long, hot bath. As Sylvia Plath once said, “there must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I can’t think of any of them.”

For years, though, a long, hot bath has been my escape. At one time, and this will sound completely insane, but you would have to have known me at this time, I used to run a really hot bath, filling the tub almost to overflowing. And then I would open a bottle of Spumanti and sip on my sparkling bubbly and talk on the telephone with one of my oldest and dearest friends. The catch here was that I would take a valium first.

You’re probably thinking, ‘my god, she had a real problem.’ Not exactly, it was only a few months after losing my daughter Caitlin, and I was having a very hard time deciding if I wanted to keep trying in this game known as life. So I would numb myself to the pain in the only way that I knew how at the time, and then I would let my friend Kathleen talk me through it. The water was usually cold by the end, and I would have cried myself silly and just go to bed and collapse.

I haven’t done anything like that in years, but when you are in pain, and you feel as if you have nowhere to go, sometimes the only thing that you can do is take a bath, because deep down, you know that if you get in a car, you probably won’t be coming home.

But over the years, the kids have learned to leave me alone when I am in the tub. Of course, when they were much younger, I could only take a long, hot bath after they had gone to bed; otherwise, they would be standing outside of the door saying, “What are you doing in there, Mommy? Why can’t we come in?” which definitely defeats the purpose of trying to have a bit of time to yourself.

Now, my routine is usually something along these lines: hot water plus bath salts, usually lavender or verbena, two or three candles, my small boombox and a few CD’s, depending upon how long I plan to retreat. I might just choose a collection of Bach or Chopin, or maybe one of my compilation disks. Also, I need a cup of tea, and then no bath would be complete without my dog Shakes . . .

Shakes? Yes, unfortunately, Shakes decided when he was very young that anytime I go in the bathroom and shut the door, he has to come in and protect me. And depending upon his mood, might take the whole protection thing a bit too far. For example, if Corey tries to bring my tea in after I’m in the bath, sometimes Shakes nips at his toes as if to say, ‘no one allowed except for me.’

Shakes is a very single-minded Jack Russell. The only thing that he loves more than me, possibly, is a tennis ball, and at one time, he would bring the ball with him into the bathroom and then very deliberately drop it into my bath—over and over again until my bath time was over or I tired of playing bath ball with him.

“Of the water drops that fall/ Into the stone bowl,/You will feel that all the dust/Of your mind is washed away.” ~ Sen-No-Rikyu

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Kurama Onsen Bath House in Kyoto

I have always been intrigued by the concept of the traditional Japanese bath or Ofuro. Because Japan sits between two volcanic belts, the country is replete with many natural hot springs. The tradition of the Japanese bath dates back to the Buddhist Monks around 550 AD, in which the bath was seen more as a religious ritual for purification of the body and soul. Bath houses that use water from a hot spring are called onsen. Bath houses in which the water is heated are called sento.

Bath houses were used not only a ritual cleansing of body, mind, and spirit; they were also used as a means of community socializing since few homes had their own bathhouses. Specific of the onsen or sento would be partitioned off for after-bath socializing, light meals, or tea. The method for a traditional Japanese bath is still quite ritualistic, even though since the mid 20th century, more private homes have their own baths, causing a great decline in the communal bathhouses.

To indulge in a Japanese bath, the bather usually has to perform certain key steps. First, the cleansing of body and hair are done in a separate area of the sento, which allows the communal water to remain clean. The individual bather removes his or her clothes changing room which usually provides bins or lockers for clothes. Afterwards, the bather enters naked into the actual bathroom, which is usually separated by a cloth to keep the bathing area quite warm and steamy, and then bathes and washes completely using a personal cloth brought from home.

Only after bathing in the actual bathing room is the bather allowed to enter the communal bath, which is very hot. Bathers are immersed up to their necks in the hot water, and can relax as long as they like. Often, there is a smaller pool of cool water to jump into before going into the very hot water. After the long soak, most Sentos offer Shiatsu, or massages.

The entire process can leave a person feeling completely relaxed and rejuvenated, but often not willing to do much more afterwards, which is why so many people bathe in the evening.

“We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.” ~ Taoist Proverb

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"After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself," by Edward Degas

Anyway . . . I was thinking about some of the better bath tub scenes from movies that I can recall. Let’s see . . .

There is the scene in The English Patient in which Katharine and Almaszy are sharing a tub, and she makes Almaszy tell her what he loves and what he hates. It begins as a seemingly light-hearted scene, but ends with Katharine’s anguish when Almaszy declares that what he hates most is “ownership.” He tells her, “Ownership. Being owned. What you leave here you should forget me.” Not a good way to end a bath.

In Legends of the Fall Susannah and Tristan are bathing in a hot spring after Tristan has had to kill a calf that was caught in barbed wire. The scenery is beautiful, but the interaction between Susannah and Tristan is nonexistent because Tristan has already left in his mind.

Witness in which the newly-widowed Rachel gives herself a sponge bath in a standing tub, which John Book comes upon, is one of the most chaste moments of passion in film.

The Fountain contains a passionate bathtub scene between Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman that is more romantic than revealing.

The next one isn’t necessarily important to the movie, but I love the bathtub itself in A Perfect Murder, with Gwyneth Paltrow, Michael Douglas, and Viggo Mortensen.

Mustn’t forget Harry Potter’s gigantic bubble bath scene in the fourth installment of the series, The Goblet of Fire.

And just for grins, I thought that I’d throw in the bathtub scene from Fatal Attraction. Moral of the story: make sure the psychopath is dead before turning your back on her.

In reflecting on it, there are far more shower scenes in movies and on television than bathtub scenes; unless you are interested in gore, in which case bathtubs full of blood and gore abound in movies. But that’s not exactly what I would call relaxing.

More later. Peace.

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