Cathedrals of the Flesh: My Search for the Perfect Bath

Cathedrals of the Flesh: My Search for the Perfect Bath

by Alexia Brue
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

A sensual tour of the world's great bathing cultures.
People journey to Greece for the ruins, Turkey for the Haghia Sophia, and Russia for St. Basil's, but Alexia Brue travels with a different itinerary: to visit the baths. What starts off as an innocent vacation quickly becomes an obsession, as the author ventures to Turkey, Greece, Russia, Finland, and Japan… See more details below

Overview

A sensual tour of the world's great bathing cultures.
People journey to Greece for the ruins, Turkey for the Haghia Sophia, and Russia for St. Basil's, but Alexia Brue travels with a different itinerary: to visit the baths. What starts off as an innocent vacation quickly becomes an obsession, as the author ventures to Turkey, Greece, Russia, Finland, and Japan to sample the range of spa cultures and bathing traditions the world has to offer.
Caught up in the tide of exploration and crossing paths with fellow travelers along the way, Alexia drifts further and further away from the life she left behind in New York City. Hoping to find a thriving local bath scene, she dips into hamams, banyas, saunas, and onsen, finding both disappointment and bliss.
At once deeply personal and highly informative, full of intimacies, discoveries, and unexpected twists, Cathedrals of the Flesh is the candid and playful account of one woman's determination to follow her passion, ultimately inspiring readers to do the same.

Author Biography: Alexia Brue has written for The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, and Spa Finder. She has a B.A. in Classics from Grinnell College. She lives in New York City. This is her first book.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Originally undertaken as research for setting up a Turkish bath business in New York City, journalist Brue's project revealed that her cultural curiosity was greater than her entrepreneurial drive. At first, the book hews too closely to the genesis of Brue's endeavor as the opening chapters, about her initiation at various Parisian baths and her first forays in Turkey, are overshadowed by the urge to take notes for the business. But then there's a trip to Greece to visit ancient thermae-a fine excuse to meditate on the centrality of baths to classical culture-followed by an amusing stay in Russia, where skillful flogging at scorching banyas proves suffering can still be a cultivated art. It's then on to Finland and Japan, where it's clear this has become a cultural inquiry, not a business research project. Brue, who's bold enough to wander abroad speaking a bare handful of polite phrases, does get herself into the proverbial hot water on occasion-mistakenly stripping naked for a Japanese mixed sex bath, for example-but with humor and good attitude she manages to learn even from her faux pas. Her style is delightfully informal, packing in a lot of (admittedly esoteric) information, e.g., what's the physiological effect of birch twig beatings? "What sicko" invented the Japanese electric bath? And who knew how popular breast implants are with young Russian women, or that they have their pubic hair waxed down to a Mohawk? Better her than me, many readers may be muttering, but isn't that the point of armchair travel? (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The terms hamam, banya, sauna, sento, and shvitz are as exotic as many of the locations encountered in Brue's search for communal baths around the world. What began as an evening of dancing in a converted Parisian bathhouse soon became a compulsion for Brue, a journalist with credits from the New York Times Magazine, Vogue, and Spa Finder, as she and a friend researched bathing culture and fantasized about opening a Turkish hamam in New York. As she describes her travels from Paris to Istanbul, ancient Korinth, Greece, Russia, Finland, and Japan, Brue relates the serendipitous situations that enlivened her search, and she includes succinct history lessons and (less satisfying) ruminations on a faltering relationship. What makes her book worth reading is her genuine enthusiasm as well as detailed descriptions of the total experience, which range from the truly sublime to the sadly ridiculous. The book concludes with a helpful glossary and guide. The unique subject and lively writing make this a recommended purchase for most public libraries.-Janet Ross, formerly with Sparks Branch Lib., NV Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The power of steam can only take one so far, and newcomer Brue’s world tour of some fabled bathhouses runs out of gas somewhere outside of Moscow. Brue has a vague idea that it might be fun to open a bathhouse in New York: "I would set about writing the most tantalizing business plan ever to cross Ian Schrager’s desk." In the spirit of getting it right for Mr. Schrager, she takes flight to Istanbul to start her research among the grand old dames of steamrooms, the hamam. Much to her disappointment, the sorority of public bathing, that special camaraderie that comes with sharing a private act in a public place, has been on the skids in Turkey since the days of Ataturk and the rush to modernity. An acquaintance tells her, "Turks don’t go anymore, you know. Very unhygienic"—a mysterious comment clarified when Brue mentions being washed "with a mitt that smelled like Gorgonzola cheese." Onward she forges, to Greece and Russia and Finland, to Japan, to East 10th Street in New York City, sometimes getting into the swing of things ("everything so carnal and raw . . . a parade of humanity you’d never be able to assemble"), sometimes getting hung up on bathhouse etiquette or levels of immaculateness: "A foreign country . . . where public bathrooms were clean, sanitation was an obsession, and taking a sauna was the state religion. What wasn’t there to smile about?" Well, for one thing, Brue’s boyfriend, who makes an irrelevant appearance simply to let readers know that Brue is as soulful as the most Russian of banyas, yet still innocent: "something elemental was missing—a lump in my throat, an occasional bout of the shivers." So, too, her stabs at filling the blank spaces with travelogue, whichcome to grief: "The Blue Mosque’s wealth of Iznik tiles—mostly blue, surprise, surprise." The experience here is something like taking a bath with Gidget.

Read More

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781596917323
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
12/07/2008
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
657,035
File size:
2 MB

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >