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Cathedrals of the Flesh: My Search for the Perfect Bath [NOOK Book]

Overview

People journey to Greece for the ruins, Turkey for the Aya Sophia, and Russia for St. Basil's, but Alexia Brue travels with a different itinerary: to visit the baths. At once deeply personal and highly informative, Cathedrals of the Flesh is the candid and playful account of one woman's determination to follow her passion.
Alexia Brue has written for the New York Times Magazine, Vogue, and Spa Finder. She has a B.A. in Classics from Grinnell ...
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Cathedrals of the Flesh: My Search for the Perfect Bath

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Overview

People journey to Greece for the ruins, Turkey for the Aya Sophia, and Russia for St. Basil's, but Alexia Brue travels with a different itinerary: to visit the baths. At once deeply personal and highly informative, Cathedrals of the Flesh is the candid and playful account of one woman's determination to follow her passion.
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.
"Enchanting...Awash with insight into the human condition, Brue displays a knack for getting people, herself included, to 'come clean' in unexpected and entertaining ways." -Booklist
"[Brue] has bred a new publishing hybrid, the beauty-travel memoir, Bruce Chatwin by way of Allure magazine." -New York Times Sunday Styles
"[An] entertaining picaresque...[Brue's] devotion to the pleasures of bathing with strangers makes a seductive case for 'skinship,' in which, naked together in the same water, 'you do away with all the normal social barriers in life.'" -New Yorker

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
This entertaining picaresque chronicles the author's mostly naked reconnaissance of the world's public baths, from cavernous marble Turkish hamams and smoky Helsinki saunas to militantly hot Moscow banyas and a New York bathhouse of dubious hygiene. Between fierce scrubbings and whippings with birch twigs, Brue stealthily observes her fellow-bathers: jaded Russians (commenting on the decline of banyas one says, "Stalin very bad man, so bad banyas"), fleshy Brooklynites discussing linoleum, and Romanian strippers who refuse to take off their swimsuits at a Japanese hot spring. Brue's depiction of herself as a bumbling innocent abroad isn't entirely believable, but her approach to other cultures is refreshingly humble, and her devotion to the pleasures of bathing with strangers makes a seductive case for "skinship," in which, naked together in the same water, "you do away with all the normal social barriers in life."
Penelope Green
IN the annals of extreme travel writing, Alexia Brue's six-month journey through the public baths of Paris, Turkey, ancient Rome (by way of some diggings in Greece), Russia, Finland, Japan and East 10th Street, surely ranks as one of the weirdest dispatches. I think she has bred a new publishing hybrid, the beauty-travel memoir, Bruce Chatwin by way of Allure magazine. Now 29, Ms. Brue was six years out of college when she had her epiphany. At a Turkish bath, or hammam, in Paris, she vowed fealty to her friend Marina, a deposed Kazakh princess with a keen eye for a belly stone (that's the tiled platform in the center of a steamroom), and hatched a plan to open an updated hammam back in Manhattan. Ms. Brue set off on a tour of bathing cultures -- the shvitzers, the soakers and the steamers -- meeting quaint and raffish local heroes, and cute guys, along the way. With skin now as soft and porous as a well-poached pear, Ms. Brue got naked in Istanbul, St. Petersburg, Helsinki and Kyoto. She was soaped up to next Tuesday, scrubbed and scraped and pummeled and thwacked with branches. She got naked for an earlier version of her book's jacket, too; it showed a young woman so shockingly beautiful that you wouldn't believe a Belgian art dealer, a Turkish sailor, an American archaeologist and others let her get away. It wasn't modesty that dictated the jacket change from a Sheila Metzner-style nude (the photo was by Brian Leighton) to an image of a bath in the Hotel Gellert in Budapest, but the publisher's wish to make the book more travelogue than memoir. Back in Manhattan, Ms. Brue took stock of her journey and her well-washed, highly relaxed self, like the hero of a coming-of-age novel. ''My bath odyssey,'' she writes, ''instead of answering all my questions, left me with an entirely new and much longer set of questions. ''I no longer feel that I need to open a hammam to justify this trip or my existence. For me, it is about the baths, not about recreating the baths for New Yorkers.'' Her publisher notes that Ms. Brue is still looking for investors for the project.
New York Times Sunday Styles
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.
Glamour
"Part travelogue, part diary, Brue's debut is simply soaking in detail about hamams and steam baths and schvitzes everywhere from Lower East Side Manhattan to Japan."
Booklist
"Enchanting...Awash with insight into the human condition, Brue displays a knack for getting people, herself included, to 'come clean' in unexpected and entertaining ways."
New York Times Sunday Styles
"[Brue] has bred a new publishing hybrid, the beauty-travel memoir, Bruce Chatwin by way of Allure magazine."
New Yorker
"[An] entertaining picaresque...[Brue's] devotion to the pleasures of bathing with strangers makes a seductive case for 'skinship,' in which, naked together in the same water, 'you do away with all the normal social barriers in life.'"
From the Publisher
"Part travelogue, part diary, Brue's debut is simply soaking in detail about hamams and steam baths and schvitzes everywhere from Lower East Side Manhattan to Japan." -Glamour

"Enchanting...Awash with insight into the human condition, Brue displays a knack for getting people, herself included, to 'come clean' in unexpected and entertaining ways." -Booklist

"[Brue] has bred a new publishing hybrid, the beauty-travel memoir, Bruce Chatwin by way of Allure magazine." -New York Times Sunday Styles

"[An] entertaining picaresque...[Brue's] devotion to the pleasures of bathing with strangers makes a seductive case for 'skinship,' in which, naked together in the same water, 'you do away with all the normal social barriers in life.'" -New Yorker

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596917323
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 12/7/2008
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,271,168
  • File size: 810 KB

Meet the Author

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