Sunday, June 30, 2013

We're All Squeaky-Clean!

Friend and regular (as opposed to XXL) reader Susan suggests that in order to get lots of people to read these pearls of wisdom of mine, I should stick labels like "Justin Bieber" and "Kim Kardashian" in my blog.  Fine.  Here ya go.  And no, that noise you just heard wasn't Socrates spinning in his grave; that was Adjunct Proff smacking his noggin with a 2-by-4 over the death of intellectualism in America.  To be fair, my Mom's a big fan of "Keeping Up with the Kardashians," and I'm sure that the Bieb hasn't written only songs that suck.

Kim, on names: "Reading names is so.  Hard."
Justin, on the word German: "We don't say that in America."
Now that I have pandered to the puerile and prurient peccadilloes permeating the public's psyche (are you diggin' any of this, cute English Adjunct Proff???), on with the erudition!  During my moon-lit shower this morning at 4 a.m. (a.m.: after mooning), I took a moment to sadly reflect that not too many of us take the time for a good, long, hot... soak in the tub (shame on you dirty-minded eegits!)  Then I remembered the great Mike Stanton who once said, "Who wants to marinate in their own sweat, oil and dead skin?" --Mike was a bit on the fastidious side.  That got me to wondering about this whole bathing and personal hygiene thing in the first place, so grab your loofa and rubber-duckie, because we're going to dive head-first into the wonderful history of bathing.
"Hey, where's the babe in the other tub?  Hey, where's my friggin' Cialis?"
Nobody knows who the first human to bathe was, but it may probably have been a female homo sapiens-sapiens somewhere in Africa.  Why a female?  Well, every month she would have received her Mother Nature's Little Monthly Gift, and she probably would have washed the blood off of herself in order to present less of a target to cheetahs, lions, jackals, warthogs, meerkats and the rest of the cast of Disney's "The Lion King."  Mind you, it could also have been a male who wanted to wash away the smeared-on leftovers of the last gazelle feast for the same reason as above.  But whomever it was, they started a fad that continues to this very day.

You cray-cray if you think I can look this hot
with no bath, be-atch-ez!
Digging around in Mesopotamia, archaeologists have found clay pots that contained all the compounds needed to make soap.  Since the Mesopotamians wrote about bathing (what's the first thing Enkidu in The Epic of Gilgamesh does in order to civilize himself? --I mean after having sex with Shamash the Hooker, for an entire week?  That's right, take a bath!) and there is no record of Mesopotamians eating or drinking soap on purpose, and the men wore these elaborately coiffed hair styles and beards and so did hookers and noblewomen (only a pro can spot the difference ;-)), then there must have been some serious rub-a-dub-dub going on in and around the Tigris-Euphrates Rivers.

Egyptians were an especially hygienic bunch --then again, living so close to such a terrific river that's right at the edge of a bunch of deserts would make anybody thankful for a nice long soak.  Poetry, tomb art and weekly big box store circulars all attest to the Egyptian penchant for bathing.  Another bunch who felt that cleanliness was next to godliness (perhaps a bit too literally) were the Ancient Hebrews.  Heck, they even managed to keep clean while wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years by scrubbing with sand, ashes, pumice and clay (what else could they do with no water?) Yhwh, a.k.a. God, also reminded them to wash their hands before meals and ritual sacrifices to Him, although the source of all this water is a bit sketchy.  Supposedly, Moses whacked a rock with his staff and a freshwater spring just gushed forth.  What a lucky prick!

The Greeks reportedly used soap to get clean, and olive oil for an all-over marinade --err, moisturizer.  After a bout of wrestling, a footrace, a discus throw, javelin catch or other Olympic event, athletes would be dusted with very fine dirt in order to soak up the sweat.  A slave would then scrape all the sweaty dirt off with a curved, toothed scraper-thingy called a strigil, after which our athlete would get a massage and rub-down with olive oil.  Wish my gym did that.
Competitors ready themselves for the
Let's-stare-at-each other's-Junk event

But leave it to the Romans to elevate bathing and cleanliness to its zenith, imbuing it with religious as well as civic significance, and making the Roman Baths some of the ancient world's more impressive architectural structures.  At the social heart of every neighborhood in the Eternal City lay the baths, lavishly built and outfitted by politically ambitious men as a way of gaining favor with the publica.

Upon entering these impressive piles of marble-faced brick walls held together with that high-tech adhesive the Romans invented (cement), patrons proceeded along collonaded walkways towards the changing room, where they could ditch the old toga and sandals in favor of the even older birthday suit.  The first stop was the frigidarium, the pool that had room-temperature or colder water.  After a little swim and some shrinkage, the bather would make their way to the tepidarium, a room that had a warm water pool and tables for massages.  This was the biggest of the three main rooms, and it probably resembled the scene at a contemporary hotel's indoor pool.  The third room, or caldarium, had a big pool that was heated by a charcoal fire underneath the pool (some rather ingeniously vented to the outside by brick ductwork.  I wonder what kind of duct tape you'd use for brick), 3-4  small cold-water pools, and chairs and benches for the bather to rest in between hot and cold.  Only very fancy bath houses had something like a sauna, which was where a patron could relax to the point of wet noodledom and get a really good sweat on.
No, this is not the holodeck on the U.S.S. Enterprise (Star Trek TNG), it's a Roman Bath.  Kickass.
But were they finished after one last dip in the tepidarium and a rub-down with scented oils?  Not quite yet.  Afterwards, our Roman bathers could stroll through the bath's gardens, hear a lecture by some interesting person on some interesting topic, play a pickup game of handball (bocci would come much later), watch a performance by acrobats, or read a scroll from the bath's little library.  On-site beauty and esthetician services were also offered by skilled slaves or freemen.  One could literally stay all day at the baths!  Or, as that old grouch, Cicero writes, one could literally live over the baths:

"I live over a public bath-house. Just imagine every kind of annoying noise! The sturdy gentleman does his exercise with lead weights; when he is working hard (or pretending to) I can hear him grunt; when he breathes out, I can hear him panting in high pitched tones. Or I might notice some lazy fellow, content with a cheap rub-down, and hear the blows of the hand slapping his shoulders. The sound varies, depending on whether the massager hits with a flat or hollow hand.

To all of this, you can add the arrest of the occasional pickpocket; there's also the racket made by the man who loves to hear his own voice in the bath or the chap who dives in with a lot of noise and splashing."

Just like the hookers to ruin it for everybody
Other professional services were on offer at the baths, including that of the oldest profession (and no, it wasn't offered by my grandmother, you smartass!  I'm not THAT old!)  In fact, it was the proliferation of street-walkers around the baths that gave them a bad name in the eyes of the growing-in-size-and-political-muscle Christian Church.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE (CE: Crap Exists now), public bathing fell out of fashion, partially because of the Catholic Church and their moral objections to it (men and women getting naked, massaged, washed by other people and being completely bare-ass naked and nude all together at the same time without any clothes on?  And naked?  I ask you: who could object to that?), and partly because LARGE HAIRY BARBARIANS had pretty much taken over all over Europe at this point, and that crowd thought that bathing was for pussies.  Just like a bully to be afraid of something like a bath!  And so, as late as 1492 we get people like Queen Isabella of Spain (yep, Columbus' queen) whose virtue was so great that she had only taken two baths in her entire life!  No word of what King Ferdinand, her husband, may have thought about this, but Columbus sailed all the way to America --four times! --to get away from her royal stench.
"In America, I found gold, and spices, and sandalwood --that makes a dandy
soap --and perfume, and douche, and body wash, and shampoo..."
But hey, Adjunct Proff-o-rama, what about the other Romans --the Byzantines?  Didn't they make it all the way to 1453?  Dude, you've been paying attention!  Gold star on the forehead for you!  Yes indeed, the Byzantines did make it to 1453, thus keeping the Roman bathing tradition alive all throughout the Middle Ages.  And when the Turks conquered Constantinople, they took a look around at the beautiful baths of that city and said, "Nice idea --but we can do it better," and voila, the Turkish bath was created.  Keeping the Roman basic design of three rooms of ever increasing temperature, the Turkish bath starts one out in the warm room, moves into the hot room which is heated by steam, and finishes out in the cold room.  Along the way, bathers get a full-body wash and a massage that is so rough that the masseur practically beats you up and shoves you in your own hip pocket.  Other treats include Turkish towels (a Turkish invention) and bathrobes that are ever so comfy, and a nice cup of Turkish tea to put the perfect finishing touch on one of the world's most pleasurable experiences.
Did I mention the pile of erotic soapsuds? 

But for the rest of the Western world not lucky enough to be conquered by the Ottoman Turks, bathing was still frowned upon.  Oh sure, there was the odd clean-freak like Queen Elizabeth I who took one bath every month "whether she needed it or not," but for the most part, Europe smelled like the Bruins locker room after one of those triple-overtime Stanley Cup games.  Europeans were SO stinky, that when the Portuguese and Dutch made it to Japan -a place that has an even more intense bathing experience than Turkey  -the Japanese were so horrified by their smell that they had to deal with those putrid people by wadding up a perfumed scrap of silk and breathing through it like a gas mask.  No wonder the Shogun kicked them all out in the 1700's!
"F*CK! The toilet paper is frozen again!"

But have no fear: all this would change in the 19th century with the discovery of germs and their role in disease.  Guess what? washing with soap kills germs by the gazillions and makes you smell good as a happy byproduct.  Soon Europeans were doing the unthinkable: scrubbing, scouring, rinsing, lathering and having a blast doing it.  And they were doing the even more unthinkable: building bathrooms inside their houses that combined the ultra clean (bath and shower) with the ultra dirty (toilet).  Prior to this, the toilet was confined to the outside in its own little house with crescent moons cut into the door.  This made it tough on folks who lived in northern climates to "do the necessary," especially in the middle of a snow storm.

Bathrooms were cropping up everywhere, even in hotels.  In the beginning (not as far back as the Big Bang Singularity), hotels would have one or two bathrooms per floor that every guest would share.  Doily Carte would have none of that.  Besides being Gilbert and Sullivan's producer, he was the major owner of London's Savoy Hotel, accommodations that boasted private bathrooms for some of the more expensive rooms.  A London newspaper of the day wondered out loud whether the guests were all amphibians.

Today, bathrooms have become a major selling point of a house --the more expensive the house, the fancier the bathrooms.  High-pressure, multi-spray shower stalls, jacuzzi tubs, bidets, urinals, heated floors and heated towel-bars are just some of the fixtures homebuyers can expect in the bathroom.  What people in the west can't expect is a public bath in the neighborhood.  While there are exceptions in New York and San Francisco, the public bath has gone the way of the dodo-bird. These days, there are day-spas, regular spas and municipal swimming pools filling in the gaps made by the lack of public baths.  So the next time you head off to Napa for a weekend of wine tasting, mud-wraps and cucumber slices on your eyes, take a moment to reflect on the long and squeaky-clean history of bathing.  But take care you don't slip on the soap!  Statistically, more household accidents occur in the bathroom than in any other room.
Who could take a dump in this beautiful bathroom?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Who's this cute English Adjunct Prof that you are trying to impress?

    And the Roman bath that you picture is actually the indoor pool from Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA. Gorgeous place. Maybe you can take the English Prof there someday......

  3. An imaginary muse :-P Not to be confused with Rhonda, my first imaginary girlfriend.

    And WR Hearst did his pool like that as an imitation of a Roman bath- thanks for the correction.