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16 January, 2012

Book review: Cathedrals of the Flesh by Alexia Brue

Title: Cathedrals of he Flesh: My Search fo the Perfect Bath
Author Alexia Brue
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Date Published: 2003

I originally received this book from Morsecode as part of the books she sent when my name had been pulled from a drawing that she did on her blog Morsie Reads!. I had put this on my wishlist after reading the blurb when the book was offered in a swap on one of the forums that I read regularly.

When author Alexia Brue visits her best friend Marina in Paris, they both attend a local turkish bathhouse (also known as a hamam). Alexia and Marina decide to research what it would take to open a hamam in New York City. This research took Alexia's curiosity concerning the history of bathhouses and their current status worldwide. Alexia travels from the US to Turkey, where the hamams are frequented by older generations and looked down on by the younger generations. She then travels to Greece and visits the remains of a Roman bathhouse which is being excavated by archaeologists. From there Alexia travels to Russia and Sweden with their Steam baths. Russians show her their love of the banya with it's ritual of flogging the bathers with bunches of birch leaves (a tradition which brings blood to the skins surface, and promises that those partaking won't get old). Sweden shows Alexia the tradition of the sauna where bathers end their bathing experience by plunging into frigid waters. Alexia finishes he travels by visiting Japan, where bathing occurs in the onsen (the author visits an onsen in Tokyo), to the more famous hot spring baths outside of Kyoto.

I found this book a fascinating way of visiting other countries. While the author's travels and research did not end up leading to the opening of a bathhouse in New York, it opened her eyes to the different types of baths found worldwide, and gave her oppurtunities to become comfortable with these traditions. I enjoyed reading about the authors travels as a single woman through parts of the world where being a woman is not the best thing, and enjoyed reading her relavations about herself as she traveled the world.

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