The buxom Mae West (1893-1980) was thought to be outrageous in her time, but would be considered pretty mild today. She was, however, a smart cookie who once said: ‘When in doubt take a bath.’ West was not the only one who understood the many benefits of bathing, some ancient cultures honored the practice — for instance in the Ganges or the Nile. In Japan, bathing was such an art, participants showered beforehand. The Christians have the baptism and the Jews their mikvah, both forms of ceremonial bathing as well.
However, Genghis Khan (1162-1227), the Mongolian warrior and ruler of the largest empire in the world at the time, definitely didn’t agree with all this washing. As a man not inclined to half-measures, he passed a law making bathing punishable by death. He and his subjects never washed their clothes or bodies — the belief being it would pollute the water and anger the scary dragons who controlled the water cycle. Genghis didn’t want to anger the dragons? Could he have been afraid of them?? In any case, you wouldn’t have wanted to anger old Genghis. He would carry out excruciatingly painful killings with merciless brutality, even before breakfast. He and his gang slaughtered over 40 million people.
Europeans didn’t used to go in much for bathing either. Consider the very devout Queen Isabella of Spain (1451-1504), she of the Inquisition — who reputedly had only two baths in her lifetime — one at birth and another on her wedding day. Obviously she didn’t consider cleanliness close to Godliness. Surely Columbus deserves our reverence just for the fortitude it must have taken to closely approach her royal personage when he requested she back his expedition. My oh-so-French husband insisted that Napoleon (1769-1821) sent a letter home from the front saying: ‘Don’t bathe Josephine, I’m coming home.’
Hubby told me he actually saw the letter in a museum. This was my spouse’s way of gently teasing me about my oh-so-over-the-top bathing habits. He had reason to tease, bathing for me has always been much more than a five-minute shower. My favorite baths were special, complete with soft music, scented candles, a dimly-lit bathroom, a cup of hot espresso and luxurious bubbles dancing around me as a I soaked. During those busy years of home, husband, children, pets and work, those fifteen sumptuous minutes spent in the tub probably saved my sanity.
The first thing I did when I moved into my current apartment was to replace the tub. It had an ordinary bathtub, okay for folks who don’t comprehend what bathing is all about. Shopping for it found me fully-clothed, sitting in a dry whirlpool bathtub displayed at the store — surely a sight to see. But, you can’t just buy any old tub, it has to fit just right. Too long and you slide down, too short and you can’t lean back comfortably, plus the slant has to suit your spine just so, right? Ordinary shoppers were somewhat surprised and amused. One even offered to buy the tub with me in it! He had no idea what he would have been in for.
I still use it every morning, the warm water gently massages my sore knee. My baths remain a luxury and friends in the know are aware a little gift of bath bubbles will bring a dreamy smile to my face. I may no longer need to steal quiet time before a hectic schedule, but arthritis makes me stiff and sore at the beginning of the day. What a pleasure! Surely if there is a heaven, they have bubble baths there.