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Cathedrals of the Flesh: My Search for the Perfect Bath Paperback – February 7, 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 230 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (February 7, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582343608
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582343600
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,960,841 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From 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?
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From 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."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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I love this book, a good bath is one of life's great joys.
J. Woodworth
Even for those of us in quest of nothing more than a daily shower, this makes for wonderful reading, as Brue is witty, insightful, and above all humorous.
Kenneth L. Adelman
By the end of this book I feel that I desperately need to see the baths of Turkey, Russia, Finland and Japan.
Jerusha L. Klemperer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By M. R. Shifrin on January 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a thoroughly delightful, often amusing, account of Alexia's search for the perfect bath. Once started, the book is difficult to put down; by the end, you not only know a bit more about her 'on hold' relationship with Charles, and want to know even more about her fascinating putative business partner Marina, but you have painlessly absorbed as much information as you could want to know about the differing characteristics of a variety of national public baths. Along the way, you will also have met a number of characters who are not easy to forget, and you will have a guide to which baths to use and which to avoid-of not inconsiderable benefit to one visiting Turkey who, like Alexia, is warned to avoid the 'unhygienic' baths in Istanbul. The evocative line drawings by Lynda Reeves McIntyre which appear at the head of each chapter fittingly complement the book. 
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth L. Adelman on January 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book's even better than a bath.
Brue is a wonderful writer, but far beyond that, she's a wonderful story-teller.
The quest for the perfect bath forms the plot line, but the quest makes a far richer tale than any particular bath.
Even for those of us in quest of nothing more than a daily shower, this makes for wonderful reading, as Brue is witty, insightful, and above all humorous.
While she acts humble as a stranger in strange lands pursuing a strange interest, she shouldn't be humble as a story-teller. She's gifted in taking a specialized field and making it lively, even delightful, to anyone who loves human nature and passions.
I'd recommend it strongly -- and have to loads of people.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a great book for those who enjoyed the old days of The New Yorker magazine when articles ran long and mixed exotic information with personal disclosure.
The book mixes travelogue with a touch of memoir. The travelogue (a la Bill Bryson) is quite interesting and chock a block with details. The memoir of her failing relationship with her boyfriend and her implied hookups with other exotic gents around the world is tantalizing, although she doesn't go deep on it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jerusha L. Klemperer on January 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I haven't read much travel writing so I wasn't really sure what to expect. I was drawn in from the very first page to a world of public bathing that I really had no idea existed. By the end of this book I feel that I desperately need to see the baths of Turkey, Russia, Finland and Japan. But what I also discovered is that I want to have Ms. Brue's intrepid sense of daring, her willingness to following the road as it unfolds before her, and her innate ability to have respect and reverence for the various cultures she visits(without sentamentalizing them or making them precious). Brue's question "was it an approach to travel or an approach to life?" stuck with me throughout. The delightful surprise was that the book is highly personal(funny and poignant) but also historical and informative.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By TC on August 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I thought this was a fantastic book. I bought this book thinking that I'd get a relatively straightforward discussion of the history of bathing, but this is actually much more. The author, a young woman with a taste for adventure, writes about her own experiences as she tackles the problem of how to open a bathhouse, crossing the globe and visiting baths in many countries. But instead of taking a highly authoritative tone from the start, she begins with a naive, befuddled tone, describing how she practically stumbles into the bathing scene, seduced not only by the baths, but by the cultures and places she visits. As a reader, I can see the transformation of the author from a novice to an expert over the course of the book, which to me is reminiscent of some of the best travel writing (consider Bill Bryson's self-deprecatory writing, the feeling that on starting his journey, he is no more informed than you or me). I think this book is only partially about bathing, and equally about getting your imagination captured by something different and exciting. I found it really inspirational, it really gives a sense that there is nothing stopping the average reader from deciding to get on a plane and travel the world to learn about something completely different, even if you don't speak the language or don't have any technical experience. So much bad travel writing condescends to the reader, makes me feel that unless I've lived 25 years in Provence or have climbed Mt. Everest, I couldn't possibly appreciate the world. This book made me feel like, with a little bit of courage and a lot of excitement, even I could explore strange places and meet different people!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having experienced first hand the joys of public bathing, I was excited to see a travel book about bathing cultures. I wasn't disappointed. Brue's book blends historical narrative, social commentary on our daily ritual of bathing and travel writing into a witty and engaging journal of self discovery. This fun, interesting read will inspire you not only to embark on new travels, but also to seek challenges and adventures in your own life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book about a young woman's travels around the world to find the perfect spa is just the right thing to curl up with on a snowy weekend afternoon. The author serves up a delicious mix of eccentric characters, quirky encounters and fascinating history. The pages turn and you learn a lot without even knowing it! That's the perfect kind of nonfiction book, in my opinion. It's also inspired me to go visit a bath at the first possible opportunity.
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