Thursday, July 17, 2008

Requiem for a Steam Bath (Warning: Autobiographical Snippet)

There is something about a steam bath--the surging sounds of the rushing steam, the invading, hot moisture, the freedom to perspire without worry. In fact, the point is to perspire. It seems to clear the mind as it overwhelms the body. My first steam baths were with my Father at the YMCA in Anchorage, Alaska, in the mid 1960s.

I like them hot, as hot as they can get--so hot that others sometime leave before I do. Upon occasion, I also enjoy talking to those who remain in the sweaty inferno. I have spoken apologetically and evangelistically to men in the steam bath at Goodson Recreation Center over the years. I have prayed in there, thought about writing projects, imagined kingdom endeavors. I never took the cell phone in.

Now it has become automated. You used to spray water on an opening to generate the steam. But tonight, the hose was gone. It must have broken, I thought. After taking a longer than usual hot tub bath (for obvious reasons), I told someone at the desk that the steam bath was broken. No, it wasn't broken, it was repaired! The old system, you see, taxed the steamer. They went through two in five years. The new system never goes above a certain temperature (too low, of course) and goes on automatically! Well, I was soaking in the hot tub for a long time and it never went on. Supposedly, it comes on when it gets cool enough. Opening the door helps, he said. I'm sure.

A small, infrequent pleasure is gone, thanks to automation and efficiency. What next will get worse?


pgepps said...

...another vote here for steam bath or sauna. Also, for the Japanese onsen, and the use of hot water and steam in bathing, generally.

"safety" and "efficiency" do tend to strive with aesthetics, don't they?

Doug Groothuis said...

What is on onsen?

pgepps said...

a public bath built on a hot spring, or an artificial attempt to reproduce that. They typically run 40-44 degrees Celsius, even when automatically regulated (as hotel versions frequently are).

Hovey said...

To take a different route with things technology makes me miss... I find that I would like to travel by foot or by horse again, to move slowly and enjoy the countryside when I travel. Though home (easter Iowa) is about a thousand miles away, I only know it as hours in the car. I also would like to know what it is to experience getting news about the world from other travellers on the road, or even in the local communal area - the inn, the tavern, the marketplace. I would like to know what it is like to learn about the world through interpersonal interaction, not impersonal television or internet. News travels fast, but its not personal.

pgepps said...

while I agree, hovey, that slow travel can be delightful--horses were chosen for speed. An interesting feature of technology for accomplishing the task considered necessary (getting to work and back with more time for the family) is that it renders less efficient technology for the same purpose valuable as a nostalgia-inducing luxury. Clever, those inventors, wouldn't you say?