HIRAUCHI KAICHU

July 19th, 2017 § 0

ENVIRONMENTS

May 2nd, 2017 § 0

“…environments are combined socio-physical constructions that are actively and historically produced, both in terms of social context and physical-environmental qualities. Whether we consider the making of urban parks, urban nature reserves, or skyscrapers, they each contain and express fused socio-physical processes that contain and embody particular metabolic and social relations Produced environments are specific historical results of socio-environmental processes.  The urban world is … part natural/part social, part technical/part cultural, but with no clear boundaries, centres, or margins.” (p 11)

Heynen, Nik, Maria Kaika and Erik Swyngedouw (ed.) (2006) In the Nature of Cities – Urban Ecology and the Politics of Urban Metabolism. Routledge: New York

Opening to the broader dynamics, it is hard to imagine water’s flow without our other inner waters of saliva, urine, and sexual fluids. The city’s libidinal economy reflects our own, we reflect it. In different ways, Venice and Amsterdam are terrifically sexy cities, founded on constant motion and exchange of money and energy. Cities of great bathhouses in history are big river cities: Istanbul, Tokyo, Paris, St. Petersburg, and London. They draw in, collect, channel. In a seaside city we are pressed against a volume, its vastness inspiring fear and awe to which we may respond with indifference or a wide embrace: beach cities.

TORONTO, CITY OF BEACHES

May 1st, 2017 § 0

Everything around me here reinforces the idea that the lake is a negligible entity.  I bike through the fabric of downtown streets which conceal combined storm and sewer drains, channeling crap to the lake when it rains a lot.  I try to hold my breath as I pass through the wall which separates me from the water.  As smelly, impatient traffic gets pulled along Lakeshore Boulevard through the Gardiner’s sculptural undersides, I think of the motto: “Ontario is great because it was engineered that way”.  Out of the city’s ripped backside, I emerge into a different airspace.  A jumble of condominiums line the discontinuous waterfront, whose mostly-hidden treasures are saved for people who already know.  I imagine tourists must wonder what is going on in this town.

My first Toronto lake dip was in early June, around midnight and icy cold.  The satin black water reflected a furtive full moon.  Propelled out by my quick, erratic breathing away from the bonfire and drums, I was glad not to see what lay beneath.  I looked back at the unfamiliar skyline, the sparkling towers romantic castles of banking braving the empty sky.  I didn’t get an infection.  Heartened, the weather warmed as I made my way from the Scarborough Bluffs to the Humber River.

KIRALY, BUDAPEST

February 1st, 2017 § 0

Low and heavy, rooted into the ground, the women stand in the doorways.  Arms crossed over cardigan sweaters over printed cotton dresses, they pass on the first news of the day.  Long shadows of buildings are a striped road leading me south to the Danube, then along to the Kiraly Baths.  Outside is a nineteenth century façade like the others, but this one has something strange attached to its side: the drying tubers of sixteenth century stone domes in an otherwise weedy garden.

I go back to the entrance, into white, hard, and cold suggesting cleanliness.  Glimpse rooms sprouting odd stainless fixtures, inexplicable torture instruments of a previous science.  Follow mazes of corridors and stairs where, just when I’ve given up, a stern woman in a while uniform appears to point the way.  She uses sign language for instruction.  All of your clothes off.  Leave them in here.  This is your key.  Bring soap.  Shower first.  Massage after. Sensing tension in her and the white short-sleeved snap-up dress, I obey. More stairs but now in bare feet.  A door takes me from white to pink tile, with chipped and fading grout.  A shower room of more fair women, puffy plastic elastic bags on heads, getting soapy.  Today is women’s day – lucky for me.

Out there is something else, darker.  A really big space is out there.  I try to move slowly, washing, then through the doorway.  Silence.  Passing through the colonnaded perimeter, an enormous dome rises above me.  It is low and broad like a cupped hand, settling onto an octagon at the base.  Heavy stone blocks lazily climb their way to the top, their faces showing every day of the moist centuries. It’s dark, save rays coming through tiny stars of glass, articulating mathematical symmetries.  They fall through the space quietly, then lie belly up on the pool’s surface.

I enter the warm, smelly water.  Pale and gentle sea creatures in flickering light glide, roll, flip, float, and flutter.  I study, then create my own improvisation.  Floating on my back, my imagination rises and returns to me, denser. Lesser-domed rooms beckon, allowing the pleasure of leaving and returning.  In the cosmic theatre, each splash and squeak is amplified, and then sung in chorus under the weighty expanded thoughtless full skull.

CEMBERLITAS HAMMAM

November 1st, 2016 § 0

We are sweaty flesh laid out on an octagonal marble slab. Hard sounds of slapping, flipping echo in the high domed marbled white.  The inflation of soapy cloths maximize bubbles.  Slippery soap slides on skin to lubricate. My masseuse’s bra is violet satin.  Dyed crimson hair is piled on top of her head, and a severe expression on front.  She douses me with buckets of warm water which then slide like sheets across the platform.  Mingles with the water thrown across the other women lying on the around.  One client is speaking thick Turkish with her masseuse, who suddenly erupts into loud calls.  Some surprising information has been conveyed.  All the Turkish women start to hoot, to ululate.  My attendant leaves my left leg unattended, returns with a hand drum held in the crook of her arm.  The woman is now being prodded up on the centre of the platform.  She’s blushing.  Her young daughter claps encouragingly as the drum starts to play and the women begin to sing.  Embarrassment is replaced by spirit as she grabs her towel and ties it low around her hips.  Otherwise naked, she sets her head and begins to dance.  Propped on elbows we encircle her, half-soaped, enchanted.  The masseuses, now magicians, musicians, move through tunes speeding slowing opening closing.  Every beat signals a change in the movement that everybody knows.  Now it’s more hips, now it’s a hand dance, now it’s about stepping feet.  She carves and reconstructs the space for us.  They sing and vibrate it for us – but we’re not even there.  We’re tourists, so slippery, just barely staying on.

TORONTO NIGHT SWIMMING

August 4th, 2016 § 0

If it is 30 degrees at 3pm and no chance of thunderstorms, go NIGHT SWIMMING at one of these Toronto outdoor pools:

  • Monarch Park – south of Danforth Avenue, west of Coxwell Avenue
  • Regent Park – south of Gerrard Street, east of Sackville Street
  • Alex Duff – Bloor Street West, west of Christie Street
  • Alexandra Park – Bathurst Street at Dundas Street West
  • Giovanni Caboto – 1369 St. Clair Avenue West
  • Sunnyside Gus Ryder – Lake Shore Boulevard at Parkside Drive *note: this pool is closed for 2010 season for repairs*
  • McGregor Pool – 2231 Lawrence Avenue East

Swim till 11:45pm!

CARTHAGE HAMMAM

August 1st, 2016 § 0

The hot afternoon leaves me dry.  The streets are empty, quiet.  Through a shadowless maze, we follow a dark burqua.  I glimpse shiny golden slingbacks as she steps into a small doorway.  Inside a high cool space where loungers laze and chat, a faint light from above spills on hair being combed.

Now naked, we move into the washing room.  There are no lights, no mirrors, only faucets.  From the corner of my eye I watch how the other women wash. They watch us too.  Steam catches light and teases it into silky strands.  The room reverberates with voices, the laughter and chatter of women.  It rushes into my heart: I had been living in a country of men’s sounds, from the morning muezzin’s call, to the café gossip and the evening market calls.  Women’s voices in the city come only from crackling taxi radios.  Their tones climb and descend spiral staircases, lilting sweetness edged in hard gutterals.  In the baths, they spill like free-flowing fountains.

I enter a smaller room which is quiet.  A large woman in a slip motions to lie on the bench.  She pours buckets of hot water over me, then starts the massage.  Her movements are slow and low to the ground.  Back and forth along limbs, measuring accurately.  The pressure from her muscle and weight imprints a grid of grout on my chest and belly as she removes the old me.  Rinse.  And back again. Under the rhythm of her hands, my skins slip off.  I hover somewhere between scratchy woolen mitt and bench.  She peels and flips me, my new tattoo exposed.  I struggle to keep my eyes open and see her face, too keep my remaining form intact, but give up.  Rinse and rinse until I, too, slip down the drain.  She pulls me out gently.

Outside, the sun is starting to set.  The air feels cool as we slowly walk home.

KOGANE YU

May 10th, 2016 § 0

Clothes in locker, I tiptoe through a glass door into the wet room.  I set down my soap and bucket, and sit on the low plastic stool.  The mirrors watch me, making sure that every reflection (and they are infinite) is scrubbed clean.  I catch the eye of an older woman I often see here.  Konbanwa. Good evening.

Although she is at least eighty, she uses no stool, squatting on sinewy legs.  Her curved back is smooth and luminous under the water.  As I move to the hot bath, my eyes continue to trace her folds.  Those will be my fingers someday.  Those will be my breasts.  She is purposeful, agile, and could do her evening routine here blindfolded.

Bubbles rise to the surface, then pop in the heat.  I close my eyes.  I move in circles against the powerful jets, my body softening.  From the other side of the partition I hear whistling and the low, short exclamations of men.  They bounce around the high ceiling, back and forth between the tiled walls.  The women’s voices are a continuous murmur, the highs of laughter and the lows of gossip sandwiched between sheets of running water.

A woman and her two children have joined me in the tub.  They are beautiful.  His name is Ryu, ‘dragon’, and her name is Kubuki, ‘little snow’.  He’s ten months old, with swirling hair like smoke from a dragon’s nostrils.

His four-year old sister catches sight of herself in the mirror with the washcloth between her teeth.  She likes what she sees.  She can squeeze water out of the cloth so that it runs down her chin.  Taunting her brother with her abilities, her teeth drag a larger towel around the sento to a larger mirror.  It partly covers her body.  Her head is a huge and perfect sphere perched on a slender frame.  She is a branch defying gravity.

Later, in the change room, she whispers to her mother, then runs up to me, offering a golden grapefruit.

10TH STREET BATHS

January 3rd, 2016 § 0

Once I get into the basement, I go from one end to the other, the corridor alongside a series of rooms containing saunas and pools.  The last door looks like a door to a service room, but I see someone else go in.  I open the door into a large room of steam.  It’s incredibly hot.  It seems to be carved out of Manhattan’s very strata.  Tiers of benches.  I find a place in the room.

All of New York is here.  There are fit young men in Speedos, older men with big bellies and chains burning hot into hairy chests, women in gaily printed one-pieces, and Japanese tourists giggling behind their hands.  Businessmen talk business, then sports.  A tattooed man talks about Vietnam.  It’s a no-think situation.  I’m telling you, if you hadda been there, you would’ve done the exact same thing.

I’m getting hotter, find a way to recline so I can more easily float between conversations.  I learn where the best place to buy bagels is, who is most likely to win the game tonight, why vitamin c is over-rated, how many years this ex-soldier has been coming to this place, what kids today really need more than anything.  I learn that you can scrub your neighbour’s back and they’ll scrub yours, and that when it gets way too hot, you fill that bucket from the tap, stand over the drain, and douse yourself with icy water.

After the lean golden woman in a golden string bikini does this, she starts her routine.  Arms up, her fingers pointing toward the distant heavens, then down toward nearby hell.   Circling, twisting, and stretching in a steam dance.  Sparkle of sweat and turquoise on muscles.  She is a steam goddess. The ex-soldier doesn’t break his story.  Perhaps she does this every day, while he talks.  Her rhythmic breathing.  Someone sighs.  The door squeaks open and closed.

HOSHI ONSEN

December 1st, 2015 § 0

People travel hundreds of kilometers and spend thousands of yen just to spend a few hours in this room.  The three sides punctuated by tall windows show snow falling on trees.  Through them comes the white light of the afternoon, whose shadows are so hard to catch.  Heavy wooden ceiling structure criss-crosses, recedes upwards into darkness.  The building is like a barn in that every surface is unfinished wood, yet the surfaces here are planed and sanded skin-smooth, worn by water and time until they shine.  On one side, slatted screens separate changing areas.  When you take off your cotton yukata and slippers, you can glimpse the bath and bathers inside.  It works both ways.  A copper washbasin.  Bare feet on slatted deck, you crouch and dip a cedar bucket into the hot water.  Rinsing yourself you then soap with a bright pink bar, careful to keep the washing water well away from the edge of the bath.  Your eyes adjust to the low light.  Silently slip into the silky water.   Wooden decks divide the large square pool into four smaller ones.  Loose chunks of wood serve as floating pillows.  Your feet, joyfully hidden from view, explore a bed of river rocks.  This room was built over a river.  The hot mineral water bubbles up through the rocks, smooth and hard.  Resting your head against the edge, you look across a glassy reflection to a window.  No one makes a sound.  With a wooden pillow under your neck, your eyes wander up into the maze of beams and rafters.  Eventually you let your eyes close, listen to your breath, and ripples carried across the water’s surface to your ears.