Mineral Pool, Czech Republic 1994 by Ruth Kaplan

October 10th, 2017 § 0

Check out Ruth Kaplan’s wonderful book project THE BATHERS!

This photograph reminds me of a story I wrote in Budapest:

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.


August 20th, 2012 § 0

Check out this great post from Thrillist about night swimming in the city:

Or, legally, 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!


July 25th, 2012 Comments Off


Toronto, come to your beach and celebrate a swimmable Lake Ontario!
Free all-ages all-day SWIM-IN and DANCE PARTY featuring INSTALLATION and live PERFORMANCE at the Sunnyside Pavilion, organized by TheWaves (Christie Pearson and Marcus Boon).

Sunday August 26th, 2012
See full schedule here!


Weather Forecast: totally excellent.

FACEBOOK event page



May 1st, 2012 § 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.


January 19th, 2012 § 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.


April 16th, 2011 § 0

Opened in 1935 and re-opened in 2004 as the only location one can bathe on the grounds of the historic complex within a park. A beautifully manicured ghost town of what was once a grand spa. The water is naturally carbonated, creating a fine envelope of bubbles over your whole body. As you lie peacefully in their single-person tubs, migrating microclimates swim over your skin. Super heat and cool zones alternately emerge creating a hyper-sensual awareness.


November 22nd, 2008 § 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.



August 12th, 2006 § 0

NIGHT SWIM is a cross between a sound and light installation, a music festival and a swimming pool party which will be held from sunset till sunrise at the Trinity Bellwoods Community Centre swimming pool in Toronto on Saturday September 30, 2006. Architect and artist Christie Pearson, co-organizer of the highly successful WADE festivals of performance art in Toronto’s public wading pools, has transformed this much loved downtown public swimming pool into a shimmering, reflective dream-space for one night only.  Kinetic sculpture by Rob Cruickshank! Wire contributor Marcus Boon has invited sound artists, musicians and DJs to produce site specific works and sets in a sound environment designed by sound designer Darren Copeland, which will include underwater microphones and speakers.  The event is free and open all night – visitors can swim (bring your bathing suit, towels provided!), lounge in the kiddies’ pool, or hang out in the bleachers and around the pool, soaking up the sound and light (clothes OK!).  120 people in the pool at a time maximum – first come, first served!

Sounds: colossal drone-scapes by Montreal’s Tim Hecker; loops by Beijing-based creators of the Buddha Machine FM3; heavy ambient sounds by Boston-based Keith Fullerton Whitman a.k.a Hravatski; guitar and bass trance music from Michigan’s Windy and Carl; turntablist-composer Marina Rosenfeld and experimental tribal rhythmist Raz Mesinai from New York; from Toronto, electronic composer and improvisor Sarah Peebles, Sandro Perri/Polmo Polpo’s indie funk, sexy nocturnal grooves with Luis Jacob, baile funk, grime and dancehall from Geoff Snack, a.k.a. DJ Showcase Showdown, lofi electoacoustics by Andrew Wedman and ecstatic sustained tones by Orixasound.

Night Swim is a part of Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, a signature event of the City of Toronto’s Live With Culture campaign.


August 3rd, 2002 § 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.


November 1st, 2001 § 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.