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.

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