...Bored...the water weighs or the heat; ennui suffocates. The stagnant water, as Bachelard noted leads to reveries of death. Water Opheliarized – but my hair is swept up in a bun and the water I soak in is not a river. The Pre-Raphelite painter John Everatt Millais posed his model Lizzie Siddall in the bath while he painted the subject of the drowned Ophelia floating downstream. Siddall became ill with pneumonia after the lamps used to heat the water went out and yet she did not complain of the icy water. The painter was engrossed in painting and didn't notice. The narrow passage in which Ophelia's body lies still evokes a bath despite the nature setting.
Perhaps because of thoughts of dead Ophelia and passive Lizzie, I don't like this island on its back trying to float in 30 centimetres of water. An aversion to water has stopped me from learning to swim. Can't float, as though I have ballast in my buttocks. Also, in/during a bath, one encounters one's Self – or at the very least, one’s body in all its imperfections. There are no suds as the water seeps with Epsom salts, and I added another kind of salts, which tinges it green. I can barely keep awake.
Running water in the shower invigorates, makes the right brain, the creative brain tick over. Poems appear, or that elusive word that I may have been trying to think of earlier in the day. I know exactly how to cut a pattern or sew a seam...but this still bath water weighs. I understand how one can drown in 30 centimetres of water, or even less; and how it occured to a painter to use a bath for the setting of a drowning.
I try to read so that I can extend my time in the bath - perhaps also to forget about the body soaking in the green liquid. The sound of the TV pulses from the other room. A fan circulates air. I could be in a bubble. I'm reminded of the tisane baths that Garcia Marquez's characters take. This is my tisane bath to remedy leg cramps and improve my circulation.
There is also Jacques Louis David's painting of the Death of Marat (1793) which pops into my head. Jean-Paul Marat, who ailed from some skin disorder that made it more comfortable to be in water, improvised a desk and did most of his writing there. It was his office. He was murdered in his tub while writing, by a member of the aristocracy during the reign of terror in France. The painting by David became one of the greatest political icons of the revolution. It was subsequently simulated on the album cover of rock band Cold Chisel’s East released in 1980, with Jimmy Barnes in the role of dead Marat (replete with makeshift desk and writing materials). The cover turned me onto Cold Chisel’s music when I accidentally found it in my brother's collection of LPs. Of course, Barnes doesn't look murdered at all - rather passed out drunk from cheap wine and has a three day growth.
Things not all together pleasant can happen in the bath. A toe may get stuck in the plughole, or a finger in a tap. Whitney Houston recently died in the tub. After my first night in the tub, I felt so sleepy, I could barely make it upstairs to the bedroom. I find a bath, an unpleasant experience...
Tonight as I was filling the tub, Maudie puppy dog walked into the bathroom. I ushered her out quickly before she had time to pull the toilet paper to shreds. Outside I told her - 'go do pee'...A few minutes later she came in wet and dragged her wet body through the house. The water running into the tub may have suggested to her that she take a quick soak in the pond. A labrador, she has none of my aversion for water. My bath was several degrees cooler by the time I'd dried Maudie and fiddled with the incense burner. I eliminated the green salts. I would be naked with myself tonight. I'm more at ease with the island on its back. Steam rises from the water but it feels cool around my body. The ylang ylang essential oil I have burning fills my nostrils with its sensuousness. It's supposed to have aphrodisiac properties but I don't feel sexy in the bath. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to 'do' in a bath. As a person, I’m wired to 'do' rather than 'be'. A bath is an invitation to be. 'Being' gives me a headache - rather like the times I've attempted mindfulness meditation and ended up with headaches. I grow impatient with this ‘soaking’ indulgence and find I’m eager to get out.
Three days without a bath…I’d rather watch a film and there have been visitors to entertain. No time for soaking and ‘being’ in the bath. My toes begin to cramp.
I take a book which I read sitting on the edge of the tub as the bath fills. A sense of anticipation grows. But I need to soak slowly, gently accustoming my body to the sensation of water. Feet first. Then, I squat and introduce my buttocks, before I’m able to submerge my legs and lie back. My body causes the water to sway and tip over – I have overfilled the bath. I groan at the size of the tub as I’m rarely ever able to find a tub that allows me to submerge my whole body. But perhaps that’s a good thing…
There’s a leak from the shower rose above my feet and I watch the plops which are not uninteresting. Well what else is there to find interesting in a bath unless I'm dreaming? Steam rises and fogs the mirrors.
I go into free association, the thoughts tumbling in and out. The book, which I can’t bear to open now because I have inserted pages of emails from a friend. There are also a couple of cards that I've used as page markers. All make the book more precious. I don’t want my emails and cards falling into the bath water. The ducted heating kicks in and reminds me of the felt scarf I have hanging in the drying closet, and the other projects mentally queued for playing or execution. I can’t seem to get to felting lately…
The plops of water at my feet draw my attention again. I wonder whether I can reach the tap handle with my toe and turn it off. I’m surprised when I reach up and manage it…It causes a group splurge of droplets. They sputter from the rose and delight. Suddenly I feel like a child and the heavy body no longer drags. I’m flooded with a memory of sharing baths with my brother as a 6 year old. (Perhaps a bath can be more pleasant when one shares it and has rubber toys with which to play though I can't remember that we had toys.) The heating shuts down and the blast of the football commentary on the TV in the lounge assaults my senses.
The water feels heavy around my chest again and the hypochondriac in me thinks of heart disease. Finally when I can no longer stand the weight of water, I lift myself out and pull the plug – and watch the little twister in the plug hole as I dry myself. There’s a Simpson’s episode where Bart rings someone in
to see which way the water flushes in the toilet bowl. It’s supposed to be
counter-clockwise in the southern hemisphere but I can’t really make out which
way the water spins. I stare for the
longest time at this vortex of water spinning in the plughole.
Taking a bath makes my body ‘flush’ hot and this may be what actually combats the cramping. I perspire so profusely for the next hour that I’m unable to slip into my PJs. Bathing has me going to bed naked.
Lunch, with a woman whose husband has renovated her bathroom and installed a spa bath – customized to her body. She describes how she’s able to spend hours in the bath. She takes in ‘nourishment’ such as ‘bubbles’ (champagne) and dumplings. She indulges in books. But bad things can happen in the bath, I say limply.
I’m encouraged to change my attitude towards bathing. I’ll challenge myself to enjoy taking a bath. I may even start to take in writing materials...