Wanderlino Arruda
Djalma Souto


Bathing, A Brazilian Mania

Wanderlino Arruda

Father Aderbal Murta tells that the dean of the Louvain University, in Belgium, wasn’t at all pleased when the brazilian seminarists that were arriving there started asking for a bathroom, no matter how small, among the immense group of buildings, something that they considered to be of the maximum importance. That’s right, a place where they could wash from head to toe, a shower from high, use soap, rinse their bodies and then dry off with a fluffy towel. They insisted that they didn’t want to do it in a basin, splashing water all over and not getting the job done as my friend Nó Barrão. A real bath, at least a humble little shower. With warm water, not scalding and not freezing, either, because no one is made of stone. This demand, said the administrators, was a trait of third world students, this had to have come from Brazilians, crazy kids. Baths, in Belgium, until the present age, were crudely effectuated with a sponge or cloth, and nothing else. Just scrubbing, no running water, no wetting the floor.

Great! Now, I read in the Brazilian Rotary magazine an interesting commentary of Derli Antônio Bernardi, de Maringá, telling about the time when taking a bath was a sin, and one could even go to jail because of it. How curious! They had somehow lost the Arabian knowledge, where it was known that “water is the most efficient of all medicines and the best of all cosmetics.” They had lost the Egyptian experience of when you used to take a bath in a golden basin and of Greece when the palace of King Minos possessed the most spectacular bathtub in ancient history, decorated with marble and precious stones. They had forgotten the Roman tradition of taking baths, when the bathrooms were so important to the influential Romans that there were twenty five different ways of taking a simple bath - with oils, vapors, herbs, essences, etc, - And there were, at their sides, art galleries, theaters and temples dedicated to the Gods.

The barbarians, when they invaded Europe, poor creatures, blamed the collective baths as the origin of the decadence and fall of Rome. They took advantage of war and destroyed all of the baths, public and private as well, sweeping for a period of one thousand years this pleasant and hygienic custom, practically erasing from the vocabulary the word bath. Time goes on, never stopping, and in the middle age Europe, the books of etiquette recommended the washing of hands only before meals, which really isn’t suprising, because at that time, spoons and forks had not been invented yet, the food, as in some countries today, was passed from hand to mouth.

Something strange, to be sure, The queen Elizabeth of Castella, made no secret of how many baths she had taked during her entire life: only two, one, when she was born, and the other, when she was married, to be sweet-smelling for the royal consort on the first day of their honeymoon. As strange as it seems, religion also greatly contributed to the decline of little popular habit of bath-taking. Pope Gregory prohibited bath-taking on Saturdays, principally if the object of the bath was simple hygiene. A law was even passed prohibiting baths on any other day except Tuesday. To take a bath was considered to be sinful, luxuriously evil materially absolutely mundane, exaggerated zeal wasted on the body.

It was around the year 1800 that in England appeared a Turkish bathhouse with frequency permitted only men and courtesans . It was hermetically closed to women of family because it was not dignified for serious ladies of the fair sex. In France, at the time of Napolean, there was more liberty for bath taking. It even constituted a new profession, the bath givers, that would go door to door, carrying basins and everything else necessary to wash away the aristocratic sweat and grime. In colonial America, the puritans considered baths and bathsoap to be impure things. Getting to the point in Filedelphia who takes more than one bath a month had to be condemned to prison for disrespect of the hallowed customs. The first public bath-house of New York City only appeared around 1852, only allowed through a special commission in 1913.

An extensive bath, daily, more than once a day, is really a Brazilian habit and it’s not because of the Portuguese and African who weren’t really that fond of immersing themselves in water. We owe our tradition of taking daily bath to our Tupi and Guarani Indian ancestry, who greatly appreciated playing in it in the abundant rivers and beaches, principally on days of intense heat, more fun couldn’t be found elsewhere. That is why I believe that daily bath taking is a purely Brazilian invention.

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