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Cathedrals of the Flesh: In Search of the Perfect Bath [Hardcover]

Alexia Brue
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan 2003
People journey to Greece for the ruins, Turkey for the Hagia Sophia, and Russia for St. Peter's, but Alexia Brue travels with a different itinerary: to visit the baths. What starts off as an innocent vacation quickly becomes an obsession, as the author ventures to Turkey, Greece, Russia, Finland, and Japan to sample the range of bathing traditions the world has to offer. Caught up in the tide of travel and exploration and crossing paths with fellow travellers along the way, Alexia drifts further and further away from the life she left behind in New York City. Hoping to find a thriving local bath scene, she dips into hamams, banyas, saunas, and onsen, finding both disappointment and bliss. At once deeply personal and highly informative, full of intimacies, discoveries, and unexpected twists, "Cathedrals of the Flesh" is the candid and playful account of one woman's determination to follow her passion, ultimately inspiring readers to do the same.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; 1 edition (Jan 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582341168
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582341163
  • Product Dimensions: 22.2 x 15.2 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,436,771 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


An entertaining and revealing book. -- Scotsman

Her sensual tour of the world’s great bathing cultures makes an ideal companion for bathing beauties. -- Belfast Telegraph

If you like your reads quirky but full of fascinating observations and factual titbits, you will adore this book. -- Glamour

She has bred a new publishing hybrid, the beauty-travel memoir, Bruce Chatwin by way of Allure magazine. -- New York Times

Steaming, soaking, soaping and birching - an entertaining account of the culture of communal bathing. -- Sunday Times

About the Author

Alexia Brue has written for The New York Times Magazine, Vogue and Spa Finder. She lives in New York, where she dreams of opening a hamam. This is her first book.

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Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new breed of travel writing 10 Jan 2003
By A Customer
Observant and culturally sensitive, this book opens the door for us to the fascinating world of public bathing in such exotic places as Turkey, Japan, and Russia. The author's writing style is very engaging and I found myself daydreaming about following her trail. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in good travel writing and, of course, to anyone intrigued by the secret worlds of hamams, onsens, banyas, and finnish saunas.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars quirky and a surprisingly good read 5 Sep 2005
By A Customer
I must admit I was attracted to this book by its cover, but Iam glad I picked it up. Alexia Brue has a passion for public bathing that leaps from the page. It's almost impossible not to feel enthused yourself as she she shares a view of destinations, some perhaps familiar and others not, that differ from the average travel guide, allowing us to see an intimate picture of a small part of local culture.
It's endearing how she enters the spirit of each local bathing ritual, eager for the experience and ready to learn from the local patrons. Her writing style really helps here as her detailed descriptions of each of the baths and customs are marvellous. The prospect of bathing in many of the places she describes is most inviting - I hope I get the chance to do so.
It's not the sort of book I would usually read, but I do highly recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new breed of travel writing 31 July 2003
By A Customer
One of the oldest, most mysterious and fascinating institutions in the world has found a worthy biographer. Brue brings to life the public bath house as it is experienced today in Japan, Turkey, Russia, and Finnland - turning the pages of her book you feel the steam rising and the smell of herbs in the air. Having been to many of the destinations of her trip myself, I found her to be a very observant and culturally sensitive writer. Most of all, her language makes you dream.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Bather's Baedeker 27 Jan 2003
By M. R. Shifrin - Published on
This is a thoroughly delightful, often amusing, account of Alexia's search for the perfect bath. Once started, the book is difficult to put down; by the end, you not only know a bit more about her 'on hold' relationship with Charles, and want to know even more about her fascinating putative business partner Marina, but you have painlessly absorbed as much information as you could want to know about the differing characteristics of a variety of national public baths. Along the way, you will also have met a number of characters who are not easy to forget, and you will have a guide to which baths to use and which to avoid-of not inconsiderable benefit to one visiting Turkey who, like Alexia, is warned to avoid the 'unhygienic' baths in Istanbul. The evocative line drawings by Lynda Reeves McIntyre which appear at the head of each chapter fittingly complement the book. 
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even Better Than a Bath 16 Jan 2003
By Kenneth L. Adelman - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book's even better than a bath.
Brue is a wonderful writer, but far beyond that, she's a wonderful story-teller.
The quest for the perfect bath forms the plot line, but the quest makes a far richer tale than any particular bath.
Even for those of us in quest of nothing more than a daily shower, this makes for wonderful reading, as Brue is witty, insightful, and above all humorous.
While she acts humble as a stranger in strange lands pursuing a strange interest, she shouldn't be humble as a story-teller. She's gifted in taking a specialized field and making it lively, even delightful, to anyone who loves human nature and passions.
I'd recommend it strongly -- and have to loads of people.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FABULOUS!!! 8 Aug 2003
By TC - Published on
I thought this was a fantastic book. I bought this book thinking that I'd get a relatively straightforward discussion of the history of bathing, but this is actually much more. The author, a young woman with a taste for adventure, writes about her own experiences as she tackles the problem of how to open a bathhouse, crossing the globe and visiting baths in many countries. But instead of taking a highly authoritative tone from the start, she begins with a naive, befuddled tone, describing how she practically stumbles into the bathing scene, seduced not only by the baths, but by the cultures and places she visits. As a reader, I can see the transformation of the author from a novice to an expert over the course of the book, which to me is reminiscent of some of the best travel writing (consider Bill Bryson's self-deprecatory writing, the feeling that on starting his journey, he is no more informed than you or me). I think this book is only partially about bathing, and equally about getting your imagination captured by something different and exciting. I found it really inspirational, it really gives a sense that there is nothing stopping the average reader from deciding to get on a plane and travel the world to learn about something completely different, even if you don't speak the language or don't have any technical experience. So much bad travel writing condescends to the reader, makes me feel that unless I've lived 25 years in Provence or have climbed Mt. Everest, I couldn't possibly appreciate the world. This book made me feel like, with a little bit of courage and a lot of excitement, even I could explore strange places and meet different people!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An approach to travel and an approach to life 10 Jan 2003
By Jerusha L. Klemperer - Published on
I haven't read much travel writing so I wasn't really sure what to expect. I was drawn in from the very first page to a world of public bathing that I really had no idea existed. By the end of this book I feel that I desperately need to see the baths of Turkey, Russia, Finland and Japan. But what I also discovered is that I want to have Ms. Brue's intrepid sense of daring, her willingness to following the road as it unfolds before her, and her innate ability to have respect and reverence for the various cultures she visits(without sentamentalizing them or making them precious). Brue's question "was it an approach to travel or an approach to life?" stuck with me throughout. The delightful surprise was that the book is highly personal(funny and poignant) but also historical and informative.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A vicarious vacation 19 Feb 2003
By A Customer - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a great book for those who enjoyed the old days of The New Yorker magazine when articles ran long and mixed exotic information with personal disclosure.
The book mixes travelogue with a touch of memoir. The travelogue (a la Bill Bryson) is quite interesting and chock a block with details. The memoir of her failing relationship with her boyfriend and her implied hookups with other exotic gents around the world is tantalizing, although she doesn't go deep on it.
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