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Author Comes Clean : Rub-a-Dub, What's New in the Tub?

August 25, 1986|DICK RORABACK | Times Staff Writer

Cleanliness is almost as bad as Godliness. --Samuel Butler

They swept down from the north and east, great shaggy hordes of Visigoths.

And they stank, make no mistake. Nothing like a hard day of rape, pillage and burn to work up an honest sweat.

Rome? Child's play. The Romans, it is said, took one whiff and fainted dead away.

What they fell upon, the grubby Goths, was an entire city of the sweetest-smelling bath takers since the last mammoth went skinny-dipping in La Brea.

Goths Turn Off Faucets

Sixteen hundred aesthetes were rousted from the Baths of Caracalla alone. Twice as many from Diocletian's hot tub.

Poetry readings they had in the Roman thermae . Strolling minstrels. Orgies. Clean orgies, to be sure, but orgies just the same.

And then the Goths came and turned off the faucets for a thousand years. By then, the Great Unwashed were firmly in control--the Huns and the Franks and the Vandals.

There has to be a moral there somewhere. Maybe Will Rogers said it best:

"The Romans started this bath gag. Now look what became of them !"

Catherine Kanner, author and illustrator of "The Book of the Bath" (Fawcett Columbine: $19.95), does not dispute the enervating capacity of the warm bath. Flaunts it, in fact.

"Sure, it's sybaritic," she says, with scarely a thought for her slain brethren of the 5th Century. "That's a good part of the fun."

"And remember," she adds, "90% of the world's bathtubs are in America"--a percentage ominously approximating that of the Roman Empire.

"But most people don't take full advantage of them. The tub can be a place of pure bliss, a place for relaxation, renewal, contemplation, romance.

"And privacy. People are going to walk into your living room, your kitchen, your bedroom. But hardly anyone will barge into a bathroom. Not even a Goth."

The book, Kanner has calculated cannily, is coming out on the crest of a new fad. Clean, she says, is now in . "This is the decade of getting in shape, taking care of your body. People spending money on diets, health clubs. And bathrooms.

"The tub, after all, is right there in your house. It's not something you have to go somewhere else to do. So people are putting money into it. A tub alone can cost $13,000, $14,000.

"Of course, for that kind of money you're getting a phone, a stereo, water jets come from every which way, a vibrating pillow, a reading tray. I heard of one tub with a TV screen where the bather could push buttons and see who's at the front door, who's in the living room. No, they couldn't look back. Put in a fridge and you could spend your life in the tub. . . ." To a semi-reformed Goth, the notion conjures up a nation of prunes ripe for the plucking. To Kanner, a confessed bath freak from childhood, it is Paradise Regained. For a moment, her eyes glaze, like a kid whose shampoo has dribbled off his bangs.

Kanner blinks. "It's not the sort of thing I'm advocating," she hastens to explain. "What the book is about is bathing not so much to get clean as an occasion.

"Add something to the water. Decorate the bathroom. Bathe at unexpected hours.

"Try it. You'll like it."

The stuff Kanner dumps into her bath water--all easily obtainable, she insists; all easy to prepare--would boggle even the kookiest of epicures.

Flowers, of course, are a mainstay of her formulae. Like a petal-pusher from Conroy's, Kanner advocates the essence and/or petals of roses, marigolds, jasmine, magnolia, lavender. . . .

Other combinations call for a quick run to Ralphs: apples, buttermilk, blueberries, chocolate, oatmeal, ginger, cucumbers.

Less inspiring, perhaps, are the likes of cornstarch, garlic, bicarbonate of soda, eucalyptus, dandelions. . . .

"Personally," the unregenerate Goth says, "I'd rather smell like me than a dandelion. If the Good Lord had wanted us to smell like roses, the 11th Commandment would have been'No sweat.' "

Kanner never bats an eye. "There's nothing wrong with perspiration," she concedes with grace, surreptitiously holding a hankie to her nose. "The skin does do its own thing. There are properties in perspiration that are good for the skin. That's why it's there.

"And sure , there are pheromones in your sweat, your own odor, and yes , they're aphrodisiacs. They've got to be part of why people fall in love. There's a boyfriend from way back whose scent--mixed with soap, in his case--drove me nuts. Still does, when I happen upon the same odor. . . .

"But I really wouldn't worry about it. No matter what you put into your bath, it only takes about 5 or 10 minutes for your skin to go back to 'normal.' "

Just don't try to send signals to species of the opposite sex while immersed to the guggle in buttermilk and garlic.

Getting clean, though, is not the crux of Kanner's mission, though it's an inevitable byproduct. Americans, who bathe or shower on average 6.2 times a week are immaculate enough, Kanner reasons.

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