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Commentary & Opinion

Ralph Gardner Jr: The Pleasures Of A Winter Bath

Ralph's bathtub, ready to go
Ralph Gardner, Jr.
Ralph's gateway to relaxation

As we descend into what’s predicted to be the darkest days of the pandemic here’s a low-cost, safe and convenient suggestion guaranteed to brighten your mood: take a bath.

I’ve been doing so since the Covid virus started spreading in earnest in March. I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t bathe previously. Only that it wasn’t something that I looked forward to nightly, as opposed to once or twice a week, a shower normally sufficing. Also, it’s not that I didn’t appreciate the glories of a restorative bath. It’s just that its therapeutic effect seems to have become magnified during the pandemic.

It’s not hard to understand why. The moment of lowering yourself into the warm water – not too hot, not too cold – overloads the senses, mind and body. It erases your fears and worries, at least temporarily.

There are three stages to a bath. There’s the initial descent when one basks, literally, in the narcotic warmth of the water. There’s the middle section when you may choose to wash or read or simply mellow. Finally, there’s the denouement when, refreshed, restored and possibly cleaner both physically and spiritually, you prepare to return to the world.

Baths can be beneficial in any season. But I find them especially seductive at this bleak time of year. The contrast between nature’s chill and the bath’s warmth feels like a benediction. It fills one with gratitude. Especially after performing outdoor chores or taking a long walk in the crisp air.

And while I can’t prove it I suspect something else may be going on. It’s connecting you to something elemental in your own past. It may be a stretch to suggest that it reminds you of the warmth of the womb, especially someone whose memory is a sketchy as mine. But it probably does, in some subliminal way, recall the sensation of childhood baths, the warmth and security and even love of being in the bosom of one’s family.

I had a friend who took baths that lasted hours. That’s escapist as far as I’m concerned. For me the ideal bath requires approximately twenty minutes. I’m vaguely aware there are those who can loll in the water daydreaming but I need something to do, preferably read.

It goes without saying that one shouldn’t do so on a phone or tablet for fear of dropping the device into the suds and destroying it. The tub’s one of the few places left where print is more expeditious than digital.

Reading our local weekly, the Columbia Paper; the news, police blotter and editorials is a treat.

I’ve always respected The New Yorker magazine. But I never truly appreciated its pleasures until I read it while partially submerged. The same goes for the New York Review of Books. Reading a review about an exhibition devoted to Manet’s last years, when he was too sick to stand yet still able to produce art of great beauty and intellect, or a book examining Machiavelli’s life and times, one feels lifted out of contemporary life and dropped not just into the primal medium of water warmed to approximately 112 degrees Fahrenheit but also into something out of time completely.

I’m just throwing that number out there. I don’t know exactly how hot my bath is, though I’m frequently testing the temperature as the tub fills because of the quirks of my bathroom. Cold water overtakes the warm the longer it runs. It also has an extra-long tub since I’m 6’2” -- as well as a couple of windows. If there’s anything that can enhance the experience besides an excellent selection of bubble baths and reading material it’s a view. Basking in the tub while enjoying the setting sun or watching the evening’s final birds queuing at the feeder that I installed outside the bathroom window for just that reason is to enjoy good fortune.

We’re also lucky to have more than one bathtub at our house. My backup tub is smaller and suffers from a second deficiency. I displace enough water that it heads down the drain, lowering the water level. If you, too, suffer from this problem, I’d like to offer a low cost solution as well as a useful stocking stuffer. My thoughtful daughter gave me one last holiday season knowing how seriously I take my baths.

It’s an overflow cover. Little suction cups allow you to place it over the overflow outlet allowing several more inches of water to remain in the tub before it escapes down the drain. No more having to replenish the tub to maintain the water level.

And an evening bath has an additional benefit. It’s like a hot water bottle. Actually, it turns you into a hot water bottle. A nice hot bath and you may even need to lower your thermostats or crack open a window no matter how cold the weather.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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