The old bathhouse in Budapest(Vignette)
The old bathhouse in Budapest(Vignette)
It was still fairly early on a Tuesday. He had arrived at the grand bathhouse’s opening time, and for a while it was peaceful. But now the tourists were filling in. The bath complex was a crumbling but still fully functional gift from previous generations to the residents of today’s Budapest. Under the building’s grand domes were numerous pools. Each indicated their medical purpose and their temperature centigrade. Though ostensibly medical they were ornate with marble steps and vaulted ceilings and supporting columns. There were sculptures of Poseidon atop the main pillars, with beards of crabs and clams. These details seemed to declare the facility a church, and bathing a religion.
Outside there were three enormous pools, two half moons for relaxed bathing and a barbell connector between the half moons for lap swimmers. Even in the warmth of early summer the pools were hot enough to give off clouds of mist. There was no need to conserve, the hot water came up freely from the earth. He chose a half moon pool and soaked lazily in the mist.
Eight young asian women came walking out to the pool as a clump, shoulder touching shoulder. They were all exotic visions, aphrodites from far away, dressed in fancy bathing suits. Before they could get wet they had to photograph each other and also take selfies. The first few who broke formation and got into the pool were photographed by those still on land. When several were in the pool they photographed themselves together. Some had waterproof envelopes for their iPhones. The ones who had no waterproof envelope went in anyway, being careful not to splash the mineral rich, slightly radioactive water into the sensitive parts of their phones.
Looking down on them from above the pools stood enormous marble figures, men reclining and rippling with muscle, dolphin-like fish, buxom nudes; a grand and serene menagerie. These totems had presided for generations over bathing Hungarians. So the scowls of the locals as they stared at the girls were heavy with feeling, their eyes lethal with darts. They tried to enforce tradition (and the rules of the spa) with their gaze. “Put the phones away,” they almost screamed, wordlessly.
The girls were all in the pool now, but their flock was still stuck at the stairs. Sometimes one or two would break off, moving from the stairs towards the many areas of the great pool that bore exploration. There was the giant fountain of water shooting sideways into the pool from a stalagmite encrusted spout. This fountain could be used for a back massage. A lazy river was demarcated by low tiled walls in the middle of the pool. Jets along the way provided a strong circular flow. A big gap in the tile walls allowed bathers to enter or leave the river. It took some coordination to stay in the flow, providing gentle exercise. Every now and then a bather failed to coordinate and was shot out of the river into the broader pool. There were fountains that welled up from the pool floor. These bubbly geysers were in hot demand as a massage for the lower half of the body. Most of the walls of the pool, including the entire curved part of the half moon, were also stairs that made coming and going easy. Some walls had no stairs, but instead brass bars on the wall that could be used for stretching or partially submerged ballet. It seemed the girls would never experience any of this, for as soon as a few would break away they would need to photograph someone who had stayed behind. Or someone left behind would call out, needing one of the departing girls to return for a photograph. After a few selfies in the harsh wilds, several meters from their friends, the explorers returned to the pack and their arrival was greeted with excitement and was occasion for yet more group photos. They showed with hand gestures that they were pro-peace. They made the kissing duck face and struck poses. They were coy, they were fierce, they were overcome with joy. But they were not going anywhere.
A few drops of rain began to break the pool's aquamarine surface. The big drops left durable bubble domes. Overhead were dark, heavy, grey-purple clouds. Then the rain really started. The bubbles were now everywhere. In the viscous thermal waters they lasted almost a second and new ones were being made all the time. The girls all giggled and shivered in the rain. Then they took more selfies and pictures of each other getting drenched.
He prayed to Poseiden for lightning.