I went to Bath for the same reason that even the Romans went to Bath: to bathe in the hot springs, in water that fell as rain thousands of years ago and now comes up out of the ground at 45º C. For the last quarter of the twentieth century, Bath had no hot baths open for business--for the first time in more than a thousand years. Then, someone built the Thermae Spa, incorporating parts of the eighteenth-century hot bath buildings.

My excellent friend--the person who introduced me to Bath in the first place, back when she taught me the bawdy wonders of eighteenth-century literature--has generously gifted me a fantastic spa package that I will be using in July (because the place is hard to book!). But last week I went down to check it all out.

One of the spa's great attractions is a rooftop pool. See the aqua glass wall at the top of the glass-and-stone building to the right of this picture? That's the wall that keeps people from walking off the pooldeck into the Bath air. By the time I changed into my suit and climbed the three flights of stairs to the roof on Thursday afternoon, the air temperature had hunkered down in the high 50s (F). The water in the spa's baths is a steady 35.6º (C), though, so I chucked my robe and towel into a little glass pigeonhole on the deck and got right into the water. It was about 4:45 p.m., and because the spa's "twilight package" had started at 4:30, the nearly empty pool slowly but surely started filling with other bathers. From the rooftop pool, one can see such things as Bath Abbey (here pictured--from down on the ground, obviously, and with a sky that conveys the greyness of those few days--with the corner of the building that houses the Roman Bath)

On the side of the rooftop pool nearest to the Abbey, those wiley spa designers installed a set of seats with air jets in them; somehow, it never failed to be amusing to watch newcomers (particularly women) discovering the jets and giggling like eleven-year-olds who've just learned about where babies come from.

All of the spa's baths are 1.35 meters deep, which was the perfect height to make it easy to submerge myself up to my chin. It was while so submerged that I had a lovely conversation, my only one of the three-hour evening, with a pair of sisters from Canterbury who had been vacationing in Bath. When they found out that I was traveling alone, one of them said, "You're so brave, you young people." Turned out she's a widow--three times over. "They call me the black widow," she said, laughing a little wryly. The latest husband died in November, after a ten-year struggle with Parkinson's. A girlfriend of hers was supposed to have been vacationing with her, but her sister filled in after the friend had to drop out. We talked about the benefits and drawbacks of our respective experiences with marriage and being single, and everything was just about right: close to the moment when I might have started feeling like being quiet again, they headed off to try some of the spa's other amenities. About twenty minutes later, I too headed off--

--to the Minerva Bath at the very base of the whole spa complex, a massive pool that reminded me of Lex Luthor's subterranean pool in the first Superman film (remember? I can't find you a picture, so you'll have to take my word for it). The brilliant thing about this pool is its currents: because of the various jets scattered around the pool walls and floor, it's possible to drift around the entire pool with no effort at all.

I kept waiting--as I drifted and drifted--for a moment when I would feel utterly loosened and relaxed. I wasn't tense about not relaxing properly or anything that self-conscious and frustrating; I was just trying to figure out the best disposition of my limbs, and the best way to drift without running into other bathers, and I was particularly hoping that I'd be able to shed the strain I carry between my shoulder blades. At some point, I drifted out of the pool and into my robe and up the elevator to the café for dinner. A post-dinner trip to the steam room was extremely short: steam rooms and glasses don't mix, but neither, really, do steam rooms (or ambulation, for that matter) and myopia. I drifted back into my robe and back downstairs to the Minerva Bath, where I spent my last 45 minutes simply puttering about in the water.

By the time I left, I realized that there had been no perfect moment of relaxation. Instead, the water had worked steadily on me the whole time I was in it. When I sat down to read myself to sleep, the space between my shoulders was supple and still.

(Those fish at the top of this writing? They're actually from the Pump Room in Bath; they're crusted in mineral deposits left by the springs' water, which people used to come all the way to Bath to drink for its medicinal benefits. It's still possible to buy a glass of the hot water for 50p. I'll admit to having passed this time, having tried it thirteen years ago.)

And one of the trip's big payoffs? Today: 1216 words. I think that having written those words early in the day is part of what's made me so leaden in tonight's post. Balances seem to be shifting, somehow, and I'm not quite sure where the Cabinet is going to be when the shifting subsides. So, for now, I'm going to keep on keeping on. For the next little while, you may get lots more pictures than words, though.