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August 9, 2006


underwater movie underwater movie
Greetings from Budapest! It seems the number one thing to do here is go to the pools. It makes sense--it's social, feels great, and is good for you. The public bath houses are more beautiful than churches. More useful, too. The baroque buildings are stately, gracious, and heavily ornamented. At Szechenyi, even the cafeteria looks like a wedding cake with rococo plaster embellishments atop all the columns supporting the high box beam ceilings. The pools are surrounded by statues, the tilework is intricate and fountains spit massaging streams of geothermally warmed spring water on you. There are whirlpools, steam rooms, and the hottest sauna I've ever been in--which is saying something because I'm a sauna fiend. In short, they're an incredible civic asset.

At one time in the US, public bath houses were built with similar intentions and attention. I used to swim at a Y around 50th St in Manhattan which was not too dissimilar, although on a much more modest scale for sure. But public buildings to which citizens could point to with pride fell into disrepair as people fled to the suburbs, where instead of cultivating public spaces the emphasis was on creating one's own private backyard oasis. The public pool was the place to go if you were (relatively) poor. It was functional at best but certainly wasn't built to inspire or pamper. The parking lot was usually bigger than the pool complex--which makes sense since cars are such space hogs. In the US, there are 7 spots for every car.