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Saunterings - The Baths Of Leuk Post by :redryder Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :2093

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Saunterings - The Baths Of Leuk

In order to make the pass of the Gemmi, it is necessary to go through the Baths of Leuk. The ascent from the Rhone bridge at Susten is full of interest, affording fine views of the valley, which is better to look at than to travel through, and bringing you almost immediately to the old town of Leuk, a queer, old, towered place, perched on a precipice, with the oddest inn, and a notice posted up to the effect, that any one who drives through its steep streets faster than a walk will be fined five francs. I paid nothing extra for a fast walk. The road, which is one of the best in the country, is a wonderful piece of engineering, spanning streams, cut in rock, rounding precipices, following the wild valley of the Dala by many a winding and zigzag.

The Baths of Leuk, or Loeche-les-Bains, or Leukerbad, is a little village at the very head of the valley, over four thousand feet above the sea, and overhung by the perpendicular walls of the Gemmi, which rise on all sides, except the south, on an average of two thousand feet above it. There is a nest of brown houses, clustered together like bee-hives, into which the few inhabitants creep to hibernate in the long winters, and several shops, grand hotels, and bathing-houses open for the season. Innumerable springs issue out of this green, sloping meadow among the mountains, some of them icy cold, but over twenty of them hot, and seasoned with a great many disagreeable sulphates, carbonates, and oxides, and varying in temperature from ninety-five to one hundred and twenty-three degrees Fahrenheit. Italians, French, and Swiss resort here in great numbers to take the baths, which are supposed to be very efficacious for rheumatism and cutaneous affections. Doubtless many of them do up their bathing for the year while here; and they may need no more after scalding and soaking in this water for a couple of months.

Before we reached the hotel, we turned aside into one of the bath-houses. We stood inhaling a sickly steam in a large, close hall, which was wholly occupied by a huge vat, across which low partitions, with bridges, ran, dividing it into four compartments. When we entered, we were assailed with yells in many languages, and howls in the common tongue, as if all the fiends of the pit had broken loose. We took off our hats in obedience to the demand; but the clamor did not wholly subside, and was mingled with singing and horrible laughter. Floating about in each vat, we at first saw twenty or thirty human heads. The women could be distinguished from the men by the manner of dressing the hair. Each wore a loose woolen gown. Each had a little table floating before him or her, which he or she pushed about at pleasure. One wore a hideous mask; another kept diving in the opaque pool and coming up to blow, like the hippopotamus in the Zoological Gardens; some were taking a lunch from their tables, others playing chess; some sitting on the benches round the edges, with only heads out of water, as doleful as owls, while others roamed about, engaged in the game of spattering with their comrades, and sang and shouted at the top of their voices. The people in this bath were said to be second class; but they looked as well and behaved better than those of the first class, whom we saw in the establishment at our hotel afterward.

It may be a valuable scientific fact, that the water in these vats, in which people of all sexes, all diseases, and all nations spend so many hours of the twenty-four, is changed once a day. The temperature at which the bath is given is ninety-eight. The water is let in at night, and allowed to cool. At five in the morning, the bathers enter it, and remain until ten o'clock,--five hours, having breakfast served to them on the floating tables, "as they sail, as they sail." They then have a respite till two, and go in till five. Eight hours in hot water! Nothing can be more disgusting than the sight of these baths. Gustave Dore must have learned here how to make those ghostly pictures of the lost floating about in the Stygian pools, in his illustrations of the Inferno; and the rocks and cavernous precipices may have enabled him to complete the picture. On what principle cures are effected in these filthy vats, I could not learn. I have a theory, that, where so many diseases meet and mingle in one swashing fluid, they neutralize each other. It may be that the action is that happily explained by one of the Hibernian bathmen in an American water-cure establishment. "You see, sir," said he, "that the shock of the water unites with the electricity of the system, and explodes the disease." I should think that the shock to one's feeling of decency and cleanliness, at these baths, would explode any disease in Europe. But, whatever the result may be, I am not sorry to see so many French and Italians soak themselves once a year.

Out of the bath these people seem to enjoy life. There is a long promenade, shaded and picturesque, which they take at evening, sometimes as far as the Ladders, eight of which are fastened, in a shackling manner, to the perpendicular rocks,--a high and somewhat dangerous ascent to the village of Albinen, but undertaken constantly by peasants with baskets on their backs. It is in winter the only mode Leukerbad has of communicating with the world; and in summer it is the only way of reaching Albinen, except by a long journey down the Dala and up another valley and height. The bathers were certainly very lively and social at table-d'hote, where we had the pleasure of meeting some hundred of them, dressed. It was presumed that the baths were the subject of the entertaining conversation; for I read in a charming little work which sets forth the delights of Leuk, that La poussee forms the staple of most of the talk. La poussee, or, as this book poetically calls it, "that daughter of the waters of Loeche," "that eruption of which we have already spoken, and which proves the action of the baths upon the skin,"--becomes the object, and often the end, of all conversation. And it gives specimens of this pleasant converse, as:

"Comment va votre poussee?"

"Avez-vous la poussee?"

"Je suis en pleine poussee"

"Ma poussee s'est fort bien passee!"

Indeed says this entertaining tract, sans poussee, one would not be able to hold, at table or in the salon, with a neighbor of either sex, the least conversation. Further, it is by grace a la poussee that one arrives at those intimacies which are the characteristics of the baths. Blessed, then, be La poussee, which renders possible such a high society and such select and entertaining conversation! Long may the bathers of Leuk live to soak and converse! In the morning, when we departed for the ascent of the Gemmi, we passed one of the bathing-houses. I fancied that a hot steam issued out of the crevices; from within came a discord of singing and caterwauling; and, as a door swung open, I saw that the heads floating about on the turbid tide were eating breakfast from the swimming tables.

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