To many on this side of the Atlantic—certainly including this writer—"taking the waters" is a mysterious, almost occult, European ritual. How, the unsophisticated American mind wonders, can procedures that all seem to involve ones body being pushed, pulled or pounded by streams of air, water or by a person with incredibly strong hands who pretends not to understand cries of pain in English, heal anything?
Such strange rites surely have their roots in medieval dungeons. "Therapies" like Bain hydrolectrique, Bain ou sufureux and Interferator sound suspiciously as if they might be used to obtain the truth. More sinister yet is Drainage lymphatique manuel complet.
A few years ago, at the Hotel Les Sources des Alpes in Leukerbad, we took the opportunity to find out under the most ideal of circumstances.
My therapist—Mr. T., as I came privately to refer to him—ushered me to a small, tiled room where I would undergo Bain bouillonnant (Sprudelbad, in German). Doffing my fluffy, hotel-supplied terrycloth robe, but still wearing swimming trunks, I climbed into a tub of warm, murky water, there to lie suspended in the contoured vessel, my limbs arranged just so. My head rested on a rubber pillow at the edge of the tub. Mr. T. positioned himself at its end, facing me. Grinning, he begin to manipulate the various dials, switches and valves. Soon the tub began to vibrate and emit a series of noises that at once reminded me of a steam train leaving the station and the Blue Angels flying at Mach I. The first sensation was of air or water—perhaps both—slowly at first, but with gathering force, directed at the bottoms of my feet. The pressure next found my ankles and worked its way along the contour of my body. It ended with a rather satisfying stream that traveled the length of my back. Once this rotation of feet, ankles, kidneys, elbows, etc., was completed (in about 30 seconds) it began again. This went on for about 20 minutes. Strangely, the surface of the water was virtually undisturbed. Quite an unusual and agreeable experience, but not one I imagine that has appreciably extended my life. Twenty minutes of Sprudelbad set me back about $25.