"Bath Salts" By Luca Turin
I hold the view that souls are slightly soluble in water, and that one has to be careful taking long hot baths for fear of emerging diminished in wit and energy, and the difficulty of growing back a decent-size aura in time for supper. This point of view seems similar to one held by the British, whose pharmacies sell a vast array of bath salts. These have, according the the writing on the packaging, the ability to soak away aches and pains, though strangely they make no mention of spiritual side-effects.
I had been using my kids’ strawberry-scented shampoo for months as a luxurious foam bath when I came upon a new and improved bath salt by the venerable firm of Radox. Bath salts are a peculiar thing: they dissolve in a cloud of tiny bubbles, make the bath water cloudy, colored and fragrant, and produce no foam. They also tend to leave a bit of grit at the bottom of the tub as a reminder that there is no such thing as a perfectly comfortable moment, barring the use of certain opiates. This one contains thyme, is colored an intense sky blue, has a little transparent window on the front of the box to prove it, and is called Muscle Soak, which, in combination with the picture of herbs on the box, was a little too reminiscent of a marinade to be entirely reassuring. Nevertheless I poured a generous dose into the bath, whereupon I was overcome by a full-size Proustian Moment and cried aloud, "Stergene!"
Aeons ago, when I first got to University, I moved into a bare, modern little room in a dormitory. It had a bed, a sink and a desk. I loved having my entire life within arm’s reach. There, because I had been indoctrinated by my mother in not subjecting wool sweaters to a machine wash, which would reliably turn them into oven mitts, I used to (rarely but carefully) wash my sweaters in the sink in cold water, using a dark blue liquid detergent called Stergene. The salubrious, clean smell of it was for me what incense is for devout Orthodox Christians: a soul-cleansing ritual. That blue Stergene was discontinued thirty years ago, and I had given up on ever encountering its smell again, since for some reason perfume nuts do not sell vintage detergents on ebay. But lo! The exact smell of Stergene has reincarnated, come back to me like an avatar, only in this life I’m the sweater.