Thursday, July 13, 2006

Taking Cold Showers

Like my previous place in Brixton, my new home does not have hot water. Unlike Flat 19, it has a shower. After trying to find some alternative solutions I decided it's a good opportunity to overcome my dislike for cold showers.

In my last year in highschool we had military officers from various units come and explain to us why we should join their ranks. One of them came from the Marine Commando. What I remember most from his talk was that part of daily routine was a swim in the sea at 6 in the morning, rain or shine, winter and summer. The idea of waking up to be thrown into freezing sea water was for me far more offputing than the risk of diving into enemy ports or attaching bombs to submarines.

But when I take cold showers now, I prefer to think of a different role model: that of Khalil Sakakini, the Palestinian writer and educator, and one of my favourite Jerusalemites.

Sakakini had a regime which he developed in his twenties and kept throughout his life. He would wake up, exercise, and then wash thoroughly in cold water. Then he would smoke and write for an hour, have breakfast (of 6 eggs! the days before they invented cholesterol... he was vegeterian but clearly not a vegan). He called it his 'way of life', which helped him to overcome depressions and hard times, and in his diaries he often writes about it:

Tuesday, 18.3.1919: There are days when I despair from life and I see no purpose in my existence. But soon I pull myself from this despair, through my way of life. Without this way of life, which leaves no day void, my feelings would be poisoned, despair would seize me and boredom and wearniness would overcome me. But my way of life gives me new birth every day.

Sakakini took cold showers all through the year, even in the harsh cold of his prison cell in Damascus in the winter of 1918 (he was exiled and imprisoned by the Ottomans for giving shelter to a Jerusalemite Jew who was wanted by the authorities).

In some way, this regime reflects not only the modernity of Sakakini's ideas - he was an avid reader of European literature and phillosophy - but also of modern living conditions, i.e. homes with a bathroom and shower, and the availability of water; a generation earlier Jerusalemites bathed in public bathhouses (hamams), probably not more than once a week.

At the moment I am getting used to it, and the water seem less cold each time. But it's July: I don't think I'll be able to do it in February. It's London after all.

No comments: