Sybarite Habits

When I was a young Adonis I regularly took a bath and washed my hair every Saturday in the late afternoon. Then I was ready to go carousing Saturday night (even though I was just twelve and still a couple of years away from driving). But as the years went by, I began taking regular showers … at least one a day.


When I went away to college I often found solace standing under the high-pressure spray of the dormitory showers. On some days I would take a shower in the morning to wake me up, a shower in the afternoon after sweaty inter-mural sports, and often a shower at night to relax and break the monotony of endless studying. Even when I moved into my own apartment, I still needed that wake-up shower in the morning.

However, there were a few residents on the dorm floor that were from Europe or the Near East or Cleveland who obviously had different bathing habits. I suspect they had different ideas about washing their clothes too. Now I read about how our mania for cleanliness is destroying the ultra-sexy smells that man has always relied on to attract a mate.

Have you noticed that modern advertising has gradually changed us, as human animals. There is a silly movie called Rock and Roll Highway that includes a retired couple, the husband having invented body odor when he was in advertising.

So I ran into this passage from Nabokov’s King, Queen, Knave which reminds us that things used to be different:

Acting upon impeccable Piffke’s delicately formulated suggests, Franz acquired sybarite habits of personal hygiene. He now washed his feet at least twice a week and changed his starched collar and cuffs practically every day. Every evening he brushed his suit and shined his shoes. He used all sorts of nice lotions, smelling of spring flowers and Piffke. He hardly ever skipped his Saturday bath He put on a clean shirt every Wednesday and Sunday. He made a point of changing his warm underwear at least once in ten days. How shocked his mother would be, he reflected, if she say his laundry bills!

I’m trying to remember the last time I polished my shoes. I also see where too many showers or baths can actually have a negative impact on the human body other than just wrinkly skin.


2 thoughts on “Sybarite Habits

  1. Slow reading for me. It’s an old library rescue: the print is larger but it’s still a real book (not digital). So far it’s engaging but not as playful or puzzling as many of Nabokov’s works. It’s fixed in my office desk bookstand so I read it whenever I’m not watching Netflix on my desktop computer.

    (For those that don’t know: I have different books or digital readers in several places around the house so I can read while in bed, or while eating in the kitchen, or while sitting at my desk, or while getting some air on the lanai. I do the same thing with Netflix: on the computer in the office, on the television in the living room, on the iPad in the bedroom, etc.)

    I’ve got my eye on Danielewski’s trilogy for an upcoming read.


  2. How is that Nabokov book going? I was considering reading The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, (that would be my third Nabokov book, after Lolita and Pnin), but at the last moment went for one of your suggestions: Halldor Laxness´ Independent People. I keep you posted.


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