Weddings, Dream Deaths and Balneotherapy: Part I

Spartan Holiday was on holiday last week. More specifically the staff of Spartan Holiday was sitting in the iron and arsenic tinged spa waters of Ojo Caliente with one Jill Landis Jha on the day Spartan Holiday staff usually writes Spartan Holiday’s blog.


This was all part of the build-up to the glorious, pine cone strewn nuptials of my beloved Holly Jill Herr, saver of babies, banger of djembes, the Bonnie to my Clyde.


What can we say about the wedding? In some way it was your standard wedding. It ended in a legal union. People wept and laughed and burnt their tender white skin. Children rolled around in dirt. The bride wore daisies in her hair. The groom accidentally vowed to take the bride as his husband.

In other ways it was atypical. The aisle was formed with pine cones. The father-of-the-bride got uncomfortable and changed into his running clothes during the reception. And there was this cupcake tower:


Other than being blasted with invisible waves of nuptial bliss, the cupcake tower was my favorite part of the day.

“As a plant produces its flower, so the psyche creates its symbols,” said Jung. I have done intense qualitative research (on myself) and discovered that frosted cakes are a symbol for restraint and longing; eros and death.

Why do you want to smash your face into cakes or, if displayed in tower formation, throw yourself at them? I asked myself.

Well, I long to but I restrain myself. Cakes are beautiful and energetic (eros) objects, yet I long to ravish them (for fear of death), I answered.

Further studies showed that I have fought this urge since early childhood.

Similarly I had a friend in college who had the urge to rip roses apart with her teeth. And I think we’ve all fantasized about going berserk in a china shop.


This reminds me of my dream death. Everyone should have a dream death, just in case, we ever live in a future dystopia that allows us to engineer our own demise. My dream death is to collapse at the dinner table, my face falling straight into a perfectly iced, layer cake or banana cream pie. Swiftly following my forward fall into a bed of frosting, the room I’m in explodes and I’m blown to bits. (Otherwise I have to be slowly liquified by bacterial colonies per the chapter I just read on decomposition in the book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, which I won’t tell you about here, as some people are super sensitive about the material nature of their bodies.)

stiffTo achieve my dream death, It seems I’ll need to get myself into some sort of South American, el patron situation in which socialist radicals resent my decadent pastel-eating lifestyle and bomb my home, which would probably be a villa. OR I could forgo the politics and expatriation and just get a friend to drug me, bake me a cake, then blow up my house, which will probably be a two-bedroom apartment.


Also included in my dream death would be a Samuel Beckett-ish, End-Game-ish scene where various people from my past pop out of bins and make absurd pronouncements about life.

“Now I am baaahck,” Danielle Miller would say (in Swedish speedskater voice).

“People are stupid.” Neil Fencer would say.

Please may I may be excused?” Lali would ask.

“Punk not dead!” a random Nepali would shout.

“A bird pooped on my shirt,” Andy Gingerich would explain.

“Wink wink,” Jill Landis would wink.

This would go on for about 30 minutes. Until my heart fills with a bittersweet, honey-like liqueur and ruptures; my face falls into a cake and the room blows to cinders.


Dave’s dream death is to die in a surfing accident or a shark attack. I think his dream death is a terrible idea and I will not help coordinate it.

Back to Ojo Caliente. I’ve lived in New Mexico for 13 years now, but this was my first visit to the fabled “Hot Eye” hot springs. There’s plenty of free, back country natural hot springs in this state that make it seem kind of moronic to drive two hours to a place where you have to pay to soak.

labyrinth at Ojo Caliente

But it wasn’t moronic at all! My spa companion and good friend, Jill Landis Jha, agreed. It was far from moronic. Whether it was the ethereal native flute music piped through the loud speakers, or the desert cliff walls vaulting above us, or good conversation, or our brains getting all steamy and melty in the steam room, we didn’t feel like morons one bit. We felt cleansed and relaxed and cured of many ailments. Ailments that we didn’t even know we had, like bad skin, circulatory and immune deficiencies, arthritis, stomach ulcers and digestive problems. Such is the nature of healing waters.

Ojo Caliente claims on their website that SPA is the acronym for the Latin phrase, “Salus Per Aquas”, which translates to “health through water.” WRONG. “Spa” actually comes from the town of Spa, Belgium. Salus Per Aquas is a backronym.

Mud bath. Mercifully this Victorian is not wearing any clothes.

The history of balneotherapy, healing through soaking, is way more interesting than you might presume, beginning with the Greeks, sleazed-up by the Romans, falling out of favor in medieval times, reviving somewhat in the 1700’s and by the 19th century, turning into just another arena for Victorians to model their dopey swim togs.

Join me next week as I explore this ancient healing ritual in depth. We may also revisit Death. In memento mori and all that.

StillLifeWithASkull Philippe de Champaigne


“It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.”

That’s what Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the five-stages-of-grief lady says.

If we could really accept this reality, there might be less cake smashing urges. We could merely look on the cake with tenderness and the serenity of ego-detachment, thinking, I am that cake. The cake is me and not me. The cake is life and youth and all fleeting things, forever renewing in perpetuity.


“Nothing human is foreign to me,” said Terence, the Roman playwright guy, who may or may not have taken a bite of this giant cupcake.

And that is all I have to say about that. Until next week.


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