institution of the spa or watering-place, where well-heeled people come a month
or so each year to be sprayed, irrigated, vaporized and generally made over by
natural waters, has no real counterpart in America today. As an antidote for
past pleasure, present remorse and lingering self-dissatisfaction, the European
spa lies halfway between our own two great institutions of the Turkish bath and
the analyst's couch.
hundreds of these spas in energetic operation today, many dating back to Roman
times (see page 55). Usually, each caters to a specific human ailment; each has
its own social personality. Perhaps the most important—both scientifically and
socially—is Bad Gastein, "The Fountain of Eternal Youth," which lies on
the steep side of an Alp in Western Austria, some 60 miles below Salzburg. The
personality here might well be termed "gilded Gem�tlichkeit," and the
specialty is revitalization of abused or disused tissues. The waters, coming
from 18 springs, are quite unlike any others in the world—being both naturally
hot (116.6�) and possessing mystic radium emanations (the result of nuclear
fission within the mountains).
For 1,300 years,
ever since some compassionate hunters, as the story goes, bathed a wounded deer
in a chance spring, Bad Gastein has been aiding the lame, the halt, the too
pleasure-bent and the just plain ambitious.
On arriving to
take the Gastein cure, the first impression may be disappointment. For Gastein
isn't Austria. The scenery is stupendous with one of the world's most exciting
waterfalls crashing full force down a jagged mountainside in the heart of town.
But all around—at 3,000 feet above sea level and especially in season, June 15
to August 31—the streets are choked with fin-tailed Cadillacs and fat Mercedes.
Main street, the Haupistrasse, is bubbling with old ladies in new mink stoles,
bald brokers with rich suntans; gray-haired, gouty central European playboys
hopping about unhappily on canes. Except for a few dimpled, Hungarian-doll
types (guarded by elderly gentlemen, obviously not their husbands), you see
very few young people. And, in almost every eye, there is an anxious seeking
for that elusive commodity called Youth.
You check into
one of the 100-odd hotels or guest houses. Then visit a doctor's office, for an
examination is an absolute prerequisite to taking a cure or even staying at Bad
Gastein. The doctor explains: "We don't really know what the process of the
cure is. We only see the results. Actually, radium emanation is a gas, the
first byproduct of radium decomposition. We know it stimulates tissues and
glands. What we think happens is that it reactivates the chronic state of
certain ailments into an acute state, then cures them. Even our air is 15 times
more radioactive than ordinary air. Therefore, it isn't safe for anyone with an
acute disease to stay here; these diseased cells also might become reactivated.
That's particularly true with recent cases of cancer and TB. We have to run
them out of town immediately!
the cure takers come for relief from chronic joint diseases-gout, arthritis,
rheumatism. The others, for the general effect on the endocrine glands. This
glandular effect is why so many Arabians who pay very much attention to
their—shall we say—'youthful powers' come here."
There are five
specific Gastein cures: the thermal baths and drinking cure for overall
revitalization; the vapor baths for localized treatments; the underwater
therapy for aftereffects of paralysis; and the amazing thermal gallery for
The doctor gives
you a prescription for, let's say, the thermal baths, a series of 21 baths of
15 minutes' duration each spread over 24 days (older people need longer because
their skin absorbs the emanations slower) and at slightly below body
probably at 6:00 a.m., your phone rings. "Bad fertig!" a gruff voice
announces. You step into a bathrobe and go to the hotel's ground floor. The
bath master, resembling an American health club operator, leads you into a
quite ordinary-looking bathroom. Inside is a sunken tub full of quite
ordinary-looking water. Then he leaves.