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A cauldron, three shower stalls and countless water fights

A cauldron, three shower stalls and countless water fights

  • Memories from the community baths in Kourounia
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Despite being only a few meters away from the houses in Kato Horio, one can barely see it. Taking cover behind the abundant foliage of the plane trees and standing on four pillars, it baffles those having a keen eyesight. What kind of construction is that in this verdant ravine? Why is it raised instead of touching the ground?

These are the old baths; they were built in the early 60’s, but didn’t operate for long” said Vangelis sitting in the village coffee shop on a July Sunday morning. “The villagers claim that they had taken a couple of showers over there. In summer, that is. They wouldn’t use the baths in winter because it was cold”. With its water supply coming from “Klianis’ source”, the building is split into small rooms, and apart from the shower stalls, it features three squat toilets, which however have been little used.

Today, the few villagers can’t recall which institution took the initiative to erect those community baths and outhouses. “I’m not sure if it was the Ministry of Health, or funds from the Marshall Plan, no such sign exists” mentions Vangelis before adding: “The son of the then President recalls that it wasn’t the community which set the plan going. The craftsmen who built it were supposedly from Lesvos. They were many of them, although locals also worked there”. The purpose of this project was to familiarize the inhabitants with the use of showers and toilets.

Nevertheless, the adults would rarely stop by these community baths. With such practices and needs being totally foreign to them, they would fail to find any usefulness in the groundbreaking project, as they were used to wash themselves “every now and then”, and only when the weather allowed it. “If I were to tell my father-in-law ‘I’m going to wash’, he would scratch his head and respond: ‘Wash? Where are you going to wash? I wash in the sea’” said Mr Yiorgos, the oldest of the congregation.

In contrast to the elderly villagers, children would use the community shower stalls at frequent intervals. Not for taking a shower per se, but because they liked to “whoop it up”, says Yiannis, who talked us through his childhood memories from the baths. “We were approximately ten children. It was the president or a councilman who kept the key. We would bring twigs, like the ones you use to kindle a fire in fireplaces and ovens, open the cauldron, set the fire and waited for the water to boil. We were kids, but we knew our stuff. We would get a towel and –excuse my language– a pair of underpants –that was all– and come over here. Then, we would take off all our clothes but for the underpants, take our shower, and when we were done, we would put on a pair of shorts and a shirt or a t-shirt and get back home. We did take a shower, but it was practically water fights either with cold or hot water.

Students of the Primary School of Kourounia in the school year 1969-1970. Source: Historical and Photographic Album of Kourounia and Egrigoros of Chios.

Yiannis used to frequent the baths for four summers and hark back to the times when boys and girls engaged in the fights. “Women would step by too –well, not all of them. The shower stalls did have doors, but those details wouldn’t put us off”. Kourounia was a progressive village, but that didn’t mean that patriarchy wasn’t commonplace back then. “I only went there once; my sister visited them more often”. An uncle of mine would spur me on. I was a girl… women were shy” said Mrs Toula, the village’s tavernkeeper.

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The youth usually visited the baths on Saturdays. At times, after the children had lit the fire for the cauldron and the water had boiled, some adults wouldn’t miss out on taking a quick shower. “They were covered in dust after working in the threshold, so they would say ‘why don’t I drop by and take a shower?’” recalls Yiannis. “There was a police precinct here. The four officers used to visit the baths since that was the only place where they could wash” mentions Vangelis.

The community baths ceased operating in 1970. Some maintain that they were closed to be saved from filth or destruction. Besides, they weren’t used the way their creator had envisioned. What’s more, that period marked the construction of the first village toilets, with most of them being privies and some of them being government funded.

Since then, the raised floor building has remained unused. The balconies are blanketed with dry plane tree leaves, the doors leading to the shower stalls and the toilets are closed, the door to the cauldron is open and most of the windows are broken. None of the villagers knows where the keys to the building are. A few years ago, the local culture association came up with the thought of converting the baths into a hostel. The idea, however, never came into fruition.

Photos: Despina Armenaki, Giorgos Kakaris. Translated into English by Nikos Loutraris.

   Kato Horio & Ftanados

A small village in Northwest Chios, Kourounia practically consists of two quarters separated by approximately three hundred meters. Kato Horio lies close to the Kourounia stream, while moving up higher, in Kombos slope, one can get to Ftanados.

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