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At the bathhouse in Baden, Poggio was amazed by what he saw: “Old women as well as younger ones,” he wrote to a friend in Florence, “going naked into the water before the eyes of men and displaying their private parts and their buttocks to the onlookers.” There was a sort of lattice between the men’s and women’s baths, but the separation was minimal: there were, he observed, “many low windows, through which the bathers can drink together and talk and see both ways and touch each other as is their usual custom.”  Poggio refused to enter the baths himself, not, he insisted, from any undue modesty but because “it seemed to me ridiculous that a man from Italy, ignorant of their language, should sit in the water with a lot of women, completely speechless.” But he watched from the gallery that ran above the baths and described what he saw with the amazement that someone from Saudi Arabia might bring to an account of the beach scene at Nice.

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June 2016

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