Again, thanks for reading my blog and especially for your comments, I do enjoy reading them. I’m feeling very reflective today as it marks the start of the final week of my time out here. I’ve had a whale of a time, but it’s certainly been the most challenging four months of my life so far.
Peter, I want to thank you for your hospitality, you have been most forthcoming. I shall miss you most terribly, but I think it is time for me to move on and start the next chapter of my life.
So as anyone in Russia reading this will agree, (I can’t speak for anyone in England), it is COLD. I know I’m being a wimpy Southerner when I say this, but I have never been so cold in the entirety of my life. I’ve had a great time falling over in front of people and damaging pieces of masonry as I try to catch myself. There are 3 inches of ice on pretty much all the pavements at the moment, it is incredibly dangerous – especially for me as I am possibly the clumsiest person to walk (or indeed, fall over) on this earth. No word of a lie.
This blog is entitled ‘full circle’ due to what I got up to last Wednesday. Allow me to elaborate. Those of you who know me will know that I am the most prudish, most British person ever when it comes to public modesty. I’m the kind of girl who will go into a shop changing room just to try on a new jacket. Indeed, this blog is probably the most I will reveal about me in any public space.
Well, until last Wednesday perhaps. Ladies and gentlemen, I went to a traditional Russian “banya” or bath house. I know. Those crazy places that we read about in England where we are led to believe that some crazy babushka forces vodka down you while chasing you out wearing nothing but your birthday suit into the snow, beating you with a birch twig, shouting “It’s for your health, you weak-willed devushka, it’s for your health!”
It wasn’t quite that crazy, I assure you. In fact, it was incredible. I spent the rest of the day in a relaxed haze, having spent 2 hours repeatedly heating myself to the point of melting and then immediately cooling myself to the point of freezing. I became Russian for a good 2 hours, forgetting my British prudishness. There was no snow involved, nor were there babushki or vodka – it was a clean, elegant spa. People go there to be social, to relax and to blow away the cobwebs.
I guess I should now describe it, as naturally I have no pictures – the steam would have broken my camera. (Yeah, that’s my excuse).
Step 1: Shower in open but divided cubicles. I’ll point out here that bani are gender segregated.
Step 2: Spend 10 minutes in Turkish bath and try not to explode.
Step 3: When heat of Turkish bath gets too much, plunge into ice cold pool and try not to squeal.
Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you notice the traditional Russian banya and realise you only have 30 minutes left.
Step 4: Shower again in tepid water.
Step 5: Enter banya, (it’s an entirely birch panelled room with a raised section on which there are wooden benches). They are very hot, but it’s a dry heat unlike in the Turkish bath. The smell of birch is so strong you can taste it when it gets too hot to so much as breathe through your mouth (Such frivolity!)
Step 6: Lay out towel and recruit slave/roommate to smack you repeatedly over the back with a birch twig (leaves and all).
Step 7: Douse self in freezing cold water.
Step 8: (optional) Shower with soap so that you smell of flowers instead of birch.
After my two hour session, I emerged looking like a tomato and almost passed out in the shower at the end – but it was one of the best experiences out here.
My banya experience answered a few of my questions about Russians and led me to question my own culture and I came to the conclusion that the English are a people of overthinkers. Russian people frankly don’t give a toss if other people can see their wobbly bits. I’ll point out, they have none – they look after their figures very well over here and I think we English could take a leaf out of their book on this one. English people remain tainted by the Victorian prudishness that was our national code 200 years ago. While the Russians were revolting against the tsar and wearing furs, we were revolting at the sight of other women’s ankles and learning how to spell the word ‘fur’. And so it continues. We stare aghast at the old woman in the swimming pool changing rooms who stopped caring about how she looked at least 20 years ago, unable to conceive that she might so dare to expose even her knees in such a public space.
Can we possibly get over this as a culture, as Britons? I think it is desirable, but frankly impossible. English people are among the most prudish in the world, after those of Islamic faith and Americans – but even Americans on the whole are far more outspoken than English people. Some may go so far as to say obnoxious but I will reserve judgement on this one, this is not the time or the place.
I can safely say I have gone full circle and completely got over myself, quite frankly. I will no longer be the girl who tries on a coat in a changing room – I’m going to do it on the shop floor, like a sane person. Come to think of it, I did precisely that yesterday and indulged in a brand new Russian fur coat. I am in love. I figured my English coat and hat just were not cutting it, as my legs froze to the point they were painful as I crossed the Anichkov bridge. It’s Christmas next week, right?!
You can call me ‘Snow Queen’.