- Where am I from:
- Sexual preference:
- Color of my iris:
- I’ve got huge gray-blue eyes
- I speak:
- I prefer to drink:
- In my spare time I love:
This being NYC, there are a ificant few great hot tubs to choose from. The major downside, though, is that all these hot tubs are sex-segregated when nudity is included. Anytime it is coed, a swimsuit, robe or clothing will be needed. That is alright if you are going with a same sex partner or friend, but annoying if you are in a coed group.
Winter rolls around and my mind inevitably turns to Doctor Zhivago and sable-coated fantasies of moving to Brighton Beach. It was in this class that I learned about Bannik, the spirit of the bathhouse in Slavic mythology. Russians of old believed that it was important to behave properly when visiting a banya or else you might insult Bannik, who made his home in the sauna oven.
Bathers would give him offerings—loaves of salted bread or a slaughtered chicken to be buried beneath the threshold. Bannik could also predict your future—for a reading, you just had to stick your naked rear-end into the banya late at night and wait to see what Bannik would do with it.
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If he gently patted your cheeks, you would have good luck, but a swipe with his claws meant you were in for a rough year. And I was not disappointed. Judging from archival photographs, there was a time when they were clothing optional and men-only. Today, the baths are co-ed except for Wednesday mornings when they are women-only, and Sunday mornings, when they are reserved for men.
I visited on a sunny Sunday afternoon in October with my sister, also a first-time banya-goer.
We changed and made our way downstairs to get our schvitz on. In Russia, banyas are considered liminal spaces, caught between worlds. This is in part due to the extreme atmospheres they offer—they are cold, wet, hot, and dry all at once. Historically, they were also where babies were born, owing to their abundance of fresh water, hygienic surfaces, and radiant heat. In short, they were magical. Sweaty patrons slipped in and out of mystery rooms. Almost immediately, a large man with a towel draped over his head asked us in heavily accented English if we wanted a massage.
He stood next to a plastic garbage can filled with suds and leafy brooms. After a rinse in the showers, we went exploring.
We started with the dry Redwood sauna, which was a pleasant place to warm up, even for a dry sauna-phobe like myself the really hot ones make me anxious. The baths were relatively quiet, and most of the patrons seemed like old hands at the banya game. We watched them carefully; a Russian model-type in complicated underwear liberally doused the radiators with eucalyptus oil she carried with her from room to room.
A linebacker-sized man put his towel-covered head between his knees and breathed deeply in the Aromatherapy Room. We went in while a platza treatment was in progress: a woman lay on the top bench with a towel over her face while a burly masseuse whacked her with a broom of oak leaves called a venik and tossed buckets of cool water across her body. But the heat had already gotten the best of me. Too faint to reply, I wobbled out of the Russian Room and up to the restaurant to buy a much-needed bottle of water. I recovered in the dining area, surrounded by walls of framed, ed celebrity hehots from the '80s.
A group of half-naked old men shared pickled radishes at a table next to me. My hands might be shaking; my head, light and spinning, but I wanted more. Back downstairs, I found myself once again face-to-face with the masseuse. I asked if it would be possible to get the platza treatment in one of the massage rooms rather than in the Russian furnace.
He agreed, and I waved goodbye to my sister, heart pounding in my chest.
I have hazy memories of what happened next. In the metal stall, I was directed by Victor the masseuse to lie on the table. After the platza, he stretched my limbs at impossible angles, then used his arm and what felt like all of his body weight to re-align my back, knocking the air right out of my lungs.
Though I felt like I was going to die throughout most of treatment, once it was over, I felt really, really alive. Instead, he smeared a mud mask on my face and told me to go upstairs and let it dry in the sun. My sister got a mask too, and we spent the remainder of the afternoon basking on patio pool floats their deck chair alternativesgiddy from the experience.
Nearby, patrons drunker than us debated CIA conspiracy theories and causes of the pending apocalypse.
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