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Three score and ten or more

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A NOVICE IS FIRST INTRODUCED TO THE FINNISH SAUNA

A NOVICE IS FIRST INTRODUCED TO THE FINNISH SAUNA, IN THE YEAR 1954

About the first thing that happened to us after we arrived in Helsinki was to be taken to the Ouimahalli or public swimming pool to go to the sauna. I was appropriately shocked,( to the great amusement of the old-hand missionaries who took us for the purpose of shocking us), when we went to a dressing room and took off our clothes, then set off down a second story aisle to the sauna. Of course a young, blonde, female sauna attendant came down the hall to greet us. Since I was nude, but had a towel I covered up the essentials till she was past, then glowed a majestic red blush till we reached the sauna. I recovered as we went in the heat (heat is the word in the real Finnish sauna, the steamed heated air often reaches 100 degrees Celsius; to the uninitiated that is the boiling point of water), out to a cool shower then back in the heat. When I came out of the heat the second time I got my second shock when I discovered that my new friends had paid for me to have a scrub.

The word “scrub” in this case is a total understatement. When a Finnish Sauna Lady sets you up for a scrub, you get the equivalent of an entire Automobile Car wash only it happens to you personally and in parts. You are flopped on a wooden bench (usually face down– at first) and each part of you is taken in turn (much like one might eat a lobster). Each section is scrubbed enthusiastically with either an old wooden brush like the one your grandmother scrubbed floors with, or sometimes with a loofa sponge -called a sauna sponge in Finland-, cut open to the most abrasive section. The soap has a flagrance of fresh lye and is applied till the skin screams for mercy. When the back, arms, neck, waist, and lower extremities have felt the tender mercies of the brush, the lady dumps a bucket of water on you, then flips you over with the skill of a pancake master. What was good for the back is good for the front. After all appropriate (and some inappropriate) parts have been cleansed to the stage that any surgeon could use you as an operating table, another bucket of water, then you are sent back into the heat. (To sweat out any traces of soap– or anything else).

If any reader senses that there is any erotic element of this scrub, I hasten to dissuade you. To the sauna lady, you are the equivalent of a beef carcass offered up to the butcher. You are a product to be processed as efficiently and completely as possible. For the victim (or volunteer) you are so concerned with the similarity of what is happening to you to being flayed alive, that no erotic thoughts would dare come to the front. Witnessing hundreds of such scrubbings, only once did I ever see a male show signs of “arousal”, at which the sauna lady reached for what appeared to be a large wooden spoon, swatted the offending member sharply and all signs of arousal disappeared instantly.

If it sounds scary, it is, to the newcomer. I confess that the result is a thorough, tingling sense of cleanliness. After a good “re-steaming” and an ice cold shower (or a dip in the lake or roll in the snow) one feels energetic and has a great sense of well-being.. I confess that almost every time I went to a public sauna (really not as often as one gets to a private sauna in or around your residence) I ordered a scrub (if I had the money). Being a Sauna Lady is a respected position, sauna attendants had great pride in the reputation of their profession, and I felt a moral obligation to keep their families fed.

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