Saturday, October 1, 2011

When in Estonia... is generally advisable to do as the Estonians do. I will certainly continue to follow that maxim come the first dark, cold, snowy day, when I take layering advice from the various tall blonde people who live on my street.

So when I woke up sick this morning, I decided to heed the advice of the Estonian general I met at the Ambassador's house last week, and fire up our sauna for the first time. [Note to people considering the Foreign Service as a career: it can sometimes be delightfully surprising.] We have a proper, full-sized sauna, with a little dressing area and separate shower. I stretched out in the 52 degree dry heat (what is that in Fahrenheit? a million? Five years abroad, and these things still baffle me) and relaxed. I am sad to report I am still sick, but it was a very pleasant experience, and I'm sure it will be a common response to the cold wet days we are about to endure for months on end.

Said general also confirmed what I had heard to be true: Estonian children of course frequent sauna as well. Boy entered for a mere moment out of curiosity, declared it too hot, and stood outside the glass door, crying because he thought I was going to get burned, despite his father's and my calm assurances. I love the passionate, illogical devotion of little children.

Estonians and Finns use the sauna to socialize, of course, with family/co-workers/total strangers beating each other's backs with various be-leaved branches. I skipped that part. The sauna was also a birthing room, for the obvious advantages of heat and hot, sterile water. It was a morgue, a respectful and cherished place to place your loved one. There are sauna competitions, with naked Scandinavians competing to see how hot they can stand a sauna before someone dies. Pretty hot, I hear. Some locals have figured out how to make portable saunas with barrels and suspenders--the perfect perch for cheering on a heated cross-country skiing race. The Estonians could best be termed "a-religious." They are nominally Lutheran, but only thanks to years of German influence. But native Estonian culture is not at all a-spiritual. There's a relationship with the forest, especially, and the sea, with boulders and animals. And there is undoubtedly a strong connection with the sauna. I may never share that same innate love, but I'm happy to participate it in it (without the foliage, thank you).


Stephanie said...

Hi there, What a wonderful blog. Is there any email address where I can contact you? Thanks so much. Cheers! ~Stephanie

Rachel said...

So sorry I'm just seeing this now! rachel (dot) borek (at) gmail (dot) com.

Lucy Eury said...

That's true, and you'll get to enjoy more the snowy winter nights relaxing in your sauna. The beating of branches is for improved circulation, since it increases the heat directly above the skin. You're supposed to take a dip in cold water after you take a beating. But if that's not your thing, it's also good, there's a lot of health benefits you can still get just from regular sauna use alone.

iHealth Saunas