When my friend told me that she was having her birthday party at a Russian bath house, I was expecting to do some shvitzing, swimming, and relaxing. I didn’t expect to be beaten with burning hot leaves and then dunked into a pool of freezing water by an old, fat Russian man wearing a funny hat.
The birthday girl was like, “I dare you to try venik,” and, being as that I can’t refuse a dare, I agreed even though I had no idea what I was agreeing to.
I was ushered into a 200 degree sauna, where an old, fat Russian man wearing a wool cap began to beat me me, YES, beat me, with a bundle of oak tree leaves. When I started to scream that it was burning, he rushed me out to a freezing cold shower and dunked my head under until I was gasping for air. Then yelled, in his accent, “Cold dunk,” which meant I had to submerge myself in a pool of 38 degree water. To give you a point of reference, imagine rolling around in a snow bank naked. It was so cold my skin was stinging. Then he marched me back to the sweltering, hot sauna to be beat again with leaves. Rinse and repeat five times. Keep reading »