Sunday, November 30, 2014

An early Italian traveler discovers the sauna

In the late 1790s, a 25-year-old Italian man, Giuseppi Acerbi, was at a loss as to what to do. Interested in natural history and exploration (and composing music), he decided to see the world — and traveled to northern climates. (Perhaps its like having a gap year following high school
graduation before entering college.) 

When he returned home, he published a two-volume account of his adventures, Traveler through Sweden, Finland and Lapland to the North Cape in the years 1798 and 1799.Travelogues were as popular then as now.

In Chapter XXII, he gets to the topic Im most interested in — sauna.
“… The use of Vapour-Baths among the People at large, and especially among the Peasantry — Some Particulars of this Manner of bathing — The extraordinary Transitions from Heat to Cold which the Finlanders can endure.”
“Another particular that appeared very singular among the customs of the Finns, was their baths, and manner of bathing. Almost all the Finnish peasants have a small house built on purpose for a bath: it consists of only one small chamber, in the innermost part of which are placed a number of stones, which are heated by fire till they become red.
“On these stones, thus heated, water is thrown, until the company within be involved in a thick cloud of vapour. In this innermost part, the chamber is formed into two stories for the accommodation of a greater number of persons within that small compass; and it being the nature of heat and vapour to ascend, the second story is, of course the hottest.
“Men and women use the bath promiscuously, without any concealment of dress, or being in the least influenced by any emotions of attachment. If, however, a stranger open the door, and come on the bathers by surprise, (Hes speaking of himself here.) the women are not a little startled at his appearance; for, besides his person, he introduces along with him, by opening the door, a great quantity of light, which discovers at once to view their situation, as well as forms.
“Without such an accident they remain, if not in total darkness, yet in great obscurity, as there is no other window besides a small hole, nor any light but what enters in from some chink in the roof of the house, or the crevices between the pieces of wood of which it is constructed.”
(Examine Giuseppis etching for the size of the sauna, the fire chamber, the benches, the switches...  Even if he couldnt handle the heat, he found ways to enjoy the process.)
“I often amused myself with surprising the bathers in this manner, and I once or twice tried to go in and join the assembly; but the heat was so excessive that I could not breathe, and in the space of a minute at most, I verily believe, must have been suffocated. I sometimes stepped in for a moment, just to leave my thermometer in some proper place, and immediately went out again, where I would remain for a quarter of an hour, or ten minutes, and then enter again, and fetch the instrument to ascertain the degree of heat.” 
 There’s more, lots more — Volume I, with this story, has 396 pages, plus a dedication and preface. My next post completes his discussion.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Hockey and the sauna??

Hockey and sauna are not an automatic pairing in my mind — or weren’t until I read a story in the sports section of a recent St. Cloud Times. St. Cloud State University’s team roster now includes four Finnish hockey players: Rasmus Reijola, Kalle Kossila, Niklas Nevalainen and Mika Ivonen. What music to read their names!

The story notes that a sauna was newly constructed for the Finnish players near the team’s shower area. Wow! Was that a deal-breaker — no sauna, no play? Wonder how it compares to saunas they’re familiar with, how often they enjoy a steam ... 

A photo on an inside page shows them relaxing in the sauna, in their shorts and jerseys and holding hockey sticks — unusual sauna attire. No wonder they’re grinning!

The other players are beginning to learn about sauna customs — which doesn’t indicate that any have been brave enough to give it a try. According to the story, whose music is played in the locker room is a more important debate.

Inquiring minds need to know, so I checked their game schedule — they’re on ice through mid-April. Maybe I won't get a chance to speak with them.

So I wish them many goals and assists, and even more steams.

Read the entire story in the St. Cloud Times, Oct. 9, 2014: “Four Finns heat up the Huskies roster as opener looms”