I will never forget our first trip to Russian bath. Of course, it was a public bath. Russians can be deprived of everything but they will never be deprived of their "bania". You probably heard about it. But it is an experience.
There is a large room, with a pile of hot rocks in the middle. Fire is going under the rocks all the time to keep them hot. Every once in a while somebody throws a bucket full of water on the stones and the room fills up with steam. People recline or seat on the benches which are arranged in a amphitheatrical fashion. The higher you climb the hotter it gets. At the top the air is so hot and so saturated with steam that it is difficult to breathe. And they flagellate themselves with twigs until their bodies are red.
We had to disrobe in a locker room and go to the next room to get soap and a towel. There was a large framed woman giving out these item. I was a shy boy of fifteen and standing naked in front of a woman was very painful experience. But the worst was to come later. After I did have my bath, I opened swinging door not realizing that they lead to the women's bath. The room was full of steam which obstructed my vision and at first I did not realized that the room was also full of women. All of the sudden I was surrounded by naked women giggling, pulling me in all directions... I made a quick retreat and when I reentered men's compartment I was greeted with laughs - "Where did you take your bath?". I don't know if I was ever as embarrassed as at that time.
19th April, 1998
Romuald has written other stories about his childhood :
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