Below is a short essay I wrote back in March about Southhampton Spa, a Russian and Turkish Bathhouse, which I revisited tonight. I must say, I have decidedly un-fucked up the situation this time around and had an awesome time. Re-reading this makes me feel a little ashamed, but this piece is too good to lose in the depths of my hard drive. Enjoy.
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Having just moved to Philadelphia from Chicago a mere six months ago, a friend of mine came to visit in January for a long weekend. I suggested we spend a day at a Russian/Turkish Bathhouse someone had recommended to me.
She and I were eager to put on our bathing suits, shave our hibernated, hairy legs and head out into the unbearably cold world. Spending the day hot tub jumping in the dead of winter seemed to be the only way to warm our chilly bones.
Upon arriving, we pushed our way through the doors and were unleashed to explore this wonderland of foreign and unfamiliar customs.
We were immediately like two deer in headlights. Having not the slightest clue as to where the locker rooms were, we stood, clad in our winter boots, hats, scarves and jackets in the middle of a room populated by half-dressed, robe wearing spa dwellers. They were happily chatting away in faraway languages, while we were frozen, seeing a new world for the first time like Dorothy in Oz.
A sympathizer gestured his head as if to say, “Over that way,” and we soon found our way to the locker room.
After changing into our bathing suits and claiming a few warm, white fuzzy robes, we made our way to the steam room. I opened the door and was immediately stripped of my ability to see. It was hot. Really hot. Steam surrounded us in every direction. Stumbling around, we finally secured a seat and tried to familiarize ourselves with what it meant to relax right after we were surely blind just moments before.
We basked in the warmth and remarked how incredible it was that were not only in our bathing suits, but sweating in January.
Next was the sauna, where a curious question popped up. Why was everyone wearing an array of strange hats? We conceived that it must have been to keep their hair dry. Never before have I seen people’s heads covered in anything ranging from a towel wrap, to a cloth Viking helmet, to an Asian-inspired conical rice hat. Bewildered, we moved onto the showers.
We examined and marveled at the convoluted showers that seemed to have more knobs and buttons than the cockpit of a 1970s Boeing 747. Utterly befuddled, we shuffled to a table to sit poolside and relax.
We spent almost an hour feeling very lethargic, taking in the scene whilst families and friends that surrounded us were going about their normal Sundays at the spa. Finally mustering up the energy to eat, we ordered the most expensive, luxurious meal we could find on the menu: a kabob platter meal comprised of filet mignon, chicken and lamb skewers over rice.
After ordering our meal, we sat smug and satisfied, feeling as though we were getting the hang of the place after all. Not long had passed since our order had undoubtedly been transferred from our waitress to the chef when suddenly the biggest, meanest-looking, red-faced overweight man peeked out from the kitchen to survey the room. His demeanor demanded to know who had ordered such a lavish poolside meal. As our waitresses’ hand pointed to our table, we felt embarrassed and ostracized. What had we done wrong?
Picking our teeth with the kabob skewers sometime later, we returned the sauna and steam room for a short time before going to the locker rooms, changing, and leaving.
Upon returning home, our friend who had recommended the place informed us of our sheer ignorance. First, it’s necessary to wear a towel or hat to protect your head and regulate your body temperature. What’s more is that the overly intricate cold showers relieve your skin of the heat endured in the steam room or sauna. To top it all off, one should never eat a big meal at the spa, as your blood is too busy trying to regulate skin temperature to help with digestion.
We had completely and utterly messed up the entire experience. It’s no wonder that we were puzzled, over-tired and gawked at by a mean chef. We had walked into and ruined an established routine of relaxation.
At the same time, it was the most fun I had had in such a long time, that despite our inherent naivete, we bragged about the entire experience to anyone who would listen, chronicling in detail the silly hats, the foreign knobs and the once-in-a-lifetime poolside meal. From our grand failure at the spa was born a greater sense of learning and appreciation I may not have otherwise obtained. Our experience was only backwards in the order in which we learned. Confusion was a small price to pay to be able to learn something new at all.