Bathing Cure

Mar. 22 - The DMG treated me to a kurbad, or "bathing cure," at Frederiksberg SvÝmmehal on Saturday morning. This may well have been the most quintessentially Scandinavian thing I've done since my arrival one year ago, besides drinking beer and evading taxes.

I've been going to the Swimming Hall three to five times a week all along, but only to work out or swim. The DMG also goes for massages, but those are costly, a-la-carte extras. So are bathing cures, which is one of the reasons I've shrugged off their suggestion until now.

Saturday morning I had nothing to lose. It was a cold, windy, rainy day, I was delirious from nicotine withdrawal, and the DMG would be footing the bill.

I have to admit that it sounded like a pleasant but silly indulgence to me. I'm a very watery person by nature—I thrive in water, I love showers, baths, jacuzzis, whirlpools, swimming, sailing, waterskiing—but the notion of a bathing cure struck me as quaint and old-fashioned. Maybe afterwards we could visit the barber and I could have a nice leeching?

The DMG's non-verbal communication has been especially sharp lately, so I didn't articulate my skepticism. I only asked her for very specific instructions on what I would be expected to do between the locker room and the "bathing cure" lobby. (I've found that if you can't read all the signs, it's helpful to know what's expected of you when you're wandering around naked among many other naked people through a labyrinth of saunas, steam-rooms, showers, and bathrooms—what would ordinarily be a laughable faux-pas takes on a lot of added significance when your baggage is swinging around in the open air.)

The instructions were easy: get a locker, strip down, shower thoroughly, put on my bathing suit, and enter the bathing cure area. If I wanted to, between the shower and the putting on of the bathing suit I could hop into a little pool of icy-cold water.

When I described myself as a watery person, I ought to have said a warm-watery person. I'd like to try one of those Polar Bear Club plunges, but other than that you can keep your lousy cold water to yourself. Our ancestors didn't invent hot water for nothing.

We began with a couple of minutes in a perfectly ordinary jacuzzi. We then tried something called a "temple shower," which was an ordinary shower souped-up with motion-detecting nozzles on the sides. The trick was that no one told you it was a motion-sensitive shower, so turning it on was a challenge in itself—a challenge we nearly failed.

"DÝd Hav:" the Dead Sea.

After that we went into the "Dead Sea," a small pool so highly-salinated that it's impossible to submerge yourself. The water practically acts as a solid. You put a little inflatable ring around your neck to keep your ears from going under, then lie flat out on your back. You cannot sink. It's magnificent. It's the closest you'll get to experiencing zero-gravity without taking a ride on the Vomit Comet—but probably better, because you're in your bathing suit and there's no vomit involved.

The DMG and I were lucky enough to have gotten in early enough to have the Dead Sea to ourselves, and we just drifted around aimlessly, bumping into one another from time to time, speaking in the slow, lazy, disconnected way you talk when you're half-asleep or stoned out of your mind. A transcript of our conversation would probably only run about seven or eight lines, but it filled half an hour of languorous drifting.

There's only one drawback to the Dead Sea treatment: "highly salinated" is just the chemist's way of saying "very salty." Salty water gives you added buoyancy, but it it also gives you added salt. If you've got a few little cuts, this can detract from your pleasure. Significantly. And yet I speak from experience when I tell you that getting Dead Sea saltwater in a cut isn't quite as painful as bumping naked flesh against one of the light-therapy lamps. But I get ahead of myself.

After the Dead Sea we moved onto one of the scented steamrooms—an ordinary steam-bath infused with eucalyptus. The DMG is big on aromatherapy and thinks of eucalyptus as a soothing, healing scent. She breathed in the hot, steamy air and exhaled with a sigh of deep contentment. I felt like I was trapped in a giant cough drop. We didn't spend a lot of time in there.

"Peppermint," the DMG read aloud as we walked passed the other scented steamroom on our way toward the unscented sauna. I never would have thought there'd be a market for cough-drop and candy-cane steambaths. I would have preferred a single-malt whiskey sauna, say, or maybe a garlic-and-butter sauna. Maybe that's just me.

After the unscented sauna we went into the massage chair room. We each settled into a massage chair and, anticipating very little, turned them on. We were rewarded with an 18-minute massage the likes of which no chair ought to be able to provide. This was not your typical vibrating lounge recliner: it was a chair that could press, knead, roll, tap, squeeze. . . The DMG and I murmured more lazy talk to one another as we enjoyed our massages, only this time the conversation was extremely focused: where could we find such a chair, how much would it cost, and where could we put it?

(I found this model on the web, which appears to be the model we were using. Prices begin at $2999.)

After our massages, we moved into the next room over. This was some kind of light therapy room, where we lay on ordinary patio chaises beneath two over-hanging lamps, each of which had one reddish and one white light source. There was either too much science or too much pseudo-science involved for me to explain what these bulbs did. Suffice to say they relaxed me nicely until, as I've already mentioned, I singed my back on one of the bulbs.

We wrapped things up with a final plunge in the jacuzzi.

"Now," the DMG advised me as we prepared to go into our respective locker rooms, "the man at the locker-room desk will give you a little aluminum bowl of salt and oil. Take off your bathing suit, rub the oily salt all over your body, then sit in the men's sauna until the salt and oil have all melted smoothly all over your body. Then get out, rinse off in the shower, and you'll be amazed how smooth and nice you'll feel."

I followed her instructions to the letter. I felt very strange rubbing that oily salt into my body in the middle of the shower room. It was especially awkward in my hairier spots, since the salt had a tendency to clump up in hair. I'm not going to paint you a picture, but I've never stepped into a sauna feeling more ridiculous in my life.

Fortunately, most of the other men in the sauna looked about as ridiculous as I felt. Some of them were still rubbing the salt and oil into themselves, though everyone seemed to be working very hard to make it clear they weren't doing any inappropriate rubbing. I was grateful for that.

An oiled-up elderly man did a slow, strange rain dance on the floor of the sauna. He raised and lowered his arms, swayed from side so side, and revolved in slow circles. I was very relieved when he finally left. A few moments later a younger, less oily man offered his own variation on the performance. I was a little panicked: the DMG hadn't told me anything about a Sauna Dance. Would I be violating Danish sauna etiquette if I left the sauna without doing a dance of my own? I decided to risk it—and a damn good thing, because it was only on my way out that I realized there were two little air jets in the wall behind the dance spot—the guys had just been moving themselves around to feel the jets all over their bodies. (But you can't tell me they weren't enjoying their weird little dances.)

Finally I showered, got dressed, and met the DMG out front.

I felt as loose and relaxed as I've ever felt. I think it's safe to say it was the finest bathing cure of my life—it may not even have been the last.

[For a guided tour of Frederiksberg SvÝmmehal, click on one of the video links at the bottom of the main page.]

This Day in Show Biz

Two leading lights of twentieth century musical theatre were born on March 22: Stephen Sondheim (1930), best known for his work on Gypsy, West Side Story, Company, and Into the Woods, and Andrew Lloyd Weber (1948), best known for Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, and Phantom of the Opera.

By some mysterious natural process of compensation, March 22 is also the birthday of Marcel Marceau (1923), best known for Man Trapped in an Invisible Box.

* * *

Auguste and Louis Lumiere first demonstrated motion pictures in Paris using celluloid film on March 22, 1895. Unless it was March 19, 1895, or December 28, 1894, or cellulite instead of celluloid. And it may have been in Milan, or Warsaw, and it's possible it wasn't Louis and Auguste Lumiere, but Tanya and Sophie Belcher. It depends who you ask. It wasn't much of a movie anyway—just footage of workers leaving the Lumiere Factory at the end of their shift—so the ambiguity surrounding its debut shouldn't be so surprising.

Today is the birthday of Reese Witherspoon (1976), Matthew Modine (1959), Bob Costas (1952), William Shatner (1931), Karl Malden (1913), Chico Marx (1887), and the aforementioned trio of Sondheim, Webber, and Marceau.

It's Nevruz Day in Albania.

Happy Monday!

© 2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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