Monday, May 28, 2007

mmmmm sauna...

So once I finally got up and moving Sunday (up a bit before 1, moving towards 2:30, out of the hotel closer to 3 or 3:30), we were picked up by Saapi and taken to Tuukka's family's summer house and sauna, about 35 minutes outside Jyväskylä. Their house is next to their cousins' house (the twins I sat next to at dinner) and another local friend's. In all cases, the houses were built by hand by the grandfathers in the early 20th century.

Everything about the places is very traditional Finnish, though they do have the aid of modern electricity (though still no running water and one still uses a wood-burning stove). The rugs in the houses are all traditional rag rugs--woven out of discarded and worn out clothing torn into strips. All the decor is traditional and has been there forever. As they have added family members, they have built new small buildings around the main houses. They spend much of their time on their summer weekends at these houses doing repairs and building new things (the big project this year is to level the sauna, which has begun to tilt towards the water).

There is a true sense of tradition and family about the group of summer houses and saunas that is unmatched in the US. I am forever grateful that the families were so welcoming of us into their community and traditions.

After our tours of the houses and different kinds of saunas, we went back to Tuukka's family's house for many leftovers from the wedding (the soup was again a favorite). We ate and drank until it was time for sauna (ladies first).

The sauna gets up to over 100 degrees celcius (really freakin hot). The sauna we went in involved a wood-burning stove beneath the rocks on top. You heat the sauna for 3 hours (depending on the type of sauna), then strip and go in. In the sauna, you pour water on the rocks to create humidity and make the body sweat, purging you of all dirt both inside and outside of your body. In the traditional sauna, they also have a bundle of birch branches and leaves that you thwap yourself and each other with to get the circulation flowing even more. They say that in the sauna, without clothes on and subject to grueling heat, everyone is equal.

After a few minutes in the sauna, and a few spoonfulls of water on the rocks, you run down to the lake (very cold at 14 degrees) and jump in. If you were to hit the water without the sauna, it would be unbearably cold; however, with the sauna, the cold feels incredibly refreshing and makes your blood really pump. After a quick dip (before you come to your sense about how freaking cold the water is), you head back to the porch of the sauna to dry off and have a cold (ideally, though most here is warm) beer. Rinse and repeat as desired (up to 5 or so times at the lake).

The feeling you experience after you come out of the lake is ubelievable. It is the single biggest high I have ever experienced. You feel refreshed, clean, and you've completely forgotten about all your worries in the world. The beer feels like ice running through your veins, and the world around you is beautiful. You go from the hottest heat of hell to the cold of the polar icecaps in a matter of seconds, and your body feels as satisfied as if it had just experienced every sensation there is in life.

After we journeyed from sauna to lake and back 3 times, we went back to the house to enjoy homemade Finnish desserts (Finnish pancake with jelly, chocolate cake, lemon cake, and gingerbread and cheeses). After that, I sat motionless in a hanging chair for quite a while, content with everything in life and enjoying the melody of my own thoughts.

After a bit of time, we had some sausages and mustard (very different from Milwaukee style, though) and hit the road. I mentioned it before, but I can't help but repeat how overwhelmed I was at the priorities of the Finns: family, friends, and tradition before all else. In conversation at the wedding, despite not knowing me, few ran out of topics enough to ask me my age or profession. To them, the more important things in who I am are where I'm from and what I like. To me, that's beautiful.

My new goals in life are to emulate those priorities....and own a sauna retreat on a lake.

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