Sometimes, in a rare convergence, Very Special Selfish Personal Joy Time is found while doing something for someone else. In the wake of a long work jag in which she got sick twice and also pulled off an incredibly successful event, my friend Marjorie needed some relaxation. I invited her to the Russian baths, because it's basically impossible NOT to relax there. Your cell phone is locked up, and your options are limited: hot dry sauna, hot wet sauna, steam room, hot tub, cool tub, and a restaurant—all on the same floor. You get to go from one to the other, and hang out on plastic chairs drinking tea or water or juice, or eating pickled fish, potato salad, or pierogis in between extreme heat experiences.
I love the Russian baths because people aren't (for the most part) obsessed with having and showing off thin bodies. People of all shapes and sizes sport bikinis and Speedos, and it's an environment where you're encouraged to eat big plates of food if you want. (I don't usually want big plates of food while at the baths, but I did eat a spectacular bowl of borsht.) I end up feeling comfortable about myself there in a way I rarely do at a summer beach. Again, this is probably helped by the fact that it's a very primal experience. Open pores. Sweat. Cool down. Drink. Open pores. Sweat. Cool down. Drink. And all along, you end up with some of the most intimate talking time you can find in the city.
So yes, this was really for Marjorie. But yes, this was really for me. And I had a fantastic few hours together with her in the heat. And then as a special bonus capper, when we came outside, it was a perfect Portland day. Gray and 50 degrees. A little bit drizzly. And as I walked through my neighborhood (to pick up some food for our first night of khanike Christmas carol singalong) I felt truly at home in NYC for the first time.