I used to have a good friend who live din Saint Petersburg as a psychiatrist. His cards, letters, and photos of the place were superb.
St Petersburg, the setting for key scenes in the BBC’s dramatisation of ‘War and Peace’, is at its best under a blanket of snow.
On the edge of a frozen lake, somewhere outside St Petersburg, I am stretched out on the wooden racks of a rickety banya, or sauna. Clouds of steam part to reveal several lobster-pink Russians on the racks below. Some maniac has just thrown a bucket of water on to the hot stones in the corner, and the temperature – already somewhere between gas mark 8 and Dante’s Inferno – rises dramatically. I feel my bone marrow is melting. Meanwhile, my new best friend, Seva, is whipping me with birch twigs – “For improving circulation,” he grunts.
Russian banya are the Baltic equivalent of ginseng; they cure everything: liver complaints, skin conditions, muscle ache, sexual dysfunction, broken hearts, spiritual unease. They are an integral part of the…
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