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"How you doin?!" :)
As you know, verbs are often described as "doing words".
They describe the actions that someone or something is doing.
For example, "I speak Russian", "He wants a ticket to Nizhny Novgorod", "Do you understand?".
In the following lessons you will learn the basic properties of Russian verbs. Conceptually, they aren't hard to understand but do require a bit of memory work and practice.
Russian Banya - Русская баня
"Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore .. "
The banya is a Russian bath house that has a special place in Russian culture. It's basically a sauna, .. but to call it just a sauna would be a massive understatement. It's a traditional experience with some unusual customs that you won't find at your local gym :)
The typical banya is a purposely built, separate wooden building that consists of 2 or 3 rooms - the usual dry sauna (very hot!!), a plunge pool room, and a separate antechamber with table and chairs. Russians go to the banya in a group, with family or friends, and book it for 1 or 2 hours. In the larger cities there are some communal, public banyas, but generally it's more fun when you have access to a private banya with your own group.
Russians bring a diverse amount of 'equipment' to the banya to enhance the experience. First and foremost they bring birchwood tree branches with good foliage, which have been soaking in water for several hours beforehand. They use these branches to hit each other in the sauna, but more about this in a moment!
All Russians have their own 'banya hats' which are worn in the hot sauna. Perhaps you have seen Russians in a sauna in your local town and thought they were crazy for wearing hats in the extreme heat?! Well, wearing a hat actually reduces the tendency for one to become dizzy. It seems counterintuitive .. you would think the hat would make your head even hotter, but in fact the hat protects the head from the direct heat in the air. You'll have to experience it yourself if you don't believe me, but all the Russians do it.
Next is the food and vodka. If you go to a banya with a Russian family it can turn into a bit of a banya party because they might bring along roast chicken or pork, salad, beer, and vodka. It's very strange to have a family dinner with everyone sitting around mostly naked in their tiny bathers and bikinis :) But after a few vodkas the insecurities quickly disappear!
The process of the banya proceeds as follows. You arrive and change into your bathers. For guys, forget about the board-shorts .. the Russians will look at you like you are wearing a business suit into a sauna! You need the little underpants "Speedo" style bathers, or if you're a little more modest like me, the lycra, black, hot-pants style bathers :) All the cool young guys are wearing these in Sochi :) For girls, forget the one-piece bathers, you might as well be wearing a fur-coat. It's tiny bikinis all the way!
So after you've changed and had a quick rinse-off in the shower, you put on your banya hat, cross your fingers, and enter the dry sauna. It's really hot in there and you will sweat like you've never sweat before. You will notice your Russian hosts are eager to beat you with their birchwood branches, so you lie on one of the sauna benches while someone hits and rubs your back, legs and chest with the leaves.
This process has a strange effect on the body. It's not so much painful as it is hot - as the leaves hit you they intensify the very hot air and raise the skin temperature to a point where you feel you are almost glowing. Combine this with the heady smell of the steaming birchwood leaves and you feel like the birchwood is penetrating right though your body. No wonder the Russians love their birchwood trees! If you're new to this try to keep the beatings short and less intense .. the veterans like to hit each other quite vigorously and do it for longer periods. It is also very amusing to see the Russians hitting themselves .. it looks a little like religious flagellation, except that their bodies are covered with small leaves :)
The Russians hit each other in this way, not because they are sado-masochists, but because it supposedly has a detoxifying effect on the body. Certainly, you feel like you are breathing a combination of pure oxygen and fire during a banya session as the heat combined with the scent of the leaves really open up the lungs and clear the sinuses.
After you are done being whipped everybody vacates the sauna and heads straight for the ice-cold plunge pool. It's hard not to scream as your skin temperature drops from 100 degrees Celsius to about 5 degrees in a few milliseconds - but after a few moments it becomes quite pleasant and the effect is invigorating. In winter, some Russians like to roll naked in the -20 degree snow in place of the plunge pool, but I'll leave that up to the experts!
So after you've been toasted, whipped, and frozen, the next stage - the drinking of the vodka - is child's play. Down goes a shot of vodka with a cheers 'for health' (za zda-rO-vye!), and before you know it you've got your banya hat back on ready for another round. The whole process can be repeated 3 to 5 times depending on your stamina, and by the end you'll probably feel (and look) like a piece of jello.
Having been to banyas on numerous occasions I can attest to the sheer enjoyment of the experience if you do it with a fun group of people, .. but as to the claimed health benefits .. well .. :) after a few hours of banya I can hardly move, my mind is paralysed from the extreme hot, cold, and vodka, and I always end up with a stupid grin on my face! Nevertheless, you can be sure you'll sleep well at night!
As an aside, I have heard some anecdotal stories of guys having heart attacks from the shock of putting the body through the extremes of temperature over and over again. However, this is purely hearsay on my part and you should probably make up your own mind. Please be cautious, though, if you have a heart condition.
Outside of a family gathering, when Russian friends get together for a banya it is usually organised into single-sex groups. This is because Russians prefer to do banya naked, and seem to be less shy about their bodies amongst their friends than Westerners. Whereas girls in the USA, Canada, or England etc might like to meet at a cafe for hot coffee and cake, the Russian girls sometimes like to get together for a naked banya in groups of 5 or 6 .. the mind boggles :)
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There is so much to say about the Russian banya (bath-house; sauna) experience that I couldn't fit it all into this side-text.
Please see the short essay below the menu buttons.
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