Tuesday, 12 March 2013

In Praise of the Nude

This week I went to the Ukraine in search of ancestral roots. In Lviv I marveled at Art Nouveau architecture, bought pickled mushrooms from babushkas, and found my great-grandmother's house dwarfed by brutalist Soviet blocks (more on that soon).

And yet, what impressed me most were the Russian-style steam-baths, the banyas.

A local recommended one that hadn't changed since the 1960s. In front of the Communist building, an old lady sold branches of birch, chestnut and fir-trees. Inside, hoards of threadbare males abounded. Old men, tadpoles, big boys. There was something intensely pagan about getting naked together, sweating, and beating each other with hot leaves. Casually homoerotic too. 

After the steam room, we jumped into ice-cold pools and got lie-down massages in front of everyone. The sartorial Perestroika was as addictive as it was liberating. It also made me realise what an unnecessary fuss most cultures and religions make about getting naked; how limiting the towels of saunas and hamams really are.  

Time to free our inner naturalist.

Branches in the Banya

Lily Cole by Juergen Teller

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