Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sauna Talk


“Naaaht chaatt kaa ghaaa.”
“Quaattt….naha nah haummm…..”

Giggles, eyes shining, nods. PP closes her eyes and slumbers in the spacey sauna zone to a language completely foreign. Maybe some African language? Ethiopia? Eritrea? Ghana? PP knows that Oakland has communities of all these countries. The two women are dark skinned and ample. Their towels spread out under them on the warm wooden benches. The one closest to PP has some sort of silvery glitter substance spread all over her body, the tiny fragments falling at her bare feet looking like little bits of jade broken glass. The smell of pine and incense. Her face is covered in some sort of green goo mask.

What women won’t do to look beautiful? Or feel better? Or just commune?

“Nahhhatt…cha cha queee….”

More giggles. The gossip of women in saunas is such a part of the swim experience for PP. Has been for so many years. These women, because PP can’t understand even one word of their conversation, not only lull her into a spacey musical relaxation, but also take her back to her days in China, sitting in the sauna after one of her crazy chilly chaotic swims. The women chatting and laughing in Chinese, of course. PP completely cut off from the specifics of their gossip, yet a part of it too in some homey periphery sense.

Today, Glitter Substance Woman turns and smiles over at PP while her friend sighs as she wipes herself off with paper towels. “Ugh! So much sweating!” she exclaims.

PP smiles in happy commiseration. That is the idea, right? Yet, PP rarely can last long enough in the sauna to work up any kind of sweat. Especially after her long swim. She’s just beat and needs to warm up the neck muscles a bit before taking a shower.

“You swim, yes?” Paper Towel Sweating Woman asks.
“Yeah,” PP nods, glancing down at her bright pink Speedo. Duh!
“Swimming. It is the best!” PTSW exclaims. “Where I come from, swimming is what people do in lakes.”
PP means to ask where she comes from but is too spaced out to follow up with the clarification question in a speedy enough way, and can instead only muster a nod and murmur, ‘Oh yes. Swimming is the best.”

PTSW nods and rises. Off to get another batch of PT. So, PP has the opportunity to ask Glitter Woman what she’s got all over her. Which she does.
“Sea Salt,” she answers. “It is for the itching of the skin. 24 hours I put the sea salt on. Then no itch. Till go to doctor.”
”Wow, that’s cool,” PP nods in wonder. She had no idea that sea salt had such anti-itch properties. The things you learn at the YMCA!
“Yes. And the mask it is green mask.”
”What’s that for?” PP asks.
“For the pores. To open the pores.”
”Ah….”

PP sees women at the Y with various strange masks on, white, green, orange (no, she’s just making that one up.) Never having tried one herself, PP has always thought them a bit weird. But hell, whatever works, right? Earlier she’d seen two women applying some sort of red dark gooey substance on each other’s hair. Then wrapping up their heads in towels (what does that do to the snowy white Y towels, PP wonders) and ducking into the sauna for a heat set- in. (At least that’s PP’s assumption. Who knows what the heat in the sauna does to the red goo. Maybe it just melts all down their faces, necks, and breasts, and creates some kind of healthful skin film.)

Suddenly exhausted, PP sits up and stretches in the warm, sexy glow of the sauna as the unknown foreign gossip starts up again, “Naahggtt…..cha cshhaa….”

Funny how women the world over all behave the same in the gym. It’s a place to relax, catch up on gossip, get a beauty treatment.

Oh, and sometimes, a little bit of a workout happens along the way.

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