The first rule about ladies' day at the Russian Baths is don't talk about ladies' day at the Russian Baths.
But I'm going to talk about it just a little bit.
After checking in with an old Russian man, and then changing into a toga-like robe provided by the bath house, I walked down rickety stairs into a moist room occupied by approximately thirty naked women of all shapes, sizes, colors and ages. There's a dry sauna and hot steam room to the left, and a freezing cold pool in the middle. And to the right there are several massage stalls, a warm steam room, and then a hot, hot, hot Russian sauna.
I ditched my robe and started with the the Russian sauna, which is clearly the pride and joy of the establishment, with large wooden benches and a stone floor. A woman sat meditating, facing the wall, in a small corner. There are several faucets constantly running, streaming cold water into white plastic buckets, which people dip their towels in and squeeze over themselves, or, more often, grab the entire bucket and pour the contents over their bodies. It's a shock to the system, but no matter, you're hot again in moments. It feels pretty great.
I moved from room to room fairly frequently, and ended up chatting with one young woman in the hot steam room. She told me that a lot of the women had been coming there for years, and in fact she had been coming there for four years.
I told her that I had decided to stop going to therapy and go there instead.
"It's actually cheaper than therapy," I said.
She laughed. "And better for you. I come every week, and if I miss a week, my friends can tell. They say, 'You didn't go, did you? You're mean this week.'"
There's clearly some internal democracy at work there, as well. As I sat in the medium heat steam room, a black woman, a belt of rasta beads around her mid-section, walked in and said, "It smells funky in here, doesn't it?" The British woman lying next to me agreed with her.
"Hold on," she said. She walked out, and came back with a small spray bottle filled with a peppermint oil. She spritzed it, and the room suddenly became pleasant. "This room always smells a little funky. I don't know why." She relaxed for a few minutes and left.
A few minutes later the British women left, and then a mother and daughter came in and sat down. The daughter and had spike piercings on either side of her mouth, and her ears were pierced with those large tribal hoop earrings that stretch out the bottom of your ears. She had tattoos all over her body. Her mother was grey-haired and pleasant looking. They had the exact same physique - pale and slender, with small, high breasts, and could have been body doubles, except for the tattoos on her daughter.
"It smells good in here," said the mother.
"Yea, who do you think did it?" said the daughter.
"It must have been C.C."
The daughter smiled, and then leaned in and whispered something to her mother, and then they both laughed. Later on I saw them in the locker room, and I saw the mother put on men's underpants.
I took a break, sitting on the edge of the pool with other women who were cooling off. Some women were massaging others with oils, or applying mud to each other, all over their bodies. Others were zoned out. Older Russian women wearing the toga robes walked around soliciting guests for massages. No one really talked, but if they did, it was in a quiet voice.
I stayed for about two hours. I had lunch plans which forced me to leave, but I don't think I could stay too much longer than that. I don't know if you're really supposed to. I felt really quiet afterwards, and really loose. It was a far different experience than the one I had at Yi Pak, another low-rent New York day spa. I sort of liked this one more, probably because it's clearly a community, albeit a naked sweaty one.