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June 14, 2007

naked with strangers

i've been back for a few days from Germany now, and i'm still dreaming about fresh pretzel bread and all that wee German village bakeries have to offer, local fizzy wine, just-picked asparagus and strawberries, today's catch broiled in a wood-burning oven... hmmm. i must be hungry. no wait, i'm always hungry...
in any case, it was a good visit, and true to my word, we here at HadashiWorld would like to report that it is frickin' AWESOME to get nekkid with a bunch of strangers if it involves a 16-step, 3 1/2 hour spa routine in a gorgeous hundred-year-old Roman-styled series of baths, called Friedrichsbad. basically, you show up and pay a ridiculously small amount of money to a nice person at a counter. you then go to your respective gender's locker room, put every single thing you have on into a locker, and go naked as the day you wuz borned into the Glorious Temple of Bathing. an attendant hands you a towel/sheet thing and a pair of shower slippers, so you don't burn your toes in the beautifully tiled sauna rooms.

here's the basic rundown: shower for 5 minutes, lie in sauna at 54°C (129°F) for 15 minutes, attempt to breathe for at least 5 minutes in the crazy hot 68°C (154°F) sauna, shower again. now for the 2nd best part: get a 15-20 minute massage with soap and a brush from a very expert gender-appropriate attendant who will exfoliate you like you've never thought possible. compare self to cat being brushed and begin to purr. shower again. then sit and think happy thoughts in the steam bath -- there's a sort of pyramid of benches in the middle of the room, and the temperature is hotter towards the top, of course. spend 10 minutes on a lower bench, 5 more towards the top. exit into the thermal baths section, and beware, oh you modest people: this is where it's mixed company. 10 minutes in a smaller pool at 36°C (97°F), 15 minutes in the jacuzzi-like mineral pool at 34°C (93°F), then plunge into the round pool under a glorious rotunda and swim easy laps around it for 5 minutes. you're almost done: back into the gender-separated section. shower yet again. then attempt to not squeal repeatedly as you plunge into the shockingly cold 18°C (64°F) bath. as the cold rejuvenates your every pore, think about the hot towel the attendant is about to wrap you in next. when you're dry, you are given a fresh-smelling lotion that you apply to all that newly-clean skin, head to toe. now the 1st best part: the attendant will take you into a big, airy room with lots of beds. lie down. she or he will then wrap you like a little fresh-smelling burrito in blankets and leave you to blissfully nap for 30 minutes.

ahhh! i get all woozy with pleasure just thinking about the experience. if i lived in Baden-Baden, you can be sure i'd have the yearly pass to go any time. one of the attendants was very surprised i was American; she said not many Americans can deal with the complete nudity, especially not with men and women together. they usually head over to the other big spa, which is more "modern" and requires bathing suits to be worn, but is nowhere near as comfortable or relaxing.
now, i'll never be a nudist, and living in Los Angeles, i think i'm a lot more modest in skin shown than many other women i see regularly. but it seems to me no big deal to be enjoying an age-old bathing tradition in the nude because it's so contextually normal. there was nothing icky or inappropriately sexual about the experience; in fact, people are so in their own little happy worlds no one looks at anyone else, really. it actually felt more comfortable than the locker room at my gym in L.A., where everyone is either bizarrely self-conscious or annoyingly exhibitionist. besides, going through the sixteen steps is so healing and so restorative, that i would think that if by the third shower you're not totally into the experience and still worried about how you look, something's wrong. you're spending over 3 hours honoring your body, cleaning it, resting it, re-energizing it -- that doesn't happen much in the outside world. i came away from Friedrichsbad not only clean on the outside, but feeling much more emotionally clean about myself than usual. being made to appreciate and pamper my little body that doesn't really fit society's definition of the paragon of female beauty made me feel powerfully, deeply lovely. i felt like i'd just had a 3 1/2 hour date with my physical self, and let me tell you, i'd ask me out again in a heartbeat!
so yeah, getting naked with strangers of both genders isn't necessarily for everyone, but it's worth a try. and if it makes you appreciate and love your own body more afterwards, that's even better than the soap massage.

Posted by hadashi at June 14, 2007 9:51 PM

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