I was naked except for a pair of plastic sandals and the brown felt version of Gilligan’s hat. My friend, Kiril, was unadorned in the exact same manner. He was also beating me with birch branches.
I’m told this is a Ukrainian tradition.
I probably shouldn’t have told his mother, Larissa, that I’d had a sore throat, because she had been making me gargle five times a day with a mixture of water, salt and iodine. His father, Sergei, made me sit and eat salted raw onion with him, also thought to be a great cure. Stranger still was that they both thought the ultimate cure for me was a visit to the neighbor’s banya.
The banya, or bath house, is a 2,000 year old Slavic tradition that goes like this: you sit in a sauna, you sit in a steam room, you get beaten with birch branches, you dive into an ice cold pool, you repeat.
Have I mentioned that Ukraine is the country where Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was born? It is from his name and his writings that we get “masochism.”