O.G.H. Savage

The Gus Master

Sauna Cartoon

I’ve decided to write about health. Clearly, it’s a rather large priority. Neglect it, and you could possibly die, and that’s the biggest biggy of them all. Due to the large amount of sauna-based thoughts I’ve been having recently (mostly while actually in the sauna) I will attempt to do this through my sauna musings. I seriously doubt that people are as interested in sauna life as I am, but it’s certainly worth a shot. A lot can be gained from the sauna; it’s full of awkwardness and social perils. Maybe this is more about awkwardness than health. I can’t really tell. 

I’m at the swimming pool and there’s a man doing what can only be described as a reverse jellyfish technique, sprawling into my swim space with each backward motion. Clearly, he’s unirked by this, but I grow increasingly peeved with every stroke. That’s it, I think. I have to bomb past him full strength and assert my dominance.

It’s an absurd jellyfish technique anyway. What muscles does that help? If he’s ever in a tight swim situation and needs to demonstrate his skill, he won’t be impressing or saving anyone but slowly massaging his way back through the water with a blissful expression on a face pointing up to the pool’s ceiling. In fact, it’s the exact sort of swim behaviour that in a film would have you eaten by a shark. They never get the ones doing front crawl. Peeved, I move through the changing rooms towards the sauna.

In the sauna, it’s not only the revealing of skin that enhances vulnerability, it’s as if our personalities become nude too. A man furthest away from me stares into space, one arm folded across his lap, covered by his hunched torso. There is a consistent clang and the sound of dripping. The occasional wash of the shower. Steam clings to everything. As I try to stare into space and disengage from thought, the man to my right, who had previously been lying face down, a morsel of towel dubiously acting as a barrier between his penis and the slats of the bench, sits up and moves too close to the man to his left. The invisible sauna barrier has been broken.

Any situation where we sit among each other and words lose their meaning is a challenge. One must excuse oneself with only body language, using a body that is challengingly nude. Knowing where to look in the sauna is at least doubly as hard as in any other circumstance. Normally, you may look down at your lap, or flash your eyes around the room, pretending to scan the social horizon. In the sauna, however, gazing at your own nude lap is an odd move and a quick scan brings with it an equal chance of an encounter with an often ghastly piece of flesh.

I try to use the sauna for meditative purposes, but this time my attempt at sauna-based meditation is thwarted. It seems that the public sauna is a place for the lonely to engage in an inappropriate amount of steamy conversation. Today it’s an old Englishman, discussing the lack of industry in Cornwall. You would’ve thought the Danish sauna would be free of such chats. I’d like it if these conversations could be moved elsewhere to some sort of community centre so that I can achieve peace of mind.

There’s about a 50:50 nude-to-trunk ratio at the public pool sauna, but one man sits with his swimming shorts a bit too slipped down, revealing his arse crack. It’s interesting that even in a scenario where half of the people in the room are fully naked, this remains a serious faux pas. There is a fundamental lack of dignity to being stuck in between clothed and naked, as evidenced by the ignominy of the attempt to change at the beach. Nothing could be worse than being stuck mid towel change in front of hundreds of people, perhaps even toppling over while semi or even fully nude.

The English are so awkward on the beach that I think that beach tactics should be introduced into the school curriculum. Lesson one: conducting the beach-clothing-change
-via-towel with dignity. Lesson two: learning to walk on small stones in a manner that does not suggest they are shards of glass. Lesson three: just stop being English on the beach. In fact, don’t even go in the first place. Stay where you’re comfortable.

The other day, I attended a SaunaGus with my friend Señor Tradge, a kind of sauna-based ritual where you sit around in extreme heat and somebody plays music and waves incredibly hot air at you. The leader of this affair is called the Gus Master and I deem this to be one of the funniest job titles in the entire world. It reminds me of one of my most embarrassing intellectual moments, where I thought that the toastmaster at a wedding was actually responsible for the preparation of toast.

I have a complicated relationship with toast because my Nan — one of my main carers as a child — symbolically equated toast with everything being ok. One day, as I left the house with my uncle-in-law, she shuffled up to the gate. I remember it being cold and dark outside, and it always smelt of the chemicals being used to restore antiques, sawn wood, and bonfires.

‘Don’t worry’. She said, her giant face hilariously lit out of the darkness, her even more giant glasses magnifying an intense pair of eyes.

‘Because in the morning, there’ll be toast’.

Far from a cheer-up or a philosophical statement, this was just plain mad.

I’ve actually been intending to make an exhibition about my nan called Nannerisms for quite some time now. I’ll have to put it (back) on the back burner to get this sauna essay done, but it will be a combination of nan photos, nan stories, and racist letters she sent to me in the winter of 2014, mainly about why she hates Kikkoman Soy Sauce.

Anyhow, this particular Master of the Gus was full of revelatory comments about how SaunaGus had changed his life. He said he was previously having constant panic attacks but had now achieved a form of unwavering Gus-based zen. Although the point of the SaunaGus is clearly to induce relaxation and the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, he performed a kind of Gus pep talk before the session which involved warning us that if at one point we felt we quite literally couldn’t stand the heat, then we would simply have to control our minds. At this point, I caught Señor Tradge’s eye in acknowledgement that we were both out of our spiritual, mental, and physical depth.

Due to my own nervous system being fairly unsympathetic, I was on edge before the first spiritual scent had been unleashed. At what point is it ok to tell an almost nude man waving hot air at you that you are a bit too hot, unable to control your mind in the way he had hoped, and possibly on the verge of a quite serious panic attack?

It’s easy to (like the GusMaster) think that one major change in lifestyle or engagement in a new activity is the answer to your problems. For him, it probably worked. A new thing can trigger a move towards other positive behaviours and make a fundamental difference to your life. In my case, I see the sauna — despite its many flaws — as one aspect of maintaining a healthy body and in turn a healthy mind.

I’m sure a lot of my fellow sauna dwellers feel the same and have also suffered greatly from the number of sauna closures we have faced in the last few years. In two recent crises that Denmark has faced — pandemic and energy — I have noticed that the sauna has been the first thing sacrificed. It’s on the list of things to symbolically close in a sticky situation. Not only does it have the misfortune of being deemed superfluous, but is both a germ incubator and a user upper of energy par excellence.

I think it is a mistake that the first things we think to close in threatening situations are those that people use to maintain their physical and mental health. It reflects a failure in priorities and shows that we do not properly factor these into how we manage societies. I’m more passionate about saunas than I realise. Perhaps I’ll try to join some sort of sauna board and fight for sauna-related freedoms. We’ll probably have our meetings in the sauna, attempting to take minutes on paper wet with condensation and having to leave the meeting room just before crucial decisions are made due to excessive heat. I’ll have to give this some more thought.

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