Science Interviews

Interview

Fri, 7th Jun 2013

Birch Leaves in the Banya

Dr Andrew Irving, Dundee University, Dr Mark Cunnigham, Newcastle University, Dr Jamie Ainge, St Andrews University

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I took a little interval to immerse myself in Russian culture. Andy Irving took me to the banya. And what, exactly, is one of those? A sauna, including getting whipped by birch leaves. All in the name of getting in touch with the local traditional and demonstrating how our body and brains regulate temperature, or so I was told....

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The Finn Who Would Not Take a Sauna

or The Guy Who Came in from the Cold, by Garrison Keillor.

In Northeast Minnesota, what they call the Iron Range,
Where men are men and that is that, and some things never change;
Where winter stays, nine months a year, there is no spring or fall,
And sometimes it is so cold the mercury can not be seen a t'all.
Where you and I, we normal folks, would shiver, shake and chatter,
And if we used an outhouse we would grow an extra bladder.

But even when it's coldest, when our feet would have no feeling,
Those iron rangers get dressed up and go out snow-mobiling;
Out across the frozen land and make a couple stops,
At Gino's lounge and Rudy's bar for whiskey, beer, and schnapps.
And then they go into a shack that's filled with boiling rocks,
That's hot enough to sterilize even iron ranger's socks.
They sit there until they steam out every sin and every foible,
Then they jump into a frozen lake, and claim that it's "enjoyble".

But there was one, a shy young man, and although he was Finnish,
The joys of winter had for him, long started to diminish.
He was a Finn, the only Finn, who would not take a sauna.
"It isn't that I can't," he said, "I simply do not wanna."
And so he staid close by his stove for nine months of the year,
Because he was so sensitive to change in "tempacheer."

His friends said, "Come on Toyvle, let's go out to Sunfish lake.
A Finn who don't take saunas? Why, there must be some mistake."
But Toyvle said, "There's no mistake, I know that I would freeze;
In water colder than myself - 98.6 degrees.
To jump into a frozen lake is not my fondest wish,
For just because I am a Finn, don't mean that I'm a fish."

One night He went to Eveleth, to attend the miners ball;
If you have not danced in Eveleth you've never danced a t'all.
And he met a Finnish beauty there who turned his head around;
She was broad of beam, and when she danced, she shook the frozen ground.
She grabbed that shy young man in hand and swept him off his feet,
And bounced him up and down until he learned that Polka beat.
She was as strong as any man, she was as fair as she was wide,
And when the dance was over, he asked her to be his bride.
She looked him over carefully; she said, "You're kinda thin,
But you must have some courage, if it's true you are a Finn."
"I ain't particular about men, I am no prima donna,
But I would never marry one who would not take a sauna."

They got into her pickup truck and down the road they drove,
And fifteen minutes later they were stoken' up the stove.
She had a flask of whiskey, they had a couple toots,
And went into the shack and got into their birthday suits.
She steamed him and she boiled him until his skin turned red;
She poured it on until his brains were boiling in his head.
To improve his circulation and to soften up his hide,
She got a couple birch boughs and she beat him 'till he cried,
"OH, couldn't you just love me now, oh, don't you think you can?",
She said, "It's time to go outside and show you are a man."

Straight way, because he loved her so, and thought his heart would break,
He jumped right up and out the door and ran down to the lake.
And though he paused a moment, when he saw the lake was frozen,
And tried to think just which snow bank his love had put his clothes'en.
When he thought of his true love, he didn't have to think twice,
He just picked up his frozen feet and raced across the ice.
And coming to the hole that they had cut there with an ax,
Putting common sense aside, ignoring all the facts,
He LEAPED, o-h-h, what a leap, and as he dove beneath the surface,
It thrilled him to his very soul and also made him "nerface."
And it wasn't just the tingling cold he felt from limb to limb,
He cried, "My love, I'm finished -- I forgot -- I cannot swim!"

She fished him out, and stood him up, and gave him an embrace,
That warmed his very heart and made the blood rush to his face.
"I love you darling, dear," she cried, "I love you with all my might",
and she drove him to Biwabik, and he married her that night.
They live happily to this day, although they sometimes quarrel,
And there, I guess, the story ends, except for this, the moral -

Marriage, friends, is not a banquet, Love is no free lunch,
You cannot dabble 'round the edge, but each must take the "plunch."
Though marriage like that frozen lake, may sometimes make us colder,
It has it's pleasures to, as you may find out when you're older. Pecos_Bill, Wed, 9th Sep 2015

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