Let me tell you a little something about that trip to the sauna…
So, I had booked a massage at a sauna about a mile or so from my hotel on my first full day in Amsterdam. My back never really feels great, my dad always says, “Man is not entirely ready to walk upright”. Add to that the fact that I had attempted to sleep during the 8 hour flight, while sitting upright and balancing my head so as to not awkwardly lean against the elderly gentleman sitting next to me or droop into the aisle where I would undoubtedly be crushed by a beverage cart. So a back massage sounded lovely.
All my life I’ve aimed to be early. And this day was no different. I was two hours early. I had walked down to the area where the sauna was located at about 10 o’clock in the morning. I took a canal tour, enjoyed a cup of coffee, and saw a ton of really old buildings. The walk back to the hotel seemed impractical at this point, so I headed to the sauna just in case they could squeeze me in early.
Upon entering the area that served as a lobby I could see into the main space of the sauna. There was a portion of the lobby that was sectioned off with a glass wall and a small pool occupied the space behind it. A bronze structure adorned the ceiling and a grand staircase ascended to the second floor lobby. The air was warm and wet.
A very thin woman in her 50s dressed entirely in black was perched at a tiny desk at the entryway to the main space. I politely introduced myself and explained that I had an appointment in a couple of hours, but was already in the area. She looked at me as though I must have some more information to share that would make these statements relevant to her currently. I didn’t. She finally said that I was welcomed to sit in the main space, but clothes were not permitted. Oh. Ok.
Wait-what, clothes are not permitted!?
Now, I’m probably not the MOST modest person, but I haven’t even worn a two piece bathing suit to a beach in well over a decade, let alone EVER skinny dipped, or been in public without clothes. The only occasion that I’ve been close is at the OB office and even then they give you a jacked up tissue paper vest. So, I politely ask if it’s ok to sit in the tiny wicker chair at the other end of the hall that is obviously not really a place where anyone EVER sits, but really just decoration meant to fill that space. And I sit. I contemplate leaving. I consider what being naked in this lovely room might feel like. I conclude it will feel like a nightmare, a nightmare that takes place in an OB office. I watch the room to see what a room of naked Dutch people looks like and to my delight and relief I see that while clothes are not permitted, towels are.
So I eagerly pay my extra two euros for a very large towel that provides plenty of coverage. That’s when I discover that the changing room, is a giant open room with lockers around the perimeter and it is co-ed. But I’ve convinced myself I’m on board now and I rationalize that I don’t know anyone for thousands of miles anyway. So I nonchalantly wedge myself as far as possible behind the tiny locker door while I make every effort to take off my clothes without ever actually being naked. In the midst of trying to keep at least one layer of covering on at all times I periodically lose my balance and bang loudly into the metal lockers. All this so that a man who is clearly in his 80s, and doesn’t seem to care even in the slightest that I am there, can’t see me.
Once I am wrapped in my towel I go and excruciatingly awkwardly perch myself on a long leather sofa (leather, seriously in a place where people are meant to be naked and wet!?)and just sit there-really awkwardly. People wander in and out of the shower areas, or the swimming pool or this other weird section where it appears that people are washing their feet, or something. Sometimes they have their towels, and sometimes they do not. It seems that time has stopped and I’ve found myself in a lost stanza of the Divine Comedy.
Mostly these are not people you’d get all hot and bothered over seeing naked. They are regular people, middle aged and older. And they do not appear to feel awkward at all, not even when they walk by the decidedly uncomfortable American woman sitting on the sofa. I finally got a magazine, a Time magazine, published in Dutch. I looked at the pictures and tried to appear less weird. I’m not sure I did, but I’m fairly sure no one cared.
Eventually, I had a glorious massage and felt nominally less strange when I got dressed again in the locker room. If someone had been giving out awards for tiny victories I would have gotten mine for living outside of my comfort zone that afternoon. Ultimately this was my fun-sized moment to define, to shape, to experience. Suddenly I recognized that I’d been cast in a whole new play. Hell. I was the director of a whole new play.