• Who doesn’t love a sauna?

    Saunas travel well

    I love saunas. I can remember when I first discovered the wood-fired version on a Swedish archipelago. The health-giving properties are obvious. It transforms your skin. You feel great – especially after the cold plunge. 

    But to the Anglo mind, it has always been an exotic, foreign kind of experience. For some reason, the sauna idea didn’t travel with the Vikings. That’s surprising, since it’s an idea that clearly spread far. 

    Everyone loves a sauna

    Of course, as soon as I’d discovered the Swedish sauna, I discovered it wasn’t the preserve of the Swedes. In fact, sauna isn’t even a Swedish word. It’s Finnish. Swedes call them bastu

    Russians have their banya. The Turks have their hammam. And then there are the amazing historical discoveries…

    I’m reading the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. (Why, you ask? That’s another story). In them, he relates his time in the Pacific North-West in 1852, when he rubbed shoulders with local native tribes. 

    This is what he has to say about a strange practice they used for curing illness:

    Something like a bake-oven was built, large enough to admit a man lying down. Bushes were stuck in the ground in two rows, about six feet long and some two or three feet apart; other bushes connected the rows at one end. The tops of the bushes were drawn together to interlace, and confined in that position; the whole was then plastered over with wet clay until every opening was filled. Just inside the open end of the oven the floor was scooped out so as to make a hole that would hold a bucket or two of water. These ovens were always built on the banks of a stream, a big spring, or pool of water. When a patient required a bath, a fire was built near the oven and a pile of stones put upon it. The cavity at the front was then filled with water. When the stones were sufficiently heated, the patient would draw himself into the oven; a blanket would be thrown over the open end, and hot stones put into the water until the patient could stand it no longer. He was then withdrawn from his steam bath and doused into the cold stream near by. 

    Just one more thing that came across the Bering Strait to the Americas long before the European discovery. 

    While we’re talking saunas, fancy a cold plunge? Read about The Baltic Cure For Fear

  • Uncivilising

    Barefoot standing on sand and shells in the sea
    Rewinding civilisation (Photo by Nirzar Pangarkar)

    A clash of civilisations is indeed underway, but I’m not talking about Islam versus the West. I’m talking about a clash between civilisation as we have come to understand it, and its unraveling in pursuit of something better. 

    The revolution won’t be televised

    This clash is between people who instinctively want things to stay the way they always were (or rather, have been for a long time), and people who want to find new ways of living (or rather, resurrect older ways of living). 

    Unschooling, ‘barefoot’ footwear, chucking out the TV, rejecting car and plane travel, eating only local produce, being anti-plastic, sitting on the floor rather than in a chair, burning your bra, buying experiences instead of bling. 

    What do all these micro-tribes, these mini-movements, have in common? They are all about uncivilising. They are rejections of a highly artificial, manmade way of living in favour of lifestyles stripped back to more authentic essentials. 

    Living in a two-speed world

    It could be assumed that those not taking part in the uncivilising movement would be in the emerging economies where people are experiencing prosperity for the first time. Maybe, but it’s not the whole truth.

    In fact, many innovations that could be part of an uncivilising movement are being led by emerging markets. China, for instance, is innovating for a sustainable urban future better than most Western nations. 

    It’s quite possible that the biggest resistance to uncivilising movements may actually come from people brought up on Western consumer values and with a sense that such manmade commodities are their birthright. 

    Hence the clash of civilisations – or the civilized versus the uncivilised, as it may well be couched – that is already playing out in most Western societies. Things – it seems – are only going to get more tribal, which might just be yet another dimension to the uncivilising phenomenon.