The Sunday Magazine

Steamed, iced and thrashed: David Gutnick goes to a Russian banya

This is a story about the silver lining in the cloud, about hunches and good health, about being open to a new experience and finding it in the strangest places. It is a tale from the road about a documentary producer who is forced to confront a problem; a problem that takes him to a Russian banya in Brooklyn.

A Russian steam bath and a tale from the road

Pyotr getting ready to beat David Gutnick with branches in Brooklyn. (David Gutnick)

Originally published on August 25, 2013.

David Gutnick was in downtown Brooklyn working on a story. His throat was on fire. His head was stuffed with cotton batten. His legs felt weak. He was achy, starting to get the shivers.

That evening, he had a big interview lined up in Manhattan. But in his current state, just the idea of it made him want to curl up in a fetal position on his hotel room bed. But he had made a promise and there'd be no second chance to do the interview.

When a couple of Ibuprofens didn't do the trick, Gutnick phoned his producer in Canada. She suggested he find a steam bath. Sweating works wonders she explained. 

Finding a steam bath in Brooklyn was no great challenge. The borough is home to 300,000 Russian immigrants in Borough Park, Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay. The place is alive with Russian style steam baths. So Gutnick dragged himself to a Sandoony, a Russian banya or bath ... where he was steamed, iced and thrashed.

Click 'listen' above to hear the documentary.

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