For Valentine’s day, 2019, Rosana and I were going to be in Chicago which was, at the time, in the midst of a record-breaking polar vortex. Why did we choose the coldest place in the entire country for our getaway? Because round trip tickets were 40 dollars, that’s why.
I decided my gift to Ro would be an entire day of activities, starting with taking in the art at the Chicago art institute, followed by oysters and champagne at a French bar, and finally ending at Red Square Spa, an infamous Chicago spa, once the favourite spot of Al Capone. I had made reservations previously and the place had GLOWING reviews. A couple weeks earlier one of my friends had been raving about this “platza” he had gotten at the local spa in Greenpoint. He claimed he slept better than he ever had, his cold was cured, and his skin had never been clearer. What is more romantic than the gift of clear skin and good sleep on Valentine’s Day thought I, an adult in her late 20s who genuinely thinks getting good sleep is sexy. I immediately booked us both for the “Russian/Turkish Spa” special after seeing that it included a platza.
Did I ask my friend who raved about the platza what a platza is? No. Did I google what a platza is like before booking this as a valentines day treat for my partner? Also no. I had no fear, not a clue in the world about what goes down in Russian spas.
First impressions of Red Square Spa- very soviet, lots of concrete, a faint smell of sauerkraut in the air. Five to six old, large, hairy men speaking Russian smiled and raised the sausages they had on their forks as we walked in, in a gesture of goodwill. Ro looked at me, extremely unsure about where I had brought her, and I reassured her with “Al Capone LOVED it here!” then shortly realized thereafter I had just cited another large, older man as a reference.
I am not squeamish, but spending our first Valentine’s day in a sauna with multiple old man testicles within 4 feet of my body was not my idea of a good time. Thankfully, I discovered the spa was sectioned off by gender. A very large sigh of relief was followed by the receptionist telling us to get naked in the dressing room and follow her into the women’s spa.
We undressed, put on our robes, and walked into a BEAUTIFUL and completely empty spa room. It was just us, three hot tubs, dry & wet saunas, and wine on delivery. All we had to do was call the receptionist and she would come down to refill our wine glasses. I patted myself on the back. What an amazing Valentine’s day gift Sarah, you were right to trust the instincts of Al Capone, he would never lead you astray.
In my state of sheer bliss, I had completely forgotten about the platza.
As we soaked in the hot tub an old, ripped, and sinewy woman wearing a tiny felt hat snuck into the room. I instantly thought her hat was hilarious and had a nice little giggle at her choice of headwear. She neither looked at nor spoke to us, but went about bringing buckets of an unknown liquid into the dry spa, and eventually carrying in towels and a table.
Me, having little to no perceptive skills, didn’t think anything of it. Ro on the other hand started to realize that this was probably the woman giving us our “massages”. Eventually, she came out of the 145-degree dry sauna and shouted “ROSANA? PLATZA” right into our very tranquil faces.
Ro looked at me, then at the old woman with biceps twice the size of my head, and very hesitantly indicated she was Rosana. I sat back in the hot tub, sipped on my wine, and felt extremely pleased with myself for coordinating this wonderful, calming, experience for us as Ro was taken into the sauna.
The first sign of trouble was when the simultaneously small and huge old woman left the sauna after about a minute, coming back with four large eucalyptus branches in her beefy arms. She entered the room with the branches and I thought, those must be for ambience.
Then after another 5 minutes, Ro emerged. Before I could say, “Am I the best girlfriend or what”, the crypt keeper/bodybuilder pulled a lever that hung outside the sauna door, shooting water down from the ceiling and pummeling Ro.
Ro’s eyes shot open in shock. The smile faded from my face.
Is being waterboarded part of the Russian spa experience???? Both of us were equally confused by the turn of events.
The czar of muscles laughed and said “one-minute break, you did good” and ushered a now shivering Ro to sit down in the hot tub for a bit.
“….How was the massage?” I asked trying to distract Ro from potentially strangling me using whatever strength she had left post water torture.
“That isn’t a massage. I don’t know WHAT that is.”
I begged her to give me details, but she said “You’ll find out when it’s your turn.”
The grim reaper/CrossFit champion came back and summoned Ro back into the sauna. Ro took a very deep breath, presumably all the courage she had left, and walked back into whatever the fuck a platza was.
5 minutes later she came back out and was once again sprayed forcefully with a hose of cold water. Ro maintained direct eye contact with me the entire time she was hosed.
Was this Al Capone’s favourite spa… because he tortured people here?! Is that why there is a huge hose coming out of the ceiling and this buff grandma has no problem pulling the lever?! Had my blind faith in Al Capone’s beauty regimen guided me into a place of pain and not relaxation?
Ro sat in the hot tub next to me, downed the rest of her wine, smirked at me and whispered “your turn.”
How bad could a massage be?
The fitness coach/AARP member could smell my fear, came over and took my hand with her soft, somehow still muscley fingers, and led me into the 145-degree sauna. She laid me down on the table and placed what seemed to be, a soaking wet, dirty rag over my entire face.
Oh so, THIS is how I die, I thought. She is obviously going to kill me and harvest my organs. Why else would she put this disgusting wet towel over my eyes, nose, and mouth? She’s going to suffocate me.
I peeked out from under the rag as the strong lady dipped a branch into the steaming bucket. That’s weird I thought as I felt the first smack of the branch and leaves. She had, with all her might, raised the branch above her head, dripping with VERY hot oils, and then brought it down directly onto my chest.
Why? This was the only thought going through my head as I struggled to breathe through the steaming towel covering my mouth.
This cannot be something people pay actual human money for? Why is the most ripped grandma in the world beating me with scalding hot branches? What sins am I atoning for?
She repeated this process across the entire front of my body. I was actually beginning to hyperventilate and was about to rip the rag off my face when she flipped me over. I didn’t flip myself over, she tossed me like a bag of skittles.
“Could we take a quick break? It’s very hot in here.” I squeaked out between beatings.
“no. almost done.”
This woman could break my spine in two with her small, buff hands so I didn’t argue.
When she ceased the assault, she led me off the table and outside the sauna. I was actually very excited about the rush of cold water I knew awaited me. Until I felt how cold the water truly was.
The water that hit my body at warp speed was so cold it actually knocked me off my feet. Ro watched in horror as the water hit me and I quickly folded in half to the ground.
I’m gonna pass out. I’m gonna pass out and die in this Russian spa. Maybe I’ll go on to haunt it with my buddy Al. Maybe Ro will come to visit our spirits occasionally if she ever forgives me for putting her through this.
Ro got up from the hot tub, walked over to my shaking body, and very gently said “now we know what a platza is.”
After the second session of attacks with flaming hot leaves, I convinced the woman to take pity on me and not waterboard me afterwards. She reluctantly agreed, and I was grateful the process was over.
But the process wasn’t over.
We still had the “Sea salt glow.”
Ok. A little exfoliating. I have exfoliated before. Compared to the light torture I just endured anything would be a breeze.
Wrong. wrong again. God damn you, Al Capone, why didn’t Wikipedia warn me you were a sadist?
A different lady in an equally small felt cap came down and took us both into the massage room. She put on what looked like giant mittens and lathered sea salt scrub onto our entire bodies.
This is actually kinda nice, a little grainy, but not bad I thought.
Then she started rubbing in the salt with the gloves. The gloves were the exact same texture as brillo pads. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were actually made up of brillo pads. I kept accidentally letting my groans of pain escape my mouth as Rosana winced and rolled around the table to avoid the scratching of the mittens.
The woman lifted up my arms, threw some salt in there, then scrubbed my armpits as hard as she could with the brillo gloves. I started tearing up.
It was nice having skin, I’ll miss having an exterior layer protecting my muscles. I looked at Ro who was also beginning the grieving process.
We eventually left the spa bright red with scratches and whiplash marks on our backs. The older gentlemen posted up at the bar raised their vodka martinis at us. We had survived. Good for us.
Turns out, paying over 100 dollars to have you and your partner beaten, scratched and waterboarded is not the most romantic Valentine’s day present, but my god I have NEVER slept as deeply as I did that night.
Happy Valentine’s day babe, from Russia with Love, Sarah.