Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I woke up this morning with a headache and decided I needed to get my circulation going. I told Marko and he suggested avantouinti. Hmmm...

Marko took me to the Finnish Sauna Society sauna where we hung out in traditional smoke saunas for awhile with a bunch of naked Finnish men. The saunas were covered in soot from the way they prepare them using real wood fires. The experience was about as similar to saunas back home as eating real sushi in Japan is similar to eating California supermarket sushi.

After we were thoroughly heated, we sauntered out to a hole in the ocean and jumped in. Avantouinti! ("ice hole swimming" in Finnish) For a moment I lost touch with my limbs and wasn't sure I'd make it out, but I survived. Then, we did a rinse, heat, repeat. The second time around was much easier and thoroughly enjoyable and it did indeed get my circulation going.

One funny thing I noticed was that every time something strange was about to happen, Marko would say, "this is VERY traditional." I remember when I was taking Marko around Japan, that's what I would say to him when I was about to feed him something pretty weird.

Anyway, Marko may have been trying to get me back for feeding him snapping turtle in Kyoto, but I enjoyed my avantouinti very much and recommend it to anyone who gets a chance.


Ah, but did you have him try the frozen sliced squid?

So did Marko whip you with a birch branch? Good tradition.

One reason that sauna is the centerpiece of traditional Finnish and Estonian culture stems from architecture. When a family built a house, they built the sauna first alongside it, a warm (but smoky) place to stay while the rest of the house was being constructed. During impossible Winters, it was a necessary invention.

Don't read too much into the differences, but this parallels the hearth in American architecture. Early settlers would build the hearth first and often reside in what would become the living room. Adjoining rooms were built out, but the source of heat stayed at the center.

Anthropologists speculate that Finno Urgic tribes spread eastward from the Ural mountains too, through northern Asia, crossing to Alaska and as far as central America. Perhaps Finnish saunas have more of a tie to the smoke huts of Native Americans than we will every realize.