There is more to life than food and wine. There is also shmeissing. Put the three of these together and you have yourself a hell of an evening. One that in this country, as far as I know, can only be had at Banya No 1.
But, of course, you are English, uptight, body-shamed and goyishe. What do you know from shmeissing? If I tell you it originated in Jewish pre-Soviet Russia and involves being beaten with birch twigs and oak branches, you will no doubt assume that it was some sort of torture inflicted upon weeping Hebrews by bloodthirsty Cossacks for an Easter celebration. But if you have any sort of an ear for Yiddish, or for language generally, then you can surely hear that “shmeissing” is a good thing.
Say it aloud. Say it slowly. Relish the syllables. The Jewishness of the opening compound consonant, “Shme …” – “Shhhhme …” Feel the heat of that long diphthong, “ei” – “eiiiiiiii”. Hear the steam of the middle sibilant, “sssssss” – “Shmeiiiisssssss …” And then hear the word literally “sing” its conclusion: “sssssssing!”
And then just by having listened closely you will find that you have intuited exactly what shmeissing is. Meaning in literal Yiddish “beating”, it is the term given to the exfoliation of Jews in a hot, steamy room by a man with sticks (always a man – there is no such thing as a Shmeiss Girl). And we love it.
You can be shmeissed up to a point in a couple of other places, but they do it with bristly brushes, which is not the thing at all. Ersatz shmeiss is for shmendricks. And they do not serve food and drink. Or if they do, then it is the wrong food and drink. I used to go occasionally for a shvitz at the Porchester Spa in Bayswater. It’s a gorgeous old Turkish baths from the 1920s with magnificent internal architecture, beautiful caldaria and a gorgeous plunge pool, but the food was standard greasy spoon and a bit incongruous. It was full of Jews, of course, mostly cab drivers, who would hunch, stark bollock naked and sweating from the steam, over a plate of eggs and bacon while smoking and doing the Sun crossword. If you wanted to see an elderly cabby drop yolk on his bare knackers, mop it up with a finger and put it back in his mouth, all without taking the Rothmans out of his mouth, that was the place. But you can’t smoke in there any more, so nobody goes.
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