The Artist and the Stove Maker
The story of a bathhouse
This case happened in the 70s in the village of Gorbachikha, Kenozero area. It's hard to tell now if it really happened, but, as they say, there is no smoke without fire... ...Moscow-born Sorokin bought an abandoned house in the village of Gorbachikha. A good, well-educated and cultured man he was. Respectful of the northern customs, he was accepted by the local people as a friend. Once upon a Saturday, an incident took place after Sorokin heated up his bathhouse and was not to be seen for quite some time. A neighbor became concerned and peeked into the bathhouse to find Sorokin lying senseless on the floor of the steam room filled with smoke. They took him to the hospital. When asked what happened, Sorokin told them something tragicomical:

"Vysotsky's Black Steam Bath was on. I wanted to know what it felt like with black steam in the bathhouse, so I closed the chimney to let the smoke escape through the door."

The village men did not know whether to laugh or cry when they heard that. But what can one expect from someone who has never even seen a real bathhouse? The men decided to explain and show to Sorokin how 'black steam' bathhouse, a treasure of the Kenozero area, worked.

Back home from the hospital, Sorokin has a visitor – stove-maker Yegorych. He has with him a bottle of infused vodka. They pour a glass, and the stove-maker begins to explain the bathhouse science:

"As a city dweller, you probably think that the Russian bathhouse, as described in the annals, has the smoke escape through the chimney and bathers lying on bunks with besoms. You are wrong, my dear friend. This would be the description of a white steam bath, which, to my taste as a Kenozero dweller, has neither soul nor taste. The true Russian bathhouse is 'black'. There is no steam room in it. It's a one-room space. Nor there is chimney. Its smoke escapes through the window, the door and the small hole in the wall. We should have Petrov show you his bathhouse. It's all black inside. From smoke…"

"How about the stove, Yegorych? How can the Kenozero stoves be different from those elsewhere?" Sorokin asks, perplexed.

"That is where the secret lies. For the stove to be giving health while hot, it must have the right stones. Take blue-gray ones and you'll get poisoned by charcoal fumes, just like you did. The stones should be of gray-white color. We source them from rivers and lakes and check for integrity by throwing into boiling water. The right ones never give cracks."

"It this the only secret?"

"You're fast. The stove needs to be heated properly. That's the art as sophisticated as your paintings. Use birch and alder for firewood as they produce more heat while letting the air stay mild. Use three or four portions, my father taught me. The trouble with throwing firewood into the stove is that you do it doubled over because you're wrapped in smoke. But it heats up fast, within two to three hours. Once it's ready, remove the coals to prevent smoke, close the doors and windows, and let it stand for a while. One last thing to be done is pour hot water on the walls and floors. Lay some straw and enjoy for as long as you want. It'll stay hot all next day. A good bathhouse stays warm for as long as three days!"

"That's a long story you are giving me, Yegorych. It seems to me our ancestors were good at complicating their lives, especially here in Kenozero. While the rest of Russia has put chimneys on its bathhouses, you still need the smoke," Sorokin interrupted him.

That offended the stove-maker:

"Do you know how old the Yuryevs' bathhouse is? It's over one hundred years old and it'll stand for another century. The smoke, it kills the bugs. It removes excess moisture, working as a disinfectant. That's why those early houses remained robust for so long, and our ancestors were less prone to colds in wintertime... Get well soon. We'll build you a new bathhouse in your garden, "black" or "white". Think about it. See you later..."

Yegorych was about to leave when he spotted a basket:

"Are you going out for mushrooms? I didn't know you've been picking them before…"

"I am," replied the artist. "I've got an identification guide with me. I've read it three times and now it's time to move from theory to practice..."

Yegorych stood speechless.