Marketta Paunonen’s workplace is like a dragon’s lung, a slow-cooked chamber of rasping steam encrusted with years of soot and cinders. ‘The smoke sauna is the original and I think the best’, says the woman who has been stoking the pine-fired ovens at Jarvisydan resort for 10 years. At noon, Marketta set light to the split logs stacked beneath a bed of stones in her realm’s darkest inner sanctum; now, six hours later, with the smoke thinned to a resinous smog and the temperature at its soul-wilting peak, it is ready for its first victim.
‘The heat is deep,’ she whispers, ‘it will clear your mind.’ In a nation with more sweat cabins than cars, the traditional down and dirty smoke sauna is king, though the cook-chill ritual remains the same. First a ‘dry’ roast with the odd thwack of a birch branch to open the pores; a dip in any proximate body of cold water; a steamed broil with a few ladlefuls conveyed from bucket to rocks; then another chilled immersion. It’s both a meditational time-out and an opportunity for Finns to showcase their world-class skills in silent companionship and hard-bastard forbearance.
While the locals nonchalantly sip beer and toss more water on to the furnace, less acclimatised visitors cling fuzzily to the purgative release that lies just outside: a bleary, broiled stumble down the jetty, then headlong into Lake Saimaa with an almost audible hiss. Rinse and repeat.