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Pole to Pole

Day 38: Odessa

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleAfter the rigours of our journey from the north I'm ready to try anything with soothing properties and so find myself following the holidaymakers up the steps of the sanatorium. Ahead of me are three women, dressed for the sun and chewing corn on the cob. Once inside the building I am led along corridors past waiting patients and through small atria whose damp and grubby walls are decorated with peeling stucco. A sulphurous, bad-egg smell becomes more intense the closer I get to the treatment room, and I am beginning to regret the whole thing.

The beds, or treatment tables, are laid out in two rows on either side of a tiled sluiced floor. There is no privacy at all and gentlemen in various intimate stages of treatment are on full view. One man is heaving his blackened and naked body off the bed like someone escaping from a swamp. Another is being administered a mud enema with the aid of a white plastic plunger. The whole grotesque scene resembles a cross between a hospital and an abattoir.

My time has come, and I'm led by the supervisor, a benign, motherly sort with pink earrings the size of ships' lifebelts, to a changing cubicle, from which I emerge, uncovered, to find a lady with a white coat, red hair, pink spectacles and a rubber pipe squeezing a layer of evil black slime onto a stained brown undersheet. She beckons to me to get into the middle of all this. My first surprise is how warm the mud is, the second how soothing it is to have it rubbed all over me, and the third how deeply tranquillizing it is to lie wrapped in the stuff like a piece of boeuf en croéte. Everything, the dreadful smell, the cattle-shed conditions, the slurping of distant enemas, is forgotten in the sheer tactile pleasure of lying in warm mud.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 38
  • Country/sea: USSR
  • Place: Odessa
  • Book page no: 85

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