Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Turn up the heat

If you're weary of this relentless winter, we've got ideas for getting it out of your system

Maybe the weather gods are punishing us for having committed some awful, unknown transgression ...

Or maybe there was a sudden continental drift northward ...

Or maybe the polar jet stream dipped permanently southward ...

Or maybe the groundhog was right after all ...

Whatever, the bottom line is this: We can't seem to escape the clutches of Old Man Winter. Maybe spring is out there, somewhere. But well more than 100 days this winter season have produced below-normal temperatures. This week could bring some higher temperatures, but on Monday morning, we were in the single digits, again.

Since a quick trip to a beach on Bimini isn't an option (for most of us, anyway), we're left to consider alternative ways to heat up the mind, body and palate. Some suggestions.

Fitness spas understand steamy desires

Want to escape to a hot, steamy locale without busting your budget on airfare?

Try a short trip to a sauna or steam room. (Our models above are at the Central Parkway Branch of the YMCA.) Your neighborhood Y or fitness club might offer the ultra-warm getaways, and many hotels and spas also feature hot hospitality.

Industry standards set the temperature in saunas at 170 to 180 degrees - even warmer than the Queen City in August. The mercury should hit 100 to 110 degrees in a steam room - plenty warm enough to take the chill out of your bones.

Pregnant women should avoid saunas and steam rooms, and it's important to stay well-hydrated while warming.

Never underestimate the power of a flower

For a whiff of spring, point your schnozz to A Garden of Fragrance, opening Saturday at Eden Park's hothouse, Krohn Conservatory.

Lilies, scented geraniums, lilacs, violas and an assortment of heavenly herbs - guaranteed to convince you that spring will be here soon - will fill the showroom with all the color that's missing outdoors. The show runs through April 27.

But don't head back to the desert room for warmth.

"We actually keep that a little cooler in winter to simulate what happens in the natural desert," says Roni Adkins, Krohn florist. "The cool rest period stimulates the plants to bloom in the spring."

Instead, veer left at the entrance after stripping your coat and snuggle up to a fern or rest a spell on one of the benches in the tropical room, where the temperature stays in the mid-70s and the humidity will remind you of what you'll be complaining about a few months down the road.

The central palm house, with its tower of trees, is a bit cooler, still in the 70s, but worth the trip down the stone path and under the gurgling waterfall.

Join `Buena Vista Social Club'

The deepest chill stands no chance against the steamy rhythms of Caribbean music, and one of the best ways to immerse yourself in a warm bath of sensuous sounds is to pop in a video of Buena Vista Social Club.

In fact, the soundtrack came first. Compiled by musical treasure-hunter Ry Cooder, the 1997 collection of traditional songs by Cuban musicians burst onto the charts around the world. It was such a smash that Cooder enlisted German filmmaker Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire) for a return trip to Havana to make a documentary about the music.

Using digital video cameras, Wenders captured recording sessions, street scenes and a climactic trip to New York City for a live concert.

The film is drenched with lush, romantic, and danceable songs from the likes of vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer, who was shining shoes for a living when Cooder first brought him back to the studio. His duets with Omara Portuondo are soulful, sweet and lusty as the culture that spawned them.

The palm-lined streets and crumbling colonial architecture of the impoverished Cuban capital lend a poignant strain to the memories shared by the musicians, such as pianist Ruben Gonzalez and the elegant Compay Segundo - who makes it clear he remains a devoted ladies' man in his ninth decade (he turned 95 last November).

Audiences all over the world felt the heat when the movie arrived in 1999. It collected fistfuls of accolades from festivals and critics' groups, and scored an Oscar nomination for best documentary.

Since its arrival on video shelves, it has remained a favorite among music lovers hungry for a helping of tropical intoxication and a sure cure for mid-winter blues.

Can chili days warm up chilly nights?

If you eat spicy-hot Mexican, Indian, Vietnamese or other food, you might think it would warm your body. But Danise Cook, assistant director of the Chile Pepper Institute, a nonprofit organization devoted to the study and promotion of chile peppers at New Mexico State in Las Cruces, knows of no research that proves that.

"We do know that eating chilies can make you sweat," she says.

But perspiring actually cools you down, which is why people who live in hot climates (such as Mexico, India and Vietnam) love spicy food.

Eating hot soups and stews will warm the tummy and the rest of the body. Adding a little spice probably wouldn't hurt.

By the way, some believe eating spicy foods can help cure the ailments of winter, including the common cold, sore throat and cough.

In parts of New Mexico, some Hispanic and Native American women believe ground cayenne pepper will help keep their feet cozy and warm in winter.

"They put the pepper in their shoes," Coon says.

Boogie your winter blues away

What can make you forget a cold night quicker than entering a dark room full of people all moving, undulating in response to the sensuous sounds on the dance floor?

If you're looking to create a saucy syncopation between the music's backbeat and your own heartbeat, try the dance floor at the Warehouse at 1333 Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine, or Rhumba at the Waterfront in Covington or Spy Club at Fifth and Plum streets downtown. Or anywhere else your dancing feet might take you.

The throb of techno music, complete with maxed-out speakers and a hot flashing light show, gets your head nodding before you can make it to the on-and-poppin' dance floor.

If you can't finesse the latest moves, just watching others can raise your heart to a fever pitch and get your dancing spirit sweating.

Enquirer writers John Johnston, Peggy O'Farrell, Joy Kraft Chuck Martin and Margaret A. McGurk contributed.

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