While in Istanbul, I spent an afternoon unwinding in a Turkish hamam. These hamam’s, or bath houses, are popular tourist attractions and one particular hamam was highly recommended by a dear friend back in Vancouver. When she was in Turkey, her day at the hamam was the highlight of her trip! So I had pretty high expectations.
Upon entry, I had difficulty finding my way. No worry, an employee must have recognised my look of confusion and ushered me into the ladies dressing room. Draped in Turkish cloth and slippers, I wandered around until the same employee spotted me again and led me into the hamam.
The concrete room was lit by rays of light beaming down from the circular piercings in the domed ceiling. Wash basins and watering taps were carved into the walls and private enclaves for women to gather and bathe were set on either side of the heated room. I climbed onto a massive, elevated slab of stone in the centre of the room.
Lying flat on stomach, I immediately began to absorb the heat radiating from the stone. I closed my eyes and waited for tranquillity to wash over me. And just as I was about to slip into sweet serenity, some Turkish lady jabbed my foot. It was time for my Turkish bath.
Hastily, the woman drenched me with water. While in deep discussion with her fellow bath house mate, she grabbed me limb by limb and scrubbed me into submission. She then instructed me to lie down on my back with a slap on the thigh and rotating her finger. As I lay there, I wondered what was in store for me next. In large, billowy movements, she covered me in bubbles, but before I had a chance to enjoy the foamy feeling, another swath of water was dumped onto me. One swift current of water washed away all the bubbles.
Still recovering, I was hurried into one of the private enclaves where I was rinsed once more and briskly told, “Okay lady. Done.”
Unwilling to accept my failed attempt to relax, I climbed back up onto the heated stone. I gazed up at the perforations in the domed ceiling and wondered what the women talked about in 1584 when the hamam was first built. One sultan with a harem of women must have led to some vicious confrontation in the hamam. I turned over in a huff, squeezed my eyes shut and tried to channel inner peace. Unfortunately, the hamam was busy with chatter and I could women encroaching upon my space. That’s when I threw in my Turkish towel.
My travel buddy asked me about the Turkish bath when we met for dinner and I outlined my disappointment in some detail. When I was finished he simply responded by saying,
So you paid someone to give you a bath.
Yet you were disappointed when all you got out of it was a bath.
Is that right?
He spent the rest of the night mocking me.