|Hammam– a beautiful place for a nap? (Source)|
First, I was given a Turkish towel called a pestemal, and was told to wear that and a two-piece bathing suit. With that on, I went to a dry sauna for 15- 20 minutes. There, I met an older Turkish woman that I enjoyed chatting with about Turkish baths. She talked nostalgically about when she was younger, and she used to go the hammam twice a week. “Then,” she lamented, “I became too busy with work, and didn’t make time to go. I started the habit of daily showering, and I have never felt quite so clean and healthy since.”
|I wore a pestemal just like this one. (Source)|
Soon, a tiny little Balinese lady in a sarong and bikini top came to collect me. She brought me into the main hammam room, which was all marble and tile. It was beautiful! There were several marble slab tables in there, and each had a little alcove with a water spigot, a marble basin to catch the water, and a silver dish called a tas to be used as a dipper. She spread my towel over a marble table, and told me to lay down on it. Then, she started splashing me with water, in varying temperatures. Once I was soaked, she put on a scrubbing glove called kesh, made out of palm root. It was abrasive, but not uncomfortably rough. She used this to scrub all the skin on my body, including my face, dousing me with water every now and then.
|Kesh and Tas, found here.|
The next part was the most interesting! She had a bucket of soapy water, and used a special mesh sack to get suds from the hammam soap, which is made with olive oil and smelled like lemon. She worked up a big lather, and then squeezed it through the mesh onto me. She did this several times, until I was laying in a huge cloud of bubbles! The she gave me a soapy massage, having me flip over halfway through. The splashing with water began again, and rinsed away the aromatic bubbles. She continued to rinse as she had me sit up, then stand up, to make sure nothing was missed. After this, I was given a warm terrycloth towel to wrap up in, and she dried me off with another.
|Bubble Treatment! (Source)|
I think this is where the traditional hammam experience ended. I opted for a quick oil massage afterwards, which she changed her outfit for and administered in a regular massage room. The whole treatment was great, and I was glad to get rid of the layers of old winter skin– it was the perfect thing to do after a long day of travel, and helped Jeff and I switch into vacation mode.
I have always wished that bath houses were part of American culture (and now, British culture.) Body care used to be a huge priority, and a social event as well– all classes and ages went to the bath houses together. Now it seems more like a private luxury. The other thing is that I think it’s really healthy to see other peoples’ bodies. We see a whole lot of skin these days, but it is mostly on models or other specially selected bodies, usually in a sexual context; or we see images that have been altered– that is so weird, and of course sends really harmful messages about what is normal, healthy or beautiful. I thought it was kind of funny that the hammam lady took one look at me in my bathing suit and commented that I must have children. Yep! This is all normal stuff, and good to acknowledge and talk about. Have you been to a bathhouse in your country, or one that you visited? What did you think?