Friday, April 20, 2007

Turkish delight

And when I mean Turkish delight, I'm not just talking about the candy. Although I have to tell you that real Turkish delight is, well, delightful.

No, I'm talking about the hamam, or Turkish bath, I visited.

Until recent decades, many Turkish homes didn't have washing facilities, so people went to public baths. I think that hamams are not as popular with the locals as they once were, so it's kind of a touristy thing to do. So what. It was heaven.

I went to the Cemberlitas Hamam, a bath commissioned by the wife of a sultan in 1584. It was designed by the famous architect Sinan and is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the city. Another big selling point for this particular hamam is that it has separate bathing areas for men and women. It was indeed beautiful, the inside anyway.

So here's the routine. I was shown to a camekan--basically a dressing room with lockers and benches. Apparently the men's camekan is much prettier. An attendant motioned for me to take my clothes off, handing me sandals and a thin cotton bath-wrap. She led me into the hot room, which is the space you see in the picture above. (I scanned the picture from a postcard I picked up at the hamam. Cameras are, for obvious reasons, not allowed.) It's actually very much like a steam room, only a little less steamy. The idea is that you're supposed work up a little sweat and relax before your bath. I lay down on my bath wrap on the warmed marble slab and awaited my fate.

Pretty soon, an attendant clad only in a thong brought doused me with buckets of warm water. She began to wash and massage me with the sudsiest olive oil soap ever, engulfing me in huge billows of suds. (She indicated that I was supposed to wash the girlie bits myself. I did.) It was great. Then she scrubbed me even pinker than usual with a coarse cotton mitt, rinsed me off, washed my hair, and led me another room for my oil massage.

My masseuse was a Russian woman who spoke a little English and took very seriously my request for a "hard" massage. It was no buff and puff!

Thus washed and exfoliated and pummeled into a quivering lump of jello, I was escorted back to the hot room, where I was free to hang out and melt for as long as I wished.

The whole thing took about an hour. I emerged very clean, and thoroughly delighted.

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