Gilded Serpent presents...
by Kayla Summers
Ahh, my friends! After my twenty-something-hour plane ride (including
a layover in Germany), my friends greeted me on my arrival in Turkey and took
me out for margaritas. I finally got home, kissed the one bud left on my rose
bush and slept for two days in my own bed . . . sigh.
Then a girlfriend
called me. She was celebrating her new job as an assistant professor
at one of the universities here. Besides being "a brain" (she
translated the Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity by B.Nicolescu
from French to English), she is my personal role model for "girly
me to a hamam," I begged. She took me to the Besiktas
Hamam. It is located a five to ten-minute’s walk
from the Besiktas Ferry building and the Dolmabahce Palace.
I'm not sure if the pictures I took of it will turn out. It's gotta have the
most uninviting entry I've seen, and ya gotta know it to find it. But once
you're inside, what a delight! What places this one above the rest, (so
far) is the fact that it is really hot and steamy! No doubt about it -
it was not a matter of just feeling the humidity - steam was wafting around
like tule fog. (Tule fog is a very thick,
low lying fog found especially in the Central Valley of California.)
After being issued our keys for the lockers, we undressed and made our way
in through a white marble hall flanked on each side with marble benches.
Entering the main room, I found it to be spotlessly clean and fresh smelling
. The walls were lined with white marble with veins of grey running through
it that gave the room a light and airy feel despite the incredible humidity.
A huge marble pedestal (double king-sized) graced the middle of the main
room; the domed ceiling was embedded with stars of blocked glass. My friend,
an old hand at the art of bathing, guided me to to one of the more private
rooms that were alcoves off the main one. This room was also delightfully
clean and warm.
Gracing each wall was a marble sink with a raised marble area below it,
on which you sit while beginning the bath. You take out your "kit" as
you sit by your own marble sink, open the faucets and start dousing yourself
liberally with the copper bowls of "hot as you like" water, then
soap yourself up, rinse off and just generally soak up the heat. The water
drains out by the marble gutters beneath you. I saw women brushing their
teeth and washing their hair, also. Then the bathing woman told us it was
our turn for the pedestal. Although they will make an accommodation if
necessary, you are expected to bring your own soap and shampoo.
( I remember
one time I used the house shampoo, and I ended up looking like
Harpo Marx.) So I brought the sandalwood and turmeric bar that
I had bought in India. It’s called Santoor. You can get
it in Berkeley - it's sooo soft and leaves your skin kinda glowing. While
K/C fell asleep on the white marble pedestal under the domed
roof, I got scrubbed down. Despite my having used a hand glove
just minutes earlier, the woman removed dead skin I thought I
no longer had! She then told me to rise and rinse off, while
she rinsed the pedestal area. I lay down again for the soap massage,
which lasted about fifteen minutes. No bubbles this time. (I
suspect bubbles are for tourists.) While she was scrubbing and
massaging my back, I thought about an American woman I had spoken
with earlier, who was wondering what the big deal was. "I
can scrub myself,” she said. Not like this, you can't!
First of all, I could never get at my back the way those women
can. Despite my having washed myself minutes earlier with a strong
arm and mitt, the bathing woman still got lots more dead skin!
And having my hair shampooed conjures up all sorts of pleasant
early memories. The third point I have to make is: how often
do you spend an entire hour, luxuriating in a room specifically
designed for you to take the time with yourself, in a quiet,
peaceful, dare I say spiritual (it’s been overused) atmosphere?
All you are to do is become clean and relaxed.
I agree any bath is wonderful, but . . . Who has a bathroom
area is one long hall, flanked on each side by a raised walkway
on which there are lounges and chairs and lockers. No private
areas to take your clothes off, which is fine with me. I like
the communal area. The places that do have private rooms, each
with a cot to lie on, are interesting, but I've never used them.
That's what the bath is all about - community. After my bath
I feel great and not in the mood to lie down by myself in a dark
room - but to each her own...
in the week, I came back with the camera that Lynette, my editor,
had so generously donated to the cause, and spoke with the woman
who runs the hamam. I took some pictures, but the lens kept steaming
up. Having had enough experience with the Cemberlitas Hamam (which
gets colder toward closing time - almost painfully so), I asked
when the Besiktas Hamam turns off the fire that keeps the pedestal
warm. The owner, Mrs. Zubeyde Cakmak, replied
I came back
a few more times, and found this to be a true statement. When
I was interviewing Mrs. Cakmak about the building, and asked
how old it was, she was not quite sure. She asked some older
women (one was eighty-two) who had just finished their bath and
were relaxing in the dressing area. They conferred with each
other and the oldest woman told the owner, "Well, I've been
bathing here since I was a child and my mother bathed here when
she first came to Istanbul, and that was twenty years before
me . . ." We settled on at least a hundred years. The owner
and her family have been running the place for fifty-five years.
They also do
waxing, which was interesting to watch, as the bathing woman
would apply a warm green cream to a woman’s leg and then
swiftly yank it off after it had cooled. The "waxee" did
not flinch. Those Turkish women are tough, but really smooth.
K/C knew a better place for that . . . stay tuned for waxing
and polishing Turkish style!
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to our readers worldwide.
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I felt butterflies in my stomach – my throat was
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