The Turkish Bath

by mutteringhousewife

You know I only do these things so you can read about them.

We had shore leave today for good behaviour and were put on a ferry to Canakkle. Which is in Asia, therefore a ten minute ferry ride away. Sinan told us that there is good traditional Turkish baths there that he recommends, not like those nasty touristic ones you get in Istanbul. Turkish families will go to the baths once a week, it’s a good experience. Well, sign me up.

Only four of the ladies of the party have decided to bathe, and rumour has it that one takes spare undies. Sinan couldn’t tell us, because he’s never been in the ladies baths. We arrive at the baths, there is much back and forth in Turkish as we tourists stand against the walls pretending not to be there, then Sinan tells us it’s 65 lira each and ladies go out over there. Men, go into these lockers here and get into a towel. What, right here? Right now? Come on ladies, we’re round the back.

Round the back appears to be through someone’s living room where there’s a woman watching TV, but a tiny old lady appears and beckons us through, handing us a towel and rubber shoes each. She shoves Gayle and I into a locker room, without a lock and without half of its door, but in for a penny, in for a pound and we strip to undies and wrap ourselves in the hamam towel. Gayle is worried about her bag, so the tiny lady crams it into a drawer under a desk at the end of the room and very clearly fails to lock it. Whatever. The change rooms are pretty daggy, but when we get into the baths the whole lot has been constructed of solid marble. In the seventeenth century, according to Sinan.

Have you been to a Turkish bath? This one was a large room with a marble seat all around the outside with partitions at regular intervals. Each partitioned area has a couple of marble basins on the seat into which hot and cold water continually run, draining into a channel in the floor in front of the seats. In the centre of the room is a giant marble slab, exactly the type you’d perform sacrifices on at the full moon. The roof is a dome with orange sized holes in it to let the steam out and the light in. One is given a regular towel and a plastic dish as one comes in, one drapes one’s fluffy towel and hamam towel over a hook over your chosen basin, then you sit there with boobs out and scoop water over yourself.

There were a few Turkish women in there, a very elderly lady and a couple of mums with kids, and the bath attendant, all in just undies and all built for comfort rather than speed. Our tour group valiantly made eye level conversation while tipping the warm water over ourselves, which was rather pleasant, when it became apparent that it would be my turn first. I had stood up to see what pouring water over my shoulders would feel like when the bath attendant came over, placed a gentle but firm hand on my head and pushed me into a sitting position. She then started rubbing soap in my hair and I foolishly opened my eyes to see what was going on to confront a giant pair of boobs right at cheek level. I closed my eyes very very tightly and let her wash my hair, until I could definitely hear her walking away.

She spread my hamam towel out on the slab and indicated that I lie on it on my front. She then proceeded to take off a layer or two of skin from my back half in a very orderly and methodical manner with a plastic loofah. I then discovered that having hot water suddenly  thrown over excoriated skin is very good for the adrenal glands. After that I got a lavender scented massage from head to toe. While having my shoulders expertly massaged I had the new sensation of a pendulous tummy resting gently on the back of my head. And guess what. Then I had to turn over. And have a layer or two of skin taken off my front half. Yes. Head to toe. Including – my face. And another lavender scented massage which again had my eyes very very tightly shut. Because she had my arms out at right angles from my body, and I was lying nude on a marble slab with the sunlight streaming down on me I did feel like this is where I got my throat cut to appease the gods, and I’d paid 65 lira for it.But the last time I’d paid a woman to do that to my boobs it was a lot more, however she did have a medical degree.

Then you go back to your basin and try to work out whether you’d enjoyed the experience or not. On the one hand, I was cleaner than I’d ever been in my life. And I was lavender scented. On the other, boundaries! Eventually I was able to gather my thoughts sufficiently to wrap myself in the fluffy towel and go and get dressed and discover that my bag had not been pinched. Out through the living room, where there were now three people watching TV and smoking, to the reception area to find the men of the group standing around rather awkwardly also trying to decide whether they’d enjoyed it or not and having tea in miniature glasses forced on them by a four foot tall man – I think regular bathing may shrink one.

On the whole, I think yes. I do need rather urgently to replace the essential oils in my skin, but I do feel smooth and relaxed – in a muscular sense anyway. And really, I’m in Turkey. Of course I’d recommend the bath.