Remember that time I was naked in an Istanbul bath house and a topless seventy year old woman beat me up on a marble slab? That was fun.

It was the ultimate walk of shame.  I stepped completely naked, except for my flip flops, out of the locker room, trying to cover as much as myself as possible with a sort of dish towel I was handed in the locker room.  I was inside a hammam (Turkish bath) in Istanbul, with no clue what I should do next.  A series of attendants, all of whom spoke one English word–“lady”–pointed me on my way.  Finally I entered a beautiful domed room, with a circular marble platform in the center, surrounded on all sides by archways.  Underneath the archways were constantly running taps and shallow bowls.   (A Turkish bath does not have standing water–only flowing).  I saw other women sitting under the arches, dousing themselves with bowls of water, so I imitated them by sitting on my dish towel and dumping bowl after bowl of water over my head.

So I was sitting there, awkwardly pouring bowls of water, when a topless woman, perhaps seventy years old, walked over, grabbed my arm saying “lady” and pulled me out and onto the marble slab which–yay!–was heated and surprisingly comfortable.  The woman dunked a pillowcase into a bowl of soapy water and then sqeeeeeeeeezed it out onto my back, covering me with a giant bubble blanket.  Next the woman slipped on an exfoliating mitten (called a kese) and proceeded to beat me up.  Really.  I thought that I was in for some sort of massage/spa type treatment, but this was not relaxing, this was a surprisingly strong woman mauling me on a slab of marble.  She scrubbed and flipped me about, yanking my limbs around roughly and proudly pointing out the pile of dead skin she was sand-papering off.  Next, she pulled me up and dropped some shampoo on my head and sudsed up my hair into a giant tangle.  A couple more bowls of water for a rinse cycle, and I was left to rest my beat up but clean carcass on the marble platform for as long as I wished.

Once I recovered from my pummeling, I did start to enjoy myself.  First I took a long look at the room.  There are a lot of bath houses in Istanbul.  I chose Çemberlitaş Hamamı because of it’s historic significance:  built by the famous architect Sinan in 1584,it has been in operation as a hamman ever since.  The dome above me was cut with circular and star-shaped holes with outdoor light streaming through in a picturesque fashion.  After I while, I stopped looking around at the building, and started surreptitiously studying all the naked women.  God I love looking at naked people!  And after I stopped taking figure drawing classes, I don’t have much of an opportunity.

I could have relaxed in the lovely room full of naked ladies longer, but, inevitably, nature called–I had to pee.  I was greeted at the exit by a woman with a gigantic fluffy warm–Turkish!– towel and it seemed ironic that she was conservatively dressed with a full head covering amongst all that nudity.  Back at the locker room, I looked at my clothes (and there were a lot of them–it was winter) with horror.  Clothes were wrong!  Scratchy!  Unclean!

As planned, I met up with HOB at a nearby coffee shop.  I practically floated down the sidewalk.  HOB said I was glowing and I felt it.  Getting beat up on a marble slab was invigorating and an enhancement to my complexion.

How we got to Istanbul: plane from Frankfurt.

Where we slept: Apricot Hotel.  Price: €49 for a double.  Recommended: yes.

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No doubt you were hoping for a snapshot of me lying naked on a giant dish towel.  As a consolation prize please enjoy this painting of a Turkish bath by Ingres from Wikipedia.  This was almost what it looked like in Çemberlitaş Hamamı, though most of us women had body hair, a few less vertebrae in our backs, and no one was playing the lute.

6 comments

  1. Hoping just a little bit lol.

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  2. Lololol this made me crack up! I love turkish baths, I have never in my life been as clean and glowing as when I went to one in Morocco!

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  3. I wandered over here after you mentioned Turkey in a comment on another post, then I clicked on the link for the Turkish bath and saw one of their services is a 30 minute head massage.

    COUNT. ME. IN.

    Even if I get abducted a la Taken 2, I would probably be ok with it as long as I had a head rub first.

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    1. Hopefully the head rub is more of a massage and less of a head pummeling…..

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      1. All I can think of is some beefy Turkish woman bashing my head against a marble slab. Worth the risk? Hrm. Jury’s out on that one.

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  4. Worth it for the fluffy warm towel she wraps you in afterwards.

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