The Turkish Hamman

We were greeted by a beautiful friendly woman in a flowered headscarf and taken through our options. She and I each spoke a little French and so we communicated this way. We chose a program from the middle of the menu: 40 euros, plus towel and robe (6,) and a scrubby glove we would need (6.)

“You have slips?” she asked us. On the phone, no one had said we needed slips or we would have brought them.

“N’importe pas,” she assured us.

Nonetheless, this language issue gave us a lot of laughs. We arrived stripped down in a central room where a zaftig bathlady waited: everyone else had on underpants, the “slips” we could easily have kept on. She scrubbed us all over with our glove with a piney smelling soap and showed us into a steam room.

Two young women who had just gotten their Bac degree were celebrating a day off from the preschool where they taught. They told us about a Dutch politician who showed up at the protest in NY at Ground Zero against the mosque. He insulted Muslim women by not only asking why they had to wear scarves but referring to headscarves as ‘dirty rags,” which seemed to all four of us not only as racism but also highly sexist with its veiled allusion to menstruation and to scrubwomen. Do you have to be a woman to feel the sexism in that racist slur?

I had to rinse the caustic piney soap off early as it wasn’t agreeing with my skin. After coming out of the steam, we were shown into a room with marble slab tables where we each received a vigorous if superficial massage with oil-infused hot water. After we showered, we were each given a dish of mud to slather on our bodies. Another room with benches and buckets allowed us to spend time attending carefully to our hair, feet and nails. We imagined that, with someone at home watching the kids, a woman might spend hours on a Sunday at the hammam–why not?

After, feeling tight and toned, we retired in our robes to the salon near the door where cushioned couches were ringed with large hammered trays on stands as coffee tables.

A group of Muslim women were enjoying animated conversation with each other and the attendants at the end of the day. How beautiful they were! We remembered that Ramadan was coming to an end with the full moon (or perhaps earlier.) We ordered a pot of strong mint tea and a small plate of sweets: baklava, carmelized sugar and nuts, almond and nougat based pastries–tiny tastes that we shared–rolled into crescents (10 euros.)

In the dressing room, a young women coated her entire body in a white creamy paste. What is it? I asked. A masque, she answered and took herself off to wait the required number of minutes while the masque dried.

I slept twelve hours after dinner and the hammam.