Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bathing in History...

I'm sure my germophobe friends will really have a heyday with this one...

Seeing as public bathing was thrown out with the baby AND the bathwater (yes, I made a funny) an uber long time ago in the US, I have always appreciated the opportunity while in Turkey to get cleaner than I do in the privacy of my own home. When I lived in Istanbul, it really was a weekly ritual to visit the Cemberlitas Hamami (built in 1584, mind you). I would go in late on Friday nights, when noone else was around and have the entire, steamy, half-lit dome to myself. Yesterday was my first experience with an Ankara hamam, so of course I had no choice but to go to Ankara's oldest and best: the Karacabey Hamami. This hamam was built in 1440, out-aging Cemberlitas by a good 130 years, and in my estimation is just a tad smaller.

We started our bathing experience by changing into suitable bathing attire (swimsuits and such), which is a notable difference from Cemberlitas, where bathers and bathgivers alike freely roam, uninhibited by such cloth and confidently ignorant to cellulite. I presume the blissful ignorance to cellulite is the utter lack thereof--thanks to the long hours in the hamam, I learn. Men and women bathe separately here, but apparently there are still a few hamams that exist where that is not the case.

I take my towel, shampoo, kese (the rough, goathair washcloth thing) and my locker key into the first chamber which is steamy, but not terribly warm. The hamam is packed on a Saturday, so it's strictly one-way traffic through the narrow and low passages from one chamber to the next. My friend seems to know EVERYONE here, which makes me fondly remember all of the ladies from Cemberlitas who without judgement commented every ounce of fat that came or went from my body from week to week, and lovingly named me "Melek" (angel). While she's having her gossip, I begin in one of the small "rooms" off the main section. In these small closets there is running water and marble basins that you dip your little bowl into, in order to saturate yourself completely. This continues casually as we chat with our neighbors about who has had babies, what Behlul will do about Nihal on Ask-i Memnu, and cheery banter about saggy boobs and greying hair. Then, I was called to the gobek tasi, which is the huge, heated stone platform in the center of the room. With the natural light of the small glass openings in the ceiling floating onto my shoulders, I was ordered around to lie down, turn over, on your side, sit up, bend your knees, tilt your neck until I begin to see little rolling pins of dead, dirty skin curl up on my body from the lady who was scrubbing me with my kese. Then for the shocking part--SPLASH--right over my head comes a not-so-warm bucket of water to wash away all that nastiness. I return to my "closet" to continue the "bath" part, which is actually laying around again with my eyes half closed until I feel like sitting up and soaping up. After I wash my hair, we go out to sit in the cool room around the iron furnace, where most people are drinking tea and half watching a rerun of Ask-i Memnu, and I'm thankful for the affirmation that I'm not the only one who is addicted! A few minutes later, I'm called into the massage room (there is an option for oil massage or soap massage--I chose oil), and Fidan Hanim pushes with her elbows, fingers and wrists until the heavy-duty knots in my back start to unfurl. Fifteen minutes later, I retreat to the cooling room again to see if I had missed anything on Ask-i Memnu, only to find it was commercial time (not the 2 minute commercial break like in the US). I had time to run back to my locker, change my clothes, blowdry my hair and hang out a bit before the series came back on. By that time, my friend was ready, too, and we bundled up to brave the Ankara sleet, and she informed me that the hamam is has been rented by the same family for more than 50 years from a government foundation that owns it, and therefore, the renters don't pay for the water. A bathhouse where the owner doesn't pay for the water...sounds like they won't be throwing THAT baby out with the bathwater anytime soon!

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