© Copyright 2018 by June Calender
When I traveled to Turkey with a small group, I became entranced with a magical land unlike anything I had imagined. We had, of course, visited the stunning blue mosque, the Hagia Sophia, and the vast treasure house of the Topkapi Palace. I had come to understand that the East was stunningly different from the West. Our tour took us to central Turkey. After Konya where I was sorry we could not see a performance by the Sufi whirling dervishes, we were promised, after a half-day ride to Anatalia, a three-day cruise along the Turquoise Coast where Antony and Cleopatra took a break from running empires and just enjoyed themselves.
At the hotel in Anatalia we had about three hours before dinner. My assigned roommate was going to take a nap. She was an older lady, the widow of a professor from Vanderbilt University. She was a native Tennessean who struggled into panty hose every morning, worn beneath her polyester pantsuit and prim white blouse. She had the strongest Tennessee accent I had ever heard coupled with the nasal expression more associated with Appalachia than Vanderbilt.
I needed to escape from our hotel room and found a flyer in the hotel lobby about a hamam. Marcie and her travel companion, Joe, were nearby so I asked them if they would be interested in going to a hamam. I mentioned the article I had read about how luxurious it could be. Sure, they were up for it. The receptionist gave us walking directions — it was only six blocks away. The receptionist also assured us men were allow. Once there had been women only days but times had changed and it was for men too. The cost was quite modest. Off we went.
The entrance was very plain. Joe was directed to one door and we to a door in the opposite direction. We were handed towels. Towels? Those were towels? I had expected big fluffy towels of the sort Bed, Bath and Beyond sell at their highest price point. These were very much like souvenir type linen tea towels. We stowed our clothes on shelves and found the towels covered a minimal but the necessary amount of our anatomy.
The room behind the unmarked door was indeed tile and marble. Yes, there was a dome over the middle of it with an open-to-the-sky circle. We found no pool at all. Directly under the dome was a big marble basin full or water. The room was very steamy and hot. Joe was sitting on a granite bench that was a part of the wall. His tea towel was sufficient for a man’s needs. He did a wolf whistle at us. We laughed and could only settle down on a bench near him. No one else was around. We made small talk as we began to sweat. I went to see it the water in the basin was cooler. No. It was hotter.
“Someone will come,” Joe said.
“It’s pretty but not what I read about,” I said. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“It’s an adventure,” Marcie said. I had already decided I liked her. She was a retired school teacher. I’ve forgotten what Joe did. She said she always tried to have a boyfriend de jour when she planned these trips because she’d rather sleep with a man of her choice instead of an assigned roommate.
“By the way doesn’t that woman’s voice drive you nuts?” Joe wanted to know.
I admitted it did. But she went to bed immediately after any evening activity; we didn’t talk very much.
A man came in, attired in a towel. He said, “Come,” to Joe. They went off to the right.
I told Marcie about my sauna experience in Finland which had been hotter than this and we were expected to beat ourselves with bundles of laurel leaves we had tied together for that purpose. We were supposed to cool down when we had all the heat we could take by sprinting —naked—across a lawn to a lake. Which the youngest member of our group (who was the 16 year old girl) did. I slunk off to the shower room with a French woman who was huffing and puffing and muttering about her asthma.
Another man came in, also in a wee tea towel and told us to come with him. We went into a room on the left, a miniature version of the room we had been in but a bit cooler. “First?” he asked gesturing to a waist high shelf build into a wall.
Marcie and I looked at each other. I felt responsible for getting us here so I said “I am.” And I said to Marcie, “I’m thinking of the nurse in the doctor’s office.” She sat on a shelf-bench and I lay on the higher shelf. The man had a sort of pillow case in his hand. He went the marble basin and splashed some water into the case, shook it vigorously and then picked up large sponge that was lying on the shelf and shook a whipped cream-like batch of soap bubbles over my legs. He began scrubbing with the sponge which was slightly rough, a bit like very fine sandpaper. After a bit he held one foot aloof so I could see my shin and showed me little black pellets of dead skin and dirt. Good god! When did I last take a shower? That morning. Well, it was a very dusty van ride here. Sure.
His scrubbing advanced up my body. He was discrete about moving the towel when necessary to cover very little more than my public hair, and he was simply matter of fact about scrubbing my breasts. At some point he replenished the soap confections and, when necessary turned over me on my stomach to attack my back. Then he scooped up bowls of water—I had not previously noticed a plastic bowl near the basin—and splashed water over me to rinse away the soap.
Now it was time for the massage, from feet to shoulders. His hands were strong and practiced and he moved fairly quickly as far up as my upper back. It felt wonderful. But I was grateful Marie was sitting across the room watching, certainly thinking that she would be next.
I knew my trapezius muscles were stiff. I spent most of my days at a computer either at work or at home. My posture wasn’t the very best and there was stiffness across all of my upper back. The man’s fingers attempted to dig into those hard muscles but more serious measures were needed. Suddenly I realized he had smoothly moved to sit on my hips, leaning forward with his elbows on my tight traps. He used much of his weight making circles with his elbows, releasing the tension in the muscles possibly for the first time ever.
Finally he was has back on his two feet, saying something like “Done.” and motioning for Marcie to come take my place. She had a big smile on her face and was eager for her turn. I think I had a similar smile when I took my place on her bench. She did not get the full elbows treatment because she did not need it. Later she said she was disappointed. And what had it felt like to have man’s naked privates sitting on my hips.
“I didn’t feel that,” I admitted. “I only felt his elbows on my upper back.”
When we were dressed and went out to the lobby where we were served apple flavored tea, Joe told us he had paid for all three of us and given tips for the attendants. He had enjoyed the hamam—but neither of them enjoyed it as much as I did.