Friday, May 10, 2013

On Being Naked in Turkey.

This is one of my favorite stories from the last year.

My boyfriend and I were recently in Istanbul - fantastic city. Huge. Muslim. Old. New. Perfect for an adventure. We like a lot of the same things - art, food, wine, architecture, books, news, politics, blah, blah, blah. I love spas, massages, pedicures, etc. He, well, doesn't. At all. Not interested, never been, never wants to.

But I made him promise to go to a Turkish Bath while we were there. To me it seemed like such a fantastic way to learn a little bit about a new culture. I mean, people have been doing it for ages so shouldn't we?

We found the perfect place. Designed by Sinan, great reviews on every website we could find, easy to locate. Perfect.

Except it wasn't.

It was packed, so packed that a woman coming out looked me right in the eye and, in English, warned, "Don't go in there."

So we didn't. 

I was bummed, he was relieved.

I bounced back quickly and found a new place for us to try the next day. This one was much less touristy, much more authentic. Authenticity sounded good, so we trekked our way up and down the hills until we found it. There were a bunch of drunk guys at the bottom of the hill, and a metal screen door with a well-graffitied sign hanging over it. Clearly if we went in to this place I would be raped/murdered and/or sold into white slavery. 

Not what I was picturing.

Again, I was bummed, and again he was relieved.

I pouted as we walked to the top of the hill, until I saw the front of the building. BEAUTIFUL! Clearly what we had just seen was the employee's entrance. Like a club in NYC, the alley is not where they spend their money.

Now I was relieved and he was bummed!

We went inside, placed our order and he went one way and I went the other...

His story: he was well taken care of--gentle, Turkish men tended to his every need. The showed him to a private room with a bed, chairs, a sink - a perfect place to relax. When he was ready to go to the bath, there were towels galore and men gently ushering him through the process. He was apprehensive, but he loved it. He thought it was relaxing, welcoming and easy.

My story: not like his. Remember that graffiti covered door with the drunk guys outside? That was my entrance. I walked in, alone, to find 3 Turkish women in muumuus screaming at each other. None of them spoke English. I too was ushered into a room where I could get ready. It was a tiny closet with a glass door right off the lobby. The women locked me inside and simply said, "Take it off." "All of it?" "Yes."

When she saw that I was appropriately naked (not hard to see through the glass door) she unlocked it and offered me a towel. Phew.

I left my clothes, money and passport in the glass closet, at her instruction. Then she dragged me into the hammam, and immediately ripped the towel from me - leaving me completely exposed to a room full of beautiful European women.

Talk about feeling exposed. Not only was I literally naked, but I was alone in a room of (also naked) women where no one spoke any English. I look pretty good naked, I'm tiny - but I have very fair skin which always makes me a little self conscious. Standing there, in the buck, totally exposed was a little terrifying, but totally exhilarating. Besides, let's face it, no one in there could care less what I looked like.

The woman who led me in to the bath took a copper bowl, threw water in my face, smacked my butt and instructed me to sit. There was a lot of smacking and pointing. But, to be fair, I certainly understood what it all meant, so I suppose it was rather effective.

I kind of got into it. It was warm, relaxing, and new. The women "working" on us were old, fat, wrinkly and totally in the buck, and very efficient. Lots of smacking, pointing and vigorous scrubbing. Here's the best part: the room is silent, until one of the women working there started to hum a song. This inspired another woman to run out in the lobby and turn on the music - the bath turned into a club! The water was pulsing in the basins and the woman who was humming started to dance. On the giant marble slab in the middle of the room. It was great - all of us started clapping and cheering! So fun. Then it was time to get back to work. Music was off, and the scrubbing resumed.

I paid extra to have my hair washed - since that is basically the best feeling in the world. Except there. It was a little more like waterboarding than I'd hoped... bucket after bucket after bucket of water right in my face. I could barely breath, let alone see. Or relax! This was definitely not relaxing. Luckily it lasted only a minute or two - then I laid back on the hot marble and basked in my own openness in trying something totally new. And totally nude.

After about an hour, I left and changed back into 10 layers of tourist safety and met my boyfriend outside.

My skin had never been so soft, and I had never felt that vulnerable (yet totally safe) in a foreign country.

Thanks Turkey!

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