The strange sexual beauty of Istanbul’s hamams.
If you were raised in a culture that didn’t wholeheartedly endorse a naked man or woman (depending on your sex) pounding your body with their beefy hands, rubbing down every inch of you with a mitten of thorns, and scraping off at least a millimeter of dead skin off your body on a regular basis–I’d say you’ve missed out one of life’s great pleasures.
A Turkish hamam is much like any other public bathhouse in many places of the world–from the Ancient Indus Valley Civilization to Greece and Rome to Finland to Korea and Japan (not that I would know about the first three)–in that, first, it makes you sweat. You sit in the steamiest room you’ve ever been in, feeling as moist and as fluttery (you’re breathing in way more water than you’re used to) as a hot Chinese bun waiting in a steam-pot. Adding to the humidity and heat are the breathing, bodies, and brawn of the other people there with you. You’re all naked, naturally, so you’ll find yourself inevitably staring at the weirdness of the human form. Don’t gawk, just look. Yes, a lot of people will be old and wrinkly and barrel or hippopotamus-shaped, and it will be interesting to look. It’s all part of the experience. Let go of your neuroticism of personal-space-possessiveness and awkwardness, if you have it. Take time to look at your own body as well–when’s the last time you really sat down on a marble curb and looked your slick parts all over?
After the water in you has done some serious mingling with the water outside of you, your skin will be feeling pretty promiscuous. Try it–rub the top of your foot hard with your finger (maybe even using some nail) and you’ll see the black rolls of filth roll up and out like a magic carpet. This is when the muscular Turkish lady or gentleman will come fetch you, and usually have you lie down or sit on a platform or waterproof bed. You’ll get the scrubbing of your lifetime, and if they’re doing a good job, your face should be making a silent howl as they hack at all the dry, clingy bits of you you don’t need. Look back at where you were sitting when they finish (this part is sort of like looking at the hair on the ground after a hair cut, or looking in the toilet after a big one), and note with satisfaction the rolls and worms of dirt and skin you’ve just expelled. A good amount to expect: remember the last time you had a 3hr. math exam and had to erase everything at least once? That amount of eraser shit x 100.
Now, the beating. Just close your eyes and enjoy it. Enjoy having your body felt and touched and beaten the crap out of. Ugnnnh. Right there. Just take it. Pain is pleasure.
It’s amazing how distinctly post-coital it all feels afterwards, when you’re through the hamam ritual and sitting with a cold drink in your hand. Amazing, because of how utterly, clinically, brutally non-sexual it is. And yet, there’s no feeling like it–you’re flying high in your brand new birthday suit. Get a good night’s sleep and you’ll feel like a god/dess in the morning.