Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

The weirdest bath you’ll ever take October 25, 2008

Fresh pomagranate juice is sold on all the streets of Istanbul

Fresh pomagranate juice is sold on all the streets of Istanbul

I’m uncomfortable with people handling my dirty laundry. This is a new neurosis, but as of this trip, I feel awkward about sticking someone with my stinky clothes and making it their problem to clean them. But in that case, at least the ‘dirty work’ occurs when I’m not there. In light of this strange hangup, you can only imagine how I feel about someone vigorously cleaning the resource that makes that laundry dirty – my body.

That’s what made my first true Turkish Turkish bath a bit off-putting. In Budapest, I went to the Rudas Baths in Pest. Once inside, an overly flirty Hungarian man pointed me toward a cubicle and explained I was to change into my bathing suit and take the key to the door with me (so that my belongings were secured while I was soaking). Then he offered to come in and help me change. He also set me up with a cubicle where the door wouldn’t stay closed, AND carried on in a manner overly reminiscent of ‘Wayne’s World’ about, “You are too good for me!” when I came out in my suit. Nothing like keeping it subtle.

After effectively evading the cubicle assistant, it’s off to the showers, and then the baths. At Rudas, there are five pools of varying temperatures – 23, 27, 32, 37, and 42, as well as a small cold dunk, a dry sauna, and a steam room.. At first I did the ‘gradually increase the temperature’ soaking series, but I eventually got hooked on going from the 42 degree tub and the cold dunk, or for even more of a thrill, between the 55 degree steam room and the cold dunk. The steam room was so hot that I couldn’t see, and it burned my eyes. I was glad I hadn’t worn my contacts (until I tripped and almost fell in the dry sauna) because I started to think they might have melted onto my eyeballs. Anyway, it was quite enjoyable, and I stayed there for several hours.

The Istanbul street dogs are very handsome, but their predicament makes me sad.

The Istanbul street dogs are very handsome, but their predicament makes me sad.

Last night, I was taken to a bath in Bodrum…but there was no soaking to be had. Rather, I was given a menu of options (soap, scrub and soap, or scrub, soap, and massage – kind of like a human car wash) and I decided to go for the whole enchilada. At the baths in Turkey, the men and the women are completely separate, and you’re expected to strip down naked. Then they give you what can only be described as a table cloth, and send you to the showers. I wandered around and saw some large women lying on a huge marble slab. It was a little mortuary-esque. Otherwise, there wasn’t much to see. Where were the baths? Unsure what to do with myself, I went and sat in the stinky sauna for a while. It wasn’t very hot, and it smelled like mildew, but what are you gonna do?

After a while in there, I went back out to the main room and studied the small sinks lining the walls, and then tried a couple doors that turned out to be locked. FINALLY a woman came in and said, “Lay down, Lady.” She was a larger girl in a bikini, and she pointed to the giant marble slab. She rinsed it off with water several times, and I laid down. The wrong way. I guess it just didn’t occur to me to put myself face down on a totally unforgiving surface. I attempted to arrange myself comfortably, and she put some kind of mitt on and began vigorously scrubbing me all over. A RIDICULOUS amount of skin was scrubbed off of me. A couple minutes into this disgusting spectacle I realized there is not enough money in the world to entice me to work as a scrubber. I resolved to leave her a very large tip.

Then I turned over, and she repeated the process on my front, my arms, and even my face. Then I was instructed to, “Get up, Lady” and she threw several bowls of water on me and the slab to clean it. Then I laid back down again, and she poured bowl after bowl of soapy water all over me and lathered me up. Every time she’d touch me, I’d slide about two feet on the slick marbl, and the whole thing seemed kind of ridiculous. I tried to maintain what I hoped was a pleasant, yet friendly look on my face, in lieu of the combination of self-conscious and slightly hysterical that I was feeling on the inside.

All clean now, I was sent back to the showers to wash my hair. The girl who did my scrubbing got into the stall next to me and cleaned up too. This might have been a nice gesture BEFORE my scrub, and I considered gesturing toward my armpits as if to say, “You might want to apply some special attention there?” My tablecloth was getting pretty wet by now, and another woman came and led me into a small room where all the female employees were watching a Turkish crime drama. I watched along with them, and tried to follow along despite not understanding a single word.

Finally, the commercials came on, and one of the girls said, “Come, Lady.” She led me up to a room with a proper massage table and oiled me within an inch of my life. It was a short, but extremely vigorous rub down, which made me realize I have been living in denial about the toll that bag takes on my body. It occurs to me to add that if you are uncomfortable with full nudity or have a strong streak of modesty, the Turkish Baths are NOT for you. I grew up swimming and naked in front of strangers in the locker room on a daily basis, but even I felt a little self-conscious. Particularly during the part where she was massaging my stomach while standing above my head, and more or less smothered me with her bikini-clad boobs. Too bad I’m not a lesbian. As it stood, it was all I could do not to laugh out loud.

Meanwhile, I was awoken by the incredibly loud Adhan (Islamic call to prayers, which is broadcast everywhere over speakers five times a day) at 6:30 a.m. Dawn, my ass. The sun isn’t coming up around these parts until at least 7:30 a.m. After listening to a bunch of people rustling around for a while, I finally fell back asleep.

Later today I fly to Istanbul, and tomorrow morning is the race! My friend tells me she thinks I’m better prepared and in better shape for it than she is. If so, we’re in trouble. Maybe we can treat it like a relay race and take shifts? On the other hand, she did run a full marathon last year, so she at least has proof her body can survive it! As for me? Well, wish me luck! In light of the levels of attention I’ve been attracting here in Turkey, I half-expect to be fending off pick-up lines and invites to go for coffee the whole time!!! Maybe I could talk someone into carrying me for a portion? Does that count?

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