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The Hamam of Istanbul – Intrepid Instances


After enduring years of social isolation, a girl experiences a way of reconnection in a Turkish tub.

I shut my eyes, lean again in opposition to the nice and cozy marble wall, inhale the heavy air, and let go. I’m carrying a black thong no larger than a folded cocktail serviette to cowl my nether area whereas an older girl named Ozlen scrubs my physique uncooked with a loofa-like hand mitt. She’s wrapped in nothing greater than a black-fringed tea towel, which I later be taught known as a peshtamal, a hand-woven Turkish towel historically worn in a Turkish tub, or hamam

I’m within the hottest quarters of a hamam in Istanbul, sharing an elaborate white marble alcove with two of my feminine touring companions. After an ungainly couple of minutes of eye-averting dialog in our practically bare state, the steam kicks in. It creates a vapor so thick that the opposite feminine bathers within the corridor — I counted six alcoves — turn out to be mere apparitions. It’s then that the three of us, shrouded in a billowy white cloak of steam, ease again into our dialog.

There are three basins constructed into the alcove’s wall for every of us. Ozlen, my hamam therapist for the following two hours, begins the cleaning ritual by scooping up heat water from my basin with a shallow gold pan and pouring it over my physique. Once more, she showers me, and I really feel my core temperature tick up one other diploma with each dousing. She washes my hair, massages my scalp, after which strikes to my shoulders, torso, arms and fingers, and at last, legs and toes. She continues to clean at my physique with a tough hand mitt to exfoliate my pores and skin, eradicating useless cells from the outer layer to disclose the brand new, recent layer hidden beneath. However the cleaning ritual is a lot extra than simply shedding useless pores and skin cells. It’s about letting go of the previous. In a manner, this second marks the beginning of a brand new starting.

It’s October 2021, practically eighteen months into the plague that has swept internationally,  mercilessly claiming lives and leaving distress in its wake. Having lockdown after lockdown and months of self-isolation was a problem at one of the best of instances. My pandemic state of equanimity was merely a facade. People are social creatures who perform finest when linked with different human beings. My slide into perpetual isolation was so creeping that I didn’t acknowledge it for what it actually was or what was occurring inside my thoughts. However at this second, sharing the alcove with two associates and three hamam therapists, I perceive that my detachment through the pandemic was extra doubtless unrecognized melancholy for the state of the world. And so, after two vaccines and three damaging PCR assessments, I discover myself right here amongst associates and strangers, feeling a way of hopefulness rising inside me.

Throughout the earlier 12 months and a half, I might have thought-about this stage of intimacy with folks I don’t know unimaginable, irresponsible, and downright reckless. March of 2020 marked an unforgettable second in historical past after I realized that society was in deep trouble. A lot has modified since then, and a lot has been misplaced. Ozlen’s plastic face defend jogs my memory that it’s not over but. However I can see her face, and she or he smiles as she takes my hand and leads me to the navel stone, an enormous marble slab in the course of the corridor. Its heat permeates from under and blankets me with consolation. It’s a welcome, luxurious pleasure, and I’m grateful for the expertise.

Public baths have been based by the Romans. The custom was handed on to the Byzantines after which the Turks. I believed the quintessential hamam expertise would have me submerged in water. As a substitute, I’m mendacity inclined on the big hexagon pedestal, my toes nearly touching my buddy’s head as she takes her spot on the stone. Ozlen rings a protracted white material over my physique and covers me with hundreds of tiny white bubbles. I gaze up dreamily on the dome ceiling, the place shafts of steamy gentle illuminate the corridor. At that second, I believed this could be the closest I might ever get to the firmament. Ozlen extends her material repeatedly and covers me with increasingly more bubbles till I’m utterly lined in a soapy froth.    

This indulgence’s palatial pleasure and unhurried tempo starkly distinction the excitement of exercise past the hamam’s partitions. The day past, we unknowingly walked previous the feminine entrance of Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam on a tour of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia earlier than we plunged into the chaos and congestion of Istanbul’s well-known Kapali Çaris, the Lined Bazaar. We wandered a maze of streets and explored outlets, stalls, and tiny cafes for hours. We laughed at ourselves once we received misplaced. We slowly exhaled once we lastly discovered our bearings, solely to lose them as soon as extra. The bazaar covers about 50 acres of land. We misplaced our manner within the labyrinth of byways many times earlier than lastly making our manner again to the lodge.

Now, Ozlen guides me gently to a different space of the hamam. She works in a full-body clay masks infused with Judas tree scent, its candy aroma lulling me deeper into serenity. The Ayasofya is a historic hamam, constructed within the sixteenth century classical Ottoman tub type, and is taken into account probably the most conventional and opulent public bathhouse within the Previous Metropolis. I love the grand structure and marvel about all the ladies who’ve skilled this transformative cleaning ritual earlier than me.

Quickly we’re on the transfer once more, this time to a non-public therapeutic massage room. Once more, the delicate floral scent of the Judas tree soothes me, and I get misplaced in my ideas. Ozlen provides me an aromatherapy face therapeutic massage and face masks, adopted by a head-to-toe physique therapeutic massage. The corporeal indulgence coupled with this gorgeous setting steeped in centuries of historical past instills a heightened sense of hope in me. I’ve shed the pores and skin that endured the plague, and after I emerge from the hamam, I really feel lighter, unburdened, reborn. 

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