Splish Splash

July 24th 2012

I took a bath here today.

It’s not a museum, technically, or a mosque or even a fancy hotel. It’s a Turkish bath house or the Turkish bath house, found in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.

There is not a lot of English happening at Cagaloglu Hamami, and so it takes me a while to sort out all of the requirements: towel/locker room/sandals and to select my services—the basic steam and scrub, sans massage. When I finally get it together, I’m led down a corridor to the most gorgeous steam room & spa I have ever seen, and I spent over five years as a beauty editor “researching” top steam rooms & spas.

It reminded me of the mausoleum interior of the Taj Mahal: It’s big—cavernous—and made entirely of off-white marble with a giant altar in the middle. The perimeter is lined with small bath basins and intricate faucets. The dome ceiling is dotted with star-like portals, open to the air. The rest is all pillars and panels and arched doorways.

An assortment of bodies in various states of undress luxuriate in the surroundings. The older local women are nude, a few shy tourists wear bikinis, some draw the line at just topless. And while I’m not a boob girl (I think they’re just fat deposits which my sister always tells me is “suchh an anorexic thing to say”),  every time I find myself naked in a bathhouse (which is more often than you’d think), I’m fascinated by the assortment of shapes and sizes and colors.

So I’m marveling at this impressive architectural work of genius, and at boobs in general, and sweating my ass off because it is really really hot in here. And then after about 15-20 minute of aggressive perspiration, over comes Melda. With a brusque greeting she grabs my cloth, lays it on a slab of marble, pushes me down and douses me with a bowl of warm water. We’ve barely said hello.

Then she straps on a loofah mitt.

[I try very hard to ignore the fact that said mitt has not been washed from the last person I saw her scrubbing. I am also interjecting here to tell you that if you read this prior to going you may want to BYO.]

She scrubs hard and fast, stopping only to show me the gnarly pieces of black dead skin that have been shedding and congealing all over my body.

[Why are they black? Will this make me look less tan? Can you get a skin infection from a dirty loofah?]

After the thorough exfoliation she brings me to a small side washing room where she rinses my body—and its sheddings—off with water and then sits on a bench, instructing me to sit in front of her.

I’m confused by her gestures…I awkwardly sit next to her, then stand up, then think maybe the bath might be over until I realize that she wants me to sit in between her legs. On the floor.

What happened next? Imagine the best shampooer at your favorite salon..now imagine them sitting over you in the bath with the world’s sudsiest cleanser. My hair, my ears, my scalp..everything is being rubbed and lathered until I’m suddenly being rinsed with large bowls of water dumped fast and furiously over my head. Shampoo drips into my eyes and I can barely catch my breath before the next deluge.

[Isn’t this the torture technique behind Chinese Waterboarding? Note to self: Google it]

With the last soap sud spiraling down the drain, Melda got up with her signature briskness, said goodbye and I was cleaner than I have ever been in my life. For serious.

My skin is also tan (tanner than prior to the exfoliation so if someone could explain that to me?) and glowing. It doesn’t feel dry or raw, which happens when I go nuts with a scrub and loofah in the shower sometimes. A lot of times.

And besides for the slight spelling mistake, I couldn’t more wholeheartedly endorse Cagaloglu’s slogan: “We Make You Fell [sic] Reborn.”

PS, the cost of the entire experience was something like 80 Turkish Lira, which is roughly $40.

PPS, that picture up top is courtesy of Google as cameras are strictly not allowed inside the bath house. Otherwise there’d be boob pics here, obviously.

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