Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hamam Part Deux

In which I get an ethnicity!

(Also, since I have a variety of readers, I should probably give a heads up that this describes my second visit to a hamam and I probably should have warned you before my description of the first one since some of you may not have wanted to read about your sister/daughter/granddaughter/niece/friend/former teacher in such a state of non-clothingness but I didn't warn you then, but I am warning you now so there.)

Despite being home, I'd still like to do one more trip-entry to wrap everything up.

Our last day in Istanbul (and of the trip) consisted of a series of second-time-arounds. Which, sadly, were mostly disappointing.

After my last narrative entry, sent from the internet cafe in the New District, we walked down Istiklal Cadesi, past the Galata Tower, and hopped on the tram to go back to the Grand Bazaar. We were planning on shopping for souvenirs in general and possibly some costumes/props for my theater supplies.

The Bazaar was busier the second time, but the merchants seemed... grumpy? I don't know. They just didn't want to play the game, and more than one got angry when I tried to bargain. We were tired, too, and spent most of the time trying to find one particular shop we had stopped at the day before. Which should be one of the first rules of the Grand Bazaar - buy it when you find it, because you might never find it again. Then again, we witnessed the remarkable power of the merchants when a man called out "Jason!" as we walked by his carpet shop. We had stopped in the day before to scope out what the prices were for carpets similar to the one Jason bought in Selcuk. The merchant actually recognized us and recalled all of the details of our conversation. Wow.

I bought two sets of finger cymbals for my props supply, but that's it. We left around 6 for the Spice Market.

About four stalls into the market, we stopped as one merchant cheerfully offered us some samples. We skeptically tasted his wares (neither of us being huge Turkish Delight fans in the past) and found it delicious! He immediately started selling us on it, offering a deal with a mixed box. We asked about the other types of candy, and he immediately grabbed two from the stack and offered one to Jason while popping the other one directly in my mouth. Also tasty, so we started counting on our fingers to figure out how many boxes we needed.

A friend of the merchant showed up at that point, so he turned us over to his associate ("He's very good! He speaks Chicago English!"). As the second merchant started filling up and weighing candy boxes for us, he said, "You know Rick Steves?"

"Yeah..." I said, wondering where that question came from.

"I'm in his book!"

It suddenly clicked for me, and I reached into my bag, "You mean this book?"

"Yes!" He said, grabbing the Rick Steves' Istanbul guide from me and flipping open to the inside cover page. He showed Jason and me the page proudly. "You want a picture?"

"Yeah I do!" I said. We snapped several, including the one I posted before and this one (one of the few with the two of us together):
The Rick Steves Candy Guy!

After buying candy and some other tasties (including half a kilo of dried cranberries that are fantastic!), we lugged our heavy bags back to Hamdi's for dinner.

Sadly, this was the worst of the repeat experiences. Showing up with no reservations worked great at 5:00 on a Wednesday. Not so great at 7:00 on a Friday. We were shown to the first floor - less view, no air circulation, and less-enthusiastic waiters. EVERYONE around us spent the entire meal smoking, including the guy right next to me whose smoke drifted directly into my face for the entire meal. It too all of my good upbringing not to soak my napkin in my water glass and breathe through that. I still recommend Hamdi's, but call first to reserve a spot on the third floor.

We carried out stuffed selves and our stuffed bags back through town to the Cemberlitas Hamam, which was built in 1584 by Sinan. We each paid our 55 lira and bid farewell, since it was segregated.

I was shown in to a crowded dressing room and donned my peshemal, then went looking for where to go next, clutching my massage token, my scrubbing glove, locker key, and peshemal. A cheery plump woman in a black bra and panties (which seems to be the uniform inside) noticed me, took my hand, and pulled me towards a solid gray door at one end of the room.

She swung open the door to reveal the marble room and Whoa! Naked Ladies! Lots of Naked Ladies!

As she pulled me through the door, I tried to not look at all of the boobs when the attendant suddenly grabbed my peshemal and whisked it off to lay it on the big marble slab and suddenly Whoa! Naked Me!

She pointed to the peshemal and indicated I should lay down. I did, noting that she had conveniently picked the spot for me that was directly in front of the gray door. I lay down on my stomach, propped my chin on my arms, and quelled the prim Utah pioneer part of my gene pool to let my Mediterranean blood that would embrace total nudity rise to the surface.

Now, several times on this trip Jason and I have been asked where we're from. When I say "America," the inquisitor nods as it makes sense. More than once, when Jason said "America," the other person expressed disbelief. Just that day in the Grand Bazaar, two merchants had exclaimed, "No!" and declared that Jason looks Spanish ("and a little Turkish maybe"), not American. He apparently gets a lot of this when he travels (although the ethnicity changes with the questioner - the French think he looks Asian, for example), and I had jokingly complained about my apparent lack of "ethnic" looks.

Which is why when my attendant asked "Spanish?" as she scrubbed down my arms while I sat upright on the marble, facing the door, I was thrilled. "No, American," I said, and she puffed out her cheeks in surprise. Since, as previously demonstrated, I don't have any of a Spanish look about me, I decided that her surprise must be because I was so awesome at being naked. Score!

I was scrubbed, covered with bubbles, massaged, rinsed, and lead to a scalding hot jacuzzi. I floated about there for a few minutes, then went back to the main room to sit by one of the basins and pour cold water over myself. It felt delightful, as the room was as warm as a sauna. After about 10 minutes of that, I snagged my soaking wet peshemal back and wrapped it around myself until I found the towel room.

I changed back into my normal clothes and headed out to the lobby to find Jason. Sitting there, writing postcards, it turned out that Jason had finished within 20 minutes while my session had lasted over an hour. Poor guy, he had been rather swindled by his attendant, who rushed through the entire process and then demanded a tip (my attendant was nowhere to be seen - I would have gladly tipped her if I had known where she was at the end). It's too bad that Jason had such a rotten second experience - mine was not as fun as the first time, but it certainly wasn't a bad experience. I just liked the emptiness and the extra attention paid to us at the Goreme hamam.

The experience left a bad taste in Jason's mouth and tainted the entire day, sadly. Neither of us wanted it to end like that, so we sought out a good place to sit. We made our way back to the park between the Ayasofya and the Blue Mosque and claimed an empty bench next to the fountain there. As we are so good at doing, we talked for a long time into the night, enjoying the ambiance of our setting.

So the last day wasn't the best, but it ended pleasantly.

I feel like I should have some profound statements to wrap up the trip. But if you've been reading along you already know that I had an outstanding time; we both did. I should say, since I know most of you will not ask me this outright but are probably wondering, that Jason and I got along fantastically. Even though I had that stupid cold the entire time we were traveling, and my congestion led to snoring (or so Jason claims. I might have to believe him, though, since I actually snarked myself awake twice, just like my dad does). I just tried not to fall asleep on my back and Jason just threatened to throw a water bottle at my head if I did anything "annoying" in my sleep. See? We problem solve!

Really, we travel very well together and are still great friends. And that's it - just friends. Nothing whatsoever happened on the trip that changed our very platonic relationship.

In a way I didn't expect, though, I found that I really enjoyed the company. I've been living alone for more than 9 years now, and I have wondered sometimes if I would be able to adjust to being around somebody all the time again. I didn't really think about it on the trip, our being around each other for 24 hours a day for two weeks. I did notice it when I got home, though. Suddenly it seemed really quiet, and there wasn't anyone to talk to about things that I notice or think about. It's not loneliness, it's just being alone.

That'll change soon. I'm probably hyper-aware of it right now since I'm home all day. I'll be off on another trip in a few weeks, and then school will start up again and keep me running all day long. But in the mean time, I miss the conversations.

Oh, and also? I'm sick again. Stupid colds, trying to ruin my vacations.

1 comment:

  1. Yay! I finally added your blog to my reader! Now I can stop you mid story and tell you that I "already read that on your blog" all the time! Yes! Exclamations points!