The Gilded Serpent presents...
Hamam 5
by Kayla Summers

Ahh, my friends! After my twenty-something-hour plane ride (including a layover in Germany), my friends greeted me on my arrival in Turkey and took me out for margaritas. I finally got home, kissed the one bud left on my rose bush and slept for two days in my own bed . . . sigh.

Then a girlfriend called me. She was celebrating her new job as an assistant professor at one of the universities here. Besides being "a brain" (she translated the Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity by B.Nicolescu from French to English), she is my personal role model for "girly stuff.”

"Take me to a hamam," I begged. She took me to the Besiktas Hamam. It is located a five to ten-minute’s walk from the Besiktas Ferry building and the Dolmabahce Palace.

I'm not sure if the pictures I took of it will turn out. It's gotta have the most uninviting entry I've seen, and ya gotta know it to find it. But once you're inside, what a delight! What places this one above the rest, (so far) is the fact that it is really hot and steamy! No doubt about it - it was not a matter of just feeling the humidity - steam was wafting around like tule fog. (Tule fog is a very thick, low lying fog found especially in the Central Valley of California.)

After being issued our keys for the lockers, we undressed and made our way in through a white marble hall flanked on each side with marble benches. Entering the main room, I found it to be spotlessly clean and fresh smelling . The walls were lined with white marble with veins of grey running through it that gave the room a light and airy feel despite the incredible humidity. A huge marble pedestal (double king-sized) graced the middle of the main room; the domed ceiling was embedded with stars of blocked glass. My friend, an old hand at the art of bathing, guided me to to one of the more private rooms that were alcoves off the main one. This room was also delightfully clean and warm. Gracing each wall was a marble sink with a raised marble area below it, on which you sit while beginning the bath. You take out your "kit" as you sit by your own marble sink, open the faucets and start dousing yourself liberally with the copper bowls of "hot as you like" water, then soap yourself up, rinse off and just generally soak up the heat. The water drains out by the marble gutters beneath you. I saw women brushing their teeth and washing their hair, also. Then the bathing woman told us it was our turn for the pedestal. Although they will make an accommodation if necessary, you are expected to bring your own soap and shampoo.

( I remember one time I used the house shampoo, and I ended up looking like Harpo Marx.) So I brought the sandalwood and turmeric bar that I had bought in India. It’s called Santoor. You can get it in Berkeley - it's sooo soft and leaves your skin kinda glowing. While K/C fell asleep on the white marble pedestal under the domed roof, I got scrubbed down. Despite my having used a hand glove just minutes earlier, the woman removed dead skin I thought I no longer had! She then told me to rise and rinse off, while she rinsed the pedestal area. I lay down again for the soap massage, which lasted about fifteen minutes. No bubbles this time. (I suspect bubbles are for tourists.) While she was scrubbing and massaging my back, I thought about an American woman I had spoken with earlier, who was wondering what the big deal was. "I can scrub myself,” she said. Not like this, you can't! First of all, I could never get at my back the way those women can. Despite my having washed myself minutes earlier with a strong arm and mitt, the bathing woman still got lots more dead skin! And having my hair shampooed conjures up all sorts of pleasant early memories. The third point I have to make is: how often do you spend an entire hour, luxuriating in a room specifically designed for you to take the time with yourself, in a quiet, peaceful, dare I say spiritual (it’s been overused) atmosphere? All you are to do is become clean and relaxed.

Yes, I agree any bath is wonderful, but . . . Who has a bathroom like this?

The dressing area is one long hall, flanked on each side by a raised walkway on which there are lounges and chairs and lockers. No private areas to take your clothes off, which is fine with me. I like the communal area. The places that do have private rooms, each with a cot to lie on, are interesting, but I've never used them. That's what the bath is all about - community. After my bath I feel great and not in the mood to lie down by myself in a dark room - but to each her own...

Later in the week, I came back with the camera that Lynette, my editor, had so generously donated to the cause, and spoke with the woman who runs the hamam. I took some pictures, but the lens kept steaming up. Having had enough experience with the Cemberlitas Hamam (which gets colder toward closing time - almost painfully so), I asked when the Besiktas Hamam turns off the fire that keeps the pedestal warm. The owner, Mrs. Zubeyde Cakmak, replied proudly "Never!"

I came back a few more times, and found this to be a true statement. When I was interviewing Mrs. Cakmak about the building, and asked how old it was, she was not quite sure. She asked some older women (one was eighty-two) who had just finished their bath and were relaxing in the dressing area. They conferred with each other and the oldest woman told the owner, "Well, I've been bathing here since I was a child and my mother bathed here when she first came to Istanbul, and that was twenty years before me . . ." We settled on at least a hundred years. The owner and her family have been running the place for fifty-five years.

They also do waxing, which was interesting to watch, as the bathing woman would apply a warm green cream to a woman’s leg and then swiftly yank it off after it had cooled. The "waxee" did not flinch. Those Turkish women are tough, but really smooth. K/C knew a better place for that . . . stay tuned for waxing and polishing Turkish style!

Have a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
more from Kayla-

12-27-03 Getting Shagged on Virgin Atlantic by Kayla Summers
This is about a trip that took two days but never went anywhere.

9-29-03 Azad's Mother's Kitchen by Kayla Summers
I could see her mom doing the mental calculations of where to put everyone while she discussed with Azad the doubtful wisdom of this impromptu rendezvous.

Kayla's Travel Journal Continues--Hamam III by Kayla Summers
At that point the steward says "now" and you jump off.

2-11-04 Sirat Al-Ghawazi, Part 1 by Edwina Nearing
Begun in the mid-1970's , the early sections of "Sirat Al-Ghawazi" were first published under the title "The Mystery of the Ghawazi." We are happy to be able to respond to the continued demand for these articles by making them available to our readers worldwide.

2-11-04 My Tribal Fusion Festival in Florida by Maja, the Girl from the Nile
If we have a dream, we should go for it….

2-8-04 Kalifa's Big Comeback by Kalifa
I felt butterflies in my stomach – my throat was dry – and my fingers already damp where I lightly held the ends of my skirt. All the old familiar feelings a performer experiences just before going on stage.





 Gilded Serpent
 Cover page, Contents, Calendar Comics Bazaar About Us Letters to the Editor Ad Guidelines Submission Guidelines