(For obvious reasons, all photos in this blog are taken from the internet; I didn’t take my camera in with me…)
You left me, dear reader, clad in a peştemal and trying to suck my stomach in whilst essaying a flight of stairs in flip flops.
The first room in the hamam is a camegagh; a high-domed room, about 20 metres square, walled on stone and brick. Around the sides are wooden benches covered in cushions, and a balcony with changing rooms runs round three quarters of the room. Central in this area is a fountain, and the atmosphere is cool and calm.
In the far left hand corner a small door threatened. Once I open that door, there was surely no turning back. Whatever might happen, I tell myself, there have been less attractive men than I in the hands of the tellaks. The tellak is a man who performs all the scrubbing and scraping and bubbly stuff. It’s a job handed down from father to son, and is honoured as being highly skilled – nobody wants a skin scrape from a rough tellak now, do they?
Through this door three tellaks awaited, in a curious variety of shapes, all grinning happily. A wiry dark-skinned man of uncertain age – perhaps 40? – smiled more broadly than the others and led me through the next door, into the hararet, or steam room.
A lot of the background homework that I’d done had mentioned the workers hassling for tips. Here was I, in possession of only a peştemal and my rapidly shrinking dignity; what sort of tip could I offer? It was but a fleeting thought.
The hararet was another beautiful, calm room. Warm, rather than hot, and humid rather than steamy, it was similar to the camegagh in design but here the walls and floor were of marble. In the place of the fountain was a large marble slab, about a foot above floor level, the göbek taşı, or ‘navel stone’. On this slab was lying the only other customer at that point. He was naked (against the hamam rules). The rather gorgeous image of a human lying still and calm amidst the vicissitudes of this world was of course spoiled by the risible sight of a limp penis, sitting like a corpulent slug above a black forest rising above a couple of fat walnuts. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! And how silly is his willy.
My tellak introduced himself to me as Ortan (obviously I don’t know the spelling, as I didn’t ask him to write it down. And I dread to think what he would have written it with). He was also dressed in a peştemal and his grin barely left his face from beginning to end. He sat me down on one of the marble benches, next to a double tap and a large marble sink. He ran some water then, from what I can only describe as a metal dog bowl, he took some water from the sink and poured it over my wrist. Is that alright? he asked. Is what alright? I didn’t understand the question but, being English, I smiled and nodded and intimated that everything was jolly well top hole.
I didn’t realise that he was asking if the water temperature was fine. Within seconds I was drenched. The dog bowl worked over time, pouring water over my head, my back, my legs, my arms. Often and generously. At once I twitched… the peştemal was slipping… would it stand up to the deluge?
At last Ortan rested his dog bowl, and stood me up. He led me over to the marble slab and indicated that I should lie down. He placed the inverted dog bowl under my head, and I lay down near to the naked man – who had covered up by now – and rested. As I say, the room was gently warm rather than hot, but that was enough for me to gently steam. I had no idea how much of the liquid on my body was water from the drenching, condensation from the steam, or the sweating as my body got used to the temperature. I just knew that for the time being I was safe.
Ortan had gone and the room was very, very quiet. From the ceiling above came the occasional drip, and almost nothing else was audible…
To be continued…