Hammam Guide

Archive for February, 2010

Cemberlitaş : The Sultan’s Treatment

by kirkdc23 on Feb.12, 2010, under Comment, Sultanahmet hamams, Uncategorized

I go to Turkish baths more than most people here.  That the owner of one of the city’s major hamams is a partner at my firm just encourages this habit.  For example, Selcuk (my boss) and I went to his hamam just following our student’s final studio exhibition night.  We thought we’d sit around with a bunch of other dudes in towels on a hot stone table, enjoy the steam, and hash out the semester.  Then have a wizened but shockingly vigorous old Turkish man scrub, soap, and massage till just semi-consciousness.  (Replace “dudes” with “babes” for the female side.)  I’ve been a big hamam fan since my first in winter ’09, but going with Selcuk raised the bar.  He’s not only business partners with the hamam’s owner, but he also understands “service” in a way I never will: a very Turkish way.  Typically, the massage guys treat a European tourist somewhat like confused but valuable cattle that may offer tips.  Hey Kobe beef-to-be, come here, sit, turn, sit up, slap on the back, ok you’re done.  For Selcuk, the guys layed out two towels and pillows for us right on the stone table, pushing other customers away, brought water, knew him by name, how are you Mr. Selcuk?, etc.   Once finished and sitting in his little cubby room, Selcuk had the normally surly attendant delicately serve tea and manually dry him with at least four fresh towels.  Even the change in my own treatment, from wary recognition of a semi-regular customer to outright fawning in front of me, was startling.  Who am I?  In the American service industry, would a customer even want this sycophantic display, let alone be able to ask for it?  But Selcuk is “a big man,” and “this is Turkey.”  I mean, it’s hard to describe without oversimplifying through caricatures, but the whole scene and the attendant’s behavior was genuine.  The tradition of overt subservience to a person of stature is still very much respected here.

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