Archive for July, 2012
Last summer, I was in Çanakkale for one evening for a stopover. Naturally, I did what travelers have been doing since the beginning of bathhouse history – I parked my things in a lodging and promptly went to the hamam to wash away the long travel day. The hamam is in the older alley-riddled quarter of the town nearest the harbor. I went in at about 10:00 at night and no one was there. The bath is a standard hamam with modern embellishments: a large room, small compartment rooms around the side for changing, and a TV in the center for post-bath relaxing. Past this room is a narrow axially arranged area with showers, toilets, and a more secluded kese/massage area that is moderately heated, and then the hot room itself is of medium size (as far as these go) with a central göbektaşı and an installed “Finnish” sauna to one side, an increasingly popular addition. I was the only one there and found myself longing for at least one other person to observe/check out. Before long, I found the emptiness meditative and the heat just right. The keseci, not from Tokat but from Sivas and not burly and hairy but wiry and thin and graying, beckoned me to the ‘tepidarium’ area. He conducted the kese entirely with me seated rather than lying down, which I found refreshing. Maybe in Sivas they have a different style. As the Turkish elections were just around the corner, he also regaled me with his views on Turkish politics and American politics and I found them to be equally refreshing. He was cold towards Erdoğan, frigid towards US foreign policy (which he referred to as the ‘policing the world’), and lukewarm about Obama (not entirely convinced by what he has done). The kese was basic and fine. After I went back into the bath and a group of young men came in the bath, loud and boisterous, two by two. They, in fact, kept coming in, until there were ten or twelve, each sitting in their own area on the edge of the room near a basin. I would say they were around 18-20 years old, in the army. What I was first struck by was that young Turkish men still came to the bath at all. What I noticed next was that for them this was not a quiet peaceful moment to wash away the day’s toils but an evening in water theme park. They were cavorting, using the plastic hamam bowls to whip water at each other, and chasing each other as best as they could on the slippery floor. Their shouts reverberated around the hamam, the wet plastered walls amplifying, their voices bouncing off the walls.