Turkey 1976

The bearded stranger had no idea! Had he never had a bath before?  Ahmet the receptionist told him the prices: 7 lira entrance, 1 for soap. He paid, and then just stood there until Ahmet signalled him to exit the entrance hall and go into the changing room, a row of long flat deck-chairs on a single wooden base. There I gave him a flannel towel and told him to undress. I couldn’t tell if the look of relief was that the towel was clean or that he wasn’t going to be naked. I led him into the steam room and left him there, shrugging my shoulders at one of my regulars. The steam room is a highlight of our hammam, the oldest Turkish bath in Erzerum. The walls are painted and there are light holes in the large dome, glassed over so the steam cannot escape. In the centre is a round podium, the gobektasi, where seven of my clients were already stretched out, luxuriating in the heat of the fires underneath it. Eight doors led off the room, each one leading to a little washbasin, at floor level, made of marble and full of hot water. After he had steamed for a while one of my regulars took the stranger to a washbasin and showed him how to rub soap onto a flannel, soap himself all over and then splash himself clean with the water. He laughed at the large plastic saucers we use for this.


Later I led him out to a massage table: I explained it was 10 lira for a massage, and an extra 5 for me. First, I had to get rid of the dirt which the steam brings out of the skin’s pores. I put the rough woollen glove on and rubbed him (nearly) all over, hard, several times. He needed extra work. After this rub-down I helped him soap up, then he doused himself at a washbasin before I gave him a quick massage. Finally I took him through to the changing room, gave him three towels (I had to help him create the turban for his head) and left him there to recover from my pummelling and rubbing. Ahmet offered him tea and a cigarette but after a bit he got dressed, paid and left. I really don’t think he had had a bath before, I couldn’t believe the amount of dirt which my glove pulled out of him.