Squeaky Clean in Istanbul

So, it is 7:30 pm, and I am hoping to stay up until 8:00–even though it clearly doesn’t get dark here until after that! One of the perks of adulthood is that you cease to worry if you beat the sun to bed–at least, I do. [Big non sequitur: this reminds me of a Robert Lewis Stevenson poem–here it is from memory, so it may have some errors. “In winter I get up at night, and dress by yellow candlelight. In summer just the other way, I have to go to bed by day. I have to go to bed and see the birds still hopping in the tree, and hear the grown-up people’s feet, still going past me on the street. And does it not seem hard to you, when all the sky is fair and blue, and I should like so much to play, to have to go to bed by day?”]

Anyway, I made it to Istanbul safely, even though I must admit to being a little tempted to just walk out of the airport in Vienna and spend two weeks in Austria instead! The year I studied in Germany, I spent a week in a cabin in the mountains there, and the Alps were spectacular–Vienna, too. However, I resisted the brief impulse and continued on, and I am so glad I did! Istanbul is beautiful, and I arrived on a lovely day. The flight landed in the early afternoon, and I made it to my hotel [the superb Hotel Nena] around 3:00 pm. It was a gorgeous drive from the airport on the road that runs along the Bosphorus. From what I have been told, I will be able to run right along the sea in the mornings–I am eager to check that out tomorrow.

The hotel is wonderfully situated–it is a small boutique hotel [the red one in the pictures], and my room has a balcony with great views of both the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia [pictures included]. I will be visiting both of those tomorrow–they are just a short walk away. As you can imagine, then, given the location, this area is thick with tourists and tourist shops, but it is also very safe, which I like.

So, once I arrived, I knew I needed to get up and keep moving, otherwise I would fall asleep and wake up at 2:00 am, twiddling my thumbs. So, after weighing my options, I decided that the perfect activity would be visiting a Turkish bath; and so off to Çemberlitas Hamami I went. [Here is the website, if you want more information: http://www.cemberlitashamami.com/%5D This particular bath is very old: it was built in 1584 and commissioned by Nurbana Sultan, the wife of Sultan Selim II. The tradition of the Turkish bath [hamam] goes all the way back to ancient Roman bathing practices, and when you walk into the actual bathing area, you feel the pleasant weight of history, as you take part in a ritual that has been going on for millennia. At least, that’s how I felt!

Here is the process. When you walk in, you select the different services that you want. Then, the men go into their quarters and the women go into theirs. Women get a towel and little pair of disposable briefs, and then you go into the main hot area: you lay out on a large round center stone, which quickly and pleasantly induces sweating. This main stone is surrounded by both hot and cold taps and stone basins for rinsing. After about 15 minutes, a masseuse [women for women, of course], gives you a good scrubbing with a loofah mitt, then a soap scrubbing. My skin was very pink, very soft, and very clean! After that, you hit the Jacuzzi, and then have a massage or whatever else you want. After 12 hours of traveling, this felt amazing; and, it was such an interesting experience–being so unabashedly (nearly) naked with around 15-20 strangers. After just finishing editing all of the fall Dialog articles [the theme of that issue is “Theology and Disability”], bodies have been on my mind; and my experience in the bath reminded me how very different our bodies all are, and how very differently beautiful, too. Now, off to bed! I’m looking forward to watching the sun rise over the Blue Mosque out my window tomorrow morning [unless I am completely screwed up with my geography–and that could be, too!]

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