My friend BFJ and I went to a hammam on the weekend. What’s a hammam, you ask? I answer that it’s a steam bath, followed by a full-body exfoliation, a rinse, and a massage. Sometimes it is called a Turkish bath. (Except in this case, it was in Vancouver, so “Turkish” really doesn’t apply.)
And who would think that such a thing would exist in Vancouver anyway? I certainly had no idea till BFJ somehow discovered this place and suggested that we try it. I was a bit skeptical about the whole thing, since, as a rule, I don’t actually like steam baths, but I was so looking forward to the exfoliation part (which they call “gommage”) and the massage that I just lay back and tried to enjoy it.
It was tough to enjoy. I don’t like sweating profusely, nor do I like the feeling of my lungs closing in on me so much that I cannot breathe properly. I don’t like having my eyes open and being unable to see – but it’s not dark. I worried about whether or not it would get so hot that my contacts would melt – and then I worried about the stupidity of leaving them in in the first place. I started to zone out over the hairspray in my hair: would it fuse every hair together and make it impossible to brush afterwards?
Well, no to those questions. I actually ended up relaxing somewhat and even noticing the eucalyptus scent in the steam. And I was surprised when it was already time for my gommage and rinse. I found that part very enjoyable, but I suppose if you’re a person who’s not comfortable being stark naked in front of another woman who is scrubbing your body all over (and I do mean all over!) with black Moroccan soap and a rough mitt, you wouldn’t like it at all.
But the massage was amazing. I had the best massage of my whole life! That woman had magic fingers! Sometimes the pressure of her thumbs was almost uncomfortable, but then she would change her position or the pressure and I’d be fine. It was like she could “read” my body and as soon as she sensed that I was starting to feel discomfort, she moved on. I never once had to tell her to ease up, she just knew. She was one good massseuse – and yes, I told her and I told the owner of the place. I also tipped her rather lavishly (I think) to show my appreciation.
And then you are led to a comfy – well, bed would be the best description. You get a blanket to wrap up in and you lounge there amongst the cushions as long as you like, drinking vanilla honey tea and nibbling cookies. Lovely!
So it was a really different and thoroughly enjoyable afternoon – even the steam component. I would highly recommend a visit to a hammam if you’re looking for relaxation.
And the irony in all this? Last summer, I was in the home of the hammam: Istanbul, Turkey. Did I try the hammam experience then? No, I did not.