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The Turkish bath



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Fast forward now 100 years to the early 21 st century. Modern Turkey is teeming with tourists and underground plumbing has all but obliterated the need for public bathhouses. But such places still exist. I found a hamam near my guesthouse. Clearly, these days, such a place caters mainly to tourists. From the outside, the building was unremarkable. Curious, I stepped inside.

A few people were milling about, some drinking tea, bodies wrapped in the traditional checkered pestamal. A portly woman took my money and led me to a changing cubicle and handed me a key. Her English was limited. I removed my clothes and slipped into the pair of flip-flops left for me, today's practical plastic version of the wooden patens , or clogs. Wrapping myself in my pestamal, I stepped back into the lobby wondering what came next.

I was led through a small door into a steamy and cavernous space with high domed ceilings and the sound of water running. The whole place appeared to be carved from stone, from the low bench around the perimeter to the basins on the wall. Voices softly floated through the steam from the men's section next door. But we were alone.

"Sit," I was commanded by the small, dark woman leading the way. "Wash." She turned the tap on above the stone basin and handed me a plastic bowl with which to pour water over myself. I suppose only the elite who frequent the high-end hamams get to use a traditional copper tas . The poor working class, such as myself must settle for pink plastic. Then she disappeared, leaving me alone to douse myself in water.

After about 10 minutes, I started to get restless. I suppose it would be more fun if the room was full of naked women, all chatting and gossiping and checking each other out. I decided to poke around a bit. Cavernous little rooms radiated from a central area, water running over the warm stone floor, draining in some unseen corner. Furtively, I peaked in one of the rooms. A naked girl was laid out on a granite slab, or table, beneath a blanket of bubbles. Voices from the men's section echoed quietly through the steam. I returned to my wash basin. Waited. Finally, the small dark woman returned, in a bathing suit this time, to lead me into another room.

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