Ed Stevens Takes a Bath –In Istanbul on New Year’s Day
Ed Stevens is a great friend of ours who is also a noted playwright. Some of what he sees and tastes and hears always finds its way into the new play. Hmmm. Can’t wait to see the results from this trip. Where Ed Took the Waters – in several iterations.
Today, Ed reports to EENews on his midwinter vacation where water played an auspicious part.
Here are his notes from the beginning of 2012.
Tune in again tomorrow, when Ed takes us to the famous Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul where East meets West, where the literary lights have been reclining and dining for most of the twentieth century. http://www.perapalace.com/.
Where Agatha Christie wrote Mystery on the Orient Express, where Hemingway and Ataturk both slept. Who knew that Ataturk preferred a pale shade of shell pink for his wall color?
Oh the things you learn when you get out and about. We’ll take you to lunch with Ed tomorrow in the Pera Palace dining room. Can’t you just stand it? Will lunch time never come? And I’ll bet those waiters will be wrapped in long white aprons. What do you bet?
And who knew that Istanbul would be such a watery paradise?
Now, here’s Ed.
I went to a traditional and respected hamman or bath house, a custom going back to the earliest days. Tarihi Galatasaray Hamami has been in business a mere 527 years. see http://www.galatasarayhamami.com/en/hamam/ for the sights and sounds of the bath house. You are given a tiny locked room to remove and store your clothes, emerging in wooden flip flops and a very long piece of plaid cloth that you wind around your hips for modesty.
No pictures are allowed, but here’s what I saw.
You are brought into a huge domed room completely lined with antique marble and with a large and very hot marble slab in the middle –where the hero or heroine are brought for sacrifice to the god/monster/mummy in whatever movie you saw. That would have been a long time ago, I tell myself.
I do my best to relax while sweating like a pancake cooking on a hot griddle. After I must have sweated the last moisture out, an attendant– also in plaid sort-of-skirt – comes and gives you a very long soap bath and massage. Easily the hardest massage I have ever had, and as two guys from DC who were there at the same time told me, it sounded like I was being murdered (pain management not my strong suit).
Then he takes you to one of the ancient marble sinks around the room and tells you to sit on the marble floor next to it. (“Sit” was the only English word he knew, and he seemed to use it to mean everything from “roll over” to “get up.”) He hurls bowl after bowl of warm water over your head and you feel like a muddy puppy getting a sink bath. Then an abrasive scrub with a rough glove, more soaping and a little more pulling and massaging and another waterfall.
Then he takes you to the recovery room where another attendant wraps you in towels including head so you look like Doris Day flirting in vain out of the bathroom at Rock Hudson. Then back to the lobby where you sit and drink water and tea – enduring the ribbing of the DC guys — until ready to put your Western clothes back on and leave.
After attacking a traditional Turkish meal of lentil soup and chicken kebab, I went back to my room and ordered a bucket of ice (12Euros, only thing expensive here is the ice) and drank about a gallon of cold water. I will not likely get another such bath until I am too old to sponge my own body, and at that time I hope the nurses are a little more gentle. Given the future of Medicare it is not likely, but at least I know what to expect.
Visited the new W Hotel – great lunch of seafood risotto — in the stylish new design district where I resisted the impulse to buy anything else. http://www.wistanbul.com.tr/. Rush hour and could not get a taxi but I noticed that an old jitney going by that said “Taksim” near my hotel so I flagged it down and squeezed in. Two lira later ($1) I am back in my hood.
Took the vapor (from Italian vapuretto, from when the ferries were steam-powered) to the Asian side and planted my feet on that continent for the first time. Also a visit to the excellent Istanbul Museum of Modern Art with a small but impressive collection of startling contemporary works. Crawling with guards but I was able to snap a couple photos with my trusty analogue Olympus.
I climbed (really elevator-ed) the famous Galata Tower, built by the Genovese who first settled that part of Istanbul. Extraordinary views over the entire city which goes on nearly as far as the eye can see – 15 million people.
Had a minor bar crawl last night and met not one but two separate people from Malta, a small island nation that was the first to successfully turn back Sultan Mehmet’s advance to conquer all of Europe. The Knights of St. John, a Templar-like Christian military sect, stopped him there and the residents are still very proud.
Having lunch at historic Pera Palace hotel tomorrow, where Ms. Christie wrote the mystery plays so the restaurant is called Agatha (SundayNY Times Oct. 2).
Lunch is served promptly at 1pm tomorrow. We’ve saved a seat for you.