Bathing is not for everyone. Well, at least Turkish bathing is not for everyone (especially women, but that’s another story). I came to this conclusion while gingerly walking back to my hotel after an hour and a half “session” at a Turkish bathhouse. Its not that I’m against bathing, in fact, I can honestly say that I love it. But I’m patently against any form of bathing that makes you feel like you’ve just entered a burning house, only to have your flesh catch fire, only to have a man put out your flesh fire with a series of Indian burns, and, only when realizing that doesn’t work, throwing a bucket of ice-cold water over your face (followed by a bucket of hot water, followed by another bucket of cold water).
To successfully bathe in Turkey, you have to be impervious to pain and embarrassment. The Turkish word for pain and embarrassment, I would surmise, is “Berk.” Berk happens to be the sole masseuse employed in the aforementioned run down Turkish bathhouse at the end of an alleyway in the heart of Istanbul. (actually, Berk’s name in Turkish translates to: “hard, firm, strong.” No shit.) I chose this bathhouse based on a recommendation, that recommendation being that it was cheap. With a willing group of drunken comrades I ventured into the bathhouse around midnight.
After changing into something less comfortable (a small towel), we were directed around the corner to a series of rooms made entirely of perpetually heated marble, steaming pools of water, and, as far as I could tell, flowing magma. We were immediately directed to lie down on an elevated piece of marble with many other scantily clad men awaiting punishment. Being clear to observe the male code (don’t look at each other), we still had to pay close attention to when it was time to move on down the line. We didn’t want to anger the hairy ball of sweat that stood before us. What stood before us was a stout, burly, hairy, mustachioed man in his early 40’s who answered to the name of Berk. On second thought, he probably answered to no man.
The Love Affair?
Seeing Berk for the first time, I wondered if his looks had unfairly pigeonholed him into a profession that he may not have wanted. My thoughts raced to Berk gently gliding his paintbrush across a canvas beaming with an assortment of yellow daisies flowing in the wind alongside the Bosphorous River. But then it was my turn for punishment and…uh…Berk is clearly in the correct profession.
It all starts out just fine – small rubs to remove the tension. Then it starts to turn – deep tissue rubs that manage to fill your entire body with tension. At this point my thoughts of a backup profession for Berk ranged from WWE wrestler, to porn star, to lumberjack, to former WWE wrestler turned porn star wearing nothing but a lumberjack hat. “I have to stop thinking,” I thought. But then the massage gets good again; body numb so as to not feel the pain. Then it gets really good; body saying, “please don’t stop, I’m completely relaxed and at peace with the world.” But then for some reason it gets bad; body saying, “why? Oh God, why?” Then it abruptly ends; cold water thrown on me, then hot water, then cold water…”please stop Sir!” Then, strangely, I want to do it again.
Berk was unfazed, he was a robot, sent to Earth to pulverize human flesh without a thought. He moved on to the next in line without pause. Did I mean anything to him? Was I just a passing thought? A glimmer in his eye? Alas, it seemed that I was just any other man to him. But as I slowly limped away from the giant slab of marble, our eyes met and he winked, or so I’d like to believe….