We have stayed in our riad this morning, doing our morning affirmations, lessons and meditation. Our plan is to go the public hammam that is across the street from The Repose, in the Sale medina. We hope that it will be both a cultural and a cleansing experience!
Well, I’ve just been, and I will explain what happened with my newly acquired voice of experience. We came to the entrance to the hammam (public bathhouse – not a bathroom, no toilets here), and we paid our admission, about 9 dh (a little over $1) each. We had brought with us, courtesy of The Repose, a large plastic bucket, a small plastic scoop, a plastic stool, the traditional hammam soap and a towel each.
I entered the men’s side, which was distinguished by one man reclining on a chaise, and another sitting in a chair across from him, thus controlling the entryway. Chaise man said something to me in Arabic, which I took to mean give him a coin and show him my entry ticket (which since he was reclining not a meter from the ticket seller, seemed a little gratuitous). Never mind, once this transaction was completed, he pointed me to the sitting man, who I figured out, after another exchange in Arabic, was the person who washed you.
He wanted his tip first, before the service was performed, and I obliged, secure in the knowledge that I had no more money to give in any event, so his tip had to be sufficient! I then went into the next room, just inside the hammam, where there was a simple U-shaped platform, covered with slats of wood – the changing area.
I put on my bathing suit and took off my T-shirt, grabbed my bucket, stool, and soap, and walked straight through the next room, which was the tile-floored “cool” room – no benches or seats, just a tile floor with three walls.
On to the third and final room, the hot room, which was really only just warm, much cooler than a sauna, for example. It had a terrazzo floor, plain painted walls, and a large basin of water, fed by a hot water and a cold water tap – again, no benches or seats. I was there for just a moment when in walked my bather, now in a threadbare pair of flannel shorts, nothing else. He had me sit on my stool, and then proceeded to fill up my huge bucket with a mixture of the hot and cold water. He quickly but thoroughly washed me, just by scooping the traditional soap gel into his hands, then briskly rubbing all my exposed skin. He then used the bucket to rinse me, and then washed and rinsed me again. At this point, I felt clean, but like the hammam experience was nothing really special.
But then started the serious part of this bathing experience – the “Kissa” glove, which is a black glove with a texture just a bit less than a Brillo pad. He put on the glove, and rubbed all my exposed skin with no soap, just the glove, making me feel like I was turning redder by the moment. Then he again rinsed and repeated, before having me lay face down on the tile floor. There were a few moments of torturous stretches, then back on to the stool for the final rinse. All done quickly and efficiently, but thoroughly. I toweled off, dressed again, and left – I think the whole process wasn’t much more than half an hour. What a great way to spend your lunch hour, if we were only advanced enough in the West to have Hammams!
This type of public bath in Morocco dates back to Roman times, and is especially favored by men right before Friday prayers. The hot room is traditionally a steam room and hot, unlike the warm room with no steam in our local version. Hammams have frequently been located in medinas next to bakeries, so they could share the same wood-fired furnace.
We’ll try to visit as many Hammams as possible on this voyage, and report the results in these pages.
All the daily trip photographs taken by me and by Tali are on our joint wordpress site, http://www.julesandtalilandsman.wordpress.com. Thanks for having a look!
Best wishes to you on your own exciting journey,