Friday, September 30, 2011
The air is hot and thick. The sconces and candles fill the room with a chimerical glow. She disrobes languidly and lays each item on the chaise lounge with a casual carelessness. I divulge the details of my life since our last meeting. She listens intently as I talk. My heart is racing. And before I know it, both of us are naked.
You can make up the rest of the story. But it will probably be wrong. That is unless you guessed that my friend Sara and I are at the hammam. And no, it's not a brothel. It's a public bath. For centuries hammams have been a staple in Moroccan culture because many homes didn't (and still don't) have a shower or bath. Now, the real down and dirty hammams are real well, down and dirty. And no, not in an erotic kinda way, but in a do-it-yourself kinda way. You bring your own towel, soap, shampoo and scrubbie. And you take your bath. You just do it publicly with other women. And if you need to scrub one of those hard to reach places? Then you'll need to recruit one of your many fellow bathers to do it. Odds are you'll find one who will scratch your back if you scratch theirs.
But that's not the kind of hammam we're in. We're in the spa-ish kind. The one where the hammam lady does everything for you. And again, if you're thinking that sounds kind of erotic you're either A) a man or B) you've never been to a hammam. Because even though the lighting is all sultry and forgiving, the hammam lady is not.
Don't get me wrong, the hammam lady is very gracious. You see, she calls me mademoiselle. Mademoiselle, I tell you! (See, I told you the hammam lighting is fabulous.) In everyday, unforgiving florescent lighting I'm always referred to as madam. And that makes me feel like I'm either an 80 year old woman or that I run a brothel. And both of those make me feel enormously uncomfortable. But while hammam lady is gentle on your ego, she is not gentle on your body.
You honestly have no idea how much extra skin you have on your body until you're lying naked on a marble slab and a very capable Moroccan woman takes a kitchen scour pad and scrubs it off of you. Vigorously. Yes, EVERY inch of you. I mean there is no modesty in the hammam. But don't worry, the lighting is fabulous. So when I'm on my side raising my top leg so she can reach that tender inner thigh area, I'm pretty sure I look Angelina Jolie-esque. Ok, no I didn't. But, I'm glad I tend my bikini area regularly. Not that she cares. She's seen it all. Then the rolls of dead skin plop onto the marble slab next to me. Gross. And what's even grosser was I was just wearing all that dead skin a couple of seconds ago.
Let me back track a little here. You're probably wondering why you would bring a friend to essentially, go get a bath together. That's easy. It's a social event. And we're women. Don't we always go to the bathroom in groups? So Sara and I are sitting in the steam room chattering on about our kids. We're having a conversation just like we're in the supermarket check out line or something. Except, that mid conversation hammam lady comes in and covers us head to toe in goo for us to marinate in while we steam. And while you think that might be weird, the weird thing is, it's totally no big deal. Especially to hammam lady. And of course this doesn't int erupt the flow of the conversation one bit.
The thing that is weird? I don't know what my hammam lady looks like. There are about 5 hammam ladies working and they all have a comparable silhouette, dark hair, sturdy hands and they are all wearing a black swimsuit romper number and a do rag, which must be the hammam uniform. I can't make out any other distinguishing features because it's so steamy, so dimly lit and half the time I either have my eyes closed or I have soap, shampoo or honey in my eye. So while hammam lady has a really great idea what I look like, I really have no idea what she looks like. And that would be weird if I ever say her at the grocery store or something. But then again, I wouldn't know if I did, right?
And really that's a good thing. Because you see. After it's all over and we're lounging in our thick comfy robes sipping the fresh squeezed orange juice brought to us by some other hammam ladies. Followed shortly by our clothes and purses. Then the panic sets in. How am I going to find my hammam lady to tip her? After all, I told you I have no idea what she looks like. So we get dressed and head back in to find our respective hammam ladies and tip them. I find mine at the brightly lit doorway and give her a nice smile and her tip which she gladly accepts.
Sara and I leave the hammam, say our goodbyes and pull away in our cars. Then I start to think. Wait a minute. The lady I tipped wasn't wearing a black romper suit with a do rag. I think I tipped the orange juice lady. Wait, no an older lady brought us orange juice. This was a younger lady. Who in the world did I tip? And in typical Marie fashion I realize, I have no idea! Oh my god! I hope I don't see my hammam lady at the grocery store. Oh yeah right, I won't see her, she'll just see me. The chick who inadvertently didn't tip her...
If you want to know about the hammam. Here's a post of my first hammam experience, which is much more step by step, called Spaghetti.