One of 1,000 Things to Do (Before You Die of Embarrassment)

Istanbul Travel Blog

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One of 1000 Things to Do Before You Die (of Embarrassment)
By Melissa Myers

Who goes to Turkey in the winter?

I’d heard this question numerous times, but I hadn’t really thought about what I would do in Istanbul should it snow (which, my research had told me, happened once a winter.) After two snowy days of taking off mittens, scarf, wool hat, coat, and finally waterproof, fake fur-lined boots before entering the half-dozen mosques in Istanbul, battling 10-degree wind chills, and falling down on icy sidewalks more times than I could count, I decided to try out a Turkish bath, purely out of the need to be warm. This was the one thing in guidebook that I had no intention of doing, especially because it was listed as one of the “1000 Things to Do Before You Die.” Indeed, as I approached the outside of the bathhouse, the welcome mat proclaimed that this was, in fact, one of the 1000 Things to Do (after solving world hunger and finding a cure for AIDS). A Thing to Do or not, at this point, I was cold and had to use the bathroom after drinking Turkey’s requisite five glasses of Ali Baba’s Apple Tea at the hotel before leaving for the day. As I entered the bathhouse, I was given a menu of “pampering options” ranging from the 25 Lira, “Massaging Relax Package” to the 80 Lira, “Turkish Delight.” I went all the way.

After paying, I was briskly ushered into a massive women-only atrium, shown a small dressing room, and handed what looked like a handkerchief to presumably, cover myself with. After undressing, I picked up the loincloth and reminded myself that I was in Europe, and here, women were always topless on beaches, playing paddleball, slathering themselves with cooking oil, surfing, jogging. No one looked twice at breasts in Europe. I walked out of the little dressing room, bare-chested and wearing the three-sizes-too-big wooden flip-flops they had given me. Clip-clopping along, steadily gathering apprehension now turning to raw abash, I noticed that all of the European women in the atrium had apparently been given some kind of tutorial on how to tie the loincloth just so, to cover all private regions, including their breasts. I was exposed, the only topless woman--an American no less--in the room. Before I could examine their European loincloth tying techniques any further, my masseuse, a rather enormous Turkish woman, pushed me, wordlessly, into another atrium. Here, women of all ages, shapes, and sizes were lying on the marble floor, completely nude. This scene did nothing to calm my nerves. I wondered, of the 1000 Things to Do, how lying around on the floor without clothes on had made this list. Once in the Naked Atrium, I was taken to the center of the room and pushed onto a tall marble platform so that the other women could stare at me and point out my physical flaws in their various foreign tongues.

As I sat on the platform wondering what was going to happen to me, my masseuse took off her bathing suit and washed herself under the nearby shower. Please, oh please, God, put the suit back on! I pleaded in my head. She did no such thing, but instead, came over to me—completely nude, but now squeaky clean—and pushed me down on the marble, face-first. I closed my eyes, trying to imagine that I was doing one of the other 999 Things—maybe on a safari or riding a camel, or getting thrown into a Turkish prison. Suddenly, I could feel her hands all over me, soaping my back, butt, legs, in between my toes, my arms, fingers, neck. It was almost as if she had…four hands…gently washing in circles. As I lay there, feeling good, it suddenly dawned on me that two of those were not hands—they were her large, sagging breasts swinging back and forth against my back like cloth strips at a drive-through car wash. Interrupting me before I could wonder about what her other parts were doing, she grabbed me and turned me over. I had just enough time to note that she was sitting cross-legged as she washed me. I have since added this image to my list of 1000 Things I Wish I Had Never Seen.

After my thorough washing, I was escorted to a small area at the side of the atrium. Finally out of the limelight of what I had convinced my paranoid self was the United Nations panel of Breast Inspectors, I actually relaxed at bit. My washer-woman wasn’t so bad, especially now that she finally put her bathing suit back on. She wasn’t so brisk now; maybe she didn’t like the UN panel either. She seemed to sense my turning the corner because she, kindly now, began washing my hair. As she worked her lavender-scented soap and fingers through my long mane, rinsing it with a copper bowl filled with warm water, I was naked and innocent as a child. I no longer worried about my imperfect body, regrettable tattoos, and wintertime leg hair. As she began to ease her comb through my tangles, memories of the evenings when my own mother would spray Johnston & Johnston “No More Tears” on my hair reciting nursery rhymes or singing bedtime songs softly under her breath, flooded over me, down my back and legs, and pooled gently in my mind, bringing me closer to happy tears than I have been in years.

I would never have guessed that the Turkish bathhouse would actually end up on my list of 1000 Experiences in My Life That Were Worth the Risk of Embarrassment. Displaying my saddlebags, stomach rolls, and ill-groomed body hair to a group of women who, honestly, had seen it all before, was worth it for those few moments when I was transported back to a time when none of these superficial things mattered; what was important was being warm, clean, and safe while my mother hummed, “You Are My Sunshine” in my ear.
Meshal says:
A little bit late in reading the blog.
I laughed a lot " Sorry Melissa ", but that was funny :)
Beautifully written, I truly enjoyed reading it.
Posted on: Feb 10, 2015
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